by Patti Thorn

Common reactions to unflattering reviews

Reviews are a necessary but ego-testing part of being a career author. As someone who has written many of them—and overseen others who write them—it’s probably not surprising that, on occasion, I’ve received missives (some that could rival War and Peace in length) from dissatisfied authors detailing why our reviewers at BlueInk weren’t being fair.

Often, it makes my colleagues and me wonder if we’re all on the same page about what this writing game is all about. Here are a few comments we have received—and our responses.

Geez, I’m not an English teacher

This complaint makes our heads feel like they might explode. How can you expect good results if you don’t know the tools of the trade? To us, attempting to write a book without knowledge of spelling, punctuation and grammar is akin to someone walking into a surgical unit for the first time, picking up a scalpel and making a mess of the patient, then saying, “Hey, I didn’t graduate from med school–how could you expect me to know how to use that thing?”

I didn’t realize my book would be judged on punctuation, spelling and grammar.

Correct spelling, punctuation and grammar are essential to conveying your ideas in the manner you intended. (Famous example: “I just ate, Grandma” or “I just ate Grandma.”) If you haven’t mastered them, then you aren’t ready to write a book.

It’s clear the reviewer didn’t read the whole book

No matter the complaint, authors want to believe that the reviewer didn’t read their whole book. It’s an understandable reaction, as no one wants to hear negative feedback, and it’s far easier to leap to the conclusion that the reviewer didn’t really read the book than to admit to yourself that they did read it and failed to love your baby as much as you do.

The reviewer didn’t focus on the car accident on page 190, second paragraph, but instead spent most of the review talking about the affair between the driver and his mistress.

Reviewers pick and choose the events in the book that seem critical to conveying the plot, while also not giving anything away. This is a subjective endeavor. While the author might think that car accident on page 190 was critical, if the reviewer doesn’t see it the same way, he or she may not include it in the review.

And here’s another possibility: Perhaps that car accident passage wasn’t written in a manner that made it stand out to readers the way the author felt it did. After all, we are all biased when it comes to our own babies. Only readers coming fresh to the material are in a position to judge the book’s highlights.

I wrote it that way because…

We often receive long explanations from authors about why they wrote the book the way they did when reviewers take issue with certain elements of the book. We appreciate the background information. But think of writing as you would serving a meal to a stranger at a restaurant. If the meal tastes awful, does the diner really care why you over-seasoned the meat and then left everything on the grill too long? No. They only care that the dish was burnt and that they won’t be coming back for more.

The reviewer said that there wasn’t enough information about how my mother coped with her terrible disease and too much information about my mother’s backyard. I didn’t want people to get depressed and also, my mother has a very lovely backyard.

You can’t send an explanation of your intentions with every book you sell. The art of writing is the art of making those intentions clear through your characters, their actions, your prose. If readers don’t understand what you are up to, you haven’t done your job.

I’m saving that part for the next book

It’s all well and good to save things for the sequel, but face it: If you don’t hook readers on the first book, no one is following you to the sequel. Books need to stand on their own—complete with full character development, compelling plot twists and satisfying endings.

The reviewer said that I didn’t develop my character well enough. That’s not fair.

Back to the meal metaphor. No one wants to sit down to what they think is a full meal, only to find that they are being served a few measly dumplings and that the main course will be on the menu next year.

This is just my first book

How can we say this gently? Your book is going out into the world to compete with books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, books produced by major publishing houses, books written by seasoned authors. It’s not going out with a sticker on the front that says “First-time author. Be kind.”

The reviewer was too harsh. Give me a break!

Readers want a good book. They don’t care if it’s your first try or your 21st. Reviewers are tasked with telling it like it is. If it has flaws, it’s their job to note it.


BlueInk Review is a fee-based service that offers credible, unbiased reviews of self-published books. It was founded by Patti Thorn, former books editor of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, and Patricia Moosbrugger, literary agent and subsidiary rights specialist. Their reviews are penned by writers drawn from major mainstream publications, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, and editors of respected traditional publishing houses. Select reviews appear in Booklist magazine. If you are interested in receiving similar blogs with tips on writing and book marketing, please sign up for BlueInk Review’s mailing list.