Monday, February 13, 2012

Chicken Soup for the Author Getting a Negative Review

Maybe it's just a coincidence, but lately, I've been noticing some posts in the kidlit blogopshere discussing negative book reviews. I have a lot of thoughts on the world of book reviews, from those who write them to those who read them to the glowingly positive reviews to the hypercritical negative reviews  to the authors' morale on the receiving end of all this. For today's post, I'm going to focus my thoughts on    negative book reviews of the creepier variety. I think we've all seen them- they usually run along the thread of After finishing this sorry excuse for a  novel, I wanted to put the book in a paper shredder. The author is going to hell because he writes about teens having sex. Anyone who likes this junk needs to get a life.

I've sat in on enough workshops and lectures hosted by published authors to know that a negative book review can torment even the most talented of writers. After all, they probably had to sweat it out through endless butt-in-chair late night writing sessions, endure revision after revision, receive a number of rejections from agents and editors, endure more revisions, have a meltdown here and there, all before  ever holding the advanced review copy of their book in their hand. Then, after all this, for someone to brush off their hard work in a blog or on Amazon with the swiping of the keyboard...that must hurt. 

For any author whose cheeks are burning from a mean and nasty  book review, I have some comforting words to share:

Nasty book reviews reflect on the reviewer, not the book. I usually glance at reviews only after finishing a book. On the random occasions when I read reviews before starting a book, I find that positive and negative reviews don't influence me much. When I come across a review  written in a particularly abrasive voice, the reviewer might strike me as  jealous or insecure, and therefore not someone whose opinion I could trust. 

Negative book reviews can still help sell books. Sometime last year, I read a few news stories spotlighting a self-published author's negative book reviews on Amazon. This author wrote an adult book about a fictional town based on  observations of her own town. The book would not have achieved the notoriety that it did had the residents of the author's town not gone online to blast the author and her writing. I'm not usually aware of what's going on in self-publishing, but after skimming this book's online reviews, especially the negative ones, I actually found myself curious to see what the fuss was all about.

Even well-liked books get negative reviews. I've noticed a book that is sitting on a bestseller list or having a movie made from it or  is the  recipient of a big award sometimes gathers quite a number of negative reviews alongside its positive reviews. A book getting big-time exposure will attract more fans and inevitably, critics. I'm not a bandwagon fan, I'm an individual!

A negative response to a book is still a response. Many fiction writers liken themselves to artists, with their book as their art. So imagine that you hung a painting you  had labored over for years at a museum. Two groups visit the museum. The members of the first group glance briefly at your painting and without a second glance, they move on to the next piece. The members of the second group gasp at your painting, then stick around to point out its perceived flaws, and then they stomp their feet bemoaning how your work is exhibited in a museum instead of theirs. Do you prefer your readers to address your art with bored apathy or passionate criticism? Even if someone didn't like your book, the fact they invested time to write about it shows  your writing still affected them in some way.

To the author still bothered by nasty or negative reviews of your book, I leave you with a bunch of book covers pasted to this post of some very well-written books, many of  which are classics. Each book here currently has over 1,000 one-star ratings on Goodreads. 


Charlotte Cheng said...

Great entry Cynthia. It really brings perspective to the whole situation. And seriously!? The Giving Tree!? That's still one of my favorite books of all time. ..and believe me, I've read my share ;)

Cynthia said...

Thanks, Charlotte! I too love The Giving Tree.

Celesta said...

This is a great post! Writers sacrifice so much of their time, leisure activity, self and soul to complete, edit, polish, edit, submit, and edit again before finally seeing their hard work on the shelf. It can be hard to keep perspective on the negative comments, but you've helped a lot with that here.

Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Cynthia said...

Celesta, thanks for commenting! Sometimes when I read nasty reviews, a part of me just wants to reach out to the author and let them know how I feel. So that was part of my motivation behind this post.

Kate Happenence said...

I often wonder why did these readers writing such negative reviews even read the book in the first place. Why didn't they stop somewhere in chapter one, when they realised that they weren't enjoying it, and give the book away to charity?

Lovely post!

Kate Happenence said...

(Is there a way to subscribe to the rss feed of your blog? the link at the bottom didn't work for me. Thanks- Kate)

Cynthia said...

Kate, thanks for commenting on this post! I just added your blog to my Google reader. Did you try clicking on the "Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)" at the bottom? If that doesn't work, you can follow me by email by putting your info in the box in the upper right. Good luck, and let me know if you still encounter complications.

Anonymous said...

Hello - I'm a fellow campaigned who was cruising around on your blog.

I think people online feel a bit anonymous, so they have more freedom to write negative reviews. But negative isn't the same as nasty. I just saw a nasty review that said the writer should never write again or subject anyone to her work. I thought that was uncalled for.

As a writer, I know I won't be able to please everyone. I also like critique if it's something useful. I got 1 star rating on GoodReads, but the person didn't say why. I would really like to know if it was b/c they just didn't like fantasy, couldn't connect with the character, or something else. That would be much more helpful. Then I could decide whether to ignore it or put it in my "things to consider" box.

I really try to explain why I give a book a certain review and stay away from nastiness and name-calling. Recently, I went through my reviews to make sure I hadn't written anything other than straight critique.

Great post!

Cynthia said...

Danika, thanks for visiting my blog! I agree that someone can pen a constructive review without being nasty. And I also agree that writers can't be everything to everyone.

Anonymous said...

wonderful post!! you have just the right perspective.

i'm a new follower from the campaign. nice to meet you :)

Cynthia said...

Thanks, Gina! I followed you right back! Nice to meet you too.

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