Making the best of it: negative reviews

There’s quite a lot of advice around on how to handle – and how not to handle – negative reviews… don’t take it personally; don’t bite back; take it constructively, if possible; negative reviews are better than none (not sure about that one!), etc…

There are, however, more daring alternatives, with some writers having sought to turn a bad review into an asset.

For example, writer Ernest Swanton, reviewing a memoir, Shadows on the Grass, by author and screenwriter Simon Raven called it ‘the filthiest cricket book ever written’. Raven responded by requesting Swanton’s permission to quote this on the book’s cover. Raven, it seems, took his craft lightly, at least on the surface. His attitude to writing was perhaps echoed in the words of a character, Fielding Gray, in Raven’s novel Places Where They Sin (Alms for Oblivion  series, 1970), who said: ‘I arrange words in pleasing patterns in order to make money.’

Then there was the sometimes controversial writer Irvine Welsh, who used negative reviews of the stage version of his novel Trainspotting (1993) to promote the play when it transferred to London’s West End in 1999, saying: ‘We were happy to use the negative review to publicise the play, working on the premise that condemnation from the out-of-touch is as valid an endorsement as praise from the hip’. In doing so, of course, he turned the criticism onto the out-of-touch reviewer, whilst neatly transforming negative comments into positive marketing aimed at the play’s target audience.

In a similar publicity ruse, Iain Banks’s publisher MacMillan placed bad reviews of the author’s debut novel The Wasp Factory (1984) on the book’s cover, to capture the interest of potential readers. The book had been called, amongst other things, ‘a work of unparalleled depravity’ by the Irish Times and ‘a repulsive piece of work’ by the London Evening Standard.

We may note, then, the words of author Hugh Barbour, who wrote: ‘There is nothing like a good negative review to sell a book.’ Though we may disagree on what a ‘good’ bad review means.

Image thanks
Main photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

16 thoughts on “Making the best of it: negative reviews

  1. ‘I arrange words in pleasing patterns in order to make money’……………..oooh great quote!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is 🙂 I may seek to style a similar levity in my own job – ‘I arrange activities along a neat critical path then nag people to do stuff… for my wage.’

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Clever twist on adversity. Hadn’t heard any of those.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Awesome. I really love this idea of tranforming a bad review into an asset. When I was let go from my last job it was because of an “inability (or was it unwilingness) to take leadership direction.” When they said it I thought: of course, because your leadership is messed up and you are prioritizing the wrong things. Instead of feeling shame I’ve decided to reframe it as a badge of honor. We have all seen leadership (ahem) that sucks. Sometimes we DON’T want to follow because it is unethical to follow.

    Love this. Thanks for your work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, your experience is all too familiar. ‘Do as we say, regardless of how reasonable (and not as we do) or you’re out’. That’s not leadership, of course, it just poor management. Sorry to hear that happened. and well done for sticking to your principles.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your topics are always so intriguing. Taking negative comments are not easy but the one who could take on the face make a joke about it goes places. Skoda car when was down and beaten used their bad reputation to market and turned back big time

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, great example. I think if people – and companies – use humour, it really helps endear others to them.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. There are different kinds of negative reviews. I think placing “a work of unparalleled depravity” on your book cover WOULD attract more readers. You might not like it if you don’t approve of depravity, but I bet those that don’t mind it/are curious would go for such a book even more. Putting “this was the worst book I’ve ever read” on the cover might attract a curious crowd, too. But using “this was awful” might be a lot riskier. Or so I think.

    I applaud the creativity of those who turn negative reviews around.


  6. When I read the title, I remembered seeing this post on fb a few weeks back about an author who used the negative review to promote her book – and became a bestseller. I suppose she was just doing what others have done in the past.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think if words like ‘shocking’ or ‘scandalous’ can be used, that could be pretty effective?


  7. Do standard rejection letters from literary agents count as negative reviews? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No 🙂 Many a great book and idea is rejected for all sorts of reasons, of course – largely marketability (of both book and / or author), one assumes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There have been experiments by which books by published and reknowned authors were submitted to agents and rejected… 🤣


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