1. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Bad reviews

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by sprirj, Mar 8, 2016.

    I recently had a terrible review, it really knocks you off your feet. Although it wasn't for my writing, it was for something I worked really hard at, and was emotionally close to and care passionately about. It made me question if what I think is good, actually is? I now dread showing my novel to anyone. I know it is just one person, but you can't help feel that maybe you are blind to something. The review summed up read: 'atrocious'. Yeah, that bad, no positive feedback, just point blank shot down.

    Anyone care to post there own bad reviews or experiences up?
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm sorry to hear that, spirj. :( Reviewers often forget there's a person behind the work - they're reviewing the product, not you. I know that doesn't offer much comfort, but it's true.

    At work, my writing is constantly reviewed by clients. In my case, it can be the difference between winning a £30,000,000 contract or losing it. Once, we lost a BILLION pound contact (although it was a presentation by my colleagues that lost it, not my writing - still, I put a lot of work into the written element, and it hurt!). If there's one thing I learned, it's how subjective it is - what one client gives 40%, another client will give 90%. Often they're looking for something ridiculously specific, and fail to mention it, so when I fail to read their minds I get a low score.

    Honestly, the only time low scores bother me now is when I know that writing wasn't my best. Sometimes that happens because we have to rush to meet a deadline, or because I'm forced to accept a colleague's edits even when I know they make the writing worse, or because of reasons entirely under my control - because I misread the brief, or I forgot something obvious. As long as I learn from it and avoid the same mistake next time, it's not the end of the world.
     
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  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm a little confused. You say the review wasn't for your writing, but now you're worried about showing your novel to anybody. ??? Was the review about something you wrote? I'll assume it was, for the purposes of this response.

    Did the reviewer give any reasons for the bad review? If not, ignore it. If they can't be bothered to tell you why they didn't like something, they aren't worth paying attention to. If they did give reasons, pick yourself up and see if there is any truth to what they said. If so, you've got a goal to work towards. If not, just tell yourself 'they're not my target audience!'

    Any good review—whether favourable or unfavourable—should give coherent reasons for why the reviewer took that position. If they fail to do that, it's not a review. It's a vote.

    I do think it's important for a writer to develop a thick skin, though. If you wrote about a subject very dear to your heart and somebody honestly (and unmaliciously) doesn't get it, of course you're going to feel gutted. But perhaps you didn't quite convey what you wanted to convey? Otherwise, they would be sharing your feelings, right?

    That's when you go back and try to review the thing with an unemotional eye. See what you can do to make other people feel what you feel about the subject.

    Writing is a long, difficult process, especially if you are writing from the heart and aren't just churning out formulaic genre—which you can learn to do more easily, I think. Sharing deep feelings about yourself—and being understood by your readers—is a more difficult trick than simple crowd-pleasing.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2016
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  4. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Thanks tenderiser. Much love to Rik too, one of my heroes. :)

    Jannert, there was one element they focused on, it just so happened to be the part most personal to me, although, none of it got a good comment.
    Now, it is not something I would try to make money out of, although I'd like to, as it's a passion and I'm not saying I'm great at it, I have no qualifications in this field. But it felt harsh.
     
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  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, you're entitled to feel bad when you read a criticism that you didn't expect, that feels harsh. However, it's what happens next that's important. Do you dismiss their comments as malicious and wrong? Or do you consider it a legitimate reaction?

    Again, I'd focus on why the reviewer took this position. Either they were just being mean, or they have a point.

    If you think they have a legitimate point, then try to address it. Why did they dislike the personal part of this that's so important to you? It can get tricky, because sometimes people just take against a certain subject or approach, and there isn't anything you can do to convince them otherwise. (People who refuse to read Prologues, people who refuse to read any sex scenes, people who are rabidly anti-gay, etc.) But if that's not the specific problem here, you need to step away from your hurt feelings and work beyond them.

    If possible, I'd contact the 'reviewer' and ask some specific questions. Get them to clarify why they disliked it so much. That might set your mind at rest, actually. If it turns out they're one of the people who would hate reading about that subject no matter how it was written, then you've got your answer. Just move on.

    Don't be afraid to show your novel to other people. In fact, that's exactly what you should do. The more feedback you get from as many people as possible, the better picture you'll get of what works and what doesn't work. If all the other people love that bit of your story, then you'll feel better about that review. If other people also struggle with it, then you'll know you need to address the issues they've raised.

