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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Negative Reviews: Why I Write Them and Why I Read Them


The other day, I wrote an admittedly biting review of The Prince by Kiera Cass. I went into it knowing I would probably not enjoy it, and I didn't. You could argue this isn't fair of me, and in some ways you could be right. I was pretty clear in the review that there is something about the series that keeps me reading, to their credit, which is why I read The Prince. I was hoping to like it. But I've also been pretty clear about the fact that I review every book I read except for the ones I don't finish. And that means I'm going to post critical reviews, because I will always express the way I feel. I'm not going to lie about my feelings for a book. And it just so happens I naturally express myself in jokes.

How some people see me
This is also not me (okay maybe it's me a little bit)

A book review blog is meant to review books. I'm more critical than the average person, and my job here as a reviewer is to point out to people what I felt worked about a book and what I felt didn't. I'm here to help other readers make informed decisions, even when I know a lot of people aren't going to agree with me. This is why it's great that there's such a variety of bloggers. You get as many varying opinions as you need to help guide you in the direction of books that will work for you. Before picking up a book, I always make sure to read negative AND positive AND in-between reviews. Because all of those opinions are valid. All of those opinions are correct.

The problem with this, though, is that I can get pretty mean. I'm aware of that. I've always thought published material, sent out into the world to be judged on its own merits, is eligible for whatever snarkery it incurs, but not all people agree. I get that. We're all human beings, and all creativity should be rewarded, not discouraged, right?



As an aspiring author, I should agree with this. I know it would probably break my heart to learn someone hated my work to such a degree that they felt the need to rip it to shreds. But let’s face it: that’s the deal. If you’re lucky enough to get your novel into the sphere of public consumption, some people aren’t going to like it. It’s a fact. Your book is not a hundred dollar bill or a really big cookie, which means it will not be popular with everyone. Case in point: some people hate chocolate. If chocolate isn't universally beloved, then your book doesn't stand a chance.

 

How much hate is too much hate? That's a personal question, of course, and everybody will have a different answer. I'm in the camp of people who don't believe in critical kid gloves. I believe that humor at the expense of a book is fair game (humor at the expense of the AUTHOR is a different story). I am also in the camp of people who think it is significantly MORE hateful to go on somebody else's blog and tell that person that they suck, that they're a bitch, that they should leave poor Author X alone, and that the blogging world would be better off without them.

Getting mean emails gives me the sads.

That, my friends, is the kind of internet hate I don't like.

When I post my negative reviews on Twitter, I never @reply the author with a link to my review. I do not go on the author's website and tell them how much I hated their book. I do not go to fan-sites or forums or tumblrs and tell the people there that I think their bookish opinions are stupid. Because they AREN'T. They just happen to deviate from mine, and that's okay.

I'll admit: I've got a snarky streak a mile wide. I LOVE ripping on books, movies, TV shows, and acquaintances who tick me off. I know that's probably not a serious virtue in my character, but it is what it is. I don't purposefully review books in the hopes that they are terrible and I get to savage them on the internet (except for Modelland, but that is barely even a real book). If I read a book I hate, you can bet your bottom dollar I'm going to make fun of it in my review. I like humor. I'm going to make jokes. You can like it or lump it.

What you can't do is send me anonymous vitriol in email form. This is cyber-bullying. It doesn't matter how justified you feel, or how much you love the book I hate. Please, please, PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS.

Anderson does not approve.

A sampling of the super fun, super real comments I've received as of late:

i dont find sense in the things you say here. sorry, but your being a mean bitch here. please think about the authors you are hurting with your mean words. as if you could write any better than that

I think my favorite parts of that email were the sorry and the please. Your rudeness is so polite.

WHY did you feel the need to post such a vicious review on the internet? Don't you think there is enough hate floating out there? WHY do you feel the need to contribute more hate? I am sorry, but I will no longer be following your reviews. I am disgusted by this. As a lover of [book title redacted], I am deeply offended on behalf of the author.

This particular email has some sense in it (and also a basic command of grammar), even if those words did hurt. Yes, there is a lot of hate floating out there, and it's not my intention to contribute more of it. But I think going out of your way to send a message like this to a perfect stranger is a much more personal form of hate.



