by Erin Mitchell
Yeah, thought so.
For authors, though, as well as for those who support them, negative reviews can bite. They can hurt. Depending on the details, they can also have a directly negative impact on sales, which makes them all the more painful.
I’ve heard many authors say that they don’t read negative reviews for any number of good reasons, including that they find them upsetting and/or distracting. But even if an author manages to avoid bad reviews, chances are good that their readers will encounter them, and how those readers react to them can also impact the life cycle of a book.
I believe that bad reviews are an important part of the world of books. Why? Well, if everyone agrees about everything all the time, life gets pretty damn boring, fast. I also agree with all my heart and soul with Ben’s take on community and the abhorrent nature of sockpuppetry, and when readers express their opinions honestly, there is going to be some dissent.
But in truth, not all bad reviews are created equal. As I’ve pondered this subject, I’ve begun to categorize them thusly:
1. Honestly didn’t like the book
These are the reviews, most frequently found on book blogs or in newspapers, where the reviewer read the entire book and for reasons that he or she explains in the review, didn’t like it. With these reviews, I take no issue. If you get one and feel compelled to respond to it, do so with the care and consideration the reviewer has given your book. Thank the reviewer for taking the time and investing the energy to read, consider, and commit to words an opinion about the story, even if it’s one you don’t like, because it will incite discussion, which strengthens the community, which benefits us all (again, reference Ben’s post from yesterday).
2. Skimmed, read part of, or just didn’t read the book at all
I read a bad review this week wherein the reviewer got two fundamental plot points grossly and blatantly wrong. These weren’t minor details; they’re things that if one read the book, one could simply not have gotten wrong. Factual inaccuracies. Unfortunately, this review appeared in a trade publication and will likely influence booksellers’ orders of the book. And even more unfortunately, there’s not a lot to be done about it because the publication simply will never admit that their reviewer didn’t really read the book. What can be done about it is for the author and publisher to continue to make direct connections with readers and booksellers.
3. Hates the book for reasons having nothing to do with the book
Within minutes (literally) of JK Rowling’s new tome hitting virtual shelves this week, bunches of people jumped on Amazon to give it 1-star reviews. No, not because they have a superpower enabling them to read all 512 pages in those minutes, but rather because they objected to the price of the book (particularly the e-book version). I’ve also seen negative reviews that take issue with things the author has said or done off the page (see “Stupidity” below).
There, I said it. Some negative reviews are just plain stupid. Like the one I read a few months back that said that while the person actually considered the book in question to be deserving of three stars, he was giving it one to balance all the five-star reviews. Oh, thank you, self-appointed review police. Or those that contend that a book is all degrees of horrible, but provide not one single reason for or explanation/example of this atrocity. And then there are those—my personal favorites—that rail against publishers and authors for daring to publish such tripe because it’s contributing to the downfall of society as a whole. 50 Shades of Reviews, so to speak. Listen, I wish people would read books I consider fantastic, too, but ultimately, if people are reading something—anything—we all benefit (again, reference Ben’s post).
Reviews alone—good, bad, or tepid—are never going to singlehandedly ensure a book’s success or failure. How do we best discourage the latter three types of bad reviews above? I don’t have a magic bullet…but I hope you don’t buy or recommend books based on that crap.
Any other ideas?