When to ignore bad reviews

Some of the best-selling books of all time have hundreds of one-star reviews on Amazon. From classics like Don Quixote and A Tale of Two Cities to contemporary works like Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code, they’ve sold copies into the hundreds of millions. But they’ve also got their fair share of one-star reviewers who just didn’t enjoy the work at all.

The lesson: if you show your writing to enough people, someone will tell you they don’t like it. It’s true for Miguel de Cervantes, Charles Dickens, J.K. Rowling, and Dan Brown. And it’s true for students writing college essays.

If you show your college essay to an English teacher, a counselor, or someone with experience working in a college admissions office, I’d take any constructive criticism seriously. Even best-selling authors take feedback from experienced editors who know how to improve even already good writing and storytelling.

But if you insist on shopping your essay around to as many people as you can in the hopes that just a little more feedback from a few more readers will help you improve it, at some point one of those readers will give you a bad review. One bad review is easy to shake off if you’re an author who’s sold 200 million books. But it’s not so easy when you’re a teenager who’s applying to college.

Students, if you want to show your essay to your parents, friends, neighbors, etc., please do. It’s your essay, after all. But be clear what you’re asking for.

It’s one thing to ask, “Would you read my college essay and tell me what you think?” It’s another thing entirely to ask, “I finished my college essay and I’m really happy with it. Would you like to read it?”

Listen to the constructive criticism when you’ve asked the right question of the right people. But for everyone else, you’re best off ignoring bad reviews.