Every writer has felt the pain—indeed, the excruciating wound—of a bad review.
bad review is not just a personal assault. It is potentially a
professional liability. I mean, you've spent thousands of hours creating
this product, and now someone can just flippantly crap on it in Amazon
and the chances of it being purchased again have just officially
Bad Reviews in History
Now writers far better than I have received such treatment. Note, for instance, reviews of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass:
"A mass of stupid filth." Rufus Wilmot Griswold, The Criterion, November 10, 1855.
is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote Leaves of Grass, only
that he did not burn it afterwards.” Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The
Atlantic, “Literature as an Art,” 1867.
Bad Reviews and Bad Reviewers
this post I will examine some of the bad reviews my books have
received. I will discuss which I thought were reasonable differences of
opinion and which, in my opinion, are simply unfair.
regarding the practice of reviewing, I personally follow the principle
of "First, do no harm." I've bought and read plenty of things I didn't
adore. But I know that long hours of work and craft went into a literary
creation. As the Romans would say:
De Gustibus Non Disputandum est
"Concerning tastes, it must not be debated." (I.e., to each their own)
would not file a negative review unless I sincerely believed that the
work somehow represented a fraud on the reader—that it utterly failed to
deliver what it promised or that it was truly unprofessional in its
But there are others quicker to judge. There are
also just some nasty haters out there, people who spit venom from behind
anonymity on the internet. And they are allowed to sit in judgement on
the creative products of others.
And so, here are the negative reviews I have gotten for my efforts.
Intermediate Arabic for Dummies
wrote this book for Wiley Publishing. I worked as an Arabic linguist
for the NSA for four years after 9/11. I did my best to cover the
grammatical topics in the book. It has received good reviews, such as:
[Five Star Review] "This book is a tremendous resource for anyone attempting to tackle Arabic grammar. The table of contents is very clear and it is easy to reference anything you need help with. This isn't a book for beginners, but it is simple enough to educate without intimidation. If you need a quick reference resource, this is a quality book"
But this book, on which I spent thousands of hours of work, also received the following review:
[One Star Review] "This book did not turn out to be what I expected. The section on handwriting especially is useless.Arabic letters are written with parts above and below the line and it's impossible to figure that out from the information given because the letters are not written on lines. The rest of the sections are also very basic. I think this book would be best for travelers to the middle east. It is not of much use for students wishing to learn formal Arabic grammar." (firsttimemon)
I don't know what you expected, firsttimemom
(whatever your name really is). There was no section on handwriting at
all, because this is an INTERMEDIATE level book. Even so, all the Arabic
included English transliteration. I systematically covered every aspect
of Arabic grammar (as the other reviewer noted); I totally didn't write
a book of use for "travelers to the middle east" (which I have been and
I suspect you, firsttimemom, are not).
A Place of Brightness
is a novel I wrote about a Romanian family, members of a guerilla
movement called the "Haiduci," who fought a generational war against
tyranny--starting in the times of the Ottoman Empire, and down through
the times of Communism and the modern day.
It has gotten very good reviews, such as:
[Five Star Review] "Such a wonderful book! I finished it in a day because I just couldn't put it down."
But it has also received the following negative review:
[Two Star Review] "The story of a family of Haiduci fighters against the communist regime, devolves into a trite spy thriller with little historical background or insight. The characters are wooden, the plot is not all that complicated to figure out, and the dialogue is stilted." (Susan S.)
In my opinion, this
is an entirely reasonable negative review. While I did my best to craft
characters who were alive for me (and I succeeded for others who
reviewed), I clearly did not connect with Susan S.
I'm grateful that she gave me two stars and not one...
In Saecula Saeculorum
is my Time Travel/Espionage Adventure novel in which four young people
are unwittingly prepared to undertake a dangerous mission in Ancient
Rome on a mission to save the modern world.
It has gotten some great reviews, such as:
[Five Star Review] "In Saecula Saeculorum is an exciting adventure that has had me thinking back again and again on the journey. Now I'll admit that I'm crazy about time travel fiction, and this story satisfied my highest expectations. The character development is particularly strong, and the reader comes to feel very close to these characters. Ancient Rome comes to life in all its intrigue, glory, and grittiness. The dialogue is at times funny, at other times deeply emotional, a roller coaster of experience that makes you forget its fiction. For anyone who loves history, time travel, languages, or just a great story, read In Saecula Saeculorum!"
And it has gotten the following negative review:
[Two Star Review] "It felt like I was reading a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys novel, featuring extremely capable teenagers who were very respectful of their elders - it was completely unrealistic. As I was reading, I kept thinking that had I stumbled upon a book for pre-teens... (If this *is* a pre-teen book, I'd say that it's for unsophisticated pre-teens.)" (ogecko)
Dictu, in a novel about a trip back in time to save the modern world,
the reviewer claims that my presentation of young people's respect for
their elders is an "unrealistic" point.
Maybe, like me, the
reviewer has taught high school for the last ten years and has the lived
experience that young people are all simply horrible and a book in
which they are presented as decent is "unrealistic."
I wrote the
book from the perspective of a high school teacher who finds today's
young people to be generally decent and respectful.
ogecko (whatever your name really is), if you have encountered horrible
youth in your abundant teaching experience, I am truly sorry and
understand your review.
If, however, you have no authentic
experience of today's youth, I don't care about your negative review of
my book. I reject your negative review of them.