If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

HelenKay Dimon and my lovely sister-in-law Wendy Duren are taking some heat on their romance novel review blog for panning a book.  The aggrieved author wrote:

I’m sitting here, trying to understand why someone who belongs to the
sistah-hood of struggling, blood-stained, published romance authors would trash
another author’s first book.

Apparently, there’s an unwritten rule that, well, if you can’t say anything nice about a romance, don’t say anything at all. HelenKay takes exception:

In an effort to promote the genre, to suggest we should be taken seriously
outside of the romance writing world, we don’t shy away from the negative
review.  After all, if we can’t self-critique in a way that amounts to more than
empty cheerleading, have we earned the credibility we insist we should have?

Helen elaborates on the point in the comments to her post:

I have to say I find romance writers’ professed views on this issue
completely disingenous. You see on blogs all the time how angry romance writers
are that their work isn’t taken seriously. How upset they are that their books
aren’t covered in magazines and book reviews and other public venues. Yet, these
authors get absolutely hostile if anyone dares to suggest their work suffers
from any deficiency. And, if the criticism comes from within the genre then the
calls for revenge and cries of unfairness start. That very reaction could be why
romance authors aren’t taken seriously. We act childish and unprofessional. When
we do that, I think we get what we deserve – laughed at.

I’ve got to agree with HelenKay on this one.  It’s not a situation unique to Romance Writers. The same issues pervade the mystery field, too.  My brother Tod had this to say to someone who didn’t agree with Helen:

You want to write and not have a critical eye placed upon your work? Fine. Stick
your stuff under your bed. But if you want to write and sell and have a career,
you have to understand that the written word is going to be examined. There’s no
genre of writing that is immune.

UPDATE: Alison Kent chimes in with a good over-view on both sides of  the "controversy."



11 thoughts on “If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…”

  1. Welcome to the real world, Helen. Better luck next time. Keep in mind not publishing bad reviews is a disservice to the reader.
    Put this in perspective. A good review will move twenty books. A bad review will move five. No review will move 0.
    I’ll take the bad review over no review any day. They almost always include the ISBN and/or the publisher’s name anyway.
    Er… Lee? I haven’t read the ARC yet, so no, that doesn’t mean I’m writing a bad review of yours.
    If at all.
    I’ll quit while I’m behind.

  2. Of course it depends on who is doing the review and how much credibility they hold. A slam review at Amazon is meaningless (so is a positive one)as much as some authors claim otherwise. When a reader slams the book and author without mentioning a technical detail that indicates they actually read it, it’s easy to see what’s going on.

  3. Whenever I write a negative review at Amazon, I usually wind up hearing from the author about how I should change it.
    No body likes to hear negative things about something they’ve worked long and hard on. Knowing this has made me work very hard at backing up what I say over there with reasons why I feel that way. Makes it harder for anyone to say anything to me. And it’s made me a better reviewer.

  4. Obviously it’s natural to be a little upset and maybe even a little hurt by a negative review. But if you can’t take that, you have no business even considering being a writer.
    If you can’t accept negative reviews, then you can’t accept reviews at all. And if you can’t accept reviews at all, then your work is meaningless.

  5. Man, this is not my world AT ALL, so it’s even more intriguing to me that this is going on behind the scenes…
    Someone needs to write a MOW about this.

  6. A vaild negative review is one with actual information pertinent to that particular piece, not a generality. It’s legitimate not to like something about a given book. Saying it’s terrible without substantiation is useless. Well so are amateur reviews for that matter.

  7. Well, I try to avoid KPO (keen perception of the obvious) but amateur in this sense is a reader, fan, and so on, not a professional reviewer. The latter doesn’t operate on Amazon, unless as an Amazon reviewer. They cite information contained in the book as to whether it works or not. The amateurs either praise to death, (their friends) or ad hominem the author for personal reasons that have little to do with the work.

  8. There are some decent reviewers on Amazon, both pro and amateur. And, of course, there are a lot of people with their heads on backwards.
    I don’t know how much effect the reviews have on potential buyers (I would assume at least some), but the publishers think they matter.

  9. Actually, I have found that reviews don’t really affect sales one way or the other. I believe others have mentioned this on blogs, including Mrs. Giggles.
    The good ones are a nice thing to post around–if they’re well done. The bad ones are a learning tool and a help–if they’re professional. Otherwise, they’re pretty much a few seconds’ reading, then I ignore it.
    And I agree with Mark–a professional review doesn’t just state an opinion, but backs it up with examples and facts. And they have to have enough background to know what they’re talking about. A vague comment like, ‘it could have used more editing’ without any specifics is just as bad as no specifcs at all.
    An unsubstantiated review is an opinion, nothing more.
    One also has to consider reviews on Amazon are often used as weapons or tools to attempt to further an author’s career–or end it. This is in addition to the fact that most are just people who read the book, not a professional, and are just saying what they think. You really can’t expect Average Reader to write a professional review.

  10. “Actually, I have found that reviews don’t really affect sales one way or the other.”
    Do you mean reviews in general or just Amazon reviews? Either way, this runs contrary to what most publishers believe, based on my experience.
    Having been both a professional and an amateur reviewer, I think there can be value in both, it all just depends on who’s writing it.
    Obviously most of the “reviews” at a place like Amazon can be dispensed with out of hand. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some wheat within the chaff, though.


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