Friday, August 28, 2015

Is That a Bad Review or Just a Ham on Rye?

How do you react to negative reviews?

by Paul D. Marks

I call up my friends in the Mossad and tell them to seek out and destroy all negative reviewers in the shank of a dark and stormy night. Oh wait, no, that’s what a producer said he was going to do to me when we got in an argument about a script.

Take 2:

Some people say never to read reviews and that’s probably good advice, and probably what one should do. But it’s hard not to. Why? Because, I’m sure, we all want to have our egos stroked. And we’re looking for the positive reinforcement that says we haven’t wasted our lives working on something that nobody likes. So our expectation—our hope—is to get good reviews for that and other reasons. When we don’t our egos are shattered. And those who say it doesn’t affect them, well, let’s just say I think they’re most likely doing that stiff upper lip thing.

I’ve been gratified by most reviews, whether by professional reviewers or consumers on Amazon and the like. But every once in a while...

bill-murray-1984-razors-edgeEven big stars like to check their reviews. I was on the Warner Brothers lot (though it may have been called The Burbank Studios at the time, now it’s back to Warner Brothers [long story]) one day and saw Bill Murray leaning against a car reading a review of “The Razor’s Edge” (1984) that had just come out (and based on my tied for favorite book along with The Count of Monte Cristo). It wasn’t getting rave reviews to say the least, but as I say above, we all want to be validated and maybe also get some constructive criticism as to what went wrong. And I remember thinking even Bill Murray, with all his popularity from “Ghostbusters,” etc. still must feel the sting of a bad review like everyone else.

Hell, even Bob Dylan doesn’t like the sting of being booed, as when he first went electric andBringing it All BAck Home  D1 5701847_147 rock from strictly acoustic folk music. Check out this YouTube clip. It’s less than a minute long:

So let’s focus on Amazon reviews because they’re there, for good or ill. I don’t like reading negative reviews, but how I react depends on the review. Not everybody can like everything. I get that. Of course, one is tempted to remind some reviewers what their mommies told them, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” But that isn’t the real world, is it? So for me, it depends on what the reviewer says. Does it seem like they actually read the book? Do they have an axe to grind? Are they offering constructive comments about what worked or didn’t for them or are they just off on some kind of tangent? Did they get what I was trying to say and, if not, is that my fault or theirs?

LA Late @ Night ebook Cover -- Paul D Marks FD1I got a couple of one star reviews for my short story collection “LA Late @ Night”. And they did piss me off. I had gotten some lukewarm reviews on “White Heat” and lived with them. But these two reviews for “LA Late @ Night” just didn’t make sense to me. These two reviewers, who seemed cut from the same cloth (literally), both hated the book and the stories in it. But their comments made little sense.

One said: “Uninteresting, choppy writing. No plots. I wouldn't waste my time reading this series of books as they are rambling writings.”

Where do I start? With the fact that it’s not a series. Uninteresting, well, that’s your opinion. Choppy, well that’s my style on some things. But each story had previously been published in a magazine or anthology, so somebody found them interesting. No plots, see previous response. Bottom line, I wonder if they even knew what book they were reviewing—But Wait: There’s More. The Kicker is yet to come. But First:

The other crappy review:

“Not that great of stories and the writing is stilted...I didn't even finish them all!”

Oh, where to begin: How ‘bout them criticizing my writing as being stilted when their sentence is grammatically incorrect? So maybe someone who doesn’t know proper grammar criticizing my grammar is actually a compliment.

Okay, here it comes. Hold your breath. The Kicker:

Being a glutton for punishment, I of course had to check each person’s profile to see why they hated my book so much. What I saw were reviews for muffin pans, muck boots, kitchen gadgets, children’s books, religious/inspirational books and very few mystery books, and no noir or hardboiled books. So I wondered why they even bought my book? Judging from their other reviews I could have told them they wouldn’t like it and would have saved them the time, aggravation and money.

It made no sense to me why they would even read a book like mine. So I had to assume there was an agenda going on. I called this to Amazon’s attention, asking them to remove these reviews, which they wouldn’t. I still think there was some kind of agenda happening here, though I couldn’t say exactly what the motivation is and these are the kind of reviews, totally baseless, that really piss me off. And I know authors are not supposed to say that, we’re not supposed have emotions or respond, but hey, you asked, that’s our question this week.

And here are some other One Star Amazon reviews for your entertainment pleasure, only the names have been removed to protect the guilty.

Reviews from Amazon – yellow highlights and purple comments have been added by me.

