Two questions:

1. Have you ever read a negative review of your work — or that of somebody close to you — and thought: "You know, once I get past my initial hurt or defensive reaction, I see that the writer has a valid point?" If so, what did they help you see that maybe you didn't see for yourself?

2. What do you think of reviewers who only publish positive reviews? Jen Forbus, who reviews crime fiction on her blog and for several publications, posts this on her Web site: "I will not post a review of a book I can't say mostly good things about. I may point out minor things I didn't like or that disappointed me, but the purpose of my blog is not to trash an author's work. Remember the old adage, "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all?" I follow that. I post reviews of books I honestly feel have merit and would be enjoyed by others. For the remainders, I say nothing at all."

I feel this is wrong; that it sets up a false dichotomy — that a reviewer's only choices are either to slobber over books or to eviscerate them. A negative review need not be a napalming, after all. There is such a thing as constructive criticism, and I believe smart and informed readers of discerning taste, determined fairness and developed critical faculties have an obligation to try to help readers make the smartest possible purchases with their diminishing spending dollars. That includes steering them away from what they believe to be bad writing and storytelling when they come across them. In my opinion.

What say you?

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For #1 I can say I've had a few negative reviews of my books but they haven't been helpful as they've been of the, "This isn't my kind of book," variety. I knew going in that my books wouldn't be to everyone's taste ;)

For #2 there are different kind of reviewers. I review maybe 3-4 books a year for newspapers in Canada (I just handed in a review to the National Post for the new Giles Blunt novel, Crime Machine) and I only review books I like. It's not myfull time job and I feel with so few reviews it's better to point people to good books they may not know about.

But there are people who review regularly and cover a lot of books (like Margaret Cannon in the Globe and Mail) and in those cases they do sometimes offer negative reviews (though usually it's in the, "this isn't the best in the series," kind of review).
Whether a review is good or bad is besides the point. The fact someone reviewed it at all gives the work weight and draws attention.
Exactly. I don't care what you say, just spell my name right.
1. Most of the reviews I've gotten or very positive or at least a review where people liked the book but might have had issues with something. The only negative review I got (and this is funny) was from a lady who gave me a glowing review on one site, then when I Googled myself one night, I found her trash talking about my book on a book club forum. Uh-huh. She'd given my book praise on Goodreads, saying she enjoyed it. Then on this forum she claimed she didn't like it and, etc. I was surprised and pissed because I don't understand why you'd say you like a book then turn around and talk badly about it. I didn't understand that. I took that as being very unprofessional.

If you're gonna give me a negative review, be honest from the get-go. Don't say you loved my book on Goodreads then go somewhere else and say you didn't because you're so stupid you believe the author won't see the negative things you say?

I saw nothing valuable from her because she was two-faced and now I hope she never reads another one of my books. LOL. Can't learn from someone who changes their mind from forum to forum.

2. I don't agree with reviewers only posting positive reviews. I feel like that's not helping readers learn about the book. But I can understand why some have this policy. Reviewers get harassed and targeted by authors all the time over a negative review so some are scared to post negative stuff. Especially since that author posted that reviewer's personal contact info on Twitter! Reviewers are afraid of a backlash.

Then again you can look at it like this, if you're that scared of the response your reviews might bring, maybe you shouldn't be reviewing books. It's automatic that someone is gonna have a problem with your reviews sometimes so that should be expected. It can be a, "If it's too hot get out of the kitchen thing."

Most reviewers will try to post reviews that are constructive if not glowing. This helps the author the most because you can learn from them.

I agree with you Mr. Jim. If you don't wanna post honest reviews, you shouldn't review books. No reviewer is gonna like every book they read and when I see a reviewer doing the Harriet Klaussner (did she ever hate a book? LOL), then I began to distrust the reviewer big time and might think twice before reading another one of their reviews.

Best Wishes!
When the reviewer gets it, the book is past the point of improvement. Why tear it apart unless it's really a bad book? In that case, a reviewer probably doesn't get past the first few pages. I've not had bad print reviews. There have been some bad Amazon reviews.
A good review I adore. The more flattering -- and
you can't lay it on thickly enough, the better. The bad review I want substantiated with examples.

Where I learn is from my critiquers. These days, I have two of them. The latest complaint was that I've been so negligent about setting that one of my readers got confused about where the scene was taking place. They also tell me when there isn't enough action, or when a chapter ends without any suspense whatsoever, or when I start too many sentences with the subject, or when a character's motivation isn't clear. But those changes must happen before the book goes to print.
After looking deeper into Jen Forbus' blog, I think I better understand her policy now.

She has a gallery of pictures showing her with crime authors at assorted conferences and signings, and she appears to maintain correspondences with several. So it seems clear to me that she has decided that her industry connections and relationships are of higher importance to her than honest assessments of the books she reads. Which is too bad, because it appears that she reads damn near everything in crime fiction (that's Mainstream Approved™, at least; she makes clear that she won't read self-published books, and she appears to rarely review books from the smaller presses).

