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A rant about reviews…

As any avid reader knows, picking your next read is often a crap shoot unless you know an author’s work, either from personal experience or the recommendation of a friend. Beyond that, you have no choice but to search among the veritable endless supply of books available, hoping you chose well and spent wisely. Because I hate finding out that what little my money I can afford to spend on books was wasted on one not to my tastes, I tend to be pretty picky about choosing what I’m going to read, and approach my hunt with a system of sorts.

For me, it begins with a cover that appeals to me, followed by a description that intrigues me. But, even with an appealing cover and an intriguing description, there is no guarantee it will be a good read, so I often find myself turning to the number of positive reviews, the quality of those reviews, and the balance of good versus bad reviews.

And this is where my rant begins…

A review is a subjective thing – it is based on a reader’s experience with a book. That experience is a composite of the plot’s ability to fascinate them, the character’s ability to gain the reader’s empathy and loyalty, and the writer’s style being able to draw the reader into their world. No two readers will experience a book exactly the same way. Each reader will engage with the story and character’s differently, and, as such, will come away from the experience of that story with a different opinion.

Those opinions are what a writer lives for – the feedback from a reader that tells them if they succeeded in telling a good story and giving a reader an enjoyable experience.

In an ideal world, no author ever gets a bad review. Since we don’t live in an ideal world, it goes without saying that bad reviews happen. Every author dreads seeing them, but they are also not so naive as to not expect them. It’s part and parcel of the creative world they live in. You write it, you put it out there, and you hope like hell that most people enjoy it. When you come across those who didn’t enjoy it, you thank them for taking the time to read it, and move on.

What you do - not - do is flame the readers who did not enjoy your work.

Flaming a reader for leaving a bad review is author suicide. Why? Because it is arrogant to assume you, out of all other authors, don’t deserve negative reviews. Because it is unprofessional to attack your consumer base for not liking your product. Because it is egotistical to think that you have the right to tell someone else that they cannot express their opinion. And, finally, because in the end, your future customer base will be forming a negative opinion of YOU the author based on how you treat your readers, even those who didn’t enjoy your work, and that will most definitely impact your sales.

Look, I understand that it is hard to read someone saying negative things about something you slaved over. I understand that if someone assassinates your work with harsh criticism, calling is crap, that it hurts your feelings and your pride, but that is their opinion and they are entitled to it. Could they have been kinder in the way they stated it? Of course they could have. Could they have chosen not to post a review at all, since it would have been negative? Sure – but consider how unbalanced it looks if they don’t.

Remember earlier, when I said I look at the number of reviews, the quality of those reviews, and the balance of good versus bad reviews? There is a reason those factors play a roll in how I, the reader, choose my next book.

When I see a large number of reviews have been submitted for a book, especially a fairly recently published book, it tells me people are talking about it. Something about that book, that experience, motivated a need to express their feelings about that experience. In my opinion, that’s good. Seeing that makes me want to see what they are saying and find out what caused it. Was it a controversial subject? Is one of the characters very unique? Is the story line, setting, or style unique? Something has all those people buzzing and posting, and I will look deeper to learn why.

When I look through the reviews and see a healthy mixture of review styles, I consider that  a positive as well, because it tells me that those people actually read the book (as opposed to fake review posting by people being paid or rewarded for review-count-stuffing). A healthy mixture of short, simple reviews with longer, in depth reviews, tells me that the book is being read, by a wide variety of people, which is a positive to me.

And when I see a balanced mixture of positive and negative reviews, it tells me that the author is not afraid to take criticism. It shows me that they have the backbone to let their work stand on its own two feet, for good or bad. It also tells me that the author is smart enough to realize that not every reader is going to like their story, their style, their characters, and that they can deal with it.

But, there is another factor that helps me determine if I will read a book or not – the author’s response to bad reviews.

