Monday, October 12, 2009

Bad Reviews by Karin Gillespie

I’ll never forget it so long as I live. I was about to embark on my very first ten-city book tour when I went to Amazon and, lying in wait like a black widow spider, was my first customer review.

"Karin Gillespie should be boiled in oil for writing such a terrible book. I will NEVER get back the four precious hours of my life I spend slogging through her deathless prose. Was her publisher on crack? Burning’s not good enough for this book. I want to tear it to pieces, page by abysmal page, and then feed it to an alligator.”
Perhaps I exaggerate. The review wasn’t quite that scathing but it was bad enough that I wanted to call in sick for my book tour, fearing I’d be met by torch-carrying, pitchfork waving, angry mobs. Obviously I’d managed to write the world’s worst book.

Never mind that I’d gotten a starred Kirkus just a few weeks earlier. Clearly my crack-crazed publisher had bribed the reviewer. All of the praise and kudos I’d received up until then had been expunged from my mind. All I cared about was what Edna Bledsoe from Backwater N.C*. had to say about my book, and Edna, bless her pea-picking heart, hated it.
That was over five years ago. Five years ago and several bad reviews later, I’m actually grateful to dear old Edna. If I ever ran into her, instead of wringing her neck, I might actually hug it. Looking back on it, I actually appreciated a little skin-thickening right out of the gate. Bad reviews are like chicken pox: Best to get ‘em over with early in the game less they turn into shingles. I know some writers that published two or three books before they had an encounter with their own Ednas, and it wasn’t pretty.

I’ve never responded to a bad review, much as I’ve been tempted. Nor do I ever read a bad review more than once. (Good reviews, on the other hand, I read hundreds of times and recently had an especially good one tattooed on my bicep.)
I’ve learned to completely ignore the mean-spirited reviews. People who attack the author just aren’t worth spilling tears or swilling whiskey over. I’ve even got to the point where I welcome the occasional poor review so long as the criticism is constructive, and if you believe that I’ve got some swampland I’d like to sell you.

Actually, every bad review stings for a little while but I do occasionally learn from them, and I’m grateful to anyone who has taken the time to read the book and comment on it. Authors might not like bad reviews but there’s something even worse: No reviews whatsoever.

How about you? If you’re an author how do you cope with bad reviews? I’d love to hear.

*Names and place changed to protect the ingrate… I mean the innocent.


Anonymous said...

Hey, Karin....this was great! And OH so true!
With SPINNING FORWARD about to hit the book stores 2 wk. from tomorrow, I've fastened my seat belt. So far...only one very mean-spirited slam. Constructive criticism, as you said, is one thing....but being nasty, not acceptable.
Many actors, artists, sports celebs, etc. NEVER read their reviews....good or bad. And I'm beginning to think this just might be the sane thing to do!
Because BOTTOM's the majority of your readers that count, not that one nasty one.
AND by the way......."I" read your first book and sorry, but ole "Edna" was way off base!

Anonymous said...

I am not an author, but I am an aspiring actor, and my worst review ever has stayed with me for over 15 years. It read: "Gary Pullen was terrible, painfully so." No gray there, pretty black and white. I think I got a few good reviews too, but I don't remember any of those.

Karin Gillespie said...

I think it would be a shame to miss the good reviews! Gary, who was that slob? They were totally off base.

Toni McGee Causey said...

Karin, that is hysterical -- and so true. I remember one particularly scathing reviewer who started off telling everyone why he hated the genre I'd written in and then proceeded to rip everything apart. Every. Thing. Including me, my momma and my dog. There was just no making that guy happy, in spite of the starred PW and Library Journal and Booklist reviews.

I completely appreciate that some people just aren't going to like the book. Hell, there are books out there that people have raved about, books people would hock their homes to keep, they love them just that much... and the same books elicit a meh or huh? from me. It's all subjective, and I welcome that. If we all loved exactly the same thing, then all us writers would be forced to write the exact same thing and dear heavens, how boring that would be.

Melissa Senate said...

Love this post, Karin! The first major review of my debut novel (from Publishers Weekly) was sooo bad, but the second, from Booklist, was so good, and I learned then that a review isn't book-dependent; it's reviewer-dependent. Depends completely on the taste and sensibility of the person reading it. One will love my book, one will hate it. And one will say "meh" (and I almost prefer the hate to the "meh" since the hate is soooo passionate!). The scathing reviews still hurt for a good half day, though!

Karin Gillespie said...

Hi Toni and Melissa,

Nice to see ya around these parts,and thanks for the comments. Toni, I remember when your first book out and you snagged every star in the book.

It is so subjective. For instance, I wasn't the biggest fan of Time Travelers Wife and clearly that puts me in the minority.

Tom Bailey said...

I work in business not in books... but I am hearing an underlying theme that is very similar.

To do in well in business
Double your rate of failure.

Sounds like that is possible in the book world too.

You have a great blog.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great post, Karin!

They definitely sting. I try to put them out of my head as I write (which is the precise point I *don't* need to think about them.) I put the good ones on publicity stuff (although your tattoo idea sounds awesome.) :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

staceyjwarner said...

I've done a lot of theater and filmmaking, but never received a bad review (finers crossed)...I'm only just now venturing into writing a book and I expect I'll get a few...thanks for sharing your story!

Karin Gillespie said...

Thanks, Elizabeth and Stacy for your comments. I like what Tom said and so true, about doubling your rate of failure when you're successful. It certainly applies.

It's funny because when I go to Amazon and check on friend's books, I get highly indignant and protective, especially when they are a debut author and the review is mean spirited.

Scobberlotcher said...

Excellent post. I suspect all of us have shared this experience to some degree.

Happy Writing!

Jackie K Cooper said...

Is there a cave I can go to and hide in? Please believe all book reviewers are not spiteful people who just want to say negative things about your work. I put a lot of time and thought into my reviews and try to find something good in every one I review.

Karin Gillespie said...

Of course, Jackie, you are a very considerate and fair reviewer. Never mean-sprited ever.

River Jordan said...


Boy have you hit a hot spot for writers. This was terrific fun and the photo - I've got to rush right out and find someone to take my screaming photo too. My fingers are itching to get my 2 cent story in on my assigned blog day in early November. And the failure rate - Guess if Babe Ruth had received bad reviews instead of strike outs he would have just keep on tapping at the keys!