Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

In Praise of the Personal Review

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Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a lot of bluster in the YA community over what reviews “should be” and how they should be written and defined and what they should and should not contain. It’s a conversation that was very common in the online Romance community not so many years ago, and the topic still breaks the not-so-still waters periodically.

I won’t rehash the arguments made over the past few weeks, but I will provide a link round-up for anyone trying to catch up on the crazy:

A nice summary of the Goodreads flameouts

YA author Hannah Moskowitz’s “open letter” to Goodreads reviewers

Veronica Roth’s thoughtful response to some of her fellow YA authors’ meltdowns

Maggie Stiefvater’s insistence that reviews should be like academic papers, with a thesis and supporting sentences

Crime writer Jim Thompson’s rules for reviewing

Common themes have emerged from authors and reviewers. On the authorial side we’ve seen the assertion that there is a certain type of review that deserves to be called a “review,” and there are certain “professional standards” said “review” must meet, else it becomes something else, something decidedly lesser. And on the reviewer side we have the persistent refrain, “reviews are not for authors, so authors should not be trying to define them.” Of course there are authors on the so-called reviewer side and vice versa, but this conversation has occurred so often over the past decade or so that I’ve been online, that many of the issues are now well-rehearsed.

There also tends to be this polarization of micro and macro perspectives. On the one hand, you get rants on specific reviews that generate numerous generalizations and misunderstandings. We saw that here on Dear Author just yesterday. Then you get these macro-level generalizations about, say, less than stellar Amazon or Goodreads reviews, as if these reviews are mass-produced in some anti-author factory somewhere. In fact, one of the interesting things Veronica Roth notes is that “98% of the time, the reviewer is expressing opinions about a book, and if an author expresses his or her opinions about a review, they are always saying something about the reviewer.” We’ve also seen that here at Dear Author, too.

And let’s face it; it’s not difficult to see why that happens. A book review can feel like an incredibly personal thing, even though it’s directed at the book and not the author. Responding publicly in a way that doesn’t sound like a personal opinion about the reviewer is not as easy as it may seem, in part because a review is a personal opinion, with the reviewer and the review more closely combined in the review itself.

Which is, I think, one of the best things about reviews and one of the chief reasons we (that is, the broad community of readers, authors, editors, and publishers, regardless of favored genre) should be encouraging as broad a diversity of reviewing voices as possible, with the fewest set “rules” about what constitutes a proper or legitimate review.

I suspect a lot of the rule-setting is about legitimacy. I mean, what author wouldn’t want a glowing review in the NYTBR? And regardless of all the dismissive “I’m laughing all the way to the bank” comments about gaining critical exposure in certain venues, there is still a lingering sense that certain critical attention equals cultural or literary legitimacy. I think some of the current muddle in YA is connected to a desire for the perception of greater legitimacy for the genre. And I don’t think that desire is, in itself, illegitimate. What I think is unproductive and short-sighted, though, is the attempt to proscribe reviewing, especially when those doing the proscribing are not, in fact, doing the bulk of the reviewing.

For example, how many people consult Yelp or Trip Advisor when checking out a hotel or restaurant? How would you feel if the restaurant or hotel industry came out publicly against certain kinds of online reviews? Wouldn’t that seem to represent an overstepping of bounds? But book reviewing is different! Books are art! Writing is hard! Yes, writing is difficult. Writing reviews can be difficult, too. Not everyone articulates their opinion easily or in the same way. Not everyone is versed in the language of literary theory or writing craft. Not everyone has the same writing style or feels the same way about a book. In fact, it’s the very personal experience of reading – much like the experience of writing – that makes it special and makes the articulation of its lasting effects on the reader so critical. Not that every review is a gem of brilliant insight or linguistic beauty, but as a whole, reviews are tangible evidence of the importance and legitimacy of reading and of books.

At its best, reading creates an alchemical reaction between book and reader, an elevation of both through the synergy created in the radiance of the experience. Although difficult to express, every reader knows what I’m talking about here, because we’ve all had that experience, thus our ongoing dedication to reading. It’s a very personal experience that, in and of itself, cannot be expressed. However, what can be articulated are the thoughts and reactions we have to books in a review – literally a re-viewing of the text through words. And in that re-viewing, we can share a part of that reading experience with others, making something that is unique and personal into something collective and connected.

If legitimacy is really the issue here, then let’s think about the long-term legitimacy of reading and book buying in general. How many nail-biting admonishments do we hear about the future of books, which are in hot competition with myriad other forms of entertainment. Reading, a largely solitary experience, becomes shared and communal through conversation, some of which may begin with reviews. Conversation both reflects and fosters personal investment, which in turn promotes more reading and conversation. The book is critical, but so are the forums in which the book becomes alive again through discussion and debate. This second-life doesn’t always take on the form most pleasing to the author, but it’s life, nonetheless, and that vivification is productive. It keeps interest in reading and books alive and growing, in the form of overlapping communities, forums, and venues, and in the inclusion of more and more voices. Why would anyone want to limit the number or type or style of voices in reading communities when there is so much worry about the long-term viability of books and reading?

But perhaps even more importantly, why would we want to stifle the precise thing that makes reading so powerful to so many of us – the enduring promise of that alchemical magic – for the sake of formalities? If books are special, if they are to be regarded as “art,” and if genre fiction in general is legitimate, then it will survive bad grammar, bad language, and even bad reviews.

 

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

130 Comments

  1. dick
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 09:50:48

    A formal academic critique, to be of any value, ought to evade assessment on a personal level. I think such evasion almost impossible with romance fiction, because from the outset the appeal is emotional. A formal critique of a romance book could address the ins and outs of plot, characterization, style, and the external problem which serves as a vehicle for the romance, etc., but the book as a whole eludes formal criticism of the academic sort, because with romance fiction, whether the reader liked it or didn’t like it as a whole, regardless whether all the other elements of fiction in it were excellent, remains the ultimate criticism. I doubt YA authors would find academic critiques would please them any more than the reviews they presently receive.

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  2. Charming
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 10:15:43

    I do understand it is frustrating that the same word, “review,” is used for everything from a New Yorker 15 page analysis of gothic elements in the novel to a Goodreads comment along the lines of, “another TSTL heroine?! Really? DNF.” But that is just the nature of the language. You aren’t going to get people to stop calling the Goodreads comment a review, and trying just makes it sound like you are trying to squash the writer. Perhaps a modifier would help? Formal review? Professional review?

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  3. Lazaraspaste
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 10:25:05

    But perhaps even more importantly, why would we want to stifle the precise thing that makes reading so powerful to so many of us – the enduring promise of that alchemical magic – for the sake of formalities? If books are special, if they are to be regarded as “art,” and if genre fiction in general is legitimate, then it will survive bad grammar, bad language, and even bad reviews

    Yes! I’m so glad you wrote this, Robin. Expressing what I think is that ineffable aspect of that alchemical magic, the encounter with the text, is a second pleasure beyond the first of actually reading the book. And I, obviously, think it is just as important as the first pleasure. More importantly, the conversation about books is also the conversation about ideas and values. In proscribing a set of “rules” by which these conversations should be conducted, authors or other reviewers or just random people on the internet or whoever is doing the proscribing, limit the conversation, as you said.

    But I think, unfortunately, that the reason why some want to proscribe “rules” is for the same reason certain ideologies create in/out binary. The limitations keep in place a kind of hierarchy, a hierarchy that determines who can call themselves a reviewer, an author, a feminist, a Marxist, a whatever and who can’t. I think this is because for many legitimacy demands an elite. That to be legitimate is to be “in” and to be elite.

    This is a position I disagree with and which I think ultimately is undone by the very alchemical magic that you talk about. But people will continue to insist upon this notion of legitimacy and this definition of art.

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  4. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 10:26:41

    I have no wish whatsoever to stifle language and communication in any way, whether it takes place via reviewing or writing books.

    However, I’m not pretending for one second I consider all reviews legitimate and reasonably written, because I have happened upon many reviews that don’t make that cut.

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  5. Amy Kathryn
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 10:50:08

    I do not want the conversation stifled in any way. I love that “magic” book…the one that you cannot put down until you have reached the end no matter what else needs to be done. I have found several of those from bloggers, fellow readers in comment threads, and best of lists. Books I would not have heard of any other way, especially ones that were published before I became a romance reader. The story is still alive because people still talk about it.

    I am not stupid. I can judge for myself whether a review (no modifier whatsoever) helps me make a decision to buy and read. Reading is very personal and no one set of guidelines for how to describe the experience or the object is going to work.

    An OMG Squee from a trusted and proven friend with my same tastes works just as well or even better than footnoted, annotated, “professional” review. A DNF with explanation can send me right for the one click.

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  6. Jane
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 10:52:52

    @Charming: I agree. The word review is tripping everyone up but what else to use? I think the definition is evolving. I have a book site where I post about books. And I say things about books. And I criticize them. What would someone call it?

    But even more importantly is that we don’t stifle discussion about books because we want to foster the community, keep them reading and talking about books instead of watching tv and talking about television shows or playing video games. Deeply embedded people within a community are the most passionate. Those voices should be fostered and cultivated.

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  7. JacquiC
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 11:02:36

    Great piece! This piece also makes me think that the authors who have been melting down in relation to negative reviews on blogs etc. should actually be embracing the whole “personal review” process. As a member of the “crossover” generation who grew up without Internet access and social media, but who is now relatively conversant in both, I find the readily available, diverse opinions about books to be a gift from the gods/goddesses. Authors, even small ones, have opportunities to gain exposure in ways that were simply not available before. And in the romance genre, where the personal “feel” of a book and its emotional appeal is so fundamental (as the first poster said), it has given me access to discussion about books that I would have absolutely LOVED to have had as a teenager when my mom was desperately trying to restrict my reading choices to something more serious and “literary”!!

    To me, the risk that this exposure is going to result in a few negative reactions (perhaps more than would otherwise have been available without the proliferation of blogs like DA) is just a small price to pay for the benefits of all the exposure.

    And reading romance is SUCH a personal experience that it should not be remotely surprising that some things work for some readers and some don’t. The best reviews in this context make the things that don’t work for the reader transparent to all those people who read the review. That is how the review-readers will judge whether they agree with the reviewer’s personal reaction or not.

    All I can say is that I have purchased and read far more books than I would otherwise have known about through reading sites like DA and SBTB. And I don’t only buy the ones that get the A or B reviews, depending on what the reviewer says. I am tremendously appreciative of the time that reviewers take to read these books carefully and write lengthy thoughtful comments about the book. I will absolutely buy a book that gets less than a B rating if the review identifies something that is likely to appeal to me, even though it didn’t appeal to the reviewer.

    On the other hand, I absolutely WON’T buy a book by an author who has a public, unprofessional hissy fit on-line over a less than favourable reaction from a reviewer/reader…

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  8. Robin/Janet
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 11:40:52

    @dick: I think Stiefvater’s perception of what constitutes an academic paper is wonky, but I agree with you that academic writing and review writing are not the same. For one thing, reviews are about evaluating quality and impact on the reader, while academic writing is more about how texts function and related issues. I think where some might draw a comparison is in the idea that academic writing is argumentative in nature (although not necessarily persuasive), requiring evidential support. However, I don’t think a review requires any of that to be called a review. Some readers may prefer those kinds of reviews, but sometimes I’ve seen authors respond more angrily to a well-supported review than to a drive-by.

