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  • Writer's pictureDebra Stang

Coping with a Bad Review

"Writers fall into two groups: Those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review and those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review." – Isaac Asimov

Asimov is right. Bad reviews hurt. Even the ridiculous hatchet jobs with half the words misspelled. Even the reviews that totally miss the point of your story. Even those that try to be kind. They are all attacks on little pieces of your soul, and they all draw blood. 

So, how do you cope with bad reviews? Here are some ideas:

Resign yourself to them. Any time you put a piece of your work out in the world to be judged, someone is bound to find it lacking. Sometimes the reasons are solid; sometimes they're idiotic. But the naysayers will exist and they sometimes insist on voicing their opinions in the most obnoxious terms possible. Sometimes the best way to deal with this kind of criticism is just to expect it and accept it. Edward Albee, for instance, became so used to harsh criticism that he once quipped, "The only time I'll get good reviews is if I kill myself."

Have fun with them. Look for the humor in the hurtful words. Kingsley Amis, for instance, once joked, "If you can't annoy somebody, there's little point in writing." Next time you feel blocked after a bad review, think of your most vicious critic and set out to write something guaranteed to annoy the hell out of him or her. 

Look for the silver lining. Sometimes a bad review is better than no review at all. Haven't you ever read a completely horrible review and felt compelled to buy the book just to see if it could possibly be so dreadful. Come on, admit it. Or, in the more eloquent words of Hugh Barbour, "There is nothing like a good negative review to sell a book."

Treat them with contempt. "Those who can write, write. Those who can't, criticize," said Max Hawthorne. And it's perfectly true that the person who ripped your golden words to shreds may be a frustrated math major who believes that "The Purple Cow" is poetry's highest achievement. A word to the wise: Keep your contempt to yourself. People who argue openly with their critics usually just wind up looking ridiculous.

Ignore them. I know lots of writers who refuse to read their reviews, good or bad. They have editors and beta readers whom they trust, and beyond that, they don't seek much feedback. And then there are the people, like John Steinbeck, who only read good reviews. "Unless the reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise," he wrote, "I say ignore the bastard." 

Learn from them. Bad reviews of your work are miserable to read, but they do sometimes contain valid points that can ultimately improve your writing. Don't take every word critics say as gospel – some of them are just full of it – but you may want to keep an open mind. 

What do you do when you come across a bad review of your work?

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