The Responsibility and Arrogance of the Reviewer

16. The Responsibility and Arrogance of the Reviewer

This post is inspired by a post from Don’t Let Reviewers Hold You Hostage.

Unpublished authors imagine that once they are published, life will be glorious. That’s because they haven’t thought much about bad reviews. Every author gets them, and sometimes they’re agonizing.  – Lev Raphael

In order to be an published author, you have to have a mandate of some degree from a publisher or your readers. Sure, you could self-publish a work that no one else would read, but I am not sure that counts. Traditionally an author either works with a publisher who has approved their story or the author chooses to publish the story themselves. Self-published works generally have a network of support in order to get the word out and be successful.

As an amateur reviewer, there was no mandate for my contribution to the book world. I looked up blog hosting sites, picked a name and was up and running in less then an hour. The majority of blogs are small potatoes in terms of reach and audience when compared to the influence of a review on Amazon or Goodreads. A person with no training and no experience can post their influential opinions to a wide audience with little to no supervision. And no guarantee that the review is fair or even true.

If I want my blog to be successful it makes sense that I would post in a timely and consistent manner and make sure that I post quality content. As much as I want my blog to be successful, it is still a hobby – a great way to make new friends and share my thoughts. At the end of the day, my blog begins and ends with the enjoyment I get from writing about books and my other interests. When blogging isn’t fun anymore, I will probably stop. I don’t make any money on my reviews and my livelihood is in no way impacted by the success of my blog. It is quite easy for me to spread my thoughts on the internet and just as easily leave them behind and move on with my life without a second thought. An author isn’t as loosely attached to their work.

16. Bad Book Review
Scribendi.com explains how to write negative book reviews in five easy steps.

The relationship between an author and a reviewer is essential. Books that would have remained obscure without an enthusiastic audience have eventually sold thousands of copies and have been made into movies. (think The Martian) I spend a lot of time looking at book reviews before I make a purchase and am immediately taken aback if there aren’t any reviews listed or if there are just a few that appear to be from over enthusiastic friends or family. A highly ranked review that is well thought out makes all the difference to me. But what do you do when you didn’t like a book? Is it ever okay to leave a brutal review that may lead to the death of a book an author has spent years pouring their life into?

Okay, the idea that just one bad review could kill a book is a little dramatic. It really depends on where a book is in it’s publishing life. If a brand new book that has been self-published only has three bad reviews, I am not buying it. Bad reviews make a difference to me when they appear to be consistent across the represented opinions or if they make up at least 30% of all reviews. I have been prompted to write bad reviews for a couple of reasons – I either found the book boring, poorly written, or maddening. Why in the world would a book make me mad? I have read a few blog posts that suggest that it is impossible to truly hate a book if you call yourself a book lover. I completely disagree with this assertion. I LOVE books, but there are some books that I can say I hate. Does that give me the right to write a scathing review just because of a difference in opinion with the author? There are some books I find dreadfully boring that the rest of the world seems to love…The Great Gatsby, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The 100

“Reviewers are like snipers, aren’t they? Not responsible for the emotional carnage of a quick shot in the dark. Reviewers, writing a really negative review, are not at all like doctors cutting away gangrenous flesh — they are flies, buzzing cheerfully as they try to lay their little eggs in stinking piles.” – Greg Bear

Reviews of books are important! My trepidation stems from the fact that I do not consider my self an author. I haven’t published anything. I haven’t even written a story longer than 10,000 words. How can I presume to critique an author’s work when I can’t speak from a place of experience? Who am I to bash a book that represents work that – no matter how inferior I feel it is – is better than anything I have ever produced? How arrogant is that?

The responsibility of the review is firmly planted in truth and in fairness. You don’t like a book? Okay, why? Is it just a difference of theology or preference? Yes, critique the work but don’t reach beyond that. Don’t make an inference about the author’s intent beyond what is provided for you in the story. I will keep reviewing books because I believe it is important to contribute to the book community. Life is short and you can only read so many books! I have let my emotions influence my review of books before and I am challenging myself to try to do better in the future. That is my challenge to all book reviewers who read my blog. We have a duty to be fair to both authors and readers. So, let’s move foward and try to do better! You better believe that if I love a book I will sing it from the rooftops, and if I don’t I will let you know that as well. Just without emotion and with truth!


