How to Deal With Bad Reviews


One of the things that happens when you publish a book is that you get reviews. Some of them are really positive. And others? Well … they’re terrible.

People misinterpret you. You misinterpret what they misinterpret. Then you lie awake at night, annoyed. Troubled. Scared.

You think … what if my book doesn’t sell?

As the great Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, all conflict is a result of misunderstanding.

This is so true! When we hate the feedback we get, we think people have it in for us. Whether we’re artists in the public spotlight or employees showing up for a performance review, we forget something critical.

It’s nothing personal.

It’s the reviewer’s right to express an honest opinion. In fact, it’s their obligation.

After a lifetime of fleeing criticism, I finally get this. And I’m so relieved! When I was younger, I fought the specter of doing things imperfectly. I had to be brilliant at everything – or so my twenty-something brain thought.

When I published my first novel at 29, I was terrified to read my reviews. I told my editor to withhold them (yes, this was before the Internet.) I was convinced that one bad review would shut me down forever. I stuck my head in the sand and would not come out.

Twenty years later, I performed a one woman show on the Fringe Festival circuit. By now, at age 50, I figured I could take it … so I read my reviews. They loved me in Miami! They even appreciated me in Washington, D.C.

Then I got to Vancouver.

Here the reviewer tartly compared me to William Hung from American Idol, and went on to describe it as ‘painfully awkward’, ‘clued out’, ‘stale’. The list of negatives goes on and on.

As one of my fellow actors put it, ‘That review was so bad it doesn’t count.” The show flubbed in Vancouver … and so it goes.

Did it hurt? Yes.

Does it matter? No.

This experience taught me that a) my show wasn’t for everyone … and it probably needed more work and b) bad reviews won’t kill you.

Again, a review is one person’s opinion. And yes, if fifteen people say something needs work, then it probably does. That’s when reviews are truly useful.

But should we use reviews to define our worth or chart the path of our destiny?

That’s a really bad idea.

Recently I looked up the reviews for my first novel … the ones I refused to read back in 1990. Yes, some of the reviews were negative in very specific ways. And yes, their points were well taken.

But another review compared me to a ‘budding Nora Ephron’. That was a compliment I could have used back when I was young and terrified.

It was also proof that there’s no accounting for tastes.

Ultimately, there will always be people who love our work … just as there will always be people who don’t. Back when I published my first self help book, How Much Joy Can You Stand?, I literally got hate mail for writing a book about happiness.

So we all stumble through life with our corrective lenses on, trying to find our way. And we bash into each other, sometimes unapologetically.

This is life.

If we wish to express ourselves out in the maelstrom, we must expect whatever comes to come. And know, at the very same time, we are safe, we are whole and we are doing the best we can.

Then no review, good or bad, will make much of a difference at all.

(If you’d like to learn more about my books in print, please click here.)

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2 replies
  1. Lisa Brisse
    Lisa Brisse says:

    Boy, do I hear this one. As a fellow author (first book self-published in December 2014), I found out about reviews. My amazing writing coach/mentor told me before I even put my book out there, “just know that when you release a book or another other work of art/labor of love into the world, it is no longer yours. You did your job in sharing it. You shared your heart, Lisa, and you did well. Now just know that what anyone else thinks of it from this point forward is none of your business. Like life, it is all a reflection of where each person is at within themselves. Some will resonate with it and some won’t. And that has nothing to do with you. Just remember that.”

    Whew. Glad she prepared me. I got reviews (and personal emails). Nearly most of them were from people profoundly thanking me for sharing my deeply personal story (it happened to be about Michael Jackson… about the unexplained coincidences/synchronicities that brought Michael into our family’s life in the most unique and impossible way, and how I saw Michael as the Man in OUR Mirror… reflecting the human condition back to all of us for our own healing… “when we heal our heart, we heal the world.”). Many people commented on how it allowed them to heal in various ways and brought peace to their soul. This humbled me dearly as I was so happy my story and spiritual/philosophical reflections could have such an impact on someone else’s life. But then there were a few negative reviews that literally ripped me a new one for even daring to talk about Michael’s “humanness” as though I was a “hater.” (Yes… these reviews were by some fanatical “fans” that essentially placed him on a pedestal and couldn’t stand that Michael might’ve had personal struggles with insecurity, his self image and other things that come with being a human being. Why was he exempt?). Anyway, they might as well have taken a crowbar to my knees. That’s how it felt. Boom! Legs out from underneath me.

    My writing coach did warn me about this… oh yeah… ouch.

    Anyway… my point is I wanted/hoped that everyone would love what I shared. Couldn’t they see by reading my story (if they, in fact, read it), that I was a “good” person and only spoke of Michael in the highest light and love, even though acknowledging the darkness he struggled with along with why it might’ve been there, just like all of us? And that from the soul’s perspective — as I pointed out in my book — that all was beautiful and divine and ultimately, he gave his life serving as the mirror so we all could heal the separation in our own hearts and, in turn, heal our world? In other words, it’s a message of beauty and hope!

    But not everyone sees nor saw it that way. And that is ok. As you say, Suzanne, we are all entitled to our perspectives and our opinions. God bless us all! What I have learned through this journey is that all that matters is your heart and how you feel about yourself. The world will always be there to teach us that we are “less than” through it’s criticism. It might even be there to praise us beyond our ability to praise ourselves. And all of it is just our experience and the meaning we give it. All of it is a gift and opportunity to choose who we are in our hearts amidst it all. In every single moment.

    Thank you for sharing, Suzanne. I really love your writing. I hope you’re well. 🙂

    Lisa Brisse
    Santa Monica, CA

    • suzannefalter
      suzannefalter says:

      What a great note, Lisa … thank you for sharing your experience. I love your teacher’s words. So true! SVF

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