Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Importance of a Bad Review

By: Karen Albright Lin

A bad review only has as much power as you give it. 

I’ve had my fair share of rejections, discouraging critique, and bad reviews. Each hurts like sliding down a razor blade. But I’ll tell you my own true story that may give you hope.

I submitted a personal essay to Red Line Magazine. (
It was about the Chinese preference for having male children. I’d written it as part of a series of humorous accounts from my marriage to a man from Taiwan. It was called “The Importance of a Penis.”

It received the worst review my work has ever gotten. For your entertainment, here is my dirty laundry:

“Given that this is a book club with members accustomed to Chinese Traditions and Writings, the story felt hackneyed to some, heartfelt to others. Unfortunately the writing was staccato in style, more akin to disjointed pieces of text stuck together than the expected flow of a well-constructed short story. While the vocabulary and grammar lacked precision (for example, many of our readers were turned off by the author’s use of the word ‘hubby’) some of the analogies and descriptive language seemed unique. Although the basic premise of the story would be considered solid if indeed it reflected a personal experience, the author should have paid more attention to its pace and flow. There was general agreement the story lacked maturity in style and flow.”

La Brea Tar Pits, LA Wiki Free Images
My first instinct was to find the nearest tar pit and drown myself. Then I reread the review and decided to preserve my ego by wallowing in the two phrases that seemed positive. After I fully recovered, I went about addressing the reviewers’ concerns. I also applied some of their recommendations to other essays in the series.

The result?

“The Importance of a Penis” went on to become a top 10 finalist in the Boulder Writers' Workshop Make Me Laugh Writing Contest and was read by TV comedy writer Gene Perret (Bob Hope’s writer). I was then invited to read the piece aloud before an open-to-the-pubic audience in Boulder.

I spiffed up the essay, expanded it, and gave it a new title, Dancing with John Wayne. That version received honorable mention in the Writer's Digest Writing Competition.

It became a chapter in a “novel of my life” and took 2nd place in the Paul Gillette Memorial Writing Contest (PPWC).  That novelized version, then entitled Culture Shock, made Quarter Finals in the  Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.  It was given 5-star ratings by Vine Reviewers (top 1,000 Amazon reviewers).

I reworked it again into a chapter of a memoir, Mu Shu Mac-N-Cheese, which became a top 10 finalist (out of over 2,400 entries) in the HuffPost 50/AARP Memoir contest.  (  )
An agent is currently waiting to read it after I add a subplot to the book.

To wrap up my story with irony, “The Importance of a Penis” was published by the magazine that gave me that worst review. It can be read in Red Line Magazine Power issue 5.

Rejection is a writer’s workplace hazard. But there is a way to deal with that terrible review.

Make it work for you.

About the Author: Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at


  1. You go, girl! It takes courage to take criticism and carry on. Your experience teaches me that a work not well received can be altered and finally work. Thanks.

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you Donnell. I worried it would be self congratulatory but then... beginning with the terrible review, maybe it's a bit more balanced... We writers tend to be modest (and even insecure, wondering if we are faking our way through the publishing jungle). Don't give up... Hope and reworking are the messages. Karen


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