Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Do Writers Give Up the Right to Be Casual Reviewers?


While I was on blog hiatus, author Hannah Moskowitz posted an open letter to people who post nasty reviews on Goodreads (language NSFW).  (UPDATE: I believe I actually misread Hannah's point, which I think has to do with commenting on bad reviews than leaving bad reviews. So please take this more as a jumping off point than an extension of that discussion.)

In essence, Hannah argues that while vitriol from readers is hard to take for any author, it's especially hard and egregious coming from fellow authors. Hannah suggests that authors actually give up their right to write casual (and especially casually negative) reviews:
...I don't really get to be a reader anymore, not fully, and that's just [bleeping] reality. And maybe it's not altogether awesome, and maybe I miss it, but it's a pretty small price to pay for being a [motherbleeping] author.

That doesn't mean I can't write reviews, even negative ones; I do sometimes, and there are some amazing combination writer/reviewers out there--Phoebe North, anyone?--but it does mean that if I go out there and comment on bad reviews with sarcasm and bitchiness and general [bleep]-dom, I make writer-hannah look like a [bleeping] idiot.

So is she right? Do authors give up some rights when it comes to reviews?

While there's a great and long tradition of writers penning thoughtful negative reviews that demonstrate respect for the subject at hand, I agree with Hannah. I do believe writers give up the right to write casually bitchy reviews.

For the following reasons:

1) You don't need the karma. 

And forget the cosmic implications, this business is hard enough without having people out there wishing you ill. Behind every book is a team. You don't need teams turning against you.

2) You should be following the Golden Rule. 

How would you like it if someone casually dished your book as a piece of trash not worth the pixels it was printed on and it should be burned in a fiery pit of suck?

Not very much, I'm guessing. Not very much.

3) You won't look good.

There's no way to write a cruel review and come away looking like anything more than a mean person. No matter how wittily you think you tore the book apart.

4) You're better than that.

You are! Look at you. You're smart, you're erudite, you have a way with words. You insult yourself by resorting to ham-fisted takes on books and not giving them the thoughtful treatment.


Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying authors can't write reviews. But writers should require themselves to write thoughtful reviews. They should elevate the discourse, not lower it. And they should treat their fellow writerly comrades at arms with the respect they deserve.

What do you think? Do writers give up rights when it comes to reviews?

Art: "H.L. Mencken" by O. Richard






103 comments:

Stephany said...

I can't speak for everyone else, but personally I only leave positive reviews. If I can't say anything nice, I just don't say it.

JJ Wylie said...

I agree, and for all the reasons mentioned. The "casually bitchy" review is irresponsible and unprofessional, especially when it comes from a fellow writer.

I remember hearing a writer once say that he had more in common with the worst writer in the world than with the most well-read person who has never written anything original.

February Grace said...

I don't think writers should review other writer's work at all. I think there's just too much stuff to get in the way that's why I recently wrote a blog post about what I called 'ordinary' readers.

It just gets too ugly- and I think that writers should just recuse themselves.

Just my view. Love the post, Jedi Master.

~bru

Dana Rose Bailey said...

Good points. I agree, but extend it to anyone writing a review not just writers.

Tabitha Olson said...

Yes, I totally agree. When one aspires to be an author (or if one is an author), one enters a realm of professionalism where ranting reviews just don't belong.

I do write negative reviews, but I *never* rant. And I always look for the good in every book because there's always something good in it--even if I hated the book, there's still something good about it. I just need to take a few steps back in order to find it. Also, my readers have told me that, even if my review is negative, many of them are still intrigued with the book and seek it out. I think that's key.

Basically, for me, reviews are about promoting a love of reading. It's not about my opinion, or anyone else's, really. It's about how much we all love to read, and if someone else can enjoy a book that I didn't like, great! That's what it's all about.

Miranda Hardy said...

I believe you hit the nail of the head with your insight. I would never review anything negatively. It's just another part of being an author. I don't even review books, really, but I'll promote a fellow friend.

Francine Howarth: UK said...

Whether a writer or not, all book reviews should be professional in content: brief summary of overall content, no personal likes or dislikes in plot structure etc., no slighting of author or book.

If you didn't like it give it to a charity shop. Someone else make think that same book the best thing next to chocolate!

Amie McCracken said...

I don't think writers give up any rights. But that's because I don't think any person should write cruel reviews. There is never a need to be rude, not for anyone. We shouldn't be held to a different standard just because we understand the craft.

Matt Borgard said...

I don't know. Twain's comments about Jane Austen were pretty epic:

"I haven’t any right to criticise books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."

But, point of fact, I think everyone has the right to make casually assholish reviews, if they so choose -- haters gonna hate, after all. The caveat being that this is going to make you look like an asshole. But some authors get a lot of publicity maintaining the "asshole" persona.

Rachel Menard said...

Funny, I just posted about using Goodreads on my blog the other day, and am not sure I entirely agree with Hannah. True, as writers we should choose our words wisely. But we also shouldn't give every book we read a glowing review. We should be honest because as a reader, I want to read honest and thoughtful reviews. And as a writer, I'm fully aware I could read something harsh about one of my books one day, but I feel if you can't take a bad review then you should get out of the business because they will come.

Anonymous said...

I don't think writers give up their right to review, per se - but I am perhaps a bit biased, given that I have a blog devoted to (affectionately, mostly) ripping an entire genre. I would be horrified if an author found my blog and was hurt by what I'd written, but at the same time I'm just one piddly voice in a sea of millions and I'm upfront that these are my opinions, colored by my beliefs. Of course this could come back to bite my ass in a big way, so let's talk again in a few years!

On the other hand, I absolutely without question believe that writers must NEVER respond to negative reviews of their own work. They come off like whiny babies and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. People on the internet are jerks; if it upsets you, step away and find better headspace.

Justin Luke said...

Maybe I read her blog wrong? It seems to me that she's actually pissed off about authors WRITING BACK to readers who review them, and belittling them.

In her argument, I agree. Writers shouldn't really respond to reader reviews, besides a nice 'thank you' or something of that nature.

As for writers writing reviews? Sure. That's totes cool.

Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban said...

"I don't really get to be a reader anymore, not fully, and that's just [bleeping] reality."

I totally agree with the previous statement.

And with JJ Wylie's quote about writers having more in common with any writer than with any critic.

I have been reviewing books for a while for Myshelf (always emphasizing the positive), but I have been lately considering whether I should for the exact reasons you give.

Leah said...

It troubles me that all this drama over a few socially inept authors behaving badly on Goodreads/Twitter/etc. may have a chilling effect on writers posting any sort of criticism of other writers' work.

No one, whether writer or reader, should write a thoughtless review.

But there's no reason to take that to extremes and say authors should never review other authors, or tell authors they shouldn't say anything if they can't say anything positive. (Which itself is an empty axiom; even the worst book has some positive qualities a good reviewer can comment on.)

While it's disappointing to see certain authors taking critical reviews badly, it's also disheartening that authors are sort of being railroaded into censoring themselves and not participating in discussion and criticism of books. Are we not readers, too?

