Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad Reviews

Dec52013

The new editor of Buzzfeed has just announced that they will do no negative book reviews.

Huh.

I don’t actually care what Buzzfeed does, I’m just puzzled by this approach. The editor, Isaac Fitzgerald, says it’s based on the Bambi rule, first articulated by Thumper: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” (I know it’s a double negative; Disney rabbit children have NO grammar skills.) That’s a good rule in a specific situation: if you’re chatting socially, be kind or at least polite. What the hell that has to do with book reviews is a puzzle.

A book review, as I understand it, is a report from a reader evaluating the book. The quality of the review depends not only on the quality of the reviewer–understanding of craft, writing ability, etc.–but also on the mindset of the reviewer. A reviewer who takes her work seriously can produce a review that says a book is bad and then back it up with concrete, specific, intelligent reasons why that is so; that bad review is a good review. I think the kind of bad review Fitzgerald is talking about is the bad bad review, the reviews motivated by spite, the ones dripping with self-satisfied bile, the ones based on ignorance (like the PW reviewer who reviewed our collaborative novel, The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, and said, “This would have been better if it had been a novel”). There are too many reviews out there written because the reviewer wanted to show off how cool he was, sneering down at the fiction in order to elevate himself (or herself). Those reviews are toxic, no good for anyone including the reviewer who is spitting acid on his karma. I can see why an editor wouldn’t want that kind of thing on a site he was proud of.

But the “let’s be nice” approach is death to real understanding, I think. All reviews are subjective, but the ones that carefully examine a book and explain the basis for reviewer’s bad opinion can be informative, even educational. (I like reading the one star reviews on Amazon because they not only reveal things about the books, they reveal things about the reviewers; the woman who writes, “This is a terrible book; the author uses bad language and the heroine is a slut,” makes me not only visualize the reviewer as the Church Lady, it makes me want to read the book.) I’ve learned a lot from reviewers who didn’t like my books and told me why; they’ve pointed out weaknesses in my writing and blind spots in my world view. I don’t want those reviewers hobbled; I need them to get better.

But mostly readers need bad reviews, or more to the point, honest reviews. So I think this is a big mistake on Fitzgerald’s part. I think it’s entirely within an editor’s right to say, “Your reviews must be cogent, civil, and well-argued,” but not to say, “Your review must be positive.” Huge difference there.

So now I’m curious. How do you use reviews? Would this approach work for you? That is, do you use reviews to decide what books to read, so an all-good review system would just focus in on the stuff to buy? Or do you need more than a thumbs up when it comes to reviews?

Filed in Publishing

44 Comments to 'Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad Reviews'

On December 5, 2013 at 11:28 am Bill Peschel said...

I’d be more suspicious of a site that promises only positive reviews, which aligns precisely with all forms of marketing.

Buzzfeed also believes readers are idiots who need to be protected from bad reviews, or who can’t read a combination of good and bad reviews and figure out whether or not the book is right for them. I learned that years ago when, at a reception after church, a man came up to me and said, “I read your review in today’s paper [a slam, of course]. I can’t wait to read it.”

Dorothy Parker would disappear from an all-Buzzfeed review world.

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On December 5, 2013 at 11:39 am Kate George said...

I pretty much ignore all reviews of my own books. Short sighted of me, I know. But I’m one of those who can read ten good reviews and one bad and then feel awful about myself for the next two months. That said, I think it’s a mistake to muzzle people, and when looking for books a negative review (as apposed to a bad review) can steer me in the right direction – for or against. I also like to read excerpts before I buy unless it’s an author I know well.

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On December 5, 2013 at 11:59 am Katie said...

I usually check Publisher’s Weekly reviews to get a better, but still spoiler-free/spoiler-light sense of the plot, and to figure out which books in an author’s huge back list to either read or skip. Will read Kirkus reviews if they’re sitting right there under PW on the website, but since they don’t seem to like any genre fiction, I don’t use them as a yard stick.

The best and most reliable reviews I’ve found have been from friends with the same taste as me or authors’ blogs. Found Deanna Raybourn through a joint signing with Nora Roberts, found Tasha Alexander through Deanna Raybourn, and found Lucy March and Susan Elizabeth Phillips here.

