WHEN BAD REVIEWS HURT GOOD AUTHORS and what can be done to change that

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Imagine you are Meryl Streep sitting in the audience, nominated for a Best Actress Oscar at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes and Mia Farrow’s name is called instead of yours.

It doesn’t matter that a vast majority of the general public and international acting community think — make that know — Meryl Streep is the finest actress to grace a screen since the talkies. And, it doesn’t matter that her performance far outshines that of any other actress on the planet.

She must sit and smile and be grateful just to know that she’s the superior actress, even when saddled with being lesser so, by those who are not as talented, or as accomplished as she.

(And by ‘she’ I mean those of ‘you’ still up there in my opening line, imagining yourself as Meryl Streep.)

The point is, being the best at what you do is never enough to win the acclaim of those around you.

Indeed, the chances are good it will elicit exactly the opposite results, regardless of your profession. Because that’s the nature of awards and winning and — especially for the craft of writing — book reviews.

I say ‘especially’ because book reviews and letters to the editor are the two areas of the media where everyone, regardless of their intent, intelligence, or lack thereof, can participate as an authority.

And, because of this, both (along with the installation of the five star system) have become the weapon of choice for malcontents.

The question we all need to ask ourselves is simple: Am I complicit?

The answer is YES if you:
(1) Write a good review for your friend or relative, simply because she is your friend or relative, not because her/his book is as good as the review you’ve given.
(2) Award a five star rating to a book because it was authored by a friend or relative, not because her/his book is as good as you’ve rated it.
(3) Issue a bad review for a book you haven’t read.
(4) Issue a bad review for a book you haven’t read because you carry a grudge against the author, or you have a friend who carries a grudge.
(5) Award a low star rating for a book you haven’t read.
(6) Award a low star rating for a book you haven’t read because you carry a grudge against the author, or you have a friend who carries a grudge.
(7) Sabotage an author whose publisher is in competition with your publisher.
(8) Sabotage an author for revenge.
(9) Sabotage an author out of jealousy.
(10) Sabotage an author because you can, and that ability gives you power.

About now you’re wondering how this essay became about you instead of those so-in-sos who gave you a bad review.

That’s the thing.

When it comes to writing — just as when it comes to all other areas of life — it is never about what is done to you.

Rather, it is always about what you did to help create an atmosphere where such injustices flourish.

And, by ‘you’ I mean ‘me’, and ‘us’, and ‘we’.

Like every journey, this one takes one step by one person at a time.

It takes resolve.

It takes a decision by each of us to (1) refrain from giving credit where credit isn’t due, and (2) refrain from sabotaging those we don’t like, and (3) choose to learn from those whom we consider to be more talented, more creative, or more accomplished, and (4) mentor all who are receptive, in an effort to improve our craft and our writing community.

It isn’t necessary to like every writer. But we must try to respect every person who makes the effort, takes the time, and risks the rejection that results from writing a book, regardless of its caliber

And, if we can do that, we will know
our own worth.

And, if we can do that, we will rejoice
in the success of others.

And, if we can do that, we will accept, as a burden,
that there will always be those whose low self-esteem,
jealousy, envy, ego, or anger won’t allow them
any other recourse
but to lash out.

And if we can do that, we’ll realize, as a blessing,
that the next essay, article, story, or book we write
will be better because of it.

And if we can do that, we will each,
we will all, know what it’s like to be
Meryl Streep.

# # #

by Marguerite Quantaine © 2015

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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.
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SheMagRev
DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK without reading the first 7 chapters for FREE on Amazon to determine the caliber of writing and quality of the story.
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40 thoughts on “WHEN BAD REVIEWS HURT GOOD AUTHORS and what can be done to change that

    1. Carol

      In my opinion, this is such an important message to all authors. As a newbie, I have days of self-doubt and wonder why I bother to write. Then I remember that I have to. It’s part of who I am. Not everyone is going to like what I write. I don’t like everything I read, but just as I hope for the respect for my effort, I must offer mine to all others. Everyone out there writing or hoping to write, my message is “Keep writing.” You have your own story to tell and your own style to develop. Your own words are important.
      Thank you for this, Marguerite.

      Reply
      1. margueritequantaine Post author

        Honestly, Carol, you are not alone in those days of doubt. I’m glad to know you decided in favor of yourself by continuing to express yourself, while serving as a splendid example to others. Thanks!