200px-RaymondChandler_TheBigSleepReviews of The Big Sleep:

One Star
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
The book is a big sleep. (Paul’s comment: Well, some of us who liked this book must just be insomniacs.)
One Star
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed

Reviews of Crime and Punishment:

One Star
By Amazon Customer
Very slow & plodding. (Paul’s comment: That damn Raskolnikov, why didn’t he just get it over and confess? On “Law & Order” Briscoe and Curtis would have had him spilling all in 2 minutes flat.)

One Star
Too Long
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Long and pretty boring I don't like the old timely language they use in this book I know it's translated from German or Russian maybe but I was bored to tears and there was never any payoff really just goes on and on.

Reviews of 1984:

One Star
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I love a good dystopian but this was just such a…
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
I have always heard about 1984 being the father of all dystopian novels... I love a good dystopian but this was just such a hard book to read because in the entire story, there is no room for hope.
(Paul’s comment: Maybe Katniss from “Hunger Games” should show up and rescue Winston and Julia from O’Brien.)

Canter's Collage D1One Star
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
….must be a book only an English teacher would like. I classify this a worse than "Catcher and ...
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
This must be a book only an English teacher would like. I classify this a worse than "Catcher and the Rye" (Paul’s comment: Is that a new book, Catcher AND the Rye, or is that something you get at Canter’s Deli (or Katniss’ Deli) – or maybe Canter’s and the Rye, or maybe Ham on Rye – h/t Chinaski.)

Damn! I’m hungry now.

So, overall, you have to take both the good and the bad with a grain of seasoned salt, a quesadilla and some damn good and spicy hot sauce.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]
Vortex: My new Mystery-Thriller novella coming September 1st. Available for pre-order now.

“...a nonstop staccato action noir... Vortex lives up to its name, quickly creating a maelstrom of action and purpose to draw readers into a whirlpool of intrigue and mystery... but be forewarned: once picked up, it's nearly impossible to put down before the end.”

—D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

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Art Taylor said...

Great column, Paul—and love those reviews of the classics! (I was browsing Goodreads reviews of Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent last week--equally fascinating reading.)

Catriona McPherson said...

Nothing beats a one-star review of a manifestly five-star book. Thanks for the chuckles, Paul. Sorry to hear you're still not hitting it with the muffin-pan demographic.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Art. I'll have to check out the Presumed Innocent reviews. I recall it as a sit on the edge of your seat, can't put it down book. But what do I know?

Paul D. Marks said...

Yes, Catriona, I am struggling for that muffin-pan demo. It's my goal to reach it and convert them before I croak.

David Dean said...

What a timely piece for me to read today, Paul. I've just received a review of my horror novel "The Thirteenth Child" that is titled, "Yuck". At some point during their reading the reviewer became almost physically ill due to the graphic violence, and had to stop reading. There's actually very little graphic violence in the entire novel. If "Dracula" was graphic, then I am guilty as charged. Yes...muffin pans.

Loved the article and needed it. Thanks.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, David. Glad it was "therapeutic". And you have to wonder where people find the things they do in the works. Between the lines, or between their ears, where I'm sure there's plenty of space for things to germinate ;) . Sorry for your bad review, but just look again at the ones for the Big Sleep or 1984. That'll help.

RJ Harlick said...

Love those reviews of the classics. It's a good reminder for us writers not to go into a deep funk when we do get the rare bad review. But if a book gets more bad than good reviews, then perhaps the deep funk is warranted with a possible change in career....

Paul D. Marks said...

Well, RJ, let's hope the balance of reviews stays in the right proportion :)

Susan C Shea said...

Dystopian novels without happy endings? What can they be thinking of?

Your funny and anguished parsing of reviews is precisely why I don't read mine. Who KNOWS what people are thinking, why they buy books that seem guaranteed to disappoint them (if they actually do buy the books), and what reading habits they have that influence their assessments? I look to see if I have reviews at all, and hope I hit the 3-star and above overall range, and read professional reviews, where I almost always learn something.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Susan, And I think all dystopian novels should have happy endings, don't you ;) ?

I wish I could follow your method but I guess I'm too obsessive-compulsive to do so. As for what influences these people, I think it takes a PhD in psychology and even then it would be hard to figure out.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Big difference between bad reviews and negative reviews. I have written negative reviews, but never a bad review.

I figure the folks who write the examples cited above probably absolutely love all those singing/dancing reality shows and because of that they are known idiots and don't matter.

Kevin R. Tipple

Reviews and More

Paul D. Marks said...

That's a good way to put it, Kevin. And I love your singing/dancing reality show example!