Amazon reviews have a certain amount of entertainment value, but I stick with the ones rated most helpful – if nothing else, they’re good for a fairly detailed synopsis. I always check the one star reviews to see if there’s a legitimate complaint, but if they’re mostly in the spiteful, one-sentence vein, I ignore them. Reading Amazon reviews for the In Death series is an interesting exercise. There’s the mystery fans who are pissed because HOW DARE SHE put so much romance and sex in these books, the romance fans who are pissed about all the dead bodies and childhood trauma, and the sci-fi fans who are pissed because there’s hardly any world-building and science, this is NOT science fiction…just made me love the books even more.

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On December 5, 2013 at 2:06 pm Skye said...

I so enjoy the In Death books! And I love that it doesn’t fit specifically in any genre; have you read any of the current nastiness in the SF world where apparently the nerd guys who never moved out of their mother’s basement and have never had a lasting relationship with a woman are calling for a ban of all those “women’s issues” in SF books, because those aren’t “real” SF? Makes me wonder what decade they time-traveled out of and if we can find a way to send them back.

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On December 5, 2013 at 9:27 pm Katie said...

Hadn’t heard about that, but it’s appalling. The idea “banning” anything from any kind of fiction is just wrong. That idea is also incredibly stupid. Not much into sci-fi, but as I understand it, it’s supposed to use its speculative elements to make the reader examine humanity and society. How exactly is pushing people to rethink gender a departure from that?

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On December 5, 2013 at 3:14 pm BelleD said...

Love the In Death series too! There’s a lot of humor in them, to soften the grimness of the deaths and body count. A little levity (& sex) to break up the monotony of murder. And…IT’S FICTION.

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On December 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm CateM said...

This approach wouldn’t work for me. But I need more than just a clear review that backs its opinion up. I need a reviewer/ review site whose expectations line up reasonably with mine. The New Yorker has interesting, well thought out movie reviews – but they don’t like ANY movie. They’re very good at posing interesting questions about how a movie fits into our culture – not so good at telling me whether or not I want to spend money on a movie. Obviously you have to be ok publishing a poor review. But I think a good reviewer should also be willing to be pleased, if the work is good.

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On December 5, 2013 at 12:27 pm BelleD said...

What a disservice to readers.

As a reader and not a writer, I look to a negative review to help me gauge if a book is really work my time and effort. Negative reviews are the first place I start, especially for the more popular works. It helps to separate good work from good marketing. I look for common themes or complaints. It’s important to know that the story “doesn’t get going until the middle of the book” (if even the bad reviews tell me the storyline is good, I’ll hand in there til the end) or it does not evolve at all. And truth be told, some of these negative reviews are a hoot to read. There’s a negative review of “Agnes and the Hitman” (on Amazon?) in which the reviewer was surprised, and not pleasantly, by the violence in the story. Really? The word “hitman” in the title wasn’t a big hint?

This decision to only show the positive sounds more like an attempt to placate some people who have had their feathers ruffled by less than flattering words from some anonymous commenters. I feel like telling this editor, “You’re not my mommy. You’re not their mommy (writers). It is not your job to protect us from the world and harsh words. We can handle it.”

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On December 5, 2013 at 5:51 pm Sarah Wynde said...

Except, really, this is just a marketing decision on their part. They’ve decided that they want to be a feel-good home on the internet, a place for happy kittens and videos that go viral and top ten jokes about families at holidays.

I’m sure that it’s a decision that they’ve made with an extremely precise eye on their bottom line: they’re publishers, which means someone out there in their business unit is number-crunching page views and ad counts and has decided that they do better when they focus on the positive. BuzzFeed isn’t saying that there’s no place for negative reviews in the world — they’re just saying that they’re not going to be the place and most likely they’re doing it because they want their reputation and their public image to be warm-and-fuzzy and feel-good, because that’s good for their bottom line. They’re saying that if you want real reviews, they’re not your spot. The big question for them is, does it serve their reader? And the answer is yes, because the kind of reader that they want isn’t coming to them for literary criticism, but for a ten minute break of good cheer in the middle of a busy workday. And the even bigger, but less comfortable, question is, does it serve their advertisers? And the answer to that one is even more yes, no risk that your ad will run next to editorial panning your product. The advertising sales reps broke out the champagne, I bet.

