Of book reviewers and authors

Wendy Darling as portrayed in Disney's Peter Pan.
The Disney persona hiding one of my favourite reviewers out there via Wikipedia – yes,  Wendy Darling.

Usually it starts like this: a reviewer gets a book. It doesn’t matter whether the publisher has sent it for free or it was legally purchased in a book shop or borrowed from a library. The book starts it all. The reviewer, who is primary its reader, doesn’t like the book. He or she feels like sharing their negative feelings and they write a review; it might be snarky and/or funny, it might be angry  but not necessarily so. He or she might also include some pictures, animations or gifs to illustrate his or her point and make the whole review a bit different.
One example is linked below – an excellent review by Wendy Darling, posted on Goodreads, dealing with a book I don’t intend to read (no pics).

Then the author sees the said review and feels outraged – his or her splendid work has been criticized publicly! Don’t get me wrong – I can imagine it hurts, most probably a lot but I must admit some authors deal with their hurt feelings in a very mature way. I’ve witnessed such reactions first-hand on my blog and I admired them greatly although often my admiration for those authors’ books was definitely less pronounced. Overall I can’t complain – although I do write scathing reviews from time to time I’ve never been personally attacked. Some of my internet fellow bloggers have, for a change. Although I don’t know them personally I felt outraged for their sake.

It is really surprising to what lenghts some authors, allegedly mature adults, often wives/husbands and mothers/fathers, are prepared to go when facing a criticizm, no matter whether constructive or not (I am going to deal with that particular problem later). They can attack the reviewer verbally on public sites such as the aforementioned Goodreads or Twitter or Facebook. They can launch a hatred campaign involving other parties, like their family and friends, which might consist of spamming, calling the reviewers horrible names on their blogs and cussing a lot. Do you think anybody deserves such a treatment just because they don’t like your book? If you  honestly answer ‘yes’ then maybe you shouldn’t write at all.

Then I surfed the blogosphere a bit and found different opinions about the whole issue. One of them left me even more angry – I mean the post written by Maggie Stiefvater on her blog. I do not suggest or assume that Ms Stiefvather has ever behaved in a way described by me above, far from it, but her assessment of the non-professional reviewers and their work left me very, very confused and angry.

Firstly, she stated that a review “(…) is an unbiased, careful look at a book — basically it is a little academic paper. It involves an itty-bitty thesis on your opinion of the book, surrounded by tiny supporting sentences describing the strengths and weaknesses of said book. Every month, dozens upon dozens of these reviews come out in professional journals.” 


Well, I do try to write unbiased reviews but I know most often than not a review is anything but a scientific paper. It deals with your feelings and feelings are never unbiased. Ler me support my view quoting here the definitions of the verb ‘review’, taken from The Free Dictionary:

1. To look over, study, or examine again.
2. To consider retrospectively; look back on.
3. To examine with an eye to criticism or correction: reviewed the research findings.
4. To write or give a critical report on (a new work or performance, for example).
5. Law To reexamine (an action or determination) judicially, especially in a higher court, in order to correct possible errors.
6. To subject to a formal inspection, especially a military inspection.

v.intr.

1. To go over or restudy material: reviewing for a final exam.
2. To write critical reviews, especially for a newspaper or magazine.

The third definition speaks about examining but never mentions anything about it being as unbiased as a scientific paper. The fourth definition is even more pertinent here – giving a critical report doesn’t require any evenhandedness, quite the opposite in fact. When you criticise a work of fiction or a work of art your feelings are as important as facts and numbers. Does a review have to be published in ‘professional journals?” No, not at all, especially in an era of the Internet and digitalized mass media – look at the second meaning of ‘review’ as an intransitive verb. You can write for a newspaper or magazine but it is not necessary.

Well, if it was the matter of a simple definition I wouldn’t bother to write this essay of mine but Ms Stiefvater went on saying:

Let’s talk about the negative “reviews” that authors have been lashing out at. They often involve animated gifs, swearing, and snark. They’re often quite funny. But here’s the thing, though. When a blogger writes a biased, hilarious, snarky rundown of a book they despised, he/ she is not writing a review. They are writing a post about a book. I’m not saying that bloggers shouldn’t write biased, hilarious, snarky rundowns of books. I’m saying that those rundowns are not reviews.

Well I couldn’t agree less.

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16 Responses to Of book reviewers and authors

  1. Most of the authors that I review are long dead. 🙂 Probably Steifvater is sneering at what she may think of as 'laymen' who lack 'academic credentials' as though a talented amateur does not have anything valid to say. Some of those amateurs go on to be professionals. And amateur is from the Latin – amator – one who loves, and there is nothing wrong with that.

  2. Blodeuedd says:

    All authors have been gracious to me, but yes I am scared that someday someone will go nuts. Cos some of the reviews they go nuts over aren't even that negative. I am gonna be bad now, but those tend to be self-pubbed authors. YA authors seem to go nuts over snarky gifs ;)What I have experienced is one author emailing me and telling me to change the 4 on Amazon to a 5. Now this was not my review, but a guest's so I asked her. She said she had been nice with the 4 so no higher. I said no and he kept bothering me via emails until I said that I can just take that review down..then he stopped. Any idiot reading the review would see the book was good, but that the reviewer did not love it. Arrogance.Anyway, I agree with everything and I got really disappointed in Stiefvater. She tried to take the high road, which would be good, but instead she wrote a post that makes no sense. Do not tell me what a review is. Scientific papers my ass, sure *rolls eyes*

  3. heidenkind says:

    Ah, yes, the thought police are out. Blog posts like that make me happy I never read any of Stiefvater's work. Seriously, ANYone who wants to tell me what to write or think about their books can suck on it.I have had one or two incidents where an author clearly wasn't too pleased with my review, but weirdly it's always the "meh" reviews that cause the most problems.