    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      Thank you, Jeanne. I do not forget that it was you who helped me launch this blog. It proves you’re a writer who encourages others. That’s a nice feather to be wearing in your bon…cap.

      Reply
  1. RWills

    MQ, you have advanced a reasonable plea for civil discourse and mutual courtesy. Asking that those readers, emotionally compelled or repelled, perhaps intellectually stimulated to agree or disagree with an Authors offering. That the consumers of artistic products have some forbearance in their criticisms. That the readers make an honest effort to actually read and comprehend the writer’s creation.

    For myself, thinking back the last couple of years since I began commenting about stories online, I do not remember posting more than three or four comments actually critical of specific stories. Generally I just move on and ignore that writer’s future work.

    However, it is more complicated then that revulsion I had over that subject matter. For instance, there is a popular author whose fictional works really disgust me. But she writes such thoughtful and compelling reviews and essays that I consider important analysis of contemporary relevance. So I do not read her fiction or comment about those works. While I believe I have complemented her non-fiction on at least a dozen occasions.

    In general, I have found throughout my life that way too many people tend to credit my disagreements with way too much importance. It baffles me that anyone would be so sensitive as to my opinions.

    I always have to make an extra effort to avoid giving offense, as too often people take as a personal attack, my attempts to analyze and debate their cherished notions.

    I understand that I am not always correct and that opposing views are automatically suspect. It just usually turns out that way.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      I understand and concur. I find honesty is the best policy in the public eye when the writing deserves praise, and privately via and email or message when I believe the writer shows promise and potential, but misses the mark, and, if she asks, deserves to know why I think so.

      You’re a credit to the community. Never doubt that.

      Reply
  2. Donna Wells

    Well said and very true. Maybe getting rid of the star system and just go with what one likes of dislikes of the book might be better. I myself do not like to do reviews, I enjoy reading, some books more than others but always respect and admire those that write and are brave enough to publish their work. One thing that really bugs me, is after a bad review an author will rewrite and republish a book. Makes me feel like I wasted my hard earned money, do I wait until all the reviews are in, wait until the author decides this is the final book that should be published? All authors should be proud of their accomplishment and if need be continue to improve their craft. It’s the story the keeps me reading, not the reviews.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      I understand your dilemma, but — unless it’s a great read — you shouldn’t be distressed. It you’ve bought the print version and it’s a stellar book, it makes your edition more valuable as a collector’s copy. If it isn’t stellar, sell it.

      That, incidentally, is a better indicator of a worthwhile book than the star system. If, say, a book is released in October and by November it has a dozen or more used copies for sale, the reader isn’t enamored of it.

      Books with great lines and highlighted passages are cherished. If we identify with the characters and the content, we keep the book, we discuss the book, we share the book, we encourage others to read the book. After all, aren’t those some of the greatest pleasures of reading?

      Reply
  3. Gaëlle Cathy

    No, I think reviews are important. That’s obviously why we, (authors), are looking so damn hard to get some, asking and sending our books free there and then constantly. Personally I can deal with bad reviews when someone didn’t like the story, they didn’t like it, it’s their right. But I can’t deal with reviews that spread false facts about my story or that disrespect the team that worked hard on the story (author-editor). It’s simple.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      I agree, Gaelle, reviews are important. They’re necessary. A book cannot achieve any degree of readership on a short term basis without them. Long term, it’s word-of-mouth, generosity of spirit, and a reader’s need for others to know what she first discovered. It is readers spreading their joy of the written word.

      Reply
  4. barennix

    I was given a very bad review and I almost gave up because of it. I was very hurt to read what was posted by someone who received a free book (no less) from me. Actually, it still haunts me to this day. I’ve had people tell me how much they enjoyed reading that book and cannot wait for others. They are the reason I continued on writing and wanting my full length novel published. Even though I’m no Meryl Streep, I’ll keep my chin up and keep on smiling, trying to become better and better than a one star comment.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      But that’s the very character trait you share with Meryl Streep m’dear. Chin high and smiling, becoming better because of the discourse and in spite of the ill will. I’m always glad to meet a survivor. You are in good company. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  5. ejrunyon

    This line above all came though for me in this post: “It takes a decision by each of us to (1) refrain from giving credit where credit isn’t due.” I think if we can start there, liking in return for a like, we might be on the higher path of Indy Publishing.

