Vicious Reviews and How to Deal with Them

Friday, 2 October 2015

I did something for the first time this morning. I defended another author on Goodreads.

I’m hardly ever on Goodreads because I find it a rather scary place, with too much friction and far too much opinion, but I really enjoyed The Year of Living Danishly by UK journalist Helen Russell, and I wanted to give her a rating (incidentally, I gave the book four stars).

Sure enough, as I often find on Goodreads, I stumbled across many nasty ‘reviews’, including one that was rather brutal.

I do not know Helen Russell. I’ve never met her, in person or online. She did not ask for help nor even respond to the brutal review (no-response is what all good authors 'should' do). Yet I felt compelled to support Helen. Not because the ‘reviewer’ didn’t like the book or had an opinion on the book—no, no, not at all. But because she assassinated Helen’s character.

Sorry, but this, in my book (‘scuse the pun), is NOT on.

You cannot include author assassination in any 'review'. It is so wrong, on so many levels, it's beyond offensive. The problem is so huge now, there are websites dedicated to 'stopping the bullies' on Goodreads and other sites, and to outing people who troll from author to author, assassinating or leaving serial one-stars on anything an author publishes ... and of course, as the weak so often do, retaining a 'private' account and pseudonym.

Anyone can be a reviewer now, thanks to sites like 'Good'reads, and this isn’t always a good thing. Like movie trailers, reviews (by the masses or otherwise) are utterly subjective and absolutely do hold sway when it comes to committing to one of the kajillion titles we’d all love to read. I’m certain that many an iffy review has kyboshed my desire to read a book I probably would have really loved, thanks to one person’s opinion. And this is part of the reason I’ve stopped reading reviews. On Goodreads, anyway.

But more than that—it seems that lifetimes of angst and pent up anger and frustration and hate are regularly and readily unleashed on unsuspecting authors, who really didn't ask for it. And this is an abominable thing. Hardly any author escapes it. I’ve also copped it.

The Year of Living Danishly was written by a warm, funny, self-derisive, inquisitive woman. It was an interesting read and at times had me utterly intrigued and laughing out loud. Yes, there were parts I found a little slow, and how I wish I had got hold of that book to give it a good edit before publication! But otherwise, it was a charming read that I really enjoyed. (And I learned a great deal—always a good thing.)

So this brutal 'review' (sorry--character assassination) essentially described Helen as shallow, not as ‘amusing as she thinks she is’ (forgive me—where does Helen state that she thinks she’s supremely amusing?), naïve, patronising, irritating, lacking in depth of thought, ‘tee-hee ignorant’, and made the reviewer feel embarrassed and like an intellectual giant by comparison (!). This infuriated me. The ‘reviewer’ even took pains to point out that Helen had neglected to report on all the things the ‘reviewer’ would have liked her to include in the book.


I see these types of ‘reviews’ a lot. Amateurs wanting a book to be the way THEY would like it to be. To paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert on this topic, ‘then write your own damn book!’ These same reviews are often simultaneously designed to inflict a kind of hurt (why?!), that--like this one--is really pretty much libel. On Amazon recently, I discovered a review of one of my own books that labelled me as a stuck-up, smug, self-obsessed, lowlife person whom the reviewer wouldn’t even want to MEET, let alone know. She stopped short of saying she wouldn’t pee on me if I was on fire, but I just know her fingers were itching to type it. She also said she felt sorry for anyone who ever knew me or would know me.


And here I was thinking I’d written a book with honesty, warmth, humour (though I never once state how supremely humorous I am) and deep vulnerability. Where she came up with this assessment of me, as a person, via one of my books, will remain an eternal mystery to me. The review was so wounding, I very rarely read reviews of my books now—never on book sites and never, ever on Goodreads or Amazon where the screamed opinions of the clueless drown out the measured, dedicated, pro reviewers.

It’s kind of sad. Why should an author be terrified over reading reviews? I don’t mind if people hate my books but to assign such hatred to me, as a person? I'm just a mum who loves to write and draw! I'm just Tan!

Here’s a novel idea (‘scuse the pun, again): authors are real people. They have feelings. Hammering someone’s character because you didn’t like their book says more about the ‘reviewer’ than anything else. And I guess that’s something we have to remember, as authors. I wonder if these reviewers know how their reviews make them look to the Rest of World.

The thing is, we don’t have to like books. We can put them down. The ‘reviewer’ of Helen’s book didn’t put it down. Why did she waste time on something that so infuriated her? Let it go, dear ‘reviewer’, let it go.

