Sunday, February 13, 2011

On Bad Reviews and Comments from Author Sock Puppets

SFP's Pages Turned lit blog turned me on (way late, it seems) to the latest flaming backlash from an author who does not appreciate her book being less-than-positively reviewed by an unprofessional critic, otherwise known as anyone coming from the despicable book blogging community.  I suspect that many of you have experienced the same; it's happened to me several times and it is the main reason I've cut back so far on the number of review copies I nowadays accept from publishers or authors.

I will say, too, before going any further, that I have sometimes been overwhelmed by the graciousness of several authors who have stopped by to thank me for reviewing their books even though my reviews were far from being raves.  I am pleased to report that the "gracious group," in my experience, has outnumbered the "unprofessional group" by at least 5 to 1.

This is some of what Sylvia Massara had to say about book bloggers (only the ones who do not rave about her work, of course):
This is why I am warning authors to beware of this kind of reviewer. When you offer your book to be reviewed, first take the time to check out the reviewer. Have a read of some of the reviews they wrote in the past. See if they trashed someone else. Make sure they back up their reviews with facts and objective criticism. I learned my lesson the hard way and didn't do my research first, as I should have done.

Oftentimes, the people who set up these kinds of blogs have never written a thing in their lives, except maybe a grocery list. Most are avid readers who think they are qualified to review someone else's work. So it's very sad when they go about damaging the image of upcoming small press and indie authors with the rubbish they write.

My message to them is this: if you cannot write an objective review and back up what you say, then don't write anything at all. And next time you use the words "predictable" or "one dimensional" try to quantify what you mean--that is, if you are able to write about it. Please bear in mind that writers work very hard at their craft and the last thing they need is a smartass who makes subjective comments because they don't know how to do anything else.
This is tame stuff compared to the anonymous comments she left on at least two of the blogs that published unfavorable reviews of her latest romance novel.

Sylvia seems to be advising her pals to send their work out to only those "unprofessionals" that are willing to write a canned, positive review in exchange for the privilege of having received a "free" book.  Anyone daring to challenge Sylvia's skills is written off as just another "avid reader that has never written anything other than a grocery list."  Otherwise why would they fail to be dazzled by Sylvia's brilliance?

I cannot speak for others in the lit blog community, and I don't pretend to do so.  But, as for me, I started Book Chase a little over four years ago as a personal book journal.  I began with the intention of linking to what was already a thriving community of likeminded people, book lovers, writers, and heavy duty readers.  My "reviews" were as much notes to myself, as they were anything else.  I welcomed the opportunity to spread the word about "little books" that impressed me, the kind of book that seldom makes those trashy bestseller lists at the NY Times and USA Today.  I loved hearing from self-published writers, small presses, and university presses.

I pride myself on giving an honest opinion about what I read, and I think that my reviews have gotten better over the years.  But honesty is still the key ingredient, as far as I'm concerned.  I will admit to letting a few books drop into the Book Chase Black Hole, even though I could neither force myself to finish them nor find anything positive to say about them if I did manage to make it through to the end, precisely because I respected the authors for working so hard to get out the word about their books.  Some would say that is akin to pulling punches, but I have a soft spot in my heart for indie authors and small presses, and if I erred, it was on the side of "doing no harm."

I have only this to say directly to Ms. Massara: Book bloggers do not owe you a thing in return for a review copy other than their consideration of the book for an onsite review.  They certainly do not owe you a positive review.  There are a few "unprofessional" bloggers out there that will gladly do the dirty deed for/with you - and you can find them if you look around for a day or two.  Sadly, that group of bloggers is every bit as unprofessional as the "professionals" who do the same for their own friends and colleagues.  Perhaps, you should consider your own professionalism before leaving snarky anonymous comments around the web regarding what you consider poor reviews of your work.  Is being a "sock puppet" part of the professional image writers shoot for these days?  I doubt it.

(Follow the link in the first paragraph if you want to read Massara's original post (although she has self-servingly deleted about 180 comments she received) and two of the reviews of her work that got the lady in such a snit.)


  1. The funny thing about it is, her attitude will drive away more readers than a few bad reviews will! I think a bad review can many times be as beneficial as a good one since many people, myself included, go read the book for themselves to see if they agree with the reviewer's opinion!

    I'm happy to be unprofessional! :)

  2. "Oftentimes, the people who set up these kinds of blogs have never written a thing in their lives, except maybe a grocery list. Most are avid readers who think they are qualified to review someone else's work."

    Wonderfully insulting. Going by this, the only people who can truly write decent reviews are other authors. Everyone else is just unqualified. Unless, of course, what they are writing is praise - then I'm sure the author will condescendingly give them a pass.

    Every time I see something like this, it makes my blood boil. You'd think people like this would have caught on to the fact that, for the most part, the only thing statements like this do is cause others to avoid reading them. Do they even realize that book bloggers aren't a special class of people? If they're not being paid for their work, then book bloggers are basically regular readers. By insulting them, authors like this are insulting any reader who has ever had an opinion about their work, whether or not they voiced it or wrote about it.

  3. She can go (a little editing here) fly a kite herself. I never meant my blog to be anything more than my "book diary", so she needn't come creeping round my back stair. She and her ilk are the reason I decided not to get into accepting copies for review. One another thing: My grocery lists are a thing of joy and beauty forever. So there, Sock Puppet.

  4. Hear! Hear! Library Girl. Well put. Being one of those "any readers," I am insulted.

  5. Sam, I found the post you linked to by searching for it in Google, but the link in your post doesn't seem to work. Am I the only one with this problem? If I'm not, it might need fixing.

  6. Oh, but it's OK for a "professional" of the caliber of this self-published romance novelist to insult those of us who only read and not write. If we were only so worthy...mean spritied, I know.

  7. Library Girl, after looking at the novel in question, I have a feeling that this woman is not known in her world as a deep thinker. Attacking potential readers the way she has is stupid. Book bloggers, as you say, are "regular readers." In fact, they are the elite of regular readers because they read about 10 times more books per year than the average reader manages. They are book-buyers, and they buy a lot of books. If this "author" wants to insult that whole class of readers, so be it. Her mistake and she is the one that will suffer the consequences, I suspect...not us.

  8. Andy, you unprofessional dog, you. :-)

    Apparently, she does neither understands nor believes the old rule of thumb that there is "no such thing as bad publicity." Or maybe she does...but this kind of bad publicity is the exception to the rule.

  9. Thanks for tipping me about the link, Library Girl. I think I have it fixed correctly now...see the post on Pages Turned of February 12 for SFP's thoughts and links to other spots mentioned.

    Thanks again.