It's frustrating that we're coming up with solutions to problems that could be easily resolved if people simply behaved with maturity, civility, and respect. But I suppose that is asking a lot. :)

I won't let a few bad apples spoil the bunch, and I'll continue to review books no matter where my publishing career takes me.

Gina said...

I like the distinction: "casually bitchy" is off-limits, but well-thought-out negative reviews are not.

And frankly, that just ought the be the way it is for ALL people.

Mieke Zamora-Mackay said...

"Do writers give up rights when it comes to reviews?"

In my opinion, being able to say anything in any way you please is not an absolute right. I consider it more of a privilege.

For example, I consider it a privilege you give me to be able to comment on this blog post. You created it. You maintain this space. You basically own this white space. Your allowing me to visit here and speak my mind is a privilege.

I would like to extend that thought towards how I view books by other authors. Only a fellow author knows how much hard work goes into each book. In my view, that must be honored.

I love that you encourage "elevating the discourse." Thank you.

Robin Reul said...

I try and apply the golden rule that if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. Negative reviews are reserved for private conversation where friends (writers or otherwise) might directly ask me my personal opinion. To post negative reviews publicly, especially from a fellow writer, is just mean-spirited and in the end, isn't really helping anyone. We all have personal opinions, but do unto others as you wish done unto you, I say. Boy, I'm just full of adages this morning, aren't I?

Aside from that, we as writers may see things another reader would not. For example, my husband is a film editor and I am a writer. Between the two of us, it's almost impossible for us to watch a movie and not notice its flaws, whether its me shouting out the next plot twist or him knowing there was unnecessary content and it would have flowed better if they'd made it ten minutes shorter. So honestly, it's unfair to pass that along other than within private conversation with people we trust, or unless the writer is specifically asking me for line edits or story feedback, and even then, I would never go about it in a way that didn't also balance, for the writer, what I thought they did well.

Kendall A. said...

It's interesting. I actually just thought about this subject on my own blog. I do a review of a YA book every Thursday, and I realized that some of my reviews were on the negative side--not sarcastic or "casually bitchy," but not "THIS IS THE BEST BOOK EVERRRR!!!!!" either.

It worried me a little because it seems in YA, reviews that really poke holes in stories seem somewhat rare. In fact, I know of several reviewers who refuse to post negative reviews and will only discuss books that they love.

But that struck me as wrong. I agree with Hannah. As a writer, I've lost the ability to casually read a book. The books I read, I read for research, and when I write a review, I'm cognizant of how best to frame it to improve my, and my readers', writing skills.

It feels insincere somehow to gloss over parts of a novel that didn't resonate with me. I don't point them out to bring the author down. On the contrary, I have a lot of respect for writers, and, if I do comment on something negative, I make sure to do it thoughtfully and with support from the text.

I agree that negative reviews can be difficult to read. But I believe that they can be beneficial and have their place in the YA community.

I wrote a bit more about this subject on my blog here: http://bloggingforya.blogspot.com/p/on-reviews.html

Jaye said...

Hear, hear, Nathan. "...elevate the discourse, not lower it..."

I think many writers, those who care enough to post reviews, miss a huge opportunity when they leave it at, "I like or didn't like." Or when they use reviews to express frustrations with their own careers (yes, it is obvious). Writers have skills. Book blogs are a great way to showcase them.

On my book blog, I don't actually review books, I talk about elements I find interesting. What makes a quotable author, antiheroes, using mythology, or humor. One of my most popular posts talked about creative cursing. I think my readers enjoy it. I know they wouldn't enjoy me tearing a book, or author, apart.

The book blogs I read talk about more than the books. They talk about what the books mean to the blogger, how it relates to their lives and the messages they take away. They are interesting. They don't trash books or authors, because if they did, they'd be boring. Don't bore the audience should be every writer's number one rule.

Gale Martin said...

Great post, Nathan. I recently had a really discomforting experience with another writer who I gave a book to, in a gesture of friendship. He said he wanted to buy it but he didn't have the cash. So, I handed him a signed copy and said he could send me a check when he was flush. He proceeded to run it down on FB. I was mortified. Very disappointed in humanity that day. Yeah, it's great to be so gifted and discerning you can pick out all the flaws in others' writing. But if you yourself haven't published and you're a writer, you come off looking really, really bad.

Steven J. Wangsness said...

If you put something out there, you are inviting people to give their opinion of it. Last I heard, writers were people (most of them, anyway). So far my novel TAINTED SOULS has gotten good reviews, but you never know... Best thing to do is to stop reading when you realize the review isn't going the way you'd like.

Ms. T Garden said...

I will review books on my own site but not often on any other. My reasons are simple. I don't need the ego stroke of people reading my opinion on someone else's work in a more public venue.

Too often I find that people are spewing poorly concealed envy at the success and/or adoration someone is receiving. Whether it is an author who's work may not be as popular or a reader who doesn't want to deal with the fact that someone else actually finished a book and dared to put it out there.

There is also the false sense of security being on the internet brings. After all how many people would recognize the person they were being a buttwad to if they met them in person?

Reading and writing reviews shouldn't be based on middle school standards of popularity or on the type of behavior you can usual find there.

chrysoula said...

Ah, but what if the reviewer thinks it's a 'thoughtfully bitchy' review instead of a casually bitchy one? Perhaps even an 'earnestly bitchy' review? What if she's interested in what people are doing with fiction, wants to discuss it, and in discussing it, pulls a book apart?

And then people cry 'nasty review! Feelings-hurter! Mean agenda!’ and one of those people is the author. And other people say, 'wow, thanks, this is thought-provoking?'

There is no real reason for a review discussing literature and trends in that literature to behave like constructive criticism in a crit group. Ultimately if an author can't deal as an adult with the occasional tear-apart or Twainian reaction post, I think they've given up their right to read reviews of their own work.

crow productions said...

I theorize there are more writers than readers. If writers give up their rights, that's ludicrous. I say to that person to get off their high horse and walk in the cow pies.

Tapper said...

I follow the "only leave a review if it is positive and constructive", which, for me, means three stars or above. But then, I also feel an obligation to the readers. If my book, or any book, is horrible, shouldn't they have fair warning? I like reviews that say what things bothered them, without shredding the book or the author, and leaving it open to others having different opinions.

Nathan Bransford said...

Justin-

Oops, I think you're right, I misread her point. I'll update the post.

Kathleen Basi said...

The problem with the "Golden Rule" philosophy is that readers don't want a barrage of glowing reviews; they want honest, in-depth reviews that will help them decide if they want to read a book or not. Thoughtful negative reviews, mixed reviews, or generally positive reviews that acknowledge a reservation or two, bear a *whole* lot more weight in my mind. But as a writer, I'm afraid to post any sort of negative critique at all--because after all, I'm trying to break into this business, and if I go around telling other people what's wrong with their work, it's not very politically savvy, is it? I don't know what to do with that dilemma.

Hillsy said...

I must admit, I find the whole idea of writing online reviews a bit strange anyway.

I mean I have my opinions (so does everyone) but why should I foist that upon the world unasked?