I sound cynical, don’t I? But I suppose I am. Decisions in publishing are about dollars, not about protecting people’s feelings.

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On December 6, 2013 at 9:57 am Bonnie C said...

I don’t think this is cynical at all, but rather on the nose. I agree that this is likely a branding move on BF’s part and a fairly smart one at that.

The new guy also says it point blank: BuzzFeed will do book reviews, Fitzgerald said, but he hasn’t figured out yet what form they’ll take. It won’t do negative reviews: “Why waste breath talking smack about something?” he said. “You see it in so many old media-type places, the scathing takedown rip.” Fitzgerald said people in the online books community “understand that about books, that it is something that people have worked incredibly hard on, and they respect that. The overwhelming online books community is a positive place.”

From what I see the new guy doesn’t say bad book reviews are bad, per se, but that he has no interest in slinging them, that there’s plenty of sources out there for that already. He’s not wrong.

FWIW, I avoid all reviews for the same reason I avoid the news: ain’t nobody got time for that. I get tripped up on all the negativity in the media to the point where it begins to affect me physically, making me nervous and cranky and shaky. My kids prefer me media-free.

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On December 9, 2013 at 1:23 pm PG said...

If they’re going with “positivity sells,” it must just be for the book reviews section. A friend is Buzzfeed’s legal editor and if you only wrote the happy fun stuff about what’s happening in law, your readers would never know anything. (He started writing specifically about LGBT issues, and the smiley-face-only policy would be especially bizarre there: write a celebratory article once same-sex marriage is legal everywhere, but in the meantime ignore the inequality?) Even their cultural stuff is mean as hell because people enjoy that, eg http://www.buzzfeed.com/tanyachen/questions-asian-people-are-sick-of-answering

So the claim going around (http://sfist.com/2013/12/05/regarding_dave_eggers_buzzfeed_and.php) that there’s a trend of websites going all-positive to attract audience seems inaccurate to me. That SFist piece says Upworthy does that, but most of what I see people link to Upworthy involves political or economic criticism, which intrinsically means that we are not living in a utopia.

OTOH, I never go directly to BuzzFeed or UpWorthy, I only read/view those sites if people link it on Facebook or Twitter, so maybe this is just my own selection bias of having friends who are terrible, angry people.

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On December 5, 2013 at 1:07 pm robena grant said...

I appreciate the well thought out middle range (3*) review because I find some truth in there and it helps me to look at my stories differently. Fingers crossed that I can grow as a writer from some of those reviews. One that I love (it’s a review of a mystery/suspense) is titled A Good Mysery Story, or something like that, and I laugh every time I see it because I think of misery.
There was one review where someone on Amazon posted on my page about another person’s book. I contacted Amazon and they said there was nothing wrong with the post/review. ??? Oh well, at least he gave it four or five stars.

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On December 5, 2013 at 1:10 pm JenniferNennifer said...

I find negative reviews very helpful when they are specific. A “I didn’t like it when the heroine did X” or “Too violent for me but otherwise well written”, or, in the case of a vacuum cleaner “You have to clean the filter every time you use it” This is informative, the only negative bit is the number of stars.

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On December 5, 2013 at 1:20 pm German Chocolate Betty said...

First off, I don’t think I’d go to a place with only positive reviews, because, well why? Besides, when it comes to movies at least, there are reviewers on whom I can rely: if they hate it, I love it! How would I decide if I didn’t get their negative reviews (hahaha)??

