Negative reviews for books: it’s a touchier subject than ever these days. Hardly a day goes by when you don’t read some online flame war between a cyber-bully and a writer in tears, or a beleaguered blogger attacked by a writer with thin skin. I have five books out and they’ve all gotten some bad reviews, and while I don’t love that part of my job, no book is going to please 100% of its readers. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I try to learn from my negative reviews–or at least, I try to laugh. And sometimes all you can do is laugh, because some of the reviews and emails-from-the reader that cross my computer screen are downright wacky.
I think a little more laughter–a little more humor–is something we could all use, in this never-ending debate about book reviews. So here it is, my semi-annual “I hated your book!” blog post: the top ten oddball reviews or nutty emails I’ve received this year, along with the responses I make in my head. As always, details have been changed to keep the reviewer/commenter anonymous, but all remain true in essence.
1. “Interesting book about Julius Caesar, his lovers, and his enemies.”
But–but–none of my books are about Julius Caesar, his lovers, OR his enemies.
2. “Everybody loves Emperor Trojan in this book, and I don’t get it. Trojan crushed other cultures without mercy.”
Ok, maybe you didn’t agree with his expansionist policies, but do the man the courtesy of getting his name right. He’s an emperor, not a condom.
3. “The Borgia’s might be an interesting clan, but this book about the Borgia’s put me to sleep.”
And your misuse of the apostrophe is driving me mad, so I’d say you got the better end of the deal.
4. “The historical inaccuracies made me wince. I mean, the heroine was cooking strawberries in the winter!”
This book has a mummified saint’s hand that moves around under its own power, and it’s strawberries in winter that snaps your suspension of disbelief?
5. This book seemed good, but it had a depiction of adultery and I’m sorry, but I will not read anything with a depiction of adultery.
That depresses me. Not so much that you’re missing out on my book, but that you’re missing out on Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, and Anya Seton’s Katherine.
6. Would have given this book four stars except for the fact that the hero and the heroine didn’t end up together. Why couldn’t they have a happily ever after?
Um . . . because history says they didn’t get one?
7. “I liked this book about the Borgias, but in the end I’m looking for something more serious, like the Showtime series.”
Howls with laughter.
8. “Can’t believe Margaret George said this was `literary.’ Then again, considering what Margaret George writes–”
Now wait just a minute. Call my books whatever you want, but if you start running down my idol Margaret George, you and I are going to have WORDS.
9. “A bunch of stuff in here is wrong, like the pimp.”
I assume you are objecting to the slang term pimp and not the concept as a historical job occupation? Because I assure you that while the Romans might have had their own Latin terms for a procurer, the career of exploiting women in the sex trade was a lucrative and time-honored lifestyle choice in A.D. 100.
10. “Crappy story about Julius Caesar.”
Oh, for f*ck’s sake.
Friends and family will often get more worked up over a bad review than an author will. My husband is STILL fuming about my first one-star Amazon review, and it was more than three years ago. He knows better than to start flame wars on the internet defending the honor of my books, but it can be tough sometimes for a writer spouse to take the high road.
A while back, I posted my annual “I Hated Your Book” blog post – my top-ten list of the bad, the ugly, and the just plain weird reviews I received in 2012. I rephrase everything for anonymity, and I have fun posting the replies I wish I could shoot back in person. And today, since it’s all in anonymous fun anyway, I’ve given my husband permission to make his own responses. Just this once . . .
1. Cringeworthy bodiceripping lovestory.
Please locate said bodices for me. As Kate’s husband and critique partner, I have seen every iteration of these books from their raw ideas to their finished forms, and I simply cannot live with myself if I, as the first and initial editor, missed a SINGLE BODICE. Help me, O Un-hyphenated Reader….you’re my only hope.
2. I bought your book at the same time as Stephanie Dray’s Song of the Nile. Hers is slightly less boring than yours.
Yeah, so Stephanie’s a good friend to my wife and me, and normally I’d back her up to the hilt. But when it comes to my wife being compared to other women, Kate is always the most talented, most beautiful, classiest, *every awesome thing ever*. Sorry to ditch you on this one, Stephanie.
