Reviewers Behaving Badly

Song of the Day: Breakdown by Tantric

A few weeks ago, Stacey did an excellent post on reviews and good manners—the niceness epidemic and the disappearance of hard-line critics. Well, now, it’s my turn to touch on the subject of morphing manners that our society is undergoing in the virtual world.

Authors, reviewers, readers, we are all likely guilty of showering undue praise on our writing peers and favorite authors. Though I can see how too many rainbows and smiley faces might tilt scales, I think it’s safe to say, for the most part, we want to elevate, or perhaps kick start, one another’s success. We’re pretty awesome that way. For the most part. Yes, it bears repeating. For all the hearts and glitter, there will always be a peer, contest judge, reviewer, or reader who thinks you are better off scraping muck from long-forgotten sewers than writing one more single word.

And that is okay.

The problem lies when common courtesy is completely ignored.

As chance would have it, I have just the example. A recent review of one of my books was brought to my attention. And let me say, my jaw dropped at the sucker punch I’d received.

ATTENTION! I want to make it absolutely clear this post is not to lambaste this reviewer or defend myself against her evaluation of me and my writing style. She certainly has the right to relay the unspeakable torture I put her through when she read my story.

It is the way she chose to voice her opinion that I take exception to.

When writing an “honest” criticism, there is no need to call someone’s work garbage. Or write a paragraph on how cheesy the book is, comparing it to a can of cheez wiz. Or mention not how it was bad, but how bad, bad, bad, bad, bad it was. Or that the book was written entirely from words found in a thesaurus. And I’m fairly certain it might be added insult to start and end a review praising and/or suggesting another author. None of this is constructive and comes across as a personal attack. Shame, really.

I’m not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. As authors, we accept this as fact. I’ve had a couple of tear-wrenching, thumb-sucking, fetal-position reviews. But these reviewers didn’t resort to petty ugliness. Their assessments were tactful and professional.

Unfortunately, this review has been ‘helpful’ to others, choosing to forgo reading my book, 19 others, in fact. No problem. That is their choice. Obviously they’re not tea drinkers. For me, I would never choose a book based on a review displaying such disrespect. I look at the reviews as a whole, read the blurb, take advantage of the “look inside” feature and read the first few pages before I make that decision. But, hey, that’s just me.

The problem here isn’t that the book received a one star “because 0 wasn’t an option”. It is the sheer disregard of civil social behavior. There is a difference between being honest and being rude, sometimes even abusive. I’m not alone in this. All authors have undergone such treatment. Unique to authors, we occasionally hear about manipulated rankings and sabotaged reviews, and how these responses, actions, and manners can adversely affect people. To some, it may even be considered a type of cyber-bullying.

As I have said, this post is not to snub the reviewer. Giving the benefit of doubt, there is a chance this person didn’t realize just how flippant they came across. So everyone take this as a friendly PSA. If you feel compelled enough to write a bad review, by all means be honest. But ask yourself if your scrutiny is helpful or simply mean-spirited.

Does having a bit of anonymity excuse people from practicing common courtesy? Don’t we have a responsibility to treat others with respect? Shouldn’t we be accountable for our words even in criticism? Didn’t our mammas teach us better?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

44 Responses to Reviewers Behaving Badly

  1. I have to say I disagree. I’ve gotten some whoppers of bad reviews myself… some of suggesting that I’m the worst writer on earth. But on balance, that’s just one person’s opinion. But long before customer reviews, when reviewing was just as curated as the publishing industry itself, there were still some remarkably vicious reviews written.

    I try to do business using common courtesy, tact and restraint in everything I do and write. But not everyone does, and that’s okay, in my eyes.

    Like

  2. jbrayweber says:

    Oh I don’t doubt there were some vicious reviews “back in the day”, Charles. And, frankly, just because they had some legitimate power over a writer’s career, doesn’t exclude those critics from acting like pompous jerks.

