Our Masterpieces...Err, Our Novels

Monday, January 9, 2012

When Opinion Crosses Into Bee-yatch Territory

Ranting Song of the Day: "Bitch" by Meredith Brooks

We've been hearing a lot around the interwebz about negative book reviews that are going too far. There are several cases on Goodreads.com that fall into this category. So, the question we wanna pose (and answer ourselves) is, how much of your opinion can you give about a book without feeling like you're being a bee-yatch?

So, let's say book X has just been released. You've been waiting and waiting for it to come on shelves. However, when you get it in your grubby lil' palms, you wanna throw it across the room. The characters lack personality, the story has no climax or rise and fall, the setting is barely described, and the entire thing is written in passive voice. You go to Goodreads, because you like to rate every book that you read. But you're stuck! How many stars do you give it??? Should you be honest and give it 1 (more like half a star if you could, and that half would just be because you liked the cover)? Or should you lie and give it 3 stars--just in case you're ever in a position where you become friends with this author and you want them to pimp your book? OR should you cross that line, give the book 0 stars and go on a five paragraph long rant of every. Single. Thing that was wrong with this book?

Our answer: Be honest, but not a bee-yatch. It's that simple.

That's not simple? Why not? Why do your friends on Goodreads have to know every single word of this book that you hated? You can just rate the book low and move on. A professional author should not take offense to low ratings, we all know reading is subjective. Not every person in the world is going to love our writing, and to be a writer, you have to have thick skin and accept this. BUT, a writer CAN take offense when the reader spends an hour of their day writing out details about why they hated the author's book. Why should the author take offense? Because, that reader's opinion may be different from John Doe. But John Doe reads that review and is put off from the book right away. Therefore, John Doe doesn't even have a chance to pick up the book and decide how he feels about it on his own.

And why else should you refrain from being a bee-yatch? Because no one likes a pissy person. Someone who CONSTANTLY writes long, ranty reviews online will never be the first person that a writer goes to when they are looking for book reviewers. And if you're a book blogger, well, you've just screwed yourself. If you're a fellow writer? You seem like a hater, and people will look even more closely at YOUR writing to make sure you're not doing the things you have so passionately dissed online.

Okay, so the moral to this long blog post? You can be honest without bringing out the claws. When you do, it makes  you look like an ass and people start to wonder: Don't you have other things in your life that are of a little more concern than author X's book with the awesome cover???

Your turn. We can be way off base here and we'd love to hear your opinion! Do you think bee-yatch-ness is EVER necessary when giving book reviews? How do you feel about giving negative reviews?


Mrs. Silverstein said...

The only time I can really see digging into a book too hard is if it actually seems deeply offensive in some way. If I perceive an author to be thoughtlessly deploying sterotypes or promoting hateul behavior, it's all over. Otherwise, I'm generally content with a basic explanation of why the book isn't for me, and I try to give ideas about who I think might like it. I'm trying to teach my studentsto do the same--after all, book reviews are designed to help people make educated decisions about what to read next, not to determine the inherent value of a book.

Alicia Gregoire said...

I really have to hate a book to give it a rating of less than 3 just like I have to really love a book to give it 4 or 5 stars. I'm really picky on both ends and most things end up as a 3.

On Goodreads, I normally don't include a review unless I feel a strong need to. I guess I'm a lazy reviewer. :)

Claire Dawn said...

I usually don't bother with stars if I don't like it. And I'm honest, I admit it didn't gel.

There was a book last year, whose author I "friended" online, and which I really, really wanted to like, but didn't. I've never mentioned the book since reading it. I hope noone ever asks me for an opinion...

Racquel Henry said...

This is an excellent point! I have not seen anything too negative because I don't read book reviews. The reason for this is because quite frankly, I don't give a damn what anyone else thinks of the book. And I mean that in the sincerest way. The thing is that I've seen so many books that I LOVED rated with 2 stars. Reading the review to me is a waste of time because I'm most likely not going to listen to what the reviewer is saying. I prefer to read the premise of the book and decide if it interests me. But for the people who do read book reviews, seeing a negative one can have an impact on how they view the book. It's sad that they may not even give the book a chance based on the negative review, but unfortunately, it's a reality. So, I agree. Just give the rating and move on. There's no need to point out every flaw.

