blog 26: In which I suggest ten sure-fire ways to cope with a bad review.

In my writing career I have been blessed with many lovely reviews of my books for which I am eternally grateful. But like any author I have also received some absolute shockers. Eg:

“Stupid. Pathetic. Plotless. Stupid. Pathetic. Plotless. Stupid. Did I say pathetic? Oh yeah, and plotless. There’s not much to say about this book…It was that bad. I don’t even have enough respect for the book to review it properly, I’m just warning you to never ever ever ever ever ever ever read it.” (Goodreads Reader’s Review of Don’t Call Me Ishmael

The fact that the majority of my bad reviews come from close family and friends really just adds to the pain.

So as befits my reputation as a humanitarian, I have put together some suggestions that I’m hoping will assist my fellow writers when dealing with the inevitable, less-than-complimentary reader responses.


1. Read the review carefully and pick up on any spelling, punctuation or grammar errors however minor, so that you can use them to undermine the credibility of the reviewer.

Eg for the review above: “Aaaa-ha! There should have been a full stop after ‘properly’ not a comma! This person is obviously illiterate – and probably a devil worshipping serial killer! What would they know about literature.”

2. Convince yourself that the review was really written by some famous author who was just insanely jealous of your brilliance and was trying to sabotage your success.

Eg for above: “Hey, I recognise that turn of phrase. You bastard Markus!!!”

3. Use Babelfish fish to translate the review into another language, preferably one with which you are unfamiliar. This will make it sound much more palatable. For instance, a comment like “This book really sucks big time!” in French becomes “Ce livre suce vraiment le de premier rang!” Really? You think my book is the ‘premier rang’? Awesome!

Unfortunately this tactic isn’t always a hundred percent effective, as the following Babelfish translation of part of my review above shows.

“Stupide. Pathétique. Plotless. Stupide. Pathétique. Plotless. Stupide. Est-ce que j’ai dit pathétique ? Oh ouais, et plotless … ” (I think you’ll agree, the gist of the review is probably still evident to the discerning reader.)

4. Just man-(or woman)-up and take it on the chin! Seek comfort in the good reviews you’ve received from readers in the past who have genuinely enjoyed your writing.  Welcome the criticism, however harsh, with good grace, and understand that each reader is different and will come to your work with his or her own unique tastes, values and life experiences. Don’t fear criticism or resent it. Learn to accept it, embrace it and move on. And this above all else, be happy and content with the knowledge that you did your very best and that you put your heart and soul into everything you wrote – even if not everyone else appreciates your efforts.   (Sorry, just jokin’. Thought I’d slip a really ridiculous one in for a laugh.)

5. Use it as a tool for improvement. Look for any tips, techniques or constructive criticism in the review and try to apply them to your writing. Perhaps make a list (see blog 24 ) of the important things you must remember for next time.

          Eg:    1. Avoid being ‘stupid’ and ‘pathetic’ (apparently this is bad)                     2. Include a ‘plot’                     3. Google ‘plot’                     4. Try using repetition for emphasis                     5. Never ever ever ever ever ever ever read my own book

6. Rebut the criticism leveled at you calmly and pleasantly with wit, intelligence and logic.

Eg: “Oh yeah? Well you smell!” or perhaps“I’m stupid and pathetic? Well, do you know who I think is stupid and pathetic? Me! No, wait on, YOU! That’s who!”

7. Write a Letter to the Editor quoting large slabs of the review as clear proof that the Government needs to spend more money supporting people with mental health issues.

8. Desperately trawl the web for reviews of other people’s books that are even more scathing and negative than yours and take heart from someone else’s misery.

9. Drink to forget.

10. Write a blog.

Cheers Michael

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23 Responses to blog 26: In which I suggest ten sure-fire ways to cope with a bad review.

  1. Pingback: Coping with Bad Reviews (or not) « the Well Read Rabbit || Katherine Battersby

  2. Doug MacLeod says:

    Hi Michael, I think Barry Jonsberg has the right idea about responding to bad book reviews. But I also question whether the comments on Goodreads actually constitute ‘reviews’. Of course we read them, we’re so pathetically needy, but can you really lend any credence to the criticism of someone who uses ‘meh’ as an unflattering adjective? This seems the latest trend. It also gets plain embarrassing when some authors (hello, James P!) adopt pseudonyms and favourably review their own books or – even worse – trash those of their competitors. No, I don’t think Goodreads is for us. Leave it alone. You have countless good reviews from people who might actually know a thing or two about what constitutes a well made story. You have also won your fair share of awards. You’re a successful writer, dammit! Goodreads isn’t your sandpit. Let the others play there and hurl grit at one another. You have more important work to do.


    • mgbauer says:

      When one of my writing heroes suggests that I should get out of the sandpit – I get out of the sandpit! Thanks for the (as always) wise words Doug. Really looking forward to catching up with you at the CBCA Conference in Adelaide in March. I hope you are taking care of yourself and feeling good.


