Authors, Bad Reviews, and Bad Reactions

A  book review is a powerful thing. Some authors gladly read their reviews, taking both the good and bad in stride. Others go out of their way to ignore them, pretending that they do not even exist.  There are some authors, however, that become absorbed in their reviews. They live them, breathe them, and obsess over every word. The good reviews might give them something of a swelled head. The bad ones destroy them. They get lost inside the Book Review Triangle.

Much like the ships that have sailed through the Bermuda Triangle and never been heard from again, these authors have been known to fade into obscurity. The pressure is too great. Writing another book and getting the same response – good or bad – would just be too hard. It is safer to never write another book (I have often wondered if this is what happend to Harper Lee). Others make the mistake of responding to the offending reviewer in a less-than-constructive manner (that has happened more than a few times recently).

At the base of the Book Review Triangle is the publisher.  Their primary goal is to make money. If one of these rash responses gets too much attention, it can damage the author’s sales, and if sales are down, then the likelihood that a publisher will take a chance on that author again goes down. It is really a no-win situation.  A poorly reviewed book can still sell well, and sales figures speak more loudly than any bad review ever will.

On one side of the triangle are the professional reviewers. They work for established publications, and their reviews are the ones that carry the most weight in industry circles. The public values these reviews, too.  If the New York Times says a book is good, then it must be. Right?  If Twitter is to be believed, then agents and editors spend a lot of time reminding their authors that, while these reviews might help to boost sales, they are not the deciding factor in determining the success of a book.

It has only been in recent years that authors have had to worry about the the third side of the triangle – book bloggers.  Instead of just being caught between a rock and a hard place, authors now face pressure on a third front. It is this added pressure that sends some of them spiraling out of control when they get a bad review.  These reviews conform to no standards other than those of the blogger. They are emotional. Bloggers can say what they want, how they want to say it. That might mean they say they do not like an author’s work because the characters are bitchy, or stupid, or weird. Those are not the sort of words that appear in a Washington Post review, and that is, I think, why it is harder for authors to remain objective about a blog review. Professional reviews are not meant to be personal.  A blog review, whether it is meant to or not, can certainly feel that way.

Part of the reason that I became a part of the group that forms the third side of the triangle is because I really disliked reading those professional reviews.  It seemed, to me anyway, that too many of those reviewers were frustrated academics who used their forums to write the sort of criticism that gets published in those books that they make grad students read. The problem with that is that most people are not, and never will be, graduate students in literature. These reviews are, too often, unapproachable to the average reader. When I discovered the existence of book blogs, I saw an opportunity to be different, to share my love of books in a way that was more accessible to other readers. It has worked for me.

The conflict that emerges periodically from one of those authors who has been sucked into the triangle is one that gets people on all sides all worked up. They go on the defensive, words are said, justifications are made, and feelings are hurt. It does not have to be that way.
I cannot speak for all bloggers, but I think the majority of us are reasonable people. We try to be fair, and when we criticize a book, we take the time to explain why we feel that way. While we may not be “professionals,” we do try to behave in a professional manner.  All we want, as bloggers, is that everyone else does the same.  Don’t get sucked in.

And if you don’t believe me, then read this awesome blog on the subject from Iron Knight author Julie Kagawa. She’s one of you.

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 Cassandra Neace teaches college students how to write essays and blogs about books and book-related goodness at Indie Reader Houston. Follow her on Twitter: @CassandraNeace

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