    You’re right, however. Not everyone practices a higher standard of common courtesy. It has become acceptable live and let die, so to speak. We move on. *shrug*

    I will admit, though my hackles had been raised, I certainly don’t expect glowing reviews if someone feels my work is undeserving. My feelings aren’t hurt. LOL! By golly, if they were, I need to find another line of work. But everyone deserves respect.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, Charles. 🙂

    Like

  3. Amen sister!! If you don’t like the book that’s fine. Like you said not everyone is going to love your work, but there is no need to trash the author. We’re not machines. We’re humans who are putting our heart and soul on the line for something we love. This is a brutal business without readers who want to trash us. To the reviewer who gave me a 1, not because the book was badly written but because there was too much sex for her, yet she finished the book. if you didn’t like the sex, there are two options. 1) put the book down or 2) flip the pages until the sex is over. This woman said my book was erotica. Believe me, this book is so far from erotica-but my hero and heroine succomb to one another while facing many trials. Telling an author her book sucks is like telling her one of her children are ugly. You don’t have to like the author or the story, but we’re human beings who love what we do and hope that someone out there likes the stories we’ve created. Great blog.

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  4. jbrayweber says:

    Ha! Sylvia! I’d say your review of too much sex likely brought in more readers. *wink, wink* I had a reviewer once say there wasn’t enough sex in one of my books. I’m thinking of changing genres. 😉

    You are spot on. I think people tend to forget, or not even know, just how close our books are to our hearts. I learned long ago when this book first hit the contest circuit, judges either loved it or abhorred it. Such strong opinions on both sides. So I certainly expected to see the same once this book was published over a year ago.

    Thanks for coming by!

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  5. Hmmmmm- I believe that we need honest critiques of our work. An independent review can help us see things in our work that we are simply not able to see ourselves. In a perfect world it would be a perfect constructive way to better our work.
    Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.
    This reviewer is entitled to her opinion- no question there. She points out specific things she didn’t like about the book. I don’t think they were adroitly spelled out, but she did get across the message that she didn’t like the book at all. OK- fair enough.
    What I do absolutely oppose is the fact that she used it as a forum to begin and end her opinion with an endorsement of another writer. This is where my suspicious nature goes on high alert! To me, this discredits ANY other point she tried to make.
    Not only was she very hurtful in the way she worded her criticisms, the whole opinion smacks of trolling. Now that’s just MY humble opinion, of course.

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  6. jbrayweber says:

    Yes, Stacey! You are ABSOLUTELY correct. I don’t deny this reviewer has her every right to express her opinion. I don’t discount her reasoning for not liking the book. Honestly, I don’t. And I probably would be doing a post on global warming, Bradley Cooper, or the legitimacy of Dragonology if it were just her solid dislike of the story. She’s not the first hater. She won’t be the last.

    Honest criticism doesn’t equate ugliness. And the way she endorsed another writer was tasteless. As for trolling, well, it certainly appears that way, doesn’t it. But I will reserve any opinions on that matter to myself.

    Oh look…a high road…

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  7. There’s a wonderful line in the movie HEARTS OF ATLANTIS where Anthony Hopkins’ character says, “You pick up a book, give it an hour or so of your time. If you don’t like it, wish the author well and pick up another book.”

    There have been books I didn’t like, couldn’t finish, could not see what the fuss was about. But never, ever, would I publish or even say some of the things flying around the Net these days. Internet Anonymity (or the perception of same) has given rise to a whole new level of rude behavior going all the way back to the mid-90’s, when AOL was the 10K Gorilla of the online world.

    I would be willing to bet hard cash that reviewer would *never* say such things to your face, Jenn. (Not because, like those who know you, she’d be scared to death of you, but because face-to-face is a different animal than the privacy of the keyboard….:))

    Manners and common courtesy in society have been vanishing for the past few years, but the rise in online rudeness just seems to escalate daily. Or hourly.

    You wrote a terrific book. You know it. Hell’s bells, I loved it, and you *know* pirate adventures are not my usual reading. Having said that, as you say in your blog, not every book is for everyone. C’est la vie, that’s part of the deal you agree to when you sign on for this kind of creative insanity.