    Reply
  6. Nancy Heredia

    As a reader I have no use for the star system; makes it far too easy to reward mediocrity as much as ‘punishing’ an author the reviewer has a grudge against. Personally I am disappointed this goes on at all and I wish I knew what to do about it.

    Reply
  7. margueritequantaine Post author

    What you can do is establish yourself as a reliable source for reviewing only well-written books.

    As for the star system, I’m not opposed to it as an indicator of the caliber of writing, as long as a reason for the rating accompanies the star(s). It only hurts when the reviewer misrepresents the book in the review. Then your only recourse is to hope viewers will check NO to the Amazon question: Was this review helpful!

    As I mentioned to Donna Wells (see comment above), a better indicator (than the star system) of a worthwhile book is if, say, a book is released on October, and by November it has a dozen or more used copies for sale. That could mean, regardless of the reviews, the reader wan’t enamored of it enough to keep it.

    Reply
  8. R. E. Bradshaw

    Marguerite,
    I enjoy reading your blog posts. I would only add to this that there is a big difference between a review and a critique. I read critiques. I do not read reviews. I am opposed to those unqualified individuals who hang out a shingle on the Internet and call themselves reviewers with no idea what that entails. They seek free books and cater to those who cater to them. I refuse to send books out to be reviewed. Read it or don’t. Like it or don’t. I will write regardless of public or private criticism. It’s what I do. I have challenged only one “reviewer” and it wasn’t about her reviews of my work, but rather her superior attitude and constant need to belittle me personally. I don’t think she actually ever panned a book of mine, but her personal attacks filled up my give a damn bucket way too fast. Yes, in the beginning it was important to me what people wrote in reviews. I soon discovered that good or bad reviews really have no bearing on what or if I write.
    I like to quote Dr. Rita Mae Brown when asked about reviews:
    “Critics. Ah, yes, I bet you expect me to turn splenetic. I do the work myself, reviewing other people’s books, so I work both sides of the street. I expect most writers feel about critics the way a fireplug feels about dogs. However, no matter how many dogs befoul your work they can’t really hurt you. Consider this: In the theater a bad review can cripple you. In film it can slow you down, initially. In publishing it doesn’t mean a thing. Book critics are powerless. A book still sells by word of mouth. You can be sliced and diced from the Atlantic to the Pacific and have a runaway best seller.
    Brown, Rita Mae (2011-05-04). Starting from Scratch (pp. 155-156). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

    Reply
    1. Velvet Lounger

      Ahhh Decky. As one of those “unqualified individuals who hang out a shingle on the Internet and call themselves reviewers” I would love to see the “qualifications” of most authors. The majority of books being published at the moment are, unfortunately, written by people who don’t seem to be qualified to speak the English Language let alone qualify as authors worthy of their readers hard earned $$. Surely what qualifies a reviewer is simply being a reader. However invalid their opinion they have as much right to put it out there as every Tomasina, Dickie and Harriet does to publish their works.

      Reply
      1. margueritequantaine Post author

        Very good point you’ve made Velvet. I’d not considered that.

        Mea culpa.

        BTW, I love your name genderizing. (Back in the day, Imogene LaPin was known for genderizing of people, places, things, and putting the ‘la’ in ALL French words.)

        Personally, I urge friends, family, and strangers alike to take advantage of the Amazon offer to read the first seven chapters of my novel (Imogene’s Eloise), free, rather than spend the money upfront. Because as much as I cherish reviews — and I do — reviewers still take a backseat in another car compared to my one-on-one reader feedback.

        I apologize for intruding on your reply to R.E. Bradshaw here, but when I’m wrong, I’m wrong. And I erred in not noting the wiggle room of qualifications into the equation. Thanks for your input.

  9. margueritequantaine Post author

    Perfectly understandable, Rebecca. I like reviews, critiques, and anything else one calls discussion of my writing. I love the interaction with my readers and depend on it. I ask only that they read what I write, first.

    Reply
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  11. solargrrl

    Both blogs are excellent. Yes, I am guilty of not sharing my opinions of a book because I did not want to hurt the feelings of the writer in this super-small world. You have convinced me that I am probably not doing them, or the lesfic community, any favors with this attitude.
    Therefore, I will go forth from this moment on and gently, but honestly, share my personal observations and opinions of books I read. All opinions are inherently subjective, but with the insights shared here and elsewhere– that constructive observations and feedback will make lesfic stronger–then Amazon, here I come!