3. I hated the way all the women in this book were accused of being sluts whenever they stepped outside the rules. I mean, I guess it was historically accurate, but it bothered me way too much to finish the book.
So let me get this straight……..you’re irritated by historical accuracy in a historical novel that you very probably located in the “Historical Fiction” section of your bookstore or library? Hold on, I think I can help……….one sec……..looking around………..OK! Here we go! THIS should be more your speed for right now.
4. I heart the hero Vix! He’s just so badass the way he stopped at nothing to get what he wanted. I didn’t like the heroine at all, though; she was so self-centered the way she plowed through life just trying to get her own way.
Um…..thanks? Kate based the hero on me, so I guess you tangentially complimented me there. On the other hand, your comment just convinced me that you’re schizophrenic, so I’m not really sure how to take it. *slowly puts hands in the air and backs away very carefully*
5. There was such foul language in this book, I just couldn’t stand it.
Yeah, because the hero of this book is a soldier–and as a military man myself, let me ______ reassure you that ________ military men do NOT _______ swear. Not in ____ ancient Rome, not ____ now, not in any ____ era. We ________ speak __________ forcefully and loudly, _____ yeah, but we do NOT use _______ language. Never ____ ever.
6. Your Rome is like three blocks wide from the way all the central characters keep bumping into each other!
Huh. Actually, that’s pretty legit.
7. This book is an insult to my Jewish heritage. So anti-Semitic; any Jew would be offended!
What book did you read? My wife’s works and Mein Kampf look NOTHING alike.
8. Wasn’t interested enough to finish the book. Four stars out of five!
I just saw the opening credits for “The Hobbit!” Wonderful movie!
9. I didn’t like this book as much as her other book Empress of the Daughter’s Mistress.
Personally, my favorite part of the book was when Vix, Hermione, and The Doctor went back in time to reboot the universe, but King Arthur was confused by all the new people, so he called up George III on his communicator, who sent Aragon to take on The Borg with his lightsaber.
10. This trash is an insult to intellectuals everywhere. I’m trying to decide whether to toss this book in the library’s 2 cent bin, or burn it.
Ok, funny hat off here….. I was preparing a scathing response about the idea of an intellectual wanting to burn books, complete with a staggering comparison to Nazi Germany. But then it occurred to me…….
You’re an idiot, and here’s why:
a) Kate’s books aren’t intellectual works. Granted, they’re very well done, but they aren’t designed to promote a philosophy or explain post-modern surrealism, or anything of the sort. They’re great stories that are expertly told, not intellectual treatises. What you’re doing is looking at a very fast car that’s a lot of fun to drive, and bitching that it’s not a nuclear submarine.
b) By definition, anyone who would consider burning a book is not an intellectual. Intellectuals recognize the value and worth in every work, regardless of personal taste, even if the only lesson learned is what not to do. The fact that you would even consider burning something out of spite, and try to remove that knowledge and information from the world, tells me that you’re nothing but a small and petty mind.
And for the bonus crazy email my wife received in 2012 . . .
11. Hi Kate, I saw your picture on the book jacket, and I like girls like you! You know, pretty, blond, puffy cheeks, loves history. We should talk!
I have a broadsword.
The season of love and goodwill approaches, which makes it an excellent time to go through some hate mail. Yes, dear readers, it’s time for my now-yearly tradition: the “I Hated Your Book” blog post.
Negative reviews for books: it’s a touchier subject than ever these days. Writers can be a sensitive breed, and our books are our babies. Like any proud parent, we want to lash out at those who say our baby is ugly–but bad reviews are part of this business. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, after all, and no book is going to please 100% of its readers.
