Bad Reviews and Bad Reviewing

Okay, I admit it, I do get a certain perverse pleasure from writing scathing reviews of books that I find to be utterly terrible. Not just bad, not “Fifty Shades of Grey” bad, but really, really terrible.

A review can be ‘bad’ because the review describes why the book isn’t worth reading, but it can also be bad by being unhelpful. Or, it can be both. It can be hard for authors to see the wood (the quality of the review) for the trees (the reader’s reaction), as I mentioned in an earlier blog post. So, when you don’t like a book, but you’re compelled to write 250 words about it, it’s difficult to stay on the right side of the good/bad review line.

I recently started using Inkspand, a site that will pay you $10 to ‘beta read’ novels. It seems too good to be true: getting paid to review books and you get to choose the books? In some ways it is, the book selection is limited & you generally have to be on your toes to get one of the few available slots, which go exceptionally quickly on the better books. But, if you enjoy inspirational non-fiction, boy have I got a deal for you! There are usually several books with open slots if you’re a How to Win Friends and Influence People meets Chicken Soup for the Soul reader. You could make a mint if you read swiftly.
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Precious Snowflakes Melt Under Criticism

You know what sucks? Being told that something you made is horrible.

Creating is a difficult process & it’s hard not to feel precious about the final result. Especially when that final result is the sum total of weeks of work, late nights staring into the screen, forgotten meals, agonising over minor changes, careful refinements… you get the idea. Artists work hard.

So I get it. After all the time I spent on Speak for the Dead, some of the initial comments I got back made me feel pretty defensive. I’m pretty sure the first thought to go through my head was that’s not a valid criticism, give me an example.

I held my tongue though, because it might be hard to hear, but that doesn’t make it untrue or unfair.

What I do find harder to remain silent about is people looking for validation over the “outrageous” and “undeserved” negative feedback they’ve been given. Is someone pointing out that your book has a full stop instead of a comma nitpicking? Hells, yes. Is their pointing it out “abuse”? Aw, hells, no.

Even though it feels like shit to see a small-minded commenter refer to your writing as puerile, at the end of the day it’s a numbers game. For that one person who left an overly-long & frankly dull rant on your Amazon page, how many people read your book & simply responded with “meh”? How many read it, liked it, but never thought to leave a review? How many read it & wouldn’t know what to say beyond “it was good”, so didn’t post? By this measure, you’re still coming out on top.

But, let’s be frank here. Who really looks like the fussy tantrum-thrower in this equation: the negative-review ranter, or the author who makes comments like this in reply –

Dear reviewer,
Thank you so very much for the review, but it looks as if you posted it on the wrong book. This clearly can’t refer to mine. I sincerely wish you to read, “My Book,” which I’ll send if you reply with your address–free. After you read it, please be specific as to how it can be improved and I’ll be forever in your debt.