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      I’ve just learned that Amazon doesn’t begin to push a book until 50 reviews are left. Since there’s virtually no minimum word requirement , I’d encourage everyone to say something about a book they’ve read. Thank you, Solargrrl

      Reply
  12. RWills

    The other day I read an interesting quote, which I think is on the mark for this private conversation. The great composer Jean Sibelius “Nobody has ever erected a statue to a critic!”

    A little off this round-robin but relevant to the public version. Is that Musical Maestro’s symphony “Finlandia” was created as a protest against official Russian suppression and censorship of newspapers and other publication in the languages of Finland.

    Which goes to show you , nasty analmousie hate-mongers grow up to become the equivalent of Russian apparatchiks and AlQueda terrorists.!

    Richard Wills

    Reply
  13. margueritequantaine Post author

    I’m not certain this conversation could be considered ‘private’, Richard, or that I’d automatically draw the same conclusions pertaining to growth factors, but the fewer hate-mongers among us, the better off we’ll all be. Yep. This is what I’m feeling. (Unless you were being facetious, in which case — good one!)

    Reply
  14. Mary Anne

    Ah, Meryl Streep! She is marvelous. Here is something to consider about her. Though she has won three Oscars to date she has had eighteen nominations. That means that there were fifteen occasions when another name was called and she had to sit in the audience and appear to be the gracious loser. There are also movies that she’s appeared in that make you wonder why she did them. Does “She Devil” ring any bells? But enough about the Marvelous Meryl.

    There was a time when I would post reviews on Amazon for books I read. I would post a blurb about why I liked or even loved a story. Then I was asked to write a ‘real’ review by a friend and I found it to be so very difficult. I came to realize that posting those blurbs out on Amazon was a double edged sword. I could praise what I really loved but found it difficult to say anything at all about books that I found to be less than stellar and the absence of a post became a comment in itself as far as I was concerned. In the end I virtually stopped posting anything at all that resembles a review. I will continue to praise or criticize books in private conversations and there will be the very rare occasion when I will post a paragraph or two online but I do not want to be thought of as a reviewer or critic. I am a reader. That is enough for me.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      While I respect your decision, Maf, I feel you do a disservice, not just to the author whose book you enjoyed, but to the genre itself. I’ve recently learned Amazon won’t push a book that hasn’t had at least 50 reviews. That limits the access of LesFic that could be open to a much larger audience if only readers like you were willing to step up. I would urge you, and others who are afraid of hurting feelings, to review under an alias rather than refrain from reviewing at all. Even 25 words goes a long towards assisting others in making a choice. And, try not to lose sight of the fact that it isn’t about the reviewer — it’s about the book.

      Reply
      1. Mary Anne

        You make a some very good points and I will consider your suggestion of posting under an alias. I would not want to do anything to hurt a genre that I love so much.

  15. Judy Perry

    Very interesting essay. There are so many influences that come into play in reviewing/critiquing another’s work. There is of course loyalty to the author, which I suspect is critical to getting the word out ‘to the street’. Another is the social more of ‘if you haven’t anything nice to say, ’tis better to say nothing at all’. Another is jealousy — some writer is better than you or beat you to print. What I personally find troublesome is what to do when someone beats you to print, is a popular writer, but who has lifted your own work and presented it as their own, albeit in endnotes that almost nobody reads. What to do then? Sour grapes much? As is noted above, it isn’t about the author but about the work. Except when it isn’t. Then what? (Yes, I’m now picking YOUR brain.)

    Reply
  16. margueritequantaine Post author

    You’re right on all counts, Judy, and I actually deal with that ‘all or nothing’ dilemma in my new blog posting today. Presently, on Amazon my book is being praised by verified buyers, while on Goodreads I’m taking hits by those who can lower the star rating incognito, without leaving a review. It doesn’t detract from the caliber of my writing or the value of my book, regardless.

    As far as other writers stealing your thunder, I know from experience you must let it slide. I recently read a blog where the writer, who doesn’t hide her contempt for me in private, lifted the information from one chapter in my book and, in writing a blog about that history, effectively became a spoiler for the chapter, while acting as originator rather than copycat.

    That means she reads my work and finds what I say to be worthy. Do I wish she hadn’t ruined the book’s moment? Yes. But she stretched it out to wax poetic for 3,000 words, where I’d made it fun and fascinating in 500. It did me no harm. It made an impression on her. It gave her a feeling of superiority. It taught history.

    Expecting credit would be expecting too much. My job there was done.

    Reply
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