My first book Mistress of Rome got panned a few times, and my second book Daughters of Rome did too. Ditto for my latest book, Empress of the Seven Hills – and that’s ok. I have learned valuable things from negative reviews or emails–a sharp-eyed reader, for example, who was nice enough to contact me with the tactful observation that my Jewish characters should be speaking Aramaic and not Hebrew. Believe me, that detail will be carefully corrected in the next book. And as for those less-constructive (ok, downright nasty) one-star reviews that make me see red, well, I may call up my girlfriends and do some ranting about said reviewer’s lack of insight, literary discernment, personal hygiene, and use of the subjunctive–but I will always keep such rants off the web. Such online spats are unprofessional, and they can get ugly in a hurry–see the brouhaha when bestselling author Emily Giffin commented on Facebook about a bad review, and the poor book blogger who panned her ended up receiving violent phone threats.
Perhaps we authors and fans alike need just a bit more humor in looking at the situation. I’ve gotten some reviews and emails that are so bizarre or flat-out insane that all I can do is laugh. Here are a few memorable gems from this year’s readers who have contacted me with negative feedback. I have rephrased them for anonymity but all are true in essence:
1. “Cringeworthy bodiceripping lovestory.”
What I’m cringing at is your inability to hyphenate.
2. “I bought your book at the same time as Stephanie Dray’s Song of the Nile. Hers is slightly less boring than yours.”
I resent that. Stephanie Dray is a friend of mine, and I’ll have you know that she is MUCH less boring than I am.
3. “I hated the way all the women in this book were accused of being sluts whenever they stepped outside the rules. I mean, I guess it was historically accurate, but it bothered me way too much to finish the book.”
If you are that shocked by the notion that women of the past lived under an unfair double-standard, then historical fiction is not for you.
4. “I heart the hero Vix! He’s just so badass the way he stopped at nothing to get what he wanted. I didn’t like the heroine at all, though; she was so self-centered the way she plowed through life just trying to get her own way.”
Ah, I see. Reader #3 was disturbed by double-standards for men and women. You just HAVE double-standards for men and women.
5. “There was such foul language in this book, I just couldn’t stand it.”
This reader has a point. Because the hero of this book is a soldier–and as we all know, real military men never cuss. In any era.
6. “Your Rome is like three blocks wide from the way all the central characters keep bumping into each other!”
They said the same thing about Dickens. He survived; so will I. Actually, I’ve never really cared for Dickens. Maybe I need to keep this review in mind for the next book.
7. “This book is an insult to my Jewish heritage. So anti-Semitic; any Jew would be offended!”
Thank you for your feedback. I would pass your concerns on to my editor, but she’s sitting shiva this week.
8. “Wasn’t interested enough to finish the book. Four stars out of five!”
So you probably think I’m crazy to be irritated by a 4-star review, but . . . huh?
9. “I didn’t like this book as much as Empress of the Daughter’s Mistress.”
Masterful. Not only can I not tell which book of mine you just read, I can’t tell what other book of mine you’re comparing it to. Considering that I’ve only written three books, that’s quite an achievement.
10. “This trash is an insult to intellectuals everywhere. I’m trying to decide whether to toss this book in the library’s 2 cent bin, or burn it.”
I think you’ll find that the real insult to intellectuals everywhere is book-burning.
And for the bonus crazy email of 2012 . . .
11. “I saw your picture on the book jacket, and I like girls like you! You know, pretty, blond, puffy cheeks, loves history. We should talk!”
Wow. Um. Just–wow. Did you read the bio under my picture, where it mentions that I’m married? Happily? To a very muscular Navy sailor/amateur boxer? I suggest Match.com if you wish to find unmarried history-loving blondes. And here’s a tip: don’t use the word “puffy” in your ad.
Okay, folks, it’s time for what I feel is going to be a yearly tradition: the “I hated your book” blog. Last year I wrote a blog post listing my top ten favorite negative comments that had come in for my first book Mistress of Rome, and I had a blast doing it. Judging from the 500 views and 20+ comments, a lot of you had a blast reading it. So here we go for Round 2: I’ve written a second book, out for nearly five months now, and plenty of people had mean things to say about it (or me).
