Bad Reviews Suck…and Why I Don’t Care

Let’s talk about reviews, shall we?

We’ve all read instances where an author acts poorly in the face of a one or two-star review. It’s usually referred to as ‘authors behaving badly,’ usually for good reason.

Writers are generally sensitive, artistic types. We slave over our computers to pound out stories that will not get out of our heads. It’s a lonely occupation, even with the advent of social media and blogging because the ideas, the writer, and our medium are solely what bring our stories forth.

Then…after we’ve paid for editing, proofreading, graphics, and formatting (hint hint), we upload our books and wait. Martini or Nutella in hand, we wait.

What if people love it? What if people hate it? What if what if what if? (I do recommend using betareaders for a bit of loin girding.)

And so it goes.

Well, guess what: some will love it. Some will hate it. As anyone who creates art can tell you, no work is universally loved.

Most of us accept this, perhaps grudgingly and with a certain amount of angst. Then we move on. More to write. Right?

We’ve all certainly read books we’ve hated. I even threw out a CD once because the music was so incredibly god-awful, I couldn’t bear to deal with the hassles of returning, so I broke it and dumped it in the bin. And it felt good!

Why then are authors behaving badly? Or, are we?

Authors Behaving Badly – Defined

I’m of the camp that believes there are some authors behaving badly. Why?

I hear the argument frequently that one poor review will affect sales much more than ten positive reviews (though I haven’t seen actual data). And perhaps that is true. Yet, accept that when you write a book, you are putting yourself out there for any scrutiny or criticism people want to heap upon you. You are no longer the lone author in your office, tapping away to your iTunes playlist. You are now part of an established tradition and community, and you will be schooled in hard knocks whether you want to be or not.

You don’t like everyone you meet, right? Sometimes a person disappoints you, or isn’t interested in what or who you are. That’s life, baby. All artists must develop a hard shell to criticism, as a form of staying true to our own vision as well as not allowing others to manipulate our emotions. It’s been my experience that the authors who doth protest too much might want to look at what they’ve written instead. There could be merit. I’m not saying there will be; I’m saying there could be. (Example: some people object to the use of hashtags in the one-sentence intros of my second book, Mancode: Exposed. I read them. I changed nothing. But, I’m aware that the use of this tool annoys some. #ohwell.)

Peer Reviews

I, personally, would never write a scathing review of a fellow author’s book, knowing the effort we put into writing them. That said, there is a lot of crap out there (just as in music and in art), and though I’m an avid reader, I’m not a reviewer by practice, so I don’t feel comfortable advising someone else on what I believe they should have done (which I think is rather presumptuous anyway). I will email them with changes or suggestions if they’ve asked.

Meaning, I don’t review books as a book blogger – simply as a reader. I believe those who are book bloggers or professional reviewers should adhere to some guidelines (as many amazing reviewers do): review the book, not the writer; offer suggestions for improvement; point out inconsistencies or annoying tendencies; I would hope editing and grammar had already been looked at but worth pointing out if the author missed something in the process. Etc.

And yet, not every reviewer, reader, or book blogger ascribes to that. I’m often shocked at the horrible things people say that have nothing at all to do with the work itself.

(There are rumors now that Amazon will remove author to author reviews, unverified purchases, and other inappropriate commentary. If that’s the case, great. So far, there’s nothing in their official guidelines about it {though it’s been supposedly mentioned on their Facebook page}. I’m thrilled to see them taking steps to verify and set up better quality control.)

As writers, it’s our job to learn from these reviews; what we did well, what needs improvement. And move on.

Poor Reviews

Sometimes, a person will have a viscerally negative reaction to your book. They hate it with every cell of their soul. It happens. However, I have very little respect for negative reviews that attack the author personally or use inappropriate names, labels, or make judgmental statements regarding the author’s personal life. (I speak from experience. People often make these types of remarks about who I am as a person. Remember this: readers don’t know you. At all.)

But…do I feel it’s worth reacting? No way. For all the time you spend agonizing and righteously whining over that one poor review, you could have written five chapters of your next book.

What to Do

So, is it then, a waste of time to read our negative reviews, if controlling our emotions about them is more difficult than moving on? That’s up to each writer, of course.

I read all my reviews. As I said, I never respond (though I do pull anonymous quotes from them occasionally for the entertainment value, ‘trustafarian dewdrop’ being my current fav).

Negative reviews actually legitimize your work. Many people look at a book with all four and five-star reviews and say, “Friends and family,” though (from my experience), that’s rarely the case. This is hard for most authors, especially new ones, to understand. I know it took me awhile!

Breathe. Relax. It’s just ONE review. (Wait til you have received ten, twenty-five, even fifty! Vodka helps.)

Bottom Line

I write my books with my vision. That is my success. If people buy it and hate it to the point of writing a one-star review, at least I’ve elicited an emotion and that, my friends, is a win.

What if someone recommends others not buy it? Don’t care. I have faith that anyone who is truly interested in me, my book, or my work overall will be intelligent enough to make their own decision, find out more about me, or move on. The sheep that can’t make their own decisions probably won’t enjoy my work, anyway.

Final words: Reacting defensively to a poor review reminds me of kids fighting in the schoolyard over something that seems monumental at that moment, yet which they will forget about within minutes.

You dig in to make your point, fight with everything you have, and guess what? Nobody remembers anything about your book anymore. They label you instead.

If writing is your profession, be professional. Name-calling and drama is fun for some, and if you think it will sell you more books, knock yourself out.

Truly, please. Then we won’t have to listen to you anymore.


About Rachel Carsman Thompson

Author Rachel Thompson is a successful self-published author and social media/branding consultant. Releasing her first title in January 2011 and her second in December, 2011, she’s sold nearly 15,000 copies of A Walk In the Snark and The Mancode Exposed combined. Snark hit #1 on the Kindle Motherhood and Women’s Studies lists last September, and in 2011 Mancode placed in the Amazon Top 100 Paid list as well as number one on the Parenting and Family list. She will release her next title, Broken Pieces, this winter.

Thompson has over 18K followers on Twitter, an expanding presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and several other channels. Her blogs at RachelintheOC.com (author site) and BadRedheadMedia.com (consulting/social media site) allow her to personally connect with readers. Give her a shout!

Thompson is the Blog-To-Book expert for Triberr, and her articles have been picked up by Catalyst Partnership, Business2Community.com, 12Most, and other popular social media sites. She was chosen by BlogWorld as one of twenty-three bloggers to watch in March, 2012.

 

104 Comments
  1. I loved reading this article. Reviews come from one point of view. It’s just a subjective opinion. When anyone tells me he or she is being objective, I believe the opposite. Don’t sweat any review, good or bad; be happy someone is reading your book.

  2. I agree 100%. I’ve actually even stopped reading them and will only comment privately to thank a reviewer if they’ve gone out of their way to review. Otherwise, I really think it’s the realm of the reader/reviewer and choose to shrug and move on. It’s not like I can change minds. Nor do I want to. Great post!

  3. Excellent insight and advice. Authors who attack reviewers only show themselves to be bullies, and the focus goes off their writing and on to their bad behavior.

    Not a good thing.

    eden

  4. Wonderful article Rachel! Professionalism should be at the forefront of any project a writer takes on. It takes one bad action to spoil the rest of your career. I also want to mention that as artists, we need to keep our vision in mind at all times. Everyone is going to have an opinion, what matters is that you stay true to your inner artist in regard to what you are trying to accomplish.

    • Loren, you’re so right. Our vision is what compels us to write in the first place. Nobody else feels what we feel, though art is a wonderful expression of it.

      That’s the key — keep creating, but be a businessperson also. As authors, we are a product, whether we like it or not.

  5. Rachel:

    Great blog. I couldn’t agree more. It took me a while before I stopped obsessing about reviews in general. I try to read all of them and give them some thought. Then I go on about my business. I really don’t think anything is served by an author commenting on his reviews. For me, reviews are usually a sign of a really dedicated reader who has something he or she wants to say about my book. That person is going out of his way to show how my book struck them. I take that effort on his part as a great compliment.

    • It IS a compliment, because you evoked an emotion in them and that’s a win.

      Lots of people let their instinctive first response of anger take over and that’s the mistake. Good on you for not taking that route.

  6. Sound advice from the wisest of snarks. Treat yourself to Rachel’s insightful and hilarious books and if you need a social media guru to help your marketing, she’s the best.

  7. Great post! Reviews are a very subjective opinion. Wonderfully put:)

  8. The schoolyard fight analogy is a great one. I understand that bad reviews can hurt, but they’re also part of the game. I appreciate the bloggers who are brave and honest enough to give that kind of feedback. They’ve made me a better writer!

