To Spread or Not to Spread (a negative review, that is)

Bringing the Shadow to Life

What’s news?

Not too much to report at this point.  Still playing around with some freelance work, and I’ve posted the second part of my piece at Suite101.  Writing a Good Bad Guy, Pt. 2: Bringing the Shadow to Life (click here).  It’s more for people who are just starting out in their writing, but maybe some good advice if you are struggling with your antagonist.


And I finally had success with getting Amazon to knock the price for my Free Five Flash Fiction down to actually be free.  Funny thing is that before they did it, I actually had a few sales at the 99 price point.  To see Free Five, click here (also available at B&N and Smashwords). It’s the same stories I have here under “FREE FICTION” but I’ve added afterwords to go with each story explaining where the idea came from (some of them almost as long as the flash itself :))

What does the future hold?

Next Friday, I’ll be giving a recap of the World Horror Convention.  Should be pretty entertaining.

But without further ado…

[Note: This one deals primarily with blogging and writing issues, but if you’re just an avid reader, I want to know your opinion on this, too.  Also, please forgive the spartan nature of this post.  I have a handful of other things I need to be doing for WHC, and something had to get the ax.  Turns out it was finding images to go along with the post.]

There was a recent mildly volcanic “discussion” thread at a group of which I am a part.

Here’s the story (and if you’re in this group, it isn’t a big secret whom I’m referring to):

Just as I do (as well as most bloggers), a book reviewer posted his recent blog post at this group.  The rub was that he was posting a one-star, very curt review of a book.

The question was not necessarily raised whether or not said reviewer (we call him Mr. R, for “reviewer”) should be posting a negative review, even though I’ve seen many a blogger ponder this very question (usually they’re also writers… of which Mr. R is not, I don’t believe).

The general consensus was that Mr. R was entitled to his opinion (even if some of the comments reflected the fact that perhaps he should’ve gone into a little more depth and a little less vehemence).  However, the question was raised about the fact that he was posting this negative review (as he does all of his blog posts) at any group of which he was part.

The first response from our group was along the lines of how it’s okay to have this review at your site, but perhaps spreading it around to so many people you don’t necessarily know might be in… well, “error” is how I would sum up the follow-up comments.

And then the follow-up comments started flying.  And honestly, as a Virgo, I could see most of their points.  On one hand, Mr. R is only announcing his blog post to his groups, an action I certainly can’t throw stones at.  On the other, is it simply spreading negativity to a whole bunch of groups of people who may have a differing opinion of what they consider “entertaining”?

After all, one man’s definition of “gratuitous” isn’t necessarily every man’s definition, and while on one hand, we have always had negative reviews in the world, perhaps this new electronic world gives the negative reviewer (especially if ill-informed) a broader sphere of influence than they should.  On the other hand, having read several of Mr. R’s other reviews, while he may be brutal, I’ve seen that he has a pretty good idea what he’s talking about.

This is why I submitted, somewhat trepidatiously (I think I just made that one up), The Imaginings to him for review.  I knew I was going to get a straight shot from him.  And while they may just be his opinions, I know they are at least educated opinions.

I just read a good blog post recently advising readers on how to find the potential gems in the self-publishing world (link), and the interesting (but not hard to believe) bit of advice they said was to look for a book that had a good variety of reviews and to be leery of too many four and five star reviews.

Much as I love my four and five star reviews at Amazon, I recognize the fact that the majority of them came from people I either know or met through the interwebs, even if only very distant acquaintances.

The point came up in the discussion whether or not writers and reviewers can be friends.  I don’t know the answer to that, but I know that even though we have recently become Facebook friends, I’ve been very particular not to interact too much with Mr. R yet for the exact reason that I want him to be honest without worrying about

So whether you agree or disagree with his style or review, it seems like Mr. R might be doing the author a favor after all.  If the story continues to get mixed reviews, maybe we just say it was only Mr. R’s opinion.  If it starts getting more negative reviews, maybe we call it what Darwin would’ve called it.

