Wednesday, August 03, 2011

My Fiction - Book Reviews: the Good, Bad and Uglyness

BBC News announced that author Sarah Thornton won a libel suit against The Daily Telegraph for a bad book review. She received £65,000 in libel damages. Granted, more went into the suit than someone stating "this book is bad." There were questions about rights after an interview, but still, the finding was that the book review was "spiteful."

All of us have heard the horror stories about seeing one-star reviews on Amazon, and how they hold the potential to deter sales. Used to be that those reviews were in granite, but you possess ways to remove them now. All reviews aren't equal, but sometimes a bad review isn't the author's fault. Some readers post a bad review if they disagree with the underlying premise - more of a political type of conflict. The book might not be poorly written, but the reader had a different viewpoint. Some readers have been known to post bad reviews because Amazon screwed up their purchase order. Then there's always the chance that a competitive author decides to take a shot.

I'm not a fan of bad reviews. I read them with a jaundiced eye, wondering if the reviewer is a nice person or has an ulterior motive for bashing a book. And if I see a lone one-star ranking against a backdrop of fifteen four- and five-star reviews, I discount it altogether. What catches my attention more is how many reviews exist. A book with, say, three reviews appears to be unmarketed or not saleable for some reason.

I intend to ask for as many reviewers as my publisher will allow. Of course I'll hold my breath as they read and post their findings. Fingers crossed, I'll pray they come back with above-average to high praise. But what if...?

The old saying that bad press is better than no press is questionable. Frankly, if I had one bad review in a sea of fifty good, I'd never think twice about it. However, if I had one bad and six good, I might find a way to spin it. Don't run from controversy. Use it. You might note the flaws in the review, or compare how others disagreed with the findings. Embrace the one, and note that it is a tiny minority in terms of public opinion. On another hand, you could thank the reviewer and make a note that you'll incorporate some of his thoughts in your next book, being ever the good guy. Of course, I'm talking big now, pre-review time. I get nervous just writing this blog.

I'm making a list of potential reviewers. Gosh, I didn't know there were so many. I even purchased The Indie Book Reviewer Yellow Pages with periodic updates. I read listgroups of mystery authors and note their reviewers. I watch Twitter as authors post their latest reviews. And I'll be checking out these reviews in detail in the near future so I can see who loves to blister an author, especially a first-time novelist, and who doesn't. See who gives mediocre reviews in lieu of nasty ones to avoid coming off so caustic.

Maybe it pays for reviewers not to give ugly book reviews. I like to think so. I still think no review makes a good enough statement. If reviewers refuse to post because the results are bad, then they remain nice guys that authors and publishers care to contact for future reviews. If they are so abrasive that they instill fear in authors, they might lose credibility and come off as "spiteful," like in the libel case above.

Yes, sending my first novel to reviewers will be a nail-biting experience. But I'll be okay. It's trial by fire. It's a necessary evil. But on the other hand, good reviews are manna from heaven. Just like when I shopped for an agent, then a publisher . . . acceptance overshadows the rejection.


Sioux Roslawski said...


I have a feeling you don't want to worry about getting "blistering" reviews...Unless they're so enthusiastic, they're blistering hot.

Kathleen Basi said...

As a reader, I appreciate negative reviews more than positive ones--as long as they're reasoned. I see books given glowing reviews that turn out to be absolutely horrid, and I realize that what happened is the writer is a friend of the reviewer, who is thus obligated to write something good. Not helpful at all!

Arlee Bird said...

There's never a good reason to give a book a bad review because of the way you feel about the author or anything not related to the book itself. I don't even give these reviews a thought when relating them to the product I want to know about.

On Amazon I usually look at the one star reviews first and will sometimes leave a comment for the reviewer. Those reviews are rarely well thought out and have little substance, but they sometimes tell me more about whether or not I might be interested in the book then the rave book review would.

When I review a book (or anything else) I always try to find some positive aspect about the product and make sure I bring that to light. Then I'll point out the problems I had and explain why. In many cases the books I've review with this approach have generated more interest in the book from those who read the review. I think people like to see for themselves in many cases whether something is really as bad as another person thinks and in other cases what is bad to me might be something another reader likes in a book--my pointing out a negative aspect may serve as a positive selling point to another reader.

Tossing It Out

Kelly Robinson said...

I wouldn't be so quick to toss out lone one-star reviews. Now that people can pay services to give them good reviews, in some cases (especially with self-pubs) the one-star review is the only legitimate (as in not paid and not their Mom) review.