YOU ARE STUPID FOR THINKING THIS BOOK IS BAD. IT IS A BRILLIANT BOOK AND YOU OBVIOUSLY DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT A GOOD BOOK IS. I BET YOUR BOOKS WILL BE CRAP I HOPE YOU ARE PUBLISHED AND SOMEDAY SOMEONE WRITES A NASTY REVIEW OF YOUR BOOK AND I WILL LAUGH

 

The hypocrisy in this one is astounding. Not only is it ridiculous (I obviously don't understand what a good book is?!?!?!), but do you really not see that you are bashing someone for writing a negative review by advocating for someone to write another negative review? And also, I agree with you. I also hope I am published! I hope my future book is well-read enough that someone out there will write something horrible about it. Because, as said, books are not hundred dollar bills. No book is universally beloved. There will always be haters. Will bad reviews hurt? Undoubtedly. I'm a sensitive flower. I want people to like me and the words I write. But all a bad review means is I did something wrong in my writing.

"The novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it." --Samuel Johnson

Also, notice a trend here? I am not getting angry emails from authors, or publishers, or agents, not even for the books I have received for review from said publishers. My review for Confessions of an Angry Girl, written after I received an ARC from Harlequin Teen, had a healthy dose of criticism. Harlequin Teen read the review and then retweeted it, saying they enjoyed reading it. Because, by weighting out the good AND the bad, I helped a lot of people decide whether that book was the book for them.

I want books to be good. I looooove books. Books are the be-all and end-all of my life. The vast majority of my reviews are positive because I'm pretty good at picking out books that I'm going to like. Sometimes, I get it wrong, of course, and sometimes I may go too far in critiquing a book I don't like. And I am sorry if I offend any of my readers, I truly am. That is not my intention. I want to make perfectly clear that I respect different bookish opinions. Everybody brings a lifetime's worth of thoughts, memories, and feelings to every book they read. Because of that, no two people will feel exactly the same way about a book. It's just impossible. A romance that may make Reader A swoon might make Reader B roll her eyes. Books are just plain subjective. Neither reader is right or wrong. Neither is stupid or smart. They just are.



Up until this point, the book blogging community has been nothing but an ultra loving place, full of collective bibliophilia and unending support. I know this experience is nothing but a fluke. The stream of hate mail I've gotten has prompted me to change my email, but it's certainly not going to make me change my reviewing style or leave the blogosphere entirely. So let's all have a BIG DRINK, plow forward, and leave this messiness behind, okay? I know of several good books we could read to make ourselves feel better.


41 comments:

  1. *applauds*

    Bravo! Well said!

    So many people get the idea that a negative review of a book is also a negative review of the author. This is so not the case. I've never once read one of your negative reviews where you attacked an author or even said they shouldn't write. You've always stuck to the book - what worked for you and what didn't. I've agreed with you in some cases and disagreed in others. The point is, your opinion on a book is just as valid as anyone else's. You've every right to say what you think as candidly as you want. I've yet to read a review here where I thought you went too far. I quite enjoy your style.

    So the point of my epistle is this: keep doing what you're doing.

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    1. *squeezes you in a hug* Thanks muchly!

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  2. Oh geez. As they weren't directed at me, I can laugh at those comments in a malevolent, bwahaha-y, amused sort of way. People are ridiculous.

    As long as you aren't targeting the AUTHOR, it's all fair game. Snark targeting a person is an ad hominem attack and not funny at all. What you do is funny. (And I adored your PRINCE review.)

    Also, as has been mentioned again and again and again by people all over the net, some people pick up books SPECIFICALLY because they've read a negative review and were intrigued. You're hardly harming an author's career. If their career can be shot to pot by one review, it wasn't much of a career anyways.

    Keep your chin up, Gil! I've got your back.

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    1. Chin is firmly up! Thanks for all the love. You're totally right about the power of negative reviews. I feel like they can often be a boon, and if one tiny little negative blog review does serious damage to the book's sales, then the book wasn't going to do well anyway.

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    2. Also I will admit I laughed out loud at that all caps email.

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  3. Those emails are ridiculous beyond words. Some people utterly confuse and shock me. Some people always think they know best. I would rather weird an honest review that may be negative over a fake one with not a lot of depth to it. Maybe I'm missing something because I never read your reviews as being hateful or mean in an overly rude way. :) I enjoy reading your reviews.

