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General > Why are some reviewers so cruel?

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message 1: by Mackenzie (new)

Mackenzie Brown (mackbrown) I'm interested in the views of anyone from the group who is regular reviewer which I assume is most if not all of us.
When I launched my first book I made a fatal error and posted the wrong version. As a result a particularly malicious review was posted and in all probability, from somebody who downloaded the book to their kindle for free.
I've learned from this and moved on, but I wondered if anyone can tell me why such a review is necessary? Why not as I try to do, accentuate the positives and avoid any damaging words? Am I perhaps too fair minded?

I'd be very interested in hearing anyone's views on this topic.

message 2: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Cox (lisacccox) The short answer is that every human being can be a jerk sometimes. We can get up on the wrong side of the bed, we can be under so much stress that we lash out, or we can just not have the bandwidth to care about anyone but ourselves during certain times. Some people seem to be stuck in that mode, others just visit it occasionally. I believe that a lot of the stuff in a malicious-sounding review is more about the reader than it is about the book or the author. But that’s not really the answer I think you’re searching for.

When it comes to Kindle books, free or not, there are several kinds of readers that I have personal experience with. Many of my friends are the first kind of reader on my list: highly educated, many are teachers. They react emotionally to copyediting errors in books because of several reasons.
1) They are used to seeing better in the books they have read over their lifetimes.
2) They spend their lives trying to teach our young people to care about getting the details right when using the English language.
3) They see the proliferation of copyediting errors as the downfall of civilization.

That last one may sound like a joke, but there’s a serious, fear-based world-view reflected in there. The education system in the United States has changed dramatically in the past 30 years. Some things have changed for the better, some things are much worse, and different people have different views on which things are which. But the baby-boomer generation is on some level fearful that they are being replaced by the "Whatever" generation. The things that mattered to them are no longer important. My personal belief is that a lot of vituperative reviews come from people who haven’t yet thought through and dealt with a fear of changing times and a fear that the things they value are no longer being valued. That kind of emotional reaction can get pretty caustic.

The second kind of reader I know about is the person who works themselves to death most waking moments of the week, who has very few moments during the week for relaxation. Families with children where both parents work, sometimes two or more jobs each, are much more numerous than they were when I was a child. Dawn to dusk sounds like a vacation to these folks. When they get a few hours on a weekend to sit down and read, then they are disappointed by the book they have invested several hours in, they can react angrily and emotionally because they feel that they’ve wasted their time, and they have precious little time to waste. Again I’ll state my own opinion. This kind of review isn’t really about the book or about the author. It’s about a frustration that it is so hard to find books that suit our tastes in the huge pile of Kindle books available.

In a bookstore, I open a book to three random places and read a page. I don’t trust the first page or the first chapter, assuming those have had a lot more attention from the author and beta readers than the rest of the book. I find that technique a lot harder to do with the “Look Inside” feature of Kindle books. While I usually just delete a book that disappoints me after I have read an hour, I have been known to write a review that says I was disappointed, especially if I read the whole thing looking for the diamond in the rough. Others in my family have been even less patient, but then they have a lot less time than I do.

The last kind of reader I know about is the person who doesn’t think the review is about or for the author at all. That kind of reviewer thinks that their personal opinion of any product is useful to other consumers and that they are duty-bound to tell about products they think suck to steer other consumers away from wasting time and/or money. My husband doesn’t review books, but he reviews other products and would use this approach if he did review books. For this type of reviewer, the review is not for the benefit of anyone except other consumers.

So, those are three types of reviewers I know personally. There are probably many others. I know arrogant folks who think their opinions are the only ones that are right. I know folks who are ignorant of what the writing process is like and of what any other person might be feeling. I’m glad I don’t personally know anyone who would leave a caustic review because they are jealous of the author’s success. I don’t want to know that kind of person.

But I guess the bottom line for me is that whatever we write, whether it is a book, an essay, or a review, the text that is written says a lot more about the person who wrote it than it does about the audience, and even the best people have days when they are reactive and uncaring.

These of course are just my opinions. I hope one or two might be helpful.