I mean the rise of the "amatuer expert" has destroyed some industries. Trip advisor for one has put small hotels out of business because people drunk of the power of playing "voice of the people" take to the internet over trivialities which come across as indemic issues.

And even worse is the concept of only leaving "Good reviews". Think about it logically: if everyone only left a good review, and never a bad, then the only review system we'd have would be to measure the number of good reviews on a book to book basis.....so then...what of the book just out? Zero good reviews, the same as another book that's been out months and no-one had anything positive to say. So without studying the release date, finding out the sales figures, factoring in the average reading time........you see it gets a tad ridiculous.

Personally, I give little credence to amateur reviewers - I'm not saying they can't be correct in what they say (Ghandi himself said "In a minority of 1, the truth is still the truth") or that they arn't trying to be as professional and fair as possible.

But at the end of the day a professional book critic gets paid for their opinions - and, sorry, that's worth something to me too.

(NB: I don't just rely on one critic of course - I'll check out 5 or 6 at the same time)

E. Arroyo said...

Writers are not average readers. We see things differently now that we've learned the craft and so our review is biased. IMHO

E.Maree said...

I hate "casually bitchy" reviews, because they are *not reviews*. I'm write book reviews, and the key is to be BALANCED - rarely gushing with praise, and never stooping to attacking the author. I'm a writer and a very critical reader, so there's usually things I don't like and things I love about every novel.

"Casually bitchy" reviews are rants and moans dressed-up to look less petty than they are. It doesn't work.

Jenn Greenleaf said...

I'm bothered by the writers who use pseudonyms to write their nasty reviews - that way, they can be mean and unprofessional in disguise.

Deb said...

I reviewed on Amazon for over a decade. As far as I'm concerned, I would have lost credibility if I had only left positive reviews. Ultimately, the reviews are for the consumers/readers, not the authors. "Bitchy" is never helpful, but pointing out why something didn't work- and yes, even why you didn't like something- can help other consumers make informed purchases.

I also write and I don't see any conflict in continuing to review. If I'm doing it with an agenda- that author is terrible, you should buy my stuff instead- in general I can hide for only so long. Doing that is more of a risk to my reputation than the person I've trashed, so the smart money says to refrain.

Authors should NOT respond to their reviewers, especially the negative reviews. It makes them look petulant, and I cringed every time I saw it. And to the person who said they'll only leave reviews of 3 stars I'd more, the worst case I saw was the one in which an author was irked by a FOUR star review.

If we can't review honestly- negatively as well as positively- reviews are useless.

Lori Folkman said...

I couldn't agree more. Stephany summed it up perfectly. We should all take a "Thumperian" approach--if you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all.

And Nathan, thank you for the bleeps. I really appreciate that your blog is always free from profanity.

D.G. Hudson said...

If reviewers think being negative is cool, they're showing their immaturity.

I like Nathan's old sandwich rule -what's good, what needs work, and what you liked about the book. If it's only the cover, better not write anything. As Hannah said, it makes the writer look a little tarnished.

Besides, what's with the vitriol against other writers? Mud-slingers aren't welcome anywhere - politics, or in writing groups.

So, if a writer can't judge a book without tearing it apart, I'd say 'as a writer' you need to brush up on your skills of diplomacy.

Mirka Breen said...

‘Casually bitchy,’ while ubiquitous on the Internet, has no business in my soul. Not good for me. If I were to be ‘bitchy’ there would be nothing casual about it. The offender better be a serial killer who got off on a technicality.
Also- any review or reply, good and especially bad, draws attention to the product. Why would you want to draw attention and raise interest in something you found to be unworthy?
I find Mr. Bradford to be spot-on, as always. The day I disagree with him I will be silent.

P. Kirby said...

Nope, I don't think authors give up the "right" to review. I say that with a pile of reviews, most mild, a few glowing, and a couple "ranty," to my name over at Goodreads.

As someone who (I like to think) is well aware of how the Internet works-the tribes, the lynch mobs, the various subcultures, etc.--I know full well about karma. I also know that having no one talk about your book is actually worse that a couple of snarky reviews.

I don't insult the authors, nor do I go out of my way to be nasty. But I write honest reviews. I'm not going to hide behind a pseudonym to write reviews. I have an opinion. I own it. I put on my big girl pants and accept the consequences.

Ross Lampert said...

Like some other commenters here, I don't see being smart about how you review a work as "giving up a right" but rather as accepting the responsibility to be a respectful, decent human being. That doesn't mean being honest if you didn't care for a work, but it does mean citing the reasons rather than resorting to an ad hominem attack against a person you don't even know. The French critic Roland Barth said a book is two books: the one the writer writes and the one the reader reads. That's a good reminder that how a book strikes one of us will be different from how the same book strikes another of us. Each book is really a million books, a different one for each reader.

My writers' group follows this philosophy: critique the writing, don't criticize the writer. On-line reviewers would do well to subscribe to that ethic, too, instead of giving in to the casual meanness that the anonymity of the internet makes it so easy to hide behind.

Rebecca Burke said...

I like what Deb said.

I usually avoid writing reviews of books I don't like. Sometimes it's because I realize I may not have been a book's perfect audience. But also I am always, as an author, aware of how incredibly difficult it is to write and publish any novel. I would hate to hurt anyone's feelings unnecessarily; unlike the old days, a negative review lives online forever.

When I wrote book reviews for our newspaper and a column I had in a regional mag, I only reviewed books I was excited about. My thinking then was "the world's full of good books, why not steer people to them?" It seemed pointless to waste a whole column ranting about a terrible book that I figured no one should read!

Now I think of it as almost a responsibility to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads if I read a wonderful book. If not me, who? I'm a writer and book-lover (and former English teacher!) and can point out all the reasons why a book has merit, something many readers cannot do as well. I want to spread the word for good books and encourage readers to discover something that might be off the radar of the NYT bestseller lists, etc.

Anyone reading my reviews will always find perfectly good reasons why a book is tasty--I don't just boost, I provide arguments and examples. And as much as I would love to tell the world about the atrocious book I read last week that has been nominated for a really big fiction award, I will resist! I was definitely not the reader the author had in mind (I think there are only about 20 of those . . .in the world!).

Doug said...

Book reviews are useless enough, but it looks like some writers want to make them even more worthless. Maybe we should just ban book reviews entirely?

I don't give up any right to express my opinion.

If writers don't write reviews, then reviews will only be written by people who don't understand writing. That can only lower the overall quality of the reviews.

I never write a simple "yay" or "sucks" review. I explain what I liked and what I didn't. (Avoiding spoilers, of course.)

If I can't be honest, I won't write reviews. Spinning my reviews doesn't do the potential reader any favors. If I didn't like a book, I say so and I say why I didn't like it. I let the reader of the review decide whether my particular concerns matter to them or not.

It's not my problem if the author takes offense. Bad reviews are an occupational hazard of being an artist. If I take a writer to task for rampant comma splices (which I've done), the author can choose to ignore my comment, to learn to avoid comma splices in the future, or to stand by the comma splices as being an artistic choice that I was too dense to grasp.

