Back Away from the Review: why authors should stay out of it

Another day, another Goodreads meltdown. In the latest ‘oh dear’ moment, an author and her friends (or possibly alternate personalities) is/are going nuts on anyone rating her book less than an enthusiastic 4+ stars. This includes attacking someone for leaving a DNF review (without star rating) and someone else for saying ‘I’m not reading this because the blurb is terrible’* (again without a star rating).

* As annoying as it may be for authors to have someone say ‘I’m not reading this because X’ where X is a factor unrelated to the book itself… the blurb in question is terrible. It’s one ADJECTIVE IN CAPITALS away from achieving sentient life and eating your soul. As a blurbwriter of many years’ experience, I want to give the person who wrote this blurb an hour’s remedial intensive coaching, and a slap. I’m not reading this book because the blurb is terrible. Please click here for how to write a good blurb. But I digress.

I’m not linking to the book because publicity, and also because getting into internet slap fights is right up there on my to-do list next to flossing with barbed wire and listening to the Collected Speeches of Michael Gove at 33rpm. However, I am blogging on this sorry business because it’s a good opportunity to remind myself, and other authors, of a few salient facts about reviews.

Negative reviews aren’t always a bad thing.

I disagree violently with certain reviewers (in my head, obviously), therefore anything they slag gets extra interest from me. I’m much more likely to believe in a book with 30 5* ratings if it has a bunch of 2* or 3* ratings to suggest that the reviews aren’t all by sock puppets. And a review that feels like a murderous knife attack to the author may well read as a mild ‘meh’ to anyone not personally involved.

You don’t have to read reviews, and you probably shouldn’t.

This is not to say I don’t appreciate reviews – I do. Any success I’ve had as an author is down to the enthusiasm and energy of people, mostly on Goodreads, reading and sharing and discussing books. It’s incredibly valuable to any author. I love people who give their time to books.

But, as I have blogged elsewhere, reviews of my books are none of my business. The review is a conversation between the reader and the book. It is not the author’s place to stick her nose in, unless specifically invited. Reviews are for readers, not authors. They are not for you.

Don’t expect yourself to be thick-skinned.

Authors are people. Our books are personal and precious to us. We get upset by negative reviews, especially when they’re spiteful, inaccurate or point-scoring. It is not much fun to have your work made the object of a comedy slating or hate screed. (Or even of mild and justified criticism, to be perfectly honest.) But the solution is not to go in all guns blazing and tell that reviewer why they were completely wrong about your book. It is not to read the reviews in the first place because – all together, now - they are not for you.

Remember that book you didn’t like? 

Some people didn’t like your book. Live with it.

 

If you want to bask in all the lovely comments, or learn something from the critical ones, or profit from the fact that people are talking about your book at all, you have to accept there will be negative responses too. If you can’t take the negatives (and there is no shame in that, you’re only human), you need to stay away from the whole thing.

But you can’t pick and choose, and you really can’t tell readers what they ought to think and say about your book. It doesn’t work that way.

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38 thoughts on “Back Away from the Review: why authors should stay out of it

  1. So true about negative reviews being potentially good. As a reader, I ignore the five stars. I look for the thoughtful three or four stars. Even a two star review has made me click “buy” before. Sometimes that thing someone hates is exactly what I was looking for.

    Hard to remember when it’s your book getting the two stars, I guess, but still important.

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    • Extremely important. It’s too easy go get caught up and take it personally and forget that other people will read from their own perspectives.

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  2. If only people could take this to heart. I used to love interacting on Goodreads. Got so much out of it, made some great friends. But lately the drama is just not worth my time. Very sad. Excellent post.

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    • I would have liked to be there more but it’s hard to be there as a reader without putting my foot in it as an author, so I’ve ended up erring on the side of caution.

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  3. I like Amazon’s way of highlighting the most useful negative review for things if I’m not sure whether or not to buy them. That goes for books too. Same with hotels on Tripadvisor. So someone thought the place was rubbish – why? Would the reasons matter to me?

    Where I sympathise with authors is when someone has posted a review that is inappropriate:
    ‘ the book wasn’t what I expected so it’s rubbish’
    ‘I prefer someone else’s book on the same subject’
    ‘I don’t like this genre’

    And the Amazon classic ‘I’m giving this book one star because I haven’t read it yet’.

    So I do see why authors want to respond sometimes.

