Disclaimer: I would like to apologize in advance if this post seems negative or if I am trying to “call out” reviewers on certain sites. That is not my intention. I merely want to explain why I personally do not search out reviews of my work. Additionally, after this post, I am going to have to write A LOT of inspirational and kind posts to make up for all of this. HA!
This is probably my first post with a really straight forward title, but I didn’t want to try and be clever in talking about an uncomfortable subject for writers and readers alike. Reviews are helpful and hindering – to both authors and readers. They can be a good tool and they can be a breeding ground for negativity, trolling, and hatred. But, they are what they are. So, I’ll explain why I don’t read reviews – specifically on Goodreads and Amazon.
Now, admittedly, if someone mentions a review to me, I’ll check it out. If someone specifically mentions to me that they reviewed my work – or tags me on Twitter – I’ll check it out. But I do not go onto sites looking for reviews of my books. In fact, I often don’t look at reviews even when a friend says: “Hey, you need to see this review of <blank>.” Even if they tell me it’s a glowing review. Good or bad, a review is often not helpful to a writer. They’re really nice and I’m touched by each one that I’ve seen, but they are not helpful in what my current WIP is, though.
The main reason I avoid reviews is this: I have finished writing my book and published it.
Spelling, grammar, and the like can be fixed and a new file uploaded so that future readers do not have a problem with those issues (I openly invite readers on Twitter to DM me with mistakes they find). But knowing a reader hated a character or disliked the ending is moot at that point. Even if it wasn’t, why would a writer change their entire story because a reviewer(s) gave them a bad review? We’re not all George Lucas, changing our art willy-nilly-like when it suits us. A piece of art is a screenshot in time…changing it makes it less art and more of a consumer product.
Also, art is a product, I suppose (look at me having my cake and eating it, too!). A reader pays their money (or checks the book out) and reads the book. The writer gets paid, the reader gets to read, transaction complete. What can be done at that point? Both parties held up their end of the bargain and a review won’t change any of that – nor will “fixing” what someone disliked. A writer does not write a book with a guarantee that you will love it – just like filmmakers with movies or an artist with a painting. The money a reader pays (or library card or rental subscription they hold) is a guarantee they can read the book – no more, no less.
I also see a lot of SJW buzz words floating around the internet. My favorite is “problematic.”
Things are problematic if they are endorsing a bad behavior or way of life. Say, if a writer endorsed homophobia, racism, misogyny or smoking cigarettes. However, “problematic” gets used liberally by the people who have appointed themselves the SJW Police. I see a lot of “Karens” and “Lindas” – usually white women who have appointed themselves the SJW Police – telling other people how a book is supposed to make them feel about a certain issue. I have a real problem with a person who is not part of a marginalized group telling people in that group how they should be offended by something. Then again, I have a problem with a person in a marginalized group trying to “rally the troops” and getting others to protest something before they’ve even checked it out and made up their own minds about the issue.
At best, these types of situations are a disgusting attempt at censorship.
A writer/artist is describing a way of life, giving you a glimpse into a way a character lives and behaves. Just because it makes you uncomfortable does not mean that it is problematic. There is a huge difference between making someone uncomfortable and promoting dangerous ideas. I often describe different ways of life – but I am not promoting them. What a reader takes from the work is solely up to them.
This is all the “video games cause mass shootings” argument wrapped up in different paper.
You might often see people tagging books “DNF (Did Not Finish)” for this reason. How does the reviewer know if the writer was setting things up for resolution in the second half of the book, to start dialogue and make social commentary about these things? You just labeled the author and the book “problematic” without having the full picture. THAT is problematic. Trying to keep others from reading or viewing something due to your own sensitivities is problematic.
Another thing I see in reviews (especially on Goodreads, since they don’t seem to have any form of moderating going on there) is the reviewer saying: “Could use an editor.” Almost always aimed at an indie author.
First things first – what kind of editor? There are developmental editors, line editors, copy editors…did you mean a proofreader? Without context, a writer has no idea what you found to be a problem. Also, the reviewers who make this simple statement can often confuse stylistic choices for poor editing. If the style didn’t work for you, that’s okay – no offense taken. But if you don’t know the difference, you’re misleading the potential readers who might be thinking about reading the book.
Without a specific example of what a reviewer is talking about, that critique is less than worthless.
