Justine Larbalestier on Why She Loves Bad Reviews

It’s here.

Personally, I don’t love bad reviews, but I also define “bad review” not as “a negative review,” but as “a review by someone who clearly did not read the same book I wrote,” or “a review by someone who has personal issues to work out, and attempted to do so on my poor, innocent book,” or possibly “a review written by someone who hates me, but boringly.” Sometimes it’s a combination of two of these, and if you hit the jackpot, all three. In the cases where it is all three, however, I do kinda love those reviews, for these same reason I like looking at Cake Wrecks.

I’m fine with negative reviews. If you’re a writer, you should learn to be too. You will get them. And sometimes they will be correct about your book. Deal with it.

20 thoughts on “Justine Larbalestier on Why She Loves Bad Reviews

  1. I sometimes take guilty pleasure reversing the issue and watching cake wrecks of writers loose their shit at factual, quality reviews. In public. It’s got a minor league Charlie Sheen quality to it.

  2. I don’t much mind it when people hate my work, as I think it’s clear that the work, then, isn’t for them. It can’t be for everybody.

    The reviews that bother me — for ten, fifteen minutes — are the thoughtful yet critical ones, the well-written three star reviews, because they often have a point. It hurts to get kicked in he truth. But, you know, you can hardly blame a reviewer for spotting a weakness in your writing.

    And in the end it’s those reviews, I think, that can help you make your next book better.

  3. rdjahn: The reviews that bother me — for ten, fifteen minutes — are the thoughtful yet critical ones, the well-written three star reviews, because they often have a point. It hurts to get kicked in he truth. But, you know, you can hardly blame a reviewer for spotting a weakness in your writing.

    And in the end it’s those reviews, I think, that can help you make your next book better.

    When Burt Lancaster was working on the script for Elmer Gantry (which took over a year working with one of the best writers in Hollywood at that time–whose name I’m blocking, unfortunately) he went to see Sinclair Lewis to see what suggestions Lewis had. (The script process was brutal: the writer would bring in the draft, Lancaster would look it over and tear it apart, the writer would object, they’d scream at one another, then the writer would do another rewrite. The writer later said the script came out great but it was very hard on the nerves of both of them.) Lewis told Lancaster “Don’t forget to look at the reviews that came out at the time. There were some fine reviewers then, like Mencken, and they spotted things I’d never realized were going on when I was writing the book.”

    THAT’S a writer with guts. Then again, I don’t think he ever let Mencken know that…

  4. I think vitriolic reviews are pointless. I no longer trust the review if its over the top in its hate. A thoughtful review that points out weaknesses, says it wasn’t entertaining, whatever..those are fine.
    Some reviewers seem to write a negative review to entertain the reader. They use hyperbolic language to attack the work like its the plague. Its a book, not the end of civilization.
    “Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.” – Kurt Vonnegut.

  5. Terry Pratchett loves bad reviews too, he even uses one as part of the jacket blurb for his novels:
    “A complete amateur … doesn’t even write in chapters”, Apparently, you just cannot write humour like that, even in a comedy novel. I hate to admit it, but I use author reactions to criticism as an indicator of whether their books are worth me spending money on. Any author that throws a conniption fit over a bad review is clearly not worth it.

  6. I’ve been an avid reader of many different kinds of fiction (nonfiction, too, for that matter) for 35+ years. I have a pretty well-established group of writers whose books I know I will enjoy, regardless of the actual reviews they’ve gotten. I also tend to choose a new (to me, anyway) author’s work to read based not only on the reviews themselves, but on who’s making the positive/negative comments. In other words, if an author whose work I personally dislike criticizes a new author’s writing, I have to wonder how bad the new author’s work “really” is. If an author I’ve enjoyed for years praises a new book, I can be fairly confident I’ll enjoy the new book as well.

  7. Curse you John,

    If you keep on like this I am going to start believing in astrology! My daughter was born two days earlier than you, about 25 miles from where you were born, and every time I turn around I find another way in which you two are semi-clones – other than the obvious gender factor, of course.

    Cake Wrecks has been one of my daughter’s favorite web sites for years! Why did you have to mention your fondness for it?

    There is nothing to astrology. There is nothing to astrology. There is nothing . . . :-)

    – et -

  8. eh, I love reading Steven Erikson, I’ve tried to ask how much you think of his books.
    It’s a little dense, and the ‘Crippled God’ was a great ending to the books. Ten books in, and the end was good enough for me.
    Scalzi, they don’t use 10 cents per words but Erikson wrote 900 pages per book, and I’d tell him he’s the best fantasy guy I’ve ever read. bar none.
    he had a backstory, it was told from the first book “Gardens of the Moon”

  9. My personal favorite is the guy who suggested that he could do in ten pages what took me upwards of 300, even after much thought given to trimming and other, more ruthless forms of triage.

    Granted, a third of the book could’ve been removed outright and still put forth its core message without loss of signal. (That other third is for people at lower skill levels who are beguiled by the title of the book.) Yes, there are a number of passages in which I trip over myself. Yes, my plan was to write something gracefully woven, but instead I wound up with a bathroom reader.

    When I half-jokingly suggested to my editor that I invite the reviewer to send in his own proposal, I was flatly denied. Pretty well covers it, I think.

  10. My definition of a “good review”, along those lines, would be one where I can tell whether or not I’ll like the book, regardless of what the reviewer thought. For example, “I loved this book because it was so long and I didn’t run our of reading material,” or “I kind of love this because it reminds me of the Babysitters Club books that were my guilty pleasure when I was 14,” will leave me wanting to thank the reviewer for saving my time. (I’d much rather reread an old book than read a new ones whose fans can’t think of anything to praise but its length!) But I can also imagine someone writing “I didn’t like Silverlock because I felt like the author was much smarter than I am; I can tell there were references to other books/myths everywhere but I only got some of them,” which would send me running toward the book if I hadn’t already read it twenty times. Those are useful reviews.

  11. Vitriolic reviews are some of my favorites to read and write. But that doesn’t mean I like ad hominem attacks; it means I love reading examples of what someone finds to be really bad.

    Most people who review books, whether for money or for love, do it because they like to gush about what they’ve read that’s good. So an occasional bad review is like seasoning in a steady diet of admiration.

  12. I don’t read many book reviews, but in music I absolutely adore a good solid flensing being delivered to a deserving recipient, or a dismissive bit of comedy snark. Favourites include a profoundly terse, if predictable, review of the Yes compilation “Yes”, a summation of the Lords of Acid album “Farstucker” as being “shoring bit”, and a heartfelt and eloquent full-length review of Rockin’ Da North’s “Power of the Sound” – I won’t translate the entire Finnish text of the latter here, but it was built around the statement “There is nothing good about this record; this record is shit”.

  13. I don’t read many book reviews, but in music I absolutely adore a good solid flensing being delivered to a deserving recipient, or a dismissive bit of comedy snark.

    From the other side of the equation, it’s very occasionally damn satisfying (if hard work) to write the things when you realise:

    1) You’ve wasted several weeks of your life you’ll never get back on mental Draino.

    2) Your contract inexplicably fails to include a kill-fee and generous compensation for mental distress due to 1).

    3) Your editor is going to demand a rewrite if your review contains any, or all, of the following: a) “fuck” pasted into a document several hundred times, b) defamatory speculation about how a reputable publisher was induced to publish this dreck, or c) a fervent desire to murder the author and spread their corpse around every piece of wasteland in a twenty mile radius.

  14. I don’t suppose you saw Pitchfork’s review of Jet’s “Shine On”? It’s, uh, in a style that would be impossible to carry off in print, and probably not safe for work.

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