Ellen Byron

I Hated Your Book.

As I scrolled through celebratory messages on my birthday, I noticed  an email forwarded from my website. Usually people getting in touch this way are readers letting me know they enjoyed my books or asking for travel advice on an upcoming Cajun Country vacation. Figuring this email fit into one of those two categories, I opened it. The reader – I’ll call her Betsy – began by explaining how she acquired both my books through an inter-library exchange. I took a moment to revel in fact my books are actually in libraries, and then continued to the next line. Which read: “I hated Body on the Bayou because the victim was found dead in chapter six.”

Wait, what?! Betsy hated my book? Then I remembered that she’d checked out both books in the series. Perhaps she was doing an artful segue into how much she loved the first one.

I had the same problem with Plantation Shudders.”

OUCH!

Betsy went on to write that my books reminded her …of the British authors. They wrote with the same format. I like the mystery author (pseudonym) [sic] Laura Childs. In her books the victim was dead in chapter one and she used the remainder of the book and found the killer.”

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I think I’m realistic about my strengths and weaknesses as an author. Am I Louise Penny? No. Do I write books that kill time during a cross-country flight? I believe I do. (Unless, of course, you like your murders at the end of Chapter One. Then I’m clearly not your gal.)

I tend to avoid reviews because I know, given my neuroses, I’ll dismiss the good ones and be haunted by the bad ones. So this “review” via website email broadsided me. Quick sidebar: I want to acknowledge how brave I am to share this story. A lot of us spend hours on social media hoping to send the message that our books are incredibly popular and loved by all. We’re trying to sell, sell, sell, hoping no one notices the occasional one-star-thumbs-down. But hate? That’s quite an extreme emotion for my little cozies to engender.

Oh, I had SO many reactions. The first was outrage. Who does this? Who goes out of their way to tell an author she HATED their books? 78b3e61d34318c2ad30c6da4d7e60335

I composed a bunch of scathing responses in my head. And of course, there was the far more sensible option of ignoring Betsy entirely.

But then I began to think about the situation from Betsy’s point of view. Here was someone who wanted to read my books so much that she went to the trouble of an inter-library loan.  And she didn’t stop at the end of murder-less chapter one. Betsy kept going for six more chapters. Did she give up on me after that? No. Even though she hated Body on the Bayou, she gave Plantation Shudders a shot. Betsy really, really wanted to like my books and was deeply disappointed when she didn’t. That’s legitimate, and I mean that with total sincerity. I decided she deserved respect for her efforts, not dismissal, and sent back the following email:

Dear Betsy,

I’m sorry you hated my books, but I really appreciate you giving them both a try.

 The wonderful thing about the mystery world is that there are so many different options for readers. I know of many authors who put a murder at the end of the first chapter, so I’m sure you’ll find other series you enjoy as much as Laura Childs’.

Best wishes,

Ellen Byron

I hope she didn’t hate my response.

 

Readers, thoughts on this? And writers, have you ever received “hate” mail?

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70 thoughts on “I Hated Your Book.

  1. You handled it well! I do read my reviews. I savour the great ones and try to learn from the bad ones. The only one that continues to rankle is my first 1-star review where the reviewer wrote “This isn’t really a 1-star book, in fact I did read it right through, and I don’t do that with 1-star books, but it has too many 5-star reviews and I don’t think it is worth 5 stars. The only way to lower the rating was to give it 1 star.”
    At least your reader read BOTH your books! And as an aside, I hate it when the body is found in the first chapter. Draw me into the story first, please and thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I loved your post, Ellen! Seriously, the only time I get antsy about the delayed appearance of the corpse is when the opening chapters are fluff, backstory, and info dumps unrelated to the mystery. I read a lot of British authors and use those opening chapters to learn who’s who, get the lay of the land, and form opinions about who’s on the level and who’s not. Judy’s response is awesome, too. Thanks for sparking this discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, no! I’m so sorry you got this feedback, but I think you processed it and handled it very nicely—congrats on that!

    Here’s the worst review I’ve gotten on On the Road with Del & Louise—one of two from the same book club, I think (and keep hoping, looking at Judy’s post above, that I’ll get some better reviews in the other direction to counteract this one!):

    “This is a really stupid book about a couple who can’t seem to stop stealing things, even including a baby. It has been hyped as a Thelma and Louise type of book but it is not that at all. I was forced to buy it for my book club and I know they will all hate it as much as a few of us have already decided. A total waste of money and not even good enough to pass on to others.”

    Congrats again on the new Lefty Award nomination—cheering you on!

