Monday, April 4, 2011

Reviews and Responsibilities

“’But the emperor has nothing on at all!’ said a little child.”

- Hans Christian Andersen

This is going to be a controversial post.

Because I’m not on Twitter (and maybe live under a rock), I was the last to know there had been a hullabaloo regarding a critique of a book by a blogger. I’m not going to mention the name of the book-reviewing blogger or the self-published author that had a very public meltdown in the comments section of the review post.

Until recently, people rarely self-published. And books were reviewed through traditional print channels. There was no relationship between reviewer and author, so reviews had cart-blanche to be as nasty as they wanted to be.

The Internet and self-publishing have democratized publishing and reviewing for authors.

This is great.

And not so great.

Last summer, I attended a BlogHer conference that touted the glories of getting your book out there (as long as it sparkles) without much stigma. And they said how great it was that bloggers and reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon have pretty much taken over the reviewing books.

But there’s another side.

Among quality e-books, there are those littered with spelling and grammar error and awkward sentences that any copy editors would’ve caught. I’ve seen mistakes on the FIRST PAGE.

And for all books, I’ve read many gleaming reviews, so I’ve run out and spent hundreds of dollars only to find out that most of these books didn’t live up to the hype.

I’ve had blogging buddies tell me they’ve bumped up reviews in order to spare an author’s feelings. Or if they haven’t liked a book, they’ve contacted the author privately and haven’t posted a review.

The result? I’ve become skeptical of reviews.

Recently, I posted a review of To Kill a Mockingbird on Goodreads. It’s my favorite book. I gave it 5 stars. It made me think about the other books I’ve rated 5 stars. In the review, I wrote:

I read books that have all the right ingredients: good pacing, interesting/sympathetic characters, believability, just the right detail, compelling story. And I give them a 5. I'm pretty spare with the 5's I give.

But there should be a category for 6 stars. For those books that meet all the criteria and more. The ones that touch you, are so powerful, with such superb writing, few can touch them. This is such a book.

I fear 5 stars has become somewhat of a joke.

Read Karen Gowen’s post about why she doesn’t mind receiving 2 Stars .

And she’s willing to give 2 Stars .

And why should she mind?

1 star means, “I didn’t like it.”

2 stars means, “It was okay.” Okay ISN’T bad. There was some issue or some issues for the reader, but it wasn’t awful. Why do we interpret it that way?

3 stars means, “I liked it.” Most books fall in that range. Why are we afraid to say it?

4 stars means, “I really liked it.” That’s a fair option for books that sweep me along but I have an issue or two.

5 stars means, “It was amazing.” Do all the books we're laving 5 stars on really amaze us?

Not having a 5-star rating won’t break a book. It won’t break an author. When I see 5-10 positive reviews on Amazon, with no negative ones, I don’t believe those reviews come from anyone but friends and family. Even Harry Potter books have negative reviews, and J.K. Rowling has created an empire with her books. I am a mother of two children who wishes I could attend Hogwarts.

And there are readers who don’t agree with me.

When authors become big, few readers worry about hurting their feelings.

Writing hurts.

When we do it well, we dig deep to expose our deepest selves.

Then we send our work off for critique.

Speaking of critique, if we have critique buddies and beta readers who only serve to pat us on the back and tell us how great we are, does that improve our writing?


If that’s what we expect from our reviewers, we’re going to sell a few books we haven’t otherwise.

But I don’t think we’ll make it for the long haul.

Especially with YA. Is the actual YA audience reading our reviews? No. They’re going by word of mouth. A teen isn’t worried about an author’s feelings.

This March, I didn’t make it to the third round of ABNA. What I did get was a critique. A harsh one. Another blogger received a harsh critique last year, so I was prepared for it. Nobody has been that blunt about what would make it better. I can do an overhaul or I can take what I’ve learned and not make the same mistake with my almost-completed WIP.

I’ve survived.

And I’m better for it.

Back to that blogger who reviews books. He does self-published authors a big service by reviewing their books. His review was kind, considering the big problems I found when I downloaded the first chapter onto my computer. He complimented the plot and the character’s emotions.

His critique was the awkward language and mistakes pulled him out of the story.

They pulled me out too.

If he’d written a false review or refused to review it, I wouldn’t know it had problems. I might have bought the book. And I would’ve been upset if the reviews steered me in the wrong direction.

The author accused the reviewer of having the wrong copy. He looked at the new copy, which had the same mistakes (as did my pulled chapter from Amazon). She accused him of lying. He was classy. And most of the early commenters were actually trying to give the author advice to stop commenting because she was digging her own grave. But that didn’t stop until she’d said some very rude things; one of them to an agent who’d commented anonymously.

Damage done.

