Dealing with criticism

My recent discovery of a negative review of one of my books got me wondering (again) about bad reviews and how to handle them. If you're starting out it may be of some use to you.

When I started work on my first book I knew that I was, in effect, sticking my head above the parapet, painting a bullseye on it and inviting people to take aim. All would-be writers need to remember this. If you're asking the public to give you money you have to expect them to give you comments too.

The age of the Internet has not only made it easier to comment it has also made it easier to get those comments before the author. In a lot of cases I have found very obscure opinions on my work simply by the use of Google.

Unfortunately the Internet has also made it easier to be downright nasty. Safe behind their screens and their bizarre usernames there are certain types of people who will express their displeasure (whether they genuinely feel it or not) in the most hurtful terms possible in the knowledge that they can almost certainly avoid detection. For some of them the thought of the pain they could cause the author is what drives them. For others it's just that they genuinely dislike your work.

If you're a sensitive person you have to learn to toughen up very quickly. Your only other options are to not write at all or never read any reviews of your work. I've been advised to take the latter course on more than one occasion but my problem is that I am eager for praise and tend to keep an all too sharp eye on the comments pages of Amazon etc. This carries the risk that occasionally I'll find something less than palatable.

When my first book launched I had an uneasy wait for the first reviews. I was all geared up for the slings and arrows but instead got several very encouraging reviews. At this point I made the mistake of lowering my guard so I was totally unprepared when the first dose of vitriol arrived shortly afterwards.

I won't go into the review in question but it basically had nothing good to say. I'm not ashamed to admit that the only reason I didn't hang up my pen was that I had more positive reviews than negative. Had it been the first review to arrive I might have easily given up.

I then began work on my second book and did so with the attitude of "I'll show that b#%&$%d". Fortunately I quickly realised that it was not the best frame of mind in which to write and I put it behind me and got on with the job. The only way I could proceed was to ignore all reviews both good and bad. You cannot allow them to influence you. The bad ones make you an angry writer and the good ones can make you complacent. Neither is a good position from which to write.

This swift learning experience paid dividends and my second book was a greater success than my first and was even short-listed for an award. However it has not escaped negativity. A review in September 2009 (which I've only just seen) described it as "badly written".

My third book too has received some negative feedback but for the most part this has been constructive rather than destructive. However I know all too well that sooner or later something bad will pop-up. After all no book that has ever been written has enjoyed universal praise. Conversely none has received universal condemnation either.

If you get a bad review just remember the following:

The reviewer is not the ultimate arbiter of what is or is not 'good' writing. If they don't like it remember it's just their (one) opinion.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to look at the Amazon comments page.


  1. Good advice. I recently came across a Very Bad Review of my first book which struck me to the heart! I've become very wary of reading them, especially as mine are so light you could blow them away with a feather and therefore become cannon fodder for the literary minded.

  2. I'm glad you agree. I'm very close to not reading any more reviews - especially those on Amazon.

  3. I have today noticed that a two-star review has appeared on for my first book. It's not the most critical I've ever seen but it's running a close second.

    If you're a new writer I suggest you go and have a look. It may help prepare you for the kind of reception you may one day receive yourself.