Book Reviews and "Haters"

I read this post from author Jennifer Rush this morning and felt compelled to respond. So much so that I’m rewarding myself for finishing my first 500 words this morning by writing this blog post. Yes, I’m rewarding myself for writing with more writing. This may well be pathological.

Anyway, Rush discusses the four types of “haters” who write negative book reviews (and accompanies her post with some very funny illustrations). I’ve got to say that this does not fit my experience of the book reviewing community. Reviewers–even those who didn’t care for my books–have been almost universally friendly, generous, and gracious. They’re anything but haters. Book reviewers do what they do for love of the literature. Most of them get paid exactly nothing. Reviewers don’t owe authors anything; we owe them a huge thank you for promoting our books–whether they reviewed those books positively or negatively.

I’ll be honest: As a reader, I don’t trust reviewers who don’t write negative reviews. If you won’t tell me when you dislike something, how can I judge if your taste fits mine? And I’m far more likely to buy a book based on a negative review than a positive one. If the stuff a reviewer disliked sounds cool to me, I’m firing up Indiebound to order. Criticizing something in public is risky, and so I tend to assume, rightly or wrongly, that a critical reviewer is being honest. (This is one of the many reasons that I’m a terrible book reviewer. I’ve been steadily deleting almost all the negative book reviews and ratings from my Goodreads account. I’m not willing to take the risks associated with being honest about my reaction to others’ work in public.)

And here’s another one of the facts Rush neglects in her piece. The “haters” are helping her. Negative reviews sell books. For a complete discussion of the research backing that statement, read my blog post Why Bad Reviews Rock.

Let me be clear, there are real haters out there. There are reviewers who choose to comment on the author’s weight instead of her work. Or her clothing. Or who write personally threatening things. I have author friends who’ve been victims of this kind of “review”. And I used female pronouns for a reason; women seem far more likely to face this kind of internet hatred than men. I recognize that I’ve been fortunate not to have to face this sort of “review,” and I have one message for anyone writing them: Seek psychiatric help.

But to the rest of the book reviewers out there, the 99.9% who do a real service to the world of literature, and even to those of you who disliked ASHFALL or ASHEN WINTER: Thank you!

36 thoughts on “Book Reviews and "Haters"

  1. Authors like you rock my reviewing world. Yes, I am one of that damn book reviewers. If I hate a book I do not hesitate to say so – including examples, gifs and funny images. Sometimes in a very snarky way. I know it might hurt but in the long term I think it is beneficial to any given author. Let’s face it, even if you are a terribly gifted genius of a writer you can still improve your style, your composition etc. Who do you think can make you do it? A sallivating fan with goo-goo eyes? Your publisher? They earn dough because they are selling your books… Perhaps a good editor but not every editor is brave enough to call the spade the spade and say things you can hear from your common-and-garden nasty reviewer.

    Once again, I know it hurts, I am sorry but it is like a shot of antibiotic – sometimes necessary for your health.

    • I completely agree–at least to the extent that you keep the humor focused on the book, not the writer. I’ve seen some negative reviews that comment on the author’s weight (not cool) or include references to murder or rape (hopefully intended as a joke, but really, really not cool even so).

      I think improving my own writing is one of the best reasons to read negative reviews–a point I discussed in more detail in the post I linked above, “Why Bad Reviews Rock.”

    • My cats thank you for their continued kibble. I hope you enjoy ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER, or, if not, that you write a hilariously snarky negative review that goes viral. That’d work fine for me :)!

    • It wasn’t horrible–it just looked at reviewers’ reaction to her work in a way that made me uncomfortable. I wish she hadn’t deleted it–I didn’t think there was anything embarrassing or wrong about it–just a different opinion from mine.

  2. I can see both sides here–as a reader (who sometimes does not like a book) and as a writer (who knows what went into writing a book!) I have nothing against reviewers who write negative reviews and I appreciate their responses–as a reader–especially if they seem to have the same taste in books that I do. On my blog, though, where I review other YA author’s books, I’ve decided not to post negative reviews. If I don’t like a book, I just don’t review it. I agree with Anachronist that you’re not doing a writer any favors by gushing over a book when the sentiment is not true.

    • I don’t post negative reviews either, even though I know doing so would help the authors’ sales. And I’ve been deleting a lot of my old Goodreads reviews and ratings that weren’t positive. Still, if my main goal were to be a book reviewer, then I’d operate differently.

  3. So glad to see that you understand! πŸ™‚ I do write negative reviews sometimes but I try to make them short and as less snarky as possible.If I don’t like a book I prefer not to review them at all,just put my rating on Goodreads.If it’s a review copy,I just email the author/publisher separately to let them know that I’m not reviewing it and so far,they’ve been really cool about it. πŸ™‚ And I think authors reacting to negative reviews makes the situation even worse…like with The Selection earlier last year. :/

  4. I love this post and it’s amazing how I found it on a day I was feeling pretty bummed about some negative reviews. Negative reviews are hard to hear, but I agree they are what can help a writer improve their writing in the future. When I ask people to beta read, (and my editors of course are brutally honest) I beg them to tell me what’s wrong, because that’s the only way I will truly know there is a problem. I’m not always going to see the problem and I need honest opinions. And for author’s who get frustrated with negative reviews, they need to keep in mind that no book (classic, popular or otherwise) will escape a negative review. Reading is subjective and personal and not every book will resonate with every single person who reads it. As author’s we need to keep moving forward and continue to write what we love despite the negative. I think you are spot on. All an author should ever do is thank the reviewer for their time and honest opinion. Thank you for this post!

