Thursday, March 15, 2018

Should You Be Afraid to Review?


Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? In the big, wide world of semi-anonymity we call the internet, it seems at times that people are afraid of nothing. Strangers say things online that they'd never say if looking someone in the eye.

It’s tempting to tell people where to get off—especially when they're being obnoxious or unfair. People don't want to debate rationally; they only want to belittle those who don't agree. If you don't believe me, try explaining to a gang of vehement Teachers' Union supporters that all homeschoolers are not, in fact, "inbred, narrow-minded, homophobic hypocrites." Wow. And those were the ones who didn't refer to a variety of body parts and animal acts.

It's not worth my time to argue with strangers who don't want to hear someone else's point of view.

But what if those strangers could affect your real life? Would you still express your honest thoughts?

I’m forever exploring Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and writers’ blogs to keep up on the business of writing and editing. A disturbing number of people mention unwarranted attacks by authors who don't agree with someone's review of their book. Apparently, author/reviewer bullying is a pretty big thing.

Since when did an honest opinion become a bad thing? There are tactful ways to say the negative things that need to be said—like when my husband says, "Well, I know you like it and it's comfortable, but it's not the most flattering outfit you own." I'd rather hear that than overhear someone whispering about how awful I look.

In the case of a book review, an author should be prepared for the occasional negative. No one likes to hear that what they've labored over isn't loved by all, but it should at least be expected once in awhile. I've not always used delicate phrasing in a review, but I am prepared to stand by my words if confronted.

I can think of one instance where I ended up wondering if I'd overstepped my bounds, years and years ago. A book I'd edited got two stars from someone who admitted she didn't finish it, it was not her typical genre, and in fact, she didn’t really like that particular genre. So I asked her why she'd bothered to read or review it, when all those factors would never have led to a favorable review. I was polite, I clearly stated that I was the book's editor (which I didn't have to disclose) and wasn't asking so I could jump to the author's defense. I was genuinely curious. The reviewer didn't reply, but another GR person did, accusing me of being unprofessional by telling someone what a review should be, on a book which I "helped to create."

Well, first of all, I didn't create the book. I didn't help to create it. The novel was the author's hard work, not mine. I edited it. As much as I'd love to take credit for a book's success—and I do celebrate with them!—my work is the frosting, not the cake itself. I don't even have to like the books I work with, I suppose; I only have to correct them. So of course I felt that was a moot point. However, the person who criticized me was polite, I responded in kind, and we went our separate ways. I'd intended no harm, she said her piece, and I realized it was probably not my business to ask the original poster anything at all. But I'm curious like that, and now I know that curiosity is not always appreciated. I'm thankful that my post didn't do any damage to the author, but I didn't feel it was right to remove it, either. After all, I said it, and I needed to stand by it.

My point, if I can still get back around to it, is this: if an honest opinion is wanted, then prepare for it to be honest. "Honest" does not always mean "favorable." And if your loyal fans jump to your defense, please make it clear to them that bullying your naysayers is NOT acceptable. I’m incredulous that people can be so vicious to strangers over a book review, methodically stalking them across the social networks. In some of the cases I read, the author and the reviewer blamed each other for attacks that were actually launched by their friends. Once the true culprits were revealed, apologies ensued . . . but the damage was already done.

Most authors genuinely desire honest reviews. Reviews encourage people to purchase a book, and they let authors to know their work is noticed. The relative obscurity provided by the internet should never be used as an excuse to lash out at anyone who doesn't happen to agree with us.

Have you seen or experienced this? Ever found yourself in the middle of an unintentional knock-down-drag-out internet kerfuffle? Tell me all about it and I’ll be sure to give you a heartfelt “there, there.”

14 comments:

  1. I've seen reviews that weren't great, but I never responded. If they had something constructive, I learned from them. If not, then I knew that just wasn't my target reader. A few, I just laughed at!

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    1. I think it's always best not to respond, even when reviews are good—because if you only respond to good ones, the bad review people will troll you and accuse you of only replying to those you like. Some are truly laughable, you're right. Taking it with a grain of salt, and knowing you've done your best work with all the proper steps should be better reward than any review.

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  2. I've never understood the "I don't read this sort of book, so I didn't like it" reviews. It makes me wonder why people both to leave reviews. If I read books in a genre I generally wouldn't, I only leave a review if I enjoyed the book - it seems a bit pointless otherwise.

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    1. Yes, I think that's just crazy to read a book you know you won't like (based on your personal taste) and then say how much you didn't like it. Your guideline sounds like a decent one. I've seen some crazy (bad, of course) reviews that other readers have slammed because the person could have avoided all the angst by simply reading the plainly written blurb before purchasing. I just want to scream, "Don't blame other people for your lack of research into where you spend your money."

