Thursday, November 20, 2014

Attention, Book Reviewers ... This One's for You

Today I'm going to address an issue that seems to be taking over the Internet and causing some real outward ripples. I'm talking about bad book reviews.

Now, I don't mean reviews that say things like, "This book wasn't for me" or "I didn't enjoy it" or "I never felt connected to the characters." Reviewers don't have to like everything they read - if they did, what would be the point of having reviews? If every author everywhere got nothing but five stars all the time, the buyer wouldn't have any basis to go from, and we might as well do away with reviews altogether.

I'm talking about the book reviews that slam and hurt and demean. I've seen reviewers say that authors should give up, that they never should have even put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, in today's world), and any number of other hurtful things - including "This author is too stupid to live."

Let's pause for just a second and think about this.

There's a lot of power that comes from being a media reviewer. I know, because I am one. I wrote book reviews for years for Families.com and for about six months for Meridian Magazine. I'm a reviewer for the Association for Mormon Letters, and I post reviews here on my blog. With a little time spent tapping on my computer, I can tell the entire world (well, portions of it) what I think, and it's a pretty heady feeling. Power! Power at my fingertips! But with that power comes responsibility. The thing I must keep in mind at all times is the fact that there is a person at the other end of that review, a person who has put their heart and soul into that creation, whether or not I personally care for it.

When we live in a world of computer screens, when we don't interact with others face-to-face as often as we used to in our culture, we forget that this world is still very personal. We can't lose sight of that fact.

So think for a second about that author. Let's say that the book really did stink (from your perspective, because this is such a subjective area). Does that author need to be personally attacked, or does that author need encouragement? If you met that author in person, chances are, you'd want to encourage them to learn and grow and keep trying. Sadly, the anonymity of the computer tends to make some people lose that compassionate edge.

I'm not saying that all the reviews I've left have been warm and cuddly. I have pointed out things that the authors could improve upon, but that's because I've wanted those authors to learn and grow. There's a huge, huge difference between constructive criticism and hurtful, demeaning comments. If you've read a book that didn't click for you, maybe you could make a suggestion as to how it could have been improved. And I'm not talking about one I read today that used "WTF?" and "Oh, hell no" in lieu of suggestions. (How is that even helpful?)

The thing I wish all reviewers understood is this: It takes a huge amount of courage for an author to publish. They've taken their inner guts and stuck them on display for everyone to see. They're not just telling a story - they're showing the journey they've taken. And then they stand back with their eyes half closed, peeking out around them, to see not only if their story is accepted, but if they are accepted. And that scathing review, the one that calls them stupid or what-have-you, hurts more than just the criticism of a story or a character. A personal attack does not make for a better book, no matter what the reviewer might have intended by it. "It has to hurt to heal" does not apply here.

Let me be absolutely clear on something - I'm not saying that you can't leave a less-than-positive review. I'm not saying that you have to be glowing and sparkly and dance around leaving five stars wherever you go. As I stated at the start, what good would that do? Not only that, but we've got this amazing thing called freedom of speech, and we should get to use it. In fact, I'm using it right now.

What I am saying is this - compassion instead of raking. Education instead of mocking. Encouragement instead of demeaning. Support instead of backbiting. If you really want your review to make a difference, if you really want to use your reviewer power in the best possible way, if you really want to help the author, seek ways to be that moment of uplift, to be that voice saying, "You can do it. Try again." And if you're one of those reviewers who loves to run around spewing hatred and vitriol, all I have to say is, I think you need a warm hug.

Update: Be sure to read the comments - there are some great points in there about responding to reviewers. Courtesy goes both ways.

29 comments:

Donna K. Weaver said...

Beautifully said, Tristi!

Marsha Ward said...

Thank you for this reasoned approach to educating book reviewers, Tristi. I know for a certainty what devastation a scathing, brutal review can cast upon a writer.

Jaclynweist said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, because you hit it right on the nose. There's enough hatred in the world. Let's not break an author before they have a chance to learn.

Melissa said...

Reviews shouldn't attack an author, but reviews are for the readers not the author. Their purpose is to help customers decide whether or not a book is for them.

While receiving a glowing review can put us on cloud 9, we writers shouldn't look to them to maintain our self-esteem.

Tristi Pinkston said...

This is totally true, Melissa. Hopefully someday each author can take them with whatever grain of salt is needed. That's part of the process as well.

Tristi Pinkston said...

And in the meantime,hopefully reviewers and authors can come together and work as a team to raise the quality of literature everywhere, because I think deep down, that's what we all really want.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Imagine how much better our whole world could be if everyone remembered that at the other end is a human?

Karlene said...

Yes! I think you've got a great balance here, with honesty and loyalty to readers on one side and common courtesy and respect for another human being (in this case, an author) on the other side.

And it's not just reviewers who can be mean. I've written what I thought were polite, although not stellar, reviews and then been personally attacked by the author.

So it swings both ways.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Absolutely, Karlene - no attacking reviewers, either. We've all got to respect each other, even if we don't agree.

featherpenstartandreams said...

I don't have a ton of reviews, but I was lucky enough to get a compassionate 2 star review on a book. It was about the story itself and that readers reaction to it and not a personal attack. I wish more people would learn to leave those type of reviews. It helped me understand what she wanted from a story.

Great post, Tristi.

Melanie

Tristi Pinkston said...

Hooray for compassionate two-star reviews! That's awesome. Those are the ones that can do some good.

Not that getting two stars is awesome, but you know what I mean. :)

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Great points. Under my review policy, I state that I try very hard to be fair and kind in my reviews, but if I don't like a book, for whatever reason, I will say so. I will not, however, criticize the author as a person. Even if I thought a book was complete and utter garbage, I would not say that. I usually try and find something positive to counteract the negative and then I sometimes will even link to other, more positive reviews to give the reader a different perspective.

