Tag Archives: book reviews

When Is Harsh Too Harsh: The Need to be Nice in Book Reviews

3328472594_6e128e3016_bSome time ago I posted about whether or not writers should review books. At that time, I wasn’t sure myself, though I do post reviews even if I am conflicted. (Some of the negative reviews I post I do worry about potentially making it more difficult for me to get published…the whole “burning bridges” idea, though I try to be analytical in my reviews and not a rant-fest like some reviews I’ve seen. I also never fangirl reviews (posting obsessively positive reviews due to being a rabid fan of the book and/or author)).

However, recently I read a post titled “Be nice”  by author Becca Fitzpatrick. She discussed how aspiring authors should only post positive reviews because they don’t know who will read their reviews, and so they don’t want to burn any bridges.

While I agree that scathing reviews are not always the most helpful – neither are fangirl reviews – not commenting on any novels you didn’t like skews book ratings.

I hardly ever decide to read a book without first looking at reviews. If all I saw were positive reviews, I’d get excited about the book, purchase it, and then be angry when I ended up greatly disliking the book because it’s something I would have never read if not for the reviews. What would make that scenario worse is if I later found out that many people didn’t like the book, but because they were afraid that by posting a negative review they’d potentially hinder their chances of publication, so they didn’t say anything. I’d feel like I was lied to.

One of the book reviewers I follow, posted a response to Becca Fitzpatrick’s post. I thought it was intriguing and found that I agreed with the belief that while it’s difficult to see people bash your story (by the way, this happens all the time in critique groups and workshops), negative reviews can also be beneficial. They allow authors to know what they may need to improve on, and, also, sometimes people aren’t going to like your story regardless of whether or not it’s well written.

During one workshop I participated in, someone said to me that he hated all fantasy and science fiction writing. Because of that he thought everything in my story sucked. It didn’t matter that most of the class liked the majority of the things that person hated. My story dealt with fantasy and was therefore trash.

It stung that his critique was so incredibly harsh. I showed it to some of my friends and they were shocked at how rude he was, but I eventually shrugged it off. That’s probably one of the most important aspects I learned during workshops…how to strengthen my backbone against negative feedback.

What do you think? Should aspiring authors only share positive reviews or should they be free to express themselves?

(Photo courtesy of Carrie Kellenberger.)

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Should Authors Write Book Reviews?

When searching for the next book I want to read, I always turn to book reviews. It’s gotten to the point where I specifically look for certain book reviewers I trust, and see what they rated a book before considering reading it myself. Without reading book reviews, I’d start a lot of novels I should have never picked up in the first place.

The vast majority of book reviewers are laypeople, meaning they’re your average Joe, or, for the purposes of this post, non-authors (people who haven’t gotten published). However, what happens when someone is an author? Should they post book reviews? What if they start out unpublished and post reviews, and then become published? Should they take down all their reviews or just the bad ones?

4236086905_e88cccb3ba_zAuthor Kristen Lamb posted on her blog the Three NEVERS of Social Media for Writers. In this post she talks about avoiding posting distasteful and crude online comments, including being rude on Twitter, and never writing bad book reviews. She believes that a person cannot be both an author and a reviewer.

On one hand, I agree with her. Authors should support each other and one big way to do that is by not posting bad reviews about another author’s work. And, while an author is only human, just like actors and singers and politicians, their opinion – in fact this is the case with anyone who’s looked up to – holds more weight than an anonymous person.

Not to mention that authors tend to think about point of view, character arcs, setting, plot holes, etc. a lot more in depth than most readers. Sometimes this makes enjoying a novel more challenging because authors focus on the smaller aspects of a novel that many lay readers gloss over or accept as part of the fictional world. Readers are reading for enjoyment, and if they find a novel entertaining, regardless of the plot holes or flat, stereotypic characters, they’re more likely to rate a novel favorably. Authors are more likely to get distracted with nit-picking. (An example? In a book I read, character B doesn’t own a cell phone. However, five pages later, character A texts character B. How? I have no clue, but it happened, and I ended up ranting to my friend for a few minutes about how irritating it is to find small inconsistencies like these in novels. My friend laughed and shrugged off my annoyance, telling me to just enjoy the story.)

Because authors are familiar with the craft of writing, they more readily spot problems within the text. Honestly? That kind of sucks.

But it does make a decent argument for why authors should not post bad reviews. Perhaps, authors shouldn’t post book reviews at all.

