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
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.