Don’t Get All Hurt About It!

Don’t Get All Butt Hurt About It!
Pam Uphoff

So you got a bad review? Big deal. Bad reviews come in three flavors. (1) Readers who don’t like your book, (2) People who don’t like you and trash your stuff automatically, and (3) Professionals who have dissected your book.

The first thing you should do is calm down and think. Stop being a fragile flower, and stop taking it personally. Settle down, imitate Spock by turning off your emotions (you can have them back later, none the worse for wear), and take a good hard look at all your reviews.

The first type of review? See if there’s any meat to the critiques, see what specifically they didn’t like. If it is the type of book, check your tags and make sure you aren’t accidentally flagging down readers who won’t like your stuff. Don’t tag it as a romance unless the romance is a very large part of the story.
Do you have multiple reviews that all complain about the same thing? Make note of it. I wouldn’t recommend making major changes to a published book, but it could be something to avoid in the next one. If you are getting constant complaints about typos, commas, and missing words, go check your file. Maybe you need to hire a professional copy editor, or lure in a beta reader with grammar nazi tendencies. But keep in mind that some regular Amazon commenter always complain about typos in Indie ebooks, even when they are at a reasonable level.

Is it only one reader who disliked your book? Forget about it! You will never please everyone.

The second type of bad review? Someone doesn’t like you, or took an instant dislike to the book and just ripped it up in a huge long Amazon review? Ignore them. Do not reply to them. There is nothing to your advantage in doing anything else. You will only call attention to the negative review. Do not whine about it on facebook, it will only call attention to it. Really. Just shrug off the personal animus or pity the obviously unbalanced creature.

It’s really the third type of critique or review that I want to look at today. Because this sort of professional critique can be very useful. I got one of these, last month. And (apart from the relief of having something to blog about) I think it will be useful to me.

Jefferson Smith is doing a study on reader immersion, and what breaks it. His analysis here is really interesting, and I failed altogether to resist sending in a book. His methodology is simple. He reads until his immersion has been broken three times, notes the length of time he read, and the three reasons he stopped. That first report was on his first fifty books, now he’s going for a hundred.

_Fancy Free_ died at the ten minute mark. Here’s his report on it specifically: Fancy Free

This is really useful to me. No point at all in getting butt hurt about it, at all.

It’s clear from his take on the book that I was not very clear who the characters were working for, but he had enough of an idea about it to go on.
The first fail point–I thought I was mentioning a few things so they didn’t pop up out of nowhere later. But it was a distracting data dump, for that reader.

The second fail point? I was being cute, using “it” before my sentient computer consciously realized her mortality and desire to continue, and “she” after. And I had beta readers mention it too me, and I ignored them. OK, so being cute is not a good idea. I will remember that in the future. And if I reload the text file, I’ll probably change that.

And then I hit his internal time check. Ten minutes and he wasn’t immersed in the book.

Bzzzt! Test over.

OK, the first two are dead easy to check stories for. It’s the third one that I’m going to have to really study. Was it just the way I started this book? Or is the hook something I really need to work on?

Keep in mind that these are not anguished heart rending rhetorical questions. These are simply the sorts of questions you have to ask yourself and think about, if you are going to improve at the craft of writing.

OK, I know that as writers go, I’m very thick-skinned. (I have a thick skull as well, but things do, eventually, get through.) I have a pretty inflated healthy ego, so I know I have the Art part of writing hard wired in my soul. The craft, you know, the practical stuff that will carry the fruits of my imagination out to where it is comprehensible to other people? Yeah, the craft still needs some work. (Please, just loose the critiques of my typos its old.)

And that may be the way you need to think about it, to benefit from critiques of your work. Tell yourself that the art, the idea, is brilliant. It’s just the mere craftsmanship that is being critiqued, and everyone knows craftsmanship is a learned skilled, not an innate part of oneself. Constantly honed.
So listen and learn.

But also keep in mind that critiques are not always right, or valid, or useful. You can read them and say “Oh Hell no!”
The least useful critique or review is the one where the reader expected a different genre. If you don’t recognize this class of comment, especially from an alpha or beta reader, before you publish, it can really mess up your rewrite. Genre expectations vary greatly from genre to genre. Learn them. Use them. Check your tags and make sure you’re flagging down the readers who like your genre.