I'll even review a book I didn't finish. I'll make it completely clear that I didn't finish the book, and I'll state how far I got into it and explain why I gave up. However: I won't review books I didn't finish that aren't "my kind of book" in the first place.

I think we authors owe it to the potential readers to give them honest appraisals of the books we've read. The good points and the bad points, along with disclosing anything that might color our viewpoint.

I think the above falls in line with Nathan's viewpoint.

As for the (re-evaluated) original topic of authors writing back about reviews: I'm generally not a fan. Once published, the work should stand on its own.

Rick Daley said...

I think a writer should have the right to leave an honest review. If that review is critical, then I think the reviewer should be fair and even-handed in the criticism. Constructive, even...

That being said, leaving a negative or critical review is different from just being an asshole. I've read reviews that are quite grandiose, as if the reviewer is using the review as a platform to really say "Look at what an excellent writer I am, my review is certainly five-stars, even if the book is obviously one-star" rather than "Here's what I thought about this book, and why."

WORD VERIFICATION: teusne. Sorry, I got nothin.

D.G. Hudson said...

Not everyone uses pseudonyms to write nasty reviews, so let's not get stuck on putting down pen names. For some, it's a security against trolls.

Maria said...

I guess everyone has their own philsophy. If you are only going to review books you like, that's one way to go about it. A bit cowardly I think, but oh well. If you want to honestly review all the books you read, then you're going to have some more critical reviews. That's valid too. No one has to like everything. I do NOT think a writer has to give up their right to be a casual reviewer, the writer should consider how they want themselves to be percieved. I think the "positive only" review philosophy is in part born of fear of backlash from other writers.

Suz Korb said...

An author should NEVER comment on a negative review. As for authors writing reviews, as an author I don't feel I can write thoughtful (if negative) reviews any longer. I'm afraid of the backlash on my own work in response. That's just the reality of it. So, if I ever review books anymore, it's only of ones I've enjoyed.

Maya said...

I felt there were 2 separate points being jumbled together incoherently. Maybe it made more sense if you read the whole blog post, but I didn't want to because it seems like a rant.

However, commenting on reviews for your own works and writing reviews are completely separate things.

1) Never, ever comment on a review of your own work. Good or bad. Even if it was a good review, you seem like a psycho stalker. I'm not kidding. And if it was a bad review...heaven help you when word gets out that you took that misstep.

2) You may write reviews as an author, but of course you must do it more judiciously than before you became an author. Not only does the review reflect on your perceived character, but it could be really awkward if you end up sitting next to the author you trashed at any publishing or writing event. It's a small community, people!

Marsha Sigman said...

I think we can do reviews but as writers our words carry more weight and can influence more people. We are considered the professionals in the field and we should damn well act like it.

With great power comes great responsibility. (could not resist)

Cheyenne Hill said...

@Rachel Menard, I agree. I, too, blogged about GoodReads and this very topic recently. I come from a background of studying film criticism/journalism on my degree, and that's a serious world of potential snarkiness.

There's no good in being cruel or rude, obviously. But if a review isn't honest (with good manners), what's the point?

I blogged because I tire of seeing fellow authors Tweeting things like, "OMG!! *squeeee!!!* BEST BOOK EVER! So good WANT TO DIE!!" It's great to be excited and celebrate awesome books, and from the general reading public, that kind of "review" is welcomed and acceptable.

But from fellow writers, and published/agented ones at that? That's the sort of "review" that really gets under my skin. It doesn't say much about the author's own abilities, either ;)

If you have something constructive to say, writer or not, and you say it without being flippant or mean-spirited, why *not* say it? I would never want to hurt someone's feelings, no matter how little I liked their book or how amazed I am that it's successful (if it is). But if people only ever put "AMAZING! SO FREAKING GOOD" out there in terms of feedback, how is that useful? Apart from making someone feel good, anyhow ;)

Especially on Amazon or GoodReads, I like to see honest feedback. If every single review is gushing about a book's perfection, I'm going to be tempted to think there's something funny going on in most cases (call me a cynic). If an author dares to give another author's work 4 stars instead of 5, I don't see what the problem is, as long as it's good-natured and honest. Especially since we're able to publically crit one another's work in forums and things of that nature. You can't expect to only hear good things, no matter how amazing a writer a person is.

Michael said...

I always use my real name on reviews anywhere, so I never write bitchy or mean reviews. I'd hate to publish my book and then have people trashing it.

Katherine Hyde said...

I wouldn't frame it as a question of "rights," but I do agree it's unwise and generally bad form for writers to trash other people's writing. I try to review only books I can honestly say nice things about. If I've received a free review copy and therefore have to review the book regardless, I try to be as objective, constructive, and kind in my criticism as possible. That's what I hope other writers would do for me.

Yat-Yee said...

So the question here focuses on authors not writing "reviews with sarcasm and bitchiness and general [bleep]-dom." In this scheme of thinking, it's okay for non-authors to write in this manner?

Writing a negative review is one thing. Writing a negative review with vitriol is a different thing. My opinion is that the difference lies not with whether the reviewer is an author or not an author, but whether the reviewer chooses to put their point across in that particular manner.

(I didn't read the original post, just this one.)

Rashad Pharaon said...

Writers should be able to properly review others writers:

First of all, if you are an unpublished author and write derogatory reviews, well that sums up your own work (note, I say derogatory, not bad). The method of communication pervades your own writing. I certainly wouldn't be surprised to learn that you write egocentric monologues in first-person POV.

Secondly, if you are a published author and write derogatory reviews: you know better, or should.

Constructive, bad reviews ought be welcome, but they should be carefully worded in their delivery, with supporting facts, so as not to become derogatory.

Either way, what goes around comes around--your book sales (or lack of) will tell your story. And for the derogatory reviewer, bitter that story may be.

Best,

Rashad.

Mira said...

Terrific post. I completely agree with your reasons for thoughtful reviews, Nathan. I agree that people should be kind and careful toward each other, whether in person or on the web, to the best of their ability in the moment.

And I admire, Nathan, how you consistently call for and model "best" behavior on your blog.

It continues to impress me that you've created that type of environment here - it's like an oasis of calm and thoughtful discussion in a very intense blog landscape.


What I'm about to say may seem off topic - but I think it's on topic because this issue would be a very quiet one if people didn't invest so heavily in the idea that reviews make or break a book. I think this whole review issue is so emotional because people think that reviews are powerful.

Current wisdom says that good reviews are THE way to sell books. And, like most current wisdom tends to be, I believe it's a bit off track.

I think there is some truth that reviews help or hamper, but it's not the WHOLE truth. I continue to believe that the single most powerful thing that will sell a book is word of mouth because the book is fantastic.

So, I find myself wishing people wouldn't keep trying to control the outside factors so much, and would focus on what's really important - the writing.


In terms of mean reviews, I'm not worried I'll respond to them myself, because if I get them when I finish my book, I'm going to refuse to read them. No one can make me read a mean review, so I'm not going to. Problem solved, right?

