This post originally appeared on the Midnight Ink Author's Blog, but it is worthy of discussion here, so I hope no one minds my cross-posting.

Folks that know me personally know that I’m a pretty laid back, fair-minded woman. It takes a lot to rankle my feathers, yet someone has recently managed to do just that when Kirkus Reviews dubbed THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY a… “bitch-a-thon.” Stop the presses! This is the same book that Publisher’s Weekly called “a sharp series debut.” This is the same book that left the reviewer from Deadly Pleasures declaring, “The Black Widow Agency needs to be franchised all over the country. I need a second book, NOW.”

As authors, we are all at the mercy of reviewers. Every author takes their lumps once in a while and hopefully the lumps are far and few in between the accolades. I’m a big girl and can handle the fact that not every reviewer is going to love my books. I’m happy to say that for the most part, the reviewers have liked THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY because it is unique and fun and shows four strong women using technology to even the playing field to bring justice to other women. I even think a lot of men will enjoy it, though I clearly didn’t write it for a male audience.

No, what I find most disturbing about the Kirkus review is that I seemed to have touched a sensitive nerve with the reviewer and they wanted to let me know it, albeit anonymously, since that is Kirkus Review’s policy (another point worthy of discussion). A bitch-a-thon? How about reviewing my writing style, the flow of the book, the pace, the plot? A bitch-a-thon? How about saying you didn’t find the characters realistic or you didn’t care for a twist at the end? Not one word referenced the writing.

When a reviewer, especially a reviewer from a major publication critiques a book, it should stay professional. Attack me professionally. Keep it at that level. Don’t gripe because you can’t handle a story about four strong women who join forces to take on a male-owned business that allows blatant sexual harassment of its female employees.

Four smart female characters of all ages, sizes and backgrounds, some of whom are in relationships with nice guys, turn the tables on some not-so-good guys. Four smart, funny female characters who are mothers, daughters, cyber wizards, ex-cops, chefs, chocolate lovers and hot flash sufferers, choose to help another woman after she loses custody of her daughter. That’s a bitch-a-thon? No, that’s just women helping each other out.

To prove my point that women joining together to help others is not a “bitch-a-thon” but a powerful force to be reckoned with, I’m hereby officially launching the “Bitch-a-Thon” campaign. For every BLACK WIDOW AGENCY book purchased between October 1, 2007 and October 1, 2008, I personally pledge to donate a portion of the profits to my local chapter of Womenade. If you’re not familiar with Womenade, it’s a national non-profit organization with chapters all over the country that provide grass roots assistance to neighbors in crisis or who have reached a stumbling block in their lives, without any red tape. Assistance can go towards things like groceries, automobile repairs, prescriptions and the like. Since this is a cause near and dear to the Black Widows’ big hearts, I hereby challenge everyone out there to spread the news about the “Bitch-A-Thon” campaign and let’s see if we can’t turn some sour lemons into lemonade and help a few folks along the way.

For more information about the “Bitch-A-Thon” campaign, please visit http://www.feliciadonovan.com/ For more information about Womenade, please visit your local chapter’s website or the Greater Squamscott Womenade chapter at http://www.womenadenh.org/

I hope that Kirkus Reviews will see the good this can bring and make a donation as well.

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It's true about Kirkus. I can't comment on the book, but if the ladies do a bit of male-bashing, that could have set off antagonism.
I am sure it is difficult to review books and be completely objective. Afterall, books, like any other form of entertainment are supposed to illicit an emotional response in the reader, but that must be tempered and qualified from a professional standpoint. I can remember my teachers always saying, "make your statement, but back it up with facts." That's what a professional reviewer does.

I will keep everyone posted on the progress of the Bitch-a-Thon campaign. I truly hope I can raise both funds and awareness. That would make it all worthwhile.
Facts? Whether a book is good or not is a matter of opinion. If the reviewer felt it was a "bitch-a-thon" (which didn't elaborate on; I don't know what was meant by bitch-a-thon. Perhaps a link to the review would help, or copy/paste it in), then I think the reviewer should be able to say so. You knew what you were getting into when you published the thing. And ranting (or bitching, if you prefer that term) about one little review, you're not really persuading me that your book isn't a bitch-a-thon. Donating money is good and all too, but you neglected to mention what portion of the proceeds it will be. Sounds like a good way to market books, but I say enjoy the good reviews you have gotten, and not worry about one review.
It's a book review, not a Constitutional amendment. Let it go. You can't please everyone.
A review is purely subjective - it's just that reviewer's opinion. Obviously it's not an opinion that's cropping up across the board with your other reviews, so I'm not sure what the big deal is. Without having the actual review to look at, it's impossible to judge beyond what you've shared (a single phrase).

Truthfully, chances are I'd pick up a book described as a bitch-a-thon if the plot and characters sounded interesting. But that's just me...
Angie's right; any review is the critic's opinion. That's the issue I have with Kirkus reviews. An anonymous review leaves out the most important thing to know about a review: who wrote it. In any opinion-based writing, 'consider the source" is critical advice. (No pun intended.) There are certain critics I read, because I know I'll probably like something they liked. Others have completely different tastes. Kirkus removes that context from the equation. I know they draw a lot of water (maybe less so, now that they're selling reviews), but I'd ignore any review if i couldn't identify the source.
I've always been a member of the camp of "as long as they spell my name right, it's all good." But nothing wrong with taking charge of your word of mouth!
Thanks to all for your thoughtful comments. I've received a lot of comments back saying this is pretty indicative of the way Kirkus Reviews operates.

Just to clarify, I have not designated an amount or percentage that I'm donating to my local Womenade chapter because as a debut author, I don't know what kind of revenue to expect. I will make a donation, though, as good as my word. As for posting the Kirkus Review, I'll have to seek permission to do that. I tried to link to it, but it requires an on-line subscription.

I thank you all for the comments and input. As we near the launch of THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY on Oct. 1st, it will be interesting to see how much awareness can be raised.

The bottom line for me is that
1. As you've noted, Kirkus is notoriously tough.

2. Don't take any reviews too seriously -- the good or the bad. If several reviewers mention the same problem independent of one another, you might take it to heart as an education, but otherwise (if I may be indelicate) it's just one asshole's opinion. And I can say that, because I'm one of those assholes who makes his bones doing it.
Thanks, Kevin, for your thoughts. Indelicate you may be. No offense taken and I appreciate the work you do. Just out of curiosity, are most reviewers also writers and how does that effect your review, if at all? Does it give you greater appreciation for the writing process when doing a review? Just wondering...
Most reviewers, in my experience, are either writers, editors, or literature professors. I like to think that it makes me more sympathetic to the tribulations and challenges that face a writer, but ultimately my allegiance has to be with the reader. Books are expensive; time even more so these days. Imagine how you would feel if you spent $25 and several hours on a book that came raved in your Sunday paper...only to come away from the experience feeling that the reviewer had attempted to spare the author's feelings. You'd feel cheated, and you'd be right.

That said, I can think of only two titles out of hundreds that I've completely panned with anything approaching viciousness, and both well deserved it. One was a contemporary historical novel where the author didn't check his dates, which were integral to the plot. The other was a Tom Clancy-style thriller in which the writer never seemed to have heard actual human conversation, and all I had to do was quote dialogue, put a bow on it, and send it to my editor.

Please don't take one negative review to heart (particularly if it's Kirkus - oy vey). As for me, I'll be reading THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY (though not reviewing it!), and based on your description, I'm looking forward to doing so.

Good luck!
Thanks, Kevin, for the reply and support. You're right, it's not fair to dish out the cost of a dish only to find out it's indigestible. Responsibility falls both ways.

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