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Here’s What You Shouldn’t Do When You Get a Bad Review

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by CATHERINE

In the early 2000s, I worked full-time as the office and distribution manager for the Reno News & Review, an alternative newsweekly. I also taught two sections of freshman composition at the community college. I was also writing freelance reviews for the paper.

I was busy, and I loved it.

Until I got a bad response to a critical review I’d written. Then I stopped. And only recently has my response to bad reviews changed.

I’d spent a Friday night in the auditorium of McQueen High School in northwest Reno, watching a female version of The Odd Couple.

Although the headline was “A for Effort,” I was critical:

“Unfortunately, the girls are merely acting, as they don’t yet have that sublime sense of being in character. Director Leo McBride made a bad decision in having the girls attempt to speak with New York accents. He would have been better off having the actors work more on their characters than their dialect. Not only do the accents clash from character to character, they all sound painfully fake and cartoony.” You can read the full review here.

Of course it’s funny to think that those high school kids I watched are now in their early 30s, but it wasn’t the kids who hated my review: it was a teacher.

Within a few days of my review, an email arrived at my News & Review email from a very angry woman with a McQueen email address complaining about my review -- not to me, though. I was clearly cc’d on an email I shouldn’t have been because her tirade referred to “she” and how “the black bitch has to go down.”

What the absolute hell? What’d I do? Yeah, I called the police and reported this woman. I wonder where she is now. Hopefully she has been enduring years of rehabilitation and sensitivity training.

To my own detriment, though, I stopped reviewing plays. I did not want to expose myself to any more craziness. I continued reviewing restaurants and books because, well, I wasn’t afraid of a restaurant owner coming after me for telling the truth about the food and service I received at their restaurant. Besides, of all the restaurants in Reno and Sparks, having theirs featured was an honor. Also, I never had a horrendous experience anywhere I reviewed, so there was great likelihood that the review would contain something positive and optimistic, the same way I ended my review of The Odd Couple at McQueen:

“I support the effort the students at McQueen put into the production, from the props to the costumes to the attempts at playing something they’re not: 40-year-old New Yorkers. Hopefully these kids will continue to pursue their acting careers and just get better and better.”

I kept doing book reviews because the books kept coming in. The best part of being the office manager was that I sorted the mail. We were constantly inundated with unsolicited review copies of new books. I was in heaven! I absconded with anything that looked remotely interesting and devoured it in my free (ha!) time. I whipped out a review as soon as I was done.

Funny, I was not worried about authors coming after me if I was critical of their books.

Which brings me to my point about what you shouldn’t do when you get a bad review. You shouldn’t run. You shouldn’t hide. You shouldn’t take it personally. You shouldn’t stop writing.

And that’s exactly what I did (or didn’t do) when I discovered a bad review of the second book my Veronica series. I’d held a Goodreads giveaway in December for book one in the series, Veronica, I Heard Your Mom’s Black, and decided to send the winners a bonus: I sent books one and two, Veronica Talks to Boys.

Then I saw the review on Goodreads:

“Once again I will mention what a lovely pleasure it was to win, receive and be the first one to review this book! 😁

The cover of this second addition in the series was just as gorgeous and the first one!

Although, because of the poor story quality of the last one, I just couldn’t bring myself to finish this one completely.

I skimmed it and I think it wouldn’t have been my cup of tea anyway.

Overall,

⭐️⭐️

I still think the story is okay, but I think that it belongs in the middle grade section, but can’t be put there because of some mature content.”

Wow: she described the cover as “gorgeous.” Thank you, 1106design!  

But she couldn’t even finish the book. Holy shit!

That was my first reaction.

Very quickly, though, my thoughts shifted to: She may not have finished the book, but she did take the time to write this review. She was honest and thoughtful.

If I’ve learned anything in the years since running from whatever was going on in that McQueen teacher’s mind when she sent that awful email in 2001, it’s that the power of my words must be embraced—first and foremost, by me.

And I fully accept that my words aren’t everybody’s cup of tea! Whether someone likes my words is not my responsibility.

I’m no longer running from reviews.

Bring ‘em on!

By the way, if you’re a reviewer and want to weigh in on the books in The Veronica Series, let me know. I’ll be happy to send you a review copy!

(c) 2019 Catherine M. Greenspan