Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Death knell part 2

Elvet Bridge at Durham
My Monday post on reviews was not some kind of feeble attempt to make reviewers feel bad or guilty for speaking their minds. It wasn't even intended as a form of censorship, or intimidation against those who refuse to gush and hand out four- and five-star reviews when what they have read is trash, or close to it. 

Far from it: my intention was to alert people to two things:1) Amazon weights things in curious ways, and 2) reviews, particularly on Amazon, have more clout than most people suspect. In effect, poor reviews do become a form of censorship, even if that was not the intention. The poor review sends the book down the lists, where eventually it goes so far down it is lost among the millions.

Though some may not believe this, I was brought up to say nothing if I couldn’t say anything nice, so if I read something I don’t like, I just let it go. I don’t feel the need to tell the world when I read something bad. A week later I can’t remember it, (if I ever finished it) and I shrug and say, oh well - there may be a lot of people out there who actually enjoy that sort of thing. I do write the occasional review, and I try to do it honestly, without using fulsome praise unless it is deserved. I've come to realise that even respected publishers have been guilty of using authors in their stable to recommend other authors who write for them. To me, and for reasons I'm sure are obvious, that is valueless as a recommendation.
Bestsellers become bestsellers because lots of people liked them, and say so in reviews. Word of a good book travels like wildfire. There will always be divergent opinions, which are fine in a book group or private conversation. Telling your friends you didn't like book x is fine, a personal view, something we all love. But putting those negative views online to be read by thousands, has consequences, especially if done in a hurried, skimpy way.

The big name authors can stand a few knocks in the shape of a poor review, and often get it from newspaper reviewers (and their peers these days) but authors without a publisher behind them, struggling to write after a working day, with few resources to fall back on – then it seems to me like hitting out at someone who can’t hit back. Some may argue that if putting up a good review is acceptable, then it's only fair that the negative ones should go up too.
Once, when I was only a reader, I would have agreed with that statement. Now I remember the people who raid the Amazon Free lists, pick everything and then publically slate the titles that don’t suit them. Gortner, who wrote the initial piece that sparked my thoughts on this, has, I assume, suffered from trolls, or knows people who have. R J Bennett is another and his blog is amusing ~

There is a difference between a bad review which claims I didn’t like this because it annoyed me/it didn’t excite me/and I hate thrillers anyway….

...and a review that offers constructive criticism about where the book went wrong (assuming it did!), backs it up with examples without giving away the entire plot, and does it from an objective standpoint, not forgetting to mention where the author succeeded.


Anita Davison said...

As a writer, we can only hope we don't get too many crushing reviews-although I am reassured that even the award winning authors have a percentage of slammers too. As a reviewer, I never slam a book, I praise the ones I loved but make it clear that for those I didn't, someone will see more in it that I did. We cannot all love the same things can we?

Jen Black said...

So very true, Anita - and a good thing that we don't all like the same books!