Which is fine, really. Mistress of Rome got panned a few times, and so did Daughters of Rome, and that’s okay. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, after all, and I knew going into this line of work that I wasn’t going to please 100% of my readers. Everyone gets negative reviews–you can go on Amazon, and the Bible has negative reviews. Even God does not get a break on this one. The last thing I will ever do is be unprofessional and argue with a reader about their opinion, whether in person or on the web. And I have learned valuable things from some negative reviews–a Latin scholar, for example, who tactfully pointed out that my hero’s made-up name was actually a common adverb in Latin. Believe me, that detail got carefully worked into my next book, and I’m grateful for the correction.
But I have gotten some negative reviews of Daughters of Rome that are so bizarre or so flat-out filled with loathing that I have been left scratching my head in wonder. Here are a few memorable gems from readers who have contacted me with negative feedback. I have rephrased some for anonymity but all are true in essence:
1. There is a depraved amount of sex in this book. From beginning to end, I was just appalled!!!
So appalled that you finished the book anyway?
2. Not enough sex in this book! I was so disappointed that there wasn’t an orgy!
Probably not as disappointed as Reader #1.
3. I hated your last book. I don’t know why I bought this one.
Well, don’t look at me; I certainly don’t know either.
4. It’s too confusing to have four heroines named Cornelia.
Okay, valid. Historically it’s true that Roman women in the same family got the same name . . . but judging from the number of readers who thought it was confusing in Daughters of Rome, the four-identical-names thing might not have been the best idea for a novel. At least my four girls are all immediately separated out with different nicknames, so it’s not too confusing after the first chapter.
5. It’s distressing to see an author’s racist prejudices make their way into mainstream fiction. (Condensed from 11-page 6-point-font email)
Not really sure what ethnic group I pissed off in Daughters of Rome. First-century Gauls, maybe? Far as I know, they’re all dead . . .
6. Palid bodiss ripper with dull heroin and unreelistic senario.
I believe that’s “
Palid Pallid bodiss ripper bodice-ripper with dull heroin heroine and unreelistic unrealistic senario scenario.” C-minus–I know you can do better. Please see me after class to discuss use of spell-checker.
7. Your first book was so much better than this one.
See next comment.
8. Your first book was so much worse than this one.
See previous comment.
9. This book is wrong and inaccurate–no Christians! Not a book a good modern-day Christian should ever read.
Oh dear, I think you’d better sit down. I know it’s a shock, but–deep breath, now–not everyone in the ancient world was Christian. There, there, don’t cry.
10. Yr buk sux. U suk 2.
Thank you for taking time off from your World of Warcraft schedule to get in touch with me. I think I hear your mother calling upstairs; she wants you to vacuum the basement.
As you can see, my approach with negative reviews is to keep my sense of humor. Plenty more bad reviews will come my way, so I might as well learn to laugh about it–nasty readers and all, this job is still far preferable to working in a cubicle with Excel spreadsheets and an “Office Space” coffee mug. For those readers who didn’t like my book but wrote thoughtful, well-reasoned reviews why–thank-you; constructive well-written criticism is always useful. And for those many people who liked Daughters of Rome and wrote such nice reviews about it (on Amazon, on Goodreads, in their blogs, or just in a nice email to me), thank you for the praise. All of you really made my day–and I hope I can make yours when I read, enjoy, and review your books too.
So my historical fiction novel Mistress of Rome has been out and about in the world for just over four months now, and it has been a learning experience. Mostly a very good one–I still wake up every morning deliriously happy that I can work from my couch and not have to put on uncomfortable shoes and trudge into a cubicle where I stare at Excel spreadsheets and pretend to care when my boss says that my “Tell Me How Lucky I Am To Work Here” coffee mug is not in line with the company mission statement. But being a writer has its bad sides just like any other job, and top on the list is dealing with negative reviews. Which will come, because everybody gets negative reviews. You can go on Amazon and the Bible has negative reviews. Even God doesn’t get a break on this one.