    @Charming: I’m not sure it’s the actual word or what the word is supposed to represent. I think there are some who feel that certain types of reviews reflect better on the genre than others. And I think there might be an insecurity at work in wanting more “high quality” reviews, whatever those might be, as a way to reflect “higher quality” books. It’s easier to jump on the term “review,” but even if those who claim to want certain rules for reviews all got together to write those rules down, I’ll bet there would be more disagreement than agreement on precisely what they should be. It’s easy in the abstract to say ‘we think reviews should be x,’ and much more difficult to determine what x is in the wild. When I read these calls for review-shaping, I have two thoughts: a) authors should not be the ones making these calls, and b) it’s more about them and their issues than about reviews and reviewers.

    @Lazaraspaste: I think this is because for many legitimacy demands an elite. That to be legitimate is to be “in” and to be elite.
    I definitely agree that this is part of the push, and you see if in some of the terms being thrown around to discern the ‘real’ reviews. Would these same authors be happy if ALL books in their genre got these ‘real’ reviews, or should they just be spent on certain books (you know, the “good” ones, lol).

    As I said to Charming, though, I also think there’s some insecurity at work in this push, a fear that certain reviews do not represent the genre well, and a desire to create a rarified (or in your terms, elite) category of reviews that will shine a better light on the genre and its “best” books. However, I also suspect that an unspoken criteria in this category is that the reviews be largely positive, because oooh doggie have I seen authors go off at articulate and detailed negative reviews.

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  9. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 12:30:24

    When I read these calls for review-shaping, I have two thoughts: a) authors should not be the ones making these calls, and b) it’s more about them and their issues than about reviews and reviewers.

    I find your opinion interesting because I think the exact same thing about reviewers composing and publishing faulty reviews.

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  10. evie byrne
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 12:42:32

    Authors definitely should not be the ones making these sort of calls. Reviews are for readers. They serve authors secondarily. As an author I am grateful for every review I receive–long, short, good, bad–because it means someone has read my work and to me, that is a gift. You don’t complain about gifts. Or try to regulate or categorize them. The reader gave me hours of their lives reading my book. Hours which will not return. What more can I ask?

    Review are a further gift from the reader–she’s spent even more of her time writing up a review of my work. I read reviews of my work for two purposes: 1) to see if they give me hints on how to improve my craft and 2) to cull them for publicity purposes. Nothing is more helpful (if painful) than a well-considered negative review. I went to art school, so am used to critiques of my oh-so-precious artistic creations, so maybe that’s why I’m not terribly emotionally invested in reviews–and I’m boggled by writers who are. You can’t hope to please everyone all the time. It’s just not possible. Or maybe it’s because in school they beat us over the head with Barthes’ “Death of the Author.” As far as I’m concerned, the reader re-invents the text in the process of her reading. It becomes her own. I can’t control that and wouldn’t want to.

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  11. Cathy Burkholder
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 12:47:15

    Thanks for a really insightful post. This helped crystallize for me a few ideas which had been floating around in my head, but which I had struggled to put to words when trying to discuss them at the dinner table. I especially like the way you defined a review as a “re-viewing of the text through words.”

    Excuse me for a minute while I meditate on that simple, profound statement.

    I think another very useful thing you pointed out was how the term review is used very differently and broadly when applied to businesses and products outside of book publishing. Everybody understands that a the thing that Consumer Reports provides is a review and that thing that random people write on yelp is also a review, and people are perfectly able to differentiate between the two and use them in different ways.

    To take another term used widely outside of book reviews, we often use the term “critique” when we’re trying to examine and discuss something in a methodical and objective way. A review may be written in the form of a critique, and those that are may often be more useful than those that aren’t (although JacquiC makes a great point in that in some situations, a critique may not be the most useful format for readers to use as a guide to what they may enjoy reading).

    But either way – useful or not, biased or not – I’m glad that there’s no official reviewing governing body that judges whether a creation (whether book or review) is legitimate or not. That just makes me feel squeamish.

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  12. Ridley
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 12:49:27

    @Author on Vacation:

    I find your opinion interesting because I think the exact same thing about reviewers composing and publishing faulty reviews.

    I find your opinion interesting because I think the exact same thing about authors composing and publishing condescending comments on reader blogs.

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  13. Sunita
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 12:53:51

    I’ll dissent here a bit. I’m fine with “review” as an umbrella term describing all types of assessments. We do have other words that distinguish types: critique, analysis, evaluation. We pretty much agree that reports and summaries are not reviews.

    I don’t think authors or readers or other reviewers should be deciding what qualifies as a review. Anyone can make a judgment about a specific review and provide evidence to try and convince other people that they are right. But they’re still talking about a review, whether it’s a 2000-word job containing summary, critique, and analysis, or its entire text is “OMGWTFBBQ!!!”

    As long as the reviewer is expressing a sincerely held view, appears to have read the book, isn’t related to/BFF with the author, and doesn’t have a financial interest in book or author, I consider it legitimate. Whether it’s good, bad, or WTF is an entirely separate issue.

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  14. Renda
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 12:56:54

    I read for enjoyment. In order for me to enjoy a book, I need certain elements. If I can have a cheat sheet, if you will, in someone’s review (if that is what you kids are calling it these days), as to what the trope is or if an author has gone somewhere I don’t want to go, I feel all the more empowered to make the decision whether a particular read will be an enjoyable experience for me.

    Never having been a published author, I can’t know what they want in a review about their work. In reading Mr. Thompson’s piece, it seems that authors want us to intuit what their goals are in writing the book, want us to decide if they accomplished their personal goal in that writing and even want us to judge whether the goal was worthy. That just stuns me.

    If I were an author, having anyone else answer the above questions, in a review or not, would be far more offensive than having someone say “this book didn’t work for me,” and if that person were so kind as to say why, that would be a bonus.

    My mind is obviously too simplistic to grasp what Mr. Thompson is asking for from the reader.

    What I would ask is that people review what they want to review and how they want to review. There are as many different venues for reviews as there are reviews. I would hope the reader is smart enough to find the venue that provides the reviews they need for their personal edification.

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  15. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:00:15

    @evie byrne:

    I agree reviews are for readers. This assertion begs the question, “What do reviewers owe readers?”

    As a reviewer, I feel I owe readers an honest, clearly written account as to my perspectives on a book’s merits and flaws.

    I believe I owe it to readers to be as accurate as possible in reviewing a work. I mean, let’s get real. If a reviewer can’t even remember the names of the main characters and report accurately on the book’s dialogue, action, and other plot elements, how can it be said the reviewer is doing right by readers?

    The quickest way a reviewer can put me off (as a reader) is a display of ignorance or obvious courtship of drama.

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  16. JL
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:03:56

    Wow, it’s rare that I so strongly agree with the original post and the majority of comments. JacquiC and Lazaraspaste, especially well said.

    I’ll add is that if authors want to only define ‘reviews’ as something rather limited (which is fine), then only read those types of reviews! Why bother reading reviews and responding to them if you don’t consider them legitimate reviews. See, us readers, we’re pretty smart. We’ll figure out what type of reviews work for us and which don’t. We’ll read those. Most of us aren’t blindly obedient to anything we see written on the web. Some of want thoughtful, evidence-supported discussions, some of us want fan-girl/boy squeeing or bashing. Some of us want snarky and some of us don’t. All is legitimate if it helps the reader decide what to buy.

    Just like I don’t need anyone knocking at my door and telling me what religion to choose or what credit card to buy, I don’t need authors telling me how to decide whether or not to buy a book!

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  17. JL
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:05:31

    Umm, I should have added that I don’t need anyone – not just authors, but other readers, reviewers or whatever – telling me what kind of review should work for me.

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  18. MrsJoseph
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:09:08

    All of this kerfuffle has made me delve back into my time in academia and criticism. There is this interesting critical theory of literary interpretation: the Reader-Response:
    “Most reader-response critics have little interest in authors or their intended meanings. The poem exists now. It affects us now. These, they claim, are the crucial facts, and any relevant criticism must be built on them.”

    SNIP

    “Not only do poems exist independently of their authors, they are almost always valued independently of their original contexts.”

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  19. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:13:46

    @JL:

    I’ll add is that if authors want to only define ‘reviews’ as something rather limited (which is fine), then only read those types of reviews!

    There are many different types of cakes in this world. Most cake recipes can be adjusted, ingredients substituted, and so on to create lots of different types and flavors of cakes. However, at some point, if you take away too many of the basic ingredients, it’s not a cake anymore. And no amount of protesting that it really is a cake, too many people are “cake snobs,” etc. will make the non-cake an actual cake.

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  20. Meoskop
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:23:08

    Exactly! Author on Vacation is so right! Sometimes it turns out you’ve written a movie review or a music review!

    It’s really not complicated. Book + Opinion = Review.

    Might not be to your taste, might want to spit it out, but it will always and forever be a review.

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  21. Ridley
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:24:52

    @Author on Vacation: That’s a terrible metaphor.

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  22. MrsJoseph
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:27:30

    It’s interesting that Author on Vaca seems to be most concerned that we don’t start writing a review and end up with a cake. Right. No baking while writing a review.

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  23. JL
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:33:53

    @Author on Vacation:
    Sure, there’s a grain of truth to that, but we still have to decide what that ‘basic ingredient’ (or ‘core element’) is, what absolutely cannot be taken away. We don’t all agree on what that is, to be sure. To me, it’s ‘is this a comment of the reviewer’s experience with the book?’. To you it might be someone else. Who is right?

    Sticking with the cake analogy, what are those basic ingredients? Is it flour, butter, butter, sugar? Is it the pan it’s baked in? Some cakes have butter and sugar but no flour. Some have no butter or sugar, blah blah blah, and we still call them cakes. Not to mention those same basic ingredients can make a cookie or a bread or whatever. Maybe there is a collective of basic ingredients that can be used to make up a cake, just as there are some core elements that make up a review. As long as enough of a satisfactory combination of those elements are present to satisfy the taster and or reader, why do we need someone else telling us that it’s not a cake or a review?

    None of this changes the fact that I’m a grown woman, well educated and well read, and can make my own decisions about what **I** want out of a review. Personally, I hate snarky reviews. So I don’t read them. They don’t affect my reading choices. I love gushing reviews if the gushing is explained coherently. That’s **my** preference. No matter how many times authors tell me what the ‘rules’ are, my answer is going to be ‘f*ck you, I’ll decide for myself.’ I don’t think anyone cares what anyone else thinks is a good review, even if there was some holy standard delivered to us from on high. We’re still going to gravitate to what works for us.

    I don’t understand why this is such a mind-blowing concept to so many authors out there?

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  24. JL
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:39:05

    @Author on Vacation:
    And again, my point stands, despite the cake analogy. If it’s not a review by your definition, then don’t get buggered about it. Easy peasy.

    This may be waaaay of base and way to generalizing, but it seems like authors want to be able to discern a line between ‘proper reviews’ and ‘non-reviews’ so that they can dismiss the latter as bashing and try to steer readers away from that. There must be some ego involved in the sense of ‘if they were objective and understood my book, there’s no way they would call it crap’. If I’m wrong, then I don’t get what the big deal is. Even ‘bad/improper reviews’ are a tool that brings exposure to books and helps readers decide whether to purchase books. The impact and the purpose is the same, just different audiences.

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  25. Fred LeBaron
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:41:39

    Thanks so much for a very thoughtful article. I can’t help but think that the problem is just that some people enjoy being mean in a funny way, and I find it hard to fault authors – sensitive, creative people – for being hurt by that and wanting to react defensively. Then it all spirals out of control and everyone gets hurt feelings over a situation where a little politeness and courtesy in the first place would have gone a long ways.