Jaime Morrow said...

This is such a tricky issue. I know that I often will read the bad reviews because sometimes I trust them more than the 5-stars. You know the kind - overly gushy about a book and it's sometimes hard to tell if it really is that good? But like you say, if you write really negative reviews watch out if you ever get published.

I wrote a negative review awhile ago on Goodreads (not soul-crushing, though) and I felt so bad about doing it that I went back recently and deleted it. I've decided that from now on if I review a book, I'm going to balance out what I liked with what I wasn't crazy about. I'd also like to mention who might like it better - a recommendation to a particular group of people. That way I'm saying, "It wasn't my cup of tea, but so and so might really like it." Because reading tastes are subjective, right? Great post!

Jamie Manning said...

I couldn't agree more! I don't think it is ever okay to add bee-yatchness (man, I hope I spelled that right) to your book reviews. There is nothing at all wrong with giving a "bad" review, to say you didn't like this or that about a book, but you can do it in a professional manner--like a reporter writing a story. And always list some things you liked about the book to show to readers of your review that this book is good--just not your cup of tea! :)

Unknown said...

I see a difference between a reader and writer that reads. I love goodreads. I like keeping track of everything I read, and I enjoy seeing what books my friends are reading and how they enjoy them. But I made a decision a long time ago to never give a bad book review.

I want to one day be a published writer, and I don't want to publicly claim to dislike a book that was published by a house I'm submitting to. Obviously, somebody liked every book or it never would have been published and I don't want to burn bridges with those people.

Still reading is subjective, and I don't love every book I pick up. There are VERY few books I would ever want to give 1 star too, simply because if I dislike a book that much, I don't bother to finish reading it. But I occationally managed to finish 2 star books.

For a while I marked books that I would give 1 or 2 stars to as "read" on goodreads, but didn't give a star rating. I did rate all of my 3, 4, and 5 star books though. Then I decided that it was to obvious that all the books I didn't rate were 2 star books, so I deleated all my 3 star ratings. Now I only give a star rating to 4 or 5 star books. And people can assume that any book I "read" but did not rate is a 3 star book (or maybe lower, but I'm not giving bad reviews).

That's how I've decided to deal with goodreads. But if in the future my own book is up on goodreads and people are posting reviews about it. I'll try to remember that reading is subjective and bad reviews are inevitable.

I once heard a major bestselling author say that one of her favorite things to do is go on goodreads and intentionally read all the 1 star reviews for her favorite books written by other authors. It always helps remind her that even the best books get bad reviews and the people bashing her writing are likely just as silly as the people bashing the writers she loves.

Tere Kirkland said...

I couldn't agree more. There's no need to slam a book you didn't like when you can simply explain your reasons for disliking it or just rate it with stars and leave it at that. There's no point of rating something on Goodreads if you're not being honest.

Of course, honesty is one thing. Slamming a book just to spew vitriol is another.

I read one-star reviews all the time, too! Just reminds me how subjective everyone's tastes are!

Stephsco said...

What's strange about Goodreads ratings is 2 stars is "It's OK" and 3 is "Liked it." There are lots of books I read that are just OK, but 2 stars looks bad while 3 is average. So I mainly go with 3 for most books, with those I liked a bit more as 4 and very rarely rate 5 - it has to be exceptionally enjoyable and great writing.

For any book I don't like, I spend a lot of time crafting a review that points out what's strong and make a case for why I didn't like something. If it's REALLY bad I won't bother to write anything.

I've read some entertaining "bad" reviews on Goodreads, and while they're amusing, I couldn't write a scathing review myself, I would feel too bad. It's like gossip - it's fun to be bad but it can get you in trouble!

Mrs. Silverstein said...

It's so interesting to see people discuss their criteria for which books they will give star ratings to, because those little stars mean something different to everyone! For example, I know that I'm a pretty enthusiastic reader, so I'm trying to limit my fives to only my very favorites. The majority of my ratings are fours, with a handful of threes on books I liked but didn't quite click with, or books that I kind of consider "guilty pleasures". Someone else might enjoy all those books just as much, but give them threes, and I'm sure it goes the other way as well.