    If we could just get readers to grasp that one……

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  8. jbrayweber says:

    Love that Anthony Hopkins line, William.

    I do believe that internet anonymity has given people a sense of wielding power. As you said, these folks say and do things they wouldn’t normally do in the actual presence of others. Though social rudeness is also on the rise, I think that is more of a shift in a society where technology reigns, texting, gaming, emails,skyping, social media networking, we no longer need to physically interact with one another they way we once did. Fast dying are the genteel manners and selfless helping hands.

    Me? Scary? Ha!
    Thanks for sharing, William.

    Like

  9. Tess says:

    I go back to what my mom always said…If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

    As a writer you learn everyone is not going to like your stuff…it’s an impossibility, but when they write a mean-spirited review it’s hard to grin and bear it! In my worst review, and I won’t go back to check exactly what it says, the reviewer put TOTAL CRAP in the title of her review–yeah she was really ugly. I could understand if she gave me reasons for not liking the book, but she only commented that the other reviewers were crazy for liking it and they must all be my family and friends. Not one of my family members has ever reviewed one of my books…I have had writer friends do reviews, but they weren’t the only ones who reviewed the book.

    I agree that the anonymity of the internet let’s ugly people really show their ugliness!!!

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  10. jbrayweber says:

    Yup, Tess. Anonymity brings out the Jekyll and Hyde in people. Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
    In all reality, reviews mean nothing. 🙂 Just saying.

    Thanks for popping in.

    Like

  11. Suzan Harden says:

    Unfortunately, trolls no longer live under bridges and threaten billy goats like in the days of yore. As the billy goats would tell you, the trolls didn’t have manners back then either. Just ignore them, and when you don’t rise to their bait, they move along to find fresh prey.

    If it helps to hear, Jenn, the crazy people aren’t limited to book reviews. Someone left a scathing comment on my blog once, accusing me of saying women are sucky editors and that I was incredibly sexist.

    Like

  12. jbrayweber says:

    Ah… there’s that word again. Troll. It’s funny, Suzan. That is the same bit of advice I give my 5th grader when a girl in her school tried bullying her. 😀

    You? A sexist? HAHAHAHA! Women are sucky editors? HAHAHA! *swipes tear from eye* Good one.

    Like

  13. This sounds like an Amazon ‘review’ to me. So it isn’t professional, it’s just one rude person venting all over your work. I have replied to reviews of my work on blogs (not on Amazon) to correct the ‘reviewer’ on points of fact. While this isn’t going to help your book or make you feel good, it isn’t a ‘review’ it’s just one person blithering. Forget about it.

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  14. jbrayweber says:

    No, Madeline. It wasn’t a professional review. I’ve been reviewed professionally with both glowing and not-so-glowing reviews, getting both ends of the spectrum. I once thought my career was over before it ever began with one of those reviews. In the end, it doesn’t matter. You are spot on. This is just one person prattling on. Just like going to the movies, I rarely take a critic’s word for how I am going to feel about a movie. I suspect others feel the same about books.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Like

  15. I’ve heard the same thing about you, Suz. Also heard that police officers are called ‘Constables’ only in the United Kingdom…:)

    Like

  16. Even if she disliked the book, there was no reason to be mean and rude.

    Like

  17. jbrayweber says:

    Exactly, Ella. 🙂

    Like

  18. Gerard Quain says:

    well I wish some one would review my work with out asking for a fee, I will take all critiques as there given, politeness is not good when honesty is required, as for society, we live in a me first time, and the good manners that where once cherished are now taken as weakness , it’s sad but it’s true

    Like

  19. jbrayweber says:

    Politeness may not have to be a factor when honesty is required, but respect should be. And I respectfully disagree that good manners is a weakness. Good manners show dignity and merit. Good manners spreads good will. Good manners elevates people from depravity and uncivilized behavior.

