Friday, April 20, 2012

When Bad Reviews aren't Bad

A few weeks ago I talked about the difference between critiques and reviews. The main point was that a critique is trying to help a writer improve a work in progress while a review is simply honest thoughts about what the author has asserted to be a finished work (assumed by the fact it's published, publishing before you're ready is a whole different topic).

The topic came up because I am known to write harsh reviews. I got a lot of interesting feedback on this from my writer peeps. I was surprised by the number of people who won't say anything negative on a review. I'm all for the loving, supportive community writers have created. But I think we might be hurting ourselves in an attempt to not hurt each other.

This was really brought to the spotlight by a recent article from Kim Strickland. In her article, Kim bashes Publishers Weekly for writing negative reviews. Her main complaint is that the authors of the books reviewed won't be able to salvage a single half-line to use for promotional purposes. This absolutely blew my mind.

Despite the review picking holes in most of the major components of these books, Strickland wants to be able to pull out five or six words to stick on a back cover so it appears that PW gave the book a good review. False advertising at its finest.

I just don't get this. Honestly, I really gave it some serious thought. If I bought a toaster oven that broke after three uses, I would write a bad review for the product on the company website. Hopefully this would do two things. First, it would disuade another consumer from paying good money for a product that didn't live up to expectations. Second, I would hope the company, upon seeing this review, would go back to the drawing board in an attempt to make a better toaster oven.

And some authors are doing this. I'll point to Emlyn Chand. I picked up her book Farsighted a few months ago. It was pretty good although not something I'll put on my favorites list. Ms. Chand received several excellent reviews for her novel although some reviewers poked some big holes in it (In case you're curious, I gave her three stars). So Ms. Chand went back to work. Despite getting ready to put out the next book in the series in May, Emlyn took the time to offer a free update to her book. She stated the update was based on feedback she received in reviews. To that I say "Kudos, Ms. Chand".

Getting bad reviews didn't slow her down or make her think the series was doomed. Instead she took the opportunity readers gave her to make the book better. I'll be honest. I originally had no intention of reading the next book in the Farsighted series. But now I have a feeling that this book could be even better than the first. Why? Because Ms. Chand is the kind of writer who strives to be better. In fact, I think you should believe that to. If you haven't checked out Farsighted yet, you can get it here. And be on the lookout for the next book, Open Heart.

8 comments:

  1. I like reviews that are honest but respectful. You don't have to write glowing reviews, but slamming an author isn't cool either. Saying what you didn't like is fine. But reviews have to realize reading is subjective. What one didn't like another will love. So expressing opinions is fine, but there's no need to be mean.

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    1. Absolutely, No matter how much I didn't like I book I would never want to say something that would be just mean to the writer. When I say 'harsh' I am referring to an honest critique that doesn't mince words if a part of a story really doesn't work.

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  2. What you say here is all very true, I just think as authors we have to be all the more careful about what we say, hence the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all philosophy." You never know when you'll need a blurb, or favor, or even kind word from an author who you publicly criticized. Not to say you can't have an honest opinion, but I guess it comes down to: how important is it that you share your opinion with other readers in hopes of influencing their purchasing decisions?

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    1. For me, it's less about influencing other readers and more about the author. If know one will say "The middle section doesn't make sense" or "I couldn't understand the ending" then how are they going to know. While this applies on some level to the trad-pub, it is especially true for the self-pub who may not have all the editing help they need.

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  3. I think it's fairly easy to see the difference between a review that has helpful criticism and one that is scathing to be scathing. Personally, I like reviews that are nuanced with some comments about what is really strong, and with maybe one thing that could have been developed more or whatever.

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    1. A little sweet and a little salty. Works well for mid-afternoon breaks and reviews. :)

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  4. I'm of the same camp. I write honest reviews that sometimes point out the shortcomings of a book. I'm never harsh about it--I write it like a constructive critique. I don't kid myself that the author will be happy and thank me for the feedback, though. :) And, in the future, that author just might turn me down for a blurb or something similar. But I guess that's a risk I'm willing to take. Right now, I'm in the business of craft, and learning craft means learning from others' mistakes. Just as, I'm sure, others will learn from my mistakes. :)

    Reviews are tricky, and there are pros and cons to truly honest reviews. I choose to accept the risk that comes with it. :)

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    1. Everyone has to make the choice that works for them. Kudos on knowing the risks and making your own decision.

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