    I agree with Shelver506, if you aren't targeting the author then I don't see anything wrong with it. I find your reviews down right funny and insightful. I'm like you and I really enjoy reading all kinds of reviews on a book before I decide to read it.

    Sorry you have to deal with all the haters.



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    1. Aw, thank you! Trust me, the lovers far outweigh the haters. Just figured I'd make a post out of it to say where I stand and let people know that hate mail is a waste of time and a full on crappy thing to do.

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  4. I'm sorry you had to go through that; I believe that most reviewers out there who write negative reviews are only being honest about how they felt about the book, and people just naturally use humor as a way to do that. Sometimes I unfollow a blog if ALL their reviews are five stars. I mean, it's great that he/she enjoys everything they read, but I want reviews that will tell me how good the book was, so I know whether or not I want to spend time reading it. And those e-mails are beyond ridiculous. People should learn to handle it better when others don't enjoy a book they absolutely loved. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Don't let it get to you - keep on going! Your blog is great! :)

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    1. Thank you :). I too like to see it when reviewers encounter books they don't like.

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  5. I have basically read and reread your post. Not only do those people make me beyond angry, but you conflict those emotions with humour. I completely agree with what you said on your negative reviews. I don't see it at all as hateful or mean-spirited. Your reviews are honestly some of my favorite reviews to read. I see what you don't like so that I can either steer away from the book or be careful or not get my hopes up or just be entertained. It kinda makes me sick that people would be so hurtful by emailing you. The emails made me snort, but I think I would probably cry if someone did that to me. The stupidity and hypocrisy of humanity, my friend. Keep writing those hilariously negative reviews!

    Your blog is freakin fantastic, Gillian.

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  6. Amazing post sweetie. Really, truly amazing. Thank you for sharing. <3 And always be honest :D I am always honest in my reviews. And I'm glad that you are too. If a book sucks, I want to know it. And why. And just everything :)

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    1. Thank you! I love your reviews. I love that you're honest! Almost all reviewers are, which is why they're reviewers. I will continue to express my completely harmless opinions. Thanks for the love :)

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  7. This was a great post, Gillian. I can't believe some of your comments. I've wrote some admittedly vicious things and I've never gotten attacked for them. Some authors who I've wrote bad things about praised me for my honesty.

    It's the bloggers that make things get out of hand :/ But I think any review is good, positive or negative. it's honest and generates publicity. I think that those who are not honest are worst offenders than those who are honest and write negative reviews.

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    1. Agree with this completely. Thanks, Lili :D

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  8. Gillian, you are amazing!

    I tried to come up with a couple other compliments beyond that simple sentence, to negate all of the awful emails you received, but it just keeps coming back to square one: you are amazing... and talented, and great at what you do, and one of my favorite bloggers. :)

    What you do, as a critic - the same as others do around the blogosphere - is meant to help build a connection, between your readers and books and authors, while what the writers of those emails do, is simply to tear people down. You are constructive, while they are destructive. For that, you deserve all the world's gold stars and candy bars.

    I'm sorry that you had to change your email. :( But it's okay, because you are amazing! :)

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    1. YOUR COMMENT deserves all the gold stars and candy bars! Thank you for being so lovely!

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  9. Wow! I can't even believe this is happening to you. I'm so proud of you for writing this, because everything you said is true. I'm 100% honest in my reviews, and while they are largely positive because I read books I know I'm going to like, I don't hesitate to point out when something does or doesn't work for me, because that's what my blog is for. All of our blogs belong to us and nobody else. No one has the right to criticize someone for their OPINION. Like, I can't even fathom why someone would say the things those people said to you. Ugh.

    I love your blog so NEVER stop being you. Because you are the bomb dot com.

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    1. No, YOU are the bomb dot com! (I love that. I am now determined to start saying it.) I love your blog too. I always like that you're honest about your bookish feelings. <3

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  10. Well said, as always. I'm sorry that anyone took the time to write nasty emails to you. I read your reviews BECAUSE you are so honest and you will say if you don't like something but you always also say why you don't like something. Plus you have a way with words and I love your snarky, sarcastic wit! Like Rachel said, you ARE the bomb dot com!

