The Thumper Rule

Mark Twain

by Kay Springsteen

Three rules in life get me by. The first is The Thumper Rule (“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” The second is The Mark Twain Rule (also known as the anti-moron rule: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”). And the third is the Common Sense Rule: If you don’t like it, don’t look.

The above was part of a response I gave on the blog of a family member, and about an entirely different subject than I’m about to discuss. However, as I was preparing my article, it was my memory of these words that kept surfacing.

Have you ever made an impulse purchase of a stranger’s book? Maybe it was on sale and you picked it up on a whim. You may have paid 99 cents or $1.99, and you took a chance, not knowing anything about the author, never having read anything by him or her…but the blurb intrigued you enough to make the purchase.

And from the first page, you hated the book, maybe even didn’t finish it. If you had plucked the book off the reduced rack at Barnes & Noble or the endcap of the book aisle at Walmart, would you have found a way to review the book? To tell others far and wide to stay away from this book because you felt it was shoddily written and the author shouldn’t quit his/her day job?

Most people probably wouldn’t go out of their way to post a review of a physical book. At most, we might say to a friend, “Man, I read a terrible book I just picked up at the store.” Out of all my friends and family, I can honestly say, no one has ever said to me, “I just bought a horrible book.” I have, on the other hand occasionally heard these same people say things like, “I just read a fantastic book—you should get it.”

For some reason, I’m noticing the opposite is true regarding reviews of books purchased on line. Actually, more than just books, but since I’m a writer and this is a blog about books, I’ll stick to that. Sales sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others encourage book ratings and reviews. And some of the reviews I’ve read on these sites range from glowing to downright mean—sometimes about the same book. You can chalk a lot of the glowing ones up to possibly being from friends and family trying to help the author out—even thought that is NOT necessarily the case.

But what’s with the mean reviews? Do readers really feel the need to warn fellow readers away from a book because it’s “that bad”? When I read reviews that stress “not worth the money,” or “don’t waste your time,” I admit to feeling a bit surprised. Obviously the book made SOME impression on the reader if he/she took the time to go to Amazon and write even a short review. But truly, what is the motivation behind a bad review that is not only bad but delivered in an unkind manner with no explanation of why the reviewer didn’t like the book? I’ve taken to clicking on “see all my reviews” on some of the more cruel reviews and have been outright shocked to find that quite often the reviewer in question ONLY writes 1-star reviews with a mean-spirited feel to their words. I’m going to leave you all to draw your own conclusions about that because I don’t understand it myself—there could be any number of motivating factors for such behavior but I can’t condone any of the reasons I can think up for being mean about a review.

The key words in any review are often not even written – “in my opinion.” And yet that’s all reviews are—the opinions of our readers. As authors we’re advised to enjoy the good reviews and let the bad ones roll off our backs. It’s not always easy, since sometimes there seems to be no rationale behind the low scores. But you know what?

As a READER who also writes and sometimes reviews, I try to recognize that what I like or don’t like may not be what someone else likes or

Thumper, what does your father say?

doesn’t. So if I found a story lacking to the point where I can only give it 1-2 stars out of 5, I apply the Thumper Rule (see above).  I do this as a courtesy to a fellow writer—rather than throw them over the cliff and dash them on the rocks below, I simply don’t comment. I do this whether I know the person or not because I believe just because a particular book is not MY PERSONAL cup of tea, someone else may not feel like that.

And while some reviewers may rationalize that they are compelled to give 1-2 star reviews so others will not waste time and money, I invite them to show some compassion and explain their reasons with their opinions for two reasons: (1) So the author can get some quality feedback, and (2) so other readers can decide for themselves whether what you found to be an impediment to your enjoyment will be a problem for them.

How about you? Do you review books? Do you have a personal review policy?

Kay is an author of edgy-sweet romance, a Sr. Editor at Astraea Press and part of the editorial staff at Secret Cravings Publishing. Find her on Facebook.


7 responses to “The Thumper Rule

  1. Thumper gives very good advice … and I usually follow it.

  2. Wonderful post. I have seen this topic come up a lot over the last year and must say that while I agree that any negative review should have reasons to back it up, as a reviewer I will post a low scored review if I feel it’s justified. Now, if the book just isn’t my style I prefer to issue a fail to finish and move on, HOWEVER, if the book was able to be finished and there were major editing issues, plot holes, or content that I found offensive or degrading I will call attention to that. BUT ONLY if I was able to finish the book.

    Every book deserves a chance. I have not given many 1 0r 2’s but I have in the past given them. I have also been called out on some of the reviews I have offered. I will not apologize for my opinion but I won’t say that it wasn’t worth the time or $. Just because I thought the book was bad doesn’t mean that everyone will BUT I do think that other readers deserve to know what people think of the books they might want to buy.