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    • On the plus side, most readers find that as annoying as the author, and will say so. (What possesses people to leave those reviews, I cannot imagine.)

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      • More than once I’ve seen a really negative or nonsensical review on a book I’ve enjoyed and it’s inspired me to write my own review. There can be a silver lining. :)

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  4. Golden words. Every time I hear or read about another author’s meltdown, I have a temptation to write the words “Stay away from the reviews if you cannot handle them” on the piece of paper and make them memorize it. Seriously. Apparently it bares repeating over and over and over again. Of course I went to check out the meltdown on Good reads even though these days I am barely on Good reads (use it for talk, just do not review there anymore). Is it really so hard to understand that every time I will see this author’s name I will never be tempted to give their books a try?

    Thanks for saying it, as I said, apparently this can never be said enough :(

    Sirius.

    Reply
    • Problem is, I think, you don’t know what you can handle until it slaps you in the face. I have no problem at all reading negative reviews of the ‘improve this/boring/don’t like the style’ kind, but then I came across the first review of my book as blood sport, and it was a genuinely horrible experience. I was really, really upset. As in ‘tears, couldn’t write for a day’ upset. And I’m not a sensitive flower.

      So if you’re a self published author, whose only experience of criticism is a kindly phrased crit group, friends as betas, and an echo chamber on your FB page, I’d imagine you’d be simply unaware of what might happen when the book goes out – and the slightest negative criticism must feel like being waterboarded.

      Which is not to excuse crappy behaviour, just to say, I think people honestly don’t realise quite how upsetting the experience of ‘the review you can’t handle’ will be. However, if they don’t *then* get the heck off Goodreads and leave reviews alone, they have only themselves to blame.

      Reply
  5. When you say “review of the book as blood sport” what do you mean? I just don’t understand the expression :). No matter how many years I will be living in English speaking country I guess it will continue to happen. Thanks for clarification.

    I understand author being upset about any review actually – nobody likes criticism whether deserved or not. Some choose to learn from it, but that’s the most we can do ( for the record as a continuation of reviews are not for authors thing – I never expect authors to learn anything from my reviews. I would never be so arrogant as to expect writing professional to learn something from somebody who is not and who is an ESL reader to boot. I just want to share what I thought about the book with other readers). However I am sure there are reviewers from whom newbie authors can learn a plenty when we are talking about writing. Anyway – just don’t show your upset in public if you must be reading reviews – I vent to my colleagues when my work is critiqued. I mean, it would never enter my mind to say something in a public forum on Internet. I am not a writer obviously but I think at least partially analogy holds.

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    • A blood sport = things like hunting, where the aim is to kill the animal. What I meant was the kind of review which is, or seems to be, meant to destroy the book/author. When the review is just a string of jokes at the book’s expense, or launching a massive attack on the most minor things, or accusing the author of plagiarism because a character has the same name as a character in another book. Those are upsetting. (Solution for authors: DON’T READ THEM.)

      I do believe authors have a lot to learn from reviews – I don’t think reviewers need to be professional to have something useful and interesting to say – and I am really grateful for blogs where, even if someone hates a book, they will say so in a reasonable way from which you can learn something useful.

      (Just to note: Any published book should have been edited, and that should mean the author has already had to learn to take some pretty hard criticism. If a book has not been edited and the author is charging money for it, then frankly she deserves anything she gets.)

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      • Ah. Well I guess some people just hate the book/s that much. I certainly have read the books which strongly affected me in the negative way and I felt the need to issue a rant against the characters, plot , etc. I do not care about the reviewer ranting against the author never did, but isn’t strong hate for the characters better than indifference? That’s just me thinking out loud – as I said I respect aurhor’s right to be upset by any negative review of any kind. Just do it in private – again obviously I can’t tell anybody what to say and not to say, just expressing how I feel. Eh – even if I were better qualified to judge technical complexities of English language I would still feel that it is not my job to give author any advice. I mean if it happens that author finds something helpful in my review – fine whatever. I just don’t think about it when I write my reviews . Book is on my mind – not author. As it stands now though – I mostly talk about plot and characterization and that’s just so super subjective. Literally what did not work for me maybe something another reader/reviewer will love. I used to love the books from the certain author – to me she is one of the best writers in m/m genre. But one of her characters infuriated me so much – the way it was done, etc. And while I am waiting for the next book I suspect it is not going to improve – so much that she is about to loose me as a reader and a long time fan of her writing. But it’s not like her writing got worse – on the contrary it got better and better. I just find the characterization disgusting and offensive to me as a reader. That’s how little it may take – but what I hated plenty of readers loved. My long rambling point is again to say why would one want to pay attention to such subjective points in reviews? Write the book which you want to write, edit it well and your audience will find you right?