    Dana

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    1. Aww, I seriously love you guys. Thank you for being so wonderful! I'm blushing like a fool here and hugging you in my mind.

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  11. Thank you! I always have a twinge of guilt when I post a negative review of a book. I try to be fair and specific on what was good and what wasn't good, but above all I try to be honest. And that makes me cringe, sometimes. But you're right- the author can only grow from constructive criticism, and all press is good press. I, personally, appreciate reading a review of a book on my radar that someone disliked- it helps me understand (and sometimes avoid) books that are better in theory than practice. And I applaud your speaking up about it- it's your blog, you have the right to post what you want!

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    1. Thank you! That is exactly how I feel. And I also feel a little guilty about negative reviews.

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  12. OMG. Wait. People need to realize someone not liking a book is NOT the end of the world. (Also, please realize we are not in grade school anymore, kids.) Oh my. Oh man, Gilly, I have NO WORDS for those comments other than just breathe, and let it go, chica!

    Also? A negative review sometimes is just an HONEST review. You didn't say ugly things about the author (from what I recall.) So at the end of the day, you're criticizing a book you didn't care for. Guess what people - there's NOTHING wrong with that! UGH.

    *hugs you and hands you chocolate* Anyway, well said, darlin!

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

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    1. *accepts hug and chocolate* *gives you cake in return for being so lovely*

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  13. Girl, shit like this is so stupid. Writing a snarky review isn't putting more hate out on the internet. It's you working out whatever lingering negative emotions you have to the book in a healthy way. You're turning your bad experience into humor and saving the book from other readers like yourself who are sure to dislike it.

    I've noticed a distinct correlation between trolls and poor grammar.

    Also, I cannot believe that this all broke out over a Cass book. You'd think they would be trying really hard to get people not to say ANYTHING in defense of her books at this point, since things went so poorly before.

    I really hate that stuff like this can overwhelm all the wonderful things in the blogosphere. There's a lot of love and supportiveness here, and I really hate seeing myself and my friends portrayed as vicious, career-destroying haters. Why don't people stop for a moment and look at some of the fangirling reviews too?

    Haters need to fuck off. I don't go email bloggers who rip apart books I loved, so why would others need to?

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    1. "It's you working out whatever lingering negative emotions you have to the book in a healthy way. You're turning your bad experience into humor and saving the book from other readers like yourself who are sure to dislike it."

      THIS. ALL OF THIS.

      And yes, the trolls have truly execrable grammar.

      And yes, I was pretty amazed that most of the hullaboo came from a Kiera Cass book. I would have thought that mega fans would be aware of the previous controversy and go out of there way to avoid another such instance. I don't know what else to say about that. It wasn't all about my reviews of The Prince and The Selection, but most of it was. And the majority of the emails came rushing in right about my Prince review went up.

      And YES. Most of my reviews ARE fangirling reviews. The only negative Nancies in the blogosphere are the anonymous trolls, NOT the hard-working blogers.

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    2. There are a few users I've seen on Goodreads that do seem to delight in hate reading and who rarely pick up something they think they'll like. Not how I want to live my life, but that's their choice. I can see why that would annoy authors, but the books are out there for purchase and if you want to read nothing but bad books, that is your right.

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  14. *slow clap* Well said. Of course drama over that series doesn't shock me, but not the point. You're very eloquent and who cares if you're snarky? Of course I'm snarky. But I do exactly what you do. If I don't like I book, I don't link the author to the post. I give no hint to them that I didn't like it. And yes, I feel guilty. But if I didn't like it, I'm sure someone else didn't like it and they don't deserve to feel alone.

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    1. Why thank you. Couldn't have said it better myself. I've never linked an author to a non-raving post. Reviewing books isn't about trashing authors, so readers/authors/the like should NEVER turn around and trash reviewers.

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  15. I'm not surprised most of the hate is over a Kiera Cass book. Not at all. *rolls eyes*

    I am thrilled I discovered your blog over this though! Hello, silver lining!

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    1. :D I'm ALL about silver linings. The real silver lining is how awesome all the book bloggers have been. You are all amazing and supportive people who make this crazy hobby super duper fun every day.