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  26. Janine
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:43:35

    @evie byrne:

    You can’t hope to please everyone all the time. It’s just not possible.

    Agreed and this is such a basic and universal truth that I honestly don’t understand why some authors don’t seem to get it.

    As far as I’m concerned, the reader re-invents the text in the process of her reading. It becomes her own. I can’t control that and wouldn’t want to.

    I agree with this too. Interesting how art school was one of the things that drummed this into you. I had a similar experience in a writing workshop (one of several that I took) when the author teaching the class said that for readers to have differing interpretations of the text was a good thing because it was a sign that their imaginations were engaging with the material, which is what we as writers want. I’m very grateful to have heard that because it stuck with me and taught me something valuable.

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  27. Ridley
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:44:42

    @Fred LeBaron: An author’s hurt feelings aren’t my problem.

    You take my money, you get my unvarnished reaction.

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  28. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:54:01

    @Meoskop:

    It’s really not complicated. Book + Opinion = Review.

    Might not be to your taste, might want to spit it out, but it will always and forever be a review.

    Exactly right. And bogus reviews are and always will be forever bogus reviews. Such as when a review is written by someone who never read the book (but conveniently refrains from acknowledging that important fact and just attempts to BS his/her way through the review process.) Or when the reviewer read the book, but fails to recall all the pertinent details and elements of the book.

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  29. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:55:44

    @Ridley:

    BS, you give your unvarnished reaction to anybody whether they’ve got your money or not.

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  30. Sofia Harper
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:57:31

    @Janet

    “On the authorial side we’ve seen the assertion that there is a certain type of review that deserves to be called a “review,” and there are certain “professional standards” said “review” must meet, else it becomes something else, something decidedly lesser. “

    Most definitely some authors were very condescending. Although I may not necessarily agree that reviews should have some sort of hierarchy, it exists anyway. Mainly because we’re human and we have biases. Let’s take Susie Q’s “I loved this book and here’s why…” posted on Amazon vs. a review from The New York Times. Because it’s the New York Freaking Times does it make Susie Q’s review less valid or illegitimate? Absolutely not.

    Some people will take Susie Q’s word over NYT, because, again, they’re human and have biases. Some people will go THE NEW YORK FREAKING TIMES!!!! End of literary review death match. There’s a hierarchy with book bloggers and reviewers. There’s a hierarchy with Amazon reviews versus any other place on the web. It’s there and it’ll always be there. I don’t think it means the review is better or holds less value in and of itself. For that person that review has more weight or less weight.

    “But perhaps even more importantly, why would we want to stifle the precise thing that makes reading so powerful to so many of us – the enduring promise of that alchemical magic – for the sake of formalities?”

    Here’s where I have to disagree, because I can’t take the leap with you. I don’t see how defining what a review is or isn’t somehow stifles discussion of books. Some people define romance as nothing but trashy porn. RWA defines romance as something entirely different. Not once has either definition stopped me or anyone in Romancelandia from discussing the romance genre. I can even take the latest debates here about whether or not authors should comment on their reviews. Is that not a formality? Yet the savvy author will move that discussion to their website, blog, forum and/or chat room. I honestly don’t believe slapping a label on something somehow changes people’s discourse. (At least when we’re talking about discussions on the Internet.)

    To sum up, is it asinine to try to define a review? Yup, because a review is not a one size fits all. Hell, no one can even agree what should be considered a review. Does a hierarchy exist nonetheless? Absolutely and that changes based on who you talk to. Are they wrong to have one? Nope, because it’s an opinion and no one else has to agree with it.

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  31. DS
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 13:57:34

    Before social networking people who loved books would engage in conversations in book stores and libraries (2 or 3 people at once) that was not that much different from the comments at Amazon and Goodreads. It’s just that we didn’t have the author looking over our shoulder. And yes, we said snarky things about books then.

    I’m glad that snarky reviews are now available on the net because I enjoy them. Twain on Fenimore Cooper always gets a laugh out of me no matter how many times I read it. I thought Twain hit everything that made Cooper’s writing painful to read.

    I think sensitive creative people should avoid reading reviews of their work if it’s going to upset them. They cannot control what other people write but they can control what they read. .

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  32. Renda
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:01:48

    Keep your cake and give me the icing. That’s really all I want. It is that way in reviews, too. I don’t need depth. I don’t want you to tell me what/how I should feel/experience. Tell me the basic ingredients are there and I will decide for myself if I want to indulge.

    ETA: And by that I mean I don’t want the cook telling me what I should be tasting in the icing. I can find its nuances myself.

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  33. Ready, Set, Stir the pot……. | Redneck Romance Writer
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:03:04

    [...] had too much time on my hands lately. But I wanted to comment on this ongoing 2012 issue. CHECK THIS OUT As you can see from the various links on Dear Author, several discussions about reviews and authors [...]

  34. Liz Mc2
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:07:15

    I read this early in the morning and thought, “Yay, something positive about the role of reviewing that won’t inspire yet another go-round of what is/is not a ‘legitimate’ review!” By the time I get back to comment . . . bwahaha, silly me. There IS no other conversation about reviews, apparently.

    I really appreciate your point, Robin, about reviews as a way to share our private, personal reactions to books more widely (lots of people I “know” online say that like me, they don’t really have offline friends to talk to about books, or Romance), and the way that gives life to our reading. I wouldn’t say that reviews never influence my buying decisions–they are a major way I hear about books–but I seek them out mostly because I’m curious about other people’s thoughts and responses to their reading, not as a buying guide. For that reason, I like longer, more reflective and personal reviews, so I look for reviewers who write that way (I don’t much care if there’s a summary of the book, as those are easy to find elsewhere online). That doesn’t mean I think other kinds of reviews are illegitimate.

    What often gets left out of this discussion is that reviewers are WRITERS, with their own purpose and audience. Readers can decide for themselves whether they wish to be the audience for a particular review. If you don’t like snark or LOLcats, click away. If you require description + critique + evidence, look for those. And like every other reader on this thread, I think review readers are pretty capable of discerning when a reviewer has not read or paid attention to the book. There is not (usually) ONLY ONE REVIEW, and even if there were, it does not determine EVERYONE’S response to the book FOR ALL TIME. I don’t really get why there is so much drama over one “bad” (incompetent by some definition) or negative review.

    I find it particularly ironic when self-published authors try to dictate what reviews should be (and yes, I know they are not the only ones who do this, by a long shot). You bypass gatekeepers for your book, and then try to gatekeep reviews? What hypocrisy.

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  35. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:09:45

    @JL:

    Sure, there’s a grain of truth to that, but we still have to decide what that ‘basic ingredient’ (or ‘core element’) is, what absolutely cannot be taken away. We don’t all agree on what that is, to be sure. To me, it’s ‘is this a comment of the reviewer’s experience with the book?’. To you it might be someone else. Who is right?

    Hi, JL. Yes, I agree. It goes back to my earlier question: what do reviewers owe readers (their audience?)

    Do they owe honesty? Clarity? Competence? Accuracy? Or should they just be free to say anything they want?

    If I review Alcott’s “Little Women” and inform my audience that it’s a contemporary YA novel chronicling the lives of 4 biracial half-brothers growing up in one of the meanest ‘hoods in Chicago, have I done right by my audience?

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  36. Meoskop
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:10:35

    @Author on Vacation: reads it but fails to recall pertinent details?

    Oh, nice trolling. I’m going to disengage with a nice slow golf clap. When you are claiming a review can be invalidated on the basis of perception of reader comprehension, you’ve shown your hand.

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  37. Janine
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:11:10

    @Sofia Harper:

    Some people define romance as nothing but trashy porn. RWA defines romance as something entirely different. Not once has either definition stopped me or anyone in Romancelandia from discussing the romance genre.

    I think you’re wrong there, as well as about reviews. It’s easy to forget for those of us who have found a supportive online community where our romance reading is positively reinforced, but some are surrounded by siblings, parents, coworkers, friends and others who look down on and denigrate the genre as trashy porn or even just something very much inferior to “literature.”

    And I do think not everyone has the self-confidence to stand up to that disapproval, especially when it comes in person and from those close to them or when it feels unanimous. I remember being too intimidated as a teen and a college student to admit to some friends that I loved romances much less discuss the books publicly.

    By the same token, I think reviewers, especially young ones like those in the YA community, can also be intimidated into silence — something that isn’t good for not just for the conversations we enjoy but also for our ability to discover books we might adore, and therefore, for authors’ sales too.

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  38. Janine
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:17:31

    @Liz Mc2:

    What often gets left out of this discussion is that reviewers are WRITERS, with their own purpose and audience. Readers can decide for themselves whether they wish to be the audience for a particular review. If you don’t like snark or LOLcats, click away. If you require description + critique + evidence, look for those.

    YA author Veronica Roth said this really well in the blog post Robin/Janet linked to above:

    The problem is, when authors have difficulty navigating this strange and often difficult dynamic, they often call for reviewers to change their reviewing style. Some reviewers go for the straightforward, polite book review. Some go for humorous rants involving .gifs. Some go for not-so-humorous rants. And sometimes authors want to say, I’m okay with negative reviews, but you can write them the first way, because that’s the easiest kind to take.

    Here’s the thing: that is not at all fair. If someone told me I had to write in the beautiful, lyrical style of Laini Taylor, I would say, “…but I can’t DO that. That’s just not how I write!” As writers, we should know that style is hard to change, and that if you try, you sometimes won’t enjoy writing anymore. Reviewers have different styles, that cater to those who love heated debates, or to those who love to poke fun at things, or to those who prefer straightforward analysis– in other words, reviewers are writing what their readers respond to, just like we are. And we don’t get to tell them they have to change that style. We can debate about where the lines between personal attack/libel and review are (and I’m not going to do that here), but we don’t get to say “these kinds of reviews are not okay.”

    Her entire post can be found here.

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  39. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:18:42

    @Meoskop:

    *shrugs* Whatever.

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  40. MrsJoseph
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:22:25

    @Janine: I agree! I was one of those teens, too.

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  41. JL
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:24:18

    @Author on Vacation:
    Depends on what your audience wants. You don’t owe your readers anything as a reviewer. If no one responds well to your review, then they won’t visit your blog or good reads page or whatever. It’s already pretty self-regulating without all this hullabaloo over what is or isn’t a proper review. Besides, some reviewers may get all the ‘facts’ wrong, but they still get to own their reactions of love/hate/meh toward a book. As long as the readers of those reviews find value in that, then it’s no one else’s business. If you personally don’t, then don’t bother visiting those sites. I don’t read reviews that don’t work for me. None of this changes the fact that it’s no one’s business to tell me what reviewers I should or shouldn’t be reading and what books I should or shouldn’t be spending my money and time on.

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  42. JL
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:32:54

    @Author on Vacation:
    Another addition because I’m clearly typing to fast and not thinking my posts through (sorry!):
    I tend to read very fast (>250 books per year) and often when I’m tired. This is a reality of my life. But, I like books with a modicum of intelligence, but that are light reading (yay genre fiction!). So, I actually don’t give a darn if the reviewer mistakes a few pertinent details, since I often do the same, as long as I know the story is still coherent when one reads the books in rapid fire time. I don’t think most reviewers that I frequent have a problem being told they misspelled a name or what not in the comments section. But again, if a reviewer is egregiously bad at this, they are not likely to have many followers, so no big deal if the review trashes your book. If they do have many followers, then those followers are clearly getting something worthwhile from those reviews and you aren’t likely to change their minds by saying ‘but wait, this review is improper!’