It got brutal after that. People actually posted fake reviews on Amazon, so she now has 1-½ stars.

She behaved unprofessionally. Other self-published authors feel she’s tarnished the image of self-publishing that was just gaining credibility.

I can identify with what happened to that author as a writer who doesn’t want her feelings hurt.

But I choose to identify as a writer and reader who wants the truth.

As an author, do you want to be the emperor with no clothes?


  1. Ouch and ouch again! I agree with you - it is better to let the sun shine down on you so you can learn and grow then to fill up with lots of water and just sit their getting all moldy:)

  2. Well said, Theresa. I seem to have missed all the hullabaloo, but based on this post, I think you are absolutely right. I appreciate honest reviews so much more than fluffy, trying-to-be-kind-even-though-I-shouldn't-be reviews. You make a lot of excellent points here. :-)

  3. Well said in so many ways. Keep shining the light!

  4. Well said Theresa! I feel you are giving voice to a POV that has been squashed a lot, lately.

    I finally took my goodreads widget off my blog because I knew I had too many reviews on there that weren't glowing and positive. I still give honest reviews, but only post the positive ones on to my facebook wall.

    There's a lot of fear here, and you've tapped into it.

  5. I don't do book reviews because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. And I know people's opinions and interests are so different.
    But I do appreciate an honest review. Whether it's about a book I won't bother to read if it's reviewed negatively a lot (time is precious) or if it's about my wip that needs changing.

  6. Loved the honesty in this post.

    I read the meltdown (i.e. blog post and comments) you're referring to yesterday. It was quite shocking.

  7. Good point, Theresa. I think it's a hard thing. I know I don't want to post negative reviews. I have been avoiding Goodreads for that very reason. I don't want to step on any toes. But I think you've inspired me to go and rate some of the books I've read lately. Most of them will get three stars. That's not so bad, is it?

  8. I did finally get wind of this story and read the reviews, the comments, the author's response and the explosion of amazon reviews on this author's book. Very very very very sad all round.

    Personally I do not see the point of posting a negative review. If I don't like something I just keep quiet and never try that author/brand etc again. I don't see the point of spreading my negativity around - there are enough of that without me to add to it.

    If I do like the book/brand etc I'd say so cos I'm so happy I want to share my joy! But that's just me.

    I think that's why I stopped volunteering for ARCs. Critiquing is not for me nor is reviewing both good and bad. I just like to share something that I truly like and not give any more time to something I do not like.

    I'm sorry about the harsh critique you got - but it was from professionals and those in the know about these writerly things so I hope you are ok and have taken a positive spin on it!!! Take care

  9. I feel for the reviewer as much as I do for the author. It isn't easy to give and receive feedback, but I'd like to do it gracefully. I know nit everyone will like my books and I am ok with that.

  10. Very interesting post. I have no reviewed anything on line but I do look at reviews and even if most are good but there are one or two bad, I make sure I look at the bad ones. I'm more likely to believe the negative review than the good one and I know that if the negative review resonates with me, I won't like the book. The same is not true in reverse.

  11. Wow, I missed all of this too. It's sad all around, but I would much prefer people to be honest with me. That's why I keep searching for those brutally honest beta readers. Tell me now while I have time to fix it before I embarrass myself in front of the whole world.

    Great post!

  12. I definitely rate books on your curve where most books end up being a 3 and there are very very few 5 star books. I see 5 stars as a book that I'm going to treasure for years to come and push onto anyone I think would enjoy it.

    I have yet to pass on reviewing a book because it is bad although I think it scares some people away from requesting a review from me. I would only pass on a review of a book if I didn't have time to read it.

  13. I know about a year ago, when I was critiqued I took it personally, but as time has gone on, I see the advantage of an honest and fair critique. It is awful when you are pulled out of a story by unedited grammar and misspellings.

    I would hope most people would not paint all self-Published work with the one brush. I can only say, this authour is obviously not mature enough to realize how valuable a good and fair is.

    Great post to remind us all how detrimental an unchecked tongue or rather taping fingers can be.

  14. In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new; an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking, is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto, "Anyone can cook". But I realize — only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's, who is, in this critic's opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau's soon, hungry for more.

    -- Pixar's Ratatouille

  15. I only recently heard about this (probably because I don't social network), but definitely agree with you--honest reviews are better than positive-but-hollow ones.

  16. I've heard of this, but still can't figure out which blog it was or what book.

    Regardless, this is a good lesson and reminder for all authors to stay professional or face the consequences.

    I do appreciate honest reviews, but sometimes on goodreads, I get very confused that a book I've just LOVED was trashed by reviewers or vice versa. It's all relative.

