Wednesday, 2 December 2015


Quite recently, I received a communication from a lady, via my website, telling me that she had received a bad review for her debut novel.  Could I advise her, she asked, as to how she should respond, if at all.  She was clearly distressed, but didn’t want to exacerbate the situation.

Naturally, I began by commiserating with her.  Then I had to be honest.


The first thing to say is that as soon as we put something in public domain, we have to accept that it is open to interpretation.  That means that readers may well see the author’s viewpoint from a different perspective than that intended.  This, of course, makes it open to critical review.

In this respect, we are all vulnerable.   I believe it was Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, who said You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time.  How right he was!  As artists and writers, we have to accept that different people have different tastes, interests and viewpoints.  Not everything we wish to convey, as authors, will suit all our readers.


The second thing I would say is that we all hold fast to certain views in life.  My husband and I were reading in our daily Quiet Time about the way the Pharisees promoted law over love, and we had to admit that we can all be Victor Meldrews at times.  Thus, whether you write memoir, biography or fiction, it could be that your character's stream of conscience and behaviour clashes with your reader's perceptions of what is right or wrong.

One of my early books, Where is My Child (written under a pen name) was a testimony, telling the story of my middle daughter’s descent into drug addiction.  David Coffey, who had written the foreword, pointed out that that some of my readers might not concur with my response to the situation, but that this did not invalidate it.  Nevertheless, journalist, Melanie Phillips, was damning in her review.  Highly critical of my response as a mother, she put forward her own views on how to deal with a recalcitrant child, and I can’t pretend that it didn’t hurt.


Following an interval of prayer, thought and a cooling down process, I wrote to Ms Phillips – not in retaliation but simply to explain more of the faith process that had governed my stance – a belief system which she did not share.  Now how often, I wonder, does an opportunity like that present itself?   That, surely, was something for which to be thankful?

Not only that, as a dear friend poinedt out, any review, good or bad, raises the profile of your book.  In other words, if you substitute ‘reviews’ for ‘publicity’ the maxim that all publicity is good can be applied, no matter what. 


I received a second bad review, online, when one of my novels happened to be too similar to a real life story written by a well-known author.  The accusation of plagiarism was levelled against me.  In this case, it was the author’s daughter who had gone off the rails, and someone who had read both her book and my novel slated me for having a character who so closely resembled this real-life person.

As I pointed out, however, I had never read the auto-biography to which she referred, nor had I known anything about it when I wrote my book.  Coincidences happen!  As many a tutor of creative writing would tell you, there are only seven plot lines in existence (see my articles on the Seven Story Plots) so, inevitably, there will be similarities picked up by readers between one story and another.


The fact is, that for most of us, our raison d’etre in writing is to illuminate aspects of life in the hope that this will resonate with our readers.  I was reading part of my work in progress to my local writers’ group last week.  The second book in the Evie Adams Series, titled Chosen or Cheated? it clearly had the required effect on one of the members, who was taking notes, and was almost in tears.

‘That really spoke to me,’ she said.  ‘I need to look at my life to see if I can make changes.’


This lady knows me, personally, and has an understanding of what I am about.  Realising that my aim is to inform, inspire and encourage my readers, and being a woman of faith herself, she was more than happy to make herself vulnerable; to allow God to use what I’d written to throw a spotlight on shadowy aspects of her life.

This, of course, will not be true of all readers.  If one of your readers happens to see him/herself in your real or fictional character, and that inspires them with guilt, or hurt feelings, they may well respond negatively to your book.  Which, of course, is all the more reason for us to pray God’s Holy Spirit into the narrative.  With Jesus being The Word, and we his disciples, let’s make sure that our crafting of words is inspired to change people’s lives for the better.

Click here for further articles on Creative Writing and Plot Ideas
The first book in the Evie Adams series, Time to Shine, went to No. 1 in the top 100 Bestsellers list in its category.  It is available from all good bookshops, Amazon, or direct from the author at


  1. Excellent advice. It's great when something bad can be turned around. Sue

    1. Thanks Sue. God tells us that all things work together for good for those who love him, doesn't he. So I always try to look for the good in everything and everyone.

  2. It reminds me of that Scripture about casting your bread upon the waters. Once it's cast, off it sails to who knows where! And we have little control over other people's reactions.

    1. Absolutely, Fran. I often think of it in terms of the seeds we sow and that others reap.

  3. I always skip to the last sentence in a review before reading the rest. If it's negative or ho hum, I put the review down and then prepare myself emotionally before reading it in its entirety. It still hurts, but it softens it a little. Did you get a reply from Ms Phillips?

    1. Yes, it does hurt, Fiona, because there's always a bit of Me in the work we do, isn't there? No, I never had a reply from her. But I think I still have the newspaper cutting of her review somewhere.