I had to laugh about the Miss Fortunes reviewer who commented it would be better as a novel. I once got a peer review on a scientific article for which I was lead author and the comment was “please have paper reviewed by native speaker”…which, of course I am. I can only assume that the idiot had this as a standard knee-jerk comment for folks with “non-English” names (my family name is, of course, German) and “non-English-speaking” places of employment. Possibly the reviewer also wasn’t a native speaker and couldn’t recognize the quality…? Moron…

I also had a review of a journal article which criticized my not giving an in-depth review of current work in the field — to which I rebutted: 1) this is supposed to be about new ideas and 2) the article is only 8 (halfsized) pages long, so I either review old stuff or focus on new stuff and I chose the latter. The reviewer had the decency to apologize and concede the point to me! (Unusual but true!)

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On December 5, 2013 at 1:59 pm Terri Osburn said...

I try not to read reviews of my books, but then I cave and read them anyway. I get dinged a lot for profanity. One actually referred to me as a foul-mouthed author. Couldn’t feel bad about that as it’s an accurate statement.

I don’t get the “positive only” policy. Does that mean if they don’t review a well-known new release that it’s because they couldn’t find anything positive to say about it? That’s a bit telling in itself.

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On December 5, 2013 at 2:09 pm Skye said...

I don’t trust all-positive sets of reviewing because how can I then judge for myself? I need input, all input, to help me determine my choice. And all-positive is a lie, anyway. Is BuzzFeed the new Faux News?

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On December 5, 2013 at 2:13 pm Alison Hamway said...

As a reader I always read reviews. The reviews can lead me to good new writers. I read the professional reviews and reader reviews on Amazon. I look for reviews that explain what the reviewer liked or didn’t like about the book. Certain reviewers make it obvious that they simply don’t like the genre; other reviews are always enthusiastic no matter what they are reviewing. But there are MANY well reasoned reviews that are a useful guide. And when in doubt, I download sample pages and make my decision from there.

I would not go to a review site that gave only positive reviews. That doesn’t give me an accurate flavor of either the book OR the reviewer’s tastes. (similarly if Harriet K is the only reviewer for a book, I wait until other reviews are posted. No offense to Harriet but EVERYTHING is a 4 or a 5 star review and she does not explain what she likes or why she likes it)

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On December 5, 2013 at 2:43 pm E.207879 said...

Readers are not the audience for an only-positive-review outlet; publishers looking for blurbs for advertising are.

A certain major professional outlet in a certain genre had a policy of no bad reviews. (I don’t follow it any longer, because its policy made it pretty near useless to me. The policy may have changed.) It was the principle source of blurbs (and probably still is) in its genre.

Reviewers would contort themselves in print to hint at less-than-satisfactory books, delicately hinting at a book’s problems in a style so repressed and veiled as to be a code. It had many reviewers and reviewed many books each month. But it was not a place one looked to for journalistic honesty or genuine responses to and arguments with a book, because of that no-mean-words-we’re-all-friends policy.

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On December 5, 2013 at 3:26 pm Olga Godim said...

Censoring reviewers is definitely a bad idea. Censorship is bad, period. Look at what happened at GoodReads, when they started muzzling reviewers – there was a revolt, and there is a book of all the reviews that were deleted because of their stupid censorship regulations. Most of those reviews are quite strong. And the reviews of that book – oh, boy!!!
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18749172-off-topic
Sometimes a bad review can lead to a positive thing. I love the novella Scarlet Sails by Alexander Grin. When I grew up in Russia, it was my favorite book, but here, I found very mixed reviews of it. Many reviewers complain of the bad translation. As I’m bilingual, I decided to fix the problem and translated it myself. It’s available on my website.

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On December 5, 2013 at 3:34 pm fiveandfour said...

It took me awhile, but I eventually came to realize the value of the one-star reviews on Amazon and negative reviews elsewhere. I think you’re right: people DO reveal a lot about themselves when they do a negative review, so when I read, “There was so much sex/violence/dirty language/etc. in this one that I couldn’t even finish it” I know I’ve found a winner. (I kid. Sort of.)

One of my favorite learning experiences in regards to reviews was when I downloaded a free book from Amazon with reviews that glowed so bright you would’ve thought the author had created a new sun. Meanwhile, the only negative reviews were those complaining about how they *thought* they were getting a Christian book because of the title, but they couldn’t finish the book once they realized there were no pious themes at all.

