Before I was published, a writer friend advised me not to read the reviews of my books posted on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. I must have looked at her funny because she went on to say, “I’m serious. I never read my reviews. My daughter screens them and sends me only the good ones.”
As inexperienced as I was at that point, I knew I couldn’t follow her advice. First of all, I don’t have a daughter, and second, I have to know. I really do. I read all my reviews, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Fortunately, I haven’t had any really bad reviews, the kind that might make me close my laptop and take up ballroom dancing or découpage. But I’ve had my share of, let’s say, disappointing comments. Two in particular stand out in my mind—along with my inner reactions:
- “I always at least read a few chapters but this one just did not grab my attention.”
Oh, dear—were my first chapters really that boring? What should I have done differently? Am I even capable of writing engaging novels?
- “Rinse and repeat.”
Ouch! I take great pains to make every plotline unique. Or at least I think I do. Am I fooling myself? Maybe I am, and the mystery world is just finding out.
Accept it. No matter how many brilliant and generous reviews you get, the bad ones will stick in your brain like those earworms, springing to memory at your most vulnerable moments. There’s not a lot you can do about it. But you can take comfort in this:
2. You Will Never Please Everyone
Every writer gets bad reviews. If you doubt this, choose your favorite author and read the reviews. Here are actual reviews from six of my very, very favorite authors, and believe me–these are the big names, all contemporary. Anonymous, of course:
- “Fun and gripping for a while, but feeble plot and embarrassing chick-lit tropes.”
- “…you’ve let us down! What a weak excuse for a book. There is no mystery here, there is just blathering on, and then uncovering something in the last pages.”
- “I don’t understand. I don’t understand so utterly that I’m actually angry at the close of this book.”
- “Some characters just give up information too easily that it’s laughable. It feels that the longer this series goes on, the worse it’s getting.”
- “I started this book and just couldn’t finish. The writing was wayyyy too boring and confusing.”
- “This book just didn’t do it for me, the characters are flat, the plot is boring, there’s really nothing going on for this book.
I may be wrong, but it does seem that the more well-known the author, the more a certain type of reader will relish taking them down a peg. I’ve never gotten a review as devastating as the ones above. Should I be thankful or upset? I’m not sure, but I do know this:
3. You Must Never, Ever Respond:
Trust me on this: responding will get you nowhere. I did once and regret it. I’d entered a well-known competition, one in which the entrants receive written reviews from the judges. I was a finalist, so that was a good thing, but one of my judges thought I’d included too much specific detail: “Sometimes,” this judge said, “the superfluous detail even descends into unintended comedy.” Each writer was given an opportunity to respond. I took it, thanking the judges for reading my book and for the honor of being a finalist. But I couldn’t resist a comment: “Just so you know,” I wrote at the end, “the ‘unintended comedy’ was intended.” Snarky. And absolutely no point. All you can do by responding is make it worse.
4. You Can Celebrate the Good:
For every “slow start” comment, someone else will write “a real page-turner.” For every “didn’t connect with the main character,” someone else will say, “I love Kate. She’s my new best friend.” The reviews for each of my books average above four points. That means I have a higher average rating than some of the authors on the NYT best-seller list. Okay, okay–so these star-quality authors generate more than ten thousand reviews and I have, well, less than that. Still. Readers who take the time to review my books have generally liked them. They are my tribe. I write for them.
Do you read your reviews? How do you deal with the less-than-complimentary ones?
Author Connie Berry
Connie is the USA Today and Amazon Best-Selling author of the Kate Hamilton Mysteries, set in the UK and featuring an American antiques dealer with a gift for solving crimes. Her debut novel, A Dream of Death, won the IPPY Gold Medal for Mystery and was a finalist for the Agatha Award and the Silver Falchion. Her latest, The Shadow of Memory, was a finalist for the Edgar’s 2023 Lilian Jackson Braun award.
Besides reading and writing mysteries, Connie loves history, foreign travel, cute animals, and all things British. She lives in Ohio and Wisconsin with her husband and adorable Shih Tzu, Emmie.