Q: when is a review not a review?
A: when it’s a tirade of abuse.
I recently removed some titles from the Amazon Kindle Store.
Because of some of the reviews attached to them
Aw come on, most authors get bad reviews now and again, you’ve just got to take it on the chin.
I agree. Bad reviews are part and parcel of the book business, and more especially of the ebook business because of the instant ability to publish comments on something just read. Authors have to grow a thick skin to some extent. Not everyone can like the same thing. For every reader that hates your book there might be a dozen or more who love it. The sad thing is that the one who hates it might be the only one who bothers to write a review. ;-)
In some cases I’ve learned from what initially seemed a negative review - and that’s when a bad review can become a good review. In a few instances the writer of an unfavourable review has given me an insight into an aspect of a story that I missed at the time of writing it. It’s made me think: ‘wow, yes, I get their point, yeah, I can see why that might not have worked for them, how did I miss that, and so on.’ A ‘good’ bad review is one that gives you a fresh ‘editorial’ eye. It spurs you on to do better.
A review has to tell other readers something about a book or story. It has to give a clue as to content, but without giving away essential aspects of the story. Of course it’s also about the reviewer’s reaction to the story and characters, whether they liked it or not, why it didn’t work for them. Reviews on the whole are just personal opinions. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. I have no problem with well-expressed opinions even if they are not especially in my favour.
However, when opinion takes the form of empty abusiveness then something is wrong. Amazon, I think, is infected with the same ethos that can make social networking sites a nightmare. It’s a breeding ground for bullies. The relative anonymity of the Internet and the almost instant ability to publish an opinion allows some people to abandon all notions of self-control. It seems to encourage so many people to give free rein to vindictive aspects of their personality.
Calling an author ‘stupid’ or branding them ‘idiot’ or ‘moron’ is not and should not be a permissible aspect of a book review. Amazon should not publish reviews that make such personal remarks. A book review should not consist of phrases like: this was dross, or this is stupid, another pile of poo from this dumb writer. Abusive phrases and insults do not constitute a review. They do not inform other readers about the story content. If you are going to state that something is dross then you should back it up with clear evidence as to why you think it is dross.
Reviewing is a skill and many readers do not posses the skill to write an informed review. Writing something along the lines of: ‘I hated this stupid story’ is not a review. It’s akin to a toddler throwing a temper tantrum because the rattle they’re sucking isn’t a lollypop.
A friend recently directed me to a review someone had left on one of my stories. The reviewer felt obliged to criticise my spelling and grammar. I wouldn’t have minded, but he or she could barely string together a coherent sentence. Seriously, this person who criticised my grammar, was barely comprehensible. It was laughable. I’m educated to degree level and while my grammar is not perfect by any means, it certainly isn’t as poor as this person claimed. As for spelling, I check and recheck my spelling. My editor checks my spelling. I suspect the reviewer may have been reading on a device whose default language was set for U.S. grammar. I write in U.K. English and not U.S. English. It can make a difference.
So, getting back to the stories I unpublished. Some had decent little reviews attached, but others were so unfair, insulting and abusive that I began to feel physically ill at the mere thought of checking my reviews. I’d start to shake and feel sick. It undermined my confidence in my writing. I began to question my ability and indeed my ‘right’ to write. Perhaps these rude people had a point? Perhaps I am an ‘idiot’ and a writer of ‘dross’ and ‘garbage.’ I felt humiliated, so much so that I even had thoughts of suicide.
As a consequence I’ve now lost all pleasure in writing. Something that helped me cope with depression and anxiety has now become just another source of depression and anxiety.
I haven’t written anything new in months. I don’t know if I ever will again. The ‘Postcards’ book I was working on has been shelved because I simply can’t face working on it. I get it up on screen and immediately my mind is flooded with those hateful, hurtful little remarks and insults. I’m now totally inhibited. I hope it will pass in time. You can't really afford to be a sensitive soul when you're a writer, but unfortunately I am.
Many of the stories with the abusive ‘reviews’ were promotional freebies. Many authors feel obliged to offer free fiction, or virtually free fiction, just to stand a chance of being noticed in an ever-expanding market. I have my reservations about this ‘free’ ebook culture. I suspect it works more to Amazon’s advantage than anything else. (And to the advantage of all other ebook retail sites who offer freebies as an inducement to snare readers)
I think ‘free’ fiction leads many readers to assume that it’s okay to be nasty. There’s an assumption that if the writer is giving it away then it’s crap anyway. I think the Amazon low price culture has contributed to this ‘insult’ phenomenon. People can download book after book after book and not pay a dime, so they have no respect at all for the thought, expense and time that many authors put into their work. A free book might be free for a reader, but most indie authors have to pay for cover design, formatting and so on.
Amazon should stop publishing reviews that include pejorative terms. A book review consisting of: this is crap I’m glad I didn’t pay for it, or, this writer is stupid, should not be published, because it isn’t a review. It says nothing about the story. It’s just the opinion of a spiteful person who feels thwarted because a book wasn’t to their personal taste.
I’ve seen readers give a free book one star, not because it was a poor book in terms of writing style and content, but because it wasn’t long enough for them. That’s another Internet publishing phenomena, the belief that a book has to be, not only preferably free or very cheap, but also mega HUGE to be of any worth. Many readers actually seem to feel cheated and short changed if a free book isn’t a blockbuster! The short story is now an endangered species. It’s a shame. I’m rather fond of short stories, probably because my writing roots are in poetry.
Not everyone gets my brand of gay romance fiction, it falls somewhat awkwardly between traditional romance and BDSM romance. It’s okay not to ‘get’ my style of fiction. It’s okay not to like my stories. We all have different tastes. However, it is not okay to slam me as stupid or a moron. It is not okay to be personal. You have never met me. You have no right to attempt to belittle me as a human being. I am not stupid. I am not a moron or an idiot. It is not okay to be unpleasant, cruel and abusive just because my style of storytelling isn’t to your personal taste.
If you are going to review a book then review the story, review the characters, and say how it worked or didn’t work for you. Give your opinion, but please strive to at least keep it respectful and polite. Avoid derogatory language. Just because you didn’t like a story doesn’t make it ‘dross.’ Authors have feelings too, we’re not supposed to have them, but we do. :-)
If you’ve made it to the end of this lengthy and rather self-indulgent monologue then I’m grateful. Thank you for reading and have a nice day.