Troubling book reviews

I’ve been circulating around through the oddball little community of Christian speculative fiction writers. (Spec fic = sci-fi and fantasy).

Among little writing communities, there’s this thing that goes on. People send around free copies of a book to their friends with the instructions to read it and leave them a good review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble to get their “review score” up.

Bad reviews are not wanted.

Noob me, I’ve read some of these books. Some I liked better than others. I said so. Only to offend the authors. “Don’t dare diss my darling child!” they scream. “Don’t dare post your negative review on Amazon or you’ll ruin my Review Score!”

As a writer, I know how negative reviews hurt. I’ve had some doozies over on fanfiction.net.

But as a reader, negative reviews are the other half of the balance. When I’m interested in reading a book, I read a couple five star reviews, then I look at the 3 and lower ones. Those are the ones that gripe about the number of sex scenes, the poor writing, the lame characters. If enough of those people complain about the same things, I’ll check out the Amazon preview and see if it’s as bad as they say. Most of the time it’s not. But sometimes it is, and I’m thankful to those low-star reviews for warning me.

(I mean, have you ever read the reviews for Hexwood? Half the reviewers hated it and the other half didn’t understand it at all. But it’s a puzzle book. It’s supposed to be confusing. You have to read it with your brain all alert to put the pieces together by the end.)

If I dislike a book (not hate it, mind you, but just find some problems), I’d like to be allowed to say so. I’d like to be allowed to give a 3 or 4 star review. It wasn’t the greatest book I ever read, but it was a good try for a first book.

But authors can’t stand the thought of a less than five star review. So we get these dishonest review scores of breakthrough novels that may or may not deserve it. But how do we know if it deserved it? Nobody’s allowed to post anything slightly negative.

I have a review copy sitting on my desktop right now. My instructions were to “read it, leave a review if you liked it, otherwise delete it.”

Implying, “If you don’t like it, don’t review it.”

I’m frankly afraid to read it. Because I might honestly not like it. Then I’d have to quietly delete it and never say that I didn’t like it, because negative (or even four star!) reviews are not wanted.

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6 thoughts on “Troubling book reviews

  1. That’s dishonest. It’s buying reviews. I don’t care if there’s money changing hands; it’s trading a product or service for favorable coverage. If amazon knew about this, at least the reviews would be taken down; the book might even be delisted. And let’s not even get into possible FTC violations.

    Please, NR, stay as FAR away from this [stuff] as possible.

    (Or, if you’re feeling particularly clever, review the book as you see fit and threaten to report the author if (s)he gives you any [trouble].)

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  2. Honesty in the best policy in everything. If someone doesn’t have the guts to take the good with the bad then they have no business writing. They just need to sit in a dark room and worship their writing skills and not let anyone read it because they can’t stand the idea of rejection. You say these people are Christians? One thing about the Bible is God always shows his people with warts. He shows us how we really are, if you are going to write junk then for goodness sake don’t publish it, if you can’t take the heat stay out of the kitchen.
    I say review it and be honest if it stinks then say so but if it is good then of course tell that too. I appreciated the good reviews with the bad. For goodness sake find another community, this one is full of flakes.

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  3. I do see a lot of requests for “no criticism plz”, especially for fanfiction. I know firsthand how extremely frustrating criticism can be sometimes (especially if it’s the same person who leaves critical reviews for everything, dang), but from the way some people react you’d think ‘criticism’ was the same thing as flaming.

    I try to write fair reviews, mention a few problems and balance it out by listing what my “favorite” aspects were. It’s a good way to soften the review when you let them know that you actually count some of those parts not just as “likes” but as “favorites”.

    But you can’t just gloss over the bad parts and pretend they aren’t there–unless the author is literally a child or young teen, because sometimes they just need that. But I wouldn’t treat an author like a child when they aren’t. Especially if they have had their own book published. Then they need to be be treated like an adult, even if that means a bit of criticism. It really doesn’t seem right to baby-talk to somebody about their book because you’re afraid they won’t be able to handle it.

    If someone has to delete my review because they can’t handle receiving a reasonable, polite review that happens to mention a few things that weren’t quite perfect, then as the saying goes, that’s their problem. To me it is a literal problem, because if a person can’t handle that, I can’t see how they would develop very much as a writer–how do you learn what you need to improve or how to improve it if you refuse to let anyone help you? So I’m always happy to leave mixed reviews. 😛

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  4. Yep, reviews aren’t always what we hope for (snicker). But balanced and honest is much better than false raving. And authors learn from reviews that aren’t all gushy praise. Sometimes, we even make friends because of them :).

    It’s one thing to have *more* five stars than other numbers, but if they are *all* fives it’s a giant red flag for me.

    Ironically, I just posted a plea on FB for people who “liked” my novel to post reviews on Amazon.The reason I specified “liked” this time is that there are a few people I know who’ve read it and I know their reviews would be biased. Not because they have issue with my writing or the story or whatever, but because they don’t like the genre or contemporary writing period. My husband told me last night a coworker who read it said my book wasn’t “her thing”–she doesn’t read fantasy, or even fiction really. Do I want people like that reviewing? No. That kind of situation is, to me, the equivalent of someone saying a song sucks because it’s rock when they only like classical.

    I’ve never, though, actually asked someone specifically to not review because they didn’t like it. If the ones who don’t like it choose to review, I’m not going to come after them and demand they take it down, regardless of their reasoning. (I have asked a couple of times for spoilers to be left out, but I think that is different.)

    I like what you say about the negative reviews being helpful, too. A good example would be in the Christian fiction bubble. Some complain that the message is “not strong enough” and mark down for that. I’d consider that a positive that would make me more likely to read a book–what others often consider a too-mild message is preachy to me. Or someone saying a book is too dark, or whatever–one person’s too dark is another’s perfect.

    Anyway, very good points.

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  5. … Yea. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. But these people want you to see it just as they do, hrm? Meh. Agree with the majority of comments already here. Remain true to yourself. Use your own eyes.

    With my fanfic, I’ve always welcomed coherant reviews. Good or bad. Readers often catch things that I don’t and that can help me improve. An artist – writer or otherwise – that does not want to learn and improve, won’t. And since art always reflects the person that creates it… This kind of attidtude tends to cause their work to decline in revelance. To let them openly be in denial of this is not, in my view, kind – but the choice is theirs to make.

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  6. Lol, I need negative reviews. I know I need to know what’s wrong so I can fix it. I find it ironic that people like that are getting as far as they are, and honest people who want to work hard for their good reviews are stuck behind. It’s people acting like that who fill the world with mediocre work which could have been so much better with some good critiquing. But nope, people are too sensitive about these sort of things nowadays. Maybe they got a particularly harsh review which could have been a little less harsh and still gotten the point across. Bad critics make sensitive writers.

    Either way that is lying, playing for advantages unfairly, and downright frightening. If your writing is bad, people should know about it, especially the author. I’d be happy with a three or four star review if it were me, because at least it’s not a one.

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