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Dealing with a Poor Review

Dealing with a Less Than Favorable Review

We've all had it happen. We pour our souls out onto the page, hand it over to someone else and watch as they metaphorically shred it before our very eyes. Now what? Give up? Curl up in a ball under our writing desks and whimper? Hardly. The next time a review comes back less-than-favorable here are the best ways to handle it.

Don't Immediately Dismiss It

We are all learning, but we cannot learn if we do not accept criticism. That is not to say that every critic of your work is correct and should be taken to heart either. When you receive a review that offers more criticism than praise, keep your emotions in check and give the criticism some serious thought.

Categorize the Review as Constructive or Destructive

Our favorite reviews are the ones that proclaim our most recent work as "an instant classic" or "utterly flawless prose." More commonly (probably) are the reviews that offer at least a bit of criticism, which is good because these reviews are the more useful of the two. Once criticism comes in though, you need to determine whether it is constructive or destructive.

Destructive criticism simply denigrates the work in general language.
Examples: 'This is a bad story,' 'Not worth reading' or 'Weak writing.'
Single instances of destructive criticism do not help an author very much, except to help you build up the necessary 'thick skin' every writer needs. However, if you start to receive a good deal of this type of critique you may need to dig into your story and determine what is causing this reaction in your readers.

Constructive criticism specifically names what the reviewer feels is at issue in the work and may even offer up possible solutions.
Example: "The plot was intriguing but the dialogue seemed a bit forced and unnatural at times. Scene description should be mainly left up to the narrator, rather than trying to work it into conversations between characters."
This type of feedback is directly actionable, which leads us to the next tip. 

Try What the Reviewer Suggests

Even if your initial reaction is to disagree with a reviewer's suggestion, give it a try. Take the example above. Try rewriting a paragraph or two of the dialogue to leave out any mention of the scene, talking only about action, then see if you like it better. Maybe you do, maybe you don't, but you will never truly know the validity of a criticism until you give it a shot.

Know that You are Not Alone

Reviews are opinions offered by a single individual, and stories hit individuals differently based on their own preconceived notions and past experiences. Receiving a less-than-favorable review does not mean that your story is not 'good.' It simply means that a single person did not care for it. Some of the best stories ever written have received poor reviews from some of the most respected reviewers in the industry. Here are two examples from the New York Times Book Review, published in their anthology Books of the Century: A Hundred Years of Authors, Ideas & Literature.

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
"The scientific machinery is not very delicately constructed, and the imagination of the reader is decidedly overtaxed."

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
"This Salinger, he's a short story guy. And he knows how to write about kids. This book though, it's too long. Gets kind of monotonous. And he should have cut out a lot about these jerks and all that crumby school. They depress me."

Even the best authors get 'bad' reviews on occasion. In the end, any feedback can be helpful if you keep your focus and react to it appropriately!


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Reader Comments

andrea bermann @ Thursday, September 12 2013 1:03 PM Flag Inappropriate
The comment that a passage is plagiarized should be made very carefully. Such comments should be backed up with a link to or a direct quote from the so called plagiarized material. An unsupported comment is damaging to a person's reputation and the drive to continuing writing.

Tonya Brown @ Sunday, July 01 2012 11:22 PM Flag Inappropriate
So glad I found this. It's hard to swallow a bad review when you know how hard you have worked. It makes a difference when you can decipher between what is destructive, which I've come in contact with, and constructive. If you're writing reviews I would suggest you read this first.

Jeff McCormack @ Tuesday, January 03 2012 3:17 PM Flag Inappropriate
Definentely true on several key points.

Jasmine Salters @ Saturday, November 05 2011 8:06 PM Flag Inappropriate
I don't think reviews are pointless. If anything, they give you a good dose of reality and a good look at human nature, how it varies with each review. I don't know what kind of experience you've had with reviews, but if most critics were like that, most writers would be scared to enter contests.

John Grabowski @ Thursday, October 13 2011 10:12 PM Flag Inappropriate
Reviews are rather pointless, actually. Something is what it is. It's not a matter of "Don't criticize unless you can do better." That's silly. It's more a matter of most reviewers expect something they approach to be akin to their past experiences in the genre. If it isn't, they often reject it.

George A. Davis @ Wednesday, October 12 2011 4:40 PM Flag Inappropriate
Nice reminder.

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