    Coming across a wonderful book is a real treat that should be enjoyed. But not every book is a winner for everyone. I think that consumers have a right to see what others thought and make their own call. I have to say that when I come across a book that has nothing but 5 star reviews I tend to worry a bit. I have read some of those books. I did not get that same 5 star feeling.

    As an avid reader I actually LIKE to see less than stellar reviews that call attention to what the reader found wrong with the story. Not only does it make me interested but I tend to think that negative reviews are probably not written by friends and family therefore they might be a little more “real”
    Not that all positive reviews are “fake” because we all know they aren’t. In reality, I don’t really look at amazon reviews because a vast majority of them seem to be either from friends or just folks out to snark.

    I much prefer review blogs and the like when I look for “honest” reviews. But even those can be full of friends and enemies to authors who only use the review as an outlet and not really an honest “what I really thought”

    In a perfect world there would be no bad reviews. We would all love everything that we read. Unfortunately the flack that review blogs/sites have gotten for posting negative reviews has made many of them wary of posting how they really feel.

    No one wants to get bashed, authors and reviewers included, but we do live in a great country that say we are allowed to have our opinions and express them. But why should we if we fear a lawsuit for calling it like we see it?

    So really it comes down to this….what is it worth? We all know that bad review can drive sales just as well as good ones. Reviews are reviews. Opinions. But do we really want to live in fear of saying something that might offend or irk or do we want to be able to express our OPINIONS and let others make their own choice?

    I do agree with your Thumper rule when it comes to people. I would never use a review as a personal attach on the author. But I feel a little different about products. I liken it to buying a house or a car. I WANT to know what others have found wrong with the product so as a consumer I can make an informed decision about how to spend my money.

  3. Thank you for the great response, Reader/Reviewer. I know this is a hot and somewhat touchy topic. I have experienced the old bad book makes me want to throw my kindle thing and it is frustrating. But even with the worst of books, if I say anything, I try to explain what my issues are. I just don’t feel an author should be knocked down and kicked around too. It’s hard for the creative persona to expose him/herself by putting work out there as it is. It sounds like you “get” what I was trying to say here. Again, thanks.

  4. I totally agree with your opinion about the 1-star reviews. I, too, have taken the opportunity to look at a person’s other reviews to see if they repeatedly gave 1-stars. And I’ll be totally frank, if I take the time to finish a book, then it obviously warranted a higher rating than a 1 or 2 because there were enough redeeming qualities in the MS that kept me reading.

    But, having said that, I do believe we have the freedom to speak our opinion, and if someone wants to give a 1-star review, it needs to be CONSTRUCTIVE. “Don’t bother,” “Don’t waste your money,” and similiar comments are no better than the 5-star reviews from family and friends. If the book was bad enough for you to take the time and put up a 1-star review, then it needs to be detailed and accurate and provide others with a clear picture of where the book fell short. Otherwise, it’s just sabotage.

  5. Ms Springsteen,

    I do. I hate the reviews that say “not worth the time” or just that “the book was bad”. That gives neither the other potential readers nor the author anything to go on. Reviews like that are snark, plain and simple.

    Authors do take a chance in putting themselves out there when they publish their work. They have spent time on it and grown to love it in a way that readers can only glimpse when delving between the pages.

    I have heard of a number of blogs/sites who LOVE to post snark as it drives traffic. In the web world it’s all about traffic. If you don’t have it, you don’t matter.

    But I object to that. While snark and nasty reviews may pull in traffic for the OMG factor, they hold little substance in the long run and those who choose to use shock tactics to draw readers and followers will eventually fade.

    Then again, we do love our reality TV with all it’s drama.However, we also know that it is for entertainment and should be taken with a grain of salt.

  6. There is also the ‘sandwich’ rule for reviews, in onther words, star positive, slip in the less than stella incidents and close on a positve, because your negative may be someone elses’ positive.
    Those that get kicks giving mean 1 rating reveiws simply have people doing what everyone else here has said, they check the reviewer out and it is the reviewer that comes out badly because their comments become worthless.
    And the Thumper rule is one I follow too. 🙂

  7. Jeanne Theunissen

    I am reminded here of the words of Anton Ego, in Ratatouille:

    “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

    There are many reasons some people seem to enjoy writing negative reviews. For some, they may feel that it gives them a sense of superiority; that they can only build themselves up by tearing others down. Others may feel a sense of jealousy, in that since they are unable to produce anything of value themselves, they feel a need to criticize what they themselves wish they could do, but can’t. Others, of course, are just plain mean, and there is no getting around these people.

    I, myself, rarely bother writing reviews unless either specifically asked for one, or to help out a friend. In those cases, I do try to be honest, even though my opinion may be slightly biased. Occasionally, I will write a review on a book/author I am completely unfamiliar with, but only if it blew me away enough to highly praise it. I don’t know that I can honestly say I’ve ever read a book I absolutely hated, but then, if it doesn’t keep my attention, I don’t finish reading it, and won’t bother taking the time to comment on it one way or the other.

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