    • It is really tough to get and read negative reviews of your own work. It’s tough for me, too. I don’t mean to downplay that. Just keep repeating–that review is helping me sell books, that review is helping me sell books. I’m not saying that will make it all better, but it helps.

  5. A majority of negative reviews I’ve seen are mostly for spelling and grammar errors. If a book is bad with these normally there are already negative reviews so I am not going to pile on. I also understand some beginning writers can not afford a decent editor.
    I have close to 1300 books on my kindle service and I’ve written 34 positive reviews and not a single negative I can recall. I have contacted writers directly if I find a fatal flaw in the story line but I am loath to write it in a review.
    Since there are a lot of new writers who would be considered Indie writers I am not going to ruin their career when it is just getting started by piling onto the negative reviews.
    What would cause me to write a negative review is if the story doesn’t make sense or if there were so many errors I couldn’t get into the story. After all that is what I look for in a book. A story I can get lost in. That when I’m reading there is nothing around me that distracts me from the reading. When I have to put the book down I find myself wondering what is going to happen next and can’t wait to get back to the story.
    I am also a “beta” reader for several writers and I know how much goes into getting a book correctly written.
    I also know that just doing the spell check does not point out words spelled correctly but don’t belong where they are.
    So you may not trust a reviewer who does all positive reviews what you should look at is how many people took the time to favorably mark the review as helpful.
    Only 34 positive reviews but over 120 found those reviews helpful.
    I have checked some of the negative reviewers profiles and have found that they conversely only tend to submit negative reviews. The few positive reviews they have submitted are usually for some weird books that I would never read to start with.

    • I do the same thing, Dan. I generally only write about books I like. That said, I respect and follow, many bloggers who will fearlessly put forward their opinions, positive or negative.

  6. Thank YOU to you, too, Mike – I love your attitude πŸ™‚ Well, maybe not the part about deleting reviews from your Goodreads πŸ˜‰ In general, you sound awesome! πŸ™‚

  7. I just wanted to let you know that when I clicked on the link it says the page doesn’t exist.Great post BTW.

    • Well, thanks! That’s how I feel as a reader, anyway. I have to really work at it not to take negative reviews of my own work personally. But I do work at it, because I know even negative reviews help sales and I sometimes learn something from them.

  8. Hi, Mike. One of the Ammy forum denizens posted a link to this. Well said.

    The link back to Jennifer’s post worked fine for me – but I almost wish it hadn’t. She doesn’t sound like someone ready to be criticized.

    I think there’s no coincidence that the majority of negative reviews mention spelling, grammar and punctuation. It’s the natural consequence of the Freedom to Publish in today’s digital world. And too many aspiring authors don’t understand the price (or perhaps the proper exercise) of the freedom to publish. If you don’t pay attention to the small details (did I just say spelling was a small detail?), you get what you deserve.

    I love my negative reviews. My favorite is the one that described my MC as a “sneaky, petty, subsumed-guilt Bush-loving Michael-Scott frat-boy douchebag.” Yeah! Gotta love it.

    • I figured out how to link to Google’s cached version. It’s impossible to delete anything on the internet.

      Your comment reminds me of another benefit of negative reviews. The first printing of ASHFALL contained four errors that slipped past the me, my editor, and the copyeditor. I found and fixed them for the second printing thanks to readers and reviewers.

  9. I came over here from a post by Parajunkee and found your post refreshing. I am one of those book reviewers (and new too it, by the way) and just want to let authors know – being a reviewer is NOT EASY! There is so much pressure to give a good review, but sometimes the book just doesn’t sit well with me. That doesn’t mean no one else will like it, and I try to make sure that I add in my post exactly what turned me off. If my reader is cool with those things than the book would probably suit them just fine.

    For this reason alone, I have huge issues with “rating” a book. I have recently started adding ratings to my posts, but I am uncomfortable with it. I may really like a book, but thought it could have been better, so I give it 3-4 stars. But I still really liked it. I don’t give out 5 star reviews unless the book was phenominal and one that I would want to read again. But, I digress.

    Long story short, Thank You for giving reviewers some positive reinforcement. Writing is about finding your audience, and as a reviewer, we are only trying to help with that process.

    I will certainly be following your posts from now on! And I really need to check out your book. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks, Meagan! Hope you enjoy ASHFALL. Or that you hate it and write a snarky review that goes viral. Either way works for me :)!

      I’m well aware of how hard it is to write reviews. I’ve been asked to blurb about a dozen books over the last year, and even writing a two or three sentence comment can take me hours! I’d never make it as a reviewer, so I’m glad people like you are willing to do it.

  10. I’m more of the constructive critism type. If I don’t like something in a book, I like to point out the things I do like too. It’s true though that sometimes I find a book fascinating when it has negative reviews and will often read the negative ones while I read a book out of curiousity.

    • That specificity–in praise or criticism–really helps me both as a reader and writer. I want to know what you like or dislike–maybe the things you dislike are things that make me more interested in reading the book.

  11. You make me wanna read your book in return! And thanks for bolstering us bloggers’ morale. We get a lot of flak from authors when we do post negative reviews, or point out the things we didn’t like in the book. I’m the type of blogger who doesn’t like to include the author in my posts, except when I’ve already read books from the author and know he or she can do better. But it’s more of a constructive criticism than a put-you-down type of comment. I view it more as a challenge for the author, especially when I do like the book but just wanted or expected more!

    Goodluck with your books! πŸ™‚

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