Guest contributor: Erika Robuck

Don’t Worry, I’m Not Going to Tear My Shirt off and Punch a Critic in the Face, But.

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour / Reading Under the Influence


I’ve just returned from a multi-city book tour. There were happy meetings and reunions, great Q&A sessions, bookstores converted to speakeasies, and at the last stop, a basket of champagne and strawberries from my publisher. I enjoy posting photos from readings and cities I visit to support those who support me–the towns, the bookstores, the reviewers, and the people–but I always hesitate before hitting “upload” because there are quite a few writers out there still trying to find an agent, facing rejection, and unable to get a publisher. This is the exact arrested state of publishing misery in which I resided for nearly a decade, and while I was happy for others and their success, on bad days, seeing it felt like lemon juice in a paper cut.

So, to counterbalance all of the “happy-happy”, and to illustrate that publishing is not all speakeasies and chocolate covered strawberries, I’m going to post excerpts from some of the negative reviews I’ve gotten along the way. These statements are what I think of every single day when I sit down to write. They reinforce the demon in my head that tells me I’m not worthy. They haunt me with every revision, every book proposal, and every public or private sharing of my work.

Hemingway said that if you believe the good reviews, you have to believe the bad. He also ripped off his shirt at a fancy dinner and punched a critic who called his overt masculinity a mask, hiding his true nature. I don’t advocate punching critics, but I won’t say that I haven’t fantasized about it.

In a sick way, I do think it is just as important to have negative feedback as it is to have the wonderful reviews that so many of you have given. I treasure the positive, and they are the sweet balm I need after what you’re about to see, but we need to be reminded that published art is for the public and doesn’t totally belong to us once we send it into the world.

After reading this, I don’t want any of you to comment with, “No, no, you’re work is lovely!” If you have the cajones to share some of your own bad reviews, do it. If you have a favorite bad review of mine, mention it. If you’d like to silently read and shake your head, go for it. Just remember at whatever stage of the publishing process you reside, it is always, always hard. Every day you have a handful of good and a handful of bad. It is an emotional roller coaster at every stretch, so make sure you fasten your big-girl pants for the ride.

Without further ado…

Hemingway’s Girl:

• “[E]ven the dramatic arrival to the Florida Keys of a horrific fact-based 1935 hurricane can’t save Erika Robuck’s clichéd plot and soggy prose. Time to let poor Papa rest in peace.”

• “In “Hemingway’s Girl”, the story is predictable and not very entertaining; even Hemingway ‘s character fails. It’s a quick read and asks little of its readers. Hemingway would hate it.”

• “[I]t was nauseatingly lovey and cheesy at times, and not compelling to read.”

• “Grooooooaaaan. Chick lit dressed up as historical fiction.” (**This is my favorite. I want it made into a sign to hang in my office.)

Call Me Zelda:

• “It was for me a mistake to read Erika Robuck’s CALL ME ZELDA after having read [THE OTHER ZELDA NOVEL].”

• “This is not a serious treatment of mental illness or of the tragedy of Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s cozy wish-fulfillment, the ultimate expression of Robuck’s desire to fix her subject.”

• “[T]his book was just Dull, capital-D dull. Maybe two capitals: DDull.”

• “CALL ME ZELDA is the sort of novel that is enjoyed by ladies who want a somewhat romantic story to pass the time while enjoying a good cup of coffee.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need a good cup of coffee…with something strong in it.



Erika Robuck self-published her first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING. Her novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL (NAL/Penguin), was a Target Emerging Author Pick, a Vero Beach Bestseller, and has sold in two foreign markets to date. Her new novel, CALL ME ZELDA (NAL/Penguin), was released on May 7, and made the Southern Independent Booksellers Bestseller list.  Erika writes about and reviews historical fiction at her blog, Muse, and is a contributor to fiction blog, Writer Unboxed. She is also a member of the Historical Novel Society, Hemingway Society, and the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society.


  1. Richard Gilbert writes:

    Erika! You made some lemonade here out of that juice in the paper cut. I still eagerly await my own first bad reviews for my memoir out next year.