It's not helpful to me when I look at reviews to see if I want to read a particular book or not, to see a scathing, personal attack toward an author. I want to see a review of why or why not someone liked or didn't like a book.

There is no reason to be mean. But that goes both ways because I have had authors take issue with the fact that I didn't like their book. I have had them send their friends or create profiles simply to comment on my review and tell me why I was wrong not to like it. That's not right either.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Agreed in spades, Holly.

Amanda K Thompson said...

I completely agree with you. Bad reviewers give the rest of us a bad name. I know quite a few reviewers who are so conscious of the damage bad reviews have done that they now only review books they enjoy. They're so afraid of adding to 'bad' reviews, that they won't review a book they'll have to tell the world they didn't like. I personally think this is the wrong way to handle it. Presenting our dislikes is just as important as presenting our likes. We just need to do what you said, Tristi, and remember that there's a person on the other end of that review. Our job is not to bring down the author, but to tell people whether or not we liked a book.

Unfortunately, as Holly said, some authors are seeing any negative reviews as a personal attack, and this isn't helping to diffuse the 'bad' reviews situation.

I think the most important thing is for everyone to remember the Golden Rule.

Suz said...

Well said. It is scary to put your baby out there. I've been lucky, so far, but I've read some pretty hurtful reviews and can only imagine how that must feel.

Good post.

Jewel's Gems said...

Amen to everything you said! I don't think people realize just how powerful words are. You can build or break others with words. Thanks for an awesome post! "Angel Tristi" :-)

Gina Larsen said...

Spot on, Tristi! I think I would hurt inside if someone said they hated my book, but I'd get over it. If they said they hated me because I wrote a book? OUCH.

We spend so much energy on teaching kids not to bully these days and I fear that sometimes the message isn't reaching the preachers.

WARM HUGS ALL AROUND FOR SURE!

"Dustmop" Mark Cheney said...

Without lessening anything said, which I think was well thought out, I just wanted to quote the one you paraphrased, "With great power, comes great responsibility." - Spiderman

Sherry Gammon said...

Perfectly said. We are all adults. We tell our children not to bully, lets not bully authors

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

This has been on my mind a lot lately; the meanness, snarkiness, demeaning, and spiteful (and gleefully mocking) reviews out there. Thank you, Tristi.

Amber L Argyle said...

I had a review that nearly made my eyes bleed it was so cruel and base. The only reason for it is to be hurtful, and gleeful in the hurt. It's bullying, plain and simple.

Zina Abbott said...

A lot of good ideas. I hope those who review my books keep these principles in mind. Thanks for your remarks.

Robyn Echols writing as Zina Abbott

Janet Kay Jensen said...

Definitely, some reviewers are bullies. I remember an author asking me to post my complimentary review of his autobiographical book at a particular site, because there had been some vicious comments made there. Well, one reviewer said the book was rather self-centered. That says worlds about the reviewer. Maybe you should have to pass a test to be qualified to review books. There are many ways to say what needs to be said without being cruel. Good post, Tristi!

Anna del C. Dye said...

Could I use your post in my blog and link it to yours? please. I have a blog coming up on how to write a review and your post will be perfect to be before mine. :)

Tristi Pinkston said...

Sure, Anna. Go ahead!

Colin Murcray said...

GoodReads needs a policy or an upvoting system where these kind of reviewers can be marginalized. The whole Kathleen Hale incident occurred, in my opinion, because she couldn't understand why anyone would be so mean spirited to someone they didn't know. I think some of them are frustrated writers who take their shortcomings out on other writers. Good blog post!

Rachel Ann Nunes said...

Many of you know that I was the target of many vicious reviews by the same person under multiple pen names. I have also received others over my career as well, and there is nothing helpful about them.

I think if you wouldn't say something to an author in person with two strangers people standing next to you then you shouldn't include it in a review. And that's for normal people, because quite frankly most sociopaths don't care about uplifting society but only about their own well-being.

Karen said...

Well said! I think that this is applicable to whole internet! I recently left a comment on the Facebook page of a television station to let them know that I didn't care for their program that was airing. Oh, the evil attacks! I left that comment for the television station, not for the public, but obviously the public felt the need to comment, lol. As for book reviews, if I find one that's hurtful and not helpful, I give it a thumbs down whenever possible.

Susan said...

So absolutely, wonderfully true, Tristi. It seems like today's readers consider themselves honorary NY critics, rather than people who live in a time frame when they can actually share their opinions with the world. How many times did I wish I could contact an author when I read a book way back when? I admit, a few times I was seriously tempted to write a publisher and let them know I found a so-called best seller hideous. But that would have been a private thing, not something that all of humanity could read. And while my positive or negative comments would certainly have impressed the publishers--they really HATE it when they get the negative comments and can actually decide to get rid of a book that gets too many of them--I wouldn't have been humiliating the author, a person who dared share his/ her opinion, talent, and ideas with an unlimited number of strangers, family and friends. Yes, it's wonderful to be able to post a review. I'm grateful for modern times. Rather than walking into a bookstore that may not carry the book I would have loved reading and picking one blindly--and maybe regretting it, I can check out the reviews and make my own decision about whether I want to risk my hard earned dollars on that book. I love good reviews. They're so helpful. I cringe at bad ones, even if I agree the author needs to tune up the writing skills. But I DISLIKE the hurtful ones and have no respect for the reviewer, rather than being turned off to the book. Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way, and people who won't buy a book with even one bad review may lose out. Shame on those who want to spoil just to be mean.

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