I have had a bad review. Scratch that, I have had a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Review.
Actually, I’ve had several in recent years and it has brought to mind a very dismal thought. What if writers have only Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Reviews to look forward to?
What is the difference between that and a bad or negative review? First off, bad reviews aren’t “bad.” They point out your mistakes in this book and help you to avoid them or correct them for the next. They’re sometimes biting, sometimes unpleasant, but always contain something of substance or tangibility.
In years past, the large majority of bad reviews were intelligent. The critic obviously poured much time and energy into listing their complaints and often providing some kind of example. They would be something like this:
“There were frequent typos….”
“The character’s name on page 15 was changed on page 201.”
“The author obviously rushed through this piece because the character’s hair color changed….”
Even these brief statements could provide you something to go on. Readers benefited from these legitimate discoveries, as well. Some may even decide not to buy the book because of misspellings, inconsistencies, or poor attention to detail. But, they were always issues that could be remedied in some way. The author could pay closer attention in the next book, brush up on their spelling, there are steps they can take.
Today, the assumption is reviewers are now exclusively for other reviewers and authors who want feedback should join a critique group. I believe reviewers should be confident enough in their writing to back it up.
The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Review does nothing. It essentially wastes space on the page and provides no helpful information to the author or prospective readers. These reviews are usually a few sentences, written by people who can’t spell, who make it a point to hurt the author over what should actually be obvious. Readers are often misled, by misleading reviews, and it hurts both writer and reader.
Writers, unfortunately, are painted into a corner when it comes to discussion of reviews. If you say anything about a review, no matter how level-headed you are, or how unreasonable the review is, you’re often labeled “defensive,” or “eating sour grapes.” Sadly, most businesses get to defend their product and remain professional, but for some reason authors haven’t reached that point. A company can sue for slander if someone is malicious or abnormally libelous. In business terms what is a writer, but an entity creating a product?
So, how can readers (and authors) ignore these seemingly clueless individuals? Here are some criteria for consideration:
- They complain because the book is just like the description. For example, if it’s a regional history, it will not be a biography of one individual. If it’s written like an autobiography, it will indeed like an essay. If it’s horror, it will often be gory and sometimes dogmatic.
How does this affect the reader? It tells you nothing more than the book’s original description. It makes it appear as if, somehow, the author/publisher has misled someone when they haven’t.
- They complain it isn’t long enough or it’s too long. The length of the book is listed on the page before you buy it. Both print and electronic books, at most major sellers, have these specifications listed.
Length does not determine the quality of the work. A padded novel, that should really be a short story, reads just as poorly as a short story that is missing information and should be a novel. How many readers have complained that Gone with the Wind was just 50 pages too much? Has anyone ever stated, ” If only The Great Gatsby was a short story.” Of course not. If a story doesn’t need length, it doesn’t need it.
- The reader is obviously not familiar with the genre. A reader who enjoys mysteries will not like romance novels and vice versa. The romance reader may have a dozen complaints over violence, language, or other content, when in reality, it’s just part of the genre.
How does this affect the reader? It’s another type that states the obvious and attempts to imply the author/publisher somehow mislead them.
- The review is really short. Sometimes, it’s just a number of clauses strung together with no punctuation.
How does this affect the reader? In all honesty, if they can’t write, how can you trust their ability to read?
- They state the obvious. And restate it. For example, a book that calls itself a “quick guide,” tends to be short.
How does this affect the reader? Yet another type that states the obvious and attempts to imply the author/publisher somehow mislead them.
- They don’t seem to have actually read the book at all. Their review is incoherent. For example, “The characters started out fighting in a kitchen, or something, I couldn’t get into it.”
If they can’t be bothered to read it, why do they bother reviewing it?
- The reviewer isn’t a reviewer at all. If you click on their screen identity, you find they’ve actually only reviewed 1 book. Or they’re serial reviewers that give most items poorly-written, bad reviews.
This is a complex subject and writers everywhere should, in all honesty, be allowed to question reviews that hurt their efforts.