  17. The silver lining to this debacle is the conversation we're having now. Reviews by well-meaning friends and family that praise an author and sprinkle those persuasive stars on the Amazon or Goodreads page don't really do the author or her work justice. Not in the long run.

    And I read through the comment thread on the reviewing blog in question. It was a stark example of how an author should not react to real world criticism. The reviewing blogger even offered two short excerpts from the book, to illustrate his critique on the technical aspects was accurate. It was irrefutable evidence, and yet, she argued.

    We should all take the important lessons from this incident away with us. To be a serious author, you have to be willing to face what needs improving in your work. 'Cause the reality is this: there will always be room to improve in our crafts.

  18. oh, hell no. I LOVE receiving honest, specific, direct criticism. Mixed with a little sugar, of course! :D That ABNA review you got I'm sure helped you in invaluable ways to make your book even stronger!

    Tarnished the image of self-publishing? I'm sorry, but SP is working against the bias w/me. What I read in the incident you reference didn't surprise me one bit. In fact, I've come to expect it.

    And honest reviews are NEEDED. I write reviews, and I include what I did like and what I didn't. Now, if I can't find anything I DID like, or if there are significantly more strikes than pluses, I won't review a book. But that's just me~ :o) <3

  19. This whole kerfluffle make me think of Ratatouille, too (thanks, Michael, for typing that out). I haven't read the post, and I don't think I want to.

    Whatever happened to waiting before responding? I heard that when you get a bad review/bad feedback to sleep on it. Take a week or so. Then respond. By then, hopefully, your better instincts prevail.

    But then again, it's so easy to respond to things on the Internet.

  20. Good post. I agree! My reviews are honest, for I don't see the point of doing otherwise. Once in a while I will pass on a review if I cannot say anything positive about a book.

    Yes, hard to swallow reviews are just that, but we move on and get better, or take it with a grain of salt, or wallow around in self delusion. I choose the former. And btw, I love TKAM too. :)

  21. Hi Theresa! You know my view on this one already but will share it with others as well. I still refuse to post negative reviews. Like Old Kitty, I personally do not see the point of posting a negative review so I just don't post it. If I like a book and want friends and followers to know about it, I post a book recommendation (or review if you like). I read and review e-books to help launch debut novels, too. So far I have not read anything bad to deserve a 2-star or a 1-star. They are all beautifully written.

    I don't go on the internet to read reviews of books written in public if I'm going to buy a book. If friends tell me they are good, I get them. But it's not how people think or rate a book, it's really how the story resonate with us or how powerful the message in it is that it affects us or makes us think. It all comes down to 'taste' sometimes. If it's our cup of tea.

    Tell you what I really do - if I come across a book that a friend posts on the wall and she tells me it's good via email or I check goodreads and find friends who posts good reviews about a thing I do is get a glimpse of the book on amazon. If I like it, I go and get it. :)

  22. I'm a newspaper reviewer, but I only review books I like...this is what people want to know, I think. I just released an e-book for middle grade readers. I have confidence in my book, so I want reviewers to give me the truth...some reviewers are just naturally harsher critics than others, though. Hmmm...tough question.

  23. I always want critters to tell me the truth--it's the only way to grow as a writer. I don't review books on my blog--so I don't have the problem of choosing whether to be honest or nice. But when I love something, I am effusive about it. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my absolute favs as well!

  24. Wow! The whole idea of being critqued is to be told the truth. When I have asked people to review my writing, I want them to be honest. Sometimes the truth hurts, but doesn't that help us in the end?

  25. Great post. I too, would rather hear the truth than a sugar coated version.

    I read that review and many of the comments. The reviewer had every right to say what he wanted without being bullied by the author. It seemed like the author's ego got bruised and her pride got the best of her.

    Because I am human and not immune to criticism, I rarely read reviews of the work I put out unless I'm ready to take the good with the bad. Every writer needs a “thick skin.”

    Most writers would have just move on and worked harder on their project instead of freaking out. She had to learn that her writing needed work at some point and she did, but instead of taking it and making her work better, she acted foolishly and pointed her finger at the reviewer. Oh well.

  26. Great post! Crit partners and beta readers are to make the writer better--and reviews are a service to the reader, not the writer. If reviewers aren't honest, it doesn't do the reading public any good. Same thing if reviewers are spiteful. I thought the reviewer in this case was quite kind and balanced (and he also showed a fair amount of restraint; I wish all the people who commented on this case in the last week had shown the same level of restraint).

  27. Excellent post and an even better question.

    I found a blog during a to z that mentioned it (very nicely) and I clicked over and read it. Wow.

    Like you, I've spent lots of money on hyped up books only to be disappointed. I like word of mouth.

    A friend gave me a book her sister in law self published, without any editing whatsoever (says so on the copyright page) and let me tell you. It needs some serious editing.