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  6. Good morning KJ, I just saw this and totally agree, but I would like your opinion about one thing. I have always had a habit of posting to my FB page reviews good or bad from reviewers that have blogs and get a free “review” copy, as what people are saying about my book (not Goodreads reviews). I think people that do get a free “review” copy have an obligation to post a fair non biased review, lacking sarcasm and snarkyness. I don’t care whether its a 1 star or 5 star rating as long as it respectful. I know some people will not like my work, they don’t have to. I was just recently in a Goodreads Mafia attack because one of my fans called the reviewer at “Hateful Heifer” and another a “Nut Job” because she gave me a 2 star review dripping with sarcasm about my writing style. She said she loved the story and connected with the characters, but gave it a 2 star rating because of my description style. As soon as I saw the posts I took down the review, but one of the reviewers minions saw the post and went crazy on GR resulting in 6 1-star ratings. That only causes my fans to go out and rate 5 stars to counteract the 1 star reviews and distorts the real ratings. Its a mess. I just don;t get why people have to be sarcastic or aggressive in reviews. Just review the book and move on to the next. Do you ever FB or tweet reviews?

    Reply
    • I don’t think reviewers are ever obliged to post a particular kind of review. The fact that they get the book free is neither here nor there: we send out ARCs in the hope that people will read and comment, not that they will comment in a particular way/style. If you think a reviewer isn’t doing a good job or oughtn’t be reviewing you because s/he doesn’t get you, or if you don’t like her style and think it’s not professionally appropriate, you’ve no obligation to send the ARC for the next book.

      I tweet and FB good blog (ie public) reviews. I can’t imagine why I’d publicise negative reviews. It goes against twenty years of publishing experience. :) It’s fine for them to be written but I don’t have to endorse them.

      Basically there’s a reason why everyone tells you not to engage with negative reviews. There’s nothing to be gained (you aren’t going to change the reviewer’s opinion; people who wouldn’t otherwise have seen bad reviews see them) and a lot to be lost if stuff like this, which is outside your control, happens.

      I’m sure you never intended your fans to turn on the reviewer, but people care about books, a lot, sometimes more than is consonant with common sense. We all do. A book that I adored got a brutally unfair review at Goodreads recently, and I, with all my experience, was two paragraphs into an absolutely savage rebuttal before I came to my senses and deleted it. (The author would not have thanked me for laying into the reviewer, any more than you’re pleased about your fans doing it.) Because though it was an objectively unfair review, full of things that were factually wrong, it was still the reviewer’s opinion. I don’t respect the opinion, but I respect the hell out of that person’s right to hold it and express it. I may decide to ignore someone’s reviews and decline to engage with them in future if I think their opinions are sufficiently unappealing, factually incorrect or unpleasantly expressed, and that is my right. But I don’t have a right to tell them how to write their reviews, any more than they have the right to tell me how to write my books. Sometimes people just have to agree to differ on that.

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      • Thanks for your insight KJ. The reason I post both negative and positive reviews on FB and Twitter is because I want my fans to see both sides of a story. Contrary to belief, I don’t mind or have hissy fits over a bad review, especially if its done fairly and respectfully. Would I love them to be all five star? Without a doubt, but as you say, bad reviews express a certain opinion maybe not seen by another reader. In addition, I thought it showed people that I respect the opinions of all reviewers. I know it’s not realistic to expect readers to write fair reviews but I guess I expected a little more professionalism from people who ask for free copies for the simple purpose of reviewing. I guess it all boils down to reviewers thinking they have the power to post anything they like in a public forum and the person they are writing it about has no right to dispute or question their opinion. If none of us ever questioned or debated the opinions of others, where would this world be? Slavery? Gay Rights? Civil Rights? Apartheid? And the list could go on and on. Anyway, thanks for listening!

