Why this review actually hurt me…

another sliceToday has been a bad day. I woke up to this review of my book ‘Small Kindnesses‘, encouragingly titled ‘I’ve never read a book like this’:

“I am amazed that there are so many good reviews of this book. It is utter drivel, I can’t describe it as anything else. It is highly padded out and extremely clumsily written. Much of it struck me as inappropriate. The main character, Leonard, was selfish, insensitive and really rather repugnant.
It was the worst book I have read in a long time. With all that there is to choose from, I would give this one a wide berth.”


I tried to remember how I can be delighted at bad reviews. I failed.

I tried to get on with my writing. I failed.

I shared it on Facebook and lots of people said lovely things. It still hurt.

Drivel. Clumsily written. Repugnant. Ouch.

Reviews don’t hurt me very often. This one felt mean. This one felt personal. This one made me feel upset for my character, Leonard, who I am inordinately fond of. I know, he’s not a real person. But he kind of is.

And then we found that water has been getting in through our flat roof which needs to be replaced immediately at great expense, and various other disappointing and annoying and upsetting thing happened. You know how life is.

It’s a funny old life, being a writer. Our books goes out into the world like our babies, and then other people tell us exactly what they think about them. They don’t mince their words. They sometimes find our babies extremely clumsily written.

It’s a funny old life, being a human being. We are who we are, and some people love us to death and some people find us the most annoying/self-centred/boring/awful person in the whole of England.

I think it’s okay to feel hurt. Julia Cameron told me it was okay once, in one of her books, and I believed her. We can feel our wound (ouch! ouch!) and give ourselves time to recover.

I think it’s also okay for me to remind myself that none of it means very much anyway. My only task is to write the best books I can write, and to be the best human being I can be (which, trust me, isn’t a very good one. But then I’m in good company.) And to get some quotes for the flat roof. Although I’m blessed with a husband who’s already done that bit.

And just now, as I prepared to write this blog, another brand new review (of my novel The Most Beautiful Thing).

“Amazing book – 2nd read. The characters are so real from the outset. I’ve laughed and cried as the story unfurls – this is a must read book.”

We don’t have to let go, we simply have to not hold on. ~ Joseph Goldstein

Thank you for listening. And now, I shall try & persuade my husband to come out with me and eat cake. (Cake is very good for review-wounds. You should try it.) I’m not holding on any more.


‘Another slice of black forest cake’ by 3liz4

34 thoughts on “Why this review actually hurt me…”

  1. Cake is also a good reward to give yourself for good reviews. It is a marvellous substance that works with the emotions from both directions. AF x

  2. Always remember that it is only one person’s opinion. Some reviewers opt for a controversial review, hoping for a reaction and perhaps their five minutes of the author’s time. It may well have been mean-spirited, but like all our work, your book is out there in the world for everyone. And it can hold its own. It is no longer you; It is Small Kindnesses. That’s my take on it and I’m sticking with it. (Although you may be hearing from me with a similar lament in a few years when I have one out making the rounds.) Namaste.

  3. I haven’t read your book but now I will make a point of it.
    I occasionally do voice-over work and a couple of years ago did a reading of a book about how
    the financial crisis hit Iceland. Naturally, there were many Icelandic names to learn, so the producers of the audio book called in a native of Iceland to help me with the pronunciation.
    All went well and I was pleased with my work. Until about 6 months later, one review was posted that called my pronunciation “laughable” and criticized the publisher for using me to read the book. It stung, it hurt. I got angry, then I got depressed and began listening to that internal negative self-talk about not being good enough, etc.
    And then, like the character in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” who claimed ot have been turned into a newt, I got better.
    I was reminded that this is all just the “suchness” of life – arugamama, is the word, I think. It is what it is. Not everyone is going to like my work, or me, or my actions, etc. And honestly, I feel the same quite often about others. Oh, well. Suchness.
    But your post has now piqued my interest, so with apologies for not taking the time to read it before, I will now.
    Thanks for your posts. Hope the roof gets fixed soon!
    Peace and Light,

    1. Thanks Paul. ‘Arugamama’ – what an extraordinarily good word. And thanks for sharing. PS don’t worry, you don’t have to like Leonard… it really is (98% of the time) okay when people don’t!

  4. Heard recently from another writing mentor that Barbara Kingsolver stopped reading reviews of her books when she realized that she was discounting all the good ones and memorizing all the bad ones…. Peace, Satya. Enjoy the cake and the husband.

  5. Someone once wrote that one of my books was New Agey. Other people said it was awesome and fab and timely and much needed. Guess which review stuck in my mind for ever?

    On the whole, if people don’t like a book, it’d be better if they kept their supercilious opinions to themselves. I am sure your book is lovely – I like the title already.

