Haunted by a Bad Review

(There will not be a recycled humor column today.)

There are a lot of articles out there on how to handle bad book reviews. Generally authors will give three to six points but they almost always include “Don’t respond.” I have stuck to that premise faithfully.

The only time I ever responded was when I realized my book must have been garbled by Caliber when I turned it into an EPUB format. I sent it to the reviewer by email. The unfortunate reviewer thought English was my second language. LOL. I asked her if she would look again at the book in a different format and she agreed. She changed the review to four stars after reading the properly formatted one. I appreciated her kindness.

However, one review has haunted me and another writer has told me I should have responded to the review. I didn’t feel she would be open to what I was trying to say and I didn’t want it to become a flame and bring other people on board. Fat shaming is a volatile subject these days. Perhaps, now that a lot of time is past, she might be more open.

I will explain how this came about and would appreciate your opinion.

I wrote a book called Leya in which a girl was being bullied for her weight by another girl and her sidekick. The bullied girl had friends who stood up for her, in fact one girl almost killed the bully trying to teach her a lesson. The bully never changed and evolved into a truly evil character. I thought my message was stand up for your friends but don’t do it in foolish and dangerous ways. I also thought when this character became super evil it would be totally believable because she was such an awful person as to say mean things about someone’s weight. If she was that horrible as a teen who knows what she would be when she grew up.

Unfortunately, the reviewer took this as an assault on bigger girls. First, let me say, I am no Twiggy. Neither are several members of my family and friends. I would sooner cut out my tongue than belittle someone for their appearance. I was bullied as a child and would never condone, support, or participate in any type of bullying through my writing. Perhaps if this person had read my picture books she would have had a better understanding of who I am.

Maybe I didn’t write it clearly enough. Maybe she had recently been bullied and was feeling overly sensitive. Maybe using verbal bullying as a prediction of future evil was not a good idea. I know that no other reviewer or reader who spoke or wrote to me saw the scene the way she did. A member of my family who has struggled with weight problems her whole life read the book and loved it. When I was invited to a book club of a dozen women, they responded favorably. They understood that I was trying to paint this girl, the bully, as a diehard nasty piece of work as well as emphasize that bystanders need to support the victims of bullies.

Now, if the reviewer had just written this to me in a private message, I would have responded with an apology for perhaps not making my intentions clearly understood. But to put that as a reply to her review would be opening a whole can of worms. However, the review still stands on Goodreads and Amazon and I suspect influences people negatively towards my work and especially toward buying it.

So here’s my question? Should I let sleeping dogs lie? Should I write a private message to her? Should I reply to the review? Should I put a link to this article? What’s your opinion?


6 thoughts on “Haunted by a Bad Review

  1. Some readers do misunderstand what we are trying to say. I would leave it and move on. If it was just one review like that, it clearly was not your writing. Concentrate on the positive reviews and learn from constructive criticism. I know, easier said than done.


  2. I would reply in a private message. That way you can at least communicate your thoughts, without acting like an indignant victim. It is so hard to gauge how others interpret the written word no matter how clear the writer thinks her message is being communicated. Reviewers write negative reviews for so many reasons, just having a bad day, mad at Amazon for some reason, etc. I would write the private message and then move on.


  3. I wouldn’t reply to the review. But if it would make you feel better, you could write to the reviewer to clarity. On the subject about negativity: I wrote a piece for a writer’s magazine on how I enjoyed blogging. In the next issue, another writer harshly criticized my article. It got me down for days, until someone pointed out he was being a troll. I could have written to him, but decided it wasn’t worth dealing with a negative person. The funny thing was, he started a blog! In fact, he wrote an article about it in the same writer’s magazine where he denounced my blog.


    • I’ve been on both sides. In fact today, I got a nasty public response to one of my reviews. I tried to say as many positive things as possible but there were some major problems. I gave her 3 stars and her previous reviews were 4 and 5 but no one addressed the problems.

      As a writer, I’ve been very upset by reviews other than the one in this article, but I usually take it in stride. Every best seller, every classic, has received 1 to 5 stars. That comes with working in the arts. I try to learn from every review, even the ones that hurt. Unless it’s a troll or a revenge review. I’ve had one of those too.


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