Lisa Cox

message 3: by Nikole (new)

Nikole Hahn (nikole_hahn) | 4 comments I try to use the sandwich method. As writers we grow from our critiques, the good and the bad. The sandwich method is the positive at the top and end and the meat in the middle. In some ways, not knowing what was written, the version you put up, mistake or not, was the only version the reviewer had. Not knowing your situation, I can only comment on my experience. Some people get offended at the merest wrong word against their work while others have a pretty thick skin. When I review, it is never my purpose to discourage a writer, but only to give feedback from a writer and readers point of view. But sometimes on a one or two star, the sandwich method is pretty hard to do.

message 4: by Cassandra (new)

Cassandra Davis | 5 comments I've actually given up writing 1 or 2 star reviews because I'm afraid it will crush some writer's spirit. (I make exceptions for well known authors who put out complete crap, but that's a rare case.)

I hate that people can be malicious and spiteful when posting reviews and in doing so can devastate a first time author. If there are genuine problems with a book, there are many avenues with which to contact the author privately.

For indie authors, I prefer to use the adage I was taught in ROTC: praise in public, critique in private.

It sounds as if you've learned from your initial experiences and moved on. I hope that is the case. You shouldn't let one cranky reviewer kill your dream anymore than you should let that first 5 star review convince you that your writing is perfect. Writing is a skill-based art-form: you have to practice to improve and you must always strive for improvement.

Here's a short little blog post I wrote about my first 2 star review. Hope it helps.


message 5: by M. (new)

M. Keep (jmkeep) I've become a lot more considerate of the author in writing my reviews since I started publishing, but prior to that, I was very harsh.

I wasn't talking about the author, after all. I was talking about the book, and why I didn't like it. I tried to explain, in every negative review, what I liked and what I didn't like in that book, and what I tend to like, and what I don't like in all books.

I expected that this would help people find what they're looking for. For instance, I hate combat. I love fantasy books, but I hate combat, and there are some books that I feel overdo combat. For someone who loves fight scenes, this would be a positive! For someone who hates them, like myself, it would be a negative.

On the one hand, I think authors need to recognize this - they're talking about your book, and how your idea was portrayed, not you. I also think they need to remember that it's just one person's opinion, and even though it seems harsh, they're just one person out of billions. So they're not your fan, but you have other people that are, right?

On the other hand, I believe that people should try to be kind, and I've seen some downright mean reviews. Have you seen 50 Shade's 1 stars? They get pretty harsh. I'm assuming E.L. James' bed of money helps her sleep at night, but still, we're all people.

This week I received a two-star review, stating that one of my stories has 'No story'. I disagree, but she felt that it didn't, and that's her right. I can feel upset about it, or I could remember the fanmail I got from someone thanking me for writing such amazing works, and saying how brave I am, and what an awesome team my partner and I make.

Take the good, and the bad, and learn from both. It's harder said than done to not take reviews personally, but there's nothing we can do about other people's opinions.

My favourite author of all time, who I think is absolutely amazing, has an average of 3.69 stars on Goodreads. Tastes differ :)

message 6: by Christian (new)

Christian Schoon | 3 comments Well, it turns out that bad reviews aren't necessarily bad for sales. Sounds counter-intuitive, till you dig into the specs. For new authors (under 10 books), a one-star review apparently results in a major boost to sales. It's all down to conflict making a better story. And the end result is sweet revenge for any author who's been publicly dissed w/ a nasty review. Author Mike Mullin (Ashfall) has the details on this in a very informative post:

message 7: by Nikole (new)

Nikole Hahn (nikole_hahn) | 4 comments Bad reviews also cause discussion. Isn't that what an author wants? Discussion? People talking about his or her work? I think a bad review makes a good writer legit. There are so many reviews that are five-star, even four-star, and some with only five stars. I've made a plan to list both a bad review and a good review on my novels, because I know someone out there that I've given a bad review to will do one just for spite. ROFL. :o) Seriously though...Christian is right. My one star review on one book caused another to want to read it. It's risky to the reviewer to do a one or two star review because of the nasty emails and comments they can get from people who disagree (and can't seem to disagree without insulting them). One novelist I recently gave a two-star was very gracious. In fact, we had a great conversation together.

message 8: by Sadie (last edited Mar 19, 2013 06:47AM) (new)

Sadie Forsythe Christian wrote: "Well, it turns out that bad reviews aren't necessarily bad for sales. Sounds counter-intuitive, till you dig into the specs. For new authors (under 10 books), a one-star review apparently results i..."