I thought, “Cool – I’m not worried about a pious story, this is a no brainer” and downloaded one of the most bizarre books I’ve ever read. I couldn’t even finish it because I had problems with just about every single aspect of the story-telling: bad grammar, whole paragraphs that made no sense, characters who did weird things for completely unbelievable reasons, a plot that rivals the schlockiest soap opera for drama overload and ridiculousness, new and important characters introduced well into the story as if they had been there the whole time… I swear it was the first time I’ve ever read a book where nearly every single page had some WTF element. Still, a macabre sense of curiosity took over and I became determined to read it to the end, but eventually I couldn’t take it any more and gave up.

I went back to Amazon to see if there were any new negative reviews after the period when it was given out for free and only then found some negative comments that weren’t related to its lack of Christianity. If only those negative reviews had been there before, I could’ve saved myself hours of mental torture!

I’ve also discovered that, for my reading tastes, many Young Adult reviews are unreliable because they are so dang positive. With that genre, a negative review is worth its weight in gold because while a fannish review will be an extended squee of glee and paint a picture of unicorns frollicking over rainbows, the negative review will be speaking to why it made no sense for this or that to happen, or how the story was chock full of spelling errors or language that was intended to be cool but was actually annoying, or how the first half of the book was boooooring and was barely redeemed by the second half, etc. If I see only positive reviews for a Young Adult book, paradoxically I think it must be pretty awful.

In short: negative reviews are absolutely essential for getting a balanced view, in my opinion.

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On December 5, 2013 at 5:13 pm colognegrrl said...

Had similar experiences and totally agree. Also, I’ll stop downloading ebooks that aren’t issued by a publisher that is familiar to me. It’s incredible how much bad stuff is being offered by self-published authors (I know there are a few gems among them, but don’t know how to identify them) – bad grammar, spelling mistakes, no plot, one cliché chasing the next one, you name it. I just don’t have the time for this.

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On December 5, 2013 at 5:28 pm Jenny said...

I’m really in favor of people being able to publish anything they want. I think writing is a healthy thing to do, and making it available to others is healthy, too.
But I think people who review their own books or ask friends to give them good reviews are missing the point of the game. That’s why the free sample is so important for those books (well, for any books): you can tell pretty quickly if the writer is any good, usually within the first page or so.
I think the basic mistake is that people don’t realized that writing and storytelling are crafts, that you really have to work at what you’re doing, understand the shape of the story and the arc of the characters. Good fiction is so easy to read that a lot of people don’t realize that it’s hard to write.

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On December 5, 2013 at 5:16 pm colognegrrl said...

I forgot to say: some of them have even two-digit numbers of five-star reviews. I wonder who they enlist to post those.

Sorry, rant over. As you can tell, I’ve recently hit a couple of those and just couldn’t believe they were so bad.

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On December 5, 2013 at 4:39 pm KM Fawcett said...

I think negative reviews can be helpful to a potential buyer (reader). But to be honest, as a newly published author, I fear them. Not so much the reviews that are critical of the work, but the reviews that turn hateful toward the author. That scares me.

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On December 5, 2013 at 5:24 pm Jenny said...

It’s because people forget that authors are people. I can take any number of “I didn’t like the plot” or “The characters were lame,” but when somebody says, “Crusie really phoned this one in,” I froth. There’s blood on every page of every book I’ve ever written; tell me the book is lousy but don’t tell me I didn’t work my ass off to get it there.
After that, I fall back on two basic truths:
1. You can’t please everybody, and most of things people don’t like in my stories often just means they probably aren’t people I’d have lunch with, so I just wave them goodbye, wish them the best, and go back to work.
And.
2. They’re reviewing books. I’m writing them. I win.

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On December 6, 2013 at 8:55 am Kate George said...

Thank you for that, Jenny. I win too. I’d forgotten.

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On December 6, 2013 at 2:25 pm Pam Regis said...

Several years ago, I reviewed romance for The Washington Post Book World. (Not long after, Book World folded. Hmmmm.)

