That Had To Leave A Mark.

I’ve touched on this topic a bit in the past, and it’s been brought to my attention by other, kinder writers – bad reviews really sting.

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My friend Stacy Monson (Who is a wise and lovely person) wrote a good post about critical reviews that authors post on Amazon. Her point was a simple one – Why?

When you think about it, and I did in the wake of her post (may have been on Facebook…) you have to ask yourself what you, or the reading public, gain from a hideous review. After a great deal of soul-searching I realized that the answer wasn’t very nice. I’d taken great joy in writing reviews on Amazon – especially the negative ones.

I went to my reviews column and removed all the negative ones in the wake of that post. I’d written some pretty biting, funny, sarcastic posts about books that I’d read, or attempted to read, and given out my share of one star reviews. I think, in all fairness, that one was about 1/2 a star more than a few of the books deserved, but that’s not the point. The point is that I was turning into the same kind of loon that attacks me in the emails I get on this blog.

I still write reviews on Amazon, but my new rule is that if I can’t give at least a rating of four to the book I’ll forego the review. That means that I hold my tongue in my fat head and keep mum about some of the books I read. I don’t always review the four and five star books, but I just won’t do the really bad ones at all. Don’t read my lack of a review as a criticism of a book – it might just mean that I’m too lazy to go and write about it at that moment.

The whole thing was brought home for me this past week when one author I admire wrote a two star review of another friend of mine. I’ve read all of their books – both of them. Both are good authors with great styles. Both write completely different genres. Both are widely respected in their field. Both are award winners. But I was really stunned to see that bad review gracing the internet.

It made me wonder if one of them had stolen the desert at a banquet from the other’s place. If one had bad feelings over some trivial thing and it had escalated to professional sabotage. Or, if they really just hated the other’s book and went public with their criticism.

I’ll still trash bad restaurants – that’s more of a public service than a review when a fat guy takes a stand. I won’t do it for the mundane stuff that happens, but if there’s a really bad meal I’ll fire a flare – the mediocre will draw no such ire. I’ll still rip on poorly done movies and television if they could have avoided the issue, just as I’ll praise the wonderful things that grace the screen. But I won’t rip on another author. Tastes vary too much for that to be a fair thing to do in this world. Unfortunately my opinion, as a wannabe, holds more weight than the average reader. The readers of this blog carry word of mouth about things and I don’t want to be responsible for another author having a flop because of some stupid thing I wrote.

Yup, that’s the final item – I’m in competition with them and if I don’t have something nice to say, I won’t say anything at all.

How about you – where do you draw the line on public criticism of people in your profession?

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That Had To Leave A Mark. — 4 Comments

  1. I withhold criticism in review IF it’s just for criticism’s sake. But if an author is clearly trashing the profession, I’ll call that author on it. Shelf space should be reserved for at least the passable writing. Oh, and another area is teaching; if an author is playing the Pied Piper to the hurt of the ignorant; I’ll send up a red flag. But generally speaking, yes, I’ve lived by the admonitions: If you cannot say something nice, don’t say anything at all. And, if at all possible, follow up criticism with prayer and praise.

  2. I agree and practice the same. Unless I can give a 4 or 5 star review I don’t review the book. UNLESS, I get it from one of the publishing companies and am asked in exchange for the book I write a review. Then I feel I must be honest. But I’ve never given less than a three star review, and I make it clear in the review that the book’s premise didn’t match my taste in literature and that could be why I leaned toward a lower star award.

    I still believe in the old adage, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say it at all.” Especially if we are writers and we know one another. Then it doesn’t make sense at all to me why somoene would publicly give a bad review. There is this thing called reaping what you sow, and I for one, don’t want to be sowing any negative seeds!

  3. Concerning people I know or work with, I’m with you. If I can’t say something nice I’m better off keeping my mouth shut. I still slip up once in a while but most of the time I succeed. My general rule is don’t say anything you would be uncomfortable saying face to face.

    I think of book reviews just like product or restaurant reviews. It’s a chance to express my opinion. I purchased that right when I paid for the book, meal, or handy dandy chopper slicer. I get to tell whoever wants to listen when I make an investment in a great product or feel like I wasted my money. I am just another anonymous sheeple in the crowd. What I have to say might impact a couple buying decisions and that’s about the extent of my influence. Now if I was Wolfgang Puck, my restaurant review is a completely different animal.

    I don’t believe reviews one author writes about another. It’s just critical thinking. If I pan your book, you will be right there full of pithy acerbic comments when my new work is published. That’s why authors form a mutual admiration society where everyone loves one another. You may ask me to write a forward for you some day. If you become rich and famous, your coattails may be wide enough to drag me along. It’s just not good business sense to screw people who may be in a position to help you some day.

  4. Great points, Joe – and very transparent of you. There’s something inside us that takes secret pleasure in pointing out where others are lacking. It takes courage and honesty to face that dark place and shine a light on it. Here’s hoping this thoughtful post will make others think twice before posting negative reviews.