  3. I like 11, Scott. I could just imagine doing that. I would only imagine doing it of course, but that would help. lol


  4. mgbauer says:

    Yes perhaps I’ve set the bar too high for myself. If Dimity gets a more exciting toilet brush I’m stuffed!


  5. At least next time you get a bad review MGB you can console yourself with the fact that “Your blogs are so much more fun than cleaning my toilets.” Dimity, would you mind coming over here and cleaning the coffee off my keyboard that you just made me snort! =P


  6. #11: Invite them out for a coffee to give them a chance to let you know what they *really* think, and while they are inhaling deeply, THWACK them in the middle of the forehead with a teaspoon, Basil Fawlty-style. Works best if you have just stirred your cappucino (if you like that brown, on white, on red look). After all, surely if the reader has the right to an opinion, the author has the right of pre-emptive vengeance?


  7. Michael, put off reading this post in much the say way I really want to but avoid reading appraisals / reviews or procrastinate about cleaning my toilets. Stupid really. Your blogs are so much more fun than cleaning my toilets. I shall wallpaper this list to my study wall for inspiration and solace when the needs arise. My walls a getting a touch crowded now. Please slow down on your super salient suggestions.


  8. mgbauer says:

    Hi Rebecca. Yes, every now and then I like to inject a little levity in amongst the serious instruction. It’s an old teaching trick. Lovely of you to drop by and congratulations on the great success of Beautiful Malice!


  9. Most excellent advice. I love all of your suggestions. (Except for number four which is so disgustingly reasonable it could only lead to certain eventual mental disturbance, no? And, oh, you were joking with that one, I see. Phew.)


  10. mgbauer says:

    Thanks Jazza!


  11. jazza1134 says:

    i love your new and last ishmael book


  12. At least you had some positive things to focus on Sheryl. Lucky you. There is not too much positive in Michael’s, or mine for that matter. lol Still, all the wonderful reviews, and emails from readers far outweigh one negative git. And the fact that Michael’s books have gone world wide proves his reveiwer was just a git. I love Michael’s ability to make such a negative experience into such a hilarious blog post. We all know who the loser is in this situation.


  13. mgbauer says:

    Great advice Sheryl! I’ll re-read that Ishmael review and pull out all the positives … uuummmm … aaaaaah … when she told people not to read my book, she only used 1 ‘never’ and 7 ‘ever’s. She could have used a lot more. I think that’s a pretty hopeful sign don’t you?


  14. I shall pull out your post next time I get a bad review, Michael just so I can laugh so much I can’t re-read, and re-read and re-read said bad review.

    Mind you, when I stopped reading my ‘bad review’, I stopped focussing on the one negative thing it said and noticed the positive. Just saying! 🙂


  15. HAHAHA I do number 8!! It’s the best! Especially for my favourite authors. I then hug myself and think, SEE, there are morons who review books EVERYWHERE.


  16. Bug in a Book says:

    Wow I can’t believe an Ishmael book got that review…. I think the reviewer really must be disturbed.
    Great blog and great points. As hard as it is, I think that non-constructive criticisms such as that are best ignored. Look towards all the lovely things people have said and keep the useful stuff. Throw away the rest…and if you happen to see that bad reviewer in a dark alley one day….
    Hmmm on that note let it be known I wrote a wonderful review 😀


  17. Hi Michael,
    just a small point. In the first of your TEN SURE-FIRE WAYS TO COPE WITH A BAD REVIEW [the one where you suggest picking up grammatical errors], you say “Aaaa-ha! There should have been a full stop after ‘properly’ not a comma! This person is obviously illiterate – and probably a devil worshipping serial killer! What would they know about literature.”
    Shouldn’t your final sentence end with a question mark?
    Anyway, I have also found the following to be useful when dealing with a bad review. Post a reply that says, “I may not agree with your views, but I will defend, to my death, your right to contract a terminal disease.”
    What’s your opinion on this approach?


    • mgbauer says:

      Are you having a go at us devil worshipping serial killers now QUESTION MARK. And don’t think I didn’t search your comment for a mistake. How many times did you proof read that before you posted it you rotter?

      But anyway Baz great to hear from you! It’s an honour to have you of all people comment on this blog, because you’d be an expert on bad reviews by now wouldn’t you? (Hahahahahahahahahahaha! Ah, I crack myself up at times.)

      But I really like your suggestion. It’s noble and insulting at the same time. Classic Jonsberg.


  18. mgbauer says:

    See Elaine. Point 8 works! (Just joking)


  19. It is a great consolation to me to know that even awesome authors like you get bad reviews. I had one, (well one that I found) that said, ‘This is the worst book I have ever read,’ I calmly thanked him for purchasing the book, suggested to his followers that, should they like another opinion, they could go to the books website and read the reviews there, and provided the link. I had many hits on the website in the next couple of days, so indirectly he did me a service. You are right, not everyone will love every book out there. It is all a matter of personal taste. And my personal taste is for books like yours.


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