12 thoughts on “The Responsibility and Arrogance of the Reviewer

  1. You are right. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. Not everyone has such charitable views. I suppose it is the detachment that comes from being a reviewer. But, on another note, I sincerely hope blogging always remains fun for you. Stay 🙂
    (And I hope some day when I write a book, even though it is not going to be in the genre you read, you will give me favourable reviews, hahaha.. just kidding… far from being a writer yet).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m pretty far from being a writer too! I am trying to balance my opinions as a reviewer with what I image my thoughts would be as a writer.
      Being a reviewer takes more than a lot of people realize! It’s easy to be a mediocre reviewer, but it takes a lot more to be both fair and true.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A lot of people I’ve met on WordPress don’t care about reviews, or they say “who cares what other people think? You might like the book even if they don’t.” But I definitely check out Good Reads before I look into anything.

    One must be smart in how they interpret a page of reviews though. If a bunch of reviews say stuff like “I just couldn’t get into it,” then I’m not going to damn a book for that. I might still check it out, as there are just as many people who were very captivated by it. Also, I try to figure out if the reviewers themselves seem pretentious and high brow, in which case I reject their opinions automatically.

    But when multiple reviewers cite the same specific problems? Then I’m probably not adding it to my TBR list. I can get past bad writing if the story is engaging. I can get past a bad protagonist if the other characters are good. But a slew of unlikeable characters and a predictable plot generated from manufactured conflict probably get “the gong” the most from me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think quality reviews are especially important for brand new books without a wide reaching advertising campaign. Quality stories don’t just come from giant publishing houses and reviewers have the obligation to look at all aspects of the book honestly.
      I agree with you about carefully going through existing reviews and deciding for yourself. One of my all time favorite series has a lot of bad reviews on Goodreads. If I had trusted those bad reviews, I wouldn’t have found this truly awesome series.

      Like

  3. Despite what I just wrote in the previous comment, I think you are right. If you don’t like a book you need to articulate why so that people can understand. Maybe you personally didn’t enjoy the genre as much or had an issue with character development – whatever it is, by articulating your thoughts people can decide whether they would be bothered by the same things or not.
    I’ve personally never written a hateful review, but I do say it if I don’t like a story. Although I have to admit that I tend to be strangely more hesitant about publishing reviews when I didn’t like something very much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was hesitant to publish bad reviews too. I don’t think reviews should EVER be hateful, but I do think that there is such a thing as a bad book and I think it’s our responsibility to politely point it out.
      I am a words of affirmation kind of person. I love to hear how brilliant I am and how great my work is. It’s the people who are willing to stop and point out my mistakes that make me a better person and a better writer. I recently reread a short story that I wrote 4 years ago. I was really proud of this story and my parents and husband and English teacher all said they liked it.
      The shory story was awful!
      I wish someone would have told me the good in the story and then pointed out the numerous things that needed to be fixed.
      A reviewer is responsible to both the good authors and the bad authors. Writing isn’t for everyone and we can’t pretend that it is. I will never be a singer or mathematician, some people will never be able to write a story that will captivate thousands . We just have to be honest and compassionate in our honesty.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Very true!
        I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo and after I was done with the first draft, I just wanted to know if I could work further on the story. I showed it to 2 people only – one of them just told me that she liked everything (which was nice to hear) and the other one told me that she enjoyed it but then pointed out what needed fixing (way more helpful). Praise is good, but as you said, it is not always what you need 😀
        You’re really good at articulating all of your thoughts. I don’t think I am always that good with words.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post Alicia! I always try to be as objective as possible in my reviews but of course, a lot of times my emotions can heavily sway my review and I feel like emotion can be good in a review (sometimes) if there’s a reasoning behind the emotion you’re feeling like you said. If I’m bored with a book, I think to myself, is it because the author not doing a good enough job of keeping my interest in the writing or is it just because I don’t like to read about princesses or whatever.
    Also, I feel like people now are really hesitant about posting negative reviews because of the backlash and tension it creates even though there shouldn’t be. I sometimes find that I’m looking for a diversity of opinions about a book and not just every book telling me it’s amazing..

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is such an intriguing and thought provoking post! Also the reason why, while I aim to be honest to all my readers, I am always hesitant to be overly critical in my review (and I feel that I become a bit harsher on very popular books for this reason, as I think ‘oh, they can handle it’ – which is a bit unfair of me). I would never want to turn anyone off a book just because it did not work for me personally, so I try to explain why I rated a book low every single time. It’s hard to toe the line between honesty and diplomacy, but I think most blogs do it wonderfully.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think you make a perfect point. Truth and fairness is what makes a bad review a good review for not only the reader but the author. When someone simply rates a piece of work one-star without explanation or reason, the rating doesn’t hold its weight in comparison to the one-star review with a detailed analysis of the work. It also works the other way around where a five-star rating without explanation doesn’t add to the value of the review process. Anyway, my two cents! 🙂

    BTW, totally agree with you here: “When blogging isn’t fun anymore, I will probably stop.”

    Totally!

    Liked by 1 person

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