Monday, February 27, 2012

A Writer's Right to Rant?

Recently, Nathan Bransford had a great post on writers/authors and casual, ranting reviews. The subjects covered were how an author should react to a ranting review and whether writers/authors give up the right to write casual or ranting reviews.

This topic is near and dear to me because I write negative reviews. Even though I try very hard to keep it constructive, I have been 'questioned' by a handful of authors. It's a highly unpleasant experience. One way to avoid it would be to only write positive reviews, but I just can't bring myself to do that. It would feel...false. I am a writer, and writers are not average readers. Not anymore. We know too much about craft and what goes on behind a story to ever be 'just a reader' again. Since I want to write the best stories I possibly can, that means exploring other books to learn how effective certain aspects of stories can be (or not be). It would feel selfish of me to not share my findings.

So, when an author challenges me about my review, it never comes off well and makes me less likely to read his future books . There is one author in particular whose subsequent book has sounded very interesting and even been recommended to me, but each time I try to pick it up, I am reminded of the earlier, unpleasant interaction and the book feels tainted by association. It's completely not fair to the book (or me, for that matter), but I can't look at it objectively anymore. Which means this: I'm not reading this author, reviewing this person's books, or recommending him/her to other people. That right there should be reason enough to not to respond to any reviews, especially the less than favorable ones. And certainly not in a public forum. Even a simple 'thank you' to a positive review can bring a valuable or interesting discussion to a screeching halt.

As for writers and authors writing casual or ranting reviews, well, this is what I think. When you aspire to be an author (or if you are one), you enter a realm of professionalism where ranting reviews just don't belong. I've come across some writers' websites that shred the books they hate and gush about the ones they love. I get the need to rant. I really do. Books are designed to elicit emotional responses from the reader, and some are more negative than others. But a public review isn't the place to rant. It makes you look petty and unprofessional, and trying to get your work published is hard enough without all that.

So, I guess I am basically saying that I agree with Nathan. Casual, ranting reviews have no place in the professional world of publishing, nor does responding to a review of your book. 

20 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I don't write many reviews. Mostly I just rate the book on Goodreads. But I have read some of the rants, and they weren't necessarily by the author. They were by the author's friends. Bad mistake. Talking about kicking your friend's career in the you know where.

I think the authors who don't check the reviews of their books are smart. The book is already out. You can't change anything. You might as well move on and save yourself the grief.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Great article. When I review a book, I never say anything negative about the author. I will point out good points and bad points and even had one author thank me and he was having the story edited. He was very nice and will have a much better novel.

For reviews of my books, I usually read them and remind myself that everyone is different. Some will like it. Some will not. I can't change that so don't worry about it.

Catherine Stine said...

Thanks for pointing out that it IS a fine balance, and that an author should not be tempted to scold a reviewer. Bad karma, and a reviewer is entitled to have an opinion. I AM an author, and I never write a bad review. I only write the occasional review when I really love a book and want to spread the word.

Tabitha Olson said...

Stina - yeah, I've seen those, too. Kinda fits the saying 'with friends like those, who needs enemies?' :)

Beverly - I think that's the perfect way of handling reviews. It's professional and polite.

Catherine - it sure is a fine balance. I actually see it the same as getting a harsh critique from a fellow writer--it hurts, but there might be some useful nuggets that can be applied to future books. Of course, it hurts more because the entire world read that critique/review, whereas it's far more limited in a critique group.

angel011 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
angel011 said...

I made a mistake, so I deleted my comment.

Anyway. The need to rant in a review can be quite strong, but I agree, it's unprofessional. What's worse than a ranting review is the author quarreling with the reviewer.

Tabitha Olson said...

Yep, it sure is. Even a respectful disagreement can leave bad vibes behind (I've experienced this one, too). The work has to speak for itself, and getting an explanation after the fact often makes the author seem condescending, even if that wasn't the intent.

Kelly Hashway said...

I would never respond to a negative review. Every reader is entitled to his/her opinion. Will negative reviews hurt my feelings? Yes. But at least the reader read my book. That's the positive I'll choose to take away from it.

cleemckenzie said...