    And please don’t misunderstand. I am grateful for the reviews, no matter how I am rated. This post was a mere observation of how a bad review can and should be delivered with fair regard free from belittlement.

    Thanks for sharing, Gerard.

    Like

  20. Gerard Quain says:

    my view of manner is not that there a weakness , but so many seem to think so , as for the curt hurtful nature of some , well it is to be expected on the internet at this stage with so many hiding behind user names and fake profiles,I wonder if you agree that paid for reviews have skewed the ebook market in favour of those with large and deep pockets, as so many publishing sites use ranking systems based on reviews, which in turn determines traffic and who gets to see your work

    Like

  21. jbrayweber says:

    Agreed, Gerard. It’s easy to hide in the virtual world. But you and I can continue to hold our heads high.

    I do find that paid reviews can be a problem. Kirkus, for example, doesn’t gaurantee an author a great review, only a fair one. But an author can choose whether or not the review is published. So yes, this can alter ranks. It’s frustrating for those of us starving artists desperately trying to climb higher up the ladder. I know my pockets aren’t that deep. And even if they were, I’d rather spend my money on advertising rather than reviews. Validate me by letting my work speak for itself.

    Like

  22. Gerard Quain says:

    I like to think,I am an honest poet, and I know poetry is niche by it’s nature, but for any writer to pay for a review to my mind is to cheat oneself, after is that review worth anything, especially as most everyone believes the the he who pay’s calls the tune, and do you want that type of review, but to be honest , as a poet I have never expected to make money, so therefore my expectations have been met

    Like

  23. jbrayweber says:

    Great points, Gerard.
    I suppose it would depend on what the author is trying to achieve. If it’s just to elevate oneself, stroke ego and pride, yes, I’d say that is cheating. But there are many other viewpoints to buying reviews. If the review is good, and it is posted on a respectable review site, that can translate into sales. And who doesn’t want more sales? 😉

    Like

  24. Suzan Harden says:

    Well, you know, Will, I also have to do a better job of researching probate law because everyone knows it’s perfectly legal to break into Grandma’s house after she dies and take whatever you want.

    Like

  25. jdfaver says:

    I just can’t believe someone would read an entire book if they didn’t like it and then leave a nasty, mean-spirited review. If I open a book and don’t love it after a chapter, I delete (or toss in the donate pile) and move on. My time is too valuable to read books I’m not in love with. Hence, many of my reviews are 5 stars. I have been given a couple of review copies and struggled to find something positive to write. Great title? Did a wonderful job of naming characters? But, the books I choose to read are the ones that thrill me to the last page. I hope you receive many more great reviews, Jenn.
    *hugs*
    ~J

    Like

  26. jbrayweber says:

    >>>or toss in the donate pile<<< I like that JD. One man's trash is another's treasure.

    Thanks for popping in! 🙂 And thank for the encouragement.

    Like

  27. Marie says:

    I have to say that Cheez-Wiz is used in the famous Philly steak sandwiches so it ain’t all bad,
    Every writer I imagine goes through the slings and arrows of having bad reviews. I love your books, Jenn so I am biased.
    But some writers I can take or leave. I am not about to slam a writer who does not meet my expectations. I know I cannot read every genre, book or essay that comes out every year or even some of the classics. Some of the classics would not past muster these days.
    So write, my dear Jenn. Experience the joy and makes us happy and proud. Write and we will read.,

    Like

  28. jbrayweber says:

    Ah, thanks, Marie. You are too kind to me. *raises glass*
    No worries. Much to the chagrin of the reviewer, I will continue to write “garbage”. *cackles menacingly*

    Like

  29. Sarah Andre says:

    In this new, crazy world of multiple roads to publication the emphasis on getting favorably noticed will become more and more important. The link you sent about the British author who wrote 5-star dummy reviews for his books and slammed his competitions’ is sad, but not surprising. Neither is the NYT article about the guy who ‘sells’ his reviews and likes and tags.