Some professional reviewers have biases. My worst review was from a professional reviewer with a strong Christian background. Again, no point in arguing. No point in getting all tangled up about it. Make a note to not send books there for reviews, because they probably won’t like any of my books.
Likewise, make note of favorable reviews, and why the reviewers seemed to like that particular book, and send more with that same quality to them. Some reviews come out of nowhere, as on Amazon’s customer reviews. If it’s negative, you shouldn’t make a spectacle of yourself trying to get it to go away. But do try to encourage the readers who like your books to post reviews on Amazon and anywhere else that allows comments.

If you want a professional opinion on your book’s starting hook, start here:

And don’t get all emotionally involved. This is a professional opinion, that will help hone your craft.

How about it? Have you guys had any good or bad or both reviews? Have you learned to toughen your skin, or do you still let them get to you?


And let’s not forget the usual push:


  1. I’m still wanting more reviews. I am relatively thick-skinned about the ones who don’t like a book, but it’s not enjoyable. I’m usually over it within a day. The negative reviews where a book is just not to someone’s taste don’t really bother me.

  2. I’m constantly amazed at the fragility of some writers’ egos. The universally loved work of art has never been created and will never be created. Any person who can’t accept that simple fact is setting themselves up for a world of hurt.

    While I agree that an author should read reviews with an eye toward improving their craft, it’s far more important to look at the big picture. While I wish my book had more reviews on Amazon, I’ve got 30 of them now. Of those, 19 are five star reviews. Four more are four star reviews. I’m pleased. But it also doesn’t mean that the people who left one and two star reviews are out to get me. It just means they’re not really in my target audience. (I don’t appear to have pissed anyone off to the point that they’ve left fake one star reviews. At least, not yet.)

    I wrote comic books back in the ’80s and spoke with a lot of aspiring writers and artists at conventions. I always told them (and still do, if asked) to stay out of the business if they couldn’t accept that someone, somewhere will absolutely hate their story or artwork.

  3. Just read Fancy Free last week or so and enjoyed it – I liked the AI interactions much better than in your Barton Street Gym, which felt awkward (sorry, I don’t know how to better put that). But you know I’m a fan of yours. I read pretty much anything you put out there.

    I get a broad range of reviews. I’ve had negative reviews that made me laugh out loud. One in particular was funny – the reviewer has obviously never read the first book in the series, as she said she stopped reading Trickster Noir when Bella had to give up her car keys to ‘the man’ Hah! Look, lady, James Dean doesn’t let anyone else drive him, and if you’d bother to read on, Bella trounces him nicely. But as they said on Kate’s post yesterday, if you are looking for sexism, you will find it.

    The constant drubbing on indie authors for grammar and typos does grate on me, since I hire professionals for that, and feel like the reviewer is hitting my staff, if that makes sense. Not cool, and that I will get warm under the collar about. But I don’t respond, and I try not to whine in public. The best response is to write another book, like that one, but better.

    1. I disagree when it comes to typos. That’s a non-subjective criticism concerning something which can absolutely ruin the reading experience. I’ll agree some people can go overboard with it — “I found a misspelled word on page 87 of this 300 page novel. One star!” — but most reviewers don’t mention grammar unless it’s a glaring problem for them.

      Now, if you’ve got friends helping you with grammar and typos out the goodness of their hearts, I can maybe see getting warm under the collar on their behalf. But if you’re paying professionals for editing and proofreading and you’re still getting dinged for grammar and typos in reviews, it may be time to consider whether you’re getting good value for your money.

      1. The problem comes when there aren’t typos, or at least not that we can find. I’ll take it when there are… but some reviewers seem to throw that in there for any indie-published book. My beta readers, who are unpaid, assist with typo hunting, but I hire a final proof-editing pass out. Yes, you are right about making sure I get the right person – I have had two books redone because the original editor was not skillful. It still irritates me, but I don’t respond to the reviewers.

        1. “AI interactions . . . felt awkward”

          This is yet another example of me trying to be cute. In _The Barton Street Gym_ I have an AI learning how to interact with humans. So I made it stilted and awkward. :: sigh :: another twenty books and _then_ I’ll be perfect. Right?