So ... fine for her, but bad overall for the perception of online book blogging and reviewing. Why is it so hard to find a reviewer outside the mainstream media who's a) articulate; b) informed; c) fair; and d) honest?
I think you are doing Jen Forbus a dis-service. I find the reviews she writes are excellent - informative and well thought out. Just because she's positive about the books she reviews, doesn't mean she'd not being honest. OK, so she doesn't review every book she reads - why should she? I don't even FINISH books I dislike, so why am I going to spend precious time writing about them? Every month I summarise books I've read on my blog. I do comment on things I haven't particularly liked about the book but if I've finished it then it means I've enjoyed it to some extent so the reviewlet is going to be mostly positive. For full reviews, I generally review only Scottish crime fiction for my blog and I try and promote Scottish crime fiction as best I can. If it's a book I'm probably not going to like because it's a spy thriller/medical thriller/conspiracy whatever then just because it's not my type of book doesn't mean to say I should slag it off. Instead, I give it to my Dad who likes books I don't care for. He reads it and reviews it for me. Honestly, but probably positively.

As for reading negative reviews of my own stuff - no, it doesn't bother me. And I don't even have the initial hurt you mention - we don't all like the same things (thank goodness). Hell, even my own mother hates my books and thinks I'm a weirdo. She's probably right.
Well, Donna, I guess it all depends on your motive for being a reviewer. If you want to promote a certain kind of book, that's fine, but what if you come across Scottish crime fiction that simply isn't very good? Do you deal with it by ignoring it, or by making it seem better than it is because it serves your cause? If so, how does that do a service to readers?

Or if you review books because your want to be a hanger-on who gets their picture taken with authors, of what value is that beyond that tiny subset of people?

I personally think reviews should be written for one reason only — to use your area of interest, your accrued knowledge, your critical faculties and your ability to write to help readers find books they might want to read — and to steer them away from books on which they might otherwise waste time and money. The simple reality is that the vetting process doesn't weed out all the crap, and that a second, post-publication level of well-informed critics can provide the necessary service of helping people make the best choices for their tastes and their dollars.

Jen Forbus' reviews are well-written and well-informed, no question. But honest? Maybe, but I'll never be able to believe it. Given what I know of her blog, I'll never be able to believe that her positive review of, say, a Robert Crais book was written because she genuinely believes the Crais book is good. I'm more likely to believe that she'll say it's good because wants to continue to be able to have her picture taken with Robert Crais. Good for her, and, maybe even for Robert Crais. Not so good for everybody else.

None of this would matter — it's her blog and she can do what she wants with it, after all — if it wasn't for the fact that good, serious criticism is disappearing, and that what's replacing it is often inarticulate, full of undeclared biases and otherwise unreliable. People like Jen Forbus make it harder for people like me who try to write thoughtful, fair, honest criticism (Goodreads is my forum) and hope to be taken seriously. People like her make it entirely too easy for people to wave a hand and dismiss people like me by sneering "Online critics. Give me a break." In her own way, I think she does some harm. Not as much as the inarticulate and the anonymous denizens of the Amazon pages, granted ....
With the closing down of a large number of newpapers' book sections and the reviews they used to contain, it's getting very difficult to get reviewed. There is nothing wrong with online critics. A lot of ardent book lovers have blogs and review sites. They have their followers, too. I'd be happy to have all of them review my books.
I used to write a lot of reviews, and, since I was sent the book and agreed to do the review, I wrote it however I saw it, though I always tried to find something good to say about some facet of the book, even if the overall review wasn't positive. (Exceptions were made for authors who were already far more successful than the book before me could justify.)

Now that I only post occasional reviews on my blog, I stick to only books I liked and can recommend. Just seeing the name of a book in a review may stick in the reader's mind more than the review itself, so writing up less than favorable reviews could inadvertently serve as a recommendation. Plus, this gives me the freedom to quit reading books I don't care for, and to forget them as quickly as possible, which was a luxury I didn't have when I promised to write a review and a book had been sent to me instead of someone else.
I would personally say that definitely there is something to be learn from every negative review. Granted, we all feel disappointed when we get one, even if it comes from a friend, say, who is no authority in literary circles but at the end of the day it tells us something about how readers feel about our stories.

Equally, some people just simply have strong preferences in terms of plot, style etc and you cannot please everyone. This normally becomes apparent soon enough; i.e. that someone is just not into a certain writing style and I hope I can pick on this soon enough not to get disheartened. However, I'm a great believer in that four eyes see more than two. This is possibly a topic for another thread but isn't it funny how it's so much easier to pick holes on other people's writing than on our own. I don't believe this is because we all ego-centric maniacs but because we can get so immersed in our work; plots, characters that are dear to us that we cannot observe impartially. I personally find second opinions, or third or forth ... invaluable.

A friend recently asked a few people to be 'brutally honest' with a short story she is submitting to an Australian competition. I picked as many holes as I could think of because I knew this was what she wanted. Others picked different ones but some of us came up with basically the same. That told her that maybe yes she could improve on the areas everyone mentioned. She was extremely grateful because she then was able to identify potential weaknesses. I always give praise as well when I think praise is deserved. I'm careful though when reviewing for very young people because psychologically it can put them off writing altogether but my Australian friend and I have been reviewing for each other for sometime and we both can take it) so that's great.

Now, also bear in mind that not all reviewers are 'good reviewers' especially if they allow their own prejudices to cloud their minds. I would add that this is often more true of non-professionals, but even professionals have their likes and dislikes, their own snobbery or inverted snobbery, so if I disagree in my heart of hearts with what the reviewer says, I would politely point it out. After all, your own style is an individual thing but this being said, honest criticism is very, very helpful.
I'd like to just say I love working with online reviewers. Review bloggers are my favorite. I get so much from their reviews as a reader and an author. I also must say they are so good to work with, pleasant and they rarely turn a book down. Most online reviewers will at least try to give different types of books a chance. If it weren't online reviewers, self-published, small press and ebooks wouldn't get reviewed at all.

Best Wishes!


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