    • thanks so much, Emlyn. Reading some of what I’ve seen lately on recent blogs, the analogy seemed appropriate and is the first one that came to mind.

      I too appreciate bloggers who are honest in their opinions. What I’m really referring to here are reader or user reviews (who in some cases, haven’t purchased the book at all and may have only read the first free sample chapter). Those who have and still hate our work, that’s cool, too.

      It is what it is!

  9. Trustafarina dewdrop – unfair. How come you get such fascinating ones? When I was learning to ride horses as a kid, the stable where I took lessons had this cool club for the inevitable experience of a new rider. It was called The Prince of Wales Club, the obvious play on words giving you the idea of what it was for. When you got separated from your mount by whatever graceless means, you were an automatic member. To add insult to injury, it also cost you a quarter. That was to fund the parties we had once enough had been collected. Maybe we writers need a similar sort of club where we can collect the artful bits of bad reviews with the intent of sharing the joy and laughing ourselves silly.

    • I meant trustafarian, oops.

      • no worries. I like that idea, Christina! But, at some point, I suppose someone’s feelings would be hurt and then it’s not worth it. There are private Facebooks groups that writers often connect and vent about things like this. And if that’s helpful, great.

        I’d personally rather use that angst and write more. xo

  10. Great advice and words. Lately, I’ve seen way too many authors behaving badly and it stumped me. I figured every author knew to expect bad reviews so why the melt downs? On the flip side, I have also seen a few articles like this (my own included, http://www.patricialynne.com/4/post/2012/07/two-wrongs-a-right.html) talking about how bad reviews happen and for authors to please stop and think before taking to the internet to rant.

    • Hi Patricia — I know EXACTLY who you are referring to in your blog and the situation. That is, in part, what inspired me to write this post!

      The thought of posting a negative review of another author’s work is up for debate, and not something I’d personally do. But taking the rant to an incredibly public forum is a risk for the author (thus my playground analogy). I’ve seen it with both indie and traditional, so I don’t feel it’s a particularly indie thing.

      Is tit-for-tat ever the answer?

      Listen, we all deal with criticism in our own way. That’s part of growing.

  11. Thanks everyone for your comments!

    Lots of authors feel differently than I and that’s cool. Just one lowly writer’s opinion. But, I have to say after reading one author discuss doing ‘revenge reviews’ of authors who didn’t like his/her book, I felt compelled to throw in my two cents.

    Thrilled it ended up here.

  12. Really enjoyed reading this post. It gives the much encouragement needed after a not so good review and splendidly written I must add.

    • Thank you, Veronica!

      I’m so glad you found it helpful. Trusting our vision is so critical so moving on. Keep writing!

  13. Excellent post, and so true. This is the most level-headed, logical view on the subject that I’ve seen out there in quite a while! :) Bad reviews still sell books, and if someone hated my work enough to rant about it, I still elicited an emotion and view that as a success. Our job is to captivate with words, whether the reaction is good or bad.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Rachael
    xo

    • Thank you, Rachael (hey, great name BTW :).

      And yes, it’s a hard lesson for many to learn (including me), but bad reviews, and controversy, sell books. While our natural instinct is to defend and become angry, it’s important to realize that any emotion our work elicits in a reader is a win.

      I read recently about an author who contacted a reader who felt duped by her book (apparently the synopsis was on the Amazon copy & inside the book, but the reader failed to read that). After an email exchange that went on for 30+ emails (taking it offline), the author calmed the reader down and got her to redact her review with a higher rating.

      It’s an interesting tack to take.

  14. I’ve always felt that people who post their bad reviews on the purchasing website are entitled to their opinion and typically are easily dismissed as people who simply were reading above their pay grade and didn’t like feeling stupid. Anytime I read “Stuff didn’t make sense” or the like, I assume what they really meant was “I couldn’t understand it and that made me mad.” It’s certainly not Joseph Conrad’s fault that the vast majority of modern readers can’t understand Nostromo.

    When it comes to book bloggers/review websites, I think anyone who posts a scathing rant review of a book without receiving a giant paycheck as compensation are just bitter ***** who should probably find a hobby that doesn’t involve tearing down artists who actually contribute something to the world. There are professional book reviewers out there who are paid for their opinions since their opinions are learned and valuable–if they tear down a book as unworthy, it is typically in agreement with most people who have read the book. Sadly, so many people with blogs, too much time on their hands, and no other outlet for their opinions will post ranting nonsense about books that runs counter to everyone else, including professional reviewers, who has read the book. For the most part, unpaid book reviewers who write scathing reviews to try to tear down authors on the internet don’t have paying gigs because their opinions aren’t worth money.

    In any case, I don’t respond to any reviewers aside from personal thanks in private. I tend not to read book blog reviews unless the reviewer has proven their intelligence time and time again or if they are a fellow author. There are far too many rant-blogger hacks out there to bother with, and it’s always easy to remember: the book they just wasted time blasting for no compensation, just bought me a car.

    • Love your last line, Cassandra.

      And yes, from a metadata perspective, all reviews are valuable in that most readers simply look at how many reviews there are. The discerning reader will glance briefly at the most helpful critical reviews while others will take a negative user review to heart. Sure, it would be great if everyone read our books and loved them, but as authors, we are always learning.

      That’s why I recommend contacting reviewers personally — via their publications or sites — or through a blog tour. There’s no guarantee they’ll love your book, but at least they are mindful of what makes a great — or terrible — book. There’s value in that.

    • As a reader I find your comment pretty patronising and in fact verging on ‘author behaving badly’ or even ‘bratty author to avoid’. Comments like this illustrate and cause the tension that is growing between authors and readers/reviewers

      Many readers who review and especially those who blog do so because they love the world of books and the work created by authors; they are not paid to do so. This makes them neither your bitch (pace GRRM) nor does it mean their views and experience of a book are not valid. I think when you say someone doesn’t get a story it means that whatever an author’s intentions something didn’t come through in the story and that even the writing itself may be a barrier. The thing about books is that they come alive when they are read. The readers brings who they are – their lived experience to the text. This means that a book reads differently according to the reader. The value of many reviews of the same book is finding a reviewer whose taste matches the reader and so opens the door to finding new stories.

      I find negative reviews useful in this book finding process because understanding why a book worked or did not for a particular reviewer means it might be a good read for me.

      I am sorry to say that I think this comment undermines what Rachel was trying to do with her thoughtful post.

      • I have no idea what you’re talking about when you refer to “tension that is growing between authors and readers/reviewers.” This is one of the most interactive times ever for authors and readers. I interact with my readers regularly through every social media outlet (facebook, twitter, goodreads, google+) and email. I would call many of my readers and a few of the reviewers I’ve worked with friends. I don’t have any tension with the one or two badly behaving reviewers because I don’t have contact with them–it’s pretty hard for rant reviewers to say the things they say about authors if they know them as a person, which is why I’m guessing they don’t get to know them.

        I was extraordinarily clear in what type of bloggers I didn’t care for. “…unpaid book reviewers who write scathing reviews to try to tear down authors on the internet…” You find those reviews helpful in your book buying process, do you? You like when a blogger will intentionally or unintentionally mislead the reader of the review to make the book out to be something it isn’t? Or brings in personal attacks to attribute actions of a character to the author as a person? If you DO find that helpful, by all means, I would implore you not to read or review any of my books.

        • Depends on what you mean by “scathing review”. If you mean that you hate it when people post reviews that are only written to be nasty to the author, then I hate those as well. They don’t help me understand why the person disliked the book because it’s just full of “argh, this author is evil and all of these books should be burned off the earth”.

          But if you’re talking about reviews where the reader isn’t intending to be nasty to the book or the author and are just negative, then I have no problems with those. Not everyone is going to like the same thing. Some of the reviews out there can be pretty strongly worded, but as long as they lay out why they didn’t like the book I have no problem with reading a negative review. I actually read those first because I like knowing of potential problems in the books I’m interested in. Most times I end up buying it anyway. The only times I don’t purchase a book or check it out from the library is when I see that all the reviews are complaining about the same thing and they’re all predominantly negative or when the author does or says something to the effect of “no negative reviews ever”. Just because they gave a negative review doesn’t mean that they didn’t understand your book, just that they didn’t like it.

          You might want to re-read your comment because it really does come across like you’re saying that you hate all negative reviews, that nobody should post them ever, and that you only get them because your book was too advanced for the reviewer. I don’t think that was your intent but you really sort of come across as a prima donna and just as much an angry ranter as the bloggers you’re condemning.

    • ‘if they tear down a book as unworthy, it is typically in agreement with most people who have read the book’ – srsly, ‘the majority is generally right’ and ‘especially when that majority are made up off paid reviewers’ are rules you’re using to assess whether artistic judgements are valid?

