Zibby Mag

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You Never Forget Your Worst (Book Review)

Thursday, July 13, 2023

The book review features of Amazon and Goodreads, and the online communities they have built, have done a world of good for readers and writers. And yet, as with most things, there are some pitfalls. As evidenced by a recent article in The New York Times, there are plenty of unfortunate cases where reviewers sometimes leave negative comments about books whose subject matter they aren’t familiar with, or in some cases haven’t even read. Other times, they seem more interested in ad-hominem attacks on authors.

At Zibby Mag, we understand that this can be demoralizing, especially for debut authors, which is why we do everything in our power to promote emerging voices and talent. For this story, we asked a few established authors to share an anecdote—often a humorous one—about one memorable negative review. Point being: Don’t take it to heart!

Jane Rosen

Latest Book: On Fire Island

The old adage, it’s easier to believe the bad than the good, is sadly my mantra when reading critiques of my work. The review that stands out the most is one for my second novel, Eliza Starts a Rumor, which simply read: “OOF!”

“Oof” is one of those words with many meanings and interpretations. It took all of my self control not to ask the reviewer if the book pained her, surprised her, or if it was so good she skipped work to read it.

Wade Rouse aka Viola Shipman

Latest Book: Famous in a Small Town

I received a vicious one-star review for an early novel before the book was even published. It read, in part: “Writer is a liar. Not really a woman. Knows nothing about women, actually hates women.” It went on to say: “Author’s work needs to be eradicated, as does the author.” When I read it, I was stunned. The reviewer, cloaked in anonymity, was obviously miffed. But why? I have always been open about my pen name: I use Viola Shipman to honor my grandma, a poor Ozarks woman whose love, lessons, and sacrifices inspire my fiction. And the novel in question, The Clover Girls, was actually an ode to female friendship and empowerment.

But the most amazing thing happened almost immediately: Readers stepped up to challenge and check the reviewer. Hundreds and hundreds of reviews and comments followed, standing up not only for my pen name and novel, but also for me. That reviewer drowned in a sea of positivity and hope, the foundation of every novel I write. Why did they do it? Over time, I’ve formed an opinion, but I’ll never know for sure. I realized if I achieve some visceral response from a reviewer—good or bad—then I’ve struck a chord and done something right!

Jane Delury

Latest Book: Hedge

I remember the day I stopped reading Goodreads reviews for my first book, The Balcony. I couldn’t stop myself from checking my “score” on a daily basis, giving ten times more weight to the negative reviews than to the favorable ones. That is, until the day I read a very harsh review that closed with the sentence: “The author has daddy issues.” Yow! With that smack to the face, I was disabused of my Goodreads-checking compulsion.

Sally Hepworth

Latest Book: The Soulmate

I’ve done some difficult things in my life. Written a few books. Birthed a few children. Slept in a room with two potential murderers (that’s a story for another time). But nothing so difficult as having to select my favorite one-star review. The degree of people’s vitriol is truly magnificent. Whether my books are being compared to bad pizza, or someone is wanting to slap themselves in the face with a jellyfish for picking one up in the first place, there is no dearth of amusing takes on the way my books failed to please certain readers.

In light of this, I hope you can appreciate that I’ve managed to narrow it down.

Here’s a snippet of a one-star Goodreads review about my 2018 novel, The Family Next Door.

“Many people go through life not understanding what their purpose is. I felt that way until I read this book. What was I put here for? After reading this book, I realize my purpose must be to advise anyone I could to avoid this book.”

Um, can we talk about the fact that I gave somebody purpose? And here I was just hoping to sell a book or two! You can bet your ass this one has a prime position on the refrigerator, beside my daughter’s pen license certificate.

In short, there is no participation award for writing a book. Some people will give us bad reviews because they don’t like what we write. They might even give us bad reviews because they don’t like us or what we stand for. This is the new world. My philosophy has always been that we need to get comfortable with this as fast as we can. Laugh at it (because let’s face it, a lot of bad reviews are quite funny and well written). And keep our focus on the one thing we can control—the next book.

(P.S. If you really want to hurt me, write a thoughtful, balanced three-star review. The kind that will make it impossible for me to discount you as a lunatic and force me to pay attention and maybe even agree with you. Those reviews, in my opinion, are the worst.)