I’m actually a reviewer for Publishers Weekly and while I’ve read some things that were kind of poorly constructed, I’ve never had even an urge to be even half this harsh, not even secretly if I strongly disliked the book. Too much work goes into a book for anything to warrant this kind of nastiness and seriously nothing is so bad it deserves to be called “a candy-coated turd.”
I have condemned books in stronger language than that. When I hate a book, I really hate a book. I totally get writing such vicious reviews. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons I don’t write reviews and only discuss books on this blog if I love them: the knowledge that were I to write an honest review of a book I hate I would most definitely hurt other writers’ feelings, alienate their fans, and lose friends. Also the YA world is small and writing a bad review of another YA writer’s book leaves you open to charges of sour grapes. Life’s too short.
I say that as someone who has received very mean reviews. I know exactly how much it hurts. Reviews have made me cry and scream and kick my (thankfully imaginary) dog (poor Elvis, he knows I love him). But I believe people are moved to write such nasty reviews because of the intensity of their relationship with books. That’s awesome!
I feel that too. When I read a book I was expecting to love and it sucks I feel betrayed. When I read a book in a beloved series and the characters are suddenly transformed beyond recognition and there seems to have been no editing at all and the writing has gone to hell, I am OUTRAGED. I want to kick the editor and the author. On the scale of things, I think writing a mean review about the book is way better than assault.
Passionate reviews, good or bad, are fabulous. It’s great that people care enough to rant or rave about a book. I don’t think it’s unprofessional to vent your spleen at a book. Some eviscerations of books are wonderfully well written and a total pleasure to read. And some passionate raves about books are appallingly badly constructed. One of the reviews of my books that embarrasses me the most was a rave. An extraordinarily badly written rave in a professional location1 which so mischaracterised my book that it was unrecognisable. The reviewer clearly loved the book. They also clearly didn’t understand it. No review has annoyed me as much as that one.
On the other hand, my favourite review ever remains the one written by a punter on the B&N site which said Magic or Madness was like a bad Australian episode of Charmed. Makes me laugh every time I think of it.
An unprofessional review is one that attacks the author directly. But the problem is that most writers conflate themselves with their books so that many consider an attack on their work to be an attack on them. It’s really hard for us writers to be clear that the reviewer is calling our book “a candy-coated turd” not us. But learn it we must! Part of this job is having your work assessed by people who are not going to be kind. No one owes you a good review.
A site like the Worst Review Ever is an excellent place for authors with bruised egos to vent, but I really hope it doesn’t have a dampening effect on online YA reviewers. If you hate a book, say so. Figure out exactly what it was that bugged you about it and let rip. You’re doing all of us readers a service. Even if we totally disagree with you. One of the most useful parts about Twilight‘s success has been the vigorous debate all over the intramawebs about the book’s worth and effect on its readers. I’ve learned a lot from it. I’d really hate for reviewers worried about an author’s feelings to dilute their passion. Bugger the author’s feelings. You’re not writing reviews for them, you’re writing your reviews for us readers.
Readers, you (we) have the right to hate!
And also the right to change our minds at a later date when we read the book and discover it didn’t suck after all. Or vice versa.
Authors, you know what’s worse than a bad review? No reviews at all.
- I’m not saying whether it was online or off. [↩]