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Slightly Fevered Thoughts on Reviewing

I recently had the novel experience of being the very first person to review a certain book online. When I initially posted my 2 star review, it had one 5 star rating with minimal commentary at GoodReads and no reviews I could find anywhere.  (And given how many authors now salt review sites with phony reviews, I’m half sorry I didn’t give it a higher rating just to reward an honest author. But I guess that would defeat the purpose.)

It was a little unnerving to rate a book 2 stars when the only other rating is 5 stars, but I’ve been out of step so often, I’m pretty much used to it. Still, curiosity has kept me checking back on the book at GoodReads. Shortly after my review went up, another 2 star rating appeared. Then another. Currently it has four 2 star ratings, one 3 star, one 4 star and one 5 star.  (Still no ratings at Amazon — again, thank you honest author!)

In my experience, this is very rare. Most early ratings I see run high — frequently, to me, bafflingly high. And though GoodReads is thankfully not as prone to the author sock-puppetry you see endlessly at Amazon, I confess, I have wondered about how much those reviewers were influenced by receiving a free early review copy or by feeling an obligation to the author.

But now I’m wondering if maybe it’s just really hard to go first. To have the courage of your negative convictions without any peer support. Would those other 2 star ratings have appeared if mine hadn’t? I have no way of knowing — all I know was that this wasn’t the first 2 star early read for me, but that this was the first time others have openly agreed with me.

I need to write a reviewer’s statement for “Karen Knows Best,” and it’s hard. I’d like to claim that I’m never influenced by where a book comes from, or by other people’s opinions, but I’m not sure I can. I’m the wishy-washy Beatle on this blog. I see three sides to every issue.  Reviewing here has been good for me, because the spirit of the blog is to speak your mind as forthrightly as possible and let the chips fall where they may. (So far they haven’t fallen much of anyplace. It’s almost disappointing.)

And we need that spirit of forthrightness, because reviewing online is getting ugly. First the sock-puppets made Amazon reviews meaningless and useless (well not completely — when I see certain kinds of raves there, I can pretty much conclude the book sucks.) Now they’re also targeting honest reviewers with vicious personal retaliations.  Check out this bit of nastiness, and this.

It’s hard to completely avoid forces that might influence how we read a book and thus how we review it. Not wanting to offend a favorite author. Not wanting to be mean. Being scared to be the first to offer a negative opinion. Trying to be funny. Having a bad day.  Hell, I’m writing this while I have the flu; I’m just hoping it’s actually in English.  For myself, I’ve concluded that those influences come with being human, and could even be considered part of the subjective experience of reviewing. What’s important to me is whether I can move past them and keep the focus of a review on what I genuinely think and feel.

But I can’t think of anything uglier that might influence a review than being scared to be honest because you might get attacked. So here’s to everyone out there who speaks up and goes first, and makes it easier for others to speak their mind. I’m glad I got to be one of you.

Too good to pass up (as blog fodder)


I was busy with other things yesterday when this review went up at Dear Author, but as I was coming over to post something else, Karen had already been there, done that, and come back to post about it.

Anyway, will you look at this precious, precious gem from Sandy: (more…)

Open letter to Maggie Stiefvater

Ms Stiefvater, you may have not consciously intended to, but you most definitely belittled book bloggers with your comments–just as you have in the past belittled romance readers (many of whom read you despite your attitude towards what they read¹).

“A review is an unbiased, careful look at a book — basically it is a little academic paper. It involves an itty-bitty thesis on your opinion of the book, surrounded by tiny supporting sentences describing the strengths and weaknesses of said book.”

Says you–and I disagree with you in the most absolute, unequivocal manner possible. (more…)

I admit it, patience is not my long suit.

I get frustrated when I see the same old bullshit brought up and touted as truth, the whole truth and the absolute truth. Honestly, how many time must these things be debunked for it sink in?

“A review that points out anything negative about a book is a bad review.”

No. A bad review is a review that doesn’t say anything about the book. Examples of bad reviews:

“This is the best book EVER!”

“Highly recommended!”

“You have to buy this book!”

“Don’t buy this shit.”

“It’s obvious the author can’t write, don’t buy his/her work.”

None of these tell the reader anything about the book, regardless of whether they praise or berate it. As reviews, they are useless. Useless review = bad review.

