Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Reviews and the Art of Avoiding Them

My Advice: Never Read A Review…

I should stop right there. But I had a person yesterday ask me a couple of questions on how to get restarted once the critical voice took over. Good questions and I was willing to help.

So I asked a couple questions in return about what had stopped the writing and the fun in the first place. Seems the writer had a new book out, the writer was writing the next book in the series, and turns out reviews were consumed by this writer.

Consumed is the word that describes what the writer said.

I asked what kind of reviews.

Great reviews.

Oh, no…. That way lies complete critical voice meltdown. Exactly what the writer was experiencing.

Many writers can shrug off bad reviews as too stupid for words, idiot didn’t read the book, not that idiot’s kind of book. (Notice, always the reader’s fault. Writer can then go back to work just fine.)

But when a number of fans rave and rave and go into detail about how good this or that was in a book, and the author reads such praise…?


The readers can’t be idiots, they liked the book. So the writer must have done something right and perfect and how in the world can the writer manage to do that again?

Here comes critical voice and chasing that perfection thing.

And thus I found the writer’s problem about being so overwhelmed by critical voice and why the writer couldn’t get started again. Yup. Good reviews will do that to you.

Only thing you can do at that point is dare to be bad, dare to write something worse than the book that was praised. In other words, you have to stop caring about what others think and for many writers, that is impossible.

It flat takes courage to dare to be bad, more than most writers have, sadly. Great reviews have killed many a promising writing career.

But we as writers can’t control when something we like is loved. In fact we hope for it. We just don’t dare learn about it past the monthly sales numbers.

So what can we control? Reading reviews. Don’t read any.


Of course, this goes along with not letting workshops read your work or numbers of beta readers and all that other silliness. In other words, you have to trust your own work, grow some courage, and dare to write into the face of any possible praise.

In the video of my talk at 20Books, I spoke on this topic. And then just in the last day or so here comes a great example of what I was talking about. So go watch that part of that video again.

And never read reviews for any reason. You can thank me in ten years when you are still around writing.



  • Britt Malka

    I love your advice about reviews. I’ve also learned to be careful of whom I ask to read my stories before I publish them. Never again somebody who doesn’t read the sub-genre I wrote.

    And thank you for sharing that video. I watched it and wrote down your nine points.

    • Samus

      I learned the hard way not to let a certain family member who is a lawyer read my book pre-publishing, no matter how enthusiastic she seems to be to read it. She read a book of mine once and was so critical that it was hard for me to get writing again for months. I don’t know if all lawyers are like this, but with her, I really think being a lawyer has wired her brain to search out weaknesses in whatever she reads. Plus, she always only speed-reads/skims and doesn’t seem to really believe anyone reads every word in a book. So her response was a long list of specific negative points (most of which didn’t even make sense because she’d only skimmed or were based on completely subjective things like, “I don’t think a private school principal would just let a kid have such a nice car, so it’s not realistic that that teen’s driving a Viper” which I didn’t really even understand what she was getting at), with a vague, “I really liked it,” at the beginning and end. Such a weird reaction, but it bummed me out for months. Now I pretty much only let my mom read the book before I publish so she can help catch typos or anything that seriously needs to be changed (like unintentionally making a character seem creepy in a scene). And even then, of course, I take her input with a big grain of salt.

      Really, the more I learn, the more I try to rely only on my own writing ability and storytelling instincts and ignore input from others. I know I shouldn’t read reviews (not that I have any yet), but having the willpower to stick to that is something I’m still working on. Part of me is still always hoping for that head pat.

  • Michael W Lucas

    Nothing messes up my writing so bad as people saying nice things. I spent years practicing and developing my skills, mercilessly exterminating weaknesses. My brain no longer has a space shaped to accommodate the words “This is good.”

    It’s best to avoid the risk of hearing them, and just get on with the writing.

  • Glen Sprigg

    One of the unmentioned benefits of Aspergers: I don’t give a damn what other people think of me or what I do. I’ll write what I want to write, in the style I want to write it, and in the framework I want to write it in. I can’t imagine a situation where a review, positive or negative, will make me afraid to write. I just want to get all these ideas out of my head and into the world.

    The only person I answer to is me. Well, my wife, too, but that goes without saying. And she doesn’t read much, so I’m not worried about her critiquing my writing; she just wants to see the bank account grow.

  • Cora

    I ran into that very thing a few years ago. I entered the Writers of the Future contest. It was literally the first short story I had ever finished. One thing led to another and I ended up in an email conversation with someone from the organization and they tried to be encouraging. And those nice words stopped me in my tracks for several years – nothing seemed good enough to finish and submit (I fell into the re-editing sink hole). I finally got over it, and from then on decided that I didn’t need anyones approval.

    • dwsmith

      Cora, that is more common than you can imagine. The critical voice in all of our minds finds positive reviews like sugar drawing ants. Glad you got through it.

  • Maree

    I have learned from experience (by posting a chapter at a time online. I do not recommend) that I do not write well with the craziness of feedback in my head as I write. And as you say, positives can be worse than negatives.

    Yet I’m surrounded by people who say that praise is what drives them to write more, so I thought I was a bit weird for being left feeling tumbled and stressed by it. Nice to know that I’m not being so abnormal.

    • dwsmith

      Over 40 years I have noticed that those who wrote for feedback and praise are quickly gone from the industry, leaving those of us who love to tell stories and don’t care much what others think one way or another.

  • Jason M

    I’ve been around writing for nearly ten years, and I DO read my reviews once in a while.
    All in all, I get a kick out of them. They don’t affect my writing process, except when I notice everyone complaining about the same thing.
    That’s the only thing I listen to. That’s actually helpful.
    (But I understand that I *may* have a thicker skin than most.)

  • Lorri Moulton

    I promote my books on social media, so I try not to get caught up in readers’ expectations and just write the story for me. It’s not always easy, but when I put on my “writer’s hat” I hide the “promotions hat” under a rock. I’ve decided if my mom likes the story…that’s good enough. She’s my target audience and the only one who reads my books before they’re published.