Great post, Tabitha. I admire you for your honesty in this matter. I seldom review, but when I do I consider what I say carefully. It's my opinion and only mine so it's up the reader to decide if what I say carries weight in her decision to read or not read.

As to ranting . . . what's the point? I agree with you and Nathan. That's not productive in any way.

Mirka Breen said...

I'd go farther and say an author should not respond to negative AND POSITIVE reviews. The only time to respond is if there is a serious misunderstanding of the author's position. But even then- best to stay out. What we had to say is in the book(s).

Shannon Lawrence said...

I think that if someone is going to review books, they need to do so accurately and honestly, even if that means a bad review. However, they should be constructive. I'm always surprised when I hear that an author has replied to a nasty review, because something that may have made the reviewer look inappropriate will automatically switch to making the author look bad. I'm not looking forward to bad reviews when the day comes, but I'm going to have to remind myself to sit on my fingers!

Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z

Diane Carlisle said...

If I read a book that didn't quite do it for me, I simply will not write a review. Why would I waste my time and effort on something that didn't provide me the level of entertainment I expect from a good book?

When I purchase a book, I'm taking a gamble. I know this already and it doesn't matter who the author is, whether my best selling favorite or a self published rising star.

If I enjoyed it, I'll be happy to write up my thoughts, because the author deserves praise for good work and they deserve encouragement to continue.

Providing negative feedback in a public forum only invites "buzz" to an otherwise non worthy (in your opinion) piece of work. If it's your desire to create attention, whether negative or positive, a review will do that for the author.

On Good Reads, I gave two books negative remarks, but I don't consider them ranting reviews, more a factual statement on why I wasn't fulfilled by the genre or some other aspect of the style, not anything really to do with the author.

Anyway, did I just write a book here or what? Great post and pretty thought provoking. I enjoyed being inspired to give my thoughts on your blog.

Tabitha Olson said...

Kelly - what a lovely way to look at things. I think I will adopt that philosophy when I've got books on the shelves. :)

Lee - thank you! Reviewing is a tough choice, and there are definite consequences for it. And, yeah, ranting doesn't help anyone. At all.

Mirka - exactly! If the author pokes her head up and even says 'thanks' to the reviewer in a public forum, it can squash future discussion because everyone will assume the author is 'listening' and won't want to step on any toes. If an author really feels the need to thank a reviewer, I think it should be done privately, short and sweet. :)

Tabitha Olson said...

Shannon - so, so true. Reviews should *always* be constructive and focused on the work (not the author). And that's a great point about how 'looking bad' goes from reviewer to author if she responds to a scathing review. Yet another reason to just walk away.

Diane - I aspire to be thought-provoking, so I'm glad to hear it! :) You and I have opposite outlooks on books we didn't like (which is great because they both work well). If a book doesn't work for me, I want to know why so I can avoid those mistakes in my own work. I will pick it apart until I figure it out, and often that turns into a review--and then I feel selfish if I don't share my findings with other writers. :) If I just hated it for no particular reason, I won't review it. I think those are the kinds of reviews that generate negative buzz, and then everyone gets up in arms. :)

Avery Marsh said...

As an aspiring author, I feed on bad reviews. Not the tangential ones, but reviews like yours where the work is dissected by someone who knows the craft. I study them like I would a textbook to see what works and what doesn't, then compare it to my own manuscript to see where it might be lacking.

When/if I do get published, I don't know if I'll read my own book's reviews, though. Part of me thinks I'll be able to handle bad reviews and learn from them, but so many authors advise against it, saying that whether or not they're positive or negative, they will affect your writing. (False praise vs. Self-doubt) So... I'm torn on that one.

Claudine G. said...

Hi Tabitha, it's always almost-nervewrecking for me to check out a review on my book, but I do appreciate honest reviews. So even if the reviewer hadn't enjoyed my book, I'd still be grateful that he/she took the time to read and review it.

Tabitha Olson said...

Avery - same here. I feel that reading is as much a part of learning to write as writing. And I'm not so sure I'm going to read reviews of my books, either. :)

Claudine - I think that's a fabulous way of looking at things, and I'm going to adopt that philosophy when the time comes. :)

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