      Lots of great books get panned by professional reviewers and go on to gather large, perfectly intelligent fan bases and later critical acclaim. And there are noteable reviews written by profesisonal reviewers/authors panning books which went on to become classics people still read today. And that’s apart from the fact that the assumption that ‘majority = right’ feels awfully against part of artistic creation to me, as does ‘authority = right’. But then I’m just a blogger, y’know a person who pays to consume media and then talks about it because art is important to me. I should get back in the hole right?

      • I think you’ll find that’s not actually true. Publishing houses and authors have traditionally held up the bad reviews and the hard times as proof of their craft, but even when a book was “panned by the professionals” in what people say about it, there are often dissenting opinions that people choose to ignore. I can find good reviews by professional reviewers for the DaVinci Code, which would perfectly match the panned by professionals and beloved by readers model. There is a balance, although it often goes ignored.

        The point I was making, was that if 99/100 reviews on a book are good or great, and the 100th is an angry rant, it can be assumed the 100th is probably inaccurate for some reason or other.

        I am speaking out against rant bloggers who intentionally mislead people who read them to make an author or work seem unduly bad. It sometimes takes years for an author to write a book, get it published, and send it out into the world. However, it only takes one angry blogger a couple hours of reading and blogging to tear it down and call it garbage. If you ARE that type of blogger, then yes, I don’t think you should continue doing what you’re doing. But I think you’re probably not considering those type of bloggers aren’t all that common, as I stated in the first place. It sounds more like you’re afraid of being viewed as that kind of blogger and misread what I wrote to get incensed about it.

        • Ok, sorry you’re right I could be misreading you’re comment. I think we’re both misunderstanding each other a bit, because you’re posting about an issue with none of the context that regularly in the areas I wander in. It’s difficult for us to talk about this, because when you describe ranty book bloggers I guess you’re aiming to talk about genuine trolls/the 1 in 100 person who posts in all CAPs on Amazon saying that ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ was a terrible book because there’s no reference to how to catch the damn bird. And when I hear you talk about people who put out ‘bad reviews’ I think of all the people who have been mislabelled as ranty trolls for y’know having a genuine negative opinion of a book backed by good reasoning come to mind, all the time the blogging community spent asking that we not label critical reviews that pull out flaws as ‘bad’ reviews because that wording isn’t great and a whole heap of other issues. So I’ll try to keep in mind that you’re not aware of how much rubbish good blogger go through when they make a decision to publish a negative review (including now being stalked by creepers in the name of an ‘anti-bullying’ campaign).

          But I still stand by my idea that majority rules isn’t a great rule for generally assessing the validity of criticism. When that lone voice is written in a style which indicates other troll clues, then sure the majority may be more right than that voice, but as a general idea regarding the opnion of a majority validated by capitalist authority seems seriously off. And this, which you posted in a reply to someone else:

          ‘Do you really believe every writer should always write things that will always be understood by every reader who ever comes across their work, and if they aren’t understood in even one case it is because they didn’t write it well enough?’

          seems kind of odd too. I absolutely agree that not all writers appeal to everyone, but I also kind of believe that just because an author is writing complex stuff that doesn’t mean we can’t critically examine them and decide that perhaps the prescence of complexity doesn’t necessarily indicate genius. Otherwise we’re just being baffled by authoritative ideas once again. Sometimes people write literary books that make no sense to us, because we don’t have the context to understand things yet and sometimes people write literary books that make no sense because they’re confused. We have to be free to make that critical distinction as honestly as possible, without being concerned that people are going to use derogatory phrase like ‘reading above their paygrade’ (which, um, contains some serious classist linguistic implications) to deride our intelligence, or literary conversation becomes kind a of a farce.

          • I don’t particularly like the term “bad review” either because of how inaccurate it is. Bad could mean the review itself isn’t of quality or that it said something negative about the book. The kind of reviews I’m talking about don’t even necessarily have to be the all caps angry posts either. A reviewer who intentionally writes something misleading or ties actions of characters to the author writing them or intentionally performs a hack job on an author they don’t like to make a point–none of that helps the readers of the review to gain an accurate picture of the book, which is the point of reviews, after all.

            Writing not being universally understood isn’t a matter of class or intelligence. Much of the not understanding of books that people blame on the writer or the reader stems from the book being written for a specific audience that has all or most of the information required to understand it. There are perfectly intelligent readers with wide and diverse backgrounds who aren’t going to understand a lot of a novel written to comment on the political trials of early twentieth century Vietnam, while most Vietnamese readers will. Similarly, I don’t expect everything in my books to resonate with everyone, not based off their intelligence, but because my books are written about lesbians and not everyone knows the inner workings of the LGBT community and all it’s individual parts. It isn’t a matter of literary complexity or genius not being understood. Readers bring their own experiences to their reading of a book. If their experiences don’t include a reference used by the writer, a section won’t make as much sense to that reader as it would to another reader who did have prior experience with the reference.

            As for the pay grade comment–I’ve already explained there seems to be a misunderstanding about what that phrase means. “Above my paygrade” has nothing to do with how much money a person makes. This is an excellent example of what I was just saying about a reference not making sense without prior history with it. I assumed, wrongly apparently, that it was a common enough phrase that everyone would know what was meant by it. It has no more to do with a person’s income than the saying “a stitch in time saves nine” has to do with sewing advice.

    • “…reading above their pay grade and didn’t like feeling stupid.”

      Could you please define what you mean by “reading above pay grade?” Is that similar to “above grade level”? My pay grade is unfortunately on the low end for my educational level, so should I be reading books deemed acceptable for my low-middle-class income?

      “…Anytime I read “Stuff didn’t make sense” or the like, I assume what they really meant was ‘I couldn’t understand it and that made me mad.’ ”

      Anytime I read statements like that, I assume that you’re a self-important author who condescends to tell readers they’re stupid.

      “…It’s certainly not Joseph Conrad’s fault that the vast majority of modern readers can’t understand Nostromo.”

      No, but my assumption of your self-importance is your fault for name-dropping an obscure, pretentious “classic” and thereby implying that your own writing achieves that level of literary achievement.

      “…bitter ***** who should probably find a hobby that doesn’t involve tearing down artists who actually contribute something to the world.”

      When I have a negative reaction to book, it usually involves issues such as misogyny, homophobia or racism. Do you consider writers who perpetuate and romanticize these mindsets to be “artists who contribute something to the world?”

      “…ranting nonsense about books that runs counter to everyone else, including professional reviewers, who has read the book.”

      So, in summary, dissenting opinions are wrong. But what happens if professional reviewers are divided? Which professional reviewers should I follow blindly? Oh, wait – let me guess: only the ones who approve of your books. Am I right?

      “…their opinions aren’t worth money.”

      In much the same way, I believe that the writings of self-important, reader-patronizing authors aren’t worth money. Go figure.

      “…the book they just wasted time blasting for no compensation, just bought me a car.”

      The condescension and entitlement in that statement is truly inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing your vision of the “I Get Paid So I’m Better Than You” literary landscape. I am ashamed to admit how wrong I’ve been to have negative opinions about books.

      • Judging from your website, I would have to say you sound pretty proud of your snide comments about the books you read. If you truly feel snarky one quote reviews of books that took people years of work to create increases the dialogue about literature in a constructive way, I feel sorry for you.

        After just a brief glance at the posts on your blog, I saw several instances of you crowing how proud you are about your mean treatment of people’s books and being a “mean girl.” Do you really think it’s appropriate or even accurate to blast a book using only one incredibly negative line to sum up hundreds of pages of writing?

        Do you really feel you’re blameless that an antagonistic relationship sometimes exists between bloggers and authors when you go out of your way to antagonize the writers of the books you read?

        Kelly, you definitely sound like you’re part of the problem and proud of it.

        • Ms. Duffy, with all due respect, I too take offense with the following statements you made in your initial reply on this blogpost:

          “…reading above their pay grade and didn’t like feeling stupid.” – this is perhaps one of the most condescending statements I have seen. Are you insinuating that income levels are associated with intelligence levels?

          “…Anytime I read “Stuff didn’t make sense” or the like, I assume what they really meant was ‘I couldn’t understand it and that made me mad.’ ” This too is condescending. If ‘stuff didn’t make sense’ to a reader, it is perhaps because the author didn’t quite write the story in a way that would ring true or plausible with the reader.

          “…bitter **** who should probably find a hobby that doesn’t involve tearing down artists who actually contribute something to the world.” – Name calling certainly gives your opinion more weight, don’t you think? How very mature.

          It sounds to me like your condescending, elitist attitude might also be part of the problem. I apologize if my opinion doesn’t coincide with yours, but I believe I get to form my own opinions based on my perception of things.

