Soothing Words For Bad Reviews


It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

For every moment of awe a writer has at seeing her book on a shelf, at being told by readers they found comfort they found in your words, for each time you visit a warm and loving book club, there come the time when you read the word “blech” in a reader’s review. It’s part of the business and there’s no answer except chocolate and wine. It hurts. Writers from NYT bestsellers to just-on-the-shelves authors must find ways to soothe themselves through the pain.

I come bearing brownies and a shot of tequila. The comfort needed for times when nothing but schadenfreude will do. I would offer mead to Shakespeare, had he lived in the time of Amazon and read this review of Romeo and Juliet:

As far as I’m concerned, the only good thing about “Romeo and Juliet” is that it spawned the plot for “West Side Story,” which, although laden with cheese, doeshighlight some of the more noble facets of the human character (along the less noble) and features some wonderful music. “Romeo and Juliet” will, however, simply annoy anyone with half a brain.”

A newly published author-friend privately spilled her horror (to a group of not-surprised writers) when, after a spate of reader-love, she found this on a popular book site: “To those who loved this book, may we never meet on subway, train, or plane.”

Shock usually follows the first angry reader review. I don’t think they’re as hurtful as critical professional reviews, but they go where NYT reviewers would never tread.

The not-surprised writers, as always, gathered around the newly launched author referenced above, and shared their own hurtful reader reviews.:

“Someone once hated one of my books so much that she made a custom e-stamp that said, “This book is so bad it should be banned from the face of the earth.”

There is just no level on which this book was not bad. Bad, bad writing.”

One writer’s had her book put on a reviewers “crap-i-couldn’t-finish shelf.”

Another was told, “This author had no right to write this book because she doesn’t really know what it’s like to be divorced. I went to school with her and I know for a fact she’s never been divorced.”

One friend’s book was compared to a Tampon ad.

Or was it a Tampon?


Each time I spin into a decline induced by a reader hating my book, I look up a classic, a best seller, a book I loved, and read Amazon reviews such as those below (sic included.) And then I wonder, would these classic writers have reached for the Ben & Jerry’s, were it then available?

Wuthering Heights

“I began reading–“though you mayn’t believe it,” to quote Lewis Carroll’s Mock Turtle–at the age of 1 and 9 months. Since then I have read literally thousands of books. And of them all, “Wuthering Heights” is my least favorite. The characters are so unpleasant and cruel to each other that reading the book is a seemingly endless nightmare.”

1984 by George Orwell

“Only read this if you like getting depressed. This is a good example of the fact that pessimistic and shocking books often receive rave criticism while dynamically optimistic books are dubbed “unrealistic”... NO further comment.”

The Woman’s Room by Marilyn French

“The worst book ever written. The most insulting and boring book ever written. It is a biting social commentary on men-women relations that is so one-sided and vulgar that most readers do not take seriously. Don’t ask me how it ended because I couldn’t stand the torture of the book.”

Anne of Green Gables

“Here is what most people and fans don’t know about the author:

Lucy Maud Montgomery was into the occult and worshipped nature. She taught girls how to make a “table rap” or to call up an evil spirit, and she introduced the Ouija board to the young fry of Cavendish. I believe that her books are “blessed” by an evil force, which is part of the reason that they (her books) have millions of fans. Lucy Maud’s ungodly beliefs appear often in her writings.

God opened my eyes to the bad influence of Anne Shirley and her author, and also to all the wrongs in L. M. Montgomery’s books.”

goodnight moon

Goodnight Moon

“We were given this books as a gift. I really dislike it–there seems to be an upleasant undertone: “bowl full of mush”, “goodnight nobody”. I find the illustrations equally unpleasant (or maybe that’s why I find the book unpleasant). I recycled it.”

Tale of Two Cities

“I feel this could have been a better book had he not been paid for its length. It takes him too long to say simple things. If you hated Old Man and the Sea, you too will hate this.”

Bangers and mash, Mr. Dickens?

Pint of ale?


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One Comment

  1. Marie
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Been thinking about you while reading, “The Great Northern Express”, Howard Frank Mosher’s memoir about his coast to coast publicity tour hitting most of the best indy book stores in the country. You had just started out on your tour when I began reading his book and couldn’t help but wonder if some of the comical things that happened to him on the road (or airplanes in your case) were similar to any of yours. Being on tour sounds exhausting and wonderful.

    Sadly, I didn’t read any of Mosher’s work until after he died in January of this year (I bought the book three years ago and it had finally made its way to the top of the pile). Before I start a book of a new author, I scout about for their biblio’s. Unfortunately with Mr. Mosher, because his death was so recent, most information was in the form of obituaries. After reading this hilarious piece on your blog, I remembered something Richard Sandomir wrote about Mosher in his NYT obit, specifically, the way he felt about critics. It seems that a bad critique of an author’s work, no matter from the NYT or some nitwit slamming your work at a critique group at Barnes and Nobel, nasty comments always hurt…

    “Mr. Mosher was known for his unflagging support of fellow authors and independent bookstores. His publicity tours usually started at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vt., where he would read from his newest book or give a slide show, which sometimes featured a picture of Mr. Mosher blasting a negative newspaper review with his shotgun.”

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