I completely believe it. I regularly read bad reviews and then will read the book, either because whatever was disliked is something I actually like or to simply see if I agree with the reviewer or not. Of course, this requires an actual review as opposed to a simple star rating, but...

message 9: by Cassandra (new)

Cassandra Davis | 5 comments "I regularly read bad reviews and then will read a book either because whatever was disliked is something I actually like..."

I've done this too.

message 10: by Midu (last edited Mar 21, 2013 12:21AM) (new)

Midu Hadi Cynthia wrote: "Bad reviews and low rankings hurt sales. Reveiwers should not post a review at all if they do not like a book. Really interesting reviews, ones that make reviewers famous are those that discuss the..."

Hey Cynthia! If you had a problem, you should have talked to me, instead of saying such nasty stuff in groups I wasn't even a member of. Would that have been so hard?

No 1 or 2 star reviews for your book? Let me correct you!

I give out bad reviews? Let me help you with that one too. Here are my reviews for your other books:
Zollocco: A Novel of Another Universe
New Myths of the Feminine Divine

And what did I say that was so hurtful to your sales? That your book needs editing? Surely, you yourself can see that. And why put up a book for review when you can't even take criticism over it?

To think that I've been voting for your books on all and any lists I can find!
Best Indie Books to Read in 2012
Best Independent Novels
Lesser Known Authors
Best of Little-Known Authors

message 11: by Scott (last edited Mar 21, 2013 04:44AM) (new)

Scott Marlowe (scottmarlowe) Cynthia wrote: "Bad reviews and low rankings hurt sales. Reveiwers should not post a review at all if they do not like a book. Really interesting reviews, ones that make reviewers famous are those that discuss the..."

If reviewers shouldn't leave 1 or 2 star reviews then why even have those ratings available? Should the scale run from 3 stars to 5, thereby making 3 the new 1? I don't understand this way of thinking at all. You're forgetting that reviews aren't for authors, they're for readers.

I'm perfectly fine with 1 and 2 star reviews provided the reviewer actually leaves a constructive review. Something like, "This was the worst book I ever read" or "Didn't like the ending", is not really a review.

Oh, and calling out Midu like that? That's just bad form and extremely unprofessional.

message 12: by Khaalidah (new)

Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali I agree with Scott. I do think though that particularly malicious reviews should be removed, and we can usually tell which ones those are, otherwise a one star review is just as valid as any other.
Fortunately I've never had a really ugly review but I have had a couple of two star reviews and while I couldn't understand the reader's POV, I have to respect it. I trust readers will be able to decipher the deal when a book has mostly five and four star reviews and the random two star reviews. At least I can.
On the other hand there are lots of books with high reviews that are literary monstrosities. So its also a matter of what the reader is interested in. Sometimes there's no rhyme or reason.

message 13: by David (new)

David Donaghe (daviddonaghe) | 3 comments I usually try to find something positive to say. I think authors should help each other out, but if a book is okay, but I didn't enjoy it that much, I'll give it less stars. If a book really sucks I won't review it. I'll let someone else do the author bashing.

message 14: by Noree (new)

Noree Cosper | 3 comments David wrote: "I usually try to find something positive to say. I think authors should help each other out, but if a book is okay, but I didn't enjoy it that much, I'll give it less stars. If a book really sucks ..."

A 1-2 star review because you didn't like the book is NOT author bashing. You are reviewing a product not the author.

message 15: by Randolph (new)

Randolph (us227381) Well, many times it's unjustified, especially personal attacks. However, sometimes a work is so bad that it warrants just a scathing review, minus any irrelevant personal attacks.

I do think the competence of a writer (factually based of course) as a writer IS fair game particularly when the author has a history of being so awful as to be questionable as a competent writer at all. This will many times be perceived as a personal attack, which it sort of is, but if I'm going to warn off readers from all the works of an incompetent writer I'm going to build a pretty convincing case that is going to be perceived as somewhat personal.

Also an author's views may be so morally abhorrent or sickly prurient that questioning their intelligence or sanity is totally on-base. I can think of neo-Nazi, pedophilia, rape advocacy, gay-bashing, bigotry, or even rape tolerance. I would tend to vilify an author like this personally and question their moral and personal character absolutely. This isn't cruelty, it is a moral responsibility. These people are evil, period.