L.G.Smith said...

I don't write reviews of books on Goodreads or Amazon. Too tricky. Even if I thought I was saying something nice, someone somewhere would interpret it differently. I do give ratings on books I've read as honestly as I can, though sometimes I fudge those because I'm worried about hurting someone's feelings. Basically I'm a sap.

Richard Mabry said...

Nathan, I plead guilty. I only leave good reviews (when I can honestly give them). If my opinion is that the book is mediocre or worse, I remain silent.
If people ask me, one on one, my opinion of a book, I'll give it honestly. I don't, however, commit it to the permanence of posting it on the Internet...for all the reasons you've listed.

Kate said...

While I don't think that an author should write a nasty review, I do think it's extremely important to give an HONEST review. It's alright to say that you didn't love a book. I worry that people will start to give false praise for fear that others will find them rude for having a critical opinion. Maybe it is just easier for authors not to give an opinion at all, but that seems so stifling.

Maya said...

One problem is that a really negative review can sound personal even when it's not. I recently read a book where I thought the prose was over-the-top and full of ill-conceived metaphors. I thought the main character was weak and an insult to women everywhere. Those are my honest opinions, but that's a pretty harsh review! I wouldn't want to run into the author and have her know that I thought that. As a writer, I'd rather keep my mouth shut than insult a peer in the business. However, as a reader, I want to tell my friends to stay away from that book. So I don't see what's the problem with reviewing under an alias -- not to be mean, but just to have the ability to give forthright opinions without jeopardizing your community relations.

Krista M said...

If I do not like a book, I usually do not leave a nasty review of the book. It's been done to me and I know how it feels. Granted, I will probably not recommend the book to others; I won't tear it down.

I will leave positive reviews for someone, but taking into consideration that I don't have to be "friends" with the author and give them a lot of compliments. Some times it is helpful for the author to get constructive criticism.

Phoebe said...

Eep, oh hai, link to my blog on Nathan Bransford's blog.

My feelings about this are obviously complex, but in brief, it I had anything to impart to aspiring authors who are also aspiring reviewers, it would be:

1. To hold yourself to higher standards than anyone else will, in terms of both the art and the ethics of criticism.

2. To know that no matter how well-intentioned, you will piss someone off eventually.

3. To recognize that there is an art to good criticism, just as much as there is an art to good writing in any form.

4. To acknowledge that it's a ton of work (but rewarding, if you can hack it even as a popular casual reviewer).

5. To realize that you will make the same mistakes for which you criticize others. However, you will grow more from both making these mistakes and recognizing them in others' writing than you will in just about any other way.

What's worked for me won't necessarily work for anyone else. But when it comes down to it: damn, do I love reviewing. That's why I continue to do it, despite what others see as foolishness in the whole endeavor.

Candice.Abraham said...

Writer or no, if you're reviewing than review with respect. Maybe it's because I'm Canadian but shouldn't the Golden Rule apply to all people, all the time? In other words, don't leave bitchy reviews/be bitchy to people. Period.

I do believe though that writers, if they want to, should give honest, well-thought out reviews of other authors' works. Constructive criticism can be an author's greatest gift, in disguise as a stone in the shoe. So take that stone out, look at it, then find the whole in your shoe and fix it!

Gehayi said...

No, writers don't give up that right. I don't think that writers or anyone else should leave ad hominem attacks as reviews--but I believe that it is possible to be honest about a book's flaws without resorting to personal attacks. If the reviewer thinks that the book has problems with plot, characterization, pacing, inaccuracies in history, bad science, portrayals of women, minorities or the disabled or that it encourages rape culture, then, as a potential customer, I want to know this.

Part of the problem is that many authors feel that anyone criticizing their work is attacking them personally. They need to remember that they are not their work. They also need to remember that EVERY writer has gotten negative reviews. No one likes it, but it happens. It's part of the job.

And what's the alternative? Only writing nice reviews? If positive reviews are all that's allowed, then positive reviews themselves become meaningless.

Kat Sheridan said...

I suppose I should preface this with rant/on:

Ah, my Dear @Anonymous 8:29:

You say you have a blog that is, (please note the quotation marks), “devoted to (affectionately, mostly) ripping an entire genre”. Don’t tell me, let me guess. Romance? Of course, I’m sure every genre has its detractors but none so much as romance. Ah, what easy pickings, so terribly, terribly much fun, to skewer not just a single book, not an author, but an entire genre, n’est pas? I find that most creatures who write such blogs do not do it for the edification of others, but for their own egos. “See how witty I am? How devastatingly clever? How cool?”

It’s a sad little hobby.

And of course, you can’ most assuredly be forgiven for your utterly harmless little screeds, right, because, as you say “I'm just one piddly voice in a sea of millions.”

Do you really believe that? Have you honestly no clue that your “piddly voice” combines with many other “piddly voices” and before long an author’s voice is silenced by the cacophony of “piddly voices”?

Ah, yes, you say, “…that writers must NEVER respond to negative reviews of their own work. They come off like whiny babies and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.” (Because, of course, big brave, dashingly caustic and insulting bloggers like you never leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth, do they?) So they must simply stand and take whatever (“affectionate, mostly”) vitriol you care to dish up and remain silent? Because, that of course is what nice, professional people do. They should grin and bear it, shouldn’t they? Why? If they respond to you, will you melt away like sweet innocent sugar? Would you honestly say those exact same things if you were sitting with that author across the table from you? Where is YOUR professionalism? YOUR courtesy?

How naïve are you that you can pat yourself on the back that you’ve done no harm? Because, again quoting you, “I would be horrified if an author found my blog and was hurt by what I'd written.” My dear, have you never heard of Google Alerts? Do you honestly not know that most authors have them and, being in almost pathological need of positive affirmations, read absolutely EVERYTHING ever written about themselves and their work? Do you honestly believe you can sit in your little troll cave and mock people and they wouldn’t know it? How many people have you made angry? How many has your clever, careless thoughtlessness hurt? Do you know you’ve made people cry?

Of course, authors are supposed to be “professional” and “above all that”, right? Well, not unless they’re not human. The utterly ridiculous thing about writers is that we are supposed to be so thin-skinned, so transparent with our thoughts and feelings, so we can “bleed our truths” on the page, and then we are supposed to somehow magically transform into a robotic rhinoceros, impervious to all slings and arrows and vicious (but affectionate, mostly) little bloggers and reviewers.

Here’s the truth about writers. We KNOW that words mean things. Have value. And when you use YOUR words to “affectionately, mostly” rip us up, we understand that words can also be weapons and they—YOU— slice us to the quick.

And one more thing. P. Kirby 9:29 said “I'm not going to hide behind a pseudonym to write reviews. I have an opinion. I own it. I put on my big girl pants and accept the consequences.” I admire that about P. Kirby. Too bad you, my dear (dreary, banal) “Anonymous”, don’t have the same courage of your convictions (or a more original nom de plume).

Do you believe in karma, Anonymous? I do. And I pity you.

As to whether writers should write reviews? Of course they should. Writers know how to use words effectively to make their points. But as someone upthread said, only to lead readers to the really good books. We can leave the rest to “Anonymous”.

