Monday, May 18, 2009

Bad Reviews

Cross-posted from the Blue Rose Girls.

I just became acquainted with this blog via Lisa Yee and Facebook:

The Worst Review Ever

What a great idea! As my fellow Blue Rose Girls all know, bad reviews hurt. You know they shouldn't, that it's just one person's opinion, but whether it's an Amazon review or one in a review journal or magazine, it's hard not to take them personally and get upset. And it's nice to know that you're not alone in feeling that way.

Editorial Anonymous said in a recent post about bad reviews: "your editor sees a bad review and shrugs." I'll have to respectfully disagree. This editor for one takes bad reviews of the books she edits quite personally, although of course perhaps not to the same extent as the author would. Oh sure, I know the bad review isn't going to hurt the sales of the book--although it might if every single review is negative. But I certainly don't just shrug it off that easily. I get sad, and I get ANGRY. Because obviously the reviewer just didn't *get* the book. In fact, there are three reviews from a certain journal that I still seethe about when I think about them now, years later. I won't name names, though *cough-rhymes-with-circus-cough.*

Some of you might remember this post back in 2006, when Chowder by Peter Brown got a negative review from Kirkus the same week it received a starred review from Booklist. It helped to have the good and the bad together, rather than just a bad review and nothing to counter it. It's made it easier to remember that it's subjective and that not everyone can or will like your book.

I don't envy a reviewer's job, and I do appreciate the care with which most of them read and review books. The little plea I'll make is if you're writing a critical review, whether it be on your blog or for a publication, please don't be too personal, and please don't be cruel. For example, don't review a book like Tai reviewed Cher in Clueless:

Tai: Why should I listen to you, anyway? You're a virgin who can't drive.
Cher: That was way harsh, Tai.

Don't be way harsh! Anyway, try not to sweat the bad reviews. And I'll try to follow my own advice in the future. But here's to nothing but starred reviews in our future!


bling said...

My kindergarten teacher friend read Chowder to her kids, and they LOVED it. I think those are the real reviewers who count.

yamster said...

I get annoyed at the reviews that aren't really reviews, just plot summary. It's almost as bad as fortune cookies that don't really tell your fortune.

Renee said...

I'm with you, Alvina! As an editor/publisher, I definitely feel the bad reviews. Maybe they're not saying that MY writing is bad, but they're implying that my editorial skills and my judgment are. But yeah, you have to remember it's all subjective.

Susan Moorhead said...

I agree entirely - and when I wrote reviews I always tried to see some positive in every book even if I did not care for it overall. I stopped doing book reviews after the editors of the review magazine re-edited my piece to make it unbelievably negative, published it without my knowing this, and then would not retract anything even when the editor of the book wrote me an angry letter. (I was unble to reply to the book's editor or the writer because of the contract I had signed with the review magazine) I really would take all negative reviews with a large grain of the same time, I stopped reviewing after that incident.

Anonymous said...

I recently presented a library collection development workshop in which I highly recommendeded that people responsible for buying children's and ya books read more than one review. So many do the bulk of their selecting from one review journal (though it isn't the one you *cough-rhymes-with-circus-cough.* mentioned);-). Booklist and SLJ are the faves.
But I also talk about what you say here - a review can be starred in one journal and absolutely panned in another. Sometimes they even pick out the same feature! e.g. "Flat characters" vs. "fully fleshed-out characters." I've seen that often, and it has led to the belief that no book is inherently a "good" book. Good is in the mind of the reader, and I do wish schools would recognize that.
I will say, however, that it isn't always that journal-which-you-did-not-name that dishes out the bad review.

alvinaling said...

Yes, bad reviews can come from any journal (except for the journals that generally only review the books they feel have merit), but we've found that the ones that can be deemed as "mean-spirited" tends to come from a particular journal. In fact, we received two more such reviews just this week that we felt were particularly harsh. Oh well.