          • My comment about pay grade has nothing to do with income level. Even in the general context of the saying “above my pay grade” it doesn’t have anything to do with income. The turn of phrase “it’s above my pay grade” means it isn’t part of the speaker’s normal job to think about whatever it is. In the way I used it, the saying replaces job with preferred reading level. There’s a reason I don’t read and review Proust–I don’t like how dense it is, I don’t derive enjoyment from decoding it all, and so I choose not to read it. I certainly don’t read a few chapters, declare it unreadable, and then post negative things about Proust on the internet because I know full well the problem isn’t with Proust or Conrad; it’s that I don’t enjoy that particular level of writing. But I don’t have to since as a recreational reader, I get to spend my time and my money on what I do enjoy reading.

            The second complaint about me being condescending doesn’t work either. It’s utterly impossible for a writer to write something that rings true across all readers. There will always be readers who don’t understand what they’ve read. For example, the pay grade thing, it’s a turn of phrase you obviously haven’t had much contact with. The problem enters in when a reader has the expectation that everything they read should always resonate as meaningful. There are plenty of avant-garde writers who pen things that make absolutely no sense to me. I don’t blame the writer for that because I know the writer is saying something very specific to a particular set of readers I’m simply not one of; it isn’t a matter of me being stupid reader or them being a bad writer. But, again, I wouldn’t go on the internet and blast those writers because I didn’t understand what they wrote. I would simply chalk it up to not being to my reading tastes. Do you really believe every writer should always write things that will always be understood by every reader who ever comes across their work, and if they aren’t understood in even one case it is because they didn’t write it well enough?

            To be honest, I really don’t care if you don’t like name calling. I don’t have the time or inclination to try to mute my opinions to the point where nobody will ever be offended by anything I say. The world would be a colossally boring and pointless place if people actually did that.

            Is MY attitude the elitist one here? Check out Kelly’s blog for an example of what I’m talking about. She intentionally picks books she knows shes not going to like, gets angry with them part way through as being too inferior to even finish, and then posts on the internet how terrible they are. Couldn’t she simply seek out books she is more likely to enjoy and review those instead? She obviously knows what she doesn’t like–why can’t she seem to avoid picking those books up? Since she’s not a professional reviewer nobody is assigning her books as part of her job, so she COULD pick books she’d enjoy, but she doesn’t. The books she tears apart and says she couldn’t even make it through 20% of could be greatly enjoyed by someone who isn’t as elitist as her. But you make the claim that MY attitude is elitist because I think people should read and review books in the genre and reading level they enjoy most rather than reading above or below their comfort zone and then blame the book because they didn’t like it?

            I’m sorry, but I’m not being elitist or condescending; I’m being pragmatic.

          • “…To be honest, I really don’t care if you don’t like name calling. I don’t have the time or inclination to try to mute my opinions to the point where nobody will ever be offended by anything I say. The world would be a colossally boring and pointless place if people actually did that.

            Oh, the irony….

        • See now that you specify which particular kinds of misunderstanding you’re talking about things become clearer, but I’d suggest that in your initial comment there were a couple of ways of reading it. And I’ll admit I jumped on the worse one because…well, blogging experiences with authors put us on the serious defensive, especially when a comment puts things like ‘people on the internet having opinions’ and ‘bitter twats’ in the same space. But I get that you didn’t really have the particular context to know that being super specific would stave off misundertsnaings.

          ‘ “Above my paygrade” has nothing to do with how much money a person makes. This is an excellent example of what I was just saying about a reference not making sense without prior history with it. ‘ – See, I saw you say this in a later comment and I did have the context to understand what you were trying to say with the original phrase, but my point has to do with the classist implications of using such a phrase even if you feel the pure meaning of that phrase is far away from any kind of derogatory meaning. Even if you don’t mean to imply anything about someone’s intelligence, or link class status with low intelligence or lack of understanding with this phrase, the wording makes implicit, contextual links of its own which speak rather offensively beyond what you’re trying to say.

          • You’re absolutely right about my original post being easily misinterpreted. In the interest of being super specific to stave off misunderstandings and in the interest of not creating anymore havoc on Rachel’s lovely article, I’ve posted a proper, and exceedingly detailed, explanation on my blog that I would direct people to rather than forcing people to try to piece together explanations across a bunch of commentary: http://cassandra-duffy.blogspot.com/2012/07/book-bloggers.html

    • *ouch* Cassandra! Just ’cause we’re not getting paid doesn’t mean our opinion is valueless … but I’ve long been a proponent of writing my few negative reviews as kindly as possible, so hopefully I’ll never get labeled a twat! Eek! :-)

      • “I’ve long been a proponent of writing my few negative reviews as kindly as possible…”

        I wouldn’t imagine you would be labeled something negative based off that statement. The reviewers I’m talking about go out of their way to write their negative reviews with as much vitriol and spite as possible for…I honestly can’t understand the reasoning of doing something like that. Not being paid for your reviews means you get to select the books you want to review, which means you can avoid things you know you’re not going to like. It frees you up in ways professional reviewers don’t have the luxury of.

    • In the interest of clarifying this rather than spreading the explanation all over the comments section: http://cassandra-duffy.blogspot.com/2012/07/book-bloggers.html

    • “I’ve always felt that people who post their bad reviews on the purchasing website are entitled to their opinion and typically are easily dismissed as people who simply were reading above their pay grade and didn’t like feeling stupid. Anytime I read “Stuff didn’t make sense” or the like, I assume what they really meant was “I couldn’t understand it and that made me mad.” It’s certainly not Joseph Conrad’s fault that the vast majority of modern readers can’t understand Nostromo.”

      I’m reading your book “The Vampire Vigil’s Sorrow”. It’s not hard to understand because your readers are stupid and are retaliating against you because you made them realize what slow illiterate nincompoops they are. You are no Joseph Conrad in a world of modern idiots unless Joseph Conrad has a time machine and recently received a sex change.

      It’s hard to understand because even though the story itself makes some interesting points about the hypocrisy and bigotry of small town life in the 1950s, you seriously need an editor.

      “…including professional reviewers, who *has* read the book.”

      Yeah. Mistakes like that. You make a few of those in your book. I think you have a lot of potential as an author. But calling your readers stupid for not being able to translate all your weird sentence structures and typos isn’t going to help your cause.

    • What exactly is “reading above [my] pay grade”? That makes no sense at all. Did you perhaps mean “grade level”? Or am I being a bitter twat too stupid to understand your deeply powerful comment?

  15. Art in any form is evocative. We write to leave an impact on the reader. I fully believe that loving a book or hating a book both accomplish that mission on the reader. It has nothing to do with the worthiness of the book, it is a statement about the reader.

    With my fine art photography, I was just as happy about a totally negative reaction as I was receiving praise. I feel that evoking a strong emotion, be it negative or positive is the sign of a successful piece of art/book. Ron

    • Ron, I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps it comes with maturity in your chosen art form. I speak with many authors daily afraid to put their work out there for fear of criticism/rejection but that defeats the entire purpose of creating something evocative.

      I’ve released two books (so far) and have had more than my share of negative press. It’s how we learn.

      Best wishes with your career!

  16. No matter what the reason for the review, when anything not complementary is said about my children’s books I get hurt…wishing I could have written something that pleases everyone. But since that can’t happen, I try to focus on the fact that even the best books get negative reviews and that part of being an author or any artist is that if we put ourselves out there, we are bound to get criticized. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you, Carol. It’s sometimes hard not to take a negative review personally, no doubt. We are a sensitive lot! Refocusing is absolutely your best course of action.

      Sometimes there are valid points in negative reviews (for example, many people don’t care for or understand the use of hashtags which I use in the opening intros to each essay of my ‘Mancode: Exposed’ book. Several even thought they were typos!), but that doesn’t change that I enjoy using them; and it’s a nonfiction book of my experiences. So the hashtags stay.

      Following our vision is critical. That’s what keeps me, and you, going as writers.

  17. Great article and I agree with virtually everything (not that you probably care one way or the other)-I just get hacked off at 1 star reviews where the ‘reviewer’ has never written another one or ever writes another one thereafter–I have about ten of these, and while I totally accept people hate my book, I struggle with the idea that I’m inspiring a whole generation to be so pissed off with my efforts that they write their one and only review?
    Or am I just worse than I realise?

    • Here”s my thought: if you’ve vetted your work properly (via betareaders/reviewers, editing, proofreading, and crit partners), you’ve already had multiple sets of eyes on it. If you haven’t done your due diligence and pre-release work, it could come back to bite you.

      That’s why I recommend using professionals to help us. I’m not an editor, fomatter or graphic artist, so I pay good money to have those people help me. Remember, their name goes on your work also, so to say we’re ‘paying them so of course they’re going to love it,’ is an argument that doesn’t hold water with me.