    Bad reviews don’t correlate to bad sales. A) I know I never read reviews. I buy a book because a friend recommended it. B) Look at 50 Shades- widely panned, but it still flew off the shelves.

    I think like actors, we have to choose whether to pay attention to reviews. Your focus should be on your next story– making it the best it can be. Mean and toxic people who spend that much energy tearing you down will only serve to make you lose creativity and focus.

    Now, for the important part of your blog. HOW did you get a picture of ME working out at my gym??

    As usual- love the song. Happy Wednesday, kid!

    Like

  30. jbrayweber says:

    LOL! NO worries, Sarah. I’ve long since placed this review behind me. It just served as a great blog topic. Timely, too, with all the brouhaha over these authors behaving badly. *wink*

    As for that pic…damn! I’ve been caught! 😮

    Like

  31. Thank you for your post, Jennifer.

    There’s an old saying among librarians: “Get the right book to the right reader.” If I were a reviewer, and start to read a book for review, I’ll realize early on whether I’m the right reader for it. If I’m not, I’ll just put the thing aside. I won’t finish it, let alone write anything about it.

    I mean, what’s the point? I won’t get anything out of reading it. Even if I read it all the way through and wrote a review, what good would it do? My opinions won’t help those in the book’s target readership decide whether or not they want to read it. And readers who aren’t in that group won’t want to read the book or even the review.

    So if you ask me, that reviewer you wrote about was just wasting her time, and that of everyone who read her review. Except for you, of course. At least you got an interesting, thought-provoking, constructive blog post out of it!

    Keep up the good work; and remember the motto, “Non carborundum illegitimati”. Don’t let the bastards grind you down!

    Like

  32. jbrayweber says:

    >>>At least you got an interesting, thought-provoking, constructive blog post out of it!<<<
    BINGO!
    Thanks, Mary Anne. You nailed it. What is the point? Why waste your time? Do you really think you are doing someone a favor? Constructive criticism is one thing. But begin unnecessary bashing, in my mind, you lose credibility.

    Love the motto, too. I will remember that one.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Like

  33. Interesting, but here’s the thing. They can say whatever they want. Just ignore them. My best worst review said this: “Woman, you and your kind need to stop writing and stop now!” BTW, GR refused to take it down. But truly, this story has gotten me more laughs & I think it really helps writers put reviews in perspective.

    Like

  34. jbrayweber says:

    HAHAHA! That review is definitely the best worst review ever.
    I hear you, Vicky. I don’t make it a point to read reviews. I rarely do. I respect that everyone has an opinion. To each their own. Love me, hate me. It’s all good.

    Thanks so much for popping in.

    Like

  35. Lark Howard says:

    People write nasty things of so many weird reasons, it often astounds me. A couple of releases ago, JR Ward’s hardcover was available on Amazon, but the book wasn’t available on Kindle. You guessed it–about 50 people gave it 1’s and complained because they couldn’t download it on their Kindle. They not only hadn’t read it, they were JRW fans complaining about Amazon by giving her book 1 star. Sure, she sells a zillion books, but this was so unfair.

    Like

  36. jbrayweber says:

    Sadly, that happens more than we’d like to admit, I think. This has happened to friend William Simon. The book Love Is Murder, a thriller anthology, an amazing one at that, is edited by Sandra Brown. The book has been given 1 star reviews because the book wasn’t written by Sandra Brown. Never mind the book is written by powerhouses like Heather Graham, Sherrilyn Kenyon Brenda Novak, Lee Child, and William.

    Things that make you wonder…

    Thanks, Lark!

    Like

  37. Yvonne B. says:

    Sticking my head in again about reviewers. That review was a bit over the top and could have been phrased better.

    As a reviewer, I do try to be polite and courteous. I have learned over the years and continue to do so about the craft.

    Have I read books that I have considered to be duds? Plenty. Have I learned from reading them? That’s a big resounding yeppers. Biggest learning point from them is learning what I like and don’t like.