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  43. Liz Mc2
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:33:04

    @Author on Vacation: I don’t think your extreme Little Women example is very helpful. Alcott isn’t going to be harmed by that review (whether it’s posted out of ignorance or ass-hattery or whatever), because Little Women has over 500 Amazon reviews, movie versions, etc. etc. A reader isn’t likely to read just that review and come away with a mistaken impression of Little Women. Is this really the kind of “bad” review you’re objecting to?

    When authors use an example like that, I assume (perhaps wrongly), that they are really worried about some rival author or said author’s fan posting such a review of THEIR book, which does NOT have 500 Amazon reviews.

    The Alcott review you describe is factually wrong. Alcott fans will downvote it. In my opinion, a factually wrong review is when it’s OK for Alcott to rise from the grave and post a polite correction of the FACTS (not a reader’s opinion or interpretation). So . . . what are YOU really worried about or objecting to?

    @Janine: Oh, yes, I’d read that and forgotten that part. Thanks!

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  44. JacquiC
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:34:28

    After reading all the comments above, I’m having a LOT of trouble seeing how it is possible to define rules for what is a legitimate “review” and what is not. There may be some basic principles that everyone could agree on — it’s not a summary of the book, it’s not a personal attack on the author (and don’t get me wrong, a negative or even a snarky review of a BOOK with no negative comments about who the author is as a person is not, in any way shape or form, a personal attack on the author), and it should be generated by someone who has read the book. Maybe there might be one or two more basics, but other than that, I don’t get it. How is it possible to define a real “review” beyond this?

    Sure, there may be hierarchies in terms of the publications or forums where reviews are aired or published. The New York Times or an academic journal might seem to be at a more “elite” end of the spectrum and Goodreads or Amazon or Twitter to be at the other, but I see no utility (and actually some harm) in trying to define the “elite” end of the spectrum as “true” reviews and the social network end as illegitimate.

    In any event, the hierarchy may have more to do with the types of material that are reviewed in various forums, and the expectation of formality in some places as opposed to others. Call me crazy, but when was the last time the New York Times reviewed a category romance? Let’s face it, romance is not going to be “reviewed” in an academic journal either, unless the critic is trying to make a more overarching academic point about romance. That may have its place, but I’m not interested in that when I’m looking at the vast array of purchasable romance titles on my Kindle.

    I don’t see any utility in requiring all so-called “reviews” to take the same approach that a reviewer for the NYT or an academic journal would take. Anyway, I’m not even sure how you would articulate the way that should translate in the context of a review of a category romance (for example) or an erotic romance.

    I also really fail to see how an author’s “hurt feelings” are relevant to the tone of a review. As long as the review is not attacking the author as a person and is criticizing only the book, the author’s hurt feelings because the person does not like the book and/or is moved to say something snarky about it should be irrelevant. If the author doesn’t want to allow free reactions of this kind, I think the answer is simple. Don’t publish. Keep your book away from the eyes of readers. Or only show it to your best friends who are obligated not to hurt your feelings.

    I truly suspect that the impetus behind this whole drive to define what a legitimate review can be and to establish ‘rules’ is a thinly disguised attempt to make a rule that says “you can only review a book if you’re going to say nice things about it.” Even though true academic reviews and reviews in respected publications like the NYT are frequently negative, and actually can be quite devastatingly unfavourable if you read carefully…

    OK, I think I’ve gone on long enough about this!

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  45. reader
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:38:58

    @Author on Vacation:

    Sounds like someone isn’t getting the sort of reviews she thinks she deserves. Maybe you’re spending a wee bit too much time on vacation?

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  46. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:39:09

    @JL:

    So …

    It depends upon what a reviewer’s audience wants; and

    Reviewers don’t owe readers anything; and

    As long as readers assign value to a review (even if the reviewer has sloppy recall and does not report on the content accurately) it’s no one else’s business.

    Okay. So it sounds like what you’re saying is that reviewers are free to be as irresponsible as they like and still deserve to be placed beyond criticism of their peers. As long as whatever they post makes them popular?

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  47. Ridley
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:49:15

    @Author on Vacation:

    So it sounds like what you’re saying is that reviewers are free to be as irresponsible as they like and still deserve to be placed beyond criticism of their peers.

    Authors aren’t a reviewer’s peers. Reviewers are free to review other reviewers. It’s authors who need to STFU.

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  48. JL
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:00:48

    @Author on Vacation:
    yep, if reviewers and their readers are engaged in a mutually beneficial on-line relationship, and those who don’t like the reviews can simply vote with their feet (so to speak) and go elsewhere, then yes. It’s none of your business if you don’t like it and don’t consider it proper reviewing. We all wear our big-girl panties, we don’t need ‘criticism of our peers’ (whatever that means in this context) to tell us we are screwing up by enjoying ‘improper reviews’. If we decide, as readers, that a reviewer isn’t to our personal taste, we really don’t need authors to step in and save us. That’s just a wee bit condescending, no? Just a touch?

    I’m getting tempted to start drawing parallels to debates about ‘proper’ definitions of marriage. If it isn’t hurting anyone, and it’s beneficial to those involved, who gives a darn what anyone else thinks? At least when it comes to reviews, this debate is mostly in vain anyway since there isn’t (to my knowledge) any way of stopping reviewers and their followers for engaging in their mutually beneficial, non-harmful relationships!

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  49. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:04:03

    @Liz Mc2:

    So . . . what are YOU really worried about or objecting to?

    Nothing at all. Any reviewer willing to display his/her own ignorance is perfectly free to do just that. I am free not to take them seriously and I am free to dismiss all their reviews as rubbish.

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  50. Sofia Harper
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:06:26

    @ Janet “I think you’re wrong there, as well as about reviews. ”

    In regards to a personal hierarchy or that having unwritten rules about authors commenting being a formality? Both?

    “By the same token, I think reviewers, especially young ones like those in the YA community, can also be intimidated into silence — something that isn’t good for not just for the conversations we enjoy but also for our ability to discover books we might adore, and therefore, for authors’ sales too. ”

    I’m drawing a line in my head between having an opinion and using intimidation to stifle others. It may be a thin line to some. Absolutely if someone is throwing their weight around (sending emails calling someone a cow, having fans down voting reviews etc.) that does create an unwelcome atmosphere for those who aren’t confident. For those who are too.

    “And I do think not everyone has the self-confidence to stand up to that disapproval, especially when it comes in person and from those close to them or when it feels unanimous.”

    Again, I can agree. I’m the only person in my family who reads romance. Maybe even who has ever read a romance novel. It can feel very isolating. But often times, of course IMHO, when someone’s opinion differs from yours (yours in a universal sense) that in and of itself comes across as intimidation. I’ve seen it on both sides. And on both sides that’s where people lose me.

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  51. Sofia Harper
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:08:54

    I meant to @ Janine in my reply.

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  52. Krista
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:09:33

    Okay I think we can all agree that reviews should be written by someone who actually read the parts of the book they are reviewing (I think this is what Author on Vacation is trying to say… although I could be wrong.)

    I think the point of the original post (and again I could be wrong) is that outside of the unsaid rules of reviewing ANYTHING (i.e. don’t review a curling iron and say it doesn’t work if you never bothered to plug it in and try it), there are those that think reviews should have work cited pages, or those that think reviewers shouldn’t talk about grammer and punctuation, or those that think reviewers shouldn’t review a book they didn’t like. And that’s what the original post is calling BS on. Reviews come in all shapes and sizes and all have the potential to help the reader (who is not stupid and knows how to tell reviews apart from those that can help them decide to purchase the books from those they would not help them) determine which books to read and which to avoid.

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  53. MrsJoseph
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:12:46

    @Krista: I agree!

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  54. Liz Mc2
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:14:42

    @Author on Vacation:
    “Any reviewer willing to display his/her own ignorance is perfectly free to do just that. I am free not to take them seriously and I am free to dismiss all their reviews as rubbish.”

    Right. So why do you need to keep coming on here and telling the rest of us which kinds of reviews WE should dismiss as rubbish? Do you really not trust readers to make those decisions for themselves? And I agree with Ridley that readers are free to comment on, criticize, and disagree with reviews. Authors may do so too, when they’re commenting simply as readers of a book, rather than the book’s author (except to correct facts, if they really must), author’s sock-puppet or author’s author-pal.

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  55. Lazaraspaste
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:19:26

    @Robin/Janet: Insecurity is certainly an issue. It seems to me that the drive to create a definition based upon exclusion (what a review is not) as opposed to a definition of inclusion (what a thing is), is at the very heart of elitism.

    And as a general response to the discussion so far: Elitism defines itself by what it does not include. To limit the expression of people’s personal and subjective reactions to an art not only limits discussions of the text, of the art but also curbs discussions about the underlying value systems and structures that art is invariably about. It also limits what can and cannot be called art. Setting out rules to reviewing is a way of limiting or eliminating dissenting opinions about art and the values and ideologies that art is about. It privileges those texts and those texts about texts (reviews) which conform to their rules. It also privileges a certain class of people: the people who decide what is and isn’t a review. It doesn’t matter if authors or reviewers or readers are doing this–the attempt is still suspicious.

    I think Robin’s point is: allowing for a space in which people can have conversations about books is both vital and re-vitalizing to the book. It creates a second pleasure after the first pleasure of the act of reading. Writers want to talk about books just as much as readers do. Writers are readers, just as reviewers are both readers and writers. These are not fixed identities. We all slide between them. But as soon as some decide that there are fixed “rules” to these conversations all it does is serve to leave certain people out of that conversation and certain art forms out of the conversation.

    It seems to me that @Author on Vacation is articulating the fear that somehow without a proper or legitimate definition of a review that people will somehow be unable to discern for themselves the value of a book or even the value of a review. But I think the conversation–a vital, rich, multifaceted, many opinioned conversation–itself creates the ability for people to discern the value of any given critique or review or book.

    It can be scary to operate without fixed definitions, without fixed “rules” but it is ultimately much more rewarding, IMO.

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  56. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:20:44

    @Ridley:

    Authors aren’t a reviewer’s peers. Reviewers are free to review other reviewers. It’s authors who need to STFU.

    I don’t believe you. I think the truth is reviewers need authors to STFU for their own reasons.

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  57. Laura
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:24:31

    On the subject of reviews in which the reviewer doesn’t seem to remember much about the book: I’ve written that review. Know why? I was so completely bored by the book that when I sat down to write my review, I couldn’t remember much of it. I dozed off too many times. Unsurprisingy, that was a DNF. Does this make the review invalid? I would say no. I’d also like to point out that this was for a very popuar book written by a very popular author. This book has a WAY higher average rating on Amazon than the score I gave it. But I wrote the review for people like me who might have tastes like mine and who might like to avoid wasting their time like I did. Doesn’t mean all those positive reviews were wrong. Just means we have different tastes.

    Also in regard to taste: I happen to like the style of reviews on SBTB and DA, so I read them. I guess if people get their feelings hurt, you can call me and the rest of the people who read, enjoy, and comment on these blogs bitches. Hell, it’s in the title of SBTB. But if you’re that sensitive, the world, let alone the internet, is probably a pretty tough place for you. The idea of establishing gatekeepers in the anarchy of the internet = ludicrous.

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  58. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:26:55

    @Liz Mc2:

    So why do you need to keep coming on here and telling the rest of us which kinds of reviews WE should dismiss as rubbish? Do you really not trust readers to make those decisions for themselves?

    Sorry, I can’t answer to these charges because I’m not doing what you claim I’m doing.

