October 17

Next update October 31

Let’s talk about bad reviews.

It may seem like a strange topic for this update, especially with Chaos Unleashed hitting the shelves only a few days ago. But bad reviews are something every author runs into eventually, so why hide from it? Maybe talking about bad reviews will be a cathartic experience; something to help me endure the slings and arrows of the dissatisfied fans.

The final book of my Chaos Born trilogy has just come out, so it’s an exciting time for me as an author… and hopefully an exciting time for most of my fans. One of the coolest things for me whenever a new book comes out is seeing the reactions from fans and critics. I’ve been lucky so far; most of the reaction I get is very positive. I love reading reviews from folks who enjoyed my work; it’s nice to know something I created brought enjoyment to someone else. It’s gratifying and validating. But no matter how good you are as a writer – no matter how brilliant your book – there will always be someone somewhere who doesn’t like it.

Just to be clear: I’ve learned to deal with my bad reviews. I’m not saying they don’t sting, but in the big picture they don’t mean much. A very large majority of my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are favorable, so I know people like what I do. A bad review isn’t going to destroy my confidence, or undermine my sense of self-worth. But they can still piss me off.

As I mentioned earlier, Chaos Unleashed has just come out. So far there aren’t a lot of reviews for it yet. The Amazon reviews will start to come in over the next month as people buy and read the book. But a few of the critics had advance copies, and they’ve already chimed in. They loved it over at Rooqoo Depot; even named it their “Book of the Month”. But the folks over at Publishers Weekly weren’t quite so kind.

PW actually gave me a very favorable starred review for book one, Children of Fire. They really seemed to enjoy book two, The Scorched Earth. But for some reason, the review for Chaos Unleashed is very different. How did my writing go from “energetic epic” that “invigorates ancient archetypes” to “torpid”? Good question. First off, I’m guessing that all three reviews were not written by the same persons. Publishers Weekly reviews are anonymous contributions by freelance writers. I don’t know exactly how they choose who writes which reviews, but obviously the critic for Chaos Unleashed was not a fan of the series. Actually, if you read the review it really seems as if he/she didn’t read the first two books. I don’t know that for sure, but there are several references to what the book feels like for a reader who didn’t finish the first two in the series. Now I may be a bit biased here, but NO SHIT, SHERLOCK! If you start a trilogy by jumping into book three, some of it is going to feel weird. Some of it won’t make sense. Of course you won’t feel invested in the characters!

Look, I understand how reviews work. I’m not saying you should never write a bad review of something. Bad reviews are important; they serve a purpose. They help us make a more informed decision on which products we want to invest our money and time on. And sometimes bad reviews can be entertaining. I love reading snarky reviews for films that get trashed over at Rotten Tomatoes.

I’ve even read entertaining bad reviews of stuff I’ve written. When Mass Effect: Revelation came out, one of the guys over at Penny Arcade called it a “a satanic volley of base aggression toward the reader”. (Thanks to Zarosian Emissary over at Reddit for helping me find the link to this article!) I didn’t agree with him, but at least he found an entertaining way to express his displeasure. And at least I got the sense he’d actually read the book.

I can’t say for certain if the PW critic read the entire Chaos Born trilogy or not, but I’d put money on NO. And here we get to my real issue with bad reviews. If someone doesn’t like my work, that’s fine… not every book is for every reader. But what burns my craw is when I get a bad review for a stupid reason. Not liking book 3 in my trilogy because you couldn’t be bothered to read books 1 and 2 fits my definition of a stupid reason.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve had to face negative reviews. Sometimes I’m ready for it. When the Revan novel came out, I knew some fans would be angry no matter what – that’s the danger when you write a novel based on a beloved video game character. For some, my version of Revan didn’t match the version of Revan they had created when they played the original Knights of the Old Republic game. BOOM – 1 star. Others were upset that I had made the Exile – the main character from the KOTOR sequel – a supporting character in the novel instead of the focus. BOOM – 1 star. Others were upset at the ending, because it tied into the Star Wars Old Republic MMO, where Revan’s story continued. BOOM – 1 star. Fair? Probably not, but at least I wasn’t blindsided.

Sometimes, though, you never see it coming. There are all sorts of bizarre, ridiculous and even STUPID reasons people give negative reviews. I’ve received 1 and 2 star ratings on Amazon because someone didn’t like that the Kindle version costs more than the print version. One person dinged me because the shipping was late. Not sure how either of those relates to the actual content of the book, but sure – punish the author because of prices I don’t control or shipping I have nothing to do with.

But even those pale beside two of my favorite STUPID bad review examples. I’d like to share them with you now. The first book I ever sold was Temple Hill, a Forgotten Realms adventure published by Wizards of the Coast. It’s a pretty straightforward sword and sorcery adventure, and most of the readers appreciated it for what it was. But one person on Amazon gave it a 3-star review for a weird reason: “But the one gripe I have is that this author should really use more pronouns.” Seriously? That’s your complaint? Pronouns? And that’s enough to take off 2 full stars in your rating? Okay, whatever.

And now my personal favorite. Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal… my lowest rated book. I admit this book was flawed. It had some issues, and I go into those in the description of Throne of Bhaal way down at the bottom of my NOVELS page. I can handle getting slammed for things like that. But here’s the 1-star review that pisses me off more than any other. Go ahead, read it if you want. I saw that review when it first came out; it was one of the earliest Amazon reviews I ever received for any of my books. And I was puzzled. The reviewer complains about the amount of blood on the first three pages. Weird – there is no blood on the first three pages. Nobody dies. Just a mother and father in a small farm house discussing their son. The review also mentions the sex scenes, with the protagonist having sex with multiple women. Weird – I didn’t write any explicit sex scenes. And the character only has one romantic interest the entire book. I was very confused. And then it hit me – these are things that happen in the Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn novel! I’m getting slammed for a book I didn’t even write! They reviewed a different book by a different author, slapped it on my book, and now I have to carry around this 1-star albatross for the rest of the internet to gaze upon. Thanks a lot!

I really don’t think it gets any stupider than that, so I’ll just wrap this up. I know I’ll get more negative reviews in the future, but I hope before you give me or any other author a bad review you think a little bit about this article. If you want to write a bad review, go ahead. It’s a free country. But don’t punish us for stuff we can’t control, like Amazon Kindle pricing or shipping times. And for the love of God, please don’t write a bad review because you were such an idiot you read the wrong damn book!

And on the flip side, if you actually like a book, please take the time to go to Amazon or Goodreads or somewhere else you can share it with other readers and post a good review. It will be much appreciated!