    I want the truth. In the best way possible, but don't sugar coat. It won't help me in the long run.

    Sorry about the harsh review, though. I hope their points were at least valid. Otherwise, it would just stink.

    Again, excellent post!

  28. this is the problem with self-publishing and why I am hesitant to buy or put mine out that route until it is a little more "regulated." Anyone can publish anything, without putting much effort into it - we don't know that until we buy it. And now, apparently reviews won't help. I would like to get an agent - for editing, connections, advertising, etc. paper books may not be for me, but I am not sticking my neck out without some backup (and I'm also aware I'm going to receive bad reviews, whatever!) - thanks for elaborating about that incident, I live under a rock too.

  29. This situation is one we teachers face sometimes with students whose parents or grandparents pay to have a book self-published. I have NEVER seen a student work handled this way that was any good at all. Parents gush over their child's poem being published as a contest winner, when a little digging shows that the "contest" was a scam to get the parents to buy the book that the poem is published in. I had a child wanting to schedule a creative writing class that is for very good older students; her mom insisted that she was a good writer--all I had to do was read some of her poems, such as the tributes to Michael Jackson and the like. "But she writes all of the time"-yes, and it is not interesting or insightful or creative. I stay very diplomatic but it gets hard. And please don't accuse me of being cruel in my estimations of her talent-I am not cruel, but this was a girl who cannot write a coplete sentence.
    Kind of part of this entitled generation that wants an A for very average work.

  30. I read the review & subsequent comments a few days ago and was amazed by how the author just kept digging in deeper. I'm afraid the only way I see her having success in the publishing industry now is if she publishes under a pen name - and works on improving her writing skills. Good on you for reading her work before forming an opinion. :-)

  31. I'm not on Twitter either and I just know the general gist of this. I haven't even read the review. I agree the author acted unprofessionally.

    I understand what you mean about honest reviews, but as an author, I don't want to give negative ones. But I do agree a critique that just pats you on the back is not helpful.

  32. I read the controversial blog review and comments you are referring to, I think it was very respectful of you not to name the author, because although her comments were shocking, there seemed to be a bit too much glee around the hole she dug for herself?

    I think negative honest reviews are much more helpful than a over general "I really like this.." I think stars mean very little, though I may be wrong. I hope your harsh review didnt cut too deep, its only one persons opinion, dont believe all they your gut on what might need working and ignore the rest!x

  33. Hi Chickster, I am finally here with the mushroom soup! Sorry it has taken so long :) Sometimes I find the soup a bit bland. Adjust the seasoning to suit yourself.

    Mushroom Soup:

    3 tablespoons butter
    1 onion, chopped
    500g mushrooms, sliced
    3 tablespoons standard plain flour
    2 cups milk
    1 cup liquid chicken stock
    1/2 teaspoon salt

    white pepper
    1 teaspoon lemon juice
    chopped parsley or chives

    Melt butter in a saucepan. Add onion and mushrooms. Cook until onion is clear. Stir in flour. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Gradually add milk and stock, stirring constantly. Bring to the boil. Cook for 5 minutes or until soup thickens slightly. Add salt, pepper and lemon juice. Serve garnished with parsley. Serves 4-5.

  34. Now you have done it! What? You spoke the truth from your heart and this my friend is the problem. This was an excellent read, I know nothing about the situation you speak of but I felt the truth. If we cannot handle the truth, well explain to me how you live with lies?

    Sorry, this was excellent and it got me going. We now return you to your program.
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  35. I was just thinking about how often I have begged people to tell me the truth about my writing, and not to worry about my feelings. If there is something that isn't working, I can't fix it if I don't know what it is. I may be wrong, but it seems much easier to fix my writing than to badger the whole world into saying they like it.

    That said, I think reviews are supposed to help guide readers in their reading choices. Unless an author is going to re-publish an already published book, a review isn't for their benefit. I suppose typos might send you back for revisions. Even then, there is no reason for an author to comment on a reveiw. Is there?

    Just learn what you can and use what you learned on your next project.

  36. @ Deborah, a very springlike analogy. Thanks!

    @ Shannon, thanks. I'm happy to hear you agreed with the post.

    @ KatieO, I'll try to keep shining the light!

    @ Angela, there is a lot of fear out there. It's too bad many of us feel we have to censor.

    I sometimes err on the higher star, especially if I'm feeling like I want to give it a half a star, which isn't an option. But on my Goodreads reviews, I do state more clearly (without spoilers) what I liked and disliked about the book.

    @ Kelly, I think I've only thoroughly reviewed two books on my blog. I do review blogs on Goodreads.

    Time is precious. There are so many books, so little time. We want to read the good ones.

    @ Medeia, thank you. The comments section of the post was shocking.