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  59. Michelle
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:32:29

    Author on Vacation-care to post links to your reviews so the poor, uneducated masses can see what a “real” review looks like?

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  60. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:33:55

    @reader: Zing! I couldn’t agree more.

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  61. Janine
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:35:42

    @Sofia Harper:

    In regards to a personal hierarchy or that having unwritten rules about authors commenting being a formality? Both?

    I was disagreeing with this statement:

    I don’t see how defining what a review is or isn’t somehow stifles discussion of books.

    You then said that opinions about what the romance genre is (“trashy porn,” etc.) don’t stifle discussions of the genre. I disagreed with that statement as well, and went on to explain why.

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  62. Frekki
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:37:35

    @Author on Vacation: What are you doing then? Because I really don’t get it. You’re throwing up ridiculous examples about Louisa May Alcott and dismissing the value of reviewers in general. If you don’t think reviewers are important, why are you in this discussion?

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  63. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:40:33

    @Michelle: Michelle, I’m afraid I don’t understand your question.

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  64. Laura Vivanco
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:40:42

    @JacquiC:

    Let’s face it, romance is not going to be “reviewed” in an academic journal either, unless the critic is trying to make a more overarching academic point about romance.

    Teaching American Literature: A Journal of Theory and Practice Special Issue Spring/Summer 2008 Volume 2 Issue 2/3 (a pdf of the whole issue can be downloaded from here) featured essays on Suzanne Brockmann, Jennifer Crusie, Janet Evanovich, Beverly Jenkins, Rosemary Rogers and Amanda Scott and there were plenty of chunks of those essays which read to me like mini reviews.

    I’d agree, though, that this is rather unusual. On the whole, academic journals devoted to the study of literature tend to limit their reviews to non-fiction.

    I know that when Maggie Stiefvater wrote that “A review is an unbiased, careful look at a book — basically it is a little academic paper” she was thinking about academic papers about history, but academic papers about literature are almost always “literary criticism,” which is not the same thing as a “review.” For one thing, the author of a work of “literary criticism” will generally be able to assume that their audience has already read the work(s) under discussion.

    However, although I’d agree that it’s unlikely we’ll see many reviews of romance novels in academic journals, I think we are going to be seeing increasing amounts of literary criticism of romance novels. I disagree with Dick that a romance novel

    as a whole eludes formal criticism of the academic sort, because with romance fiction, whether the reader liked it or didn’t like it as a whole, regardless whether all the other elements of fiction in it were excellent, remains the ultimate criticism

    I think one can do plenty of “formal criticism of the academic sort” of romance fiction. There’s a bibliography of it here.

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  65. JacquiC
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 15:52:59

    I am tempted to weigh in again. Quite apart from the fact that it seems impossible, futile and potentially harmful to try to control reader reactions and to require them to be expressed in particular ways, I also think it is harmful to authors and to the creative process (and to the ability to grow personally as an author) to take the position that there are reviews you can legitimately ignore without even looking at them because they are somehow dismissible as “non-reviews”. To me, one of the most important things about personal growth as an author (or as an artist of any kind) is to hear what others have to say.

    You might ultimately disagree with reviewers or with particular comments, or think that the reviewers have missed the point. That’s up to you. But I personally think that if I read a comment that indicates that a person sees what I’ve written in a way that I totally don’t see and didn’t intend, I’m going to spend some time worrying about whether I’ve conveyed the message in the way that I thought I had. I might ultimately conclude that I have, or that I can’t control how others perceive it, or that I don’t care, but I will still get something out of the process of considering whether there is anything for me to legitimately take into account in the next book (or painting or sculpture or movie or poem or whatever). I wouldn’t have benefited from this process if I’d simply dismissed the commentary as a “non-review” which is not worth reading.

    Nobody says this process is a comfortable one or that commentators have to make it a comfortable experience for the creator. It might require you to face things about your creation that you didn’t see before (I use the generic “you” here). But, and this is just my perspective, I think really good (maybe even great) artists are those who are willing to experience a LOT of discomfort in the interests of pursuing artistic growth. And even if the ultimate goal is to make money, not great art, I’m still of the view that it is necessary to keep an open mind regarding feedback from the “market” because that is what will ultimately dictate commercial success.

    And I totally agree with everything laraspaste said in post 55 above!

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  66. MrsJoseph
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 16:03:44

    @Laura Vivanco: There’s an entire website where academics critique romance. I can not remember the name of the site to save my life right now.

    That site does exactly what a lot of authors have claimed they want: critical reviews. The funny thing is – as soon as they got critical the authors started piling on about how “it was just a book.”

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  67. JacquiC
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 16:04:55

    @Laura

    “I think one can do plenty of “formal criticism of the academic sort” of romance fiction”

    I totally agree. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think much of this was occurring when I was a teenager/university student in the early 80s. If it had been, I might have been able to point my academic mother in this direction when she was ridiculing my reading choices! Given her biases, academic commentary about romance might have made her respect it more.

    I guess I think that the formal criticism performs a somewhat different function to the simpler review which is intended to convey to the reader at a more personal level whether the book is worth reading or not. There may be some overlap in the categories here (and it may be that some readers won’t want to read a romance unless someone can point out a more intellectual point or message that can be obtained from a particular book or a particular type of book, or whatever). However, all of this seems to me to be grist for the mill, as it were, and to be equally legitimate commentary or discourse. Not that I think you are disagreeing with this point or anything — just thinking about what you said and trying to work out what I think in response…

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  68. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 16:19:01

    @JacquiC:

    I also think it is harmful to authors and to the creative process (and to the ability to grow personally as an author) to take the position that there are reviews you can legitimately ignore without even looking at them because they are somehow dismissible as “non-reviews”.

    I’d have to say that depends upon the review.

    If a reviewer publishes something like, “I thought the beginning of this book was okay, but my life is just too busy for me to keep reading it and I had to put it down to deal with other stuff…” there’s not an awful lot to learn from that except that the reviewer was too busy to read the book. (P.S. — that comment is paraphrased from a review I read at Goodreads.)

    This review made a dramatic impression on me because I considered it very sloppy and the reviewer is a published author. Although I’ve never read any of the author/reviewer’s work and had no real interest in the genre the author/reviewer writes, this author is on my “do not buy” list because the author elected to assign a low rating and sloppy excuse to someone else’s work because the author decided s/he was too busy to finish the read. I figure if the author is capable of treating someone else’s work this way, there’s little point in expecting a better standard in his/her own books. I think s/he’d be just as likely to stand up readers if s/he decides s/he’s “too busy,” or “too tired,” or “too uninterested” in what s/he’s writing to give his/her work (and his/her readers) the effort they deserve.

    This is what I mean by bogus reviewing.

    That said, a book does take on a new life through the eyes and minds of readers and it can be very exciting to see where that goes.

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  69. MrsJoseph
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 16:23:53

    I wonder what the reaction would be if someone really did an academic critique of some of the works of the authors that have been hollering for them [academic critiques]. I remember getting into a knock-down, drag out fight (that culminated in me getting an “F” on a paper) with a professor over a critique of The Awakening by Kate Chopin. IIRC the critique stated that a careful reading of the book would show the MC had a decided Electra Complex. ??!

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  70. Liz Mc2
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 16:26:45

    @Author on Vacation: Well, you started by saying there are some kinds of reviews that YOU don’t consider “legitimate,” which is totally fine (lots of other people, including me, said some kinds of review were not interesting or useful to them). But before long you were saying, by analogy, there was a recipe, and if a review didn’t have the key ingredients, it wasn’t a review. I doubt I’m the only one who took your questions at #35 to be rhetorical. Your tone implied to me that everyone should agree with you that all reviews that did not meet these criteria are “bogus.” Your straw (Little) woman argument also seemed meant to establish that OF COURSE your view of what was “bogus” was the only reasonable one. So yeah, I read your comments as defining a “legitimate” review not just for yourself and your own purposes as reader and reviewer, but for everyone else. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

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  71. Fred LeBaron
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 16:34:05

    @Ridley: Well, then, bless your heart!

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  72. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 16:34:54

    @Liz Mc2:

    But before long you were saying, by analogy, there was a recipe, and if a review didn’t have the key ingredients, it wasn’t a review. I doubt I’m the only one who took your questions at #35 to be rhetorical.

    Please don’t assume I ever speak for anybody except myself when I comment. Anybody on this planet happy with reviews I consider “bogus” is welcome to his/her happiness.

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  73. Liz Mc2
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 16:46:58

    @Author on Vacation: Obviously I have spent too long commenting on students’ argument essays. But if you don’t want people to assume you are pronouncing for all rather than just speaking for yourself, maybe you should rethink some of your argument strategies. Because reader responses (not just mine) are that they feel you are making pronouncments and condescending to us. Your saying you didn’t mean that doesn’t change the fact that your words affected some readers that way.

    I pointed out WHY I interpreted your words as I did, and I think my interpretation is reasonable and legitimate. You told me not to “assume” you meant them that way, but you offer no counter-evidence except assertion that that’s not what you meant. Which is really, in microcosm, an example of what happens when authors come on review threads to debate readers’ interpretations. And now, to everyone’s relief, I will shut up.

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  74. DM
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 16:54:31

    @ Author on Vacation

    The only standard of legitimacy that applies to reviewers is whether or not their readers/viewers find their opinions helpful. The majority of film critics who review for newspapers get details about films wrong all the time. Many lack the technical knowledge to comment critically about sound, editing, and cinematography, but do so anyway. Filmmakers aren’t usually bothered by this–we know the reviews aren’t for us–they’re for our potential audience. Films, books, and other forms of narrative entertainment are essentially vehicles for delivering emotional experiences. The reviewer is offering their opinion on how well the machine runs. Ebert gets plot details, character names, and tech specs wrong all the time, but audiences find his reviews helpful. If we applied your criteria to his reviews, they wouldn’t be legitimate.

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  75. Laura
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 16:59:32

    @Liz Mc2:

    This may be because I, too, have spent far too much time commenting on students’ argument essays, but I agree with you completely. It sounds like AoV wants to be a gatekeeper, but secretly. Because, you know, people tend to not like gatekeepers. Good luck with that!

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  76. P. Kirby
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 17:09:31

    @Author on Vacation: If a reviewer publishes something like, “I thought the beginning of this book was okay, but my life is just too busy for me to keep reading it and I had to put it down to deal with other stuff…” there’s not an awful lot to learn from that except that the reviewer was too busy to read the book. (P.S. — that comment is paraphrased from a review I read at Goodreads.)

    Well, while it doesn’t give me a specific reason related to the narrative, etc., why the reader set aside the book, it does tell me that for some reason, the book wasn’t strong enough to drag her away from other aspects of her life. And, if I were a follower or a friend of this reviewer, if I was acquainted with her tastes, that statement might actually tell me a great deal about the book. Therefore, for certain audiences, that rather vague opinion might actually be a kind of review. I see why you don’t see it as a “review,” but it might nonetheless be helpful to some.

    I write rather lengthy and detailed reviews at Goodreads. They sometimes contain personal anecdotes, snark, and other asides not seen in “professional” reviews. I sometimes make mistakes. (I just found one in a review of a book from a series that I love. Despite my familiarity with the series, I got the volume numbers mixed up.) Sometimes, a book is so utterly blah, that yeah, I do forget or confuse character names. Honestly, I think that’s more a statement on the book’s characterization than my reviewing ability.