    Liked by 2 people

      • I have to admit, I laughed myself when I first read the review. I kept trying to picture a person so angry by my little book—and maybe angry at their book club too?—that they had to get the word out. Keeps things in perspective, of course. Thanks for your kind support always, Judy!

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  4. You are extremely brave for sharing this, but it’s real and it’s something we all deal with from time to time. (and you’re right on reviews–it’s so much easier to ignore the good ones and obsess over the bad ones…). Kudos to you for handling it so well!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. One star reviews really put us in our places, don’t they? I try to say to myself that no one likes the same thing, otherwise there would only be one book. Here’s my favorite one-star on Choke: OK–but that’s about it. Seemed pretty mundane. Don’t know why it won any awards. Amateurish effort, but I’m a reader, not a writer, so try it yourself.

    At least she told others to try it. I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s just plain awful when someone tells you your baby is ugly. I applaud your careful and studied response. I’m a write-it-down and burn-it type so I would have probably just stewed for a long while. Marilyn Johnston (aka cj)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lovely response, Ellen. And I agree with your reasoning. Still, there’s no reason why Rufus can’t accidentally shoot her in your next book (just a flesh wound, of course) :).

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  8. Great response, Ellen. Classy. It’s always good to have respect for readers, even ones who don’t like your book. And she took the time not only to read both books, but to write you. Otoh, maybe she doesn’t have a life. 🙂 I’m reminded of a patron who challenged a book because of it’s content back when I was a librarian. “This book is totally disgusting,” she wrote. “See page 76. And page 119. And page 156. . .” So disgusting that she simply HAD to read it all the way through. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You handled it so well. Very gracious. I’m glad I’m in a reading world where the crime doesn’t have to happen in chapter one. Sure that’s great, but it’s also fun to get to know the characters and setting and have a build-up first. Looking forward to more of your books–heck, Laura Childs’s books too.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ugh. I know we’re not supposed to read our reviews but it’s hard not to. My worst one so far claims (among other bizarre things): “The author is not a resident [of Santa Cruz] yet pretends as if she is and writes from a outsider point of view that undervalues the Marine environment and the people.” Yet it says right on the jacket flap as well as on my Amazon bio that I do in fact live there. I feel like Dr. Strangelove, desperately holding my hand back as it tries to type a response to the Amazon review…

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Vicki, thank you so much! I think cozies can be comfort food for people. And they’re not happy when they find the recipe has been unexpectedly changed. But thrilled you appreciate my efforts.

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  12. You were very gracious.

    I’ve resolved never to respond to a negative review. There is no way you can win. And, as a writer, I would never give a negative review or less than 3 of 5 stars. If I don’t like a book, I just don’t comment publically.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Lovely response, Ellen. I’ve heard of authors who’ve responded respectfully back to readers who’ve sent unkind emails, and the authors’ tact impressed the readers enough that the readers decided to try the authors’ next book. I wonder if that will happen here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Barb. I think in this case the reader has an affection for a particular structure. The funny thing is that I’ve started the 4th book in my series… and there’s a body at the end of the first page!!

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  14. You are a brave soul! I’m like you, Ellen, a bad review keeps me up at night. Thanks for sharing what we all have been through, and soldier on, you’ve far more fans who love your work than find fault with a dead body in chapter six. You enlighten us all.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Yeah, I would have reacted the same way at first, as you said “hate” is an awfully strong reaction to your work. On the plus side, she actually *did* give both book a shot, which is something I wouldn’t have done if I decided I hated the first book in a series. I may read other series by the same author, but I’m not going to torture myself finishing the first book let alone read the second in a series I know I hate. Case in point, the Scrapbooking Mysteries by Laura Childs. Now I love her Tea Shop Mysteries, Theo is one of my favorite characters, but I absolutely cannot stand her main character in the Scrapbooking series, and I was so looking forward to reading that series as well because of the basic premise of the books. But someone who is that much of a doormat I can’t stand to be around in real life, I’m darn sure not going to read about someone like that, I don’t care how good she is at solving mysteries. It just sets my teeth on edge to watch someone who is otherwise intelligent and has good common sense in every other area of her life letting herself be manipulated and used like that by anyone else, but especially her spouse/boyfriend/ex. So no. I did something I rarely do with that first book and put it down without finishing it, and took it back to the library at my first opportunity. I’ve never gone back to attempt a re-read of it, and I’ve never read any of the other books in that series, no matter how good the reviews have been for them. But I love Theo, so I stick with those, and the Cackleberry Club Mysteries. I love the ladies of the Cackleberry Club as well. So as far as I’m concerned, two great mystery series more than make up for the one series that I don’t like. However, unless Laura ever reads these comments, she’s never going to know about how much I hate her Scrapbooking Mysteries because I’m not going to tell her. 😛 I would never do that to an author, because I know from my own experience how much of themselves they pour into each story. I have never published any of my own writing and probably never will—I write for myself, not for others, because I have all these ideas floating around in my head and I have to get them out and onto paper. The few times I’ve let friends read my work, instead of just reading it for enjoyment like I’d wanted, they started critiquing it and telling me what (in their opinion) I was doing wrong. I wasn’t giving it to them so they could proofread or edit it, I was giving it to them to read because I thought they might enjoy the story. If I wanted a proofreader or editor, I have other places I can go to find those. And trust me, no one is a harsher critic of my work than myself, I will edit something many times before I feel it’s done, but I do so as I write, so if I’m handing it over to someone else to read, as far as I’m concerned it’s already a finished product, not a WIP. So I basically stopped letting others read my work. It would be one thing if the comments they made were actually constructive instead of just hurtful, but all they ever seemed to do was tear apart my work, which I’d already worked very hard on, and made me even more determined to not show them anything else. When I discovered fan fiction sites at first I thought, finally, there’s a place where I can publish at least some of my work, but nope. I’ve seen too many other authors’ work get plagiarized on the site with apparently no consequences for the person stealing their work, as the person is still at it, even after being reported. With it that easy to steal someone else’s work, there is no way I’m putting my own on there, after all the time and hard work put into it.