    @ Angie, I don't think 3 stars is bad. Maybe I'll feel differently when I'm an author. When I want to read a book, I look at all the reviews and make my own decision.

  37. @ Old Kitty, the whole thing did become sad and unfortunate.

    I understand what you're saying about negativity. There's always something positive and negative to say about any book. And it has to be done in a positive spirit, just like a critique.

    Accepting ARCs can be a dangerous business.

    The thing I've heard about the ABNA critiques is the editors don't mince words. That said, they did have positive things to say too. In the end, if you're being rejected, it's for a reason. Or two.

    @ J.L. Jackson, I've had rough critiques. I've learned to sit on them for 1-3 days. Often, what I initially deny becomes easier to accept after a grace period.

    @ Judy, I looked at the good and bad too. And I agree I'm more likely to agree with a negative review than a positive one once I actually read the book.

    @ Charity, I also seek honest beta readers (not too brutal in delivery, I hope). I left a group that was too positive.

    @ Sniffly Kitty, I try to be spare with my 5-star ratings too. But I sometimes do err up if I'd like to give it a 4 1/2. You have the right philosophy.

    You're the first person in the comments section to say you'll write negative reviews from a requested review. Brave!

    @ Ann, I think it's hard for everyone when we first let our writings be evaluated by others. But if we are ever going to hope to be published, we have to be able to handle it. At least that's what I tell myself if I receive a harsh critique.

    I agree. This person could've used the same critical eye about what her manuscript needed before publishing that should should've used before hitting the enter key in the comments section.

    @ Michael, we do thrive on negative criticism, which is why I stopped referring to Charlie Sheen after a day or two. And it's why I won't link the blog in question.

    While I don't think it's the case here, I do believe that sometimes the new is often dismissed.

    "Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere." So true!

    I love your Ratatouille analogy. It made me laugh but it's so true. We have to open up the possibilities that we can be surprised by anything, anywhere. Let's not be set it our own ways.

  38. I've received some harsh critique too, the kind where the person had nothing nice to say to "pad" the criticism. And yet what that person had to say was TRUE. So I learned a valuable lesson about my story, and as a consequence cut 7k of unnecessary words.

    Others told me the writing was beautiful, but not necessary. So they were nicer. But that one harsh critique was the one that had the most impact. And I thanked that particular person for her time (after I'd got over the sting of it). I did admit to her that she'd hurt my feelings, but then said I was grateful to her for being so honest.

    This whole saga was an example of an author with hurt feelings having the exact WRONG reaction.

  39. I don't know that it's brave although I feel bad about it when it happens, but I think it's important to still post the review

  40. @ The Golden Eagle, thanks for sharing your opinion.

    @ TerryLynn, yes, it's important to stay professional.

    You're right, it is all relative. But I like an array of opinions so I can make my own.

    @ Nicole, I'm glad we're having the conversation too. I hope it makes people think twice before giving too-glowing reviews or bashing someone to jump on a bandwagon.

    Yes, the reviewer did provide irrefutable evidence. Maybe a year ago, I saw a lukewarm review and admitted she hadn't finished the book. The author found the critique, commented with questions about what she didn't like. He had been so cool about it, she decided to give the book another chance. And a bunch of commenters wrote how impressed they were and wanted to read the book.

    Class can go a long way.

    @ LTM, a balanced critique is the best.

    I think people have to really consider why they're being rejected before they decide to self-publish. The ones who are successful didn't necessarily have a problem with their writing. But the story could've been something publishers weren't willing to take on for a variety of reasons. Then, after hiring a professional editor, it might be worth a shot. Those are usually the SP success stories.

    @ Liz, I loved Michael's analogy too.

    Restraint is harder than ever on the internet. But we still need to try. For critiques, I have a 3-day rule, which has served me well so far.

    @ Karen, I've been lucky enough to find something positive to say about each book I've read. If I didn't, I'd be like you and pass on reviewing. If it's that bad, how many readers can the book get anyway?

    Yeah, who wants to be just hear the good things about his/her writing? Critiques are good!

  41. I don't think this is a controversial post at all. Here's why: I've never trusted reviews. Not ever. Whether they're tradtional or not. I always make up my own mind.

    But I do have one other point to make. A few spelling errors don't necessarily mean a book is bad. It just means the editor wasn't that great. It's not a reflection of a good or bad story.


  42. That whole debacle was just crazy. I couldn't believe the author's responses. It was completely unprofessional and an embarrassment. Thanks for linking to me btw. Great post here, Theresa.

  43. I'm not on Twitter and must be living under a rock, too, because this is the first I've heard of this. Great points about reviews, Theresa.

