Jay Lake Talks About Bad Reviews

Over on his LiveJournal, a few days ago:

Yesterday I tweeted a link to a very negative review of Green. (That link is in this morning’s Link Salad as well.) The review closes with my favorite book diss I’ve ever seen applied to anyone’s work. I mean, it’s a freaking brilliant combination of disgusted ennui and visceral dislike for a book, distilled into an amazingly simple phrase.

Louise Marley responded via Facebook with You’re braver than I, Jay. I shove negative reviews under the rug, where no one can ever find them. And I know a number of very smart writers, thinking specifically of Dean Wesley Smith at the moment, who strongly advise that one never reads reviews.

Louise and Dean are right. But I’m weird. Because bad reviews don’t bother me at all. In some ways, I enjoy them more than good reviews.

In part, this is because any review, especially from a reader (as opposed to a formal review outlet like Publishers Weekly or Locus) means that someone cared enough personally about the book to talk about it public. Even if they come to bury the book, not to praise it.

It’s a really good post, worthy of your attention, and I don’t want to add much to it. Writers for the most part want nothing but praise to be delivered in large crates each morning, just before breakfast, to set them up for the day. But every writer is going to get negativity hurled their way.

I think it’s healthy to at least face negative comments. I don’t think there’s a way you can never let them get to you, unless you’re programmed that way, but facing that not everyone is going to like what you do is probably a healthy act.

And, once you accept that not everyone is going to like what you do – or even just you – it’s fine. It’s rough for the first year, because you’re looking to establish yourself, and you’re still becoming familiar with the industry. Having said that, every time I get a nice review, or someone emails me to say they enjoyed the book, it helps me a little through the process of writing my current project.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.


  1. It’s funny you should mention this. I had some conscience issues recently with a book review. The book in question started really well and then careened downhill so badly that I’ve found myself unable to pick it back up again. A book this bad would normally receive a very thorough analysis in order to highlight why I disliked it rather than the more common “it f***ing sucked man!”

    However, the author’s prose in the opening pages was so visceral, so powerfully descriptive that I was concerned that my rather negative review on a high traffic site may put a crimp on his work and spoil his chances of improving his craft and producing a novel that lived up to the potential of those opening pages.

    To my shame I deleted the review and decided to keep silent. A mistake?

  2. Phillip – I think negative reviews are just as beneficial as positive ones, in many ways, so long as the reviewer interacted with the book (which it sounds like you did). If you really wanted to harm a book, the best thing to do is give it no coverage…

  3. It’s the “amazon stars” that cause me the most grief when i review there as the content is usually positive or at least constructive criticism but those stars are so damn important. I know they matter too as if I saw a book with an average less than 3 I’d be wary unless the review number was less than 20.

    I think in Philip’s case it’s fair to say it sucked. Sounds as though your reaction was heightened by the fact you enjoyed it at first. The fact the start was stronger than the ending (usually people say the opposite) makes it seem like the “getting used” to the writing doesn’t count.

  4. Well the protagonist wasn’t believable or sympathetic as a character, the opening combat scenes are a comedy of errors that, generously speaking, convey the utter confusion of battle if nothing else. The book is interspersed with unsubtle and irritating attempts at foreshadowing and after such a strong start…

    Mark, I take your point. Back to the drawing board to get the review back together. Does that mean I have to finish the book?

    …Sacrificing for my art 🙂