On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, JJ Barnes writes about different reasons writers can get bad reviews, and how to emotionally process that experience so you don’t lose your writing confidence.
Written by JJ Barnes
Bad reviews are part and parcel of being a writer. It sucks and it can hurt really bad, but it’s going to happen. If you let it, receiving bad reviews can kill your confidence. It can break you, stop you writing. It can convince you that you’re not good enough and stop you from writing more.
I’m going to talk about some of my experiences and why I won’t let it stop me. And why it shouldn’t stop you either.
Who Leaves Bad Reviews?
Bad reviews can be left for a number of reasons. Not all of them honest or fair. I follow enough feminists on Twitter to have seen books and business bombarded with bad reviews to know this.
The Vengeance Review
If you piss enough people off, you’ll get vengeance reviews. You don’t have to have bought a book from Amazon to leave a review on Amazon. You don’t have to have used a service to leave a review on Facebook, Trust Pilot, Spectoos etc. These services exist for reviews to be left, not to check reviews are genuine.
As a writer, you can play it safe. Don’t say anything controversial, keep yourself away from debate. But if you want to write about any subject that is even slightly contentious, you’re risking vengeance reviews.
I’ve been called a terrible writer and a terrible person. In the worst cases, I’ve been threatened with murder and rape. I’ve had harassment day and night, my inbox filled up and my phone constantly ringing. It has become so awful that I’ve ended up hiding in my bedroom, crying my eyes out, frightened and heartbroken. Because I wrote about things some people said I shouldn’t write about. And IT HURT. But it happened. And I’m still here.
I was told once that my writing reads like it’s for a thirteen year old girl. I had angered a man online, he had insulted my looks and my intelligence. He moved on to my work.
At the time, Lilly Prospero And The Mermaid’s Curse had recently come out. The first chapters are available online. He read them and used my writing for further rudeness. He felt that reading like for a thirteen year old girl was suitably condemning of my work. My Lilly Prospero books are aimed at (you guessed it) teenage girls… it wasn’t quite the insult he was aiming for. But still.
How To Cope With A Vengeance Review
This is deeply and truly their problem not yours. If you’ve upset someone online or said something they don’t like, they should be free to argue with you. Arguing is an important part of the free speech we depend on. But if you’ve written a story that they have never read and, because they don’t like your opinions, they publicly trash it, that’s their problem.
It’s awful, and it can damage your reputation and your sales, but it’s not YOUR WORK. I don’t mean just forget it and get over it, but I do mean don’t let it stop you from writing. Let your audience know it’s happening. Don’t hide, don’t feel ashamed like you’re in the wrong. Be open, be honest, and be clear that this is happening because of vengeance. The likelihood is they’ll move on to some other target soon and you can get back to normal. But don’t ever let them stop you creating. Don’t give them that power.
The Wrong Audience Review
You can’t please everybody. And that’s true of life in general, not just the world of writing. But when it comes to reviews, you’ll get negative reviews because people just aren’t the right audience. It’s not your fault, you’re just not writing for them.
We released the trailer for Hollowhood recently. It’s our first independent feature film. It was made on a shoestring budget in a couple of weeks. It’s not glossy, it’s not expensive. But we’ve had a lot of positivity from test audiences. But, it’s for people who enjoy low budget, goofy films with a lot of dialogue. Not for audiences who like gory horror or high budget cinema.
We had a couple of comments that it looks terrible. It can be a confidence knock, and I broke my heart for our actors who worked so hard (crazy hours, not much time) to get it made. Our little team is so cool and we love our project so much. But, as I said, it’s not for everybody. And that’s fine. We still made it, we still love it. We’re still proud of it. And enough people like it that we’ve landed well in our niche.
How To Cope With A Wrong Audience Review
There’s something incredibly narcissistic to leave a bad review for something that wasn’t intended to be consumed by you. It would be like a dog leaving a bad review because they tried to live in a goldfish bowl.
Wrong audience reviews are frustrating and they hurt. But not everything is designed for everybody. And if you have been clear about your target demographic and they still chose to read, then it’s not your fault. They’ll move on, find a story that they will enjoy, and your work will slip from their minds. Focus your energy on finding the right audience. If you’re writing for teenage girls, like me, make it clear. And don’t stop writing. The audience your work is meant for will love it, and you can’t please everybody. So don’t think you need to try.
The Bad Writing Review
Then there’s the most painful review of all. Your writing has just been bad.
Vengeance reviews can hurt because they’re so undeserved and cruel. Wrong audience reviews can hurt because you’re being criticised for writing for a different audience. But bad writing reviews hurt the most. They’re just your fault. They’re earned.
These are the reviews that knock you the most. The reviews that make you question whether you should give up. When you love writing as passionately as I do, the idea of just not being any good hurts deeply. So they’re the reviews we have to work hardest to get over. But you can. And you can keep writing.
How To Cope With A Bad Writing Review
You, as a writer, are not the finished product. Imagine you’re a book. Would you judge anybody on their first draft? If you’re new to writing and eagerly putting your work out into the world, it can be tough to get the knock back. But you’re new. You’re the first draft of Writer You. You just need a little polish.
Each time you write, it’s like you’re editing the book of you. You’re learning. Each time you write you’ll get better. Every time you edit the draft of a book it gets better. A bad review because your writing is bad doesn’t mean your writing will ALWAYS be bad. It just means you let it out into the world too soon. It means you let yourself out into the world too soon.
So take a bit of time to regroup. And learn. My first draft of Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit was really not good. I got so many rejections, so many criticisms. It wasn’t good enough. I was still in my first draft of Writer JJ. I was bright eyed and eager and hopeful, and didn’t realise how obvious my inexperience was. But I learned. And even though I’m incredibly proud of that book, I’ve improved since too. I keep learning. My writing keeps getting better. So yours will too.
Why You Need To Keep Going After Bad Reviews
Stories are so powerful. Through fiction we can help people face their fears or process their trauma. We can help people find hope, or understand they’re not alone in the world. Through stories we can bring relief and laughter and joy. Stories matter. And your story matters.
You’re the only person in the whole world who can tell your story your way. You could give someone else your characters and your plot, but it would then become their story. It wouldn’t be yours because so much of our writing is under the surface. It’s not just the characters and the plot, it’s just themes, the experiences. We include our own life in our writing. We address our own fears and our own hope, reference things we’ve experienced, places we’ve been. When we write, we breathe our own lives into our stories. And nobody else has your life.
If you let a bad review stop you from writing, then those stories will never exist. And your stories matter because you matter. They might need finesse, you might need to practice and study and work to get them right. But they’re still your stories.
Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit needed a lot of work. A LOT of work. I started writing it when I was 21. It was released when I was 29. I wrote it and I got bad reviews and rejections. Then I rewrote it and got more bad reviews and rejections. But it was my story. And it was worth sticking with.
Don’t Let Bad Reviews Stop You
Bad reviews can hurt. For whatever reason someone leaves you a bad review, you know they’ve taken time out of their day to criticise your work. Because stories are so very personal, and contain so much of ourselves, it feels intensely personal. But for the most part, it isn’t. If you aren’t a writer, you don’t really connect with how personal that experience of writing is. It’s just a product you either enjoy or not. So don’t let it make you feel like YOU are a problem. You’re not a problem. You’re just a first draft.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose
We strive to keep The Table Read free for both our readers and our contributors. If you have enjoyed our work, please consider donating to help keep The Table Read going!