    But I have to say, “Time to let poor Papa rest in peace,” is such a stupid line on so many levels. Anyone who has followed his publisher’s and heirs’ decisions at all knows it. And, too, at the same time, it’s all his fault.

    Nothing anyone ELSE can write can possibly disturb his own peace any more than most of what’s been put under his name since he died.

  2. Susanna writes:

    I don’t have a book out to have bad reviews out there yet, but I thought of this thread when I just happened to visit Jack White’s website, which puts a few bad reviews (and bad reviews only) front and center.

  3. Caroline Leavitt writes:

    LOVE THIS. (And I love Erika.) I have to share my all time favorite, from Kirkus, for my third novel Jealousies. “More psychopathology masquerading as fiction from the previously white hot Leavitt who now has no one else but herself to blame for this unholy mess.”

    Nice, right?

    i cried for a month.

    • Erika Robuck writes:

      Good gracious, Caroline. When I get those kinds of remarks, my earthy writing partner offers to break out the “witchy” stuff. I’m not sure exactly what she means, but I haven’t enlisted her assistance. Yet.

  4. Debora writes:

    I agree with Auntie Jenn & Thierry. But you guys are all hilarious here and certainly took these reviewers down–Kerry, “I take just plain trash as a compliment”–good one! You’re all very cool, very cool.

  5. Maria Padian writes:

    Oh, thanks for this post. This helps. I’ve got one review in particular which haunts me, and I know, I know, I need to let it go … maybe in a decade or so I will. But I’ll confess: I fantasize about calling all my friends and telling them to give that reviewer one star on Amazon and Goodreads when … and if .. she ever publishes a book.

    • Erika Robuck writes:

      Maria–I know, these used to haunt me. I will say, though, since I wrote this post, they have no power over me. It’s my equivalent of lighting the words on fire and sending them downriver.

  6. Andrea Lochen writes:

    Thanks for sharing this, Erika! I really needed to hear about someone else going through the same thing. Some reviews are just plain mean, and I can’t help wondering if the anonymity of the internet has something to do with it! For me, I hate the “cute story” and “no brainer” reviews, which seem so belittling, like my efforts of five years were worth nothing!

    • Erika Robuck writes:

      Andrea–I’m glad this made you feel better. If you’re ever down about bad reviews, take a click through goodreads to some of the best books out there, and read 1 stars.

  7. auntie_jenn writes:

    where are these peoples’ manners! what happened to “if you don’t have anything nice to say…” their mothers would be horrified.

    keep up the good work, all of you!

  8. Maryanne O'Hara writes:

    (via FB)

    Here’s 1: “So sad. I have several shelves for specific books I read (memoir, YA, someone cheats), and now I may have to add a new shelf – one for suicide. I am so depressed after reading this book.”

    Here’s another:

    “The characters, all of them, are either lifeless or repellent; the plot is boring when it isn’t confusing; and the language, the language. No woman since the beginning of time has ever had the thought, There is a good possibility I am not pregnant.”

    I mean …. Huh?

  9. I really wish readers understood that writers are behind the book covers and not automatons. You do a fabulous job, though, Erika, of making light of it. Therefore, they do not win. Great work!

  10. Sharon Short writes:

    Thank you, thank you for this! OK, let’s see… for My One Square Inch of Alaska, the ONLY review of I know of in Alaska media basically stated, “This is like a sexy version of Oliver Twist. I hated Oliver Twist…” I was heart-broken, until my husband pointed out, hey, isn’t any comparison to Dickens kind of like any publicity? Then I remembered a line from one of my favorite comfort-movies (in our family, we have comfort-movies, just like comfort-food), Ruthless People–the serial killer looks at Bette Midler and says… “you remind me of my mother.” She beams for a second (not knowing he’s the serial killer) ans says, “I hated my mother!” Somehow, the line from the review suddenly became a variation on that comedic scene, and, dark comedy though it is, that made me laugh. Then there is the Amazon reader who was SO disappointed that my novel ISN’T ABOUT ALASKA. Never mind that the description on Amazon, on the book jacket, on… everything about the book… starts out “In 1953 Ohio, Donna and Will…” and then goes on to explain that they wish to go on a road trip to Alaska. Sigh. Reminds me of the review from one of my humorous mysteries, which was basically a complaint that the writing style/voice made it sound like the mystery was set in Appalachia, as if I, living in a suburb of Dayton, would know anything about Appalachia. Um… the book is set in the southern portion of Ohio that is very much part of Appalachia, both culturally and geographically, and although Dayton is not in Appalachia, of course, my family is Appalachian, so, yeah. I reckon I grew up with that ‘voice.’ Whew. This was very cathartic.