  44. Theresa, this is a great post. I saw this train wreck happen and I couldn't believe this author was so unprofessional. And I thought the reviewer was extremely fair and gave a well rounded review.

  45. I wouldn't have known about this either if I hadn't read Jessica Bell's post. Of course I agree with you. As a teacher, you know you're not doing anyone any favors if you just tell them they're doing great when they're not. It's too bad the author was so defensive because she won't grow.

  46. I think we all know that the author responded unprofessionally. But I still think that the mob-minded verbal beating she got AFTER she stopped commenting was FAR worse. More than 200 people just KEPT GOING and GOING and GOING. It's like they just constantly kept sealing the wound and tearing it open over and over.

    Now, yes, the author had NO RIGHT to behave as she did, but at least she didn't do it anonymously. She stood behind her words. How many people thrashed the crap out of her hiding behind a mask? Now THAT is embarrassing. The commenters are the people who gave indie authors a bad name in the end. Not the author. Anyway, my two cents :o)

    On another note, I totally agree with you about the review ratings. I certainly wouldn't take offense to three stars. It's just silly.

    Great post! Thanks for directing me here :o)

  47. @ Len, I enjoyed our discussion about what had transpired and the role of the book reviewer.

    I think you look upon some books more positively than me. Although I haven't finished any 1-star books, I may abandon them before they'd get a 1-star review. But I'm more spare with my 2's on Goodreads than me 4s and 5s. And I don't do negative reviews here.

    That said, if a review is negative, but has positives and is done professionally, i Have no problem with that.

    Your advice about getting private book recommendations makes the most sense. It helps avoid the hype.

    @ Anita, good luck with your book. I agree, when we open it up so anyone can review, we may not get the most honest, thoughtful reviews.

    @ Heather, well-said. An honest critique is the only way to grow as a writer.

    And I don't normally review books here. I've done two formal ones for friends. But when a book gets under my skin in a good way, I'll usually mention it here.

    @ Choices, as long as a critiquer isn't mean-spirited, I'd rather have an honest critique than false flattery too.

    @ Janina, that writer did behave like a bully in the moment. Perhaps all that hard work seemed to dissolve before her eyes. But then she had a big hand in making it dissolve further.

    Yes, we have to take the good with the bad to grow as writers.

    @ Sarah, exactly! Reviewers service the reader, not the writer. But when reviewers are asked to review and have a relationship with the author, the role blurs.

    Your take on what happened on your blog was excellent.

    @ The Words Crafter, there's a big downside to self-publishing. Not everyone does their homework in order to get their book out there. It takes hard work, money, and time. Books are flooding the market, making it harder than ever to find the gems.

    Yes, word of mouth goes a long way for me.

  48. @ Tara, we were both late to this unraveling.

    I agree with everything you say. Without some standard, I'm hesitant to buy self-published books, especially with too many bloggers putting a too-positive spin on some less-than-stellar books.

    And I also want to get into this business the traditional way. All we can do is keep trying.

    @ Anonymous, "...part of this entitled generation that wants an A for very average work." So true. When people decide to self publish, they have to ask the tough questions. Why am I being rejected? Am I willing to spend the money for a thorough editor? Am I willing to devote the time for promotion? Am I willing to stand by my product?

    And no parent or adult should pay to be published in an anthology. Such a scam!

    @ Cally, the author isn't a celebrity, so she doesn't have the same power to get an apology out there. But who knows if it would go viral like the meltdown?

    Yes, I read the chapter. After doing so, I had to wonder about how she could defend her work so ferociously.

    So much goes into putting a book out there from start to finish. I'm not qualified to do all the steps myself. Few of us are.

    @ Natalie, many writers feel like you about negative reviews. But I don't feel like I've ever given a negative review on Goodreads. For a small # I've gushed because I just couldn't find much to critique. But everything else has a mention of the good and what I thought didn't work. I have no intention of tearing down published authors, especially since I strive to be one myself. But I do want to inform readers.

    @ Words A Day, there is too much glee about what happened to the author. After she left the comment thread, too many people reveled in her implosion. I'm glad I'm not on Twitter or looking to read subsequent threads because there's only so much time I want to spend on this woman's misery.

    @ Niki, I appreciate you sending along the recipe. I have some mushrooms, so I may make it tonight.

    @ Jules, if we can't handle the truth, how do we live with the lies? Excellent question. Spoken like a writer.

  49. I rarely go by the star ratings. If the story and cover appeal I will read for myself.

    Interesting post.

  50. @ Amber, good for you for having having thick skin so you could improve your writing.

    I don't think an author should comment except to thank a person for the review (even a bad one). Sometime last year, an author commented kindly to a blogger who said she couldn't get through the book. Based on how he handled himself, she was flattered and said she'd give the book another chance. Commenters were impressed, saying they'd read the book too.