  6. I learn so much from you…even the things you’re not trying to teach! For example, I didn’t know about the cake reward. 🙂 You are a WONDERFUL writer, a GENEROUS guide, a LOVING human being…and I, for one, cheer you on with great enthusiasm!

  7. Once again I’m reminded of the wisdom of teacher and coach T.Harve Eker something to the effect that how people respond to us (and I’m sure that includes our creative output) is almost completely about them and hardly at all about us.

    With gratitude that you are in the world, Josephine

    1. Thanks Josephine. I was just saying to Kaspa that I see this more and more clearly as I get older. I’m also still interested in why this review stung me so badly, and I think it’s also because the things the reader didn’t like about the book are mostly probably true……. some people like that not much happens, other people don’t. Gratitude for you too 🙂

  8. I was so happy to read on and see that you received another review that was favourable. I have written a few reviews and if I don’t agree with a book I hope my words have never sounded as mean spirited as this person’s. I can understand how you were feeling and my heart goes out to you. Enjoy that cake and your significant other,,,,you have wonderful works and reviews still ahead I’m sure.

  9. Cake – the great cosmic soother of bad feelings. But I have to tell you that it’s often the bad reviews that get me to take a look at a book.

    1. Interesting, Kelly! As Mr Wilde said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” – I guess it has this effect!

  10. I agree with JJ, it’s a sign you’ve arrived! But taking the analogy of putting a child out into the world, people may not like children, or an individual child, but they’re not usually in the habit of saying so quite as nastily! (Or at all, actually, because disliking children is one of the cardinal sins of our society. But I digress…)

  11. I am sorry for the mean spirited individual who brought you hurt and sadness. In my humble opinion there is no excuse for using the beauty of words in such a way. Like Paul, I’m now intrigued to read your book. I want to prove said reviewee wrong and dysfunctional and may even be inclined to write a counter review. We writers are our own worst critics. We hardly need help. The creative force takes us where it will and we are nearly powerless over the results. All we can do is birth them and move on. I have been having a particularly sad day myself over my writing and I admire your bravery for getting it out in front of you. Too often we lock it away inside ourselves to torture us in the dark. You have given me courage to move on as you are already doing. Thank you. Keep writing and I think I will join the non-review reading among us. Flowers & sunshine…Dorothy

  12. Firstly, I write for myself. If people like my writing this is hugely satisfying. However, when they are mean spirited I try to remember that the review they choose to leave says more about them and their dissatisfaction with life. The world is full of uncaring people with high expectations who are only too keen to be unkind. It’s a sad fact of life. We can never please all the people, in fact if we manage to satisfy just 1% of the UK population with our writing that would be a staggering 600,000 people! I’m not sure if this will help to put things in perspective because I too know how hurtful it can be to be on the receiving end of a poor review. I’m sure that in a few days the shock if this unkindness will pass. Take care Best wishes Kay

  13. Sorry to hear of your experience today. As Kay said above, it tells people more about the reviewer than about the book. Why does somebody want to be so unkind? There is a technique to giving a review, however you feel about the subject and it should consider the feelings of the recipient and give constructive criticism. Anyway, there’s no accounting for personal taste. I showed a close friend Dillard’s book, Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek today, thinking she would love it, but she hated it. Although passionately fond of nature, she’s not open to spiritual things. Some people just don’t get it.

    1. She DIDN’T LIKE PILGRIM CREEK? ; ) actually I can understand why people wouldn’t, which doesn’t stop me from loving it hugely. Which helps – if people hate something, doesn’t make it hateful.

  14. One of the Four Agreements (Don Miguel Ruiz) is Don’t Take Things Personally – which in this instance includes both the negative review and the positive. Detach. It is not to do with you. As one of the other commentators said, it reflects on the reviewer more than on the book. For me (and my nonsense) I find this one of the most exciting/challenging of the agreements – wow! If only I could do that!

    enjoy the cake

  15. This is the right way to go. Let go. Eat cake. Hug your hubby. Remember your successes. I love what you write. It is so honest and real. Honest and real for me is much better than flattery. Carry on Satya!

  16. Like Sarah, above, I reckon its good to see around and beyond reviews, of any kind if possible…. tho yes, challenging!
    I’ve heard that Woody Allen never reads reviews – good or bad ones, just gets on with the next bit of work… and a number of other other creative people have this same way of being, around their work. I guess you’d be weighed down by all the loving/ hating/indifference/adoration stuff, if you did, after a few books, movies, works of art etc.
    Such power to influence us, we give the buggers!
    I see your beautiful robes, the light behind you in the buddha, the gleam in it, and your eyes shining. Go forward into all else that is, let go the need to be loved if you can. As Marge Piercy I think said – Work is its own cure, you have to like it more than being loved….
    Go well into the launches too, sounds like fun!

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