Feb 16, 2009

How to Approach a Bad Review

by Joyce DiPastena

What do you do when you get a bad—or at least, a “below average”—review of your book on a site like GoodReads.com? I’m talking 2 stars. (So far, I’ve been fortunate enough to not earn fewer stars than that!)

Your first instinct is to be hurt, to feel like you must be a miserable writer, etc. But read those reviews closely. Some key phrases to look for: “Not being a fan of the romance [or fantasy or mystery] genre…”; “My enjoyment wanes when the romance [or fantasy or mystery] is the focal point of the plot..."

What do phrases like this really tell us? Not that our writing or novels are “bad”. Such phrases simply tell us that this particular reader does not fall into our “target audience” for our book. Who does fall into our “target audience”? Look again at GoodReads or Amazon or Shelfari, or any other reviewing sites for books, and focus, not on the two and three stars, but on the four and five stars, especially those who take the time to write a short review to tell us how much they enjoyed our romance (or fantasy or mystery). These are the people we are writing for, not the “non-fans” of our particular genre. And don’t forget those wonderful unsolicited emails we occasionally receive from perfect strangers, telling us how much they liked our book and demanding to know when we’re going to write another one.

If we try to satisfy everyone, fans and non-fans of our genres alike, we are only setting ourselves up to fail both. So keep that important question: “Who’s my target audience?” upfront and center in your mind. Write for those readers. They’ll thank you for it. And the rest simply doesn’t matter.


  1. Awesome message, Joyce, and spot on! We all need to remember this advice.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Joyce. I'll store it up!

  5. great post, Joyce, and wonderful advice! I hope I get the chance to use it!

  6. Great words Joyce and very timely considering the economic times. We must cater to our target readers. They expect it of us.

  7. Thanks Joyce, this helps with growing a thick skin thing. I like what you said. I had a critique at a writer's conference by someone who hates fanatasy. My dragon book is all about fantasy. Why was he given my book to critique I will never know. Needless to say, he didn't get it, and let me know that I might want to get another vocation. This was my my first introduction into a bad review. I decided he was just the wrong person to critique my style of book. His tack showed me he lived in outer space. Chocolate helped me get back on track.

  8. In math, the results are either right or wrong. In creative writing, there is absolutely no way to judge except by how it grabs you at the moment you read it. Your mood, your experience, your health, your attention -- almost anything in you that changes -- determine your outlook. Haven't you read something that was completely boring, tossed it aside and later picked it up to find it totally engrossing? I have.

    I had a college professor who had us grade five compositions (sans author's name) and tabulated the results. Every single essay was given at least one F and at least one A, with the majority being somewhere in between. Actually, a bell curve. It was the most eye-opening experience, and made it much easier for me to get a good perspective on rejections. They're only spur of the moment opinions.

    My advice? Don't sweat it.


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