Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Rude Review Is Like Saying Her Baby Is Ugly

Authors love reviews. They help get our works noticed, we DO read them, and learn from them. However, please remember authors are only human and our books are our babies.

So you've read/or partially read a book that you didn't like. For some reason this has made you angry and you feel the need to lash out...so what do you do now?

I hope you stop and think for a moment before you fire off a rude review. Take the time to list your objections...objectively.

Not long ago I received an e-mail from a fellow author. She'd received her first negative and RUDE review - on her debut novel. Understandably, this sweet, funny, smart lady was/is upset. She's also so embarrassed she asked me not to name her or the reviewer. 

Of course, I have to honor her request. Her reticence forced me to climb down off my white charger, to lay aside my mightily sharpened pen, and think things through. I began to understand her reasoning. Identities aren't germane to the point necessary to get across here. Secondly, I don't want to give any publicity to a reviewer who seems to relish in being hurtful and cruelly negative.

So all names and places have been changed to protect the innocent (meaning me and my friend). We will be referred to as writers/authors. And the not so innocent (hence to be known as the Rude Reviewer).

This is, I feel, a subject many authors can weigh in on as I bet it's happened to many of us. As writers, we understand the grim reality - not everyone is going to like our stories. A reader might object to our writing style, find our plots unrealistic, or hate our characters. I'm okay with that. My skin isn't paper thin. Sometimes, though, it isn't what is said as much as how it is said. Remember that old adage? 

It reminds me of what I always told my children. They were allowed to say anything they wanted to me but with the precondition it would be done respectfully. An early lesson on how to constructively temper their words. (No, at the time it didn't always work out well but my children have grown into wonderful and caring adults).

The Rude Reviewer, however, could stand to learn that very remedial lesson. Constructive criticism is welcomed, wholeheartedly embraced, by every author I know. It is the most important tool we have in our constant drive to improve our skills. 

The Rude Reviewer, however, doesn't stop at being just brutal with their opinions. They go over the line by using scorched earth tactics. It can never be necessary to negatively question a writer's intelligence or comment on their appearance. 

Though entitled to their opinion on any author's work that is all it - their opinion. They might unhelpfully dismiss the entire work as stupid and without redeeming characteristics yet there had to be something that made them pick up the book in the first place. They were drawn to the cover, blurb, or excerpt. 

Unfortunately, it didn't live up to expectations. Now if only they'd give a concise review while leaving out personal insults. 

I lost interest in this particular Rude Reviewer when she admitted she hadn't finish the novel. Her prerogative, of course, but I have read the book. It was quickly obvious to me that the reviewer hadn't read beyond the first chapter or so. If she had then she might have seen the bulk of her questions/complaints were dealt with.

Since it was obvious she didn't know what she was talking about, it made the majority of her criticisms less constructive and more insulting. A reviewer can't claim a character lacks redeeming characteristics if they haven't read the entire story. They don't know if the character grew. 

All that can be said is the reviewer didn't like how the character/s seemed to be in the few pages actually read. Anything else is dishonest on the reviewer's part. An entire book can't be dismissed as worthless and unreadable when only one brief glance was taken inside. Again it is well within the rights of a reviewer not to finish or even read a book. I've often set a book aside after only reading the blurb or a couple of chapters. For some reason or another (mood or taste in genre) the work simply didn't capture my attention. That is all I can honestly report if  called upon to give my opinion.

Remember this Rude Reviewer stated she hadn't finished the book. How, in such unnecessarily harsh words, did she think she knew enough to call the book's plot into question? She hadn't read far enough to see how the writer wove the story lines together. How could she call the characters one dimensional if she hadn't read far enough in the book to see if they were fleshed out? All this reviewer could have legitimately said is that she didn't care for the first twenty or so pages she read of an almost three-hundred page novel. 

What she did write seemed simply gauged to insult and hurt.

Within the first few sentences the Rude Reviewer's post dissolved into nothing more than a personal attack on an author she'd never met. My friend stated she felt as if not only  the book's parentage had been called into question but she'd called her baby ugly.

