Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bad reviews

So many authors have touched on this recently, I’m not sure why. But I’ve noticed readers will often take the time to leave a negative review, but if they like a book, won’t often post a good review. I tend more toward the opposite - I always take the time to leave a good review, but if the book was less than satisfying, I won’t say so. I know how hard authors work on their stories – developing story lines, creating in-depth characters, getting all those details right – sometimes it just doesn’t all mesh together the way it should.

But in general, most authors are best not to react to bad reviews. In fact, some bloggers who posted tough reviews and in turn received a hammering in bad comments have considered not posting bad reviews, according to Book Blogs

Likewise, your poor reaction to a less than favorable review may go viral, drawing more attention to it. Take it from Jacqueline Howett, whose rant landed in no less than Forbes magazine.

If that doesn't convince you, scan through this Amazon thread, where readers react to authors' manipulation of reviews. The vehemence is scary. Scarier is that these readers don't realize how often the reverse can be true. And I disagree that authors give away a free copy so the reviewer will give an automatic good review. It's difficult to find any reviewers these days because they're simply overwhelmed. Authors are simply looking for honest feedback.

Unfortunately, sometimes it only takes a “tag” to put your work in a negative light. A recent email from a publisher said that someone had tagged a book as “incest” though it had nothing to do with the subject matter. Amazon failed to respond to their pleas to remove the tag, so the publisher ultimately removed the author’s book from Amazon and republished it. Will that stop a vengeful person from leaving another nasty tag? It remains to be seen. In this day of instant everything, it can unfortunately be a useless endeavor to fight what amounts to online flaming.

Hopefully, readers are savvy enough to ignore it. For authors, it might be a little more difficult.

Rachel Caine took the time to note each one and thank the reviewer for being honest. I applaud her bravery for acknowledging the book wasn’t quite written to her normal standards.

Not everyone will love my books. I understand that. Sometimes I’ve received negative reviews that made no sense to me (one woman said she disliked reading short stories, then basically tore down one of my short stories because it was, in fact, a short story. Then why review it? *shrugs*)

But there are times, as Rachel Caine noted, that bad reviews with valid, specific points can provide valuable insights for authors. Savvy authors (such as Rachel Caine) sit up and take note of such, and make a point to address those areas in future works.

But others, such as Alain de Botton, let loose with frightening vehemence. Here’s part of his response to a negative review: I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.

Wow. If I were the reviewer, I’d be changing my phone number, if not my address. That’s beyond unprofessional. It’s insane, and tantamount to professional suicide.

Even one of my favorite authors, Alice Hoffman, ranted on Twitter about a bad review (is 27 tweets too much? These days, it hardly seems like much!) and then deleted her account. But once it’s out there, it’s out there. Active or not. One of the scary aspects of social media.

And remember, you’re in good company. All authors, regardless of genre, receive a poor review now and then. Just ask Norman Mailer, who held a longtime grudge against New York Timesreviewer Michiko Kakutani.

The best advice I can give is to simply keep moving forward, and doing your best. It takes too much energy to waste on being upset about a bad review, energy better put toward a new project.

As a reader, how often do reviews influence your buying? For me, not often. I rely more on the blurb, and a writing sample. Beyond that, do you really care what someone else says about it?


Isis Rushdan said...

I agree that moving forward is key. We all pray for good reviews, but most of us will receive some less than stellar comments. It is best to handle it with dignity and not respond. I cringe when I see writers take the foolish path of attacking a reviewer/reader.

Reviews do influence me. Why? Books aren't cheap and my time is finite. I can't read everything and often reviews help me decide to pass something up. There's too much out there to choose from.

Now, if there is a book I've been looking forward to or the blurb simply hooks me and I'm dying to read it, then I'll buy it regardless of reviews.

Cate Masters said...

Thanks Isis - I try not to pay attention to any author's reviews these days. They're so subjective, and now that there's such a backlash, with everyone tagging for or against, it's just silly. Although I have to say I'm surprised at readers for having such a reaction, since the NY-pubbed authors always ask writer friends to write blurbs. Maybe the key is in being forthright about it. All I know is it's a new kind of insanity.

Maria Zannini said...

Reviews influence me--BUT only if they're from people I trust. I've been reading reviewers long enough to know which ones give honest evaluation and which ones shoot from the hip.

Ref: short story review
This drives me insane! Why would anyone deliberately read something they dislike?

I noticed that about people who review novellas expecting them to be full-sized novels. I wonder if it's that they don't understand what a novella is.

LD Masterson said...

As a reader, if a negative review is carefully done - with specific points made, I might give it some weight. If it's a tirade from someone who obviously uses the reviewing process to puff up their own ego, I see it as that and ignor it. It might even make me more interested in the book.

For the most part I don't use reviews when making my reading selections.

Elyzabeth M. VaLey said...

Book reviews, just like film reviews, are subjective. There might be a reviewer that doesn't like your work but there might be another one that love's it. The important thing is to shift through the bad ones and take notes on what you've done wrong (if anything) for future stories.

I'm not easily influenced by reviews. My criteria at the time of picking books is reading the blurb and if it's a print book reading the last two-three pages(yes, some people consider me crazy because of this). If I like the last pages, I'll take the book. :p

Lola X said...

Such a great post! Love visiting your blog!

Lola x

Cate Masters said...

I never could figure that one out, Maria. I had to let it go before it drove me crazy, lol.

I appreciate a well-written review, too, LD. Sometimes it's obvious the reviewer merely skimmed the book.

Too funny, Elyzabeth, skipping to the end. :)

Thanks so much for your kind words, Lola! Much appreciated. :)