    @ Trisha, people should pad. Because we need to know what we've done right so we leave that part alone. It's not just an ego-boost in my opinion.

    Flowery writing is probably a common mistake new writers make. I know I did. How cool you thanked her after you were able to process what she'd said.

    @ Sniffly Kitty, If you read in my comments section how many people won't do negative reviews, I think it comes across as brave. Since I rarely do blog reviews, it hasn't been an issue for me. Somehow Goodreads feels safer. Maybe I'm deluding myself.

    @ Jai, I think a spelling error on the first page is pretty glaring. That said, there are traditionally published books with one or two typos. It happens despite everyone's best efforts. But this author had missing commas, clunky sentences, and phrases that made no sense. It read like an early draft.

    @ KarenG, thank you. The author's responses were unfortunate and the people who retaliated on Amazon should be ashamed of themselves. Bad all around.

    @ Susan, we rock liver-unders missed a big deal. But I think it's making people think about self-publishing, reviewing, and responding.

    @ Sari, it was a fair review. After reading the first chapter, I know I wouldn't have stuck with the book. He did.

  51. Everyone gets bad reviews. You'll get great ones, not so great ones and bad ones. We all do. It's the nature of the beast of writing stories and putting them out there for the world to see.

    For the most part, I've either gotten great reviews or terrible ones. It seems that people either love my writing style or they hate it. I still read all of the reviews, and try not to let the negative ones get to me.

    If I do receive a bad review, I don't comment. The author always looks defensive then, always.

  52. I agree! I'm very slow to say a book is "amazing". I love Karen's perspective on two stars--I hope I have that kind of view when it's me. :o)

    Have a great day!

  53. I'll admit, I tend to ignore reviews for the most part. If the premise of a book sounds interesting to me, I'll buy and read it. I also rarely give books 5 stars. It has to be drop-dead astounding to earn that rating from me. As far as my own critiques go, I'll take whatever feedback I can get. Harsh or otherwise. Thanks for this post, Theresa. It was great!

  54. Fantastic post, Theresa.

    I agree, reviews - especially those of novice writers - tend to be too kind or emotional. But some are too harsh.

    I have stopped writing reviews, except for one or two a year. And I do that because I am focusing on my own writing.

    Steven King gave The Hunger Games a B and called it a little too contrived. Is he wrong? No. Not really. But he calls the book excellent too. If The Hunger Games is a B book (or 4 stars), I'll be happy with 2.

  55. @ Missed Periods, the teacher-student analogy is perfect.

    I visited Jessica's blog based on your mention. Thanks!

    @ Jessica, after a while, the comments became horrible. And what they did on Amazon was even worse. Mob mentality, as Nathan Bransford calls it.

    I was shocked how many people commented anonymously.

    I wouldn't mind 3 stars either.

    @ Glynis, when I'm in a store, cover, blurb, and first pages are what gets me to buy a book. It's when I rely on the Internet that I've sometimes been led astray.

    @ Nicole, that's funny your reviews are mostly high or low. I've noticed that with some other authors too. It's either your type or it's not, like music.

    @ Jackee, I hope I can have Karen's attitude when I receive reviews too. I'll have to reread my own post!

    Hope you're having a great day.

    @ Roxy, nice to know we mostly think alike. I had gotten swept up in these positive reviews, but now I'll be more careful before buying a book.

    @ Jonathan, I gave Hunger Games a 5, but then I gave Catching Fire 4, and Mockingjay a 3. After the first, I began to have believability issues. I also felt Katniss stagnated.

    Where did you see Stephen King's review?

  56. Great post Theresa. Somehow I missed all of this...(thankfully) I'm sorry that anyone let a critique push her over the edge into publically melting down. I don't review books on my blog unless I love them. On Goodreads or on Amazon I rank them how I feel, but reading your comments and Karens made me rethink how I rank them...I may be giving out too many fives.

    I think one reason I aspire to go through traditional publishing is because there are so many checks and balances before you hit the shelves. This leads to fewer chances of shortfalls in the final product.

    I do hope the author can pick herself up and once the negative energy has died down she can reflect and use the critique for future books.

  57. I must admit, I thought the author might have been unbalanced after I read the review and started reading the thread and saw her responses. After a while I started feeling sorry for her, but I could tell, even from her responses, that her English was stilted. I also went to her website and it was more of the same.

    In her position, I would have sucked it up, pulled the book and get some more work done on it. Bad judgement call on her part to think the novel was finished when it clearly needed more work.

  58. Writing hurts--so true!! No pain, no gain, I guess, loo!

    Nice post!