/rant off

Beverly Diehl said...

I think writers have the rightto publish anything, whether it's a really bad book, or a snarky review. It may not be a wise or well-considered decision, but we all have the right to make the decision. And will then have to accept whatever comes about as a result. If we self-pub a really crappy book, we may get creamed in the reviews. If we write too many scathing reviews, we may make enemies and have a lot of authors think we're an a$$hat.

All that being said, for myself, I won't review a book that I consider less than 3 stars, unless it is wildly popular and I know I'm in the minority for disliking it, or the author is dead. I don't want to be responsible for trashing anyone's career, or even hurt anyone's feelings. (I've also learned the hard way, that sometimes author-bloggers who invite all feedback/critique can be SUPER-sensitive.)

katdish said...

There are few scenarios I can imagine when a writer giving a bad review of another writer's work where he or she doesn't come off looking petty, even if the review is accurate. I would advise against it. Write something scathing then never publish it if it makes you feel better.

Diligent Writer said...

I truly think some people get out of hand when leaving reviews. What about the possibility that I like a book that you don't? We all like different things. Also, I believe in Karma and I don't post a negative review. I have reviewed books that I didn't like. I still reviewed them in a positive manner.

I am an aspiring author and the one thing that concerned me was mean spirited reviews. I decided that once my book is published that I won't read the reviews. Every one has an opinion but it is how your opinion is expressed that matters. Good reviews help but bad, bitchy, or rude reviews can kill your book...

Kristin Laughtin said...

I think #3 is the most important here. Critique is important, but when it comes from a fellow author it just looks petty, condescending, or egotistic. At the same time, at least in the U.S. authors have the right to express their opinions and I don't think authors need to be dishonest about their opinions. But unsolicited rants? It depends what images they want to craft. Snarky works for some people, if they've got the book to match. On most others it will look unprofessional, though.

Cyndy Aleo said...

I think it's disingenuous to only leave positive reviews, or even to pretend to remain neutral. Why does a writing career preclude giving opinions? We're told daily by betas, by rejections from agents and editors that we suck, yet one tiny little review from a fellow writer and the whole world tilts off its axis?

The constant worry about brand and what people think and what can come back to bite you, etc. ... if that's what it takes to be successful, I'd rather starve in a garret somewhere. People have opinions, and writers are going to have more opinions than most. Why do a degree in literature, as so many have, and learn to critique only to no longer do it? Or worse, do it in hiding?

I'm not saying run out and review everything you don't like with a one-star rating on GoodReads; like most writers, I love books, and it takes a LOT to get me to really and truly hate something. But why on earth, when so many books have padded review counts from friends, family, sock accounts, etc. is it wrong to differ? Unless you are the ghost of David Foster Wallace, I can't think of many living writers whose words in a review would have enough sway, and at that level, they'd be hard-pressed to have the time to spend reviewing books on blogs anyway.

Writers are first and foremost people. I'd hope they have opinions, both good and bad. It's why they are later able to sell memoirs. I'd just hope they share them sooner.

robin said...

I don't think I'll have to give up anything, but then, I do my best now not to write bitchy or rude reviews. Even if a book isn't suited to my taste, it'll work for someone, and I try to make that clear anytime I post a review about a book I don't love. I value thoughtful reviews, and I doubt that will change if/when I become published -- nor will my reading (ha) and desire to post about those books.

Anonymous said...

Hannah does't go far enough...

IT'S INSIDER TRADING,
AND
A CONFLICT OF INTEREST.

... and that counts for the positive reviews too...

and not just for published/self published authors, but ALSO for anyone who has turned their hearts to getting their own stuff out there.

Once you've crossed the line in your mind to become published, you have a vested interest in all that gets published, especially in your genre.

Commenting outside your genre is barely tolerable for positive reviews only, but unless your comments are wholly respectful of another artsworker in your genre, then you're no better than scumsucking gutter trash... no matter how much you earn.

If you're a literary student or professor, and the review was written as part of course material, then it should not be made public without that disclaimer attributed to it.

And as for negative reviews... I've never seen a bad review that doesn't make the reviewer look worse than the writer. Bad reviews ALWAYS say more about the reader... more like black comedy really, at someone else's expense. Some even rant so badly, they make themselves look positively stupid.

BOTTOM LINE: POOR FORM ALL ROUND FOR ANY WRITER WHO REVIEWS ANOTHER OF THEIR OWN GENRE

And if they fail to declare their vested interests, they should be held legally accountable for attempting to undermine the incomes of other professionals.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Um, yes.
If by "casual" reviewers, you--or she--mean comment on someone else's review.
If, however, you mean review other writers' work, no.
Because especially well-read reviews, such as those in the New York Times Review of Books, are most often written by writers, who the review actually solicits to review others' works.
However, there is in fact an inherent problem with writers, who are recognized as such, writing reviews of other writers--especially, perhaps, new writers, or writers who have just published a book in the genre for which the reviewer is best known.
It's exactly why I particularly love the scene in "Midnight in Paris," when Owen Wilson's character meets Ernest Hemingway and tells him he's a writer too and asks if he might look at what Wilson's character has been writing.
Hemingway's (Richard? Stoll's) classic reaction: "No."
"Why not?"
"Because I'll hate it."
"What? How do you know?"
"Because I already hate it!"
"What? Why?"
"Because we're both writers, right?"
"Yes?"
"So we're in competition. Look. If it's good, or worse, great, I'll hate it because it's better than anything I could ever hope to do. And if it's bad, or worse, really, really bad, I'll hate it. And you won't know which it is."
I'm quoting the dialog from memory, but it's what I got out of the scene.
Even though it's written by Woody Allen, delivered so matter of factly, so "Ernest"-ly by Stoll, it rings as almost the truest thing you've ever heard an actor playing a writer say something you have no idea if he ever really said.
So. If you're the New York Review of Books, you know where to contact me and I'd be happy to either praise or lambaste my competition for a fee.
But if you're writing a review of a friend or competitor's book somewhere, you're not likely to hear from me.
Unless it's MY book you're reviewing.

Anonymous said...

As a published author, here's one more reason why authors should tread with great care if they are going to attack another author.

I once had an author trash one of my books on goodreads because of something she didn't like within the storyline. That was fine. It's her opinion and I don't mind that.

But then she went on to comment about my writing. So I naturally hopped over to amazon, bought her book, and read it up until I coldn't stand reading it a minute longer. She made every mistake in the book, from using too many said bookisms to using too many adverbs and horrific dialogue tags.

I left her a book review, with examples of bad writing, and back up links, and didn't think twice about signing my name.

The bottom line is that if you're going to go after another author, don't like in a proverbial glass house. Because the author is going right back after you. And it's going to get ugly.

On another note, most authors don't sign their names to the bad reviews they leave on goodreads. Most use fake names and slither through without being touched. The post you wrote is done with great intentions, but it doesn't address the sleazy side of goodreads and amazon.

Anonymous said...

That's "live" not "like."

Grace Burrowes said...

