Reviews have been on my mind again lately - especially bad ones, especially those written by people who don't appear to have read the book. I took special notice of Pamela Paul's words in an interview in this month's Poets and Writers, which I think all reviewers should take to heart, Paul is the new editor of the New York Times Book Review section.
“Nearly every writer writes a book with a great amount of attention and intention and hopes and dreams. And it's important to take that effort seriously and to recognize that a book may have taken ten years of a writer's life, that the writer has put heart and soul into it. And it behooves us, as book-review-editors, to treat those books with the care and attention they deserve, and to give the writer that respect."
Then I found this wonderful post on Kristen Lamb's Blog on the same subject. I personally will not write a bad review because I know from my own experience that they hurt.
Please let me know what your think.
Here is Kristen Lamb's opinion from her blog post:
Okay, yesterday we had a little bit of a debate about leaving book reviews. First of all, the post is to warn you of the dangers of posting bad reviews as an author. Does it mean you can’t? No. Can you tweet while drinking and listening to LinkinPark? Yes, but you do so at your own risk. Same here. I am not the social media gestapo, but I am here to warn you of the hazards that are REAL.
We Never Know Who People Know
I once commented offhandedly to an acquaintance about a book I was reading. I wasn’t nasty, I just mentioned that I found it confusing and the dream sequences were messing me up. I also added that it could be me. I WAS seven-months pregnant, so I added the caveat that it could just be Baby Brain.
Little did I know the acquaintance was BEST FRIENDS with the author. I didn’t even say anything all that bad and that author has HATED me since, even though I’d bought all her books to demonstrate support. Just an offhanded comment on the phone has impacted me professionally, and to this day it grieves me that I hurt her.
What if I’d posted a review?
Humans are NOT Rational
Okay, normal people are emotional and irrational. Writers? The Normal Ship sailed long ago without us. Part of what makes us good at our job is we are sensitive. Granted, we do need to wear Big Girl/Boy Pants, but it doesn’t change the fact that a bad review HURTS. A bad review from our peers? Our TRIBE? Our fellow writers-at-arms? Multiply the hurt by a million, then add 3. We don’t just feel hurt, we feel betrayed.
What is Your BRAND?
If you have an English degree and are a writer and you review lots and lots and lots of books? You have added “reviewer” to your brand. We won’t expect all sunshine and rainbows (or silence) from you. You wear TWO hats. Author. Reviewer. But, if you’re like me and you write a review every few months when you finally remember the password to Goodreads? Just keep to the positive. 3s, 4s, 5s are fine if your review is constructive and kind.
I have a higher bar and am extreme in ALL things, including praise. I don’t review unless I am all like…
THIS BOOK IS SO AWESOME I SAW JESUS!
But that’s me. So if you get a good review from me, I hope it’s valuable because it is EXTREMELY RARE. I was known as The Death Star as an editor, so if you get a 5 star review? You NAILED it. Beyond that? It’s hard to take off my “Editor Hat.” If I can’t proclaim unequivocal awesomeness? I just don’t say anything publicly.
Silence Speaks Volumes
If a writer posts a book and it isn’t selling and no one is leaving a review? Trust me, the writer gets that she didn’t hit it out of the park. She continues writing and (hopefully) improving.
I recall many years ago when I wrote my first novel. I thought it was PERFECT! It was a thriller-romantic-suspense-comedic-memoir guaranteed to please ALL readers and very smart pets.
****Might I mention that this is the book that is now banned under the Geneva Convention as torture.
Thing is, I brought the book to my great-aunt who 1) had a Masters in English and 2) had NO social intelligence. She was the aunt who could be guaranteed to announce in front of a group “Kristen, you’re getting fat!”
So I handed her my tome…so she could like, find the missing commas and typos, right? She gave it back to me UNMARKED.
It was at that point I thought, “Oh, DEAR GOD? What have I written?”
Now she could have SLAYED me, but her silence spoke VOLUMES. In fact, it was far more powerful than if she would have red-penned me into the third circle of Hell. It made me go back to the drawing board and take classes and read craft books. It was enough to humble me, but not CRUSH me.
Maybe It’s Because I am the WANA Mama
In the olden days of vanity press, I had a tough time accepting self-publishing. I felt it was an un-vetted author trying to pose as someone who’d passed a certain litmus test of approval. These days? People….regular people…know about self-publishing. So when I see a writer who is brave enough to TRY, that alone is worthy of my respect.
Hey, when I was new? I never met an adverb I didn’t LOVE.
So when I see this in new writers? It’s cute. Like baby steps. When a baby is learning to walk, we don’t yell, “YOU SO SUCK. CAN’T EVEN WALK! LUZR!” A lot of the writers brave enough to go it alone know they are risking rejection, but I prefer to focus on their bravery and not the lack of plot. That can be sent in a polite and constructive e-mail. Sure the writer might freak out or call you names. But she could then calm down, have some wine and realize why the book isn’t selling. THAT is paying it forward and looking out for your peeps.
And, like I said yesterday, I have the right to be WRONG. If this doesn’t work for you? Fine. I don’t support Stepford Blogs or Stepford Reviews, either. BUT, as a fellow writer, I think it is better to praise in public and criticize in private. It’s classy. It doesn’t burn bridges or crush people’s dreams.
If an author can’t take a private note of critique from a peer? Then they are in the wrong profession, but at least you didn’t hurt your brand or theirs. For all you know, they could take that critique and become an amazing writer…and you helped make that happen.
I STILL Get E-Mails
My first book, We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media actually had a handful of typos. My publisher was new and we were rushing the book in hopes of having it ready for RWA Nationals. To this DAY, I get kind e-mails notifying me of the typos. I think it’s super sweet. The person didn’t BASH me in a review. They CARED. And I can’t tell you how highly I think of these people. They could have given me an @$$#0!& review, but they cared enough to take the time to help me.
THAT, my friends, is ROCKSTAR material.
What are your thoughts? Am I dumber than a brain-damaged monkey? Undermining the establishment? What would you think if someone sent you an e-mail with critique and ways to improve?
I love hearing from you!
And I love hearing from you too. Please post a comment here about your thoughts about writing bad book reviews. Plus, I'd love those of you who have read my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On to please post a "good" review on Amazon.