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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Negative Reviews.

   
Author Topic: Negative Reviews.
Wannabe
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It is hard enough to write in the first place. Sweat. Blood. Time. Frustration. The endless re-writes. Then you put your book on a silver platter and offer it to the world. Free of charge.

It gets trampled. Spat on. Mocked. Tossed aside. Like worthless refuse. Readers will read the entire book and then inexplicably review it as "the worst book they've ever read."

Of course that's not true. You don't (usually) finish a book you completely hate. So why the negativity? Why the hate?

I know you can't please everybody. But it still hurts to skin your knees and logic has nothing to do with it.


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Foste
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It's something you can't influence and you have to simply live with it. It's a part of the whole writing gig. A thick skin is a must.

Now, why the whole negativity? I am not sure. As long as there's review sites and blogs on the internet there's going to be negative (and positive!) feedback.


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pdblake
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TBH, I find there are very few books I can't get through, no matter how bad. So to me, finishing a book doesn't necessarily mean it was a good one. I bought it, I will damn well finish it (though a couple have hit the wall).

Are the reviews saying 'it's crap' or 'it's crap because...'?

If there's a 'because' in there, are they all saying the same thing? If so, then thicken your skin, they might have a point.

A couple of bad reviews can be taken with a pinch of salt, a lot might mean there's something wrong.

[This message has been edited by pdblake (edited October 07, 2011).]


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Robert Nowall
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Usually I can make it through...rarely do I put it down and never get back, though it happens...

One thing that's happened with the passage of time is that I've learned to put my finger on why I like or don't like something (or don't like something within something I like, and so on). For years, I couldn't, I just knew that I liked or didn't like and that was it. Now, I can say "I like this because of this, that, and the other thing."

There is one thing with reading that still gets me. I'll be zipping along, turning the pages, and the writer will state something, a name, a date, a place...a fact...and it'll stop me dead because I know it's wrong. Misspelled names, confusing father with son, putting someone at a building that hasn't been built, and so on, and so forth. The writer got it wrong. And I know too much to let it slide. Usually I go on...after a short time...


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axeminister
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If I hate something - I don't review it.
If I don't like it - I'll say why, but point out the good. I understand subjectivity.
If it's truly bad - I don't finish it.

When I first started reviewing DSF for Snapps there were a few stories I disliked so much I asked him to give them to a different reviewer. Graciously, he agreed.

I think I've gotten better at reviewing since then. I have practice, experience. I've deliberately tried to make my reviews informative and readable.

Average Joe - doesn't usually do this. If he dislikes something, he jerks his knee and tells the world how important he thinks he is through a review that trashes what he just read. Who knows, maybe it's therapeutic?

This AM I finished a story from IGMS. It egregiously aggravated me. If I posted a review immediately, you might have been referring to me, Wannabe. I probably won't review it, but if I do, I'll wait.

However, the review in my mind was pretty scathing.

Oh, one last thing. I don't know the %, but I bet more people write negative reviews than positive ones. Dunno why that is. Just human nature I guess.

Axe


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enigmaticuser
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I think I'd have to be with Axe on this. Generally speaking a published review whether 'professional' or amateur is a piece of writing. Someone wants it to be read, now unfortunately, it is easier to destroy than to build up, we've all got a lot of venom in us.

So you could have an honestly negative review that was offered to let others know something is crap or even to let the author know it so they can improve, but most are just that plus venom and minus intelligently understanding what's wrong with the story. Like I was reading one last night where the reviewer said nothing about the quality of the story except that he felt it should have been in the 'christian' section...the very next reviewer said that he didn't think it was 'christian enough.' That tells me the reviewer was offended or approving based on it's christianitness rather than its story.

I find there's a lot like that, someone doesn't like the story for what its about rather than how it is written.

And the negative is more likely to be seen, not just your imagination Axe. In the restaurant biz they say that a customer with a bad experience will on average tell 5 other people, while one with a good experience probably won't tell anyone.


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WriteRebekah
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When I was younger, my mother often helped critique my various high school essay drafts--and sometimes my attempts were so poorly written, she would scrawl only a single comment across the top of the page: "Fix!"

Yeah. Helpful, Mom.*

There is a lot of good writing out there. It's matched or surpassed by a lot of poor writing. And then there's a half-universe of writing that just needs... fixing.

It takes a great deal of skill and drive to write well. But it requires a similar amount of skill and drive to review well. Perhaps the preponderance of snarky reviews stems from the reader's inexperience/unfamiliarity with true literary criticism. But perhaps part of the angst also stems from a general annoyance ("Fix!"), like you might feel over lukewarm oatmeal, and they'd rather just scrap it all than expend what's sure to be considerable effort to help out.

Makes a forum like this one all the more valuable.


* Yes, Mommy, I still love you.


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Owasm
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I do a lot of kindle reading. I always look for the reviews. However, if there are less than ten reviews and they are all 5 stars, sometimes the reviews aren't critical at all.