Bottom line: Reviews and ratings are just so personal--I guess I think reviewers should avoid nastiness and writers should remember how subjective and individual reading is to begin with!

Yahong said...

The thing is: a lot of book bloggers -- their style is to write ranty reviews (see Veronica Roth's post on that). They're not writing because they WANT writers to send them ARCs, they're writing because they truly don't want to spread (what they believe is) a bad book around the blogosphere. In fact, one particularly ranty blogger I know is the #3 most followed reviewer on Goodreads, so I don't believe they "screw themselves" by reviewing rantily.

And besides, just b/c that one review influenced a John Doe doesn't mean the writer is allowed to take offense. A reviewer's job is NOT to let other readers get a chance on the book -- it's to inform other readers whether to pick it up or not. I'm pretty sure Kirkus or PW or SLJ dissuade as many people from picking up a book as ranty reviews do.

Jessica Love said...

Oh, this is so, so tricky.

Goodreads is weird for me, and I think every day of deleting my account. I've stopped leaving thoughtful reviews and now just do one or two sentences of recap. And there are books by people I "know" from online whose books I didn't love, but I want to help them promote their book as much as possible...what do I do then?

Honestly, I'm thinking more and more about just deleting GR and keeping track of all the books I readon my blog, without rating them. I don't want to be set up for weirdness.

I did catch up on the drama that happened on GR lately and I agree about the be-yotch-ness. NO need for that.

Krista said...

I agree. I try to at least point out one thing that I liked in the book. Even if it was just that the story had potential.

But I also believe in being honest. Holding back and sugar coating does not do anyone favors. Besides - if people disagree with your opinion of the book they can ignore what you said. That's what I do.

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

Great post and it's fascinating to read everyone's take on this. I think the difference is mean-spiritedness. I think it's pretty clear when someone is being thoughtful and honest versus slamming a writer just to be funny or to bully.
I don't review on goodreads, but I do on my blog. If I don't like a book, I usually don't give it much time. If i do like a book, i talk about it. I want to be honest, but not mean. If all my reviews are equally "great" then none of them have real meaning, if you know what I mean.
P.s. I need that shirt.

Pam Harris said...

Whoa, you guys were ON IT with your comments--thanks so much for sharing! :) I think since many of us are aspiring authors (and some very close to being pubbed--woo hoo Jamie Manning!), we worry about offending others. If I don't like a book, I usually tell Quita and a few others how I feel, but I don't bury the author on the Internet. I understand how difficult the writing process is--just because something isn't my cup of tea doesn't mean that EVERYONE feels that way. And I hate hurting other people's feelings when I know that they put so much in their stories.

Jess said...

This is a really hard one for me. I use Goodreads solely for sharing book reviews with my friends (and I'm only GR friends with people I actually know well), so I'm honest with my reviews, but I do try to be respectful of the author. Most of my friends are literature fans, so we appreciate thoughtful, objective reviews and enjoy sharing them with each other.

I didn't even realize until about a year ago that anyone can read my reviews--and I only discovered that when I wrote a 1 star review of a popular book and suddenly, strangers were jumping down my throat. The review wasn't scathing at all, or at least I didn't think so. I wrote about why I personally didn't like it and gave specific reasons why, but I also complimented the author's skill in certain areas.

Now there are pages and pages and pages of people telling me that I'm an idiot for not liking the book, calling me uneducated, claiming that I only wrote the review to get attention, and slinging vulgar names and references in my direction. Just today, someone added a comment saying that my reasons for not liking the book were lame.

So I guess what I'm saying is that we need to also be careful not to read too much into reviews. A reviewer may not intend to be harsh, but it's far too easy to assume that they are and react in kind.

Jess said...

P.S. I also have seen several people thank me for my review and tell me because of it, they are even more interested in reading the book. Negative reviews don't always turn people away from the book. Sometimes, controversy--whether intentional or not--creates interest and converts readers. Just a thought.

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