I Want To Review The Reviewer. Personally.

On February 5, 2013, in Uncategorized, by rsguthrie

broken-heartOkay, I get it—we’re writers and we are putting our written words out there and no way is everyone going to love everything we write. It’s just not possible. Some of the writers history has deemed so worthy as to award Pulitzers and myriad other literary awards had their very skills disparaged by “legitimate” critics and even other well-respected authors. But therein lies the courage; therein lies the willingness to be publicly evaluated, criticized, loved, or hated. For those who haven’t done it, let me guarantee you this: it is a terrifying experience. Every time.

And when you receive that first (legitimate) line of criticism, it will feel like the razor end of a spear tearing your soul in two.

Which is why humans that roam the Internet, finding perhaps the weakest in the herd, or better yet someone with a wellspring of talent compared to them, only to intentionally cause such acute self-ripping and questioning and doubting.

Most of you know the first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club. Well writers know the first rule of publishing is you grow thick skin. And then you use it to drag cowardly reviewers who’ve never had the stones to publish anything and aren’t smart enough to read a synopsis or a sample chapter or a genre listing down to Fight Club and leave a bloody impression of their smarmy, hapless face on the crusted concrete floor for the one-star review they wrote because they don’t like what the story is about but are really only attempting to cause someone else pain to assuage their own.

Sure poor reviews sting. But not reviews that don’t like the color of the book or the name of the main character or the fact that the reader hates that genre and takes it out on the writer. The synopsis, the book cover, dozens of reviews (some giving away more, even, than they should), plus a goodly twenty-percent of the book are available to the “intelligent” reader to decide whether or not the book is one on which they’d like to spend their time and money. If, after making informed decisions (i.e. the reader’s responsibility), the writing drops off or lacks in some way or the plot dribbles and fails (i.e. the writer’s job) then hack away. But do it with respect for the fact that this writer has at least taken the leap and is baring themselves to the world, well-done or not.

Mean-spirited reviewers who can’t put together three cogent sentences to berate a book they clearly had no reason to read in the first place aren’t readers—and they most certainly not viable critics or reviewers. They’re wrenches in the works; flies in the ointment; piss in the Cheerios. These people have been created a nothing more than mosquitoes humming around, waiting to take a nibble out of honest, hard-working, serious men and women writers—writers who’ve shown the courage, at least, to put a player in the game. These agitators aren’t attempting to deliver constructive criticism to the writer or to forewarn potential readers about pitfalls of which they could not possibly guess awaited them.

GingrinchTweetShit-disturbers. That’s what we called them growing up. Little boys who received a pair of long-johns under the Christmas tree instead of a B-B gun and have been taking a leak in everyone’s cereal ever since.

The irony is these reviews (while you might think otherwise) are not the kind about which writers have been cautioned. These reviews come off as laughable comebacks at the pub—it’s the kind of review Seinfeld character George Constanza would write: “The Jerk Store called and they’re running out of YOU.”

What should offend the writer, other writers, and serious readers, is that these creeps lurk around the virtual bookstores in their trench-coats and stink up the joint with last night’s liquor, ruining honest patrons’ experiences and scare the children.

bush-joker-posters-4474-1249390194-2Look mommy, that man’s coat is hanging open and he has no IQ!

In all honesty, if you’ve ever had the courage to put your art up for public scrutiny, you’ve been, let’s call it, well-criticized. Someone with intellect, a true interest in the craft, and an eye toward, perhaps, even making your work better, has put a lance into the heart of your pride and joy. At first, it may feel as if they’ve killed it. Then, later, after a shot of tequila, you realize “you know, that really was shallow” or “I did jump from A to C without giving the reader any good reason to believe in it.”

The best (i.e most accurate) critiques I’ve ever received have always hurt the most. Many of those who delivered them became my friends, because we each recognized work that was DESERVING of a well-thought, well-written critique. It seems people feel less and less this way and more as if the ability to launch a scud missile review was put there as some sort of battle piece in a game of war.