Reviewers also make broad, sweeping statements. An example would be to point out one error in punctuation and imply that it was a problem throughout the book…when it was really just in one sentence or section. That’s misleading to the people who are reading your review. And again – that might have been a stylistic choice that you just didn’t like. We’re all different in our reading and style preferences…but that doesn’t mean that what was written was necessarily a mistake.
Furthermore, most reviewers have not read the entire catalog of a writer they are reviewing. One personal example I can think of that was pointed out to me by a friend was a review of ‘Jacob Michaels Is Tired’. A reviewer opined that by my making “the only person of color” in the book come off as racist, that the book itself was, in fact, racist (FYI – the character in question was ignorant to the dining customs in India, not racist). Couple of problems with that. The POC they referred to was not the only POC in the book. There are 5 recurring characters that show up in that first book in the series. One is black, one is Latinx, three are white. The black character is a douchebag and the Latinx character is a fun, wise drag queen. So, their statement is misleading. Additionally, the reviewer is obviously unfamiliar with my work and all of the POC who are portrayed much more positively in my other books. A WRITER CANNOT AND SHOULD NOT MAKE EVERY PERSON OF COLOR A SAINT. Just like making every POC a bad person in every book is despicable, making all of the POC saintly is at the far end of the other side of the spectrum. Just like white people, POC are complex and multi-faceted. To imply that they can never be a villain or flawed human being is problematic.
I’ve also seen reviews of other writers where a reviewer says: “This is my fourth book by this author and they just keep getting worse!” Or something similar. Okay…how am I supposed to take you seriously now? You read a book, it was bad. I can see giving the author a second chance. It was worse? So you picked up a third book of theirs? At this point, I’m pretty sure you are just looking for things to be negative about or you have a vendetta. Or maybe you just don’t know what types of books you actually like to read. I. Do. Not. Take. You. Seriously.
I’ve seen personal attacks against authors, misogynistic statements, homophobia, racism, violent threats…the list goes on and on. The land of reviews can be a toxic wasteland. I love seeing a review from someone who enjoyed my book or someone who has valid criticisms presented in a “I’d like to help you out” kind of way. I don’t even mind: “This book just wasn’t for me.” But I am not subjecting myself to hatred and hateful/violent behavior of any kind over something such as a book someone did not like. In fact, sometimes, after reading a review of a book I loved and seeing the statements the reviewer made, I often wonder if they actually read the book, just skimmed it, or simply pulled a review out of thin air.
This is especially true when you see reviewers who give War and Peace 5-stars and Twilight 5-stars as well…but then they give Percy Jackson 2-stars. What is your rating method, reviewer? I know reviews are subjective and personal preferences (especially those on Goodreads and Amazon since they are done by amateur reviewers), but there really is no way for a potential reader to quantify and validate the value of the review and the reviewer.
Lastly, I include my Twitter handle (@ChaseConnor7) and my email address (email@example.com) at the end of all of my books. If a reader has feedback that they feel is helpful to me, they have 2 different ways to reach out to me and provide that feedback. I’ve gotten some wonderful feedback, critiques, and advice from so many readers. I don’t always agree, but I am always touched that they took time out to share their thoughts with me. And it’s always great to “meet” a new person. Approaching a writer with helpful, thoughtful critiques via email or DM is a lot more useful than anonymously putting their ass on blast on a social media site.
Finally, let me be really real with all of you – I know that this post sounds exceptionally negative and bitter. I mentioned on Twitter that I was reticent to write this post because I knew I would come off as a jerkwad. However, I can honestly say I’ve only one read one review over my work that really, truly bothered me. Mostly because the book was based on personal experience and I could tell that the reviewer had merely skimmed the book because the information they presented about the book was really off. The reviewer also erased parts of my identity by making personal assumptions about me. It was hurtful and ignorant. My intention with this post is not to shame or call out any particular reviewer – or reviewers in general. I simply want to point out that reviews are usually used by potential readers to decide if they want to read a book or not. They are entirely subjective and based on a reviewer’s personal preferences and likes/dislikes. Generally speaking, most review sites do not moderate the reviews on their site well and there are sites where people pay for reviews or friends review friends or the provenance of a review is unclear. There are just too many factors at play for me to get too mentally and emotionally invested in reviews and review sites. As I said on Twitter – reviews are a cost vs. benefit situation for me. The costs of trolling review sites greatly outweigh the benefits.
So…if you review a book (not just mine), leave your good, bad, or in between review…and move on to your next book. The writer can decide if they want to engage in any way…though I recommend that they just keep writing.
Tremendous Love & Thanks,