Dealing with Mixed Reviews

thumbs upEvery writer knows that bad reviews are a part of the trade. But what do you do when the bad is mixed in with the good? Aren’t mixed messages kind of worse than consistently bad ones? Well, that’s what I’m wondering as I peruse some collected reviews of my books, as posted on Amazon. Some of them only came to my attention by accident, as I happened to be cruising by not long ago, and I must have turned my prompts off.

In any case, here are some of the reviews, good and bad, that came in with regards to Source, my first indie-published work. As you can see, the first one wasn’t so good, ranking the book at a mediocre three out five stars. The second is from Katy “Obsessive bibliophile” Sozaeva, a pro reader/reviewer who specializes in evaluating indie works, which was posted over a year ago. Compare if you will:


Inventive and Imaginative, but Scientifically Flawed. I read this with some enjoyment, I admit. But that pleasure was diminished somewhat by the nagging voice that kept saying, “That wasn’t necessary/easiest/realistic.” It happened in just too many places for it to be assuaged by simply pushing the “I believe” button.

Entertaining and enlightening sci-fi story. The Earth and its colonies are running out of water. The government, left with no options, decides to hedge its bets by creating a colony ship and sending off the best and brightest to colonize the stars, while at home strict rationing and a lottery system to decide who should live and who should die will be instituted. Millions will die, either of thirst or through…

Not exactly consistent is it? And consider this: the first review seemed to have far more of an impact than the second. When Katy reviewed my work and looked on it kindly, I honestly filed it in the “Oh, she’s nice” category. On the other hand, the semi-negative review hit me where I live. It actually made me consider pulling it from the shelf and putting a stop on its sequels.


And then consider this review from one of the short stories in my Legacies series, otherwise known as Eyes in the Dark. This story I began years back and completed for NaNoWriMo 2011. Some initial opinions I got on it were quite good, all from my writer’s group, but I was happy to see a positive review posted on a professional site:

I liked the story. It had a convincing science fiction scenario and an intriguing dilemma at the core of the plot. I liked the characters, which always helps. I’d recommend this book and read any others Matthew’s written.

I liked that review, especially the last line since it might actually lead to a rise in sales! But I have to admit, I was surprised by it seeing as how I felt the entire thing was a bit rushed and hurriedly written. As it’s writer, I am abundantly aware of its flaws and I keep waiting for someone to say the same bad things that I fear they will notice.

LiabilityOh, and I should also mention the one review which haunts me to this day. It had to do with this oldie, a short known as Liability which I wrote back in 2005. Since I merged it with another short, I can no longer find the review on Amazon anymore. However, I do seem to remember the general nature of it, which ought to tell you something!

The story is nothing special. The ending is a fairy tale of course and is totally unrealistic, but if you’re looking for a cheap read, it’s worth the price.

I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it. Harsh huh? And the worst part of it is, I took it seriously. And even though that review was one of five that were quite favorable, I still seem to put more stock in it than the others. Here’s what these other people said, just to be inclusive:

Grabs your attention immediately. Is well written IMHO.

It’s a well conceived and beautifully delivered novel. I wish it has more pages for a more lasting reading.

Good story. Gets you wrapped up in the action right away and doesn’t stop till the end.

Don’t look behind you when you read this novel, they may be watching you. thoroughly enjoyable reading.

And I can imagine what seem people would say, since I’ve said it enough time myself to know it word for word. “Hey, [insert your name here], you can’t please everybody. And there’s always going to be idiots and haters. You can’t take what they say seriously.” Yeah, but when it’s me, I say the words, but I don’t feel it. Somehow, the bad reviews always see to make more sense and leave the lasting mark.

So I put it to all the other indie writers, artists and authors out there. What is it about negative feedback that we find just so believable? Why do we treat positive reviews (I’m assuming it’s not just me) as if they are obligatory or motivated by the desire to not hurt our feelings? Are good reviews only meaningful if they come from people who are usually cruel and hard to impress?

I don’t know… All I know is, I want to get better. And the appearance of a single bad review makes me want to work harder and convince them of my worth as a writer. Funny, considering that if it were a friend of mine being poorly reviewed, I’d be telling them they rock, and telling the haters: “Screw you, with some sexual harassment on top!”

Anybody else got mixed reviews to share? This experience feels somehow cathartic and I recommend it highly. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt your bottom line. Hardly anybody reads this site anyway 😉

11 thoughts on “Dealing with Mixed Reviews

  1. Not long ago my book got rated 1 star without a written review to say why. Then a couple of days later the same person came back and changed the rating to 2 stars and wrote a one word review. “Infuriating”. Then a couple of days later came back and changed it again to 3 stars/
    I really wanted to contact the person and ask why.
    Let me insert here that the poor rating didn’t disturb me. Actually in this case I found it funny and a bit of a compliment. I’m guessing, and I may be wrong, that one of my characters, and I can guess who, really made her angry. She would have kicked his shins and slapped him if he was a real person. Afterall, she did write “infuriating”. Whatever the case, I believe the story moved her, even if to anger, and that means that I have done my job.
    I don’t have the expectation that everyone will like my book. I mean I had one person give me a three star review and say the story was very unrealistic but that she doesn’t really like fiction anyway. So I was like really? Seems like you read the wrong book then, right?
    Eh? I don’t expect everyone to think I am the next best thing.
    Your books belong out there for the world to see if YOU believe that this is a worthwhile story and that you’ve told it the best you’re able to.
    Mixed reviews are fine. It s a reflection of the differences in people. I would worry though if I got all bad reviews. Now that would be challenging.
    Keep writing Awesome Sauce.

  2. Personally, when buying a book (which admittedly doesn’t happen much since I became a reviewer) I always look for mixed reviews, because they tell me two things right off the bat: 1) it was written by a real person, not just the author or marketing department 2) the reviewer actually thought about the review.

    No book is without faults. Every book could be better. What impresses me about this post is it shows you are open to critique and want to make you books better.

  3. An important thing to remember is that everyone’s line of ‘suspension of disbelief’ is drawn in sand; sand is ever shifting. Acceptable in one place will draw criticism in another. As a nit-picker myself, it’s something for the reviewer to be well aware of, though most are not. Their opinion is just that, their opinion. Write for those that love what you do, don’t write so that others will love it. Bluntly – screw the nay-sayers. Extrapolate valuable information from their comments, but never take pure opinion to heart. This is a ‘tough-skin’ business – we are the Polar fishermen of words! Now go gut something and eat it. 😉

    1. I suppose. I know that where friends of ours are concerned and professional reviews are concerned, people will stick to the highlights and gloss over the lowlights. Personally, I would think it would an ethical challenge, but I imagine it’s one that reviewers can live with.

  4. O.K. you know I’m a regular reader. As for reviews, something is better than nothing. At least you know you’re being read. As for me, I’ve really only published one story that took me over 15 years to write. So if someone gives a bad review – I don’t care. I did learn about weighing the source of reviews when I wrote the first draft of my only screenplay and shared it on a screenwriter’s site. Some of the responses were just cruel. Later, when I looked at the info on the writers found out they were just students! And obviously had not been taught how to give constructive criticism. That’s the only kind that helps a writer grow.

  5. I think a important thing we writers need to remember is no matter how “well written” or “rushed” a work is. Some will like it and some will not. It’s just that simple sometimes.

  6. Whenever somebody says they thought my work was bad (doesn’t happen often but it does) I use it as a drive to make my next work better. I’m constantly striving for self-improvement, so I don’t let bad reviews get to me.

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