Finally, a lie is a lie. Saying something positive even if you are lukewarm about it is wrong. Rate it honestly and leave the review out if you feel you have to lie to make a review palatable to an author.

message 16: by Kenneth (new)

Kenneth Goldman (goldman) | 9 comments There's no such thing as a bad review as long as they spell your name correctly.

message 17: by Gerald (new)

Gerald Black (sentientsword) | 5 comments I agree. What you are reviewing isn't based entirely on an authors skill (or lack therof), but the stroy, characters and mood. Even great authors have written bad books!!!

message 18: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Joyce | 4 comments A number of very important points have come out of my post about Midu's reviews of my books:

That some books recieve so many 5 stars, it makes those rankings worthless.

That some "reviewers" simply give 1 stars not through analysis of the book's quality, the reader's feeling for their reading experience but out of spite.

That many reviews are worthless, often because of the two points mentioned above.

What looks to me to be a confusion between "honesty" as a venting of emotional reaction and "honesty" as description of writing style and technique that allows readers to decide if that is the type of writing they want to read.

That some feel there is no such thing as a bad review.

That books that teach hate and viciousness need to be exposed.

That rankings are often an encombrance to the the real review--the stuff the reviewere actually says.

All of these are needful and good points. There are three points, however, that seem to be ignored:

That a refusal to review is in itself a review because it stops readers from hearing about a book.

That bad rankings (as opposed to the comments of the review) hurt sales.

That a publically posted opinion can and should be publically objected to when that opinion is unfairly hurtful and counter to the responsibility of making a statement about several gifts. One bad, sale hurting review, could be ignored but several? No. If complete and utter honesty is the requirement, then surely reviewers must buy the books they wish to review.

Whether a reviewer's only payment is the book or if the payment is the book and a fee, the professional courtesty is to warn the author a bad ranking or review with the review not being posted at all if the author objects to the review.

As some have said about publications, there will always be some negative reaction to any publication. Reviews are also publications, and so reactions to reveiws will be posted, and not all of them positive.

As I keep trying to stress, it is low rankings that are the most harmful, not the thoughtfully worded critcal reveiw. Accurate comments courtesly expressed help direct readers in choosing books. Rankings are based on nothing more than an individual's mood of the moment or on an agreement to swap good reviews or to take revenge on an author or to just trash the sales of a rival.

message 19: by Khaalidah (new)

Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali With regard to Cynthia's last comment, there is another important point to take away.
Making one's writing available to the public is an act of bravery that no author should take lightly. The writer, in my opinion, has the responsibility to maintain good form throughout, even in the face of bad reviews. And also, to at some point set aside the ego and PRIVATELY reflect on said reviews to gain insight and professional and artist growth. This can be difficult, but should be done, if for no other reason than preserving dignity and professional respect, although admittedly that is more important to some than others.
In other words, if you can't take the heat...

message 20: by Richard (last edited Apr 09, 2013 06:38AM) (new)

Richard (ogresan) | 5 comments I've had readers tell me that they tend to avoid books with nothing but 5 star ratings, simply because there's no book so good that someone won't dislike it, and so such ratings are suspect. (Or as I've said myself "Show me an author whose work is loved by everyone who reads it and I'll show you a writer with a VERY small audience.")

No writer is going to like a bad review, but odds are the reader will remember your name long past the point that they remember the context. As someone else pointed out above, "As long as they spell my name right." As a writer, your worst enemy is not a bad review, it's obscurity. Even a bad review raises your profile. A ridiculous, over the top bad review could raise it even more.

message 21: by Eric (new)

Eric (e_gerds) | 2 comments Here is a great video about dealing with bad YouTube comments but many of the thoughts also work well for bad book comments.

Vi Hart's Guide to Comments

message 22: by Randolph (new)

Randolph (us227381) Because we have no lives...

message 23: by Angela (new)

Angela (smwelles) | 22 comments People advise us writers to develop thick skins and become immune to bad reviews. Pfft. Fat chance. Here's something Terry Brooks wrote about a scathing review for Witch Wraith. Made me feel better and let me know I'm not the only writer who just wants everyone to love me XD

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