      I always read every review and if the feedback is valid, I learn from it. Again, being objective and not taking it personally is quite helpful and part of our learning as writers.

  18. In tweeting with the bloggers from http://gossamerobsessions.blogspot.com and http://www.goodbooksandgoodwine.com (see, I told you I like interaction), I’ve been made aware of the stalker/bully site created by someone who apparently has taken bad reviews on Goodreads entirely too personally. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m kind of off in my own little intellectualism world most of the time, and I think I was fairly sheltered and insulated by my readers to the point where I thought everything was generally hunky-dory between authors and reviewers.

    I certainly wasn’t saying all bloggers are the tear down types. I’d say it’s probably less than 1% would read that a character in a book was a rapist and claim the author must be as well in their blog (example from the tweet discussion). That’s a very small segment of the whole. Moreover, I don’t think it’s ever appropriate for an author to put personal information of a blogger on the internet for any purpose, especially not to encourage others to harass them.

    Authors willingly put ourselves in the fishbowl to be scrutinized by putting our work out into the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to be compensated for this willingness to share with wonderful readers and enough money to live on. For that compensation, I’m aware that I might have to take a few barbs and I’ve never lashed out at a blogger or reviewer for disliking anything I’ve written (feel free to check my Goodreads and Amazon pages for confirmation of this). I’ve received bad requested reviews before that were perfectly well-written and voiced a valid opinion–my response in email is always the same: “I’m sorry you didn’t appear to enjoy the book, it’s not for everyone, but thank you for the consideration regardless.” But those aren’t the type of reviewers I was talking about.

    Even the truly vicious reviews where the blogger intentionally misleads people about the content of the book to make it appear worse than it is, attacks the author personally, and likens the work of years as being less than garbage, I don’t think it’s appropriate to create a website to encourage harassment of that blogger. As I’ve said, that type of blogger is rare and is no more indicative of the whole than the author who started the stalking website is representative of all authors.

    Authors need to grow thicker skin in a lot of cases and understand writing something that is universally beloved is an exercise in futility while bloggers need to keep in mind that a real human being poured a good deal of their life into the books you read and perhaps don’t post anything in your blog that you wouldn’t say to the person’s face.

    • Cassandra you undermined your points against bloggers with your own ranting. I wonder by whose standards a review is scathing? I also think you are disingenuous if you can’t think of the ways and times in which majority views are oppressive.

      The bloggers who have been so viciously attacked by the STGRB people are often those who call a book out on feminist and racism and homophobic issues. It seems to me that part of that attack on them is because they are bringing that discourse into genre book reviewing. To do this they have to be robust and strong which to other minds equals ranting and scathing.

      Do you really think that genre books get regularly or well reviewed by mainstream media? It is the community of unpaid bloggers that support and contribute to the growth of genre books and can help build the audience for writers and the discourse about books.

      Reviews are for readers and yes negative reviews are helpful to readers. Much thought goes into explaining why a book didn’t work and sometimes that is one thing. Telling readers that they are stupid for not understanding your work and that they shouldn’t low score a book is an attempt to chill out dissenting voices.

      • Feel free to keep ignoring the content of my posts. It must be hard to accurately read them from up on that soapbox.

      • “To do this they have to be robust and strong which to other minds equals ranting and scathing.”

        Really? From what I’ve seen all over on Goodreads from them would qualify as deplorable behavior. Calling Katharine, who I assume is the lady who started the website, an alcoholic child abuser and black balling any author who says anything they don’t like. You’ve clearly picked your side in this, which might make you blind to how completely detestable the behavior is by the people responding to the website. From what I’ve seen, the bloggers and the STGRB people are both behaving atrociously. I’m not seeing put upon authors on one side or brave reviewers on the other; all I see in that fight is a whole group of people tainting the professions of writing and reviewing with despicable, childish behavior. It’s not a book review to call the author a drunk who beats her children, nor is it robust and strong to attack in a group any author that doesn’t cower in fear of anyone who threatens to review their book. The STGRB website is well over the line of decency, but what people are doing to try to get rid of it isn’t any better.

        Ignore what I’ve said and paint it however you like, Merrian, but both sides of that little conflict should be ashamed of what it’s turned into.

        • I’m only going to point out that the “Kat” we reference was one of the blogger/reviewers targeted by STGRB and we were alluding to that site’s smearing of her character wherein they accused her of being an alcoholic neglecting her children.

          You’re clearly reading above your pay grade here.

          • Why don’t you explain what any of that had to do with the book of mine you were posting it on?

          • “Why don’t you explain what any of that had to do with the book of mine you were posting it on?”

            What do you care about what a “bitter ***” like me does? Aren’t you busy in your little “intellectualism world” buying cars or something?

            You seem awful preoccupied with impugning our honor for someone who proclaims to not care what angry reviewers have to say.

          • So in other words, you can’t explain why you’re posting non-reviews on books you haven’t read attacking the author personally?

      • I don’t see this going anywhere. You’re clearly not interested in doing anything but lionizing one group and vilifying the other. If it is your opinion that no reviewer has ever crossed a line during a bad review and no author has ever been justified in thinking a reviewer did a hack job on them then we have nothing more to say to one another.

    • Thank you for this clarification. The problem with your original post is that you appeared to me (and many other bloggers it seems) to be dissing ANYONE’s critical review of a book to the point that if a review was bad it only meant that the reviewer was stupid (“reading above her pay grade”) and it could not possibly be the fault of the book. Tensions are a bit high at present and comments like your initial one and the aggression in the subsequent responses (up until the one above) did not help.

      However, it is good to see that you are able to engage in productive discussion and resile from the apparent meaning of your original comment. I expect that there are “bad” bloggers out there. There are “bad” authors too. Both in terms of behaviour and quality of work – sometimes both at the same time. I’m a book blogger and I think that the vast majority of us try and contribute something positive to the reading community. We are smart and savvy and deserving of some respect – if for no other reason than we are a customer – most book bloggers I know spend significant money on books. I certainly do.

      I thought Rachel’s initial post gave very sensible advice to authors regarding negative reviews.

      A bad review will not result in reduced sales (EL James anyone?) Bad author behaviour is another matter entirely however.

      • I should also clarify that negative, snarky, forthright or scathing reviews are valuable and just because one is written does not mean the reviewer is a “mean girl” who wants to tear down an author. Readers soon work out what kind of reviews are helpful for them. Readers seek out the reviews that give them useful advice and avoid the ones which do not. Trust your readership to know the difference.

        • I think both sides of the relationship need to take a step back and realize this is symbiotic. Bloggers and reviewers can guide readers to books they’ll then purchase, but at the same time, someone does have to write those books and feel like writing them isn’t a waste effort. Since a book can absorb years of a person’s life, and very few writers are fortunate enough to make a living solely off writing, it really does become a sacrifice to create those books people are reviewing. If all the lesser known authors stopped writing, all the book bloggers and reviewers would be stuck reviewing 50 Shades of Gray and Stephen King novels over and over.

          I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest for reviewers to antagonize authors or for authors to antagonize reviewers since we both provide aid in continued existence for each other. I don’t see how treating a person’s work with respect in a review is too much to ask. There are plenty of critical reviews of books that don’t resort to name calling or insults to get their point across. I’m fine with letting my readers make up their own minds, but I think people treating each other inhumanely on the internet is how we got to this point of tension everyone keeps referencing.

          • Three things and then I’m done.

            First – the way these comments are threaded, it may not be obvious that my own comments were made in response only to Ms. Duffy’s comment from 9.25 am on 24 July. At the time I made them there were no other comments showing and then my comments were in moderation.

            Since then Ms. Duffy has made further aggressive comments toward other bloggers which I find very disappointing. It may appear (incorrectly) that I in some way support those aggressive comments. I do not.

            Second – It is disappointing to see a genre author dissing another genre author.

            (I refer in particular to Ms. Duffy saying “If all the lesser known authors stopped writing, all the book bloggers and reviewers would be stuck reviewing 50 Shades of Gray and Stephen King novels over and over.”)

            It seems to me that Ms. Duffy is, by that statement, doing exactly what she has exorted bloggers not to do.

            And last – the great Mark Twain himself wrote some wonderfully vitriolic and snarky reviews/statements about books/authors – he was famous for his dislike of Jane Austen’s work – my favourite quote of his is to the effect that a great library is one which does not contain a Jane Austen book, even if it had no other book in it. Snarky, negative, forceful and critical reviews have been around forever. There is nothing new under the sun.

        • “It seems to me that Ms. Duffy is, by that statement, doing exactly what she has exorted bloggers not to do.”