“A good review must contain constructive criticism. “

Not only no, but hell, no. Reviews are for readers, not for authors. If authors want constructive criticism, they should get beta readers and/or critique partners.

“Free speech protects authors as much as it protects reviewers.”

First, free speech is a protected right in the US–check your country’s law for other takes on it.

Second, what the hell does that have to do with a reviewer’s reaction and/or opinion on a book?

Third, while authors have every right to their feelings and reactions, common sense (that most rare of all senses) tells me that it behooves them to be careful with their professional image.

“There is no need to be ‘mean’ when reviewing.” “Why go out of the way to hurt the author’s feelings?” “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.”

A good review needs to be well articulated and factual; the rest is style–the reviewer’s style. The rest of the above admonishments are bullshit intended to silence opinions that differ from those of the people uttering them.

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(Most of KKB’s readers know what brought this up; the few who don’t can check here and here)

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In other news…

I’ve been reading like crazy. Seriously, who needs sleep when there are books to be read?

Now I need to sit down at the computer for more than three minutes in a row and write reviews for at least a few of the two dozen books I’ve read in the past ten days…

Well, actually that’s not quite right. He just decided to remove a link to a five star review of one of his Mr Monk books from his blog. Apparently, the more a writer spends on advertising with Affaire De Coeur, the better their review. What a total scam if that’s true.

I have removed the positive review that MR. MONK GOES TO GERMANY received from Affaire de Coeur from this blog because I don’t want to lend the sham publication the slightest shred of credibility.

I’ve just discovered that their advertising director, Bonny Kirby, co-owns the disgraced Light Sword Publishing company with Linda Daly (a court recently fined Kirby and Daly thousands of dollars for defrauding authors). This explains why Light Sword titles consistently got positive reviews from Affaire De Coeur and why Daly was the subject of a cover story. No reputable magazine would review books published by their advertising director…or feature her partners on the cover. It’s a sleazy, unethical conflict-of-interest.

I also learned that advertisers get positive reviews and articles written about them depending on the amount of page space they purchase. That, too, is sleazy and unethical.

I’m notifying my publisher that I don’t want the review quoted on my covers nor do I want any of my books sent to the magazine. They aren’t a legitimate publication. They are sleaze bags.

Harsh huh? I totally agree with him though. I hate that ADC is a (mostly) romancentric review site, because this will do nothing to improve the image of the genre to outsiders. Not that I particularly care, but I hear there are people out there who actually give a shit.

I wonder how many romance authors would have done something similar? Pulled a link to a glowing review because they weren’t happy with the source?

Whenever I see an author quote Harriet Klausner’s review of their book, I cringe like crazy. I’ve never understood why anybody would proudly put up one of her reviews on their site. As far as I’m concerned, she has no credibility, and if I was an author, the last thing I’d want is to advertise the fact that she reviewed my book. *Shudder*

Good on Goldberg for sticking to his principles.

(Although, the cynic in me thinks it’s pretty easy to be principled when you’re already a successful author. *g*)


Lee has also very rightly taken a pop at Romantic Times for their policy of getting publishers to pay for ads in exchange for reviews. I’ve always thought this was a dodgy way of doing things, conflict of interest and all, but I guess since nobody’s complained, they’ve just carried on.

Goldberg lists some of the codes of ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists that govern the relationship between editorial and advertising content:

Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know. Journalists should:

— Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
— Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.

He goes on to list the guidelines for publications produced by the Mystery Writers of America:

The reporter or author of editorial content in the newsletter must avoid any conflicts of interest, real or perceived, with regard to the subject of his articles. All potential conflicts should be disclosed (eg: an author interviewing his own publisher or editor).

– The reporter or author of editorial content in the newsletter should refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment related to the articles they are writing (eg: free travel and registration at a conference in return for the article).

Editorial impartiality and integrity should never be compromised by the relationship and the chapter should retain editorial control of ALL content. Selection of editorial topics, treatment of issues, interpretation and other editorial decisions must NOT be determined by advertisers.

Advertisers and potential advertisers must never receive favorable editorial treatment because of their economic value to the newsletter.

Lee has included lots more guidelines, but it seems to me that both Affaire De Coeur and Romantic Times are in breach of quite a number of them already.

I wonder how long it will be before there is a demand for RT and ADC to stop taking money in exchange for positive reviews? Or at the very least, disclose the fact that the reviews have been paid for?