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  77. JL
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 17:16:39

    @Author on Vacation:
    Personally, I tend to find reviews where the review is up front about such things that may have biased their reading to be helpful. Again, I’m not arguing whether this is proper or not, and you absolutely have the right to dislike this style of reviewing. For me, though, it helps me wade through why a book might not work for me. Again, this goes back to being busy and wanting books that absolutely suck me in despite being tired/stressed/preoccupied by other things. Books so absorbing that they make me forget my daily reality. People rate according to their personal systems. There’s nothing wrong with saying that doesn’t work for you, putting that author/reviewer on your do-not-buy list, and finding a reviewer whose personal rating system aligns better with yours.

    I think what is getting a lot of other commenters up in arms here is that by labelling such things as ‘bogus reviewers’, you are dismissing our ability to make choices for ourselves. We can debate all we want about what we **like** to see in a review, but there’s no right or wrong answer. That debate about preferences should not, however, be conflated with whether there is such thing as a proper or improper review.

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  78. B. Sullivan
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 17:23:38

    I’m still shaking my head over the dictates on some sites of “what a review should be” – not this post, which I agree with, but the folk out there who say they want more rigorous or academic standards. (What, are they assigning us homework now?!) And yet I have to wonder if those authors have actually had an academic class themselves where they could undergo a writing critique session, specifically one in front of an audience. Yes, I’ve done that. And it was the kind of class where after the first few weeks the number of people enrolled diminished greatly, because if you’re really, brutally honest about the flaws in a work, then you actually know where to start working to improve. Honest doesn’t mean cruel, but a good editor will always be really upfront about what areas are weak, what doesn’t work, and what will confuse the hell out of a reader. But it seems to me that in many of these Author Behaving Badly cases of late have a lot to do with people not understanding how to read criticism, as well as the part about not understanding that much of this is about readers communicating with other readers.

    It seems particularly ridiculous to me that so much of the huffing and puffing has been over reviews that are in no way mean-spirited. Not to mention it’s a given that one person’s opinion on a book, isn’t everyone’s. So why can’t some of these authors understand this? Were they never readers themselves? It’s kind of mystifying.

    Also I wonder how many people have read many academic reviews. They can be just as harsh and scathing as any other reviewer, although you might not always catch how cutting they are due to the particular style they are written in. But hey, maybe if we all start throwing in a reference to an ancient Greek or Roman author, or some 17th century witticisms along with the usual snark, it’ll get a pass?

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  79. Heather
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 17:29:13

    I think that the line between “professional” reviewer and reader-reviewer has been irrevocably blurred. And I think that the refusal to accept reader reviews as valid is as self-defeating as the refusal to accept that no really, music is going digital and basing your business model on CD sales is doomed to failure. The world moves on, things change, and this is one change that I believe is here to stay. Insisting that customer reviews aren’t valid is just sticking one’s head in the sand and praying that the future doesn’t come. It’s particularly silly given that online customer reviews have been around now for years. It’s just that each new group, as it happens to them, has to have a tantrum about having it applied to them.

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  80. Isobel Carr
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 17:36:08

    There is no excuse for being a special snow flake about a bad review. Period. If you can’t handle bad reviews, don’t read your reviews. Period. Not everyone is going to love your work. Not everyone is going to get your work. Not everyone is going to be your fan. PERIOD! And anyone who expends their time to read your book has a right to express their opinion about the book, its plot, characters, execution, and font if that’s their thing. And that expression is called a review. Suck it up.

    Some reviews will be helpful to other readers, some reviews won’t be (“This book suxs” or “This is the best book I’ve read all year!”). And some reviews will themselves be full of errors and curious misunderstandings (I have a couple whoppers from readers who clearly don’t know anything about 18th century England). And you know what? I just ignore them. Because that’s what you DO if you’re a professional.

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  81. shiloh walker
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 17:38:49

    The only thing I can think of when I read comments, etc about how and what should constitute a review is this…

    I’d be damn mad if somebody tried to tell me how I should write a book.

    Period.

    IMO, a reviewer should be allowed to write the review the way they see fit. It’s their review. They invested their time to read the book, they are investing their time to write the review. If it’s at a blog like this, naturally, they are going to find their audience, just like Smexy Books has found their audience, just like Fiction Vixen, Wicked Lil Pixie, HEA, has found their audience.

    Reviews on Goodreads? It’s a community and people are welcome to not read the reviews that aren’t to their liking and seek out those who have a review style that is more in keeping with what they need. Nobody forces anybody to go to this site, to the smart bitches site, to smexybooks, to goodreads or anywhere else to read reviews.

    In the almost 9 years since I’ve been published, I’ve yet to be forced to read a review or visit a site. And if I find myself reading something that isn’t to my liking, I can easily click away.

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  82. Laura Vivanco
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 17:39:38

    @MrsJoseph:

    There’s an entire website where academics critique romance. I can not remember the name of the site to save my life right now.

    That site does exactly what a lot of authors have claimed they want: critical reviews. The funny thing is – as soon as they got critical the authors started piling on about how “it was just a book.”

    I wonder if you’re thinking of Teach Me Tonight. Certainly when I posted something a bit critical there about one particular novel, I was told by one romance author (who was not the author of the particular book under discussion) that “these are romances — fun, escapist fantasies [...] — how serious do you think this is meant to be?”

    I can see why some romance authors would be wary of academic approaches to romance fiction, though, because as JacquiC suggested, for many decades when academics discussed romances they tended to assess it extremely negatively (though there were some notable exceptions). Also, very few academics would have classified themselves as “romance readers” which meant they were outsiders looking in/down on romance and its readers. Pamela Regis gave a keynote speech about this at the Second Annual Conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (2010).

    I guess I think that the formal criticism performs a somewhat different function to the simpler review which is intended to convey to the reader at a more personal level whether the book is worth reading or not.

    Yes, I agree. I don’t think of what I write as reviews: I don’t set out to provide an overall assessment of how enjoyable books are. Literary criticism will probably only assess certain aspects of a novel and will almost certainly contain what, in a review, would constitute “spoilers.”

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  83. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 17:40:29

    @Laura:

    It sounds like AoV wants to be a gatekeeper, but secretly. Because, you know, people tend to not like gatekeepers. Good luck with that!

    LOL … Er, no thanks.

    I want nothing except the right to speak freely, to which apparently a good number of readers/reviewers hold no small objection. Good luck with that!

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  84. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 17:50:49

    @P. Kirby:

    Honestly, I think that’s more a statement on the book’s characterization than my reviewing ability.

    Of course you do! : ) And every domestic violence offender will insist his wife’s behavior, misbehavior, or lack of behavior had more to do with the offender battering his wife than his own dysfunction.

    “I’m not lazy. It’s just the book is bad (or not good enough.)”

    “I’m not forgetful. It’s just the characters aren’t written very well.”

    “I’m not ______________. It’s just the book is _____________.”

    You know what those excuses get from me? A lot of smiling, nodding, and blacklisting. If you’ve chosen to review a book, you either hold up your end or you don’t. If you don’t hold up your end to my satisfaction, I’m not going to value your opinion as highly as I value someone who does.

    It’s simple. And it’s fair.

    edit to add:

    P.S. — this is my last comment on the subject. Apologies in advance to anyone who asked questions and I didn’t respond.

    @JL:

    “I think what is getting a lot of other commenters up in arms here is that by labelling such things as ‘bogus reviewers’, you are dismissing our ability to make choices for ourselves.”

    But JL, I’ve never mentionned a single “bogus reviewer.” I’ve referred to “bogus reviews.” I’ve described some elements that lead me to dismiss a review as “bogus.” And the best I’d ever hope is that everyone in the reading community feels free to do exactly the same.

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  85. shiloh walker
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 17:56:43

    @Author on Vacation: Choke. Seriously.

    you just used spousal abuse?

    Um….sure. You know, I am really, really curious who you are. Would be nice if you could say crap like this and have the guts to stand behind it…with your name.

    Of course you do! : ) And every domestic violence offender will insist his wife’s behavior, misbehavior, or lack of behavior had more to do with the offender battering his wife than his own dysfunction.

    “I’m not lazy. It’s just the book is bad (or not good enough.)”

    “I’m not forgetful. It’s just the characters aren’t written very well.”

    “I’m not ______________. It’s just the book is _____________.”

    That’s outright BS. Comparing the excuses and shill an abuser hands out to what somebody will or won’t say to explain why a book didn’t work for them.

    You are a piece of work.

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  86. Heather
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 17:58:47

    @shiloh walker: Yeah. I saw AoV make the domestic abuse comparison, complete with a freaking smiley face, and, having *seen* domestic abuse, my vision just went red. That’s… wow. A piece of work indeed.

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  87. Mireya
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 18:03:18

    All I have to say is Goodreads= FB for readers. Anyone with more than two brain cells understands this. It’s a place for ALL readers, and readers, by definition, are PEOPLE THAT READ. That includes writers (published and unpublished) and people that do not write. A lot of these people having tantrums about a review in Goodreads will be a lot happier the day they realize that fact.

    Goodreads is a type of SOCIAL MEDIA. Period.

    As to the how to write reviews: it’s all about expectations. That will not change any time soon so any authors with such expectations as to reviews being “essay-like” … good luck to you getting one and convincing people that that type of review is the only review style acceptable.

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  88. shiloh walker
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 18:05:15

    @Heather: I’ve dealt with battered people…too often, have seen far too much of it in my life.

    Pisses me off. There is absolutely NO comparison between a review, whether it’s lengthy, detailed, a personal attack, half-assed, glowing, anything, and spousal abuse.

    Shit.

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  89. Author on Vacation
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 18:14:31

    @shiloh walker:

    That’s outright BS. Comparing the excuses and shill an abuser hands out to what somebody will or won’t say to explain why a book didn’t work for them.

    No ma’am, it’s not. There are many kinds of abusive relationships in this world and a primary element in abusive individuals is lack of personal responsibility.

    And please, don’t feed the drama queen machine at DA. You ought to know better. In no way did I imply a book reviewer blaming a book for the reviewer’s inability to read the book and review it competently equate with spousal abuse except to point out it follows an abusive mindset.

    Out for real, now. You have yourself a nice day.

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  90. Robin/Janet
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 18:15:55

    @evie byrne: As far as I’m concerned, the reader re-invents the text in the process of her reading.

    I am also a product of the age of the death of the author and believe that there is no way anyone who writes any kind of text has full control over it. Not only are there unconscious elements we can never fully manage, but there is the interaction between text and reader, which alters it over and over. And thank goodness for that, or we’d all be reading the same thing and have nothing to talk about nor any new insights to share/learn.

    One of the things that strikes me about some of the calls for “legitimate” reviews is that they seem an attempt to control how the reader imbibes the text as an extension of their authorial intention. I literally had an author tell me that I could not use a certain word to describe her book, as if her intention in writing the text completely eclipsed my response (which was shared by numerous other readers). She wasn’t trying to be mean, but it felt like a really bold attempt to control my reading experience, and I was actually kind of stunned by it. And, of course, it made me want to use that word in reviews of all her other books, lol.

    @Cathy Burkholder: To take another term used widely outside of book reviews, we often use the term “critique” when we’re trying to examine and discuss something in a methodical and objective way. A review may be written in the form of a critique, and those that are may often be more useful than those that aren’t (although JacquiC makes a great point in that in some situations, a critique may not be the most useful format for readers to use as a guide to what they may enjoy reading).

