Thursday, October 3, 2013

Brutally Honest Reviewers

Whether I would ever say this again after becoming a published author, I don't know.

But, for now at least:  HURRAY FOR BAD, AWFUL, HARSH REVIEWS.  (<--Sincere.) 

Why?  They do great things for me, as a writer and a reader. 

1.  As a reader:  If no one ever got up and ranted about a book, the community of book-lovers would sort of have no standards. 

2.  As a reader:  It's also just plain helpful to know if a book might not be worth your time.  For subjectivity reasons, it's good to try books anyway, of course.  But maybe you'll check it out of a library first.

3.  As a writer:  First, I have to say, as someone aspiring to published authorhood, they scare the crap out of me.  So in that way they're probably a great reality check--even if I get published, it is guaranteed that someone is going to HATE my book.  (Eeek!) 

4.  As a human being:  Especially if it's a very popular book or a book I loved, it's kind of exciting to see someone be really displeased with it.  It forces me to question my opinions and think a lot about things.

5.  As a writer:  I really enjoy this one--you can learn A LOT from reviews of any kind as a writer.  But with a bad review (keeping in mind that this is just one person, of course), the learning experience increases, and can sometimes get a lot more specific than good reviews.  These are the reviews that tell you what NOT to do, in terms that are hopefully more explicit and forceful than anything a CP or beta would use with you.

(Sorry reader-friends, these are mostly writer-focused from here on out.) 

6.  As a writer (and reader I guess):  Sort of a restatement of point 3, but especially if you liked the book they're ranting about, it proves to you just how subjective a thing love for stories can be. 

7.  As a writer:  Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but always I feel like seeing this happen to other people's books helps me develop my thick skin somehow.  NOT saying I would want to go around and read my own reviews.  That still sounds like a very bad idea. 

8.  As a writer:  It makes you see flaws in your own work that it would have been hard for you to acknowledge any other way.  "Oh, that's a good point.  Ohhhhh.  I do that too." 

9.  As a writer:  It makes you feel good about yourself.  "Look!  I didn't do that in my manuscript.  Yay me!" 


What's your stance on bad reviews?  If you've seen a particularly scathing one lately, please share it with me here or on Twitter--seriously, I need more of these in my life!

If you write them regularly/freely, DEFINITELY give me a link to your blog below or tweet it at me!  I would love to stop by and check it out! 

And now that I've written this.... *looks fearfully into the future, and vows never to read her own reviews unless vetted by a caring friend*

Post inspired by:  This *seriously harsh* vlog review of Fallen.  


  1. I have to agree with everything you've listed here, Susan. Brutally honest reviews are so, so helpful as a reader and a writer. That said, there's a vast difference between brutally honest and downright cruel. The former is more arm's length (more impersonal in a good way), while the latter feels more like a punch in the face (too personal in a bad way).

    Lately, as a writer, I've been terrified to write even the slightest negative thing in a review because I would like to get published one day. You hear about how small the community is and the thought of meeting someone whose book I've negatively reviewed gives me palpitations, so I tend to avoid reviewing books I have major issues with. That's probably a wussy thing to do, but I'm too chicken to do otherwise. ;-) Great post, Susan! Lots to think about here.

    1. Sorry I didn't pick up these comments earlier--I do agree with you that at some point the reviewer is just being mean without stating their reasons. I was just talking to Tyler-Rose about this recently, and we decided that a cruel review is just as brainless as a vague, insincere good review--except it's unkind as well. :(

      Also, I think the whole situation changes when you are a writer yourself. The community *is* small, and these things are personal whether you say they are or not. This is one reason why you don't see Tyler-Rose and I doing very many reviews. In many ways it's a loss not to weigh in on specific books all the time (kind of eliminates that option when you're going to write a blog post...), but it definitely takes the pressure off.

  2. I think it's good to bear in mind that reviews, good and bad, are still largely subjective. The thing Mr. Acid-Spitting Reviewer hated about Favorite Novel may be the thing that endears Favorite Novel to my heart. That doesn't at all invalidate anything you say, Susan, but just lends perspective. After all, we gravitate towards reviewers (whether food, movie, or book) who tend to share our tastes, and ignore those that don't. Reviewers who love what I hate and hate what I love are not going to help me find my next Book of the Month. :)

    I write a Goodreads review for every book I read, and sometimes publish reviews on my blog (note: I've only been doing this in Goodreads for the past year or so). In those reviews I try to be fair. If I really didn't like the book, I try to find something about it that possibly caught the attention of an agent/publisher, or that others might like even if I don't. And I'm very careful to make my reviews about the book, not the author and his/her skill or talent. Great writers can write bad books. I'll be happy to warn people off books I think are terrible, but I won't warn people off authors.

    I think you're already my Goodreads friend, Susan, but just in case, here's my link so you can see all my reviews:

    I agree with you that bad reviews are necessary, because when they're written by someone who shares my taste, they can warn me off books I might not like. Also, as you say, they challenge us to write better, and encourage us that even the best have off-days. :)

    1. Yep. :) #6--it reminds you how subjective it all is. And whether the review is positive or negative, I think fairness is very important, and the sign of a good review that's worth taking into account.