And we thin a little of the bloated herd that is the self-publishing world where it has become increasingly easier for anyone to put a book out there.

Maybe I’ll be one to go, myself.  Who knows?  But I’ve seen some of the other stuff out there, and I’m gonna’ be pushing some of them to the lions before they get their teeth into me.

What do I want from you?

I want your opinion.  This particular thread caused some waves and I’ve seen some other opinions, but I’d be curious about yours. And again, this is a question for both my readers and writers.

As always, so long as your comment has a little substance, I don’t mind if you leave a link.  I do it at your blogs; you might as well do it here 🙂

Finally, make sure to check back next Friday for my recap of the World Horror Convention.

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29 thoughts on “To Spread or Not to Spread (a negative review, that is)

  1. I do NOT think I would do a complete post about a negative review I received–partially because I am mortified on some level that people are reading my stuff to begin with, and why would I want people to let MORE people know that at least someone out there is NOT a fan.
    On another lever I get it completely. Negative reviews are hard on the soul, and writing about them is a way to break up the agony a bit. I’ve seem many people write in groups about their negative reviews–many repond with positive comments which I’m sure help the author feel better. Soooo…I get it–but I wouldn’t do it. By the way–you are brave. Good luck. I mean that sincerely–it kinda came out sounding chilly…not meant to. I have a feeling the review will be good 🙂

    1. Hey Penelope, thanks for the comment. Actually, as far as I know, the author didn’t post the negative review at their own site. It was more of a question of the reviewer posting his negative review at all the groups he was part of. I think we do get as Jonathan described it a “hugbox” and writers get defensive/protective of one another. So the question is whether or not we keep a negative review about someone’s book to ourselves (or our blogs) or spread wherever we can.

      Thanks for the nice comment. Like I said, I wanted someone to really give me an honest opinion without feeling any obligation to be nice. Not that I’m necessarily looking for a negative review, but I just wonder when most of the reviews I’ve received are from people I’ve met previously.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Whoah, I get first comment here? Bitchin.

    I’m honestly not sure I see the problem in broadcasting the review. I understand why some people don’t post one-star reviews, but it’s always a reviewer’s prerogative to post what they want to post. If everything is sunshine and rainbows, we run the risk of turning the community into a hugbox, which is just poison to a productive, skilled writer – no matter how much the writer might dislike it (and I’m quite sure I’d dislike the bad review if I received it!).

    Also, I don’t know, the idea of suppressing those reviews also seems kind of condescending, like readers aren’t very intelligent and can’t work out their own feelings. It’s very rare that I rely on four or five star reviews, personally. It’s great if something has a lot, that weighs in its favors, but looking at the one stars is far more informative – did the critic have a particular ax to grind? Is the bad review due to a stylistic preference? Both of those become apparent very quickly, and if the reviews are weighted more toward those, I can trust the four and fives. If, however, the lower-starred reviews have legitimate complaints, then I start to really examine those fours and fives.

    I think it’s vital that indie novels have that same vetting experience. Sure, it hurts like hell to get a bad review – my one really bad one so far stung – but I also know that review strengthened my work because the guy complained about the price rather than any content concerns.

    I say let the guy write, post, and broadcast his one-stars. It can only lead to more informed readers.

    1. It is bitchin’ 🙂

      I agree with much of what you’ve said. I think a big problem was that it was a very short review. Pretty succinct, but perhaps we are in that “hugbox” where you have to really justify not liking someone’s book. And this particular review didn’t give much of that. I’ve seen his other reviews which are more specific, but as a reviewer perhaps you get tired of the saying the same thing over and over, and still having people who are demonstrating these foibles ask you to review their book.

      And kind of a drag when someone gives you a low rating for price as opposed to content, but again, if logic stands that people will just look at the overall ratings and it adds legitimacy if you have a spread, well so be it.

      Thanks for stopping by. Hope you have a good weekend.