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  3. I'm glad to say that I've never had this exact problem.

    When I saw your post's title, my thoughts strayed to my own recent experience where an online acquaintance -- a really nice guy, actually -- asked for my opinion on his newly-completed novel. I strongly suggested he get an editor. Aware of his current financial difficulties, I offered to edit the book myself, for free. He said he thought that was a great idea, but the very next day, before I could even read more than three or four chapters of his book, he wrote a post on his blog which offered the book as "finished." I assumed he just didn't want to wait for it to be edited. I figured it's his book and he can do what he likes, but I did mention some major issues I thought the first few chapters had. He didn't even reply to that particular email, although I've heard from him since about unrelated matters.

    A couple of days later, he published another post and told his readers that he'd made plenty of corrections, but as it turned out, he'd addressed none of my points about the novel.

    I've now read the entire book, and still see so many things that need work... so I sincerely hope he never asks me to write a public review of the book. So that's where I thought you were going when I read your title. *sigh*

    Sorry, just needed to vent, and I certainly couldn't do it on my own blog, which he reads.

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    1. Hey, vent away! I love a good vent session.

      Your acquaintance sounds like he not only doesn't understand the severity of the book's flaws, but he really, really, REALLY doesn't understand the value of your kind offer to edit for him, free of charge.

      It's so difficult when people ask for our opinion/advice but then dismiss it. I should have you do a guest post about reluctance to review. That way, you can vent but your buddy won't see it, lol.

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  4. Hi Lynda - it's great to be amongst bloggers and authors who realise what's what. Thankfully I was and always have been fairly careful what I say; however I'm not good at leaving reviews ... as I'm not an author and really wasn't sure what I should be saying ... silly I know. Still I have and will continue to leave reviews of friend's books when I read them ... if they are of a positive ilk - and most definitely not negative. Cheers Hilary

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    1. To leave a review, all you have to do is read the book. You don't need any special qualifications, because the reviews are for readers, not authors. The time for author feedback is prior to publishing. But readers want to know if a book's worth their money.

      Let me cheer you on, Hilary, and tell you to never be shy about leaving a review. Readers want to know your thoughts!

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  5. Public negative reviews can hurt an author, especially a new, unknown, struggling, author, more than help. It's great to get constructive feedback from your target audience, and editor, before being published, afterwards I'm not so sure. There are books I've found tedious or poorly written that others have loved. For me, there are times when the old adage, "if you don't have anything good to say..." makes sense.

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    1. I agree to a point. I will still review if I don't have anything nice to say, but the book has to earn that status by being poorly written, unedited, etc. The good or bad review rarely have anything to do with my personal taste—and I tend to choose my pleasure-reading books with care since I have so little time to read for enjoyment, so most of my reviews end up being positive anyway.

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  6. Ah! This is a tricky one and needs a balance from both the parties. The reviewers can say negative things a bit positively and writers should not take negative reviews personally.

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    1. It is a balancing act! I think writers—if they choose to read reviews at all—should remind themselves that a book review is not about them personally; it's about the writing and the story. It's hard to separate ourselves from what we write, but they really are two different things. Also, a writer needs to remember that reviews are for other readers. The time for author feedback is prior to publishing. Once it's out there, the reviews help people to know what's worth their hard-earned money and what's not.

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  7. Funny you should ask. I'm reading your blog right now because I liked your comments on a GoodReads thread about why people don't read self-published books. You made many sane comments.

    I really should stay off that thread - there doesn't appear to be a way to change the mind of people whose opinions are as set as lava when it hits the sea.

    But I like reading bloggers who will engage in a conversation, tend to read a lot when I discover a new blog and am always running out of reading material.

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    1. Hey, Alicia! Welcome here. I find I have to tread lightly on Goodreads because there are people who can be pretty harsh, with seemingly no provocations.

      You're right: there doesn't seem to be a way to sway some people's opinions. Thankfully, most of the people on the thread you're referring to have been civil.

      I'm the same way with bloggers . . . the blogs I enjoy the most are ones where the comments are answered. Often, I find that my commenters here engage with each other, and I love when that happens. There should be conversation happening—that's one of the reasons I blog in the first place.

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I love comments, and will always answer them, partly because I like having the last word and partly because I just like getting to know the people who read my blog. (Note: if the post is more than a couple weeks old, your comment will automatically go into the "needs approval" folder, but I will still publish it and reply!)