Wednesday, September 11, 2013

18 Things You Should Know About Negative Reviews

Recently, the book reviewing community has been stirred up time and time again over unfavorable book reviews.  Basically, what happens is this: a blogger or Goodreads reviewer reviews a book and criticizes it.  The author of said book (actually, sometimes it isn't even that book's author--sometimes it's other random authors as well) gets mad at the reviewer and posts about it, or emails someone about it, or tweets, or something.  And drama ensues.  I won't go into specific details; you can read all about it if you just Google "author reviewer drama" or go to this page for a list of specific incidents.

I had told myself I wasn't going to say anything about any of this.  It didn't directly affect me, although it affects the entire reviewing community.  And finally I just gave in and said "You know what, I'd feel better if I just went ahead and posted this."  So I did.  Also, I may or may not have been provoked by this blog post, which disappointed me.  Without further ado, here are 18 things I think you should know about negative reviews.

Disclaimer: Some of this will be opinion.  Which means that somebody will disagree with me.  If you are not prepared to read something you'll disagree with, you might as well not bother.  It's also important to remember that not every author handles negative reviews poorly, nor does every reviewer attract drama with unfavorable reviews.
  1. A person has every right to not read a book.  Anyone has the right to put whatever book they want on a "do-not-read" shelf, for whatever reason they want.  There's nothing unfair about it, no matter what their reason is.  If they disagree with public statements the author has made, they can "do-not-read" the book.  If they only read books with an even number of pages or never read books by authors named Jennifer, that's fine.  Readers can read, or not read, whatever they want.
    Loki would approve of this child.