I can honestly say that when I see an author flame a reviewer for leaving a bad review, it is a massive turn off. I don’t have a problem with an author responding to someone attacking them personally – that’s different – but if the reviewer kept their opinions, negative or not, to the story and their experience with it, then they are within their right as a consumer of that product to express that opinion and not fear public humiliation, harassment, insults, or being tarred and feathered by the producer (the author). If I see an author verbally attack a reader who left a negative review, I will not – ever – buy their work, because I feel that they just inadvertently bullied one of their readers – and I can’t support someone who does that.

I know my opinion may not go over well with some, and I understand if anyone who reads this (reader and author alike) disagrees with me. I don’t ask for approval or applause for my opinion, I simply state it because I felt strongly about the subject and needed to rant to the cosmos at large about the topic. So, if I offend anyone, I apologize in advance for the unintentional affront. But, beyond that, I won’t apologize.

I am not only an avid reader, I am a writer, so I appreciate the value of a review and the power it holds over an author’s ability to sell their book. When I write a review, I am mindful of the need to be specific in stating my opinion, to ensure that whoever may read my review gets an honest, unbiased view of my experience with that particular work. I purposely sum up the basics of the story, without giving spoilers, to give a better view of what type of story it will be.  I make a concerted effort to detail both the positives and the negatives of my experience with that story, and I take the time, even if it means dozens of edits and rewrites, to use language that is neither attacking nor insulting (in the case of negatives). I want my review to be an honest statement of my experience, be it a good experience or a bad one.

All that being said, in the end, it is still just someone’s opinion of their experience with a book.

I don’t think expressing that opinion is worthy of being verbally attacked, harassed, embarrassed, humiliated, or bullied by an author.

And any author who *does* feel that a reader expressing an honest opinion of their work is reason to go on the attack needs to do a reality check – you are not Stephen King – and even if you *were*, you would still not be perfect.

Get over it and act like the professional you’re supposed to be.

You’re an author.

Act like one and don’t embarrass the rest of us.

~ G ~

29 comments on “A rant about reviews…

  1. Jess Molly (aka jmolly)
    May 8, 2013

    I only started reviewing published books about a year ago, but I’m one of Amazon’s ‘Top Reviewers in Canada’. That’s kind of meaningless, since I’ve only reviewed about 30 books. I guess Canadians don’t like to share their feedback. LOL

    However, I have been part of an online writing community since 2009, and I always review the hobby fiction I read, chapter by chapter. That means I’ve probably written 5000 reviews. I also read reviews left for writers by others, to see what they thought.

    Reviews suffer the same social maladies of any media where a person can give feedback without consequence. Authors beware: any time you respond to a vitriolic review, you risk negative consequences. And all you’re doing is raising your blood pressure. In my experience, the reviewers who leave flames thrive on any acknowledgement at all. They like the attention.

    I disagree with those who say, “Just thank the reviewer for leaving feedback, even if it’s intended to wound.” We have a right as human beings to distance ourselves from anyone who commits emotional abuse. Just ignore them. Perhaps if more people ignored them, they would stop flaming people.

    Since I began reviewing, I have only left two 2 Star reviews. One of the authors ‘liked’ my review. Why? I did leave constructive feedback, but I also praised what was pleasing in the book. I won’t leave an unkind review.

    I am being asked to read more and more ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies of final drafts ready to be released). If I read something not to my taste, I contact the author or publisher and explain that. Then, I don’t review it. Authors have enough stress without feeling disliked. And I have been known to offer suggestions privately so the writer can learn.

    As for these people who are paid to review books they haven’t read, how does one sign up for that gig?

    Just kidding.

    How about committing a random act of kindness today?

    Have a good one!

  2. addadultstrategies
    April 26, 2013

    G-
    thank you for following the ADD blog. I hope you will find it interesting and helpful, and even more, that you might be moved to comment!

    the negative reviews hurt, but i know not everyone likes the same thing. i have responded to two of them, to clarify something not to attack the reviewer or defend the book. if they didn’t like it, they didn’t like it. fortunately, the majority were positive.