In art, criticism is supposed to expose the weaknesses that they may be strengthened; the missing elements that they may be added. If not for the current work, then for future endeavors. Too often now (particularly with the ease and anonymity of the Internet) criticism has devolved to playground taunts and the disparagement of completely unrelated things. Half the time it’s difficult to determine if the reviewer even read the right book.

what-a-handsome-faceCriticism is important and in the correct venue, with proper control, reviews (bad ones, especially) can be very valuable. Constructive critique groups help thousands of writers every day reach closer and closer their true potential (and it doesn’t happen without some pain and skin-thickening and yes, even some undeserved haranguing.

But the brainless shit-disturbers? The rogues who roam the virtual world of books or lurk in the workshops or write minimum twenty-word slop reviews on Amazon, using their mouths like hands to batter other artists with more courage than they?

They need to tighten up their belts, grow a pair, buy some real talent, rent an IQ and join the fucking game.


15 Responses to I Want To Review The Reviewer. Personally.

  1. Keta says:

    Couldn’t have said it better, and that’s the truth. BRAVO!

  2. Niki Savage says:

    Hi Rob, thank you for writing this post. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who feels this way. I have a trilogy out there, of which the first book is free. It’s been like that for more than a year at all retailers, and reviews have been mostly favorable across all three books.
    Until Amazon finally came to the party, and pricematched the first book, making it free, in October 2012. Since then I have seen reviews like the ones you mention. The blurb of my first book clearly states that this is the first book in a trilogy. Yet you will be amazed at reviewers giving a poor review because they were angry about the cliffhanger ending, and furious that the next book isn’t free. Huh? One reviewer wrote a scathing and spiteful review, which consisted mostly of spoilers, also exposing the ending of the book, and disputing the genre of the book. She claims that she didn’t like the content, yet she spent four hours reading the entire book, which makes me believe that she was angry that the next book wasn’t free. And then she got all her friends to vote the review up so that it dominated the product page, and they ganged up on anyone who commented on the review, voting their comments down. Is this the actions of a reasonable person? I won’t post the link here, but if you have a minute, go and check it out. Has her review affected sales? Most certainly. I was having at least a hundred downloads a day which translated into at least thirty paid sales a day of the second and third book. Now I get maybe thirty free downloads a day which translate to ten sales per day of the other books. That’s a considerable drop, and if I look at my sales graphs, it started within two days of her review. So her review, along with the two star reviews of the people who apparently didn’t bother to read the book blurb, have done me untold damage. And I have no defence against it. I complained about the spoiler review to Amazon, saying it violated their guidelines as it was spiteful and disrespectful, but they refused to do anything. I don’t have a posse of friends who can go and vote her review down, and I know that is frowned upon anyway, but if she can get her friends, who have not read the book, to vote her review up, is that fair? She also posted the review on Goodreads, where at the least the spoilers are hidden, but because she’s been a member of Goodreads for a while, her review sits at the top, and any others slot in below hers. Now my question is this: Where are the voices of the people who have enjoyed the first book enough to buy the second and third book. Maybe they feel that they voted with their credit cards by buying the rest of the trilogy. But by remaining silent, they leave a writer such as myself very vulnerable to nasty reviewers with an agenda.
    And please don’t get me wrong, I can take criticism. A well thought out review, even if critical, will always be appreciated. But a review like the one I have mentioned above, has been designed to hurt my sales, of that I have no doubt, and it makes me worry about the unhealthy state of the review system at Amazon.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Your experience is becoming the norm rather than the exception. I know we want to evoke emotion with our writing (art) but vengeance? The most unfortunate aspect to me is that you can’t just shrug this off as a looney because it is impacting your livelihood. Had it been a fair review, it would not have been so damaging, but to be so spiteful and negative and have that be the first thing readers see (and that, too, because of faulty, spiteful practices).