A-men, bro. There is no excuse for me (who believes in the true-love-conquers-all stuff I write) to engage in gratuitously destructive, uncivil discourse with readers or peers. It's bad PR, of course, but it's also just plain dishonorable. Words can land with the force of a blow, and we're supposed to know better than to go around walloping on each other.

Anna L. Walls said...

Writers don't necessarily give up the right to write casual reviews, but being supposedly educated in the craft at least somewhat, I do agree their reviews should be thoughtful. I've reviewed one book that was pure torture for me to read but that had nothing to do with the writing or the book, it was simply something I don't like reading. I still feel badly about it but it was as honest and diplomatic as I knew how to make it, pointing out that it was my opinion, not the fault of the writing or content, both of which were very good, just not my cup of tea. I think I'll feel guilty about that review for a very long time.

Hope Welsh said...

I still leave reviews for books I enjoy reading.

I don't think anyone should leave a nasty review--reader or writer.

I can usually find something positive to say about most work--though, as I write and publish now, I keep my negative comments to myself--and don't review.

Many NY authors have their books read by other authors, which I think is a good thing.

Personally, I think 'casually bitchy' reviews are just wrong--for a reader or an author/reviewer.

I'm not a huge fan of numbered or starred reviews. I like to see review sites that just review it. The tone tells the reader if it's worth reading or not.

Jeremy Bates said...

Great Blog post. I am going to bookmark and read more often. I love the Blog template…

Melissa Sugar said...

I agree and for the same reasons. The most valid and simple way of putting it, "It just makes you look bad". I read many of the author/author-agent wars on Goodreads and I was shocked. We are all in the same industry and just like in every profession, you just don't do it.

I am a lawyer and if I went around posting bitchy comments or praising nasty comments left by others on legal review boards, it would hurt me more than the lawyers I attacked. An author should demonsrate professionalism. I am sure that there is a dignified way to write a negative review, but that is not what I read on Goodreads. It was juvenile.

Terri Weeding said...

NO ONE has the right to be a casual reviewer. Especially not a writer. One can be a casual commentator but "review" suggests a thoughtful analysis. As for authors responding to negative reviews...why waste precious energy? Name one book that is universally loved by all.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Yes.

I don't leave only glowing reviews. I try not to say things like, "This book really wasn't very good," but in all my reviews, I talk about what I liked, and I talk about who I think the book would be good for, and I sometimes talk about things that I thought could have been done differently.

But I never just dismiss a book. That's disrespectful of the time and effort that went into creating the book. Plus, as you said Nathan, I don't want people to read that review and then say, "Well, I don't want to work with HER." That's just a dumb move. And the same goes for comments on blogs and on reviews.

Be nice. The Golden Rule applies to the internet.

Anonymous said...

I agree! Casually bitchy reviews are such an awful practice, anyway, I think that authors especially shouldn't be writing them.

Anonymous said...

THOUGHTFUL is the key word.
Good to see you back Nathan
Eva

situational leadership uae said...

That is great i like every bit of it..... I think that authors especially shouldn't be writing them.....

LTM said...

Yes. Authors give up the right to be casually bitchy. (Who's doing that anyway?) But I've also been troubled by the non-casual, gloves-off-style book slamming I've seen by regular readers on GR. What's that about?

Hannah's right, authors should never respond to these, but I sure hope they don't stop writing reviews altogether.

Nothing would make me happier as an author than a great review from a fellow writer. I think it also helps sell books... :o)

david elzey said...

so many different points in all this.

first, my problem with goodreads and amazon is the rating system. as the criteria for what constitutes one person's three-star from another can vary wildly, those rating systems alone are without any value to me.

which leaves the reviews. where a person can provide a narrative of what that rating means you might be able to get a sense of the rating they provided, but without a larger context of the reviewer's opinions, as with the rating, the exercise is pointless.

which is why i don't rate or review books on goodreads or amazon. i do, however, have a blog dedicated to reviews and they aren't always positive.

when you come to my blog and read a review i'm going to give and honest and measured (rarely bitchy, occasionally snarky) appraisal of the book. then, for context, you can also see what other books i've reviewed and get a sense of my background, style, approach, and thinking. only with a breadth of reviews can you determine whether what i'm saying is reasonable, makes sense to you, and most importantly, elevates the conversation.

and this is a problem more in children's and young adult literature, that people have a very strong sense that there should be no negative reviewing going on. we're all supposed to go around saying either nothing or nothing but good because either we're all in this together or because every book deserves a chance or because of the golden rule.

but here's the thing: a positive review means nothing to me if i cannot trust the reviewer to be discerning. roger ebert did not become a pulitzer prize winning film critic by saying only good things about movies but he became trusted because he was thoughtful and engaging with his criticsm. (he also wrote one of the worst film scripts ever early in his career). the point is, i trust a reviewer or critic LESS if all they say are good and glowing things because i have no frame of reference for their OPINIONS.

and that's all we're talking about here, opinions. does having an opinion entitle someone to be mean, offensive, rude, or generally obnoxious? no. but writers i think have an obligation to actually show the rest of the world exactly HOW to be a casual reviewer, how to comment without attack or malice, to the rest of the world can see how to disagree and remain tolerant in the face of criticism.

authors also, i feel, shouldn't comment about their own books that have been reviewed unless it is to correct a factual error. there's nothing more pathetic (and more likely to avoid an author's books) that to see an author attack another person's opinions.

John Stanton said...

Ok... A couple of things spring to my mind right away…

Everybody has the right to an A**hole and their reward will be to suffer the life of an A**hole.

I have found that the internet seems to make people more of whatever they are. Someone who is a messed up person is an extremely messed up person on the internet.

Also, it seems that reviews and feedback I get from the internet is all extreme. They love me and I am awesome or they hate me and want to chop off my hands so I can't write anymore. With the exception of the serious literary bloggers, I don't invest a lot of emotion into the casual reviews I see on the web.

Constructive or insightful feedback is valuable whether comes from a writer or blogger. I think writers can be great reviewers. I would love for my favorite authors to review one of my manuscripts.

Darlene Underdahl said...

You don’t give up any rights…just try not to review drunk.

Megan Mitcham said...

A person is not built up by tearing another down. In reality the opposite is true. Respect humanity, the imperfection and ultimate beauty of the learning curve.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I see a writer leaving a bunch of nasty reviews, I always wonder why that person has so much time on his/her hands. Shouldn't they be focussing on their own writing?

One of the things I've learned as a writer is how difficult it is to finish anything, even something imperfect, and get it out into the world. I think a lot of this nastiness comes from the fact that there are many snipers and critics who fear putting their stuff out there themselves.

Personally, I only do "book recommendations," since I just don't have time to keep reading things I don't like. That doesn't mean I won't make a critical comment, but if I don't think there's something good about the book, I don't care to dwell on it.

MaryAnn Pope said...

I'm not sure if this is just for writers. I think everyone should think about how they are coming across especially if you want to establish some sort of internet presence.

The internet makes it easy to be faceless, and some people take that as permission to be mean and behave as they would never behave in real life.

