How to Handle a Bad Review: Part 3 (When They’re Right)

People will tell you that your writing sucks. Sometimes those people will be right. Two previous posts have talked about what to do when the reviewer is clearly suffering from personal bias that has nothing to do with your work, as well as what to do when the review is a mixed bag of helpful and destructive advice. Sadly, this only leaves one option for consideration.

"Gator" Image Courtesy of Brenna Richardson © 2014

Your work needs help.

In a critique group it’s fairly clear how to move forward. Address the issues, turn in a new draft, and see if you’ve made things better. Bad reviews of work that is completed are more complicated to handle. While you could yank your book from Amazon to deal with some glaring plot hole, this isn’t necessarily practical.

Some people deal with bad reviews by avoiding reviewers all together. They delete the Google alert with their name, they stop submitting their work for critique. They choose to follow their inner compass and blot out all detractors. This strategy is appealing. You plunge your head into an echo chamber and refuse to entertain alternate viewpoints.

If you are confident in yourself as a writer and happy with your overall reception this may be viable for you. A Casual Vacancy wasn’t exactly a smash hit, but I’m pretty sure Rowling is confident enough in her writing chops to not be shaken by that.

If you’re still earning your writing stripes you may wonder: Whose advice do I take? How do I know if it’s any good?

I think the litmus test is whether the notes strike you as true. If, when you hear it, you agree in your gut, that’s when you should change stuff about how you write or what you’ve written. Also, if you are constantly getting the same note about the same issue, it might be worth looking into. Or not. The best art rattles conventions and challenges expectations .

As a creative person bad reviews are a necessary evil. A way of life. You can choose to alter your text or your style based on them, or you can choose to ignore them entirely.

You are the author. The choice is yours.


Joshua Rigsby is a writer, tea-drinker, and planet 9 enthusiast based in Southern California.


  1. Bravo, Josh.
    “In a critique group it’s fairly clear how to move forward. Address the issues, turn in a new draft, and see if you’ve made things better.” I take probably 90% of group comments and make the suggested corrections/alterations. But I think you’re right. If your faith in your work is strong enough, follow your gut. That might be to the completed novel’s detriment, however.

    1. Joshua Rigsby (Post author)

      That’s the thing isn’t it? Am I confident enough in my aberrant position to challenge the norm? Am I just self-deluded? I, for one, don’t have the confidence in my craft to take on the majority. That’s probably for the best, at least right now. Maybe I will challenge the status quo some day. I just want to be confident enough to know that I can maintain it first.

      Thanks, as always, for your comment Patrick!

      1. WordPress finally let me post a comment!!!!

        1. Joshua Rigsby (Post author)

          Woo Hoo!


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