Let’s Talk Bad Reviews by Mae Clair

Psst! I’ll tell you a secret. The first review I ever got was three-stars. Now, I don’t necessarily consider three stars a bad review, but I don’t count it as great either. I’ve given a number of three-star reviews and imagine them somewhere middle of the road.

Naturally, as a newly published author, launching my first book, I had dreamed of five stars. There were plenty that followed, but that first one came as an eye-opener. I even had one of my friends give a four-star review and then send an email explaining what I could have done better. I learned from that gentle criticism, as I have done from many others in the past.

female holding up finger arguing wearing glassesI didn’t agree with the reviewer who said I had too many characters or that my plot was too complex, but I do understand that romance readers don’t always like their stories ladled with mystery and multi-tiered plots. Lesson learned. Which is why I’ve made an adjustment to my genre, story-telling, and branding.

It wasn’t until I wrote my fifth book that I received my first two-star review. By then I realized every reader has an opinion and I’m not going to appeal to all of them. I have no problem with someone giving me a negative review, but I had a BIG problem with what the person insinuated. I won’t go into the details, but for the purpose of this post, let’s just say I was upset.

I remember sitting on my back porch, talking to my husband about it. Venting verbally. As an author, I don’t respond to reviews, positive or negative, even though I read every one. An unwritten rule that I learned early in the game. That made accepting that review even harder. I couldn’t defend myself.

During my spat of whining, my husband said something that resonates to this day—basically when you put yourself “out there” you open yourself to criticism, just like any artist. He asked me how many times I had dissed a movie or song, or even a book. Maybe I didn’t post those reviews online but I had an opinion, and everyone was entitled to theirs. If I was going to be a writer, I couldn’t stop people from saying what they wanted to say about my work. It goes with the territory.

Another lesson learned.

By the time I got my first one-star review (and I can’t even tell you what book it was for), I’d adapted a new attitude. I had read a blog post not long before that said something along the lines of “if Stephen King and J.K. Rowling get one-star reviews, why shouldn’t I?” And then it hit me—I’d arrived. I was no longer just getting reviews from friends and other writers I knew online, but readers who had no connection to me. Readers who were rating my work on the same scale they would rate the work of best-selling authors like Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (my favorite writing team). I was in a whole new realm, and although the three, two, and one-stars still crept up occasionally, there were far more four and five-star reviews. Instead of being discouraged by a mediocre review, I now take them in stride as part of my chosen profession.

Reviews are important to an author. Good or bad, we learn from them and they contribute to our growth. If you’ve gotten a bad review you’ve probably felt some of the uncertainty I have. If you haven’t—trust me—it’s just a matter of time. The larger your audience, the more opportunity you have to snag a reader who doesn’t quite get what you’re trying to say. Take it in stride. As my husband told me, when you’re “out there” you expose yourself to the opinions of others.

If you’ve read any of my books, I ask you to leave an honest review. Reviews are the equivalent of gold to an author, and all are greatly appreciated.

If you’re a writer, have you ever felt yourself the target of an unfair review? Has it impacted your love for writing? How do you deal with negative reviews?