Mistress of Rome has gotten panned a few times, and that’s okay. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, after all, and I knew going into this that I wasn’t going to please 100% of my readers. The last thing I will ever do is be unprofessional and argue with a reader about their opinion, whether in person or on the web. And I have learned valuable things from some negative reviews–a Latin scholar, for example, who tactfully pointed out a few places where my Latin terminology was shaky, leading me to do some more careful research for my next book. But I have gotten some negative reviews so bizarre, so off-beat, or so flat-out filled with loathing as to leave me scratching my head. Here are a few memorable gems from readers who have contacted me with negative feedback, rephrased for anonymity but true to essence:
1. You’re going to hell for writing such a book.
Well, frankly, this one delighted me. I thought I’d have to be really really successful before anybody told me I was going to hell. I find the prospect doesn’t faze me much–a reader like this probably thinks Stephen King is going to hell too, and I always wanted to meet him. We’ll toast our feet on a little cozy Hellfire and watch Red Sox games together. Plus, whoever wrote that review is by the Bible’s definition passing judgment on their fellow man, and so will be joining me down below.
2. This book is sick and depraved. I can’t believe I finished it.
Um . . . if it was that sick and depraved, why did you finish it?
3. This book is a rip-off of Francine Rivers’s `Mark of the Lion’ trilogy.
Francine Rivers? Who’s that? (Goes to library.) Christian historical fiction, okay, that’s why I haven’t read it. (Reads first two books) Okay, serene slave girl, check. Big tough gladiator, check. Slave girl’s bitchy beautiful corrupt owner, check. Prisoners thrown to lions in arena, check. Overall Christian theme, okay, I don’t have that. Still, definite similarities. Will anybody believe I never read Mark of the Lion until after Mistress of Rome was published? Oh well. At least this review led me to Francine Rivers, whose work I am enjoying.
4. This book is a rip-off of the Starz Spartacus show.
Do I have to defend this one? “Spartacus: Blood & Sand” had just begun airing when my book released. I may work pretty fast, but not fast enough to see the pilot of a terrific TV show, write a plagiarized novel, and whip it through production before the TV show in question gets to episode 6. I’m a fan of “Spartacus,” though, so thanks for the comparison.
5. Your bio says you have a degree in Classical Voice. But that’s music, not history, so what are you trying to pull here? You think we’ll read `classical’ and think `classical scholar’?
Not trying to pull anything here, actually. It’s just the bio my publisher put together for me. I’m no classics professor, though I do float a terrific high C. I think most people out there know the difference between classical literature and classical music. If not, please see “Dictionary.”
6. This book has orgies, torture, orgies, premarital sex, orgies, drug use, orgies, rape, and more orgies. A new low on my `Most salacious books’ list.
Glad you enjoyed it! And can you please put your review up on Amazon too? Five separate mentions of the word “orgies” is bound to net me a few more readers.
7. This book doesn’t promote good values. The heroine has premarital sex.
The heroine’s a slave. What’s she supposed to do, ask her master for an engagement ring before he rapes her?
8. Dude, this is a boring book. It’s in ancint Rome and very boreing. Lots of beheadings.
Um, no beheadings actually . . . but I don’t argue with the sleep-deprived or the chemically enhanced.
9. The point of view changes are confusing.
I got this comment from enough readers to make it a majority opinion. I promise I will delineate points-of-view more clearly and smoothly in future.
10. Yr buk sux.
Thank you for your opinion. I haven’t heard from many fourth graders so far.
As you can see, my approach with negative reviews is to keep my sense of humor. Plenty more bad reviews will come my way, so I might as well learn to laugh about it. And for those many people who liked Mistress of Rome and wrote such nice reviews about it (on Amazon, on Goodreads, in their blogs, or just in a nice note to me), thank you for all the praise. All of you really made my day. Glad you could join me in ancient Rome – it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I think it’s a pretty cool place.