    If you're terrified of negative reaction, you should probably reconsider writing for anybody but yourself. Getting over this kind of thing is part of being a writer who intends to be read. However, that doesn't mean you can't feel bad! There are writers out there who refuse to read reviews of published works, full-stop. I hope they aren't that way with pre-publication feedback, though.

    Something a person pointed out to me during the very first beta read I received for my first novel was this: it doesn't matter what you were thinking or feeling about what you wrote. What matters is what comes across in the writing itself.

    If people don't 'get' your point, then it's worth considering why. What would it take for your reader to feel the same passion you felt when you wrote your story?

    Keeping in mind that you'll never please everybody (name me a single author whom everybody loves) it's also a good idea to accept that your first draft will not be perfect. Be open to making changes, if you can. Don't change what you tried to say, change how you said it.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2016
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  6. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Does anyone read bad reviews of their favourite books to remind you that you can never please everyone? I just found these on one of mine (Perfume by Patrick Suskind):

    This is a book I've read maybe 20 times. Ouch!

    I also adore these hilarious bad reviews of holidays:

     
  7. Fawky
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    It was kind of off-putic that you wrote "bad review" because I assumed it was a review that was written poorly instead of a negative one. Anyway, now that I've understood it correctly (I think) after reading the other replies, I'll put in my two cents.

    Yes, it sucks. It sucks that someone found the favorite part of your work "atrocious" (a word I wouldn't personally use in a review as I believe they should be kept to the point and not throwing the author off with negative words like these), however, it's something that everyone goes through and everyone will go through. As a writer, it's impossible to please everyone. If you really felt with this part as much as you say, I say fuck 'em. If one person felt really strongly against this, remember that's all it is, one person. This is your work, and you're not entitled to take any reviews into consideration.

    That being said, if several people start pointing it out then yes, you really should do something about it, try to put your emotions aside and look at this form a completely objective view. It's hard to look at your own work with the critical eye, but sometimes it has to be done, especially if you wish to advance your skills as a writer.

    That's pretty much what I say, just remember do not let this bring you down. Because if you give up what you love because you got a little resistance, that's going to be a regret you live with your whole life.
     
  8. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Bad reviews are part and parcel of an author's life. You literally just have to accept them and move on. In the end it's just someone's opinion.

    Case in point, I just got one starred today. First time in about a year I think. But what annoyed me wasn't that. It was that the reviewer complained that there were too many run on sentences in my book. Only problem is that that used to be a problem of mine. I have taken steps to correct the issue in the last few years. And my editor is extremely harsh on them since I asked her to be. So there shouldn't be many at all.

    Having said that she's entitled to her opinion. I'm entitled to think she's over-reacting to something. End of story and we both move on. That's what you have to do.

    And despite what was said above - do not engage.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  9. LinnyV
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    LinnyV Contributing Member

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    If it's just one bad review out of many positives, you shouldn't fuss but you should take the time to understand where they might be coming from. And if you can take something from that experience, then it's a win for you and your progression in understanding how your writing affects others. If it's just a unhelpful insult at your novel, then I'd just ignore it and move on. So rather than feel bad about it, you should feel empowered that you faced the criticism head on, that you tried to understand what wasn't working but still remain positive and believe in your work. Good or bad, you created something, you should be proud of that.

    Every author and book I've loved has bad reviews. That's normal because there's has to be someone around to bitch and moan and complain, it's called having an opinion.

    But as a reader, I feel I'm savvy enough to filter through the reviews to find what I am looking for. Nasty ranty reviews that don't explain what the issue is are usually ones I ignore.
     
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  10. halisme
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    halisme Contributing Member Contributor

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    I decided to have a go and look at the reviews of some of my favourite books, mostly Pratchett. I just found myself, laughing. If they don't get that's their problem. Characterisation and quality of writing is subjective. I like and they don't.
     
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  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Everyone gets negative reviews - brace yourself!

    I'm with @psychotick in that the ones that bother me most are the ones that are actually wrong. My first book was written in third person present tense, and there was a Goodreads review that went on and on about how hard it was to read because it was written in second person. More than five years ago and I still want to go find that reviewer and yell "present tense! you didn't like it because it was present tense, not second person!"

