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. Some people eager to show how they're sooo not a bandwagon jumper may write biting one-star reviews of a popular book as a testament to their "individuality."
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.