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  7. This is not my place obviously and KJ Charles should delete my post if she feels it is inappropriate but I am going to say it anyway. Scotty Gade I have read that review and I saw nothing more than well written negative review which as you said also tried to list some positives? I am friends with that person on Good reads but not in a sense that I know her off list or communicate with her a lot. I just follow her reviews basically. That was sarcastic review in your mind? Also I review for Dear Author and a lot of books we review are free reviewing copies. You seriously think that imposes on us additional obligation not to be sarcastic in our reviews?!. There are no non biased reviews in my opinion – every single reader brings up their own life experiences in when they read the book and it shows up in the review. But be rest assured that you will never see a review of your book from me in the future of any kind. I have no interest in being attacked by your fans on off topic chance that I may not like your books :(.

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    • I appreciate your opinion Sirius. And I would love to open a dialogue between writers and reviewers. I could cut and paste what I felt was so sarcastic, but that’s really not the point. I REALLY don’t care that it was a 2 star review. I know people don’t get that, but its the truth. How big would my head be if I thought everyone had to love my work and I’d put a curse on the ones that didn’t. For example, I only got 3.5 hearts from Pixie over at MM Good. Would I have loved to get a 5 hearts rating. Absolutely. But the review was fair and very well done. I’d ask you to compare the reviews and see if you honestly see any difference. Pixie, the reviewer also mentioned my descriptive writing style, but in a much different, respectful, non sarcastic way.

      BTW, the moment I saw the posts from people attacking the reviewer, I remove the entire posts to avoid any more instances. I personally did not attack the reviewer, nor did I encourage any name calling. I simple posted the review with my opinion about how it was derived at. The reviewer loved the story, connected with the characters, but because I have a descriptive writing style, I got a very low rating. That’s ok. That is her opinion, but am I not allowed to have an opinion. The moment she posted her opinion on an open forum like GR, it was there for all the world to see.

      I don’t know you Sirius that I am aware of. Maybe we met at GRL or some other event, but I am a fun, caring and very nice person. I’m not a bully and again deleted the post as soon as it started to get ugly, But just like the reviewers that ran over to GR and the gave my book a one star rating in defense of the reviewer without even reading it, I have fans as well. Reviewers, good or bad, can help and hurt book sales, but I respectfully ask, why can’t an author have an opinion and express it just like the reviewer. I did not call the reviewer names, I did not disrespect her in any way, and I certainly wasn’t looking for sympathy.I do not posts reviews from GR from regular readers, again good or bad, but I have always tweeted and posted on FB all reviews, good or bad on FB to let my fans and readers know what other people are saying about my book. I simply don’t understand why readers and writers can’t co-exist and have an open and respectful dialogue about reviews. My question is why is the reviewers word the last and no one can ever disagree or comment about it without starting would war three? How is that fair. It is a reviews opinion, and when they have a following or a blog involved, there are also a lot of people following that opinion. Why would the author not be able to respectfully, without getting into a cat fight, discuss the review publicly? We see what happens when the reviewers followers start posting one star reviews, the authors fans start posting five star reviews and the entire thing is distorted and no one ever gets a real feel for the story.

      Again I respect your opinions and the opinions of the reviewer, but why can’t reviews do the same? Why is there such a gap between reviewers and writers? Without one there would not be the other.

      Scotty

      Reply
    • Two notes here. 1) I agree that the review didn’t read badly to me. As a reader I noted she didn’t like it because of the style, but I also read the quotes she supplied and thought, ‘There’s nothing wrong with the style,’ and I disregarded the review in my head because I didn’t feel her views chimed with mine.Different strokes. It wasn’t the kindest review ever but she was very clear that it was a personal taste thing. It did not leave me, a neutral person, thinking negatively of the book at all.

      2) I think there’s a big difference between authors encouraging their fans to attack reviewers (as I saw someone, not Scotty, doing just a couple of days ago) and someone whose fans do that without prompting. I don’t know the facts of this, so I can’t comment further except to say that I’d hope an author wouldn’t be personally blamed for something he didn’t start or encourage. (Authors who *do* encourage this kind of thing can go die in a hole.)

      Reply
      • Not only did I not encourage it, I immediately removed the post when I saw it, but one of the reviewers followers wrote a 1 star review titled, “I am the Hateful Heifer” with a horrible review, which has been taken down by Goodreads luckily. And another wrote a 1 star review, which is still there, not to mention all the 1 star ratings. “Sigh” It done and over and I’m sure nothing will ever change. It’s at least been therapeutic to express my opinions without be tarred and feathered.