I just finished the second volume of a self-published trilogy. The MC whined and moped and dived into prosaic introspection for most of it. I had to contradict the few 5 star reviewers and say that the MC whined and moped and suggested that the author could cut 10K or 15K words out of the moping and the book would benefit. I gave it a 3 star rating, but I did say I would buy the next one.

I generally discount a few really negative reviews about a book, if there are plenty of other good ones. The mix is important. If there is a bad apple or two, then you just have to let it roll off your back and continue to build your inventory.

People have different viewpoints of the kinds of stories they like, especially in genre literature. I write fantasy, my wife HATES fantasy. She'd violently pan everything I write.

When you do get a bad review from some one who's not a fan, you have to still look at the review and see if there are some nuggets of criticism that might be useful and cast the rest of the words away as dross.

[This message has been edited by Owasm (edited October 07, 2011).]


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Wannabe
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One star reviews with no "because" and no explanation. Just "hated it." So it's not very helpful. To be fair, I do have positive reviews too. It was just that I had gotten most of my negative reviews all in one day, with no off-setting positive reviews that day, and so it got to me.

It also made me realize that negative reviews affect me more than positive reviews. I doubt that's a good thing.

Thanks for your empathy. I know I need a thicker skin. So far, though, Bob Marley has helped me get through it.


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LDWriter2
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quote:

It also made me realize that negative reviews affect me more than positive reviews.

That is not unusual. And reviews aren't the only type of comments to have that type of influence. One negative comment out of ten positive comments form a spouse or parent can have the same influence.


But from your original post I thought that was all you got, must have read it too fast.


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marta
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I'm going to upload my first novel to Smashwords within the next month and I swear I'm almost throwing up just thinking about someone ripping it apart. I think it's just something I have to deal with. I have to accept that not everyone will like it, because everyone is different. If people weren't different, they would only be reading one genre. So for now, that's my excuse... we'll see how the reviews go.

Marta
http://martaszemik.blogspot.com/


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MattLeo
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People just like different things. For example, I think Neil Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book" is a work of genius. 315 Amazon reviewers agree with me and give it 5 stars; 23 reviewers strongly disagree with me and give it one star.

Let's look at a representative 1 star review for that book:

quote:

Neil Gaiman is the most overrated author at work today. The Graveyard Book is, like pretty much all of his books, a great idea carried out badly. Gaiman's prose is flat and lifeless, his characterization free of empathy, and his creep factor too high for his demographic. I mean, do we really want our children reading about a man who wants to stab a baby to death? Sloppy, sensationistic [sic] stuff.

Now I have to say this for the reviewer: he is at least capable of being charmed by the *idea* of the book. But note how much of this review is irrelevant, hyperbole, or both:

(1) Neil Gaiman is the *most* overrated author.
(2) The book is like Gaiman's other books.
(3) His themes and imagery is too scary.

This guy simply hates Neil Gaiman's writing, which is OK. Not only that, he doesn't like this kind of story, which is OK too. What's not OK is that his personal preferences are sailing under a false flag, although it's not intentional. I don't think he can distinguish his reaction to what is actually in the story from his reaction to stuff outside the story. Not many people can.

Take "flat and lifeless prose"; this *sounds* like it is describing the prose in question, but it is really describing the critic's feelings. He can react that way because the prose is bad; or he can react that way for totally extraneous reasons. Until he's broken down a claim like "flat and lifeless prose" to specifics (e.g. weak or poorly chosen words; excessive use of passive voice; confusing sentence structure etc.), he isn't analyzing, he's reacting.

That's something to keep in mind when you critique by the way. I never submit a critique until it is mixed. If I hate the story, I keep working on it until I find something praiseworthy. If I love a story, I keep working until I find something that could use improvement. Only then is there even a chance that I've actually critiqued the story in front of me, and not merely reacted to it. Of course reactions are valuable to an author too, but it's important to present them for what they are.


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WouldBe
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Confucius says (no, seriously): if everyone dislikes something, it must be looked into; if everyone likes something, it must be looked into.

I published a short story with the premise that a deep space traveler would wake up every 25 years and make a chess move (and things weren't going well back home). It didn't get a lot of notice, but one reviewer's only comment about why he disliked the story was my chess notation. I used the older descriptive notation (N to KB3...Knight to King's Bishop 3) instead of the newer algebraic notation: Nf3. "It's more efficient for space travel! That was careless writing," he said.

Never mind that the chess bit was just used for humor. She (the MC) only made one move every 25 years; how efficient did it have to be? And I thought the descriptive notation was more likely to be understood by a general audience. Yet the reviewer couldn't overlook that perceived flaw and comment on the actual story, which I thought was pretty decent.


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Wannabe
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MattLeo,
Great points. What bothered me the most about my negative reviews was the lack of useful advice or specific criticism that would help me to discover what the flaw was if any. Stating "worst book ever written" without saying way it kind of pointless and, arguably, rude.