    I love the word critique and agree with your points, but I cannot tell you how often I’ve come across the perception that it and the word “critical” (as in critical analysis) are synonyms for criticism in the negative sense. I tend to write long, ungainly, analytical reviews, which is one reason I really appreciate it when I come across a critical but pithy and insightful review of one or two sentences. It’s not something I’m great at, and I’d hate to see reviews like that deemed insufficient for their brevity.

    @Sunita: I know I’m being kind of dense here, but what are you dissenting to?

    @Sofia Harper: Others have addressed your point about stifling discussion, but I just want to add that despite the fact that many authors feel relatively powerless, as a group, authors have a substantial platform and voice. There are many people in the community, especially YA, where you have a lot of young adults, who hear authors calling for this and that in reviewing and subsequently feel uncomfortable stating their opinion about a book when it does not conform. Should these readers be stronger? Ideally, probably so. Do authors have to shut up? Obviously not. But I do wish they’d step back a little bit and think about what the unintended consequences of their words might be. In the YA community, particularly, I believe that authors should have a thought or two about being better role models than calling reviewers cows, etc. But in general, I think that loud author voices can discourage less certain reader voices, and I think that’s both counterproductive and myopic. Also, there have been some pretty whacky consequences for readers who dared criticize an author’s books publicly — Lori Foster, Victoria Laurie, PC Cast, Deborah Anne MacGillivray, the Dixieland Mafia, to name a few — so lines can be, and sometimes are, definitely crossed.

    @Laura Vivanco: Stiefvater’s reference to history papers did not clarify her comments for me one bit. Having read myriad history articles and books myself (as you have, I’m sure), I found the standards she articulated ill-suited to that discipline, as well.

    @MrsJoseph: Are you referring to Teach Me Tonight? Laura Vivanco is one of the people who runs that site, actually.

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  91. Ridley
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 18:20:37

    Oh, Troll on Vacation, you’re such a brilliant rhetorician. So ignorant of us to not see your point earlier. Clearly all we needed was a bizarre metaphor making light of domestic abuse for it all to become clear. Thank you, our dearest concern troll, for taking this time to explain it to us. Our lives are richer for it.

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  92. Sylvia Sybil
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 18:23:59

    As a survivor of domestic violence, I would love to hear how talking about a book is in ~any~ way similar to deliberate, sustained injury inflicted upon another person’s body and soul. The comparison is intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt.

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  93. MrsJoseph
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 18:27:41

    @Robin/Janet:

    I just googled that name and you’re right! I’ve got to start reading more…

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  94. infinitieh
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 18:54:05

    Thanks for the summary of the weirdness. Frankly, I write reviews for myself. I’ve always thought they are *supposed* to be subjective. That’s why I read Roger Ebert’s film reviews, for *his* take on the film.

    Besides, I’m not picky. As long as a book (romance, YA, mystery, children’s, etc. – not picky about genre either) is more entertaining than Fellini’s Satyricon, it’s a win for me.

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  95. JL
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 18:57:45

    @Author on Vacation:
    yet, you categorically define bogus reviews as something that many readers here find helpful so that your point of hoping everyone else feels free to decide for themselves is a blatant contradiction…

    oh hell, why am I even trying? Logic jumped off the train your arguments are running on a long time ago. The rhetorical defences you are using are not even remotely convincing, they are just digging your hole deeper and deeper. In fact, they are even more banal than the examples of terrible reviewing you raged against earlier.

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  96. shiloh walker
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 19:01:19

    @Author on Vacation:

    First, I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t tell me what I shouldn’t or should do, or whether I should ‘know’ better. I’m a grown woman and can handle myself, thanks.

    Now…Abusive mindset, my tail. And you are the one who put the reference out there.

    And every domestic violence offender will insist his wife’s behavior, misbehavior, or lack of behavior had more to do with the offender battering his wife than his own dysfunction.

    You put it out there.

    A book review, no matter how competently or incompetently it was done, how a reader chooses to read, whatever ‘excuses’ she may or may not hand out, is nothing compared to this…and it’s a mild image, too.

    http://blacksisterstriving.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/domestic-violence.jpg

    Here’s my problem… I’m a nurse. I’m also a writer. Once you seen real victims…well…fill in the blank. It’s hard to see myself as one over a matter of reviews.

    As to personal responsibility, another thing you hit on? That’s…well…irony, coming from somebody who won’t sign her name.

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  97. Merrian
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 19:03:20

    Reading this great article and the many comments that say so well the things I think about reading and reviewing I wasn’t going to comment because others have said it for me.

    However, Author on Vacation’s cowardly and despicable comparison of reviewers and commenters who do not agree with her/him with people who beat their partners (comment #83) is too much to ignore. AoV’s normal and ugly disdain for the readers and posters on DA is familiar. I generally take his/her comments to be about a desire for thought control and ignore them as I would any fascist.

    This latest vitriolic attack is an insult to people who live with and have survived or died from domestic violence. By using this analogy as a hyperbolic claim AoV dismisses and minimises their suffering.

    AoV’s suggestion that anyone who contradicts AofV’s own views is an abuser is bullying and abusive behaviour itself and terrifically illustrates the heads of discussion on this and many sites about the bad behaviours of authors.

    Many authors happily and freely comment on DA using their own names, suggesting that this is a welcoming internet environment. I comment as a reader using my own name and stand beside my opinions as I do so because this is an interesting place for discussion and passionate care for making and reading books. AoV doesn’t do this he/she hides behind a pseudonym in order to behave badly and bully others. As a survivor of domestic violence I know the behaviour and drivers of a persecutor and perpetrator and see them in AofV’s patterns of behaviour towards the readers and reviewers and commenters on this thread and many others over the years I have been reading DA.

    This isn’t a call to be or play nicely – that fatal flaw of genre/romancelandia. Robust and thoughtful discussion is important in storming and norming and engaging with each other and the books we love to read. I am calling out Author on Vacation and his/her behaviour as I experience it and saying that there is not a place for bullying in our community.

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  98. K. Z. Snow
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 19:09:51

    I don’t understand all this fussing over people’s assessment of books. Never have understood it, never will understand it. And yet the discussion keeps turning up in one form or another over and over and over again. I’m amazed there’s any ground left to cover. (Well, actually, there isn’t. It’s just the same old ground being tilled and retilled.)

    Hey, if you put a book out and somebody reads it, you’re already ahead of the game. It’s kind of like having enough money or signatures to run for political office. Next step: you’re going to encounter opinions. Insightful and well-informed opinions, dumbass opinions, snarky opinions, even vicious opinions spawned by some God-knows-what kind of personal agenda. (Ask President Obama about the Fox Propaganda Network!)

    If you’re a writer and choose to seek out the opinions called “reviews,” accept them for what they are. If they upset you, stay away from them. The point is, they’re not going away. Ever.

    Jeez. What’s to discuss?

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  99. shiloh walker
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 19:18:28

    @K. Z. Snow: Hey…. what KZ said. Awesome.

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  100. Kaetrin
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 19:33:10

    Oh, Ridley, how I missed you yesterday! Glad you are here today :)

    Also, I heard there was cake.

    Where is the cake? I see no cake. :(

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  101. Sirius
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 19:48:55

    @Sylvia Sybil: Funny (not the comparison you are disagreeing with) but the fact that I reread the story where the quote “intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt” was used just couple of days ago. And I wont repeat what I think about the comparison – too many people said it already and better than me.

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  102. Sirius
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 19:49:41

    @K. Z. Snow: Thank you!

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  103. Meoskop
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 20:21:43

    @Merrian: I agree with everything you’ve said. Even knowing AoV is a troll I was taken aback at where she chose to go. As a DV survivor, I have only contempt for his/her rhetoric.

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  104. Anon
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 20:25:43

    I kind of like the fact that there is a place to discuss reviews and talk about the ways readers, authors, and reviewers relate to them. This post alone gave me insight in so many levels it would take too long to go into in one single comment.

    I love that you post about these things and continue to discuss these issues, especially with what’s been going on in the YA arena. Reviews are an important part of the digital online reading experience for readers, authors, and reviewers. And they will only become more important as we advance into the digital age of literature. So this post is absolutely on target. It’s important to talk about it. It’s one of the most important aspects of the reading experience to discuss.

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  105. Isobel Carr
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 20:47:35

    I’ll take AuthorOnVacation seriously when he/she has the ballz to stand behind her/his opinions in public.

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  106. Insane Hussein
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 20:49:11

    @Author on Vacation: So you’re a reviewer? Or an author? Or both? Your comments are annoyingly amusing. And annoyingly condescending. I owe the readers what I owe myself: my honest opinion of the book. I couldn’t care less who wrote it, their lifestyle, whatever. I care only that I enjoyed/disliked the book, it was well-written, the interactions between the characters are well done, etc.

    If I choose to put LOLcats or animated GIFs, so be it. It is my review and how dare anyone tell me how to write it.

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  107. Sylvia Sybil
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 20:50:02

    @Sirius: ? They’re both common phrases. I have no idea to which story you’re referring.

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  108. Insane Hussein
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 20:53:37

    @Author on Vacation: So… What an awful metaphor.

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  109. Sirius
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 20:53:57

    @Sylvia Sybil: Sorry. I do not hear or use those phrases too often in my everyday conversations (partially because when I am not at work I converse in another language), so it jumped at me. I am referring to one of Rex Stout’s mysteries “Second confession”. I am sure it was not the only story that used it, but this one used it in quite dramatic context.

    EDIT: I guess it did not jump out at me correctly after all, I just looked it up and the exact phrase was “intellectually contemptible and morally unsound”. Sorry.

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  110. KT Grant
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 20:55:17

    Comparing a cruel or snarky book review to spousal abuse is such a WTF, I don’t know what to say.

    Seriously, authors who bitch and moan over “oh woes is me, they didn’t like my book, they want to burn it because it’s so bad”, GET OVER IT! You’re in the wrong career. A reviewer doesn’t owe you anything, and yes they can hurt your feelings with their cruel words. So what? The moment your work is out in the world and paid for by the public, by those who put out their hard earned dollars that could be used for something else, are allowed to say whatever they want about your work. It might not be fair, but life isn’t fair.

    Some authors beg and plead for any review they get because there are thousands of authors who don’t have any reviews of their books. I bet they would be so happy to even get a bad review because if no one is reviewing their book, good or bad, no one knows about it.

    Instead of bitching about how reviews should be written, why not sit down and write a better book and you won’t have this problem you’re obsessing about.

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  111. azteclady
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 21:24:50

    @Author on Vacation: I was pondering whether to comment that, while I disagree with pretty much everything you say about ‘bogus reviews’ I did think Ridley was baiting you–until this.

    I can’t express how much I despise your absolute and self important cowardice right now..

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  112. Jo
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 21:38:34

    As a reader I visit a lot of review blogs, some of them are as different as night and day. And not one of them has an opinion on a book that is exactly the same as my own and that my friends is a fine thing, cos the world would surely be a boring place if we all had the same opinion on everything.Surely in this community there is plenty of room for all sorts of different reviews.
    Oh and on a personal note, if I had to read reviews that were like academic papers I would bang my head on my desk…repeatedly.

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  113. Insane Hussein
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 22:07:31

    @Author on Vacation: How dare you condescend to all of us and make yet another terrible metaphor. Domestic violence cannot be compared to a reviewer’s opinion of a book. That is so low, I’m afraid you’ll be wiping that particular sewer scum from your hands for quite some time.

    As for not mentioning specific “bogus reviewers”–I think it’s because you don’t have the balls to do so. Yes, I just said that.

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  114. Sylvia Sybil
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 22:08:10

    @Sirius: Oh, I see. Thanks for clearing up my confusion.