  3. jillelizabethadmin 03/30/2012 — 7:57 am

    For what it’s worth, I think as long as you aren’t grinding a big ol’ axe on someone’s forehead, a negative review is a blog post like any other, and can (and should) be treated as such… I don’t think it’s spreading negativity to share a less-than-stellar review, as long as it was a fair review. As you point out, everyone’s opinions and tastes are different – sure, one man’s “gratuitous” may be another’s “necessary”, but so what? The people who read a particular blogger’s reviews regularly will appreciate the distinction; the people who catch one review may not, but we’ve all, at one point or another, had one person tell us we wouldn’t like something and turned out to love it. If people can’t recognize that one man’s opinion is just that – ONE man’s opinion – then we have a bigger problem in the world than negative reviews, no?

    And I tend to agree with the point about watching amazon and self-pub sites for all glowing reviews. I’m not the arbiter of taste for the world or anything, but when something I felt wasn’t that polished or readable has 15 5-star reviews and nothing else, I’m suspicious. Then again, I’m always suspicious, so maybe I’m a bad example.

    I also think it’s smart to keep your distance from the people you ask to review your book – at least ’til after the review. It’s hard to have to say you didn’t like something when you like the person who wrote it! And no, Paul, this is not why I gave The Imaginings a good review… Just so you know. 😉

    1. Hey Jill,

      “we’ve all, at one point or another, had one person tell us we wouldn’t like something and turned out to love it”- Great point. It more often happens for me with movies, but I think in that case we’re more inclined to take a chance on two hours of our time (as opposed to a book). Of course, now that most ebooks are cheaper than a movie (hrmphh, says the author), maybe this will change.

      And I loved your review, and appreciate your praise as well as your critical comments.

      Thanks for stopping by and throwing in your two cents.

  4. Eh …

    Mr R. = troll. Good blog trolls always make valid points. That’s part of the job description. That being said, if he’s an educated asshole, sending your book to him for review is reasonable idea if you don’t believe you’ve had enough objective criticism.

    Remember though, we all see things differently, and ultimately, Mr R is nothing more than another member of the social web’s peanut gallery.

    For instance: last night I watched a TV show called … um … Downtown Abbey – or something like that.

    I thought it was a steaming turd that wasted 42 minutes of my life … ZERO STARS for rich British people up in arms about what to do with all of their money and the infighting involving their small army of servants.


    My wife loved it.

    1. Ha ha. Great story about… Downtown Abbey(?). And great illustration of how many people see things differently. Honestly, I am concerned about, as you’ve said, “objective criticism.”

      As I mentioned, I’ve been careful about not having really any communication with him for that very reason. I’m a pretty damn likable guy, and even after brief interactions with people via blogs, etc… it’s hard not to wonder how much their are softening their criticism. For Mr. R, while it may just be his opinion, and I may completely disagree, at least it’s honest.

  5. I think the role of reader reviews is a huge unknown at this point. I really am not sure what my feeling is. They are so subject to, as you point out, connections and knowing people and not wanting to hurt feelings–I struggle with this myself–that it makes me highly aware of the value of professional reviewers, whom almost nobody knows, and whose rare anointment is indeed as valuable as gold. Of course, they can’t reviews the tens of thousands of volumes now appearing, and I’m not sure of the way out of this yet. But–I hope your review is fair, honest, and good!

    1. Thanks Jenny. So glad you stopped by. It is difficult in this age. Used to be that if you didn’t like a story, you could tell your friends maybe (or maybe write a letter to the author that he/she may not ever get), but these days, you can usually find some way to get a message not only to the author directly, but potentially to every reader out there (exaggeration, I know). This level of personal interaction makes it harder when we don’t like a book to say what we really feel (except for Mr. R obviously).

      And yes, we should acknowledge that most of these reviewers do what they do for free. Very generous. Of course, you know what they say about opinions… 🙂

      Thanks again for stopping by.

  6. Hi, Paul, I don’t read my own reviews (the exception being if one of my smart aleck friends writes something that makes me laugh, then I will read it). Otherwise, I consider it none of my business. Let the readers hash it out amongst themselves. That said, reviews are always–ALWAYS–more about the reviewer than they are about the writer. The reviewer’s tastes, hot buttons, philosophy, warm fuzzies. Many reviewers also use them for power trips. Ha! I can GRADE that so-and-so. I have the power of justice! Meh. Whatever. As for Mr. R, he just wants to be heard. Nothing more, nothing less. He sent out a big ol’ Look At Me, everybody looked, now back to regularly scheduled programming.