I'm not saying that everyone has to "play nice" and only give glowing reviews, but only that you should think about your word choice and how that makes you look and whether that is really who you want to be.

People (writers included IMO) should be honest with their reviews, but how you say it is just as important as what you say. And especially as writers, we should be ultra-aware of how our words reflect us.

A scathing, bitchy, sarcastic, ranty review makes you look like a douche bag. At least to me, and I'm sure many others. Picking on people isn't a higher art. Any school-aged kid can do it. Sure some people will think it is funny, but most won't. And I always think people who give such reviews are a little overly emotional. I mean, it is just a book.

But a thoughtful, intelligent review that points out plot holes and issues with characterizations makes the reviewer look well...intelligent.

Everyone is welcome to put up the persona they want on the internet. I just think we all need to carefully consider it especially if we want to become published someday.

Emma Cunningham said...

I do think authors give up their right to casual reviews. Anyone you trash now might turn out to be a contact you'd like to make in the future - and you'll be unable to do it.

sara said...

I think 'right' is the wrong word to use here. Unless the internet has secret police hunting down and deleting authors' comments, that 'right' won't go away.

However, authors do lose the reasonable expectation of anonymity when they comment, and freedom from massive public backlash.

Personally, I like when authors leave bitchy comments (except when the original reviewer is young and more likely to feel shut down by it) because it makes it easy to know which authors to cross off my TBR list. There are so many great books out there to choose from already.

K. C. Blake said...

A friend told me to watch out for reviewers who haven't even read the book on Goodreads. She listed her book on there, but it wasn't available yet. Still someone came along and put a terrible review, saying it was the worst thing they'd ever read, but they couldn't have possibly read it. She reported them and they were kicked off.

Personally I go by the 'if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all' rule.

Dana Stabenow said...

I was a reader long before I was a writer, I'll be one long afterward, and I will defend to the death my right to talk about what I read, in public or in private. That said, except in very rare cases (two? three, maybe?) I post only good reviews on my website's Book Review Monday feature and on my Goodreads page, mostly for all the reasons Nathan said, with emphasis on the karma.

But I would also add, why would I waste my time talking about a bad book, when there are so many good ones I'd rather direct people's attention to? There are only so many hours left in my life.

Karen said...

One might imagine that an author could be a very skilled reviewer, knowing the territory so well. However, I don't think anyone, writer, reader, or green person from Mars, has the right to be casually bitchy and critical at the same time. Be helpful, constructive, and encourage growth, for heaven's sake. And if you can't do that, keep it to yourself.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I don't think writers give up that right. Nor do they give up the right to advocate for a political party, or to express their religious views, or to curse, or to write about any subject. But everything a writer writes may bring reactions from others--fair or not. And so, from a practical standpoint, I do think writers need to think about what's important enough to them that they will say it publicly and accept the consequences.

I've decided that I can't simultaneously wear a writer hat and a reviewer hat. Sometimes I recommend books that I like a lot, but I don't do formal reviews and I don't comment negatively about books that don't work for me. But that's just my own personal choice; I think each writer has to make that decision for him/herself.

rese said...

i don't think anyone should give up rights to saying their honest opinion - negative or otherwise. as long as it's honest and fair. what's the point of having reviews at all if they're all going to be positive?

Nicole MacDonald said...

I used to do negative reviews if I felt really let down, now I stick to the 'if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't speak' rule. Just because I don't 'get' a book or style doesn't mean I have the right to shred someone for being different. Also, if I really don't like a book - why would I draw more attention to it by placing a review. I'd rather ignore it.

pezibc said...

"Do writers give up the right to be casual reviewers??

No. Ridiculous. I think that 'being an author' is irrelevant to the questions that reviewing raises.

I do not review books that I don't like. Full stop. If it comes up, I'll be honest and direct, but brief. "I didn't like and I don't recommend it." I explain that I do not comment further about books that I don't like because I won't invite drama and trauma. Besides, there are plenty of books that I do like and will recommend. Full stop. No exceptions.

As to her point about ill-advised responses, these authors should STFU. If they haven't learned "Don't defend the work." by now, they've got real problems. Probably aren't helping their careers any either.

There are people that will go insane if they learn through the rumor mill that you don't like their book but don't want to talk about it - but it's a balance that works for me. I'll talk up the good stuff, and mostly try to sidestep the rest (short of being dishonest).

By the way, far too many people make no distinction bewteen "It's not good." and "I don't like it." Writers, of all people, should understand this.

Barbara said...

I don't think writers give up their rights. They come in all sorts -- nasty, smarmy, cheery, just like the rest of us. I don't particularly trust the really positive reviews either. I'm also not sure that the point of a review is to be so polarizing-- positive vs negative or like vs dislike. I prefer those that offer the reader a sense of what holds the book together, how it feels to read the book, what is strongest or weakest and whether it matters.

Ann Best said...

If I think the book has major problems, I will sometimes email the author. Like first commenter here, I only write positive reviews. So the book has to be good enough, IMHO, to warrant this. I point out the strong points, and usually leave a few snippets from the book as an example of good writing.
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

Sara said...

This is a really interesting topic to consider--one that I frankly hadn't thought about before.

I agree with your point about karma - cosmic and industry alike. And I also agree with Stephany (first comment) about if you can't say something nice, best to say nothing.

At the same time though, I think there's an honesty factor that we have to consider.

Coincidentally, Patanjali's Yoga Sutra's (which is a definitive text for the Hindu/yoga world) addresses both these points. Rule #1: Do no harm (to self or others)
Rule #2: Truth with compassion.

Even though these were written thousands of years ago, I find them really relevant to this discussion. And IMHO, if there is a way to both speak the truth in reviews WITH COMPASSION while also doing no harm to another author, I think that would be the optimal way forward. And I'm not sure that the best thing is to just say nothing...because, frankly, that's not truthful.

db said...

I look for reviews by certain of my favorite authors. I like reader reviews also. I have found many interesting books that I might have missed if Dana Stabenow or another favorite author had not recommended them. They are readers besides being authors. If I like their writing, I enjoy their reviews.

Liesl Shurtliff said...

I agree for all the reasons you stated. I've never dished out particularly nasty reviews, but I've always thoughtfully explained why a book didn't work for me. However, after signing a publishing contract I decided that I would only post reviews that fall safely on the side of liking more than disliking. I will still honestly point out things I didn't like, but if I can't recommend the book to anyone, I don't post a review. And really, why spend more time on a book I didn't like? I already wasted my time reading it and I've got better things to do.

Cupcake Murphy said...

I have this little piece of writing I keep with me at all times and it says WHATEVER YOU PUT YOUR ENERGY INTO WILL GROW and I am not a scientist but I fully believe this is true so if you're Hatey Haterson that is what will eventually grow in your garden.

Janine Donoho said...

When I write a review it comes from my editorial brain. I only critique books I'm crazy about, since they're the ones that take me to a higher level as writer. The review process helps me to zero in on what worked and why. I don't waste my time or energy a negative reviews--those books were obviously intended for other readers.

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