          No, I was pointing out how boring and repetitive it would be if tens of thousands of book bloggers only had a few hundred books by the largest, best-selling authors to review every month. It would seem you are pretty determined to take things in an insulting way. I’m also not sure what genre you’re saying I’m an author of or if you’re saying James or King are genre writers. I’m actually a little insulted by the implication that I’m just a genre writer and I’d like to know which of the other two authors or both you think is classified the same way? I don’t know if you’ve read much King or 50 Shades of Gray, but I’m willing to bet you haven’t read word one from me, and yet you’re deciding what kind of author I am? A bit presumptuous.

          “Since then Ms. Duffy has made further aggressive comments toward other bloggers which I find very disappointing. It may appear (incorrectly) that I in some way support those aggressive comments. I do not.”

          Funny, I’ve seen quite a bit of the aggression coming from the blogger side in this. Are you implying authors aren’t allowed to have opinions about what goes on in the literary world or are you insinuating if we do have those opinions we shouldn’t speak them? Unless, of course, we’re Mark Twain who is apparently not some genre writer trying to have an opinion about her profession. But I realize disagreeing with you about anything is viewed as an attack or insult.

        • I think this is such an important point. When a person is ill-mannered in any open forum it can reflect more upon themselves than on the person to whom they are being rude. Often not reacting or a polite reaction will diffuse their behaviour where defensiveness will inflame the situation. I was once horribly attacked in a professional forum. I simply thanked the person for voicing their opinion. His immediate apology was profuse. He had simply had a bad day and used the forum to vent. It happens. We’re all human.

  19. Great and should I say timely article. With a new novella just published this month I was shocked to receive my first ever one star review. It was obvious the person probably didn’t read the book. Heck this ‘reviewer’ has never ever posted a review before. I just brush it off because all the positive reviews and comments far out-weigh this one persons attempt to hurt.
    In regards to Amazon however, they have removed several reviews done on this same book. Why I only get out of Amazon, blah, blah, blah. Someone else – who is a professional editor – and told me they had submitted a review on Amazon. It has yet to post, but there are two others that have.
    Anyway, great article!

    • Thank you, Jamie.

      My goal here is to simply help refocus us on our writing, and to be encouraging to those who become beaten down. As artists, it’s important to maintain our vision and keep moving forward, as Walt Disney used to say.

  20. I’ve been following along all of the WONDERFUL comments this article has gotten in the last week, and felt compelled to *chime in* based on Jamie’s comment about her unfortunate 1-star review. Obviously, we do book reviews here. Thousands over the past 4 years, in fact. I can guarantee you that the first typed words flying off an author’s fingers whenever I send them an unfavorable review is “obviously the reviewer didn’t read my book.” While I can’t vouch for your particular situation with another review company, and I also can’t guarantee 100% that our reviewers read the books they’re reviewing — but I can say that we require it and allow our reviewers to send a book back that they simply can’t, or don’t want to, get through. I’m also not saying, Jamie, that your book warranted to unfavorable review. I guess I’m just sensitive when an author automatically shoots down the reviewer’s credibility. Like Rachel said in her article: Everyone takes away something different from the books they read. What one will love, another will hate.

  21. What I should have clarified was that the person left one sentence about how good and promising the book was. . .whether they read it or not I have not a clue – but all the good reviews and comments I am getting far out weight this one. And I believe, since this was the only review written ever by this person on Amazon that they are probably among the group that do exactly that. Just sayin. . .

  22. OKAY, EVERYONE — THIS IS HEIDI, CEO, PUBLISHER, WEBMASTER, ETC. FOR THE WEBSITE YOU ALL HAVE BEEN HAVING A BLAST POSTING NUMEROUS COMMENTS ON OVER THE PAST WEEK.

    All was fair in love and war until the last couple comments floated through this last hour.

    I WILL NOT ALLOW NAME-CALLING ON MY WEBSITE.

    If you guys want to continue with these types of comments about a wonderful article that Rachel contributed to this website, take it off of here. Find your own muddy playground for wrestling in the mud.

    We also run Kids’ Book Review, and I don’t want (a) the children OR (b) their parents coming here and finding these types of comments going on.

    I will be moderating all incoming comments (as I have done over the past week) and choosing to edit or delete comments that I don’t want on here. Sorry it had to come to this — because I’m all for freedom of speech — but not at the detriment of my company and to the author who so graciously contributed such a wonderful article.

    PLAY NICE!

    Heidi

  23. Thank you, Heidi for your kind words. I’m happy to be here.

    There’s a lot to be said regarding negative reviews — and regarding reviews in general. This debate shows just how heated it is!

    I appreciate the time people took to read my article and participate in the discussion, but agree with you fully, we must use our manners in a public forum.

    Thanks to everyone here — you, the readers, and the writers — for creating a forum at all. I’m honored to be part of it all.

  24. Excellent post and very true.

  25. Skathing reviews by no-name book review bloggers shouldn’t get to you. Look at their follower list they are usually less than 500 and most of the time way below that number. Miniscule in the scheme of things.

    How many of those followers actually stop in every time that blogger posts? How many take those remarks and actually avoid a book they really want to red?

    The numbers shrink in every instance.

    I don’t pay attention to anyone outside of professional reviewers or those who actually have a name big enough to be printed on paper and read in numbers greater than 500.

    Book review blog writers (not all but a LOT)write skathing reviews for attention. When they tear down authors they feel so much more powerful in their pathetic lives. I do not even look at them because I know the kind of people behind them. They are the ones that sit and stare at the number of views on their site day in and day out. Like I said pathetic lives.

    If you are self published this can be tough. But, there is one way to avoid the whole mess.

    Write something better, write something great and go the old route. Edit and polish your work. Find an agent and get a contract. These few and far between non-professional bloggers don’t stand a chance against droves of fans of a really well written book. Is Stephanie Meyers crying over no-name reviewers, I think not. If you can accomplish this, they will be forced into silence and slink off into the nether. They are only as important as you allow them to be and their words are only as powerful as you let them be. And to me they aren’t that important.

    Any Tom, Dick or Harry can write a review blog, it takes a kind person to be professional about it. Those are the blogs with a real audience. As a friend of mine says, “It costs nothing to say something kind. Even less to shut up altogether.”

    • Hi Amanda. Thanks so much for your comments.

      I work with wonderful book bloggers and reviewers (in my business BadRedheadMedia.com) and most will say that if a book is a 1-2 star, they won’t post it; rather, they’ll direct their comments to the author. I believe that most people who review books professionally (or as a key hobby) want authors to succeed and will reach out to help us, not slam us.

      Those who do, as you discuss above, may have valid points but when it’s made with negativity, we immediately discount it. People definitely need to respect the efforts we’ve made and take that into consideration.

      Also, you’re right about being professional – it goes both ways — authors and reviewers.

      • I don’t believe it is the book reviewer’s or even a reader’s job to be an author’s beta reader. Reviews especially blogging reviews are a conversation between readers about books; what was great and what worked for them or perhaps didn’t. It isn’t spreading negativity to be honest about a reaction to a text.

        Sharing the good, the bad and the ugly helps readers find books that work for them because we learn to trust the reviewers voice and to think about whether their tastes and concerns match ours. There are reviewers whose low grades are warning flags for me that I will not like a book. There are others – especially when there is a detailed analysis, snarky or otherwise, that say to me read it and see.

        A low grade review is not a personal slam of an author. It is a take on the book – a product. Best selling SF author John Scalzi has some very useful things to say about book reviews on his blog

        http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/07/17/bad-reviews-i-can-handle-them-and-so-should-you/

        I think your comment highlights one of my points earlier in the comment stream. Author’s want reviews to be marketing tools and readers and bloggers write and follow reviews for book sharing/finding. That difference is grating and is not going to go away however much author’s try and control what others say and do.

        I find the call’s to be nice and non-negative along with the catagorisation of blogging reviewers as non-professional and so somehow lesser an interestingly passive-aggressive put down of other people’s voices and experience.

        Some info about two romance genre book review blogs I follow:
        - one has nearly 100,000 individual visitors a month and is in the top 10 book review blogs on twitter as at July 2012
        - the other has something like 22,000 twitter followers
        Somehow I don’t think you can look those two bloggers in their faces and call them non-professional.

        Or maybe I could talk about another blog I follow that has a small but dedicated following for the quality of discussions. Many of her followers are people who review regularly on larger blogs and in many forums. They write the opinion pieces that shape genre discourse around issues such as cover whitewashing, plagiarism, etc. I would call that blogger a key influencer. Online book reviewing runs a gamut from a few reviews on GoodReads (me with my brand new account) to blogs like these.

        Just as authors are online, readers are too. The online space means that readers are no longer in their traditional place as passive receivers of book or opinion. Readers are not going back into the kitchen so we will all have to learn how to live this new paradigm.