While I was reviewing, people give me the usual, “Oh, really, romance?” comment. Rather than defending the Post’s decision to run some romance reviews, I’d tell the questioner that if I could write romance, I would not be spending even one second reviewing it. Writing fiction is a higher calling than writing about fiction. Period.

Thank-you, writers! Yep, you win, and you deserve to win.

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On December 6, 2013 at 5:35 pm KM Fawcett said...

I like truth #2. I need to remember that! :)

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On December 9, 2013 at 1:32 pm PG said...

It is terrible to say someone is phoning it in unless you were physically present and saw her being lazy, but I think it’s hard for a fan not to feel that way if she was excited for a new work, spent money on it, spent time to read it, and ended up feeling like it was the same-old same-old. There are authors I’ve pretty much stopped reading for that reason. Maybe they’re bleeding it out, but it REALLY doesn’t feel that way, and it’s precisely *because* I know they can do great work that I’m disappointed when they stop innovating.

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On December 5, 2013 at 6:51 pm Sue K said...

I’m a reader, not a writer, but I count on Goodreads and Amazon reviews to give me a hint of what people like or dislike and why. I don’t want a synopsis from every day readers – I can get that from dust jacket or seller site.
Interestingly (at least to me), I was approached recently and offered a copy of a book and asked to do a review because of a review I’d left of a different, similar book, on Amazon. I explained to the publisher that I’d be happy to do so, but they had to understand that my reviews are primarily to alert friends and family, mostly adult daughters, about books they might like. I’m not particularly erudite, I’m not looking to garner a following, nor do I fill my Goodreads reviews with animation and film clips, I just put down some memory joggers. I was still asked to read and review – which makes me wonder about all of it! What does any one of the groups want – publishers, authors, readers? Do authors want those reviews with the stick figure jumping up and down with his tongue hanging out? Do readers really want reviews from 32 different people, all providing a synopsis? Do publishers really only want good reviews? (I agree with Kate – I know that if I WERE a writer, and got 10 good reviews and one lousy one, I would be totally focused on the bad one.) I find the thing that makes me the most suspicious is getting an email from a selling agency that says something like “We are sure you want to buy this book, because it has 50 five-star reviews on Amazon.” I avoid those – I figure the author has a lot of friends and relatives.

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On December 5, 2013 at 8:20 pm Sarah Wynde said...

Reviews to alert friends and family to books that they might like is exactly what publishers want. Word-of-mouth is what sells books. Because you’re writing reviews to people who trust you, they are far more likely to actually listen to you. I’ve got at least half a dozen review sites in my RSS feed, but I hardly ever buy the books they review. When my friend Christina, on the other hand, tells me I should read a book, I usually go out and read it.

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On December 6, 2013 at 5:10 am Jenny said...

That’s it, exactly. It’s not hype that sells books, it’s buzz. Word-of-mouth from people you trust.

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On December 5, 2013 at 7:22 pm Kelly S said...

I want an honest review and I want warnings. I have triggers for things that I don’t want to read about. Rape is one of them. Torture another. Thus, I don’t read much romantic suspense. If a person doesn’t like a book, tell me why. I may agree or I may be the polar opposite and what you don’t like about the book is exactly what I’ll love about it. Perhaps there is a way to share what sucks about a book in a positive way?

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On December 10, 2013 at 11:24 am Hope said...

Kelly, you might try Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. I find the site a bit chaotic, but the reviews and the comments are smart (duh), thoughtful, and contain warnings about violence triggers and dog death.
And the negative reviews are so funny I can’t read them on the bus, lest I be seen as even more nuts than I actually am. _Ravished by the Triceratops_ and the accompanying comments is a shining example.

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On December 5, 2013 at 8:02 pm Leigh said...

I cried when a prominent review site savaged my first book. I couldn’t write for a week. Oh, I showed up at the computer at 8:30 a.m. every morning, and remained there for five or six hours, but mostly I moved around periods, and thought bleak thoughts about how that review just tanked my career.