Wouldbe,
That sounds like an interesting story to me.


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History
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"Everybody's a critic" the saying goes.

However, just as with writers, there are few good critics.
[And, if I may be critical a moment, this is true of many of us here who offer to critique each others' stories].

A good critic (or a good critique) requires effort and commitment, and is more objective--not a mere subjective "I hate this" or "I love this" (though few authors complain about those who love their work).

Still, the best critics offer something constructive to the author, as well as to potential readers. An example of the latter would be, "If you like the gore of Clive Barker's Books of Blood then..." Such a critical comment is helpful to those who would, or would not, enjoy such stories.

However, the world runs as it will and not as we wish.
Too many voice their criticisms without regard to being constructive or for The Golden Rule (e.g. "Don't do to others as you would not wish them to do to you"--Rabbi Hillel c. 100 BCE). Therefore, if you are going to send your children out into the world, you have to be prepared for cruelty. That is the way of things (though we should never stop trying to change the world for the better).

Similarly, we need recall that "Every mother thinks her own child is beautiful," and accept that others may have a different opinion.

I am currently attempting the WOTF route (though with the type of stories I am currently writing this may be in vain). My day job makes me a non-prolific writer and, therefore, I have not had 13 lines I could share for comment here for many months. I have found participating in the WOTF Group, and the Novel Chapter-sharing Group hit or miss in regard to the effort put into critiques (admittedly my standards are high as I will spend hours on a critique), though all participates are courteous, even gracious, which is wonderful.

If, as I anticipate my WOTF entries go nowhere (based on their >12K length and UF genre), there are few markets for them. I've given thought to following the example of some here and self-publish (or as Johnny Hart's cartoon character B.C. would say, "Feed it to the dinosaur and see if it 'Groks'" [Well, I believe he used the word "Gronks", but the Heinlein allusion was too good to pass up]. Which is the best way to do so, I am still considering (as I'm not getting any younger, only more handsome).

1--my own website to host the stories and related novel(s)?
The benefit is control; the challenge is in marketing.
I'm enticed by the opportunity to design a site and the presentation of stories as I like (artwork? music? blog?]; but if no one sees it I fear I am merely engaging in ego masturbation [and I'm not sure my ego is big enough ].

2--Smashwords? Amazon? Etc.
The benefit is exposure (though, I believe, only potentially, since nowadays with millions of self-published work available on-line, Amazon is just a huge publically-accessible slushpile); but the risk is being open for public ridicule (if one cares about such things. I don't think I do; but I may be surprised. I can be naive about such things.]

In either case, I would agree with Wesley Dean Smith and Dave Farland that having sufficient (hopefully quality) content is essential. Those of you who have a file drawer full of good stories and novels should consider making them available: create a You bookstore for potential readers to browse. For me, I've a few more stories to write before I'll consider it. Maybe this time next year.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

[This message has been edited by History (edited October 13, 2011).]


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Wannabe
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Let me just say that I loved the humor you inserted into your post, Bob. You also made some very good points. I think if your prose is of the same flavor as the post you just made, you should definitely start publishing or self-publishing. You had me seriously cracking up!
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WouldBe
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Wannabe,

I would have emailed the link, but your profile doesn't have an email addr. Here it is. It's called "Deep Moves":

http://www.abyssandapex.com/200904-deep.html

WouldBe


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Wannabe
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I like it, although I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into. I would personally prefer the algebraic notation, as an amateur chess player myself, because that way I wouldn't need to set up a board to see how the game went. It's not so important though, since the game itself doesn't play as large a role in the story as I expected.

Probably the most interesting concept to me was the idea that person 2 would be arriving before person 1. It gave me a story idea of my own so thanks a million for that.


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EVOC
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I wouldn't worry about it too much. If you were only getting bad reviews then perhaps there is something to look at. But you are not going to please everyone.

I try to review most of what I read now. And, if I hate it I will say so.

I read reviews too. And I am most leery of the book (or product for that matter) that has nothing but 5 star reviews. However, I have bought some books that had lower ratings and they have been good.

One of the advantages of being an author is you get to take the good and the bad reviews and learn from them. If they are just low reviews with no reasoning, they likely just didn't like it and there is nothing you can do about that.


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Robert Nowall
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One other possibility I thought of while I was off on vacation---because it happened to me with a book I picked up while gone.

Every so often, I'll buy a book, usually non-fiction, usually history. I'll think it's an exploration of some facet of some area or other, something that interests me from the copy on the jacket or the title or whatever.

But the writer, usually in a prologue, makes some gratuitous reference to people and events much closer in time and in a way that makes me realize, "Hey, I wouldn't've bought this book if I'd known this was what it was going to be about." I regret even spending my money on the book in the first place.

This reference, that makes me react this way, is invariably political in nature, so I won't go into graphic detail. But it does happen, and it's how I react.

(It has happened in novels, too...just more rarely, but I'm also reading less of them now.)


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