Read your reviews…or not?

Russian Federation: Court Rules Against Book Reviewers – Global Legal Monitor – Law Library of Congress (Library of Congress)

“(May. 11, 2009) On April 23, 2009, a federal district court in the southern Russian province of Dagestan issued an unprecedented ruling, ordering a journalist of a local newspaper to pay compensation in an amount equal to US$1,000 to a writer who did not like a review of his book published in the newspaper.”

This bit of news came out just this week and kinda made me laugh.  Pretty sure bad reviews fall under Free Speech here in America, so, like it or not, we’re stuck with our reviews, good or bad. 

I’ve been having fun for the past week on the new blog The Worst Review Ever.  I posted my own worst review (which wasn’t actually the worst in terms of the amount of anguish it caused, but was the worst written by far. It’s been interesting to see the reactions in the comments to the reviewer…everything from wishing they could send him their own books for review (on the principle that no publicity is bad publicity) or just questioning his sanity. 

While I don’t doubt the plaintiff in the above suffered the symptoms he claims to have suffered upon reading his poor review (“The writer stated that after reading the book review, he experienced chest pains, headache, and elevated blood pressure.”)…since I’m pretty sure I suffered those same symptoms, if not on my “worst” review, then definitely on another one…I still question the relevance of suing. Why?  Because I don’t think we should give reviews that much power over us!

There are a few different kinds of reviewers:

  1. Those who offer constructive criticism.  They state what didn’t work for them about the book.  They state what did work for them about the book.  They offer an honest opinion, like it or not, but their review is about their perception of the book.  These are the only “valuable” reviews, as far as I’m concerned, and still, they are only of value in a limited way.  If you find that dozens of readers constructively offered that they were horrified that you killed a dog in your book, which made it hard to enjoy the rest of the book, perhaps you might rethink whacking the family pet in your subsequent books.  They are also helpful in learning your strengths.  If many reviewers comment that your dialogue is fun and snappy, I think it’s safe to say that you might want to keep that up in the future. 
  2. Those whose review isn’t as much about the book as it is about the author.  Really?  I don’t care how much you loathe a book, attacking the author, the author’s family, the author’s morals/reputation/intelligence doesn’t do a thing to boost your credibility as an objective reviewer.  (As an additional note…most of the readers you are trying to discourage from buying this particular book?  See right through your lame attempt at “review” to what it really is.)
  3. Those who just want to see themselves in print.  These reviewers often present themselves as authorities on writing, talking down to the writer, pointing out “mistakes,” etc., that they are shocked only they could see, but cloaking it as a lesson to the author to avoid future mistakes.  It doesn’t matter whether these reviewers are actually published or not…they have deemed themselves better than the authors whose book they are reviewing.  An example of this is a review of mine for VENUS ENVY, which pointed out my “classic newbie mistake” of having too many scenes with only two characters in them.  Hm…methinks someone should alert the media, because I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard of that being a no-no before…and neither have ANY other writers I have shared this hilarious tidbit with, including the New York Times Bestsellers.  

I wonder if readers know that a lot of writers refuse to read their reviews.  They don’t seek them out.  They don’t Google themselves or their books or frequent Amazon just to see what people are saying about them.  Mostly because it’s the bad reviews that stand out, not the good ones (to the writer, anyway).  You can have 20 great reviews, which bring warmth to your heart when you read them, but that one review that says, “This book sucks” negates all the great reviews. 

Some of us even have rules about our reviews…1) We can read them, but if they are bad we can only read them ONCE. 2) We can read them, cry, throw a fit, be angry…but only for 24 hours/5 minutes/until we close our browser. 

A really really wise friend of mine, Jane Porter, once told me that we don’t write our books for the people who don’t like them.  We write them for the people who do like them and need them and find joy in reading them.  I’ve taken to telling myself, when I read a review from someone who didn’t care for my book, “I didn’t write it for you anyway.” It helps to cut back on the inevitable stab of pain when you find out someone thinks your baby is ugly.  Instead I turn to the other reviews, the ones that point out that my book brought a few minutes of joy into their lives. 

On the flip side, as a reader, I pay so little attention to reviews, it’s not even funny.  Reviews rarely sway me to buy a book or not.  Even “big” reviews in publications like Publisher’s Weekly have little effect on me…because being paid to review still doesn’t mean the review is anything other than opinion.  And there are such a variety of reading tastes in the world, that one person’s opinion about a book isn’t necessarily going to be mine. 

What about you?  Are you are writer to reads your reviews or not? Are you a reader who buys books based on reviews…or not?  I’m really interested to hear your opinion.  

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