Saturday, February 12, 2011

Reviews - Love them or Hate them?

"From my close observation of writers... they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review." Isaac Asimov

It would be not a far stretch to say writers as a whole are a bit schizophrenic in how they react to a review. On one hand, you have those copious bleeders who splatter one and all when they get a bad review. Or you get those who glow so blindingly over a good review that it's hard to believe.

My favorite quote about negative reviews is by Max Reger, German composer, who pithily offers, "I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me." It might take a minute or two to register, but you may agree with me that his sarcastic response to a bad review is quite funny. We're probably fortunate that he wrote music and not books.

Even Danielle Steel has this to say about reviews, "A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it." You can probably guess that she was having a bad reaction to a less-than-warm review. Let's face it. Some reviewers seem to look only for what's wrong in a story or they're taking out some personal vendetta against the author. They appear to think their role is to rip to shreds all books except for the crème de la crème. Walter Kaufman, German philosopher, offers that "The first function of a book review should be, I believe, to give some idea of the contents and character of the book." I wonder what he might have made of all the review sites popping up on the Internet

People like to offer their opinions. It's almost as if there is some monetary value in being able to tell someone what you like and having them buy into you enough to believe that your opinion is what they should believe as well. If you find a reviewer who consistently likes what you like as well as consistently dislikes what you dislike, then you've found a match made in heaven. But how often is that? I know I go to movies that professional reviewers trash simply because I, like so many others, want to determine if I like something for myself.

Still, I do agree with Kenneth Koch. "It's enormously cheering to get a good review by someone who seems to understand your work." When I get a good review, I want the entire universe to know. I've had reviewers who saw into the hearts of my characters. They seemed to know my characters as well as I did. And I loved it. When a reviewer tells me that I've moved them to tears, it does my heart good. My job is to tell the best story that I can as consistently as I can. I am trying to touch my readers on several levels, especially on an emotional level. So to hear that a reviewer has been touched? Oh yes, it makes me a glowingly happy author.

How do you deal with bad reviews? What about good ones? And if you review someone else's work, how to you approach it? Do you rip the books you don't care for to shreds or do you try really hard to find something, anything that you can talk positively about, even in books you don't want to read again?

I like to put links to reviews I’ve received up on my website – curious? Check some of them out on my


Carolyn Hughey said...

Excellent post, Marilu.

While on vacation right after my book was released, I was sitting at my computer and typed in my name just for the heck of it. And there it was - - - dreadful review from Publishers Weekly. I was devastated, especially since it was my first book. In hindsight though, I realize the reviewer apparently didn't like chicklit, but I have to say to this day, it's still a thorn in my side even though I've had other wonderful reviews.

That said, isn't it human nature to have 20 good reviews, but the one we remember the most is that damned bad one?

Once at a book signing in our local library, the head librarian told me my book had really good reviews. Being a full-disclosure kinda gal, I reminded her that Publishers Weekly didn't think so. And you know, bless her little heart, she told me something I'll never forget. "Nobody pays attention to those reviews." Needless to say, that gave me some comfort, but more importantly, the fact that I sold through tells me she was right.

I've given reviews but I choose my words wisely. I'm not out to steal anyone's thunder. If I don't like it, I simply point out the good things and simply mention what didn't work for me in a non-offensive way.

Marilu Mann said...

Thanks Carolyn! Sorry about the PW thing, but the good reviews really do make up for the bad ones. :)

Nina Pierce said...

I sometimes think authors put more weight on reviews than readers do. Before I became an author I never ever read a review on any book. I wasn't moved by the review on the front cover either.

But as an author? You better believe I look at every review. And yep, I'm one of those that points out the wonderful reviews. Even though I think they only matter to me. I think it's validation for all the hours of blood and sweat (well, in my case anyway.)

Natalie Dae said...

I've had good and bad reviews. They bad used to hurt (now they make me laugh...yes, I'm possibly insane). The good used to make me want to cry wit happiness (now I think: At last, somebody "got" me).

I don't read my reviews anymore unless a friend points me in that direction and the review was a nice one. I don't like being upset, so to go and read a bad one knowing I'll be upset isn't good for me.

I agree some reviewers appear to enjoy trashing books, which is fine if that's what gets them through the day, but not very nice for the author on the brunt end.

So my friend started a review site, which she's since handed over to me because of life issues, and there I have a policy. I absolutely refuse to put up bad reviews. If my reviewers don't like a book, they're told to put it down and let someone else try it. I want authors to be told what touched us, what we felt while reading, how the author made a difference to us, however small. The reviews work that way. We're not focussing on the writing, any typos or whatever, but the story and the characters.

I just wanted a place where an author knew, without a doubt, that if their book was read, they were guaranteed a nice review. If people click on a link to my site, they know there's no snark in sight.

A bright haven in a somewhat tainted review world!


Natalie Dae said...

PS, I meant "with" not "wit". ARGH!

Terry Spear/Terry Lee Wilde said...

Great article!! Sometimes reviews will influence me if there are a whole lot that say the same negative things about the book--its characters and plots. Sometimes I already have the book and wonder if anyone feels the same way as I do!

One time I was sitting with an author at a book signing, who does NOT read romance, write it, and heaven forbid--the paranormal? But out of the 3 of us--the other was a new age religion author, I was the only one selling.

Romance, got to love it.

So she bought my book, and I bought hers. Now, I didn't care for her book either, although I read everything, but I certainly wouldn't have written up a review of it. My mother read it and hated it. But the other author wrote a review of my book! Gave it a one. Told readers how nice I was, but how much she hated my book.

Exactly why did she write the review?

I believe in my father's saying: "If you can't say something nice, don't bother to say anything!"

She is now in my local romance chapter.

Pamala Owldreamer said...

I am not published yet,but a few years back I entered the first five pages of my very first novel in the Golden Acorn contest. One of the judges sent me a scathing review,declaring my heroine had no redeeming qualities and was abusive to the hero who was obviously not much of a man. She said after the first few paragraphs she didn't read the rest of the submission. I was devastated and stopped writing for several months.My fellow writers in RWA inundated me with support and encouragement.I finally realized maybe the the judge shouldn't have assumed so much after a few paragraphs and maybe I should have opened my novel with a different scene. However,she jumped to conclusions that were false and her review was harsh and unkind.I put the review behind me and began to write again.I have two finished novels,an anthology of children's stories and ready to send out queries.I also have much thicker skin,but i will never forget those harsh words.Words are arrows that can wound or heal. Critics should be fair and realize they can be honest without wounding.

Joanne said...

Although not published yet, I find that a harsh critique will sometimes shut me down for a few days. After dusting myself, I try to forget about it and move on.