    That said, I have a semi-review site. I talk about books. As a writer myself, I am conscious to the point of being self-conscious about the feelings of the authors I talk about. This can be a good and bad thing. I keep reminding myself what it is I’m trying to accomplish, which is simply sharing my found treasures. I will leave literary criticism to folks more qualified. If a book is not to my taste, I leave it alone.

    1. Jaye, I think you have hit the nail on the head with the essence of this. Mr. R is not an author (again, as far as I know). There is sort of an unspoken camaraderie between authors, and many author/reviewers/bloggers flat out won’t review a book publicly if they don’t like it.

      It draws a very distinct line between the writers and readers as far as content. And I think that was the point of the original criticism. It was okay for Mr. R not to like the book, but then to be so public about the posting (especially in a group made up primarily of writers) was bound to be met with contention.

      Thanks for your comment. Hope you’re having a good Friday.

  7. Paul – two words jumped off my monitor when you introduced this topic. Those words are “curt” and “gratuitous.” Is it not posssible to give a one-star review without being mean spirited and rude? As a Retired professor, I look back and believe my students always knew that no matter how well or poorly someone did in my courses, it said nothing about them as individuals or even as college students in the broader context. Fiction writers are entertainers and, like any entertainer, when you put your work out there for public access it is a de facto invitation to reviewers. Sometimes reviewers themselves are also entertainers and the entertainment value of what they say (and how they say it) becomes more important than substance. Jaye is right. When a review is not only excessively harsh but also lacks civility, perhaps the reviewer has crossed the line and his/her motives should be called into question.

    1. I actually meant the more innocuous definition of “curt,” meaning simply the short, brief, and maybe but not necessarily terse. And the gratuitous was in reference to one of the responses to the review. Someone made the point that what might be considered “gratuitous” in a story (sex, violence, language) might not be considered gratuitous by another reader.

      I don’t think anyone found the review necessarily “rude,” but rather just lacking enough information to justify the low rating. And then the question ultimately became–beyond the actual review–whether or not to keep it on a blog or tell the world how horrible it was.

      I’m trying to be neutral on this (one of those moments that really annoys Jennifer when I take both sides). How am I doing? 🙂

  8. Ok, most important thing first. Downton Abbey is a wonderful show that shows with wit, humor and tragic consequences the selfishness and innocence of early 20th century British aristocrats. It is wonderfully acted and subtly written and I freakin love it! But I agree with the point made. Because of my taste in literature, I enjoyed Paul’s book very much. I have a very good friend who I know would not like his book. She would however, if she read it, post a negative review without personally attacking the author. Like the best show on television was ruthlessly attacked. I may never recover.

    1. Hey Kodi!

      Good to see you (sort of… I’m having these weird World Horror Conventions moments where I’m meeting in person people I’ve only known previously online).

      So I may have to watch Downtown Abbey so I can weigh in. 🙂

      But perhaps the more important question, as you are a fan of the genre (but stick more to the reading side of things), if you had a blog and read a one star book, do you post it? And then, do you spread your blog post in as many places as possible?

      Thanks for stopping by, Kodi. Hope to see you live soon.

      1. Well, I guess my answer is…it depends. Is it a review of substance, that mentions specific plot points or characterization that were sub-par? Then yes, the review should be posted and spread. Is it a review full of malice and vitriol without addressing what exactly the reviewer hated so much? Then, no. It’s a worthless review and shouldn’t be spread. My two cents as a non-writer. Negative reviews don’t keep me from purchasing a book in a genre or by an author I really like. I may not be the norm in that respect however.

