Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Do Author Freakouts Chill Negative Book Reviews?


There's been a lot of talk about book reviews on ye olde intarnets this last week.  A YA author got a bad review and lost her temper in a truly spectacular fashion (oh snap, she wisely took that page down). This prompted another round of back and forth about who reviews are for (they're for readers, yo) and whether authors should respond to reviews (probably not). One of the things that I found unfortunate about this entire thing, however, was the contingent of people who said they simply don't review books they don't like. I can't help feeling like this sort of author freakout chills negative reviews, which is a bad thing for all of us readers.

So heads up, book bloggers:  Not only is it okay to post negative reviews, it's also a critical part of your job.


Now, mind you, we do a few book reviews here, but we aren't a review site. I'm talking about sites like All Things Urban Fantasy or Wicked Lil' Pixie. Both of those sites tell you exactly how it is and pull no punches about the good, the bad, and the ugly in every book they review. That's why I read them and I recommend them to you. I've found that my taste in books runs pretty similar to WLP's, so I pay special attention to her reviews. If she likes something, chances are I will, too. If she doesn't, chances are I won't.

Not everyone is as blunt or assertive as the reviewers on the aforementioned sites, however, and I was taken aback by how many bloggers talked about not even mentioning books they don't like. It makes me wonder if the Author Freakout is actually a pretty good way to crack down on negative reviews. I think most people would be terribly upset and/or furious if they wrote a review of a book and an author picked it apart with bitter fury as only a professional writer can. How many people who were tempted to review a less-than-beloved book read the latest freakout and decided to simply not say anything at all?

Personally, if I thought a bad review of mine would prompt a profanity-laden freakout, I'd find that hilarious and also sad; I try not to be overly mean in any reviews, but I'm not afraid to hand out the Dramatic Chipmunk if you've earned it. I looked at the reviews I've written for Stellar Four and it's mostly praise of books I loved. This is because I read for pleasure, and if something sucks, I find that displeasing. I tend to put down books I don't like. It's tough to review something that you didn't actually finish.

It occurs to me that my approach is probably not the greatest. If I'm willing to tell you what I love, I should probably also tell you what sucked and why. That way, if you have tastes similar to mine, you won't spend money on that book. That's a big benefit of a negative review - you can help guide your fellow readers away from the suck. Alternatively, if you have spent money on that book and you also hated it, we can commiserate. And, hey, if you like a book I hated, it's always neat to hear why. Sometimes, I change my mind after reading another person's rebuttal to a review of mine, and that's the coolest of all.

One more thing. It's possible to write a negative review without being an asshole. WLP is especially good at this. She gets her point across without ever being mean or unprofessional. If you hate a book so much you can't review it without descending into assholery, then you have my permission to skip reviewing that one. Otherwise, if you can't say something nice, come sit over here next to me. We'll kvetch together, my friend.
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9 comments:

  1. Aww thanks! I feel really bad when the authors seem to go at smaller/newer bloggers. I wanna play damnit!

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  2. But bullies don't tend to target those they know will fight back, WLP. :)

    My own 2 cents: I've written my share of 1-2-marginal 3 star reviews. Lately, the vast majority of books that I've finished have been ones that I couldn't put down, (although I've a couple of lukewarm reviews mixed in there too), so most have been positive. It is true that you need to get a feel for what a reviewer dislikes as well as likes to see how good a fit they are for you.

    I have the same problem - I can't review a book I haven't finished. I have been thinking it's time to have a post on some of the books that have been sitting on my shelf, and why I'm not drawn to them right now (in one case, it's because I got the book right before my dad's funeral and the book starts 3 days after the MC's dad died. Haven't been able to read it yet.)

    Not being a douche is also important. I've seen bad behavior on the reviewers side as well. I also can't write a 1-star review, or a neg review on the blog and then send it to the author. Nor do I send authors messages on how they should be writing their books (although, like a lot of folks invested in a series, I have my own hopes for where things will go). If they go looking for it, fine, I'm not going to take it back (although I do reserve the right to change my mind if I read the book again after some time has passed). Authors don't tell readers how to review their books, and readers don't tell authors how to write their books - it goes both ways.

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    1. I think Stacia Kane is 100% correct when she says that reviews are for readers. When I'm writing a review, it's entirely to connect with people who may or may not purchase that book. If I want to say something to the author - and there have been times when I have - I'll send an email. In that instance, however, I think it's definitely a case of "if you can't say anything nice, have a nice warm glass of STFU." I can't imagine sending a nastygram to an author, that's just crazy talk. The best course of action is to just not buy that author's books.

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    2. This is one of those agree times infinity moments. :)

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  3. I don't want to write a book here, but something else came to mind - being honest is always important. The first time someone commented that they bought a book based on one of my reviews, I had a little "holy crap, I hope they like it" moment. Then I looked back at my review. Knowing that someone had spent their hard-earned cash on it, would I change anything about it? The answer was no. Now, after reading it, the person might have a totally different reaction to the book than I did, but I could still stand by my review.

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  4. One of the points you raise came up again and again back in day when I read actual paper magazines like CAR & DRIVER and STEREO REVIEW. Both of those magazines were frequently criticized for seldom reviewing an automobile or piece of audiophile equipment that they didn't like. Both answered by saying that there was so much good stuff around that they simply didn't have time to review the bad stuff, and even if they did, they didn't have the space to print it.

    I don't agree with this -- as my thesis advisor was fond of saying, "negative results are still results" -- but I appreciate it. However, it does lead to a form of measurement dysfunction. Since the vast majority of reviews are positive, it can lead the reader to a false impression of the state of the art. For those of us working in high-tech, this happens all the time with our upper management. Even more unfortunately, it can also lead to even more serious issues when it occurs in medical journals.

    I wrote in more detail about this:

    http://coverclock.blogspot.com/2008/11/negative-results-are-still-results.html

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    1. I have a colleague who earned his VP title by doing a compare/contrast of two scheduling products, Autosys and Control-M. Control-M is the Cadillac of scheduling whereas Autosys is sort of a Geo Metro, but it was VERY difficult to find information about where Autosys didn't measure up. The reviews were glowing and glowing-er, if that makes sense. My colleague had to do exhaustive research into what each tool did and how well it did it. It's astonishing how difficult a task that was, but it proves your point that technical reviews tend to only be degrees of good.

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  5. Heh. There's an author who's been positively reviewed and mentioned at Stellar Four a few times, but when I read the first book in the series, I LOATHED it. And now I feel like I should've engaged in a spirited she said/she said debate on the author's merits. Curse you for making me think, Laurie!

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  6. I can honestly say that the reason that you don't see many "negative" reviews on my site (although you'll see some 3 out of 5 ratings and quite a few 3.5s) is that my TBR is SO big, that if I don't like a book within 50 pages or so, then I won't continue. I don't review it because I don't feel like it's fair for me to review something that I've read so little of. So, I suppose you can look at my reviews as recommendations, if you'd like, but like I said, I just don't have the time to continue reading something that just doesn't do it for me:)

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