    Sorry if I sounded a little whiny there, it’s just been a source of frustration for me for years. I realize not everyone’s going to like what I write, and I’m okay with that, and if I want constructive criticism I ask for it, but “constructive” means be helpful, it doesn’t mean tear down everything I wrote. If you have some *helpful* suggestions for improvements, or if you have questions about something that maybe I didn’t make clear enough (because of course it all makes sense to me, I know what everyone’s motivations are because I wrote the story, but sometimes it doesn’t occur to me that just because I know what’s going on “behind the scenes” doesn’t mean I conveyed that message to whoever else might read it, because it’s obvious to me, even if it gets pointed out, I’m still looking at it like “Yeah, so? It’s obviously this, duh!”) then by all means ask your questions or make your suggestions, but don’t come across like you think the entire thing is crap, because if you do then I’m going to be less inclined to take any of y our suggestions seriously, because why should I bother making the changes you suggest if you already don”t like the story anyway? And yes, I realize that a lot of my initial reaction is similar to yours when you read that email, instant defensiveness because how dare someone not automatically love whatever you right? 😛 At the same time, while your email came from a total stranger, my criticisms have come from people I’m close to, whom I consider my family, who supposedly think of me the same way and supposedly only have my best interests at heart, and…you can stop laughing any time, I know my expectations are unrealistic from my so-called family, but it doesn’t make it any less hurtful to hear their comments…okay, I’m shutting up now. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for sharing, Christine. I totally get your frustration. When I taught playwriting to kids 4-12, I worked hard on teaching them how to hear critique and separate helpful comments from comments basically telling someone how the reader would have written the play. They didn’t! We all benefit from constructive criticism and not from people trying to prove themselves. Keep going and good luck.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I got an email from a reader who loved my series until they got to The Demon’s Parchment. Now granted, I knew I was going to get trouble because this book dealt with a serial killer of children. The reader proceeded to tell me how much he hated it, that it was too graphic (and I must be a wonderful writer because we never actually see those crimes, they are only mentioned after the fact), and that he threw the book away. Well, I did tell him that perhaps a better solution would have been to donate the book to a library where surely someone else might enjoy it, we had a lovely back and forth, and then I told him I hoped he liked the next one that didn’t have any children murdered and I would, in fact, send a copy to him for free! So I did. Do you think there was a forthcoming thank you for a free signed book from the author? I’ll give you one guess.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I’ve always maintained that the number of reviews and the averages are way more important than the individual ratings or reviews. My one exception is a woman on Goodreads who hates my books, leaves terrible reviews and always says she’s not buying the next one. And I always think, “Great. Don’t.” But then she does, and she trashes it and the cycle starts again. So funny, but why would someone do that?

    There’s also the woman who left reviews of my first book everywhere on the web saying she hated it because there is no fresh corn in Maine in June. My first panicked thought was–did I say that? But I recently had to re-read the book and of course, I didn’t.

    I also love a one star review I have on Amazon that says, “Stop sending me these surveys!” As if there’s a little man at Amazon reading them all.

    I’ve dropped my bodies everywhere from the first sentence in my fourth book to the middle of the book in my fifth. I haven’t noticed any appreciable difference in the reviews, at least for that reason.

