Friday, December 14, 2012

Déjà Vu Blogfest 2012: Chicken Soup for the Author Getting a Negative Review

A big thank you and a handful of peppermint candy canes to DL Hammons for hosting the Déjà Vu Blogfest 2012 where we bloggers can repost something we'd written in 2012. The post, DL Hammons suggests, could be one that didn't get the exposure it should have the first time around. Today I am reposting something I'd written back in February. I wrote this post to comfort authors who have received mean-spirited book reviews. I actually spent a lot of time on this post, not just the for the writing part, but for the book cover selections too. Before choosing which book covers got shown in my post, I conducted my research on  Goodreads for well over an hour. You'll understand what that's all about once you read my post.

Here it goes:

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. 



26 comments:

Elise Fallson said...

Hi, stopping in from the blogfest. This is an excellent post for writers to keep in mind. I think for me the worst would be for someone to start reading my book and then put it down without finishing, not because it made them mad, but because they were bored.

Nick Wilford said...

I'm with Elise (and you). Any reaction is better than no reaction - I don't want people to be indifferent! I do wonder at people who have time to craft a petty review just to show their individuality, though. I didn't like Twilight, so I didn't write a review. I'd rather move on to something else!

Chris Fries said...

In various forms, it's been attributed to George M. Cohen, W.C. Fields, Mae West, Will Rogers, and P.T. Barnum, along with other later-day public figures, but the quote still holds relevance here:

"I don't care what they say about me, as long as they spell my name right."

Reviews are simply opinions, and everyone's got them. You can't please everyone, and trying to will only lead to a neurotic, paranoid writer of bland, homogenized pap.

Fun post for the blogfest!

Lydia Kang said...

So many good points to consider re: negative reviews. Great choice for the blogfest!

Tami Von Zalez said...

Interesting post! How woulda thunk Charlotte's Web would get the thumbs down?

Visiting from the Deju Vu Blogfest.

Come and join my Countdown to Kitschmas - thriftshopcommando.blogspot.com

Tami Von Zalez said...

*who*

sorry

Jennifer Shirk said...

So true! I have read books with bad reviews too to see what the fuss was and ended up LIKING them. YOu have to take those reviews with a grain of salt. :)

M.K. Louie said...

We can't please everyone. Not one book does. And if the haters are going to invest time and energy in giving a response, then I thank them for that.

Any response means I provoked something and became memorable. Perhaps not always in the best light, but when a future work comes out, maybe they will notice improvements, progress and a difference. Or maybe they will continue hating. It's an odd way to get a following but if people are discussing my book, then I appreciate it.

In the end, negative criticism never really affects me unless the feedback was actually accurate and something I never considered. But after revisions and edits and revisions, this will not likely happen often. At least, I hope not!

JJ said...

Nice website. Great post! I am now your newest follower.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Great post. As any misbehaving child knows, it's better to get negative reinforcement than it is to be ignored. However, it's gotta be easier said than done for a writer to be unaffected by a scathing review. It's like having someone call your child a bad name.

DL Hammons said...

I'm like you...looking at reviews (occasionally) only after I've finished a book. Reviews do not sway my buying/reading decision. I'm always curious after I read one of those hateful reviews what the reviewer would consider five-star material.

Thank you for re-sharing today! It was an excellent choice! :)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Oh yes, nastiness always reveals more about the reviewer than the book! I usually ignore them, and sometimes they actually make me MORE interested in the book.

I've had my share of good and bad reviews on Goodreads. The one that still makes me grit my teeth is: "This book didn't know what it wanted to be." Um, yes, it did. It just wasn't what that reader wanted it to be! But of course, I did not respond in any way.

Most important advice to give an author about negative reviews: Never ever respond!

farawayeyes said...

I agree that extremely negative reviewers often seem jealous or insecure. Much more a reflection on them than the book or author.

Jenny said...

I've learned to take all reviews I read--whether for a book or a dishwasher--with a grain of salt. The world is flooded with opinions. Mine, of course, is the only one that matters :-)

Jessica Salyer said...

I don't really look at reviews. I like to make my own decisions about books.

lbdiamond said...

That's the thing about art. It's all in how the viewer perceives it.

Cindy Dwyer said...

I have never once read a book review before deciding to read a book. It wouldn't even occur to me to do so if I weren't a writer, so I have to assume many readers don't read them.

I've always subscribed to the belief I would take a negative review in stride, but considering how devastated I am if a chapter doesn't get good reviews from my critique group, I know I'm deluding myself. But unless I get published, I won't have to worry about that, now will I? ;)

Good post.

Nicole said...

Wise advice about handling negative reviews.

Kari Marie White | Writing By Heart said...

I like this post.

We all have opinions, and that's what most reviews are - opinions. Opinions can be tainted by what kind of week we've had or what book we read last week.

I've had good friends recommend books I totally hated, and I'm sure I've recommended books they didn't like either. As you've pointed out, the key is to focus on the positive reviews and remember that EVERY author has one star reviews. It's practically a right of passage.

Cynthia said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, everyone! Hope you enjoyed the Deja Vu blogfest!

Julie Dao said...

I love this post, Cynthia! Amen to the well-liked books getting bad reviews. Out of curiosity one day, I looked up Pride and Prejudice and it has THOUSANDS of one-star reviews. Just goes to show you how subjective the whole business is!

Lynn Proctor said...

i think a writer has to write their truth and let the reviews fall where they may

Gina C said...

I hadn't seen this one -- and it's great! Glad you reposted :)

Emily R. King said...

The Giving Tree has over 1,000 1-star ratings? What is wrong with people?

Great post!

Misha Gericke said...

So true. I think that in the moment, an author loses sight of all that, because bad reviews hurt emotionally.

Still, they can still help you.

Nice to see your blog again. :-)

Medeia Sharif said...

I'm glad I read this. It puts many things into perspective. Wow, thousands of bad reviews for books I love.

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