  26. Thank you for your comments, Merrian.

    Authors are readers, too. We are consumers. We want to know what others think is good (is the berry safe to eat?) and what to avoid. You’re absolutely correct.

    As authors we must market our books in order for you and others to find them. That’s a fact of the business. I would never expect reviewers or readers to be my beta readers/reviewers — I work closely with people who want to betaread for me before the book is released. This is an invaluable help and critical step in publishing.

    I feel any feedback on our writing is great, positive or negative, and most savvy writers agree. My point is that when it gets personal, judgmental or attacking, it’s time to step away and focus on other things.

    I hope I communicated that and if I haven’t, I apologize.

  27. Great post, Rachel! Thanks for differentiating between reviewing the author and reviewing the work. As a fledgling book blogger (and writer), I try to always find the positive and instructive aspects of the work. But I know I’ve failed more than once. You’ve given me something to think about.

  28. Thank you, Isla. I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

    As an author, I want to know what you dislike or think needs improvement in my work. Again, it’s when people make judgmental statements about authors as people (when they don’t know us at all), is when I feel it’s no longer a review but something else entirely — more a commentary or editorial based on the reviewer’s own bias.

    Which, to be honest, comes through loud and clear.

    As always, we authors need to be professional as do those who leave reviews.

  29. I actually am more interested in the 1 star reviews when it comes to buying a book, mainly because a lot of the 1 star reviews are outrageous. They will say things like, “This book sucks, It didn’t make any sense, it was rude, bad words.” And a lot of times the reviewer has so many typos in their review, I just have to read the book myself, just to see if they are right or not. So if you get a 1 star review, stop and check out the person giving it and check other reviews the person has given to other books before you have a meltdown.

  30. Bang on. I have been producing creative work for many years. I have heard many comments on my work. From those who are able to be constructive. From those who think their view of creative work is definitive (often without creating anything themselves), from those who are offensive (often through insecurity or spite). From those who seek to encourage (whether they like the work or not). I listen politely to all, I ignore almost all. I choose my critics. People whose intellect or whose own creative journey I admire. Their opinions matter because I respect them. To listen to everyone else would simply distract me from my own path and why would I want to create something to please others and satisfy their taste. Where would be the satisfaction in that? If there is one area of my life in which I am able to savour being entirely selfish it is in my creativity. Perhaps that won’t make me a rich artist or a famous author. Ultimately any creator must be their own harshest critic. For me the best creative work, in any media, comes from a true voice. I don’t want to be popular. I want to be true.

    • You’re right. I write want I feel and yet I want others to like what I write, but the saying holds true, “You can’t please all the people” I’ve also been seeing quite a few reviews for “Hunger Games” and “50 Shades Of Gray” I haven’t read either, but hear that both leave a lot to be desired in the writing category and yet look how popular they are.

  31. lol@nutella in hand, we wait. So true, yet so funny. Great piece.

  32. So I am reading along and thinking, “This is a terrific post,” and was not surprised in the least to see it was written by Rachel. Informative and well-written as always. :)

  33. As a an artist and writer, I’ve dealt with harsh not so constructive criticism of my work since I was a child and constructive criticism since I was about 14. By now, I actually make a point to read almost all the internet commentary because I truly am (mostly) not bothered by gut reaction negativity (people who just don’t dig my approach or the subject matter ie. I don’t like horror so I don’t like this ((which makes me always think why review something in a genre you intrinsically dislike))), personal attacks (since I’m frankly cooler, handsomer and funnier than most anybody compelled to spew personal invective anonymously) or offhand dismissal (people who, for whatever reason, just didn’t commit to the experience). Because sometimes, in even the most apparently vindictive flat, uninspired, unthoughtful comment, there is a germ of a truth, a problem pointed out haphazardly and without the proper vernacular but a legitimate problem still. I pride myself on being able to ferret out the ACTUAL helpful criticism and sometimes that’s a gold nugget worth slogging through all the much to get to. Plus people are so passionate when they’re angry, it’s fun to read! I did respond to an Amazon review once, and it was a pretty middling review, not quite bad, but I felt the guy just didn’t get it and had admittedly only read one issue of a 4 part series that was collected. So I felt his review was unfair, so I responded not to his criticisms specifically but simply clarifying the intent of the work. And it was received well.

    • Dennis, I agree — there’s something to be learned from each book and the beauty of digital is we can fix any errors or oversights that slip through despite all the eyes on it prior to publishing.

      I definitely learned how much people HATE anything to do with Twitter and hashtags when I released my second book, The Mancode: Exposed. They don’t understand them which turned into criticism for me using them.

      Sure, it’s silly. Sure, I laughed at how aggravated people got. But, I also wouldn’t do it again, despite how brilliant I think hashtags are.

      Ah well, we either learn or sit in the corner and talk to ourselves. Wait, I still do that…

      thanks again for sharing!

  34. Rachel, thanks for a great and timely reminder. Yep, it’s hard not to take criticism personally.

    Whenever I get a 1-2 star review, I look at the other reviews that person has made and download a sample chapter from books they rated 5 stars. In that way, I’m learning something. Sometimes, their 5 star ratings are right on, and I can see where I can improved. At other times, their 5 star ratings are for popcorn fiction. There’s learning either way.

    The thing I struggle with is trolls. I recently gave my book away free for five days on Amazon, hoping to pick up some new reviews, and got a little gem that said, “quickly devolves into a boring religion filled preach fest… page after page of pointless sermonizing… some guy… causing trouble for no apparent reason in the name of some mysterious religion the author doesn’t see fit to name. I feel like he wants me to think it’s Islam.”

    Of course, there’s absolutely nothing about any religion at all anywhere in the book, and no trouble maker as an antagonist (but lots of creepy aliens). So the “review” is a complete farce. It’s the literary equivalent of graffiti spray-painted on the fence outside your work, only you can’t scrap it off.

    Would you buy a book with that kind of review? I wouldn’t, so for whatever perverted reason it was made, it works. The only solution is for readers that enjoy the book to drown it out with accurate reviews, but at the moment, it’s looking pretty darn prominent.

    Oh well, keep writing I guess :)

    http://www.amazon.com/Galactic-Exploration-ebook/product-reviews/B008BYN3ZG/ref=cm_cr_pr_btm_link_2?ie=UTF8&pageNumber=2&showViewpoints=0

  35. Hi Peter — apologies for the late reply. I just saw this!

    It IS hard when you get those ridiculous 1-stars, no question, particularly when they degenerate into personal attacks and misinformation. But here’s the thing: that person went out of their way to dog on you. Why? What did you do or say that bothered them so much?

    That’s where we as authors (and readers) must learn to change our paradigm — bad reviews are exactly just that. I feel happy when people write silly stuff about me personally or my book, since at least I’ve struck a chord in them somewhere.

    If we step away from the thought that a few bad reviews will affect our success, we see that no matter the reviews, we learn and are successful anyway since WE PUBLISHED A BOOK PEOPLE ARE READING.

    Not to take away from your frustration — a perfectly valid feeling. As artists we need to harness those feelings and pour them into our work. In fact, I think one of my characters in my next book should be a grumpy book reviewer haha. :)

  36. Nice piece of writing but it completely ignores the issues. The term BBA is a term coined by the stalker troll on Goodreads and Amazon. This is their umbrella term to demonize writers in their sociopathic mindset that the victim is always to blame. The stalker troll culture blames the author in every instance. They specialize in the 1-star, no-read attack review. These troll do not know what a book review is. They believe it is a weapon to be used to cause as much damage as possible to the reputation, career and livelihood of indie writers.
    It starts with the bait, usually an attack review where the facts of the content of the book are intentionally misrepresented. If the author comments, “But that’s not even in the books.” that makes the author a BBA for responding. Form there a campaign is launched by the gang of serial stalkers and all that author’s books get maliciously down rated. So there is an organized gang of author-haters who use the BBA tag as justification to destroy an author. By you using that term you just legitimize the stalking, bullying, harassment, defamation,libel and terrorizing of indies writers.

    • Hi Rick — I apologize for the delay. I didn’t see this comment until recently, given the date of the post.

      I appreciate your comments and fully agree that the trolling must stop. I wasn’t aware that I in any way wrote about that (did you mean ‘authors behaving badly?’) and if I somehow hinted that trolling is in any way justified by anyone, anywhere, that was not my intent.

      I do see authors leaving defensive responses on reviews — that’s specifically what I was referring to — on Amazon. Maybe now that Amazon bought Goodreads, there will be better monitoring.

      Be well!