  11. Holly writes:

    ” The writing style is simplistic ”
    I adore this one about Hemingway’s Girl. Ones like these make me smile, and then want to read that book immediately.

  12. Bill writes:

    A quick look at some one-star Amazon reviews of Life Among Giants really helps a writer’s self-image:

    1. I found Life Among Giants incredibly slow moving, jumping between events, times and places that was confusing and had no continuity. I could not finish the book. Extremely disappointed after reading a good review of it in our Sunday paper.
    None of the main characters were at all likeable and seemed to need professional counseling.

    2. I am having a very hard time making myself read LIfe Among Giants. When do we get past the unpleasant (I can’t think of a proper way to discribe) sexual presentation. Is there a story somewhere in the later pages of this book or is it all just plain trash?

    3. Terrible writing format. Unable to determine exactly what this novel was about. It would be better used in the outhouse as a replacement to a retail store catalog.

    4. From early on, I felt the author was working out his fantasies. He’d like to be tall and handsome, a star pro football player, loved by multiple women in multiple specific ways, be a professional chef, open a restaurant on the water, be a trusted friend, live in a mansion in New England, and belong to a family with secrets. He apparently loves dance, and was a Miami dolphins fan in his youth. Roll it all up together, hope he had fun writing it.

    [For the record, I am in fact tall and handsome, a star pro football player, loved by multiple women in multiple specific ways, and a professional chef. Everyone lives in a family with secrets, so that’s no big deal. The mansion, what can I say–a lot of vacuuming. The book is a MEMOIR. And it was no fun writing it! Also about to tear off my big-girl panties and chase some of these folks down!]

    • Erika Robuck writes:

      Bill–Thank you for sharing. I can verify that you are a hunky football player type. Let’s go punch those people.

      • Bill writes:

        Someone just emailed to express surprise that Giants is a memoir… You know, you make jokes and people just believe you! Hunky with a C, maybe. Thanks so much for joining us, Erika–it’s a great post!

    • Kerry Headley writes:

      I take “just plain trash” as a compliment.

    • thierry kauffmann writes:

      I have not read your book yet, but now I want to. I know what you feel, it’s hard. But that may be because you’re aiming too low. Critics who drag your book in the mud, live at mud level. You don’t. At star level, mud is invisible. Keep your head up, where it counts. Make them see the world through YOUR eyes, not the other way around. And remember, you write, they don’t. I’m a writer with Parkinson, when I speak of adversity, I know what I’m talking about.

  13. Bad review on Amazon by a reader of my memoir, Off Kilter:

    “Depressing! A real downer. Feels like reading notes from a therapy session. This is one bitter woman! Sad. (I have depression-era parents and scoliosis too. Life is what you make of it. Stop blaming your parents. Good grief.)”

    Had to laugh after feeling hurt. Maybe she didn’t read the whole book. Maybe she’s right. 😉

    (Hitchin’ up my big girl pants right now.)

  14. Nina writes:

    I love this, Erika, and it makes me want to read your novels. In the past few years, websites like Goodreads have made it easy for authors to indulge our masochistic sides. Of the bad reviews I’ve received, one of my favorites reads, “Sadly, I don’t think I like Nina very much,” and then she goes on to say she based that opinion on my answers to the Q&A at the back.

    Here are some other greatest hits:

    1. “In a word, this book is insulting.”
    2. “This book was just a slow boring ride to nowhere.”
    3. “What a waste of time!”

    I’ve chosen the pithy ones. There a plenty of other people who go on at length about how much my books suck, and I’ve also inspired quite a few people to throw books across the room, something that secretly makes me kind of proud.