Thursday, May 15, 2014

YA Guy Reviews... Book Reviews!

YA Guy has yet to receive a negative review for Survival Colony 9.

Which may sound impressive, but bear in mind, I've got only four reviews so far, all of them on Goodreads. So the baddies are certainly going to come.

This really doesn't bother me. Negative or critical reviews are part of the business. I don't like every book I read, so why should I assume that everyone will like the book I wrote?

Authors can be incredibly touchy about negative reviews--too touchy, in my opinion. Sometimes it even goes beyond touchy, as when authors send threatening emails or tweets to the writers of the negative reviews. I'm sorry, folks, but that's just plain crazy.

The flip side of this, however, is that some reviewers do seem to revel in how very bad they can make an author feel. When a review is full of expletives and personal attacks, I believe it's crossed a line. It should be possible to express one's dislike of a book without cussing at the book's writer. I mean, unless you're reviewing The Neo-Nazi's Guide to Hating Jews--the kind of book I wouldn't review anyway, as I wouldn't want to call attention to its existence--you can certainly be civil.

Mean-spirited reviews aren't new, of course. Way back when, long before the advent of the internet, I won a short story contest run by a local weekly magazine. The very next issue, a letter to the editor appeared, questioning the sanity of both me and the judges. (I blame that letter mostly on the editor, who I got the feeling didn't like my story but was overruled by the Famous Author who had final say in the selection.) And when I published my first academic book, one of the reviewers (a very well-placed one at that) absolutely eviscerated me; it's a miracle my career in scholarly publishing survived that debacle.

But you know what? It did. I lived to see another day, to write another book.

The internet has elevated the ugly review to prominence; the combination of universality and near-anonymity (or at least, lack of tangible consequences) has allowed reviewing to become yet another form of cyber-bullying, its purpose less to evaluate the book than to make the writer feel like crap. Some say this is because it's a bunch of frustrated writers producing this kind of review; I think it's just a bunch of not very nice people.

As authors, we probably can't change this culture of reviewing-with-intent-to-kill. The best we can do is write polite reviews ourselves and, when we get negative reviews, refuse to allow them to overwhelm us. That can be hard, especially for a debut author, but it's necessary lest the bad guys win.

That negative review of my first academic book I just mentioned--you know how I responded?

The way I was in the habit of responding to all my reviews in those days: by writing the reviewer a polite note thanking him for taking the time to review my book.

I never heard back from him. But I knew that I had done the right thing, and in that sense, I'd achieved a victory.


  1. There are two kinds of bad reviews. The more common is when the reviewer didn't enjoy the book, but points out the redeeming qualities in the story or in the writing. I like those reviews because often they help other readers find your book anyway because they recognize something in the description that they enjoy in a book, even if the reviewer didn't. The other kind of review you are talking about are those personal attacks. I don't understand why anyone would ever be that mean, but I think potential readers dismiss them also because they are so extreme. Regardless, I hope you continue to get MOSTLY strong reviews for SC 9.

    1. Thanks, Kai. I certainly hope most people have the sense to dismiss overly personal attack-reviews (though then again, since lots of people write such reviews, I assume lots of people are okay with them). But you're right, reviews that honestly and openly discuss what they didn't like about a book are perfectly legitimate and can even be helpful to the author in the long run.

  2. I just remind myself that Neil Gaiman has nearly 30 bad reviews for The Ocean at the End the Lane!

  3. and this great quote from Stephen King: “You can’t please all of the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.”