On the other hand, authors are people. And just because they’re published doesn’t mean their voices should be squashed. One of the great things about authors is that they tend to be voracious readers. They devour books, and if they end up liking a book, then it usually means that book is one to put on your reading list.

I’m not attempting to state my opinion on this matter – I’m conflicted as to where I stand – but I am curious to know what others think. Should authors remain silent when it comes to reviewing books, or should they be able to express their opinions? Should they only express those opinions when their thoughts are favorable?

(Photo courtesy of jay thebooknerd.)

Stop the Attack! Handling Negative Feedback without Losing Your Mind

writing

Writing is a personal act. In order to write well, a writer must dig within himself. This means getting attached to one’s writing, the characters, storyline, etc. This also means opening oneself up to public scrutiny. We’ve all read book reviews at some point in our lives. Some reviews are absolutely amazing, while others can be really hurtful.

With the Internet being so prevalent in our lives, it’s easy to go online and comment on authors and their writing. The anonymity makes it even easier for readers to say just what they think about someone or someone’s writing, without truly thinking through what they’re saying.

This can make it difficult for writers to want to share their work with the world, especially if they’re concerned about offending someone. In one of my stories, I had two cops get killed. It was necessary to the story that they died, but I received some very negative backlash for that story. A few individuals didn’t like that the cops died and they made it very clear how I was being un-American and how I was making police look bad. These few readers grossly misinterpreted my writing, but it still stung to read their reviews.

No matter what you write or how careful you are trying not to offend anyone, you will tick someone off. There are too many people in this world to have everyone like your writing. Look at some of the most famous works of literature. They could have sold millions of copies, but not everyone likes them.

So, how do you handle the negativity?

  1. The best thing to do is to ignore the hurtful words. That’s so much easier said than done, but when you engage with someone who wrote something nasty about you or your writing, you’ll only end up with a headache. Going back and forth with someone who isn’t thinking rationally, or who only wants to rant, isn’t a productive or healthy use of your time.
  2. Laugh off the comments. This specific example doesn’t pertain to writing, but it gets the point across of how ridiculous some comments can be. One of my friends posted a picture of herself pre-weight loss. She was slightly overweight, but still looked amazing. She got a lot of people calling her fat and fugly and all sorts of horrible things. (One even went as far as telling her to starve herself.) Then, after she reached her goal weight, she posted another picture of herself (she had spent her time training for a marathon, and had just completed it). Instead of receiving an overwhelming amount of positive feedback, there were some people who told her she was too skinny, that she had too much muscle, and that she looked too manly and so was ugly. Then, there were still a few people who said she was fat. No matter what happens there are people in this world who strive to put other people down. Most times their comments make no sense, so laugh them off. Who knows, maybe those individuals giving negative feedback are doing so because they’re unhappy with their lives and are displacing their anger and disappointment at themselves onto you.
  3. Embrace the fact that people are reacting to your writing. Whether good or bad, comments are feedback. When people take time out of their busy schedules to comment on something you wrote, you’ve struck a chord with them. You’ve influenced them in some way. At the end of the day that’s what writers hope to accomplish: creating an impact on peoples’ lives. Look at Fifty Shades of Grey. This was a book that many people hated, and they made their feelings well known. However, if readers hadn’t been so boisterous in their ranting, this novel wouldn’t have been nearly as financially successful as it was.

How do you go about handling negative feedback?

(Photo courtesy of ChristaBanister.)

Getting Your Review On

book-reviewI’ve always wondered about how people review books. From The Guardian and The New York Times to Amazon and Goodreads (which is owned by Amazon but has separate reviews from it) reviews of novels are prevalent.

How do people go about rating a book or writing a review of it? I’ve seen reviews that are thorough and go through both the positives and negatives of novels, reviews that are no more than giant rants or superfluous praise, and reviews that are either so skeletal that they provide nothing constructive or have nothing to do with the novel.

When I review books, I find that I have two parts of myself: the writer half and the reader half. The writer half is a harsh critic. It nitpicks, deconstructing the novel and examining it on a more academic level. Is the writing good? Are there plot holes? Are the characters flat, stereotypical, believable, etc.? Is there sentence variety, correct punctuation and spelling, metaphors?

The writer half of me will rant about books that are poorly written and go off on tangents about how books like such and such should have never been published because they are everything agents and editors say they don’t want.

