Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Big Bad: Reviews That Suck

Bad reviews are nothing new in the world of words. I've gotten my fair share. I've even written my fair share of bad reviews. The topic of writing reviews popped its head up recently in Canada with this fine conversation between two well-known and well-respected writers who also review: Robert J. Wiersema and Timothy Taylor. See the link below.

This reminded me why I no longer review books. Number 1, the opportunity doesn't arise anymore because the newspaper I used to review for doesn't do as much reviewing. I had a rule when I reviewed books. If the writer was local, relatively new, or someone that I knew or was connected with in some way (not just as a FB friend though), and I didn't like their book; I didn't review it. If the writer was established and someone I didn't know, and I didn't like their book: I would write the review. But I wouldn't get personal. I would only comment about the book. I also agree with Taylor's position; I'm really hard to please for books but I don't want to be seen as some kind of pretentious asshole. Some books I just don't like and others may.

But what about the other side: how should a writer react to a bad review. We've all heard about the infamous Alice Hoffman reaction. She got a bad review of one of her books so she tweeted about it, telling her followers to call the reviewer and complain. She even gave a phone number. That's a bad response and no doubt Hoffman realized that because her twitter feed shut down almost immediately.

There was another example that occured in Canada a year or so ago. I won't go into details, mention the writer, etc., but this writer was annoyed with a negative review. And felt that the reviewer had missed important aspects about the book and was even inaccurate in describing the book. So the writer wrote a blog piece that was shared on FB and linked to other sites and blogs. In short, it got plenty of play. A lot of the reaction to the blog post was positive, cheering the writer on for standing up for the book, etc. It also had many valid points.

Regardless of the validity of the post, I, on the other hand, didn't think the response was a good idea. And I said so in a comment section. I met the writer not too long ago, and we talked about the article and my comment. The writer thought I was a bit of an asshole for my comment. And maybe I was, but the writer sort of got my point. And I said I understood why the post was written. We parted friendly.

But I would not write such a post. Bad reviews happen but in my opinion, reaction to them should be kept private. Complain all you want to your loved ones, close friends and get all the cathartic reaction out. But don't go public. I know there is a desire to call the reviewer out, to point their mistakes or their lack of understanding of your book. Someone has insulted your baby, your child in a sense and there's a visceral desire to strike back. But don't.

The problem with striking back in public is that now you've given the bad review validity. You've also attracted more attention to it. If people haven't read the bad review, they will. And they might agree with it, especially if the reviewer is well-respected. And you might come off as thin-skinned, someone who can't hack it in the publishing world. Worse, if you've written reviews yourself, then you might be accused of double-standard attitudes - especially if some of your reviews have been negative.

So the key response to a bad review is to ignore it. Don't draw any attention to it and to the best of your abilities, move on.

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