    Mostly, though? Whatever. Learn what you can from the reviews, leave the rest behind. Alternatively, avoid them like the plague, as some thin-skinned writers do. But that's always tricky, and keeps you from learning. So I'd recommend the "leave the rest behind" approach.
     
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  12. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    It's difficult with any of this stuff because taste determines a lot of how people react to these things. Particularly for us plebs who are just happy to get anyone reading our stuff even if it doesn't fit their tastes we do run into plenty of people happy to tell us we suck simply because what they like in a book isn't what we like. If it doesn't click with them (say perhaps they didn't want to sympathize with a junkie) then it's the books fault and you must be a terrible writer as a result.

    The best approach to take is to ensure that (for the time being) anyone who reads your work you have a chance to have a conversation about it so even if they think it's awful you can ask them why and try to drill down to things that are helpful to you. 'Boring' is a really unhelpful comment but 'too slow paced' is something you can take on board. 'Crappy characters' does nothing but 'I didn't think she was believable' is useful. Just asking 'Why don't you like this thing I like?' can really get you to something worth hearing. If you can't do that, still try to dissect the comments you get and tease out that information but it's obviously much harder.

    In general; don't take it so seriously. I know it'd hard, I know it sucks. But it's true. Pandering to anyone doesn't make a better book, just a book that a different person will hate. So take whatever constructive stuff you can and forget the rest. Of course it's hard to know if your work is good or not but have faith in yourself and don't let the mean stuff get to you. You can't please everyone, all you can do is write a book you like and hope that other people like it too.
     
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  13. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Thank you everyone.

    I re-read the review through squinted eyes:

    "Without emotion or quality"
    "The whole thing feels as if it's needs to be given life"
    "A bit wooden"

    So there is a theme here. Personally, I'm a reserved type of guy, I don't get hyper emotional on a day to day basis, but this was something I put my heart and soul into and now I wonder how I can do this better?

    I look back at this project, and I can't see it. But the person did not say it out of spite ( at least I hope not, since I know them a little).
     
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  14. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have you had other reviews on the same project that say the same thing? If so, it's something to look at, but if this is the only person who's had an issue with it and you don't see any validity yourself, I'd say it's worth ignoring.
     
  15. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Take reviews with a grain of salt. They sting but in some ways a bad review may help your overall image selling your book. Too many three & four star reviews and some buyers tend to get suspicious that only relatives read the book.

    Plus some reviews say more about the reviewee than the book. And anyone reading it may figure that out.

    I haven't got a bad review yet. But I've only gotten three reviews. Ironically no relatives.

    Not that I haven't gotten negative critiques, I have. Just this weekend I got - poorly written, awkward, irritating style, doesn't flow well, doesn't do it for me, grammar problems galore, I can't see any reason to keep reading - ouch.
    Mind you I knew what I was getting into setting it up for anonymous critique. They can be eviscerating. I do it specifically for advice and to toughen me up.

    If the review has made criticisms you've heard before - take it to heart and work on them. I get a lot of guff about my commas - so it's not a personal opinion it's a fact I need to work on them.
     
  16. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    Not naming names here, but I used to post on site #1, which had an incredibly petty feud with site #2. Site #2 obsessively catalogued things that were posted on site #1 that they considered stupid, offensive, or self-aggrandizing. (They described me as "a misogynistic, pedophilic [expletive] who moonlights as a [expletive] writer.") They sporked one of my fanfics line by line, pinning up and tearing apart everything I'd written, and started on one of my original stories before getting bored and giving up.

    It stung at first, but then I realized how terrible their reading comprehension was. My writing wasn't that obtuse--they just immediately jumped to interpretations that would make my story seem stupid, no matter how much they had to strain their logic to do it. That's helped me a lot to recognize bad critiques of both my stories and other stories (like a critiquer who believed that a certain genre was inherently sexist and interpreted every story element in the most sexist way possible, or a critiquer who wanted positive portrayals of minorities and put no evaluation at all into how or why minority characters were depicted a certain way.)
     
  17. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Just being nosey but was one of those sites Absolute Write? I've heard of people there picking feuds with other writers and websites - specifically anyone self publishing.

    Also what's sporking? It sounds kind of rude.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Aha. Now you're getting somewhere! This reader thought your story lacked emotion.

    Obviously you felt emotion—a lot—about the story. as you wrote it. So why isn't that emotion coming across to the reader?

