The first bad review. It’s a milestone, an inevitability of putting your story, your hard work, into the world. I’d always wondered how it would make me feel, and quietly suspected it would be a terrible blow to my ego.
Shortly before publishing my first novel, State of Love & Trust, in August 2016, I was reading a lot of Brené Brown. In one of her books (if I can remember which, I’ll update to reflect that—she has many and I’ve read them all) she wrote that in order to withstand criticism of your work, you must first separate your ego from it. That means bad reviews are about the work, not you. But also good reviews are about the work, and not you.
As good reviews trickled in for my first book, I kept that in mind. I didn’t let my head inflate. I won’t lie, I thoroughly enjoyed them. But I also made a habit of viewing the praise only for the characters, the storytelling, even the writing, but not for myself.
No bad reviews
And then a curious thing happened. State of Love & Trust didn’t garner any bad reviews. This wasn’t because it was some shining beacon of literary perfection, no. It was because I barely marketed it, did no advertising, and sales were small. I probably sold a few hundred copies; just over 1,000 if you count the times I offered it for free download on KDP Select. (Nobody ever reads the freebies, right?)
So I wrote my next book, Smokin’ & Cryin’. It got great reviews right out of the gate. I spent some marketing dollars running AMS ads and watched with glee as total strangers snapped up my latest novel.
Now I have to admit something. As much as I love reading great reviews of my books, I don’t worry about them. I don’t constantly check Amazon or other sites where my books are sold to see if anyone left a new review. So the bad review featured above sat unnoticed on my Amazon book page for nearly a week. I only saw it after one of my sisters suggested I include reviews here on my blog. As I was building that out, I went to grab some existing reviews off the web and saw that a new one was posted.
Run, don’t walk, AWAY from this book
This book was so horribly written, I had to stop after the first 20 pages. She may think she’s Vonnegut, but a child could write better than her. It’s unfortunate that any publishing company would take her seriously and waste our time.
Oh dear. My very first bad review.
I read it, and then I laughed. I think I’m Vonnegut? Ho-kay. Publishing Company? I wish.
Twenty pages? On Kindle? Without a verified purchase?
Yeah, no. I’m not going to assume this reviewer is a bitter, unpublished writer grinding her rusted ax while drunk on sour-grapes rosé. (Even if there is an argument made.) That would be too easy. I’m going to assume instead that someone read twenty pages of my novel and grew so enraged at the horrible writing that she threw her Kindle against the wall, logged on to her laptop and hammered out a review invoking Kurt Vonnegut, publishing companies, and children. Then misappropriated the headline of one of my novel’s enthusiastic five-star reviews (Run do not walk).
I’m not just ok with that. I freaking love it! I put my work out there: nobody is required to admire it, like it or even tolerate it. That’s how this works. That’s the deal. And, thanks to this bad review, I’ve finally arrived. I’ve passed the Bad Review milestone and lived to write another book.
That, my friends, is publishing.
(If you’d like a peek at the writing in question, go here and use Amazon’s “look inside” feature.)
I love reading bad reviews on all kinds of media. I could high-five the person who reviewed the WordPress Gutenberg editor and said: “It’s an ashtray on a motorbike.” I found my favorite* podcast, I Don’t Even Own a Television, by Googling “Ready Player One terrible.” I watched Monster In-Law the other day and spent the next morning sipping coffee while merrily perusing its rotten reviews which eloquently articulated everything I’d disliked about it.
When I’m not enjoying a book I’m reading, I look up its bad reviews. If I’m loving a book I’m reading, I’ll still check the bad reviews to find out what kind of troglodytes and dunderheads complained about it. I delight in a bad review as much as the next person. I was pleasantly surprised to learn I could even delight in a bad review of my own novel.
If you’re a reader of my books, I hope you’ll enjoy them and take a minute to leave an honest review. But if you don’t like my writing, I hope my bad reviews will at least delight you, too.
The best review is an honest one.
*Correction. The only podcast.