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  115. Gwen Hayes
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 22:33:33

    I think one of the things that keeps getting lost in the shuffle is that so, so many of the most active YA bloggers are teens. Not just teens, but some are very young teens.

    These kids are so creative with their blogs, so enthusiastic about reading, and just starting out in the world. When I interact with my readers, it is always in the forefront of my mind that I can make a difference here. I can lead by example. I can show them that this world needs their opinions and needs them to be confident enough to say how they really feel about things. The very last thing I want to do is stifle them. What greater gift to the world can we ask for than a new crop of strong, confident people who can articulate what they do and don’t like, what they do and don’t believe?

    I meant to make this post more about them and less about me because I’m not looking for affirmation of how I handle myself or my negative reviews. What I want is that kids don’t feel pressure from adults to act a certain way or they won’t be liked.

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  116. Jo
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 00:37:34

    @Gwen Hayes: Very true. As the mum of a 16yr old I find myself reading a lot more Y.A as I find being able to talk about books with my daughter has helped to cement a strong relationship with my girl. So the events of the past few weeks have really left me shaking my head, we teach our kids about respecting others and their opinions, to be polite etc, etc and then all this *shakes head* I have a feeling that my daughter and her friends might act with more maturity than some of the people around the blogosphere recently!

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  117. CRITICAL LINKING: January 25, 2012 | BOOK RIOT
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 05:00:31

    [...] An original point here: what authors want from reviews and what readers want from reviews are completely different. [...]

  118. Heather
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 06:04:40

    @Gwen Hayes: Thank you for making this point; it’s such an important one. Well-said.

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  119. Jia
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 06:20:28

    @Gwen Hayes: That right there is why I felt such a negative reaction to Stiefvater’s post in particular.

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  120. Kate Hewitt
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 07:12:32

    I haven’t read all the comments here, but I’m a little confused to what the actual issue is. The word ‘review’ seems to hold some kind of sway, and I don’t get it. Authors can bark about what makes a real review, but it’s not like it really matters, does it? As far as I can tell there are no review police on the internet (yet, anyway) telling reviewers to take down their reviews or give them a certificate if they are considered a ‘real’ review. Reviews run the gamut from 15 page essays to one sentence opinions, and people can take from each what they will. Authors can get annoyed and tank their professional reputations railing about it, but in the end the reviews will still go up, people will read them, and life will go on. Right?

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  121. iferlohmann
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 07:13:29

    What authors miss when they say “this is a ‘real’ review and this isn’t, and people who don’t write ‘real’ reviews should either stop or write like X” is that they are advocating censorship. You are advocating that people stop writing something because YOU don’t like it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it because it hurt your feelings, it insulted your god, it has sex/violence/strong women/farting/poop jokes, etc. Once you tell someone they should change how they write or stop writing at all, you are starting down the line to censoring someone’s expression. Bad, bad, bad.

    Shiloh Walker is spot on. You don’t want someone to tell you what to write so don’t go telling people what they should write. Only seems reasonable. No one is locking you in a closet, tying you to a chair and propping your eyelids open with toothpicks while forcing you to read a distasteful (to you) review aloud. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

    As for short reviews without much commentary on Goodreads, I write those. Frankly, my Goodreads reviews aren’t for you (the author) or even for other readers. They are for me to keep track of what I’ve read and what I thought about a book. If I want to be detailed, I will be. If I don’t want to be, I won’t be. Call it a review, thoughts, a critique, a diatribe, I don’t care. It’s for me, not for you and I’ll write it how I see fit.

    Should I ever publish a book and someone hates it enough to write a negative review on their blog/Goodreads/Amazon, more power to them. At least my book sparked a reaction and that’s better than sparking nothing at all.

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  122. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 08:55:34

    I’ve been following the review discussions with great interest but not commenting much for a couple of reasons. I’m not On Vacation, and don’t have time to haunt every thread. I also don’t think authors’ opinions about what readers/reviewers should do are that relevant.

    What bothers me most about Author on Vacation’s comments is the suggestion that *her* way of reviewing is best. She’s never had an author get upset with her, because her reviews are perfect! Therefore, harsh reviews, “bogus” reviews with mistakes, or snarky reviews with animated gifs–whatever kinds of reviews are being singled out as less helpful/professional/legit–these reviews invite attack. Authors are only unreasonable when reviewers are at fault.

    So, in a way, I understand her analogy to domestic violence. She’s engaging in some pretty typical victim-blaming.

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  123. Susanna Kearsley
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 09:29:22

    I know I said all this a couple of days ago in the comment thread for the Stiefvater “itty-bitty thesis” post, but I’m going to say it again because a) my brain is still aching, and b) I can’t think of any better way to phrase it.

    So here’s a re-post:
    ———————————–
    These people who keep on insisting there’s some magic line that divides Real Reviews from “reviews” are just making my brain ache.

    I’m going to play a little game here that I sometimes play with my own kids, called “Chase the definition”, wherein we take out the dictionary and try chasing down the meaning of a word by following each of the words used to describe it in the definition. Ready? Here we go:

    Review: A critical evaluation. Critical: Consisting of or involving criticism. Criticism: the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature; also : writings expressing such evaluation or analysis. Evaluation: The noun derived from the transitive verb evaluate. Evaluate: to determine the significance, worth, or condition of [object], usually by careful appraisal and study. Study: careful or extended consideration. Analysis: an examination of a complex, its elements, and their relations. Appraisal: An act or instance of appraising. Appraising: A form of the transitive verb appraise. Appraise: to evaluate the worth, significance, or status of [object]. Complex: a whole made up of complicated or interrelated parts.

    So…when someone takes a book (a complex) and examines its elements and their interrelations (analyses it), attempting to assign it worth and status (appraising it), through careful consideration (study), in order to determine its significance and worth (evaluate it), then they are, in fact, engaging in criticism, and the product of their evaluation is, in fact, a review.

    Not a “review”. A review.

    The addition (or absence) of “animated gifs, swearing, and snark” is irrelevant. Whether I, as an author, like or don’t like a review, learn from it, frame it, or burn it is also irrelevant. And by definition, the only qualifications anyone needs to create a review are the ability to read (or to listen to an audiobook), and to think.

    In my view, at least, all the people who try to define Real Reviews are just making up rules to keep other kids out of their sandbox.
    ———————————————

    I’d also like to add that I think “This Book Sucks” IS a review, by that same definition, because to arrive at that conclusion the reviewer would have had to go through the same steps as the person preparing the “itty-bitty thesis” version.

    Just because I don’t see the whole process on paper doesn’t mean the process didn’t happen.

    Anyhow. As Gwen Hayes so eloquently pointed out in Comment 115, above, we need to encourage opinions, not stifle them.

    (Sorry for ranting a bit. I’ll shut up, now.)

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  124. Dear Readers « The End Of Nowhere
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 12:14:20

    [...] that I will NEVER question your right to speak your mind about my books. I will NEVER equate a negative review with spousal abuse or other such nonsense. I will NEVER bitch about negative reviews in public, nor will I allow any [...]

  125. Sunita
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 13:02:00

    @Robin/Janet: Sorry for the very late reply, and it seems almost beside the point now! But I was dissenting from Jane and Charming’s discussion about “review” perhaps being an inadequate word. Basically what @Kate Hewitt: just said.

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  126. Ridley
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 13:53:51

    @azteclady: Well, I mean, let’s be fair: I was baiting AoV. That’s what I do. I’m a black belt in troll fu.

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  127. LisaCharlotte
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 21:33:20

    @Ridley- I’d post a ROTFLMAO .gif if I knew how.

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  128. karlynp
    Jan 26, 2012 @ 14:24:42

    I ended up skimming the last half of these comments, but I can’t go without commenting a few things.

    As a reader who buys over 100 books per year, I have *zero* problems with the way reviews are written and published by other readers. In fact, I love it. So please give me credit for knowing: a) what I like to read, b) not to take all reviews literally, and c) that not all reviews are impartial or unbiased. Readers are not stupid, so put your bruised ego away and quit trying to write rules you will never be able to enforce in a million years. Any author who believes they should have a say in the way I write my reviews (or how I interpret the ones I read) will automatically get on my bad list.

    As an amateur reviewer who has written over 400+ reviews, I don’t care what other reviewers or authors think of my opinion. I write reviews because I love discussing books with my online friends. A book review is a great way to start a new discussion and even learn about new authors. Trust me, this is a good thing!

    As an active member of the online community of readers who has posted THOUSANDS of comments about books and authors over the years, I know my words have the power to influence readers choices. I also know authors and publishers may win or lose financially from my words. But in no way do I have a responsibility to these readers, authors or publishers. My posts are not meant to be anything more than just a conversation with other book lovers. I love to discuss books, PERIOD. The consequences (good or bad) be damned. Everything else? Not. My. Responsibility.

    When posting a review, the ONLY guidelines a reader needs to follow are the ones posted by that web site. Amazon and Goodreads.com each have different posting criteria, so my reviews are adjusted depending on where I post. If they agree with my review, then it is a legitimate review in my eyes. Everyone else’s opinion on what my review should or should not include is nothing more than an opinion.

    If authors want to waste their time blowing wind about how readers should and should not behave online, or if they want to use the web to sooth their bruised ego with their loving fans, go for it. I really don’t care. But when we see an author behaving badly, you can bet online readers are going to discuss their short minded comments. And I will happily pass the word on that you are not an author on my ‘to buy’ list. Why? Because that is what we do when we discuss books and authors. We discuss it all. And you don’t get to tell us what to say or not to say. So if you want to stay on the good side of the reader community, find a quiet outlet when your ego gets bruised. The customer is always right.

    Thank you Janet for this insightful post.

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  129. romsfuulynn
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 17:48:14

    Hah – the Two Nerdy History Girls blog just posted a link to a Robert Burns response to a critic:
    http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/01/thou-eunuch-of-language.html

    So this isn’t a new issue…

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  130. Athena Grayson
    Feb 01, 2012 @ 19:17:40

    As an author I don’t and can’t care about who reviews, how they review, or whether or not they’re more or less “legit” than anyone else. I have no horse in this race because I’m not allowed on the track. But this discussion is one that needs to happen and keep happening, just not solely among authors but among readers, consumers, book lovers, and yes, authors, too, but not for the same reasons.

    But as a reader and consumer, my only/chief concern is over the idea that if there *is* a system, when is it being gamed, and by whom. Most online reviews of anything are worth exactly what you paid for them (which is why I have a subscription to Consumer Reports for big-ticket items like washing machines and cars), but even free review sites can give you a general, aggregated idea of whether or not what you’re buying is what they’re selling.

    Commenters have already expressed a sense of illegitimacy towards authors’ friends/family reviews, and there’s a general consensus towards mistrust of a book with nothing but glowing reviews–something I share as a reader, because to be honest, I get more out of a good 1-star review than a 5-star review. We all have different reasons for liking something, but hating it usually falls into a few broad categories (among them being “did not do what it says on the tin” in its various forms), and I want to know that.

    What I don’t want to find out as a consumer is that there’s a system there, and it’s being gamed by bots, spammers, hucksters and/or sockpuppets. I don’t want to be manipulated into buying a blender because of a series of social media sockpuppet blogs all raving about it, only to find out the thing’s a piece of crap and all the blogs are the company’s single, “social media” director who farmed it out to freelancers for fifty cents an article.

    But that question of legitimacy or honesty, I suppose, is the million-dollar question on the whole internet. How do you create a community or environment savvy enough to self-police, but open enough for voices to be heard.

    ReplyReply

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