That was a little over a year ago. Bigger crap has gone down in my life since then and though I wouldn’t want to relive 2013, those experiences did a good job of realigning my life perspective. So, after reading Jenny’s blog, I went and pulled up that review to see if it still had the power to knee-cap me. NOPE. Turns out, I can take a dissing and keep on ticking.

You know what? I didn’t learn a damn thing from his/her comments, other than the fact that particular reviewer has a particular loathing for any book that doesn’t sit firmly inside its genre. And that, in my opinion made it a poor review.

If I could sit down and talk to a reviewer before they post their thoughts on the book that took me 8 mos or more of sweat, I’d make these request–take your time to think about the novel as a novel, even if that period of reflection only serves to sharpen your skewer. Use examples, if you have the space, of where I erred and where I glowed. Because eventually, I’ll read the review. Because I want to get better.

I want to write the book that you can’t put down.

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On December 5, 2013 at 8:06 pm AnnG said...

That is a bit odd…. No negative reviews. Just discussed this with my 14 y/o writing girl, and we agree that it does not allow the authors to gain their readers perspective, however, I don’t blame a single published author out there for not wanting to read the negatives. People go kinda nutso, I think, and end up attacking the writer, not the story or parts they didn’t like. As a reader we feel a bit misled, we want ALL the opinions! ☺️ Let’s face it, some of the wacky, attention whore posters out there are pretty entertaining!
Jenny- I did wonder your opinion on the self publishers, and I’m so happy you support them. How do you feel about the fan fiction writers? Would you be ok if someone borrowed your characters and gave them a different story direction?

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On December 5, 2013 at 11:01 pm Micki said...

I don’t know anything about Buzzfeed, but isn’t it user-generated content? And don’t they have a lot of users who pride themselves on being trolls? If that’s the case (and it may not be), I can see why they’d turn to a “positive review only” policy. Hundreds of trolls generating reviews as a career that encouraged some of the biggest Troll Icons of All Time (I love Dorothy Parker, but she was a total troll — the very best kind. Who was that other evil guy? Ambrose Bierce, and wasn’t H. L. Mencken a reviewer with a poison pen as well?) — well, I see that as a total disaster. They do need some rules. Troll-proof rules. Otherwise, the reviews really, truly won’t be any use at all. At least with all-positive reviews, an aggregate of reviews will be a “look what Buzz Feed readers are reading and liking enough to write about.”

I think there’s been review abuse in GoodReads and Amazon, as well — by readers as well as authors. But, in general, I find the reviews very useful. I try to read a few samples across the range of five to one. Sometimes the one will clue me into something I really want to avoid — and sometimes the one star review will clue me into something that I really think I want to read. If the reviews across the spectrum seem to add up to a coherent picture, I’m more likely to take a chance on the book.

The big name reviews, filtered by editors, are the ones that tip me off to a book in the first place. Those usually have standards of review set into place. The general public reviews are often what puts the book into my shopping cart — and I can usually tell what a dumb review looks like.

Something really awful must have happened to have Buzz-Feed put this policy in place.

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On December 5, 2013 at 11:07 pm Micki said...

Wikipedia’d it, and I still am not sure where to place BuzzFeed. A lot of people like trolls and so it seems if the people or algorithms at Buzzfeed are picking up viral reviews, there might be a lot of bad ones that are gaining popularity through spite and venom. They might be missing out on the 21rst Century Dorothy Parker, too.

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On December 6, 2013 at 1:21 am garysjordan said...

I am not a professional reviewer. I do have a blog. If I review something, it’s usually because I loved it or hated it, and usually the former. I blogged a review last night:
http://gary-jordan.livejournal.com/#post-gary_jordan-235948
“WILD RIDE by Jennifer Crusie and some guy she writes with sometimes”

The last thing I “reviewed” before that was http://gary-jordan.livejournal.com/#post-gary_jordan-234159 “Custer at the Alamo”

There is an online writing workshop called “The Fish Tank”. I don’t have a handy link but Google is a friend. The lady who runs it goes by Desdmona. When it was starting up she said there were simple rules for critiquing someone’s story, starting with:
1. Point out at least two things you liked.
2. Don’t just point out problems: suggest solutions, or alternatives.
3. Be polite.
There may have been others, but those are a good start.

