Lately the Internet has been all abuzz about what an author should do about terrible reviews on GoodReads, blogs, Amazon, etc. (I believe the correct answer is: nothing. Even if the reviewer aggressively tweets links of said review to the author.)
But what I think is even more painful is to be told that your book is going to be reviewed in a newspaper or magazine, one with tens or even hundreds of thousands of readers, and then the "critic" decides he or she had better live up to the title.
When Richard Ford didn't like a New York Times review written by Alice Hoffman, he and his wife took turns shooting Hoffman's own book and then mailed it to her. (The two shared a publisher). Years later, when Alice Hoffman didn't like a reviewer's take in the Boston Globe, she tweeted the reviewer's home phone number and encouraged her followers to contact the reviewer.
A friend's first book just got a bad review in a big newspaper. A bad review for the very first book. God, that hurts the worst. It's your first born, it's perfect, and then someone drags that baby out of your arms, and drop kicks it. That's about how it feels.
How my first book made a reviewer homicidal
When my first book came out in 1999, I remember my publicist telling me excitedly that it was going to be reviewed in the Los Angeles Times. This was pre-Internet. I enlisted an old friend from high school to fax me a copy of the review the morning it appeared. (Good Lord, this was all so long ago. I might as well say she used Pony Express to send me some chiseled tablets.)
I waited excitedly by the fax machine. The cover sheet had a single word scrawled on it. "Critics!"
I began to sense this might not go my way.
The review sucked. Until today, I had blocked it out of my mind, but thanks to some digging this afternoon, I was able to find it again. It contained words and phrases such as "dreary," "barely credible," "less-than-brilliant," "irritating gimmick," as well as the memorable "made me homicidal."
Yes, my mystery actually made the reviewer feel like committing murder.
I felt so ashamed. So worthless. I felt sick that my old friend had read the review. Was my career over before it had even begun?
Four other facts to note: 1). The reviewer loved a book where the mystery was solved by cats. 2). The reviewer died a year later from cancer, and had probably been undergoing treatment when the review was written. They left behind a son about the age of my daughter. 3). The book was also a Booksense pick, and a finalist for both the Agatha and the Anthony awards. It also came close to being made into a movie. 4). I have published 16 more books since (with more on the way).
So a review is just one person's opinion, whether that person is on Good Reads or the New York Times. I say that as someone who occasionally reviews on Good Reads and for the Oregonian. But because I know something of the blood, sweat and often literal tears that go into a book, I always try to give a balanced view.