  2. A person also has every right not to finish a book.  And write a review stating why they didn't finish it.  Or not write a review.  The same principle applies here.  There is no rule saying a reviewer has to finish a book.  There's also no rule against writing a review saying why they didn't finish it.  And there's also no reason why they can't simply not finish the book, and not write a review.  Basically, reviewers can read as much or as little of a book as they want and review it to whatever extent they want and nobody else has the right to tell them otherwise.         
  3. Many reviewers actually know what it's like to write a book.  One common thing I see in defense of authors who have been "attacked" by reviewers is that "reviewers just don't understand how much effort and love goes into writing a book".  While it's true that many reviewers have never written a book, it's also true that many reviewers also happen to be writers.  Don't go generalizing reviewers like this.  I know what it is like to write a book.  I know how much sweat and pain and joy and sheer effort goes into a book.  I know that I'm reading and reviewing "your baby".  I get it.
  4. Before you get mad about a negative review, take a minute to find out more about the reviewer's rating system.  Every reviewer reviews a little differently.  For example, a three star rating from one reviewer might mean "I liked it", while from others (like me) it might mean "this book was okay".  (And yes, I do believe reviewers have been attacked over three star reviews.)  Most reviewers have an explanation of their rating system posted somewhere on their blog.  Take a minute to figure out what the star rating means before you get all worked up about it.
  5. A reviewer can review a book however they want.  If they want to use GIFs, fine.  If they want to use memes, fine.  If they use none of the above or something else, that's fine too.  I use GIFs in reviews all the time, for one star reviews and five stars and everything in between.  No, it isn't what a professional reviewer would do.  But when did I ever claim to be a professional?  I'm getting paid nothing for this and using up my own time, so I can review however I want.
  6. There's a difference between a negative review and a "bullying" review.  There are reviews that say mean things about the book.  The reviewer says they hate it and never want to think of it again.  And uses some GIFs to put the book down.  Maybe it's unnecessarily negative, but it hasn't crossed the line into bullying yet.  That line hasn't been crossed until the review threatens the author in some way (or the other way around, which has happened more often as far as I'm aware of), or just plain goes way out of line.  For example, shelving a book as "author should be stoned" is not called for, in my opinion, while shelving a book as "would rather eat soap than reread" is harsh, but acceptable. 
  7. There's a fine line between attacking the book and attacking the author.  A reviewer actually has every right to say "I hate this book.  I think it is horribly written.  I'd rather be attacked by a crazed ferret than read one more word."  Yes, it's a little mean.  But everyone is entitled to their opinion.  There's a difference, though, between saying "this book made me want to throw up" and "this author should never show her face in public again".  It's fine to criticize a book, but leave it at the book.  There's no reason to go after the author.
  8. The whole point of a review is for a reader to express their opinion.  If you don't like that, get out.  Seriously.  If you can't deal with the fact that people may have opinions that are different from yours, what are you even doing on the internet, let alone reading book reviews?
  9. When in doubt, take a screenshot.  If there's something about a review/an author's tweet/a blog post/whatever that crosses some sort of line that shouldn't be crossed, it's at high risk for deletion.  Especially if you're the target, you will want to have some proof that this post existed.  Screenshots are the answer.  (On a PC, press ctrl+prt sc, then press control+v to past it into a document of some sort.)
  10. In some cases, negative reviews can help the author.  For example: I read Twilight out of pure curiosity.  I've never been into vampire books, or romance.  But I'd heard that Twilight was a terrible book, and I wanted to see for myself just how bad it was, if at all.  Because of this, Twilight got one extra read and review than it would have otherwise.  And who knows?  Maybe someone else decided to read Twilight because of my review.  It's a chain reaction.
  11. It doesn't become a problem until you make it one.  Sometimes, these things are best left alone.  Yes, maybe it makes you mad.  If a kid is insulted on the playground, and retaliates by throwing a punch, it's not going to help anything.  It's just going to start a bigger fight and get people in trouble.  By all means, defend yourself and your reviews, but don't go looking for fights, either. 
  12. Deleting posts or comments is immature.  Don't do it--it doesn't make things better.  Sometimes, when someone on the internet says something that they probably shouldn't have said, and they realize it, they'll delete the original post or comment.  Ladies and gentlemen, this doesn't help anything.  It shows an inability to take responsibility for your own words.  It shows that you have something to hide.  It shows that you think the problem will fix itself if you delete the post, and it won't.  (Someone probably took a screenshot anyway.)  To me, this is the internet equivalent of "But he started it!" 
  13. Reviews are not for authors.  Reviews are for readers.  The point of a review isn't to pat an author on the back, nor is it to shame that author into never picking up a pen again.  The point of a review is to inform a reader about a book.  As Ashfall author Mike Mullin wrote in a recent blog post, you can bet authors like J.K. Rowling aren't spending hours reading their negative Goodreads reviews.  And Rowling probably has hundreds of them.  Will that stop her from publishing another book?  No.  (By the way, virtual high-five to Mike Mullin for being cool and writing that blog post in defense of reviewers.) 
  14. There's no reason why Goodreads should take down a negative review.  Even if it sounds mean.  I've seen comments that say something like this: "This review is so harsh and mean.  Goodreads should take it down."  Um, why?  There's no reason why Goodreads should even care.  What kind of place would Goodreads be if there were only positive reviews?  Ugh.  It would be like those times where you're forced to smile at people you can't stand, and everyone is giving fake smiles to everyone else even when nobody in the room likes one another.
  15. Goodreads is for readers, not authors.  Yes, Goodreads has many useful tools for authors, and in many cases, provides a great platform by which readers and authors can interact.  In the end, though, Goodreads is for the readers.  It's not about the people that write the books, even though they are an integral part of it.  It's about the people who read the books and review the books.  It's a reviewing community.  That's what it's for.
  16. Reviewers tend to stick together, and stick up for each other.  If an author reacts badly to a negative review, you can bet there will be a bunch of other reviewers putting your books on a do-not-read shelf.  Which is fine for them, but bad for the author.  The more people that shelf a book as do-not-read, the more people will see it shelved as such.  And many of those people will find out why people are boycotting it, and they might also shelf it as do-not-read.  And for each person that shelves it as do-not-read, that's one less book that's being sold.
  17. If you think harsh book reviews are bad, go on YouTube and check out some of the comments there.  Some of those commenters make authors look like they're getting off easy.
  18. No matter where you are, people will always start drama.  Don't feed the beast unless you have to.  This doesn't need much elaboration.  Like I said before: defend yourself, but there's a time to be defensive and a time to not even bother with these immature people. 
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