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  16. Fantastic post! I couldn't agree more with what you said. The whole point of a book review is to help others decide whether or not a book is worthy of reading. I got a lot of hate and heat for not liking The Casual Vacancy. I was told that I was a 12 year old for liking Harry Potter and not the Casual Vacancy. Readers bashed on me for not finishing the book and for declaring it "the most disappointing book of the year". Sorry for that not so relevant story. My point is that reviewers have the right to say whatever they want, criticism is important. For me a negative review is just as important as a positive review. I actually like to read negative reviews better than positive reviews because I like to see what the reviewer didn't like about the book and see if I would like that book. I often like to read books with negative reviews so I can gather my own opinion on a book and compare my opinion to others!
    -Scott Reads It

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    1. Thank you! I'm sorry you got those nasty comments after not liking The Casual Vacancy. It's a ridiculous concept to bash someone for not liking a book or any type of art that is inherently subjective.

      I also love reading negative reviews, and just like you I often choose to read books that have garnered negative reviews just so I can see if my opinions differ. Negative reviews are HELPFUL, not mean.

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  17. ((hugs)) I always tell authors, readers, publishers, ect... that when I review books, I'm reviewing THE BOOK, not the author. And they just have to deal with that. I sometimes also spell check and correct the grammar of some of my more "hateful" letters. :P Makes me feel better when I send them back and tell them to try again. :P

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    1. ((hugs back)) Thank you. That's exactly it. You judge the words on the page in front of you and nothing else. It's just a fact of the book industry.

      I SHOULD HAVE DONE THAT. How deliciously snarky to send back perfectly edited hate mail! I like you already :D

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  18. Wait. Before I get in on these crazypants dramamamas, I'd just like to say that your gif choices are FLAAAAWLESS as usual. Hellllllooo Harvey. And Bill and Ted. And Anderson Cooper. Oh. And Salem. SALEM. *pets Salem* Your gif skills alone should be enough to keep the haterz away.

    And now. Confession time: I LOVE writing negative reviews. Getting my rant on is the best. I think at first (aka back when I wrote my Kiera Cass-The Selection review) I was still kind of shy and new in the blogging world, but I know why you had to do what you had to do and THAT'S FINE. This is YOUR blog, YOUR thoughts, not someone else's, and if others have ISSUES with your personal opinions, they should deal with it themselves because that's THEIR problem, not yours. Free speech and all that other fun jazz.

    I do agree with the be awesome to each other bit, but a book blog is SUPPOSED to be critical. That's built into it. When any book bloggers starts blogging and sets up a rating system and a policy of honesty, that's what's GOING to happen. Sure, there are some blogs that don't review books that were less than 3 stars from them, but that's THEIR CHOICE. And if your choice is to be honest no matter what, then own it girl, because there are more people out there who'll like you for being true to yourself than people who'll hate you for just the same.

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    1. Why thank you for the gif compliments. I see you have excellent pop-culture taste, proving once again why I <3 you.

      I also LOVE writing negative reviews. My snarkiness builds up if I don't find a good outlet for it. I didn't quite know yet how to fully express my negativity yet when I wrote my Selection review, and went easier on it than I truly felt. As to everything else you said, PREACH. :D

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  19. I posted a negative review on youtube once and I still get comments on it like this 2 years later. I don't care. I think anything in the book is fair game, but I don't @reply the author or go out of my way to make them see it either. I'm critical, that's a critics job. But when I love something I love it just as enthusiastically and promote it to the ends of the earth. I feel very strongly about books both good and bad and feel like that's a good thing.

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  20. Even though everyone said it better above, I liked this post a lot. Can't wait to read more of your reviews.

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  21. Okay so I know I am coming late to the party so to speak but I looooved this post.

    Not everyone is going to like all the same books and you know what? That's OKAY. I was worried recently that I would be slammed for not liking a certain book that many others adored. Yet I wasn't slammed at all. That was a really big relief.My rule is that I am not going to sugarcoat things if I don't like the book. BUT I am not going to attack the author. That's not cool at all.

    I think I've said this before but I love writing negative reviews. It allows me to be more critical. Books that I love, I end up just fangirling over like a crazy person.

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