Thursday, June 2, 2022

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged from James W. Ziskin

Authors are told never to respond to bad reviews. Have you ever been tempted? How do you deal with negative comments? Pick a few irksome ones (anonymous of course) and let us know how you really feel … no judgment.

The book in question 👆was a finalist for the Anthony, Barry, and Lefty awards. 

I’m sure I’ll regret this, but here goes!

I confess this topic makes me uneasy. It makes me sad and angry at the same time. But I will answer it honestly, if petulantly, because those who put their egos and frailties on the line each time they publish a book or story deserve to be defended. It’s hard to suffer the mean-spirited jabs from—basically—anonymous haters. We don’t have the luxury of responding to those critics, not unless we want to expose ourselves to further social-media ridicule. This post is the closest we can come to getting some of our own back. So, to all my fellow writers, share with me the frustration and outrage below and let us ridicule the ridiculers.

I ignore negative reviews and comments on social media, of course. That’s what we’ve all been trained to do, and it’s great advice. But that doesn’t mean we don’t notice..

I have no issues with serious/professional reviewers and bloggers.They do a great job of getting the word out about our books, even when their reviews are critical or stingy in their praise. Nor do I have issues with earnest, open-minded, honest readers who don’t enjoy my books and express their opinions on social media. No, I’m not writing about them. Instead, I want to take to task those brilliant arbiters of taste—those with tens of followers—who like nothing better than to excoriate hard-working—sometimes emotionally fragile—authors with Schadenfreude as their sole motiviation.

About two years ago, I wrote a piece on this, asking the question “How bad must a book be to deserve a one-star rating?” If I started reading a book and lost interest in it—or even if I hated it and abandoned it—I would never stop what I was doing, log onto Goodreads, and vent my bile over some poor soul’s hard work. It’s pathetic. Instead, I would return to my life and enjoy a different book. Or a movie. Or a meal. A sunset. After all, no one ever said, “When you die, you regret the missed opportunities to berate others.”

A cruel review on Goodreads accomplishes only two things: 1. it saddens the author, and, 2. it gladdens the reviewer. Negative reviews on Goodreads do not affect sales. They do not influence other reviewers. Ultimately, they don’t matter. Except to the author and to the reviewer.

I thought about highlighting the dumbest, snarkiest, rudest reviews I’d ever received. We’d all have a good laugh, right? But I’m not feeling it. So instead of talking about my bad reviews in particular—and there are some—I’ll try to catalogue the types of negative reviewers out there. The ones who confound and frustrate all authors. See if you recognize any of these, and, please, feel free to add your own ideas in the comments.

1. The ones who give one-star ratings to all the books by an author. Why continue reading books you hate? How do you manage to turn the pages while holding your nose?

2. The ones who write that they really loved the book but mistakenly clicked on one star instead of five. (It is possible to change the rating.)

3. The ones who qualify their three- or four-star review by announcing they only award five-stars to “literature.” What do they say to their kids about their latest finger painting? “Meh, it’s not exactly a Rembrandt, is it?”

4. The ones who say “terrific book! Loved it. Three stars!” 

5. The ones who—essentially—admit they’re not smart enough to understand the book. “I just don’t get it.”

6. The ones who hate the book because they dislike the genre.

7. The ones who want to show off the devastating cleverness of their ridicule.

8. The ones who complain that they figured out whodunnit.

9. The ones who complain that they couldn’t figure out whodunnit.

10. The ones who say the book was damaged in shipping.

11. The ones who didn’t like the picture on the cover.

12.The ones who ordered the book by mistake.

13. The ones who didn’t read the book, but know that it’s bad anyway.

14. The ones who don’t approve of the four-letter words in a book set in a maximum security prison.

15. The ones who don’t like female characters who have a sex life.

16. The ones who conflate a character’s behavior/opinions and those of the author.

17. The ones who say they skipped large sections of the book, but—don’t worry—didn’t miss anything...

Now I’m a big boy. I can take a legitimate, serious bad review. Sure, they sting a little, but I’ve got enough positive reviews and critical success to put them out of my mind. 


Dietrich Kalteis said...

You had me laughing Jim. I can't even imagine telling a child, "It’s not exactly a Rembrandt, is it?”

Susan C Shea said...

About that #1. I would bet you my house that Anonymous has not read all the books - just extrapolated and thought she / he would add a little joy to her / his life by doing more harm than just one bad review could do.

I will say this, though. I don't rate books often (or often enough) on Goodreads, which keeps careful track of what I'm reading. But when I do, I now feel compelled to give books by authors I know 5 stars even if I thought it weas good, fun, interesting, but not great. Grade inflation. Because I worry they will feel deflated or hurt otherwise. But how many books are genuinely great? I mean no insult by giving a book 4 stars.