That made me laugh but it also got me thinking. Why would anyone tell a parent their baby is ugly? Maybe a winsome personality would change the eye of the beholder if they'd only looked close enough. So what pleasure/satisfaction does the Rude Reviewer get from being a bully? 

I wonder if most Rude Reviewers have ever attempted writing a book? If so they have to know  each page carries pieces of the writer's heart and soul. 

The story is obsessively nurtured from the moment of conception. Once those pages,  so viciously dismissed by the Rude Reviewer, were only a tiny spark in the author's mind. It was the very beginning of creation when cells began to split and reform until the first pulse of the fetal heartbeat was heard. The idea slowly grew into a story line. Only when formed enough, viable enough, did the author cautiously opened a new file, stare at the blank page, and begin to type. 

With that first intro sentence came the acceptance the author was indeed pregnant with book. The fetus grew to term as each scene and plot device was struggled over with a fierce desire to get them just right. Research, verifying facts, and sweating over sentence structure commenced until the bare bones of a story could be seen. Finally the skeleton began to flesh out, stretching into a torso with tiny arms, legs, feet, and hands. 

Characters were equally nurtured. Encouraged to grow while the author struggled to maintain some sort of control over them. The writer sat in front of the computer screen until their eyes blurred and the coffee pot ran empty. Hearts swelling when the story developed into a cohesive beginning, middle, and end. 

An author never forgets when those last words are written. That's when the true labor pains start. The book is born as the story concludes. Then comes home schooling. A brand new phase starts as the story's continuity, verbosity, and every comma is edited. Until all is crafted to the best of the writer's ability. Then it's time to face the excruciating next step. It's time to send their baby off to finishing school. 

It's a leap of faith. Trusting our babies to the scrutiny of unemotional editors, copy editors, and beta readers. By the time a book reaches market it has been read and re-read repeatedly. Each word dissected and weighed. 

Yet the author isn't offended by any negative feedback from these professionals. Even pointed remarks are made with the purpose of education and never to offend. All desire to improve the end result. They want to help our babies grow.

Only then is the diploma offered. Contracts are signed. With pride and joy shining on each freshly printed page, these published babies are sent out into the world.

The author watches with maternal anxiety and pride. Hearts were laid bare in the hope of connecting with a reader. The sincere desire that someone will get a few hours of pleasure from our imaginations. 

And then some Rude Reviewer, who hasn't even had the decency to read the entire work, decides they know enough to dismantle and demolish the entire thing. Their hateful words nothing more than an attempt to annihilate all the effort by smearing the author's abilities, education, and appearance with acid-laden words. 

This is what happened to a very talented woman. She is now second guessing her talent -which she's got heaps of - and has been left feeling her best wasn't good enough.

Let me say once more that I'm all in favor of reviews, and they don't have to be glowing. Though, of course, those are always nice to receive.

Before purchasing a book (and most certainly with my own work), I read the reviews - good and bad. I appreciate and take to heart those filled with useful and well thought out comments. For me, those giving detailed examples are most appreciated. I admire a person who succinctly states their opinion and tells me where they think I could have improved the plot or a character. All without dissolving into a rant about how they can't understand how an author got published in the first place. If they sink to the level of making a snide remark about the author's photo, it taints everything else they've said, and I immediately discount their opinion. 

Since when does an author have to be of a certain age, weight, or level of (what mainstream media considers) attractiveness to write romance or love scenes?

So to those who've received a rude review - it was meant to derail self-esteem so don't let them succeed. Some reader might actually purchase your book just to see what all the negative fuss was about.

Don't take to heart someone else's pathological need to tell the world they think a baby is ugly. Remember, the Rude Reviewer gets some sort of sick pleasure in denigrating others or they wouldn't do it. I doubt they'll ever go away so all we can do is ignore them. Focus on the helpful, the balanced, and constructive reviews. 

But doesn't it make you wish you could see the Rude Reviewer's baby...

REMullins: author of It's A Wonderful Undead Life, Vampire In the Scrying Glass, and A Vampire To Be Reckoned With

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Leah St. James said...