    I have posted on this under “criticism”. I think that we with ADD tend to be a little extra sensitive to it.

    thanks
    doug

  3. Pingback: Writers: Was this post helpful to you? | C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

  4. Jeannius
    April 15, 2013

    This is an excellent post about a prevalent topic. As a reader and a blogger, my policy is to always write an honest review. There’s always that factor of feeling bad about it especially if I didn’t particularly enjoy the title, but as long as it’s not snarky I think it can be taken as constructive criticism.

  5. Pingback: How To Write A Good Book Review | Self Publishing

  6. Pingback: Readers: how much are you prepared to pay to read a new book? | New Writers

  7. zbpublications
    March 31, 2013

    Great post. I agree with you, flaming anyone just looks unprofessional. I am an author, I have not yet received a “bad” review, though a few people definitely thought my books had flaws or it just wasn’t to their taste. I tend to obsess a little about reviews, but I do so in the privacy of my own home. Most reviews I do not answer, but for bloggers and reviewers who I asked to review the book, I decided a long time ago: the only appropriate response to any review/reviewer is a thank you note/email.

  8. Author Unpublished
    March 31, 2013

    *clap* as a reviewer, I’ve written a number of bad reviews, and I always take the time to try and explain WHY I think I didn’t like something – hopefully so that the author can learn from the experience. Most authors I’ve run into have been very pleasant about bad reviews, and in turn, I’ve been nothing pleasant to them (despite my dislike of their story) I don’t hold it against them personally. That being said, I have come across the situation where I gave a negative review and the author tracked down my blog and posted hateful comments about my maturity level because she didn’t agree with my opinion. That, I think is crossing a line. I really appreciate your post. Thank you for bringing to light this hateful miss-conduct.

    • Cassandra Joy Johnson
      April 2, 2013

      I can’t help but to wonder if it was the same author that tracked me down on Facebook… and sent hateful e-mails

  9. Michael Bradley
    March 30, 2013

    I have a somewhat unique perspective as I am an author, but I also write monthly columns for two magazines as a book reviewer. As a result, I get to choose from among a huge stack of books, “submitted for review.” I am not just reviewing for a post on Kindle or Goodreads, but putting my name and own professional reputation on the line. As a result, I hate to say it, but many of my reviews are considered “harsh.” I give great marks and praise to good books, which run about 20% of the ones I read. Some are so incomprehensible it takes me forever to finish them. Some I simply stopped as the resulting review would have been cruel.

    Reviewing books has improved my writing dramatically. As Stephen King said, you should read at least as much as you write. My biggest pet peeve is with authors who write in a genre they have never read. I consider them charlatans to try to write a “popular” book when they don’t even like to read it themselves. First, like your own work.

    As an author, I have been blessed to get mostly 4.6 of 5 stars on average. The problem I have is getting people to rate it at all. I sold 3,000 copies of one of my books last year and had five reviews. I don’t want a bad review, because a lower star rating excludes all those who search for only 4 stars and above. However, the feedback from people who DON’T like your book is the most helpful in getting better. I read excerpts every week to authors, editors and publishers in my area, only to hear what is wrong with my writing. I don’t want an open mic night with applause, I want to get better.

    In every field of endeavor, and in life, friends come and go, while enemies accumulate. Flaming anyone on a thread is a stupid idea. You never know when that person or someone who sees it will be in a position to deny your proposal.

  10. transcendingdreams
    March 30, 2013

    Reblogged this on transcendingdreams and commented:
    A few thoughts for authors.

  11. WyndyDee
    March 30, 2013

    As an editor, who supports her authors to the death, I agree with your take on the subject especially NEVER flaming a reader or reviewer! I may stew over a review and want to take you out, but it is done in absolute silence and you are thanked for taking the time to read and review.

    Don’t burn the bridges to your fans or friends of fans!

  12. ioniamartin
    March 30, 2013

    Reblogged this on readful things blog.

  13. AlisonStanley
    March 30, 2013

    I find it best not to respond at all, even if the critiques become personal and not about the book. It is so tempting to write back and defend myself, but I’ve seen other authors do it and it looks really unprofessional. I find other reviewers will usually jump to my defence anyway, if someone is being unreasonably harsh.