  9. I believe there is nothing wrong with spreading any review. If it is a good review, I like to know what made the book amazing. If it is a bad review, I want to know where the book failed to meet expectations. Any review that fails to give at least one, if not both, pieces of information is worthless. I don’t agree with spreading worthless information, but the world’s afloat in it, so I guess I’m in the minority there…

    The primary purpose of a reader review is to help other readers winnow their choices, and not to make the author feel good – or bad. Readers sharing with other readers takes the solipsism out of reading (and, to some extent, writing). I support this, even knowing there are going to be readers who despise my book: I cuss, bad things happen to kids, I make it scary to go outside. At some point, someone’s going to take me to one-star motel in troll town. Even so, it’s better for other readers to know, so the match between my readers and my book will become better over time.

    Also… You’re not going to be one of the writers thinned from the ‘bloated herd.’ I’m sure of that. 🙂

    1. Hey Aniko, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      “Even so, it’s better for other readers to know, so the match between my readers and my book will become better over time.”- Very nicely put. If we can take a few hits to our pride, we are essentially better defining our target audience. But probably even then, we might write something that even our hardiest fans will take issue with (Misery anyone?)

      And thanks for the kind words. We’ll keep the lions at bay together 🙂

      1. I have an extra dining room chair I use to hold off those pesky lions!

        Happy Saturday!

  10. Ha! This is timely. I just got a dreaded two-star review from someone I solicited. She contacted me first to see if I still wanted her to post it. I told her by all means, for the very reasons you mention.

    After my initial shock, dismay and indignation, I saw she actually had some valid points. And she balanced what she said with some positive comments. In the end, I really valued her honesty. (Maybe I’ll hire her pre-publication next time!)

    I, too, try to keep poor reviews–and I’ve been known to post a few–polite, balanced and honest. As a writer, I know much that’s appreciated.

    1. Hey Michelle,

      Sounds like it was a good (well, you know what I mean) review if you think you might use her as a beta reader (or even full-out editor) for your next work. I guess you can consider her review a bit of free writing advice. Glad you were able to put a positive spin on it. And good editors are worth their weight in gold in my opinion.

  11. Hey, Paul!
    You and I have discussed this sort of thing before over at my place, I think. The more I blog/review books, the more I think I have decided to keep it fun and light. I love books and I read as often as I can, God knows; however, no one is paying me for my opinions. Were that ever to change, then I suppose I would be completely honest no matter what I thought about the book. Until then, if I hate the book, I’m keeping that information to myself.
    When I love the book (and, thankfully, I’m on a pretty good streak so far), I’m gonna shout it from the rooftops!!!
    But that’s just me.

    1. Hey, Jimmy. Yes, we have discussed this at your blog. Good point about not getting paid for your opinions (and choice as to whether or not to broadcast them). I actually spoke about this with a few people at WHC over the weekend, and I really believe that it ultimately comes down to the differences between a writer doing a review vs. a reader doing a review. We tend to be pretty protective of our own, even if something isn’t necessarily good. Maybe it’s because we all recognize when we were at that point and would’ve hated to have someone discourage us from continuing on (and hopefully improving in our craft).

      As a reader, I can see Mr. R’s point though, as well. In an admittedly bloated market of books, I can see that a reader would want to thin the herd so they didn’t have to wade through the crap to find something they wanted to read.

      Fortunately for me, with my schedule, it takes me so long to get through a book, I think any books I have in the backlog by authors who perhaps would do better to fall off the charts will probably already have done so before I get to the tough decision of whether or not to post a negative review about them 🙂

  12. You know what they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Every successful book has its share of scathing reviews. All part of the yin and yang of things.

    1. Yeah, I think that’s important. Nobody wants to get them, but if having a little disparity of opinion makes a book more attractive to a potential reader, I say go for it.

  13. If Mr. R would like to post a negative review, then why not? Honest opinions are the best opinions and can prepare you for future responses. As Hunter Shea said, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. You may never know how to improve as a writer if you ignore all of the negative feedback.

    1. Hey Mos, good to see you. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I agree that there’s no such thing as bad publicity… until all of it is bad 🙂 Then maybe a writer needs to rethink what they’re doing.

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