          1. Oh, and if you bought FF in the last 7 days, return it and then grab the free version. That goes for all of you, I’m thick skinned, and don’t get enough returns to get all hurt about it. πŸ™‚

        2. Okay, I see where you’re coming from now. And that is a point I’m in complete agreement with. If the typos and grammar problems are there, they’re fair game. If a reviewer simply assumes the typos and grammar errors abound simply because it’s an indie title, I’d be steamed, too.

          1. I probably should have pointed out that I have seen this happen to other authors, it’s not just my reviews. Since I read mostly Indie for review on my blog, I’ve seen egregious lack of editing, and I have seen reviews that left me scratching my head wondering what they were talking about, I hadn’t caught any in my reading.

  4. In one of the volumes of his autobiography (IIRC) the late Isaac Asimov gave his advice on how to deal with bad reviews (from memory):

    Write a detailed rebuttal to the bad review.
    In that rebuttal, discuss the obvious shortcomings of the reviewer, include their intelligence, their parentage, and their personal hygene.
    Read over your rebuttal. Chortle over the most devastating bits.
    Show the rebuttal to your significant other. Have them chortle over it with you.
    Put it in an envelope. Address it. Put a stamp on it.
    Then tear it up, because you’ve gotten all the benefit you’re ever going to get from it.

    Words of wisdom indeed.

    1. I don’t think I would put a stamp on it. I might accidentally drop it in the mailbox (I’m very easily distracted and forgetful).

  5. *grin* When I got my first one-star on _Elizabeth of Starland_, I kinda bounced up and down a little because I’m now a REAL writer. Then I read the complaint. The reader couldn’t accept that different bits of tech would get salvaged, and I wasn’t clear enough why that happened. And the protagonist grew too skillful too fast. OK, not much I could do about the first one, because with the limited POV I was using, the protagonist wouldn’t know why the odd tech pattern (population crash and who saved what). The second complaint was good to know, and I’ve kept it in mind for other books. So it was at least useful.

  6. I hadn’t heard of Immerse or Die–sounds like a great challenge.

    As for reviews, yes, they get to me, but I work past it. A bit of sadness, a realization, that yes, after all this work, I still stink, then it’s back to writing.

      1. Wish he did unpublished work so that one could use his comments to fix things. Looks worth a subscription.

  7. Veterans of Sarah’s Diner might recall a certain Book That Must Not Be Named, written by a thin-skinned Author Who Must Not Be Invoked. An excellent example of what not to do.

    1. I really wish someone would name the book and the author. All these veiled hints have me extremely curious. I mean, who doesn’t like gawking at train wrecks?

  8. A sensitive point for me. Not because I have received bad reviews; but, because I dread them when I do get around to publishing. And, yes I will eventually publish. I’m not THAT worried. I’m 74 and want both series finished before I publish (close to that now) because I don’t want to die with a dangling participle. The singles don’t matter. I expect that I will get some bad reviews, I’m a free range Christian, that means I’m going to tick off orthodoxy because in fairness, I will have to have a Christian tag as part of the description. I expect I’ll tick off some other demographics too. So for me, Pam and Tom’s advice is a godsend. Thanks, will save and file to reread when the dark and dreary night approaches. Added Fancy Free to the TBR library. Thanks.

  9. I had a bunch of reactions that made it clear that a thing I did was quite broken. I can’t blame it on my weak execution, because at least some of the problems came from choices I made during design. “I like intellectual puzzles, so I will let what happens be unclear.” I wasn’t thinking, and let myself try to be cute in several ways, each of which might’ve killed the story on their own, even with good execution.

    Without all the ‘What is happening’ reactions, I would not have realized how broken the thing was.

  10. Aside from picking on typos, there seems to be a breed of reviewers out there who react to any form of sex in the story by declaring that the book was written by or for horny teenagers. Then they give it one or two stars.

  11. I don’t know exactly how far Jefferson Smith can read in 10 minutes, but I started reading the book today before I fully read this post, and coincidentally I think I’ve probably got about as far into it as he has. He’s right about the info dump being more than a little awkward. The pronoun thing didn’t bother me – maybe I subconsciously got what you were going for, maybe I simply didn’t notice. I’m interested in the distinction between Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Personality that’s starting to be made, and I’m curious about how that might develop as the story continues. I am wondering what the heck the ballerina on the cover has to do with the TV chef AP we are being introduced to, but I imagine that will probably become clear later on. My immersion may be slightly dented, but it’s nowhere near broken yet.

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