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        • It must have been a really foul experience for all concerned. Unfortunately, the Internet and anonymous communication and keen fans and humanity’s tendency to form tribes don’t play well together.

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    • No problem KJ. I would love an open dialogue with reviewers to discuss the way reviews are written and received by everyone. And when I say “reviewers,” I mean people who request FREE copies of our books for review purposes on a website or blog. I sort of believe that people who buy our books and are individuals giving their opinion are entitled to write any type of review they want. They paid for the book, they have an opinion and express it in any way. With that said, I would love to see this reviews written with respect as well, but I know that’s never going to happen.

      However, I do feel that the people who request FREE copies of our book and have a blog or website with followers have an obligation to write a respectful and fair review. They certainly don’t have to like the book and can express that in a way that is beneficial to everyone. Just my opinion! I would love to see if I’m in the majority or minority with this train of thought.

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      • As above, I don’t agree with that. The reviewer pays for the ARC by giving their time and attention to a book, writing a review, and spreading the word about the book. That’s the end of the obligation. If the reviewer is consistently cruel, disrespectful and unfair, s/he will probably stop getting ARCs because publishers/authors will notice and react accordingly, but a site where views are trenchantly and honestly expressed is a good thing for authors and readers alike.

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        • Thank you KJ – every word what you said. If I knew that the author would expect any specific style of review, I would never ever request ARC from him. I think every reviewer has a line they would never cross in their head – mine is I would never attack the author as a person in my review. Anything else is a fair game as far as I am concerned, meaning anything about the book. That includes wiring by the way ( as I mentioned before because I am an ESL reader I am very cautious about mentioning writing deficiencies. I tend to miss it and only mention it if it jumps on me from every corner). But if a qualified reviewer mentions that she feels writing sucks I do not consider this an attack on the author personally , I also try to not make factual mistakes in my reviews – I feel this is another thing I should follow to be fair to the book. Besides that? If I want to mock the character which I hated I reserve the right to do so you know? I am actually not so good with sarcasm so I do not use it too often at all – but few times I did and more importantly I read many reviews I loved which critiqued the book very effectively and used sarcasm too. Not the most pleasant thing for the author to read I am sure – but then we go back to your excellent advice. Stay away from the reviews then.

          I also always wish the authors give they readers more credit. We are smart enough usually to see when review is malicious, misrepresents the book etc. You know what I do when I see review like that? If I see a clear factual mistake I do not have a problem as a reader commenting and correcting it. If I feel review is malicious I will ignore any recommendations by this person in the future. You do not need to open a hunting season on to reviewer ( and here we have to disagree – I think posting a negative review on the FB and expressing unhappiness is at least implicitly encouraging the fans to go after reviewer). Because then I feel so bad for the reviewer since it is not a fair game – authors always have huge fan base etc.

          For example I admire Ilona Andrews writing duo for many reasons – of course they wrote the books I love but I also love how they interact with their fans . They said more than once that they do not want, do not want anybody commenting on the negative reviews. Sort of trying to prevent these things in advance I guess? I do not blame any author for nasty comments by their fans – but in the situation when author publicizes negative review and expressed unhappiness with it. – as I said to me it is an implicit encouragement. IMO of course.

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          • Sorry again I am responding from my phone – see typos but I worry that autocorrect will make more for me when I will try to edit.

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          • I think posting a negative review on the FB and expressing unhappiness is at least implicitly encouraging the fans to go after reviewer

            And this alone, whether you agree or not, whether implicit encouragement was intended or the last thing the author wanted, is reason enough to avoid commenting on negative reviews at all.

            Reply
  8. Reblogged this on BookLover62 and commented:
    Reviews should be carefully crafted, addressing the book. Not the authors personal life, gossip, etc. Your opinion, on the book you read, good and bad, it is not an excuse to vent anger and frustration upon the world.

    Reply
  9. When I consider buying a book, I ignore most of the 5* ratings and pay attention to the 2* & 3*. I’m a very literal person and on Goodreads it defines a 3* rating as meaning you like the book. As for the lower ratings, they’ve caused me to buy the books in a lot of cases because the person didn’t like my favorite parts of a book. Those reviews can be free advertising as far as I’m concerned, particularly the ones that say “the writing was good but …”.

    Reply

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