This ‘reviewer’ also gave Helen’s book three stars (a giant rating considering her assassination) and that’s okay. She didn’t have to like it or agree with it. But to rant and rave about how SHE would like the book to have been written, and worse—to judge, belittle and assassinate Helen, is just atrocious, and my respect for sites like Goodreads would heighten immensely if they spent more time deleting ‘reviews’ like this—and, even better—banning such reviewers.

UPDATE: I have removed my Goodreads membership. I refuse to support any site that openly allows and even encourages (by way of turning a blind eye) hatred, personal vilification and libel on their site, and flagrantly gags authors from responding to author character assassination and shaming (which is not what a review site let alone a decent site should be about). I was firmly told that if I was to respond to the hateful review, I could face suspension. ME!!!! How f**ked up is that? If you want to learn more about the anti-author stance Goodreads openly supports (and has actually told me so in emails), just google it. Goodreads also openly supports (they have actually told me this in an email) serial one-star-leavers--angry people who use the site to discredit or harm the standing of authors.

So, please, readers, think deeply before posting reviews that a) rant about how YOU would have liked the book to have been written (write your own damn book!), and b) never, ever assume to know the author from their book, or place any kind of judgment call on them. All books are written with heart and passion and no author expects every reader to resonate with or even like their work. What they do NOT expect is to suffer public vilification or shaming at the hands of someone they've never even met.

Also think deeply before relying on reviews. Be selective with the reviews you read and the sites you read them on. The majority of reviewers on Goodreads and book sites like Amazon are NOT qualified to provide much more than a subjective opinion. Sure, they have every right to an opinion (that's isn't hatred or libel), but if you want a considered, professional review from industry folk who know books inside out and would never in a million years vilify an author, be selective.

If you come across character assassination reviews, flag them to admin! Stand up against this abomination that so many angry people seem to be getting away with. I also encourage you to remove your membership from sites that openly support hate posts. Like Goodreads and Amazon.

For the authors out there who have (or might) suffer a character assassination, take heart. You are not alone and the review is not about you or your work. It’s about the reviewer. DO NOT respond! If you do, the nutbag who left the review will make things a lot worse for you--as nutbags do. Just let it go (though if the review is clear libel or is seriously damaging for your book--and I actually believe all such reviews are damaging--alert your publisher to take action, and have someone else flag it to the site’s admin).

Lastly, if we can feel secure in the knowledge that WE know who we are--that we are not some imagined abomination from the tortured mind of some virtual stranger--then we have come far on the evolutionary scale, indeed.

Meantime, grab Helen’s book. It’s fabulous.


Sheryl Gwyther said...

Good on you, Tania!! I can't for the life of me understand why certain people can be bothered with that sort of viciousness. Just nasty and jealous too, I suspect.
I got on and defended one of Karen Brooks's books a few years ago - the person who did it was so selective and judgemental, and wrong! So I told her so. :)
Tania, you'll probably want to change in your first paragraph, the title, :) The Year of Living Dangerously. Great book! haha You might've already noticed that. xx

hazel said...

An opportune subject.

Agree with all your comments about reviewing, but there's also the dilemma of personal reputation as an impartial and informed reviewer.

Then there's the Emperor's New Clothes issue. If you have technical qualms about a highly promoted and marketed title which was published only because of the author name and connections and it is just not well written, there's a dilemma.

Too many reviews of new authors by friends tend to be pure gush. And that's a danger too.

So is the self-published author paying for reviews which appears to be a growing trend. In the past there were more print outlets where an editor allocated a book for review to an experienced reviewer who was paid for an objective review. Even the selection of the book for review via this sifting process indicated it was worth reading. Now it's possible for anyone to put up a hasty review online. Sometimes the motives are NOT to share the book but deflect interest from it because the amateur reviewer has a personal interest.

Good Reads attracts genuine fellow readers looking for honest evaluations. But there are also others with different motivations.

I prefer to find something positive to say, but also moderate my technical qualms with examples. And to declare any personal bias in the review.

Tania McCartney said...

Thanks, Shez! It's mindboggling!

Tania McCartney said...

All fabulous points, Hazel, and I so agree.

It's horrifying to hear people pay for reviews. I was approached by someone asking if I'd like 'massive exposure' for my books, with carefully-placed reviews, by paying a fee. I told the person in no uncertain terms that authors should NEVER pay for a review and that I was actually insulted that she would think I was that desperate or that my books needed that. Awful awful.

I think Goodreads has many legit, dedicated reviewers, but like many things online, their voices are frequently drowned out by pap and smear campaigns, and I find I can't trust their reviews any more. Some a great, but most are unhelpful, I have to say.

I think a mixed review is fine, and even stating one's disagreement with writing style, story or facts is fine, so long as it's not a personal attack on the author and their character. This is unacceptable.

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