Sunday, August 2, 2009

Get in the Ring

A friend recommended a book to me just the other day. And in what has become habit, I went out to a few sites to read the descriptions and reviews of said book. One of the places I checked was Amazon, where I decided to read what the rest of the world thought about the book. Well, the opinions were wildly varied and some of the lower-starred reviews were downright rude.

I'd never really given much thought to other peoples opinions on books and generally decide for myself based upon whether or not I like the premise. Like a bolt of lightning, a memory crashed in on me and I recalled that one of my Chicago North-RWA chapter mates debuted a book recently and the reviews on Amazon were favorable. All but one. One reader wrote what seemed a very narrow-minded view of what the author 'should' have been doing with the book instead of enjoying what she actually did. A nagging sensation brought a twinge of terror to mind.

What would happen if I were lucky enough to get published? Would I be relegated to never reading a review or avoiding Amazon entirely? My temper sometimes lends itself more to the 'waiting outside for you with a coke bottle (the old ones made of heavy glass) and stocking cap over my face' school of resolution rather than the 'everyone's entitled to their opinion' school of thought. But that can't be good, can it?

I applaud authors everywhere for remaining calm and ignoring the hurtful things that are sometimes said about their books while tucking away the useful advice for the next effort. Because really, who wants to hear that their baby is ugly? No one. And especially not those of us who own coke bottles.


Marilyn Brant said...

LOL, Pamala!! I now have an image of you with a stocking cap on, brandishing that Coke bottle... I suspect you'd find a way to make even that "look" seem fashionable and cute. :)

My personal opinion is that I don't think fulfilled, generally happy humans are the ones who give rude reviews like that. Those nasty anonymous posters are--I strongly believe--angry, insecure individuals who are deeply dissatisfied with their lives, otherwise, they'd be evenhanded and fair in the review of a book. There were plenty of novels I didn't fall in love with when I was a reviewer, but I could still see some strengths of a book, even if it wasn't destined for my keeper shelf.

I refuse to take "reviewers" like the ones you mention seriously. Not that those rude and nasty reactions are easily dismissed by an author and aren't still hurtful to her...

Pamala Knight said...

Thank you Marilyn, for reminding me that even if the meanies are laying in wait to ambush authors with their spite, there will also be people like you with the salve to help heal the wounds inflicted.

Have I told you lately about the awesomeness that is you?

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Pamala, I, too, laughed at your visual. I had a bad review once that kept circulating google... the reviewer wanted to look smart- so she went on and on about how my book was too short (Standard length for my publisher) and how the timing was off and I didn't do my research (book was set properly-research double and triple checked.) and here's the kicker...she said, "Even the heroine's name is too short!" so there! LOL the heroine's name was Lana Tate and in the end the reviewer said not to buy the book but go to the library and check out a copy...

As an author you have to smile and figure out how to "enjoy" each person's opinion. I view it as a personal growth experience... LOL (Meanwhile the stocking cap and coke bottle remain hidden behind a box of chocolates...chocolates distract and detour.) Cheers!

Pamala Knight said...

Hi Nancy!
I actually directed another budding author to your comments because she was feeling low after someone really mean left her a pointlessly cruel review on Amazon. We appreciated your candor and positivity, so thanks for that.


Bhetti said...

Actually, thanks. Sometimes I get bogged down in my personal agenda, forgetting completely the possibility of... 'what if the author read this review? Am I doing justice to their book?'

Pamala Knight said...

Hi Bhetti,

Thanks for your candor. As readers (and certainly as purchasers) we hold certain expectations of the books we read, no? Writing has helped me to view books with a more critical eye in terms of execution but with greater compassion and care in the words I use to describe what I've read. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating the soft sell for all reviews, but if the expressed views come from the opinion of the reader, then it's easy enough to just say 'this is my opinion,....'

The reviews that sparked this post were more in line with Nancy's experience. Criticism and critique teach us. Now whether it teaches us that our time is wasted in trying to please certain readers or it teaches us that we should delve deeper into craft, that remains to be seen.

Thanks again for posting. I hope you stop by again.

Bhetti said...

Definitely can't please everyone. The same weaknesses may be the hook to another person.

I sure will stop by again ;)

Tina said...

As you know, I wrote a rather scathing review of a book recently and I can't imagine that the author would be happy to read it. I wasn't trying to be mean for mean's sake and I'll freely admit that my tipping point (hating the characters, usually) isn't the same as someone else's, but I wouldn't feel any differently about this book even if the author responded. In fact, in my previous review, where one book was a DNF and the one I compared it to was an A-, the author of the DNF responded. (I admit, I was rather EEP!, even though I still stand by what I said, including the part where I said that I generally love her work, but definitely NOT that one.) A couple of us were talking about the fact that a lot of authors do visit on our Sony Reader list when we submitted our reviews and I know at least one was a little anxious. So I'm curious about where the line is for you? What makes a review rude for you, as opposed to harsh but fair?

~Tina C.

Pamala Knight said...

Hi Tina!

I liked your review and said that I thought it was balanced and fair because even though you didn't like the characters (neither did I from the descriptions), you stuck to the relevant points where craft or lack thereof detracted from the story. Sometimes it's a good thing or it's intended for the characters to be thusly flawed or reprehensible. But sometimes it's too much of a disconnect and it makes even the most far-fetched idea unbelievable.

You asked where I draw the line? Where I draw the line from relevant, harsh but fair to mean and spiteful is when the reviewer personally attacks the work or the author for not being 'someone else' or makes comparisons about what the author should do without a concrete reason for it. If you say that the author did more telling than showing, then that's useful information in a review. Nonexistent or meandering plot? You're fair game. Characters make a statement early in the novel and then behave in a totally contradictory manner for the rest of the story? You just put yourself in the line of fire.

But if the story stays true to it's intent and the author does a servicable job of getting from here to there, I'm okay with the reviewer not liking it and then giving the reasons why it didn't work FOR THEM. But the blanket, this is a piece of crap because it sullies the memory of Ernest Hemingway and how dare they even try to write like him or use a story that pays homage to something he wrote, then that's out of bounds.

The review on Amazon that spurred this post was an attack from beginning to end and didn't give me any information to make a decision about whether or not I'd like the book. It just told me that the reviewer didn't like it--for personal reasons.

In the course of advancing my own writing, I've learned that critique is extremely useful. The review you gave on SBTB was useful because the author could tighten up her characterizations, review her plot and completely rethink the GMC of her principals. I haven't read it but that's what I got from your review. As I said--balanced and fair even though you loathed that book, lol.

I hope that I've answered your question. Thanks for stopping by and I LOVE visitors, so stop by again.