  59. Wow - I do use twitter, but I somehow missed this whole thing. Doesn't surprise me really - I tend to miss a lot!!! :)

    I'm very reluctant to review books. I have mentioned a few books for blog buddies - but I only mention the things I liked about the book. I avoid mentioning the things I didn't like. I'm not doing reviews, so I don't feel guilty, but if I can't say anything nice, I just avoid it altogether.

  60. Theresa, I had heard a little bit about this over on twitter the other day. (You DO live under a rock.) hehe

    Anyway, your post ROCKS! The author should have had a reputable copy editor do line edits on her book. Big mistake. The serious writers that self publish know they have to do the stuff publishing houses usually take care of. Michelle aka Glam, self published her novella and it was edited and edited well.

    This writer dug her grave. And now she must lie in it. Look, I don't want a bunch of fluff. I want TRUTH. It ALWAYS speaks volumes. I'll be a much better writer because of it. Terrific post, Theresa.

  61. @ Sharon, I think I've given too many 5's too.

    I think self-publishing is too easy. There are people who don't want to put the time and $ into putting out a polished product. It hurts to hear your writing isn't up to par. Once something has been published, it's hard to take back. It's not like a critique on work everyone knows is in progress.

    @ JL Campbell, I agree on both counts. She came across as a bit off, so even though she got nasty, I felt sorry for her too. This author needs to learn about the mechanics of writing. There's nothing wrong with that. My first writing was a mess. I worked hard to improve, and I still make plenty of mistakes.

    @ lbdiamond, when it comes to writing it is no pain, no gain!

    @ Jemi, I'm surprised you missed it because I noticed it had stormed the web after the fact. I assume Twitter was worse.

    We bloggers each have our own ways of promoting authors. I'm just more reluctant to take the promotion at face value. Now I e-mail more to get recommendations.

    @ Robyn, I guess unless I start tweeting, it's living under a rock for me!

    Thanks. She did need a copy editor. There's nothing wrong with needing one. I'd need one. In fact, most of us would. The problem is publishing without making sure the book reads clean.

    Though she dug her own grave, I still feel bad for the woman.

    I always want the truth too.

  62. Excellent post. What was funny about the author losing it was that the reviewer was clearly taking pains to be polite about some serious faults, he didn't trash her at all.

    Although I was truly sorry to see it descend into a witch hunt on facebook and amazon, I had to agree with the one commenter who said something like 'I'm not put off your book by how rude you've been, I'm put off because you clearly have a terrible command of the English language.' And when the writing is just plain bad, reviewers should let us know. Falsely good reviews are incredibly irritating when you're buying books.

  63. This is a really thoughtful post. I like your discussion about how you can tell if a self-published book has no negative reviews, you know it's family or friends who are playing up the novel.

    I really think that honest BUT kind reviews are the very best. You can be honest about a book's flaws without being cruel. And excellent reviewers also acknowledge their own flaws - as in, "I don't typically read this genre, I may not be familiar with all the nuances and devices"

    As for that poor author whose life was just ruined. Ahh, my heart goes out to her. She made a terrible, unprofessional mistake she will probably never be able to recover from (unless she makes a very humble public statement) In the meantime, she's being raked over the coals. did you read Nathan Bransford's take on the situation?

  64. @ Margo, thank you. It's amazing how many people are suspicious of all positive reviews. Guess I'm not so unique!

    Honest, but not cruel is the way to go. And a reviewer should be upfront if it's not their favorite genre. Or maybe shouldn't review it at all unless s/he can be objective.

    My heart goes out to the author too. I hope this has helped her grow as an author and a person. A public apology would go a long way.

    I did read Nathan's blog. Someone earlier in the comments referred to it. The mob that came out of this was very unfortunate.

  65. Excellent post, Theresa. Thanks for finding my blog post on the subject, and for sharing this with me. The world is about to be flooded (even more so than it is now) with lots of self-published books. And that's fine in my opinion. It's good. Well, it's both the good news and the bad news. We need reviewers to separate out the two. Authors will only hurt themselves by suggesting a less-than-frank system of promoting the books that are worth their purchase price.

    I'm not only suspicious of all good reviews, but I find raves less helpful. On Amazon, I'll go straight to the one- and two-star reviews, and see WHY the people who didn't like it felt that way. I can almost always tell if I would agree. So those critical reviews can sell books, too.

    Bottom line, everybody has a right not to like a book, and an author who argues with personal taste will find herself in a losing battle.

  66. @ Catherine, thank you for visiting. If self-published authors would go through the same process of being rejected and getting critiqued, then deciding to self-publish and hiring an editor, then they'd be more likely to have a quality product and thicker skins.

    It's hard to hear mean things about our work. But, like you, I read the poor reviews so I understand what the potential flaws a book might have. Gushing is rarely justified.