Well said, RE! I deal with the public (the READING public) in my paycheck job, and they are merciless with every comma, thought, word...whatever...they deem outside their sphere of acceptability. I've been called "a bi*ch who don't know sh*t about books or writing" all because I told this particular "reader" that our coverage area didn't include his favorite author and I wouldn't be writing about that author. That was hard enough (I actually started to shake), but it's even harder when it's your "baby" being critiqued, and so callously. The Rude Reviewer probably was a bully when he/she was a kid, too! A fellow author friend once told me that some people are paid to leave bad reviews! Please tell your friend that even the biggest, brightest fiction stars get those reviews. I hope she can regain her confidence and get back to writing more great stories.

remullins said...

Who, on earth, would pay someone to leave a bad review?
I should have put in the post that my friend and I did canvas other author reviews. We picked our favorite books, by our favorite authors, and were shocked to see everyone had at least one horrible review where they were harshly criticized.
Don't get me wrong. I don't object to someone not liking or want to read my work. My own brother won't because he, (and I quote) "Can't get into romance stuff. Not that I consider this an adequate excuse for 'flesh and blood' but there it is. It is his choice and I accept it.
What I object to is the reviewer who is unconscionably rude or feels qualified to trash an ENTIRE book after only reading a couple of chapters.

Rolynn Anderson said...

You are absolutely right, RE...the books we toil over...some folks don't like or wouldn't read in the first place, relatives (alas!) included! Here's the strangest part...after our first book launch, strongly supported by friends and relatives, interest wanes in our 'neighborhoods,' because among those folks, only a small percentage are actually our readership. Hell, only a small percentage are actually readers! Then...wait for it, wait for it...we go out and beat the drum to entice complete strangers to read our books. What? I guess it makes sense we bring in the oddballs in our novice promotion attempts.

But yes, every writers holds a fear in her heart her 'baby' turned out ugly. It one of the traits that makes us human, I guess.

Jannine Gallant said...

I've had a few bad reviews. I remember one man (yes, a man) gave my ROMANTIC SUSPENSE book a 3 star review and said the suspense was great but the romance ruined it for him. I guess he was expecting Robert Ludlum... I think the problem with a lot of bad reviews is the reader is expecting something they don't get. Not enough sex. Too much sex. Etc. Etc. I had another reviewer who said she loved the book give me three stars because I didn't describe body parts during intimate scenes. The fact that my books aren't billed as "hot" or "erotic" is beside the point. My attitude is to shrug and move on. We definitely can't please everyone!

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

I had one reviewer say my heroine cried 68 times. What did she do? Keep a tally? I got a one star review from someone who said "contemporary romance isn't her thing." So why did she get it? Oh right...it was free on NetGalley. I've had reviewers accuse me of having the vocabulary of a third grader. It goes on and on. The worst reviews come from those who get the book for free. They take great delight in ripping it apart, yet use poor grammar and spelling in their reviews. People can be so dumb. I hope your friend realizes this is part of our world. A sad part. A downright nasty part. And it affects us all eventually.

remullins said...

Thanks to all for commenting. I've sent them along and she's appreciated them.

Margo Hoornstra said...

You really have to love it when a reviewer claims although they hadn't read the book, they felt qualified to post a review. Wait! What? That was the lead in to one I received. She then went on to cite things wrong with the book that weren't even in there. All you can do is shake your head and chuckle. Your friend has no doubt already risen above this Rude Reviewer.

Diane Burton said...

I'm late in reading this post. Sorry. The trolls are out there. Beware! Don't try to go over the bridge or they will eat you. If we can't joke about bad reviews/reviewers, we'd cry. Yes, they say our baby is ugly. And it hurts. Why is it we remember the one bad review and not the 10 good ones? Intelligent people won't let the review of a book the reviewer hasn't read to influence their decision to buy or not. But when it's your first book and you put your heart and soul into it, a bad review can be devastating. Tell your friend to toughen up. There will be more bad ones but many more good reviews.