However, the reader half of me will look at those same books and love them. Because although they may be stereotypical, have poor world building, have characters you want to smack for either their (1) lack of intelligent decision making skills, (2) jerk behavior, or (3) some combination of (1) and (2), and are overall horribly written, I still get pulled into the story. I find myself laughing or rooting for the characters. I want to know what happens next.

pile-of-booksIf I didn’t have these two parts of myself, my reviews would be quite different. If only the writer half existed, I would have a lot more one and two star reviews (one being absolutely atrocious and five being one of the best books I’ve ever read). If only the reader half was there, I’d have a ton of five star reviews. The writer and reader parts of myself balance each other out. I have very few five star reviews and even fewer one star reviews. The vast majority of my reviews are either three or four stars, and then I get into the meat of why I’ve rated a book what I’ve rated it.

How do you go about reviewing books? You don’t have to place your reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, blogs, or other review sites to appraise a book. Every novel you read you form an opinion about. How do you mold the opinion you have?

(Photo courtesy of inkspand and pinterest.)

Authors Behaving Badly: How Negative Reviews Send Them Off the Rails

iStock_000010017317XLargeIt’s not uncommon to see or hear about movie stars, singers, or politicians responding badly to news broadcasted about themselves. You can’t stand in a grocery store line without noticing all the headlines splashed across the magazines at the end of the aisle, or you’re watching the news or listening to the radio and you hear about how someone went completely off the rails.

This happens to authors too. They read a bad review about their book or see a negative comment on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, etc. They get angry and lash out. Now, most of them regret their actions, at least they make a public apology. However, their actions linger. People remember.

In 2014, when the New York Times published their “100 Notable Books of 2014,” author Ayelet Waldman didn’t make the list. She fired off several Twitter messages, including one that stated “Fuck the fucking NY Times.” She later mentioned that “social media and impulse control issues” aren’t the best combination and expressed her regret, but her Twitter messages still remain.

It’s understandable to be angry and disappointed when you don’t get something you desperately want. It’s not a good idea to express that anger rashly. There’s a reason we all have that spouse, best friend, sibling, or pet to complain to.

Kiera Cass, author of “The Selection” trilogy got slammed when she and her agent called Goodreads reviewer Wendy Darling a “bitch” for writing a one star review and, in public messages, conspired to boost rankings of Cass’ books. You can see the review here and Cass and her agent’s response here.

Yes, negative reviews hurt. Authors spend a lot of time and effort on their novel. They put it out there for the public, all that hard work, and then they get a negative review. It stings. It sucks. They get angry because they’re hurt. However, name calling and conspiring isn’t the way to respond. The best response is no response, especially in an age where nothing is truly deleted from the internet.

Probably one of the most famous cases of authors behaving badly is Cassandra Clare. Before she published “The Mortal Instruments” series she was a fanfiction writer most known for her Draco Trilogy, a fanfic of the Harry Potter series. During that time, Clare (then Claire) was accused of plagiarism and consequently cyberbullying. She even dropped the “I” in her last name to distance herself from these accusations, such as threatening those who discussed her plagiarism and allegedly trying to get a girl expelled from her university. Here’s a great link showing a loose timeline of Cassandra Clare’s history of incidents.

So far, I’ve only shown examples of female authors. That’s partly due to there being more female authors out there, but male authors behave badly too. Two examples are M.R. Mathias, self-published author and owner of a small press and Stephen Leather, author of “The Basement,” and who seems to feel the need to respond to every negative review. Some of his responses aren’t bad, others are, as when he tells one reviewer “And while you might be the sort of person to be corrupted by a work of fiction, I think most readers are made of sterner stuff!” That’s probably not the best thing to say to someone.

Similar to Leather, some other authors believe they should respond to every negative review, not in an angry, rash manner, but to open a dialogue between reviewer and author. Here’s a link showing author Elle Lothlorien as an example. My thought on authors contacting reviewers, who’ve given their novel a negative review, to help them better understand the author’s intention is this: instead of having to explain your message after the fact, make it clear in your writing. That’s what reviewers are reading. If an author needs to go hold each reviewer’s hand and guide them to the intended message, then their novel wasn’t ready to be published.

Authors put their work out there to be read. Not everyone is going to like their work because there are all sorts of people in the world. When you put your work out there, you’ll get both good and bad reviews. Take both types of reviews in stride. Even better? Don’t make it personal. Though bad reviews may seem like an attack on the author, they usually aren’t. A review is an individual’s opinion. Going off the rail about a negative review, especially doing so in the public’s eye, only reflects badly on the author.

Rant and rave in private. Show a professional face to the public. It’ll save you a headache later on.

How do you feel negative reviews should be handled? Do you know of any authors who’ve behaved badly?

(Photo courtesy of Megan Bostic)