  4. Anachronist says:

    Dead authors are indeed kinder than the living ones but you cannot get any feedback. I loved your explanation of the word 'amateur' thanks! I will never be ashamed of being called that one!

  5. Anachronist says:

    What I have experienced is one author emailing me and telling me to change the 4 on Amazon to a 5. Now this was not my review, but a guest's so I asked her. She said she had been nice with the 4 so no higher. I said no and he kept bothering me via emails until I said that I can just take that review down..then he stopped. How very childish! I bet he used to quarrel over his grades with the teachers at school! I am pleased nothing worse has happened to you so far, B.

  6. Anachronist says:

    I haven't read any of her books either but one of my Internet buddies whose opinions I appreciate likes her novels. Well, even if she writes good books it doesn't mean she is the person to decide how to call my reviews or any other reviews out there. Who died and made her a literary pundit extraordinaire?

  7. hck says:

    As a reviewer: No, I have never been attacked: I don't write completely negative reviews for publication. (IMO;: If a book is that bad that it is not worth reading: it is not worth reviewing either.)As an author: Well, I (try to) check whether the reviewer is right. If s/he is: I've learned something, and I'm grateful. If s/he isn't: I shrug my shoulders.

  8. Anachronist says:

    Thanks for your comment, hck! I admit as a reviewer I have hard time to decide whether a book is so bad I shouldn't have read it at all in the first place…guess years of metaphorical starving make themselves felt…

  9. Aurian says:

    Great post Ana. I really don't have the background to write a scientific thesis about the books I read! And I have the firm belief, that a review is someones opinion of a book, based on their own tastes. I have written very few "bad book" reviews yet, as I don't want to finish a book I don't like and also don't want to spent more time writing a review about it. I just dive into the next one. I really hope I never get attacked by an author or some stranger like that. On the other hand, the few times I had an author reply on my blog, thanking for the review, I was over the moon.

  10. Candace says:

    I have not been attacked for a review I've wrote but I don't write very scathing reviews. I rarely review anything less then 3 stars just because I don't finish a book if I don't like it. Today I have a review up for a book I didn't care for much (2.5 stars because there were a few things I liked), but it's the first time in MONTHS. I don't get why authors need to stick their nose in. It's in their best interest to just let it go. I don't really think it's nice of reviewers to be mean, but they have the right to say what they like. Maggie Stiefvater is very outspoken and honestly she's not the easiest person to like. I do like her books but her personality is one that kind of scares me. Like I expect her to be mean cause she can't always keep her mouth shut. I haven't read that post of hers but I guess it doesn't surprise me. I guess I just don't delve much into all the junk going on and I do my reading and writing of reviews and I read blog posts (that's how I know about any of this at all) but other then that I don't know a lot of what's going on and maybe it's for the better. I don't want to have to worry about every single little thing I say.

  11. Anachronist says:

    Aurian making people believe that they must have a proper background (whatever it means) to write a review is WRONG. I am not one to shy away from a snarky review if I don't like a book. Heck, I feel I am entitled to some fun after reading it!

  12. Anachronist says:

    Thanks for a lovely comment, Candance! I don't get why authors need to stick their nose in. It's in their best interest to just let it go.I don't get it either. If you don't like a review, consider it shallow, stupid or nasty for the nastiness' sake just shrug it off, (quoting hck) and move on. If your book is really good positive reviews will outweigh negative ones.I guess I just don't delve much into all the junk going on and I do my reading and writing of reviews and I read blog posts (that's how I know about any of this at all) but other then that I don't know a lot of what's going on and maybe it's for the better.Maybe. Being active on Goodreads I simply couldn't help noticing the uproar connected to some reviews and I was even more astounded when I found out some reviewers have been punished for their nastiness and the authors – not.

  13. Tracy says:

    No-one takes me seriously enough to care whether I like a book or not – can't imagine being attacked by an author for one of my minimal reviews. But then, I don't necessarily read the whole of really detailed reviews of books I'm planning on reading – they always give far too much information.Does a review have to be published in 'professional journals?" How many people read 'professional' journals when they are thinking of buying a book? A friend of mine subscribes to Literary Review and I borrow the odd copy from her, but she's the only person I know who does. The rest of us read amateur blog reviews, amateur reviews on Amazon, the odd newspaper review etc

  14. Anachronist says:

    Tracy, one of these days you might be surprised how serious some people get when it comes to their book(s).How many people read 'professional' journals when they are thinking of buying a book?Exactly my point. Let me also add that reviews in more popular newspapers can be skewed/commissioned by the publisher, that's why people would rather read amateurish reviews which might be badly written but more often than not are honest.

  15. Great post. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I have never been attacked for any of my reviews. I suppose being an author and a book reviewer, I can relate to both sides of the coin. I try to find something positive in every book and I take the negatives and try to explain them gently but thoroughly, because writing is hard work. It doesn't help the reader or author to gloss over the criticisms and I think sometimes lukewarm reviews give some credibility because it's quite strange to read the reviews of a book and they are all five stars. If a reviewer didn't give me five stars I would not be upset, I would try my best to understand what they didn't like. But also knowing that every reader is different. We have different perspectives and experiences in life. So what I enjoy, another person may very well despise. So I take it for what it's worth. I really am appreciative for all feedback, but it is the positive feedback that puts a smile on my face and gives me the motivation to continue to do what I love, which is writing.

  16. Anachronist says:

    Thanks Lena for your comment!I like writing positive reviews, I really do. I try to make them funny as well. I know writing is hard so every author should be shown some appreciation. However, when a book doesn't work for me I do not intend to gloss over it or lie just to keep an author happy. I always try to explain why the book was a failure in my opinion.

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