Friday, April 26, 2013

Bloody, Nasty, and Totally Unlikeable

By Sue Ann Jaffarian

I'm going to address reader reviews only. When it comes to the professional reviews, such as those published in Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus and Library Journal, etc., it goes without saying that most writers read those.  My publisher even sends them to me to make sure I don't miss them, and I'm very thankful that, so far, they've been pretty darn positive, often even glowing.

Do I read reader reviews such as those posted on Amazon and Goodreads and other reader sites and blogs? Absolutely! Not obsessively, but from time to time I will check them out, even on my older books. 

At one time or another, these reviews have made me smile, frown, laugh, growl and even scratch my butt with wonder at the human capacity for stupidity and misunderstanding. But I read them all. Sometimes, if I see a common, well thought-out, well stated critique showing up several times, I may consider revising that issue in future books. But if someone just says, "I hated it." "It's garbage." That's not much to go on and those get quickly dismissed. Sometimes I read a review and wonder if they got my book confused with another because the review doesn't make sense.

One of my favorite bad reviews was a reader warning people away from buying one of my books ("stay away no matter how much you may enjoy the author's other books"). It was my first vampire book, Murder In Vein. The reader was upset because it was darker, sexier and more violent than my other two series, which are funny and light. In her words, the book was "[b]loody, nasty, and totally unlikeable." Considering the book's cover and description made the content clear, I'm still puzzled why she expected different. She didn't trash my writing style or the plot. She was simply thrown off because it wasn't like my others and made her feelings known with a single star. ("I only gave the one star because there isn't apparently a way to give a book ZERO stars.")  I believe that bad review caused others to buy the book, not leave it behind. After all, words like "bloody" and "nasty" usually grab people's interest.

Do I ever respond to reviews? Sometimes, but rarely, and NEVER to the negative ones. One of the best ways to get people to hate you as an author is to pick on a reader/reviewer, even if you think that review was way off base.  There are several incidences of authors behaving badly in the face of a review that they felt was unfair or wrong, but one of the most famous to date is indie author Jacqueline Howett's highly publicized and inappropriate fight with reviewer Big Al on Big Al's Books and Pals.

In 2011 Big Al reviewed Ms. Howett's book The Greek Seaman. He didn't trash it, but gave it an honest review not to Ms. Howett's liking. She then launched a scathing attack in the comments section of his book review blog that resulted in the review and her comments going viral. A lot of readers jumped in attacking Ms. Howett's book and her unprofessional behavior. In addition, readers took their complaints straight to the book's Amazon page where it received a massive number of bad reviews and comments, many quite vicious. (I just checked and The Greek Seaman is no longer posted on Amazon.)

By her behavior, Ms. Howett committed career suicide and she's not the first, nor the last, author to have done that. I highly doubt I'd ever go after a reviewer as Ms. Howett did. Reviewers are people with opinions. I'm a people and I have opinions, lots of them, and I expect other people to respect my opinions even when theirs don't align with mine. So it goes with my attitude about reviews and reviewers.

I read all reviews with the proverbial grain of salt. I'm interested in what people think of my work and am thrilled when they love it, but understand fully that none of us see the world or read books quite the same way. My work is not as bad as some reviewers would have you believe, and I'm not as brilliant as others would have you believe. It all balances out in the end. As a reader, you'll just have to form your own opinion.


Kristopher said...

That was so well-said Sue Ann.

As a blogger, I completely agree that it is a bad idea to contact a reviewer who has given you a negative review. It is just going to blow-up and potentially come back to bite you in the you-know-what.

But I do encourage authors to contact bloggers who's review they have read and enjoyed. Most blogs have a contact link, so even if you don't want to do it via public comments, you can reach out. As with the writer-life, blogging can be a more isolated process, and everyone likes to hear that what they are producing is appreciated, nice, encouraging, whatever.

I write my reviews for readers, NEVER including any spoilers (which is a whole other topic) and trying to encourage people to read. I don't care what they read, but please people...READ. But when I get a quick e-mail from an author saying "Thanks", it means something.

We are all on this road together.

(BTW, if I had been blogging at the time, your vampire books would have received one of those "a bit too overly glowing" reviews. LOVE those books!)

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Kistopher, I have left words of thanks on blogs when my books are mentioned, whether they are reviewed or not. Did that just this week, in fact. And, yes, spoilers are a whole other topic. As an author and reader, I really hate when reviewers give away too much of the book's plot.

Kevin R. Tipple said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenni's Whimsies said...

I love the Odelia series. Read them all in a row in less than a month. I equally love the Madison Rose series. I read light and cozy mysteries but also like more intense gripping thrillers as well. I definitely am waiting on Madison 3 :)

Catriona McPherson said...

She has spoken. And is right, of course!

Meredith Cole said...

I just love how well-balanced and polite all the Criminal Minds authors are! And wise.

Reece said...

You are the voice of reason, Sue Ann. Thanks for sharing the story about Jaqueline Howett -- definitely a cautionary tale.

Sally Carpenter said...

Good post, Sue Ann. As part of my day job I write reviews for local community theaters. Occassionally I get negative feedback regarding a review but I never respond. My review is simply my opinion and another critic might see things entirely differently. However, one time when I gave an indifferent review to a play (I wasn't mean or nasty at all), the show's producer tried to have me fired! Anway, I never write negative book reviews. If I can't find something good to say about a book, I say nothing at all.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Well-balanced, Meredith? Notice I didn't mention the mini-meltdown I have when I first read bad reviews - right before reason kicks in and, thankfully, wins.

Mark Baker said...

Back in the days before Amazon let you comment on reviews, I would get some e-mails from authors. (Those and the comments seem to have stopped since they added comments.) I had a couple of authors who e-mailed me to tell me I was wrong in my review and to please edit it. One was even a positive review, but he felt I had a fact wrong. I ignored both e-mails and put the authors on my never read again list.

Yes, responding that way to reviews can turn off readers. Authors, take note.

Then there was the e-mail I got from Ted Dekker. This was when he'd first hit it big in the Christian market. I went back and read his first book, and I didn't care for it. My honest review went up on Amazon. And he actually e-mailed me. He thanked me for the review and actually agreed with me, saying it was his first book and he admitted it was by far his weakest. He then asked me to read another one.

That truly did impress me. And I've bought a few of his books over the years. Unfortunately, I haven't read them to see if they are any good or not.

The moral of the story? If you are going to respond to a negative review, there is a way to do it with class. You might not gain a reader, but he will still respect you.