  14. Charles Yallowitz
    March 26, 2013

    I haven’t gotten a bad review yet, so I have no experience with this. Still, I do wonder one thing. What about authors responding to highly insulting reviews? I’ve seen some that go beyond reviewing the book and fall into nothing more than insults, even threats.
    Also, I have a friend who does a lot of Amazon reviews and one author did flame him for his in-depth review. From what we could tell, the author believed that getting into the public fight would get his book attention.

    • Allen Watson
      March 26, 2013

      I think that any author that engages bad reviews, whether the reviewer deserves to be smacked down or not, risks alienating some portion of their audience. That book may gain some interest because of the conflict, but anything the author puts out in the future would be in jeopardy. Engaging a bad review only works if an author is already super-popular or perhaps a celebrity (thinking talk radio hosts) with their audiences already gained.

      • Charles Yallowitz
        March 26, 2013

        Good point. Though, I’d think if an author engages a bad review with a polite question or statement, it could work in their favor. At least if there’s something that can be gained from it instead of trying to make the reviewer look bad.

      • I agree. Engaging the reviewer from the perspective of discussion is very different from flaming or attacking.

      • Charles Yallowitz
        March 26, 2013

        Good to hear. I’ve been wondering recently about the etiquette for replying to negative reviews and I’d rather have an idea of the dos/don’ts.

    • I think that a personal attack on the author is different then someone shredding the book itself. It sucks, I agree, but it is still a person’s opinion, so it should be allowed to stand as is. I also think there is a big difference between having a debate with a reviewer over the points they made in their review, and flaming the reviewer for having the nerve to post a negative review. Open exchange and debate is great, even if the initial spark that brought it about was a negative review – as long as the conversation stays within the bounds of debating the *book* and stays *away* from personal attacks on the reviewer, or making the reviewer feel bad for having posted their honest opinion,

  15. Pingback: A rant about reviews… | The Claymore and Surcoat

  16. simpklu
    March 25, 2013

    Reblogged this on Simpklu and commented:
    “But, there is another factor that helps me determine if I will read a book or not – the author’s response to bad reviews.” Great point. Great post.

  17. savannahday
    March 25, 2013

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    Here is more ranting….as an author we need to be mindful of others. Thanks for sharing with all of us… http://tezmilleroz.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/tez-rants-when-authors-negatively-publicise-their-fan-mail/#comment-6399

  18. Pingback: A rant about reviews… | savannahdaydotcom

  19. Allen Watson
    March 24, 2013

    Thank you for writing this. You are spot on. I look at the cover, then the description, then reviews. I scan both positive and negative and try to make the decision on whether or not I should read it.

    What I don’t like is the negative reviews that say things like, “I haven’t read this book yet, but it took so long for it to arrive” or “I head this was bad from a friend, and since Amazon wants a review, I’ll give it a star or two.”

    That would make me mad as an author, but if one is smart, they stay out of the debate. As soon as an author engages a reader negatively, they have lost.

    • Jess Molly (aka jmolly)
      May 8, 2013

      Is it not possible to report such reviews as abusive (a misuse of power) and have them removed? If not, it ought to be.

  20. lbdarling
    March 24, 2013

    You have to have a thick skin to stay in this business, it’s true. You can’t let things bother you no matter how hard that is. When you publish your book(s) you put yourself in the public spotlight and willingly open yourself to ridicule as well as accolades. That’s just the way the game goes.
    I’ve gotten to a point that bad reviews roll off my back, some of them have good points that I can learn from and others are just garbage. The “reviews” I take exception with are “reviews” where the poster openly admits to not having read the story. I often wonder why they feel entitled to “review” something they know nothing about. I find that very strange.

  21. MishaBurnett
    March 24, 2013

    I have yet to receive a bad review. I have gotten reviews from people who didn’t like the book, but that’s not the same thing at all. I’ve been very fortunate in that the people who have chosen to review my book have taken the time and effort to write seriously about what they did and didn’t like about my work.

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