      All I can say is “write on”. Even when trying to make a living with art, there is a part of its creation and what it does to our soul no mean spirit can take away. And the impact of her review will fade. Give it time. Most importantly, write more. Prove her wrong through your own spirit and talent. You’ll over come, though unfortunately people like this make things more difficult than need be.

      Good luck and fortune. 🙂

  3. Darlene Jones says:

    I had a reader tell me she didn’t like my book at all. Was rather vicious with her reasons why. She then went on to say she tried to read it while watching the Super Bowl. She didn’t even know the name of the heroine. How valid is that?

    • rsguthrie says:

      My point exactly. Why would someone expend the energy to complain about a book by their own admission they disliked for their own personal reasons? What was the complaint? That the book wasn’t enough to drag her attention from the Super Bowl? You just have to learn to recognize the valuable reviews (both positive and negative) and flush the rest. 😉

  4. Danita Cahill says:

    Well said, Rob. Thanks for the post.

    As writers, we have all experienced the sting of the thoughtless review, as well as the joy of a thoughtful one.

    Even the top best-selling authors get their share of stinky, brainless reviews. I try to find comfort in that!

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks, Danita…and so true. Another thing I didn’t mention is that the more people that read a book (say one with 100 reviews versus one with 3,000) the spread on positive and negative will absolutely develop and the chances of a crappy “no-thought” review go way up! So more haters can mean one is getting closer to the big times!;)

  5. Jean Harrington says:

    Newt, Never thought I’d ever say this–we’re such opposites on the political spectrum–but as far as your take on literary criticism, we’re kissin’ cousins.

    • rsguthrie says:

      I admit, I did take liberties with both Newt’s views on good old folk like himself, as well as his penchant for honesty, but the poor guy’s name is Newt. Someone had to give him a voice with at least a touch of sanity. 😉

  6. Jaq D Hawkins says:

    I don’t mind a legitimate bad review. It’s the people who write crap about a book they never read because their friend (who they only know on the Internet and might be a crazed stalker) say the author is a bad person for some reason of their own (like they had an argument on some social network site) that I can’t respect. You know, standard Goodreads reviewing practice.

    Or the ones who judge a book by a television appearance where the book was mentioned. It’s a pity that reading a book is not required before reviewing it.

    • rsguthrie says:

      My laptop was running so slowly that I commented on your reply above on Ken’s. It really should always be about the product, never a gripe with the creator. The world is filled with all sorts of people, unfortunately, and some who cannot do incorrectly believe they can raise their own stature by creating a mountain of bad comments about others up which to climb. Thanks, Jaq. Nothing better than commentary that adds to the discussion. 🙂

  7. Ken Farmer says:

    Well played, Rob, well played. “Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic. Statues are for the criticized.” -Jean Sibelius
    My favorite 1 Star review (and so far we’ve only gotten two out of almost two hundred):- “I purchased this twice – both times I had to request a refund because I couldn;t get it to download.
    Looked like “my kind of novel” Wish it would have downloaded.
    Too bad that all I can give is a 1 star when I really didn’t get to read the book.”
    Go figure.

    • rsguthrie says:

      You nail it. It’s about reviewing the product—the finished book, movie, play, whatever—not having mean-spirited “shelves” on Goodreads for smacking down authors for reasons completely unrelated to the work, the writer’s ability, etc. I saw one the other day (on GR) entitled “Authors Who Can’t Read”. Really? Wow.

      Thanks much for reading and commenting, Ken. 🙂

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks, Ken! My laptop and/or Internet was running so slow that the original comment I wrote “to” you was actually in response to Jaq. It still seems to work, but I felt your comment about someone reviewing a book based one the availability of it (as if the author personally controlled that AND admitting they never read it) deserved further mention. Reviews are for just that: product reviews. Not site reviews, download reviews, author personality reviews, etc. I’m off to find that person that promised me life would be fair, dammit. 😉

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