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Reverse Engineering Negative Reviews

posted in: Writing Craft | 4

Good morning everyone!

CP Bialois
CP Bialois

We’ve all had a negative review of some kind, whether it was on our finished work or just a critique. They hurt, sting, and really suck when we first get them, but what about after that?

Everywhere you look online we can see blogs and articles about the pitfalls of receiving a negative review. The most common bits of advice are to ignore them and suck it up and move on, and, most importantly, never respond back. While I agree on the last two, I prefer to ignore the part about ignoring them. Why?

Simply put, I think there’s generally something we can learn from them, and I like to separate them into three categories.

The first is the “Helpful” pile. These are the ones that offer different perspectives about possible character flaws, plot holes, and other story tidbits that may have been lost in the rewriting and editing process (I think this is a good time to point out that no matter what, no book is ever perfect. It’s as simple as that).

These reviews are often the most indepth ones and can offer a different thought process we didn’t think of before and can be added to our toolbox for future use.

The second group is the “Didn’t pay attention or get it” pile. This is for the reviews that love to point out how there was a plot hole or inferred actions like not explaining someone grabbing a plate when it’s stated the character went into the kitchen to get a snack, then takes his/her plate of food into the living room (Note: the action of putting the food on the plate is inferred), or a subtle gesture like a character spending an inordinate amount of time with another instead of saying they had a crush and so on.

By: Neil Conway

In short, I consider these the J.K. Rowling or George RR Martin Complex where readers love to debate the subtle nuances in their stories while expecting others to spell everything out like the readers are incapable of understanding (Yes, this is a real thing). This also includes the reviews that tend to go on about editing. Remember when I pointed out no book is perfect? Most that feel the need to attack the editing often have the same mistakes in their books (If they’re authors). Unless you have absolutely no errors in your work, I don’t think you should go on a tear about someone else’s in this manner, but that’s my opinion.

The third group is the “Garbage” pile. On this one I usually put the one liners like, “This sucks”, “Don’t waste your time”, and so on. Basically, any review that has nothing constructive whatsoever goes here.

I prefer to look at things in a constructive or helpful manner. If something doesn’t help me in some way, I discard it and move on. Due to that, this system has saved me a great deal of headaches over the years and helped me improve various aspects of my writing.

What are your thoughts? Do you like to dissect and reverse engineer your negative reviews or leave them be? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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4 Responses

  1. John
    | Reply

    My outlook on a negative review is that it’s still a review. It means that someone took the time to read my book and for whatever reason they didn’t enjoy it.

    As authors, we hope that all readers will enjoy our books and all reviews will be positive ones, but reality is not optional. Not everyone is going to love your book and it’s only a matter of time before someone gives you a negative opinion. Of course, it would be nice if all negative reviews contained some form of constructive criticism, but we all know that’s not necessarily the case.

    The only time a negative review upsets me is if the reviewer is mean, sarcastic or condescending. In that case the review deserves to be moved to my mental ‘garbage pile’ and forgotten ASAP.

    • CP Bialois
      | Reply

      Agreed. Just knowing someone read our work can be very satisfying. It is a shame not everyone likes our work, but all we can do is continue to improve and move on.

      Definitely. I had someone reply to a positive review acting sarcastic and condescending. Guess having a haters like that means we’re doing something right. At least, that sounds good. lol

  2. James (JH) Weis
    | Reply

    I generally agree with the post. The most useful critiques are the ones pointing out plot holes. I wrote a novel with a character named Gina who appeared briefly in an early chapter. When I needed to use the character again much later in the book, I inadvertently changed her name to Diane. Upon further review (as they say) I caught that one myself. And then there is the research you failed to do, like having a PI who packs heat in a state with no concealed carry licensing–oops! Then there are those where the reader reading page three, can’t remember what he read on page two. And like CP, for nuances, I tend to trust my reader because, as a reader myself, I hate to be talked down to. JH

    • CP Bialois
      | Reply

      Oh yeah, I’ve been there. I had a couple of characters that I couldn’t remember their names. I even wrote them down wrong in my notes. lol I’m glad I caught those, especially the one with three different versions of their name. That would’ve been an interesting discussion with a reader. lol

      It’s fun to figure things out sometimes. If there’s no mystery and we’re not challenged, where’s the fun?

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