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On December 6, 2013 at 10:50 pm aunt snack said...

Reviews from people who have unknown tastes don’t mean a lot to me. If someone says that it wasn’t to their taste and I have no idea how their taste jives with mine, how heavily should I weight that? It is only by reading their reviews over time that I can learn how much to trust what they say.

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On December 7, 2013 at 9:06 pm Rachel said...

If there are only good reviews, I don’t trust the review site. Sure, they could only be posting reviews on books they thought were good, but to me it looks more like they *have* to write only positive reviews, so I don’t believe anything they say. Not to mention that without negative reviews, it’s hard to determine how a reviewer’s opinion lines up with mine. I get as much from a negative review of a book I loved as from a positive.

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On December 8, 2013 at 10:59 am cleo said...

I like reviews that tell me why the reviewer liked or didn’t like the book – I’ve bought books I loved based on less than glowing reviews and skipped books with 5 star, A reviews because I could tell they weren’t for me. Reviews that are gushingly positive but don’t give me a sense of the book aren’t that helpful.

I use 1 star reviews on Amazon to identify possible deal breakers when I’m thinking about buying a new to me author. I look at 3 star reviews on Goodreads if I’m on the fence about the latest book in a series or by an author that I like but is a little hit or miss for me. I have a limited book budget and I’m careful about my purchases.

When I started reading review blogs, especially romance blogs, I’d look in the archives for reviews of books I’d read and either loved or hated, to get a sense of the reviewer’s taste. I now follow a few reviewers whose taste overlaps with mine and who do a good job explaining why something does or doesn’t work.

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On December 12, 2013 at 2:56 am Eleanor said...

Yeah, I’m not a fan of the all-positive-all-the-time approach to reviews. I agree with you guys–especially Rachel–it’s not helpful to anyone except the people trying to sell their book. I want to know if the author has a great plot and interesting ideas but can barely string together a sentence. I want to know if the plot has gaping holes. And I want the trigger warnings. I share a lot of the same ones as Kelly S up there (fyi: if your hero rapes someone, I will spend the rest of the book hoping he gets stabbed in the throat and any outcome that isn’t incredible vengeance-pain is an ending I will resent), but I also want to know if a book has any blatant transphobia/homophobia/racism/sexism/body-shaming/sexuality-shaming. Finding those things in a book I thought I would enjoy, or that I was enjoying until that point, will ruin my day. I will spend the rest of it in an angry cloud.

Besides being a good way to weed out books that I don’t like, I also find bad reviews a way to weed out reviewers. Like Jenny said, the one star reviews on Amazon often tell you just as much about the reviewer as they do the book. I still remember a review for Ella Enchanted (a retelling of Cinderella that I have loved for…15 years? I think?) which said they really enjoyed the book until about halfway through, when it started to seem like Gail Carson Levine had ripped off the Cinderella story and wasn’t that so terribly lazy and sneaky and oh my god how dare she. And all I could think was, “It says in the jacket blurb that it’s a Cinderella retelling, it says that in all the reviews, and it’s pretty obvious way before the middle of the book. I really don’t think I trust your opinions on books.” The bad reviews let me know how the reviewer judges things and whether or not their opinions are ones I might share.

Although if this is a new policy to weed out the trolls, I understand. The trolls on Buzzfeed often make me want to rip my hair out. Or, more accurately, rip out their hair. Because when I get angry I get slightly vengeful.

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On December 13, 2013 at 7:41 pm ruthie said...

What I hate on Amazon are people who review a book in genre A as if it were a book in genre F, loaded with scorn and contempt for the incompetent writer. I saw a review of a cozy mystery reviewed by a guy who was obviously a fan of hard-boiled — no blood! no violence! Why are her kids in this if they aren’t going to be killed or kidnapped? Who cares that she baked cookies for the senior citizen’s home? Uh, hello? The guy probably never heard of “cozy,” although why he thought a book with a plate of cookies and some flowers on the cover was going to be a good read for him is anybody’s guess. ;)

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