    See if you can have a discussion with this person. Ask them if they've got any ideas for improvement, or better yet, ask them to pinpoint a section of the story where they felt this way. Are you doing a lot of telling rather than showing? (Saying things like 'He felt sad,' instead of making the reader experience the sad event?) Do a bit of googling, and see what you can come up with as far as injecting emotion into your writing. There are lots of techniques out there. Even put a snippet up on the workshop here, and ask specifically for help with making it more emotional and less 'wooden.'

    I just googled How To Inject Emotion Into Writing, and this is the first (of many) results I got. Well worth a look. http://theeditorsblog.net/2011/01/30/creating-emotion-in-the-reader/

    That feedback you received was actually helpful, and should get you started on the road to fixing your story. It's not going to be hard to do. Everybody needs to learn. You'll be a much stronger writer if you learn how to convey emotion more effectively.
     
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  19. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Thanks, I think this could be very useful. I won't post anything online, as I said in my original post, it wasn't a review on my writing, so it can not be seen on the forum.
     
  20. ShannonH
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    ShannonH Senior Member Supporter

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    Got a recent review for one of my Chapters on another site. The writing got some praise, as did the featured characters which is always nice but then the reviewer deducted points because the POV jumped suddenly between two characters (it didn't, I'm not sure where he got that idea)

    It's frustrating, getting criticism over mistakes you didn't actually make. I'd rather someone just come out and said they hated it.

    Part of the process of course and at least someone is reading it. I say it's something I'll have to get used to if I carry the work forward.
     
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  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Of course when somebody is doing a critique they are looking for flaws, and sometimes the flaws are things they wouldn't notice if they weren't looking. So there's always that to consider, when something doesn't make sense to you.

    However, saying a POV jumped between two characters? That's an interesting thing for them to say. What do you think gave them the idea that there was a POV jump?

    Are you able to interact with the critique-giver? If so, can you ask them exactly where they saw that happening "so you can fix it?" That way they'll need to be specific, while you won't look like you're disagreeing with them or attacking their observation.

    If you didn't actually jump POV, it might be interesting to learn why they thought you did.
     
  22. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    Sometimes people are just jerks and don't actually read the passage before offering a critique. It's important to ask yourself if the person doing the critiquing is actually worth listening too, because that's not always the case. A person who can give valid and accurate critiques is a rarity to be treasured.
     
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  23. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I spend a fair bit of time at Absolute Write, and in general I find them way more respectful of other writers than this site. Their number one rule is "respect your fellow writer" and they pretty well stick to it. They ask some hard questions about self-publishing as a business model and are critical of a lot of claims of self-publishing success, but I haven't seen them go after writers as such.

    So I expect it's a different site.
     
  24. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    They might well be wrong or simply careless, or even rude. However, like names and faces, an unhelpful reaction to your writing won't really hurt you. Just ignore it and move on.

    However, you did ask for feedback. It won't always be what you want to hear. It might be something completely out of the blue that you've not considered. It might well be wrong or misguided, but it's always worth considering—even for only a moment—that it might be right.

    If the reader has completely missed a point you made, or didn't pick up an important connection, ask yourself if there is a way you could strengthen that bit so the next person won't miss it. Just because you put it there doesn't mean somebody is going to notice it. It's not necessarily because readers are careless. It could well be that they were expecting something else, or are so focused on another aspect of your story that they missed a clue. So ...make it a stronger clue.

    Some of the most valid criticism I've received for my writing was also the most difficult to accept. I did the usual stomping around and muttering imprecations (which they couldn't hear because it was all online!) But when I calmed down, I realised ...urk ...they actually had a valid point. And yes it meant making changes. But you know what? I am so happy I made those changes. I know I have a stronger story because people dared to tell me something I didn't want to hear.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2016
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  25. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    At the same time, especially online, people offer a quick "critique" just to meet the site requirements (here it's two critiques) before posting their own work. It's not always good critiques - - just SOMETHING - - so they can get on to posting their own work, which we should read carefully, of course.

    Also--sometimes people are just jerks and want to rant, but don't bother to read first. I once had a person mad because my MC was naked while washing her clothes in the river, "even in the old west people had more than one set of clothes." Except, if he each bothered to read more than the 1st page each time, he would know the story was set in Iron Age Europe, not the American West. (Of course, it being the Danube River should have tipped him too the fact that is wasn't set in the Americas. LOL!)
     
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