      • Yes, Authors behaving Badly = BBA = Badly Behaving Authors, the troll blanket term for any author who responds to a review, fake or not.
        There is also a widespread misconception that all reviews are valid. At best most online reviews are by rank amateurs who have delusions of expertise, authority and importance. Many are fake no-read reviews or just outright rants or personal attack that have nothing to do with a book. In those cases they are not reviews but attacks by trolls. Until that differentiation is realized then it makes all the fake reviews appear to be valid when they in fact are not. Nearly no authors respond negatively to valid reviews, good or bad. They do respond to fake reviews and personal attacks.

  37. I LOVED this— I think it should be posted for all Authors to take a look at and read. I’m new to being published. 3 Months out the door and 5 works out to the masses. 3 of which are apart of a series. I remember my first few 1 or 2 star reviews and I seriously thought I might croak. Especially when my mom called to tell me about them before I even saw them. She was more upset than I was. lol… But then as I move along I’ve realized I can’t keep everybody happy and to be honest I’ve thanked people who have written a bad review. Saying I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the book- But THANK YOU for taking the time out to read it.
    I had somebody comment about my age once, thinking I was younger than I am… Apparently age matters (not)– She thought my work was terrible with only reading the first 10 pages- Made a review… I about fell on the floor.
    Another talked about how I should have never become an author and should take a look in the mirror (not a quote but that’s the jist.)

    So, yes I see what you are saying. But the problem lies when the people who are loving your work don’t post reviews and those who hate it only do. People tend to post when they are angry more than they do when they are happy about something.

    Thank you for writing this. — It’s made my day.

  38. HI S.K. and thank you for your awesome response.

    It certainly is a wonder sometimes just what people are thinking when they write their ‘reviews’ and I put those quote/unquote marks there intentionally. Many times, 1-star reviews show up as ‘verified amazon purchase’ because they’ve downloaded it free. They also leave the bare minimum of words (I think it’s 20 but not entirely sure). They also tend to include very general statements, which is like trying to write a term paper using made-up facts LOL.

    Regardless, keep writing. It’s what we DO.

    Best,
    Rachel

  39. You completely fail to even address the serious problem of the gangs of stalker trolls who maliciously down-grade books with the specific intent of damaging sales. Goodreads and Amazon have so many no-read 1-star ratings and reviews by trolls that their APIs are completely fraudulent. Multiple oomplaints have been filed with the FTC about this since it amounts to consumer fraud.
    For example when Goodreads finally tried to stop the constant personal attacks on authors by it’s members in September the troll culture responded by maliciously leaving thousands of 1-star rating for books they’ve never read. These ratings determine the chances a specific book will come up when a search for a specific genre is queried. So this malicious down-rating will cause a book to never show up in a search. Neither Amazon or Goodreads will do a thing to remove the malicious members of their websites because all they are interested in are the numbers of ratings and reviews with absolutely no regard for their validity. they need the preponderance of numbers to create the illusion of legitimacy. Both websites actually need the fake rating and reviews to pad their numbers. This has and does affect the sales of books. The bad reviews prevent books from coming up as options to buy. 15-20 malicious ratings can destroy sales of a great book. why not look into that problem?

    As far as BBAs are concerned that is mostly myth created by the trolls to justify their personal attacks on authors disguised as 1-star, no read, book reviews. They eagerly bait authors and if any author makes any comment about a review they attack. Most times they intentionally post inaccurate info about the book and if an author rises to the bait they are crucified.

    The worst offenders are the Gramazon trolls who don’t even know what a book review is. They think it is a weapon to be used against an author to try and destroy the writers reputation, livelihood and career and not the critique of a literary work.

    The malicious attacks on authors and books are a huge problem and cost millions in sales every year.

    One of my latest books, “The GMO Killerz”, was reviewed by an Amazon vine verified reviewer and given a 5-star rating by the kind lady who bought and read the book. Yet on goodreads the book is rated at 2-stars with 15 1-star ratings and/or reviews by member who have not read a word I’ve written.

    So the problem with reviews is not the occasional legitimate 1-star review but the direct attempt by the members of goodreads and Amazon to maliciously down-rate books with the intent of destroying authors.

    Any comment made by an author on the goodreads site is considered a bannable offense and Goodreads will ban an author in a flash. But they will absolutely refuse to remove a book from their site. I unpublished three ebooks from Amazon to get them removed from goodreads and goodread refuses to even look into any DMCA takedown orders. You can read all about this on my blog: indie-publishing. blogspot.com.

    Online reviews have become so badly corrupted by troll attacks that they are basically worthless. Anne Rice frequently criticizes this in the Amazon forums but AMAZON DOES NOTHING. An author cannot contact goodreads or amazon by any means other than email and the response is always some canned BS auto-response and nothing is ever done.

    • Hi Rick –

      All valid, salient points. Oh believe me, I’m aware as well.

      If you notice, the date of this post was July of 2012. MUCH has changed since then, particularly with regard to the ‘Goodreads gangs’ etc.

      I too have been hit with ridiculous 1-star reviews on Broken Pieces (nonfiction) which make zero sense — I address childhood sexual abuse, date rape, abusive relationships, and the review said that the characters were boring. I mean.

      I’ve reported a few to Amazon and they have removed about three so far.

      Sadly, the system that exists is the system that exists. Now that Amazon has purchased Goodreads, hopefully they’ll impose some stricter guidelines.

      Thank you for reading and your comment.

      • Thanks for the quick reply and happy holidays, Rachel. :)

        One point that I never see mentioned is that both Goodreads and Amazon rely on the fake ratings and reviews in two ways. First the troll culture is by far the most active members on both sites and and therefore generate the most ratings and reviews and secondly both sites actually need the fake ratings and reviews to garner the preponderance of numbers to pose as the authority. Neither site has any policy or mechanism to check the validity of any reviews or ratings.

        Here’s a link to a recording of me on the phone with Amazon where they tell me that no-read 1-star attack reviews are not in violation of their guidelines. Clearly the problem comes from the top.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XM16hcENbqc

        It would have taken goodreads 25 years to gather the number of reviews and ratings they sell if there was any checking on the validity of the ratings and reviews on their site. Therefore it can only be surmised that goodreads is intentionally fraudulent for the sake of rapid growth.

        Take for instance the absurd requirement on goodreads that a book review has to be at least 50 characters long. One can barely do a review with 50 words let alone characters. Then there is the “Top Reviewers” who according to goodreads are doing hundreds of reviews per week, how is that possible?

        Goodreads is a fraud and they are selling a fraudulent API, Amazon is the same.
        Goodreads also steals copyrighted material and refuses to remove it even after repeated DMCA takedown orders.

        Yes BBA is the catch all phrase for badly behaving authors. This is part of the sociopathic mindset of the trolls. They delusionally believe that in all instances the author is to blame and they deserve the malicious ratings, reviews and personal attacks. All sociopaths believe the victims are to blame. No difference here. They firmly believe that it is their right under the first amendment attack authors with the intent to destroy their careers.

  40. “Well, guess what: some will love it. Some will hate it. As anyone who creates art can tell you, no work is universally loved.”

    Too true, at least as far as _fiction_ writing goes.

    When writing fact more is at stake. A bad review reflects on the author’s expertise, and not just the book, which they may rely on for other work.

    So what does an author do when confronted with not just an unfavourable review of their non-fiction book, but an unfavourable review that contains erroneous statements (falsehoods) about ones work.

    I recently had such a review of one of my books. It was in a professional related publication too and so my core market in my home country saw it. Alas, after thinking about it for a while, I decided all I could do is point out the reviewers falsehoods, and this is what I did…
    http://www.science-com.concatenation.org/reviews/antoinette_mannion_reading.html

    Was this really behaving badly?

    (It’s a sincere question.)

    • Hi Jonathan — good question.

      I can relate, because my 3 releases are all nonfiction. Here’s the thing: a bad review sucks but will trying to correct someone’s perception of our work change their mind?

      I’m not saying you behaved badly — not at all. I’m just questioning the effort — is it worth it? Will it make a difference? Now, if it’s a publication that did the review and the facts are grossly misrepresented, that’s a consideration. However, most reviews are made by readers without any real guidelines in mind. Readers write from emotion for the most part.

      Not sure if this answers your question, but the way I look at it is that even a correction likely won’t make a difference. Our work just isn’t for everyone. So just keep doing your thing and move on.

  41. When someone writes an article he/she maintains the idea of a user in
    his/her brain that how a user can be aware of it.
    Thus that’s why this piece of writing is perfect. Thanks!

  42. Cheers Rachel

    Yup, I think you’re right. It is important to move on.

    I guess I did not want false statements (my work left out fundamentals (a), (b) and (c) etc when they were in there (and in the contents page at the front and index at the back) being made without being challenged.

    Anyway thank you. This has been a useful thread.

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