    As Sherry Harris always says, “You can offer someone the sweetest peach…But if they don’t like peaches…”

    My view about both good and bad reviews is–at least someone felt passionately enough about the book to bother to write this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • OMG! No fresh corn in Maine in June was the deal breaker? I had some who liked my book say they knew I wasn’t from Louisiana because my characters grew kale. The next day, there were recipes on a NOLA website featuring guess what?

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  18. My only “issue” with this post – beyond the person who chose to present her personal reading preferences as some kind of flaw in your work – is your comment that you know your limitations as a writer. Don’t belittle your skills! You are a mad good writer, Ellen, and a gracious human being to boot.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I thought you handled that quite tactfully. And there is a reason why there are so many different mystery writers – because there are readers with widely varied tastes in content and style. This is a line from a 1 star review on DYING FOR A DATE. Although I did not comment, five other people did.

    “It was simply not credible (to me) that an overweight divorcee, mother of a teenager and young child, would have several men lined up eager to date her.”

    Guess I better stop noshing on those M&M’s! And I loved both of your books, Ellen.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Again, OMG! I can’t believe the horrible yet hilarious comments other authors have received! I think we should start a list. And thanks so much, Cindy. Loved “Dying for a Donut,” and really looking forward to “Dying for a Diamond!”

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  20. A “Kindle Customer” left a 1 star review on my current book, beginning with the opening line, “This is a spectacularly dumb book.” Goes on to trash it with weak arguments but savage wording. “the plot of this book drags and drags” “You’ll only hate yourself later for continuing to read.” “nothing is particularly surprising and frightening” etc.

    What Kindle Customer didn’t remember (if he ever knew) is that Amazon profiles are linked to the user’s nickname. Kindle Customer—generic handle notwithstanding—happens to be a writer who thought he might impress and tempt readers to read his own works by writing a very complete profile which included his full name, hometown, and book titles.

    Kindle Customer’s real name is now known to me and will be remembered for a very. Long. Time.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. You did well. I think it takes a lot of gall to EMAIL that kind of review. My favorite one star review is: This is a very interesting book. Time goes very fast when you are reading. I recommend it highly.

    It was for Indiscretion. I’m not sure which I prefer, yours or mine.

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  22. Here’s a one star I got for Plaid and Plagiarism, quoted in its entirety: “this is one of the worst mysteries I have read in a long time. If this is a sample of the series, I would be surprised if Book 2 makes it to the publishers,” I consoled myself by telling myself that of course not everyone will like my book (but somehow, I want it to mean something that the review doesn’t start with a capital T and that it ends with a comma. Maybe it was hastily cut from the reviewer’s stockpile of one star reviews?)

    Then I checked the reviewer’s other reviews to see whose books s/he does like. Maybe I would learn something. Oh. Not Louise Penny. Not Ruth Rendell. Not G.M. Malliet. So I did learn something. Cool! I’m reviled right along with writers that I like a whole lot!

    It’s hard to ignore a rotten review. It’ll grow out of all proportion and do its best to make us believe we’re the impostors we’ve always known we are. Thank you for this post, Ellen. Thanks for sharing your pain and for demonstrating grace when you’ve been cut to the quick.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Ellen, my dear, you can see how important, even therapeutic, this topic is. We ALL get the occasional bad review on line — even, I assure you, my cousin Gerry aka Laura Childs — and they bug the Jell-o out of us. Not only were you gracious to the disappointed reader, you’ve given the rest of us a chance to realize we’re not alone — even when we write a book that is, and I quote, “boring—if I’d wanted a travelogue, I’d have bought one.”

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I’m telling you, Leslie, these stories make my little dust-up look like nothing. I can’t BELIEVE what people think it’s okay to write in a review. And boy, if they thought your book was a travelogue, I’m screwed if that reader ever picks up one of mine! xoxoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think there’s something about the internet that frees the inner snark. I left a bad review on Expedia last fall, and even though every bit of it is honest, I do wish I knew how to take it down!

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  25. Ellen, wonderful post as always! And I love Leslie’s expression — “inner snark.” I guess people work out their anger in any arena they can find. My VERY FIRST review on Amazon was a 1-star: The reader said, “I liked it until the murder happened.” And then blathered on for several paragraphs criticizing my protagonist for investigating. Just had to wonder why she was reading murder mysteries!

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  26. As a reader, I never leave a review unless I like the book. I figure if I didn’t like it, that it was just my problem. (I’m still trying to get back to a book that upset me in the middle and I haven’t been able to finish it, and it’s non-fiction) The last 1 star review I left was about a watch I got for my mother, and it broke in less than a week.

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