Monday, May 18, 2009

Bad Reviews

I just became acquainted with this blog via Lisa Yee and Facebook:

The Worst Review Ever

What a great idea! As my fellow Blue Rose Girls all know, bad reviews hurt. You know they shouldn't, that it's just one person's opinion, but whether it's an Amazon review or one in a review journal or magazine, it's hard not to take them personally and get upset. And it's nice to know that you're not alone in feeling that way.

Editorial Anonymous said in a recent post about bad reviews: "your editor sees a bad review and shrugs." I'll have to respectfully disagree. This editor for one takes bad reviews of the books she edits quite personally, although of course perhaps not to the same extent as the author would. Oh sure, I know the bad review isn't going to hurt the sales of the book--although it might if every single review is negative. But I certainly don't just shrug it off that easily. I get sad, and I get ANGRY. Because obviously the reviewer just didn't *get* the book. In fact, there are three reviews from a certain journal that I still seethe about when I think about them now, years later. I won't name names, though *cough-rhymes-with-circus-cough.*

Some of you might remember this post back in 2006, when Chowder by Peter Brown got a negative review from Kirkus the same week it received a starred review from Booklist. It helped to have the good and the bad together, rather than just a bad review and nothing to counter it. It's made it easier to remember that it's subjective and that not everyone can or will like your book.

I don't envy a reviewer's job, and I do appreciate the care with which most of them read and review books. The little plea I'll make is if you're writing a critical review, whether it be on your blog or for a publication, please don't be too personal, and please don't be cruel. For example, don't review a book like Tai reviewed Cher in Clueless:

Tai: Why should I listen to you, anyway? You're a virgin who can't drive.
Cher: That was way harsh, Tai.

Don't be way harsh! Anyway, try not to sweat the bad reviews. And I'll try to follow my own advice in the future. But here's to nothing but starred reviews in our future!


Anna Alter said...

That blog is genius! We all try to take bad reviews in stride. But they can REALLY sting. I mean in most professions you don't get openly criticized for all the world to see, you know? But they do happen to everyone, that blog is a good reminder of that.

Anonymous said...

I second the "don't be harsh" tip and also add "don't be vague." If you can't SPECIFICALLY spell out why a book is good, bad, or middling, maybe you shouldn't be reviewing. I won't name names either, though *cough-rhymes-with-mool-mibrary-mournal-cough.*

Question to you, Alvina: did a bad review ever affect how you approached buying an author's or illustrator's next work? I'm thinking that probably sales trumps all, but am not sure how badly a bad review factors in. Thanks!

Steve Emond said...

Oh my goodness, when I was doing the Emo Boy comic, I'd say 4 out of 5 reviews were SO VAGUE, they'd just say "Emo, I don't get it, I missed out on this trend." and barely mention the comic at all. Or they'd just say "not my cup of tea" or "it's not what I'd expect" but every now and again, whether it was good or bad, someone would put actual thought into the review and mention specific scenes or comment on what I was trying to do with the stories. It was actually a lot of fun to read those reviews, just knowing they actually read it.

I can't believe how many people take the time to review things, yet say absolutely nothing!

Anonymous said...

I'm always intrigued by the fact that this is the only industry that I can think of where the professional reviews are often not written by professional writers. (As contrasted to music, film, art, "grown-up" books, etc. in major magazines, journals, and newspapers.)

Teachers and librarians may be great readers -- and have great taste -- but many are not great writers and the quality of the reviews themselves often reflect this. As a result, it becomes hard to accept a negative review (and perhaps a highly influential one, at that) when it's not very well-written.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that should be "reflects." I knew if I wrote this I'd end up with some sort of grammatical error!

I am a blushing hypocrite now ...

alvinaling said...

To answer the first anon, no, a bad review never affected how I felt about acquiring another book by the author or illus.