    What goes into the review (or at least what I try to put into the review) is what I like and what I don’t like about something. For the “don’ts”, I do try to remember to mention that just because this doesn’t work for me, it might work for somebody else.

    As far as others’ reviews, well, case in point. Read a book recently, a debut for that particular author, that had some reviews from within the publishing house as well as from folks who had followed the tale in its infancy on an online forum. Some of those reviews compared it to a couple published works, one of which has a strong following and another one that’s a mega-seller in a couple different formats. In the review, I stated that, while I appreciated that those reviews were very supportive of the work, I found them a little bit off-putting and wasn’t sure what my own reaction would be to the work. (I did like it and said so, but again, found a couple “quibbles” – mentioned what they were and that others might think differently for me – everyone has different turn offs and turn ons about a book.)

    Couple years back, had another case (this was before I started reviewing) that I had read a couple of books in a series, loved them, then came across a book that had short stories that were meant as fill ins between the books. That’s what drew me away from the author as the bought and paid for anthology (published by a different house from the rest of the books) read more like an ARC than something that I would have liked to see in print. I understand that mistakes happen – not everything is caught – but to have more than half the book read like that? If it was just that, I don’t think I would have minded. When I went to the author’s site, I found something on one of the pages that – by my interpretation (which could have been wrong, I admit) – said something to the effect that once this author wrote a draft, it was sent off, end of story. So that sort of soured me on this particular author at the time. Could someone else overlook this? Sure. Hence, why, if I mention this incident I usually don’t mention the author’s name. Will I try sometime in the future – quite possibly because I really liked the way the storylines and characters were set up and the nerdy geek in me also adored the amount of research that went into setting up the time periods.

    Like

  38. jbrayweber says:

    Exactly my point, Yvonne. You won’t hear me whining for a pity party on a bad review. The whole point of the blog was to discuss the lack of courtesy out in the virtual world. I’ve had bad reviews that were polite, spelling out what didn’t ring their bell. Fair enough. I tip my hat to them. They are the ones, like you, who recognize their opinions are not universal. That’s what I want as a writer. That’s what’s fair to the writer and the readers who are reading reviews.

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. They show the perspective from a reviewer’s standpoint, and we all appreciate that. 🙂

    Like

  39. Jennifer said: “You won’t hear me whining for a pity party on a bad review.”

    Oh. So your email asking me if I knew anyone who could get you a hand-held RPG was just for research, huh?

    (laughing)

    Like

  40. Yvonne B. says:

    🙂

    Like

  41. Francene says:

    I understand completely where you’re coming from, Jennifer. I received a review titled “Unbelievably Retarded” for an indie short story I wrote. What made it so much worse was the fact that it was the FIRST review I’d ever received.

    Like you I’m grateful for all reviews, whether they are positive or negative, but there’s criticsm and then there’s abuse. Unfortunately people seem to be losing the ability to tell the difference between the two.

    Like

  42. jbrayweber says:

    Having your first review be so disrespectful stings. Ouch! So sorry that happened to you Francene. I’ve had it happen with a subsequent book, too. It wasn’t an ugly review, but it was not a glowing one either. (Darn Google Alert! – wouldn’t have read it otherwise) Sadly, you just can’t help but think how and if the review will negatively affect sales. I sure hope your sales grew despite the review.

    We’ve just got to hang in there. 🙂

    Like

  43. Reviews like that are much more about the reviewer than the book being reviewed, in my opinion. It’s an ego trip and no writer should take such extreme reviews at all seriously. It is similar to trolls on a forum–they are all about spreading ill will and getting noticed for it. Probably hoping for a word war with the author and even more attention.

    Remember there are some pretty sick people out there, and some of them use the computer.

    Like

  44. jbrayweber says:

    >>>Remember there are some pretty sick people out there, and some of them use the computer.<<<
    LOL! You are absolutely right, Melisse.
    I don't take a whole lot of stock in such ugly reviews. I would also like to believe that regular people recognize it for it it is – underhanded and irreverent.
    Thanks for stopping in!

    Like

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