Why All The Sour Grapes?

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Many book reviewers have often complained how the authors or the author’s friends, fans, and relatives harrass the reviewer for portraying a book negatively. Examples of these behaviors are numerous.

C.S. Lakin gave a poor review to a bestselling author. “But this author sought me out, somehow found my e-mail address, and wrote to me. Not just once but many times. At first she was polite and friendly and tried to persuade me to remove my review. Then the letters got more demanding, hostile, and she even enlisted other author friends to threaten me (in numerous ways). I was astonished and shocked. It wasn’t so much her immaturity that got to me; it was seeing how her joy was so easily destroyed by one not-so-complimentary review.” (Writing For an Audience Can Be Dangerous; April, 2012)

Another book reviewer left a comment on Mike Duran’s site. She said, “My review elicited a private email (NOT from the author but a fan/friend/relation of hers) saying that I had just killed any chance I ever had of getting published in the CBA.” (Review. Rinse. Repeat.)

You can’t bully or threaten a better opinion. If someone doesn’t like a book, they don’t like it. Part of our responsibility as book reviewers is to tell the truth in love. It’s up to the readers to determine what books they will buy. I am happy to say even my poor reviews have helped to sell books on more than one occasion.  I’m here for the reader. You can post fluff reviews just to sell books, but as I am observing, fluff reviews are backfiring. People aren’t trusting them.

Mike Duran said in In Praise of Bad Reviews, “When it comes to book reviews, many reviewers deserve a thumbs-down. Is it because they are too harsh, too nit-picky, or too critical? On the contrary, it’s because they’re not harsh, nit-picky, and critical enough! Which is why I ignore certain reviewers — not because they pick everything apart, but because they praise everything. A reviewer who likes everything they read is either biased, dishonest, or dense. I can forgive a reviewer for liking a book I hate. I can’t forgive them for liking everything they read.” (April, 2012)

Another offender are anonymous reviews. One review on Barnes and Noble listed as anonymous raved about a particular book. The person listed the author’s age as they praised the author’s wisdom. How would they know that if they didn’t know her personally? It’s possible the author’s age might have been mentioned inside the book, but that’s not normally the case. A bio rarely includes an age. Like I said at an ACFW meeting earlier last year, bad reviews aren’t terrible. Bad reviews make a book credible. It means not all the reviews were from family or friends or fanatic fans. An epidemic of attacks against reviewers of books or products says much about our narcissistic culture. Even a best selling author turned on her reviewer.

 The Atlantic Monthly reported on August 28, 2012 about the best selling author, Emily Griffith who became upset over one bad review. Emily’s husband called the negative reviewer psycho which began a host of attacks from Griffith fans against that reviewer. Another reviewer, Corey,  saw this and changed her star rating on Amazon from four to one because of Emily’s alleged bad behavior. Emily then allegedly said that Corey changed it from a five-star review to a one star.

“It was never a five-star.” Corey writes. The attacks occurred on Amazon, email and by phone from crazed fans.Then, I received a couple of emails from an angry man about a negative review I wrote. He even switched to a false name to avoid my spam folder using a different email to call me names when he didn’t get what he wanted from me.

As I told the angry man, we are a large Body of Christ filled with many opinions and different likes and dislikes. As one comment on The Atlantic Monthly stated, at least people are talking about the book. Isn’t that the point? So why all the sour grapes?

I like how C.S. Lakin put it in Writing For an Audience Can Be Dangerous. “I learned a tremendous lesson from that encounter. Actually, a lot of lessons. One being that I never want to become like that if I ever sell big. I want to be gracious, kind, accepting, and respect others’ opinions–even if it means they hate my books.” (emphasis mine)

Unlike C.S. Lakin, I won’t take down my bad reviews. We grow through trials. In fact, because of one particular site changing their terms and removing my two-star review after it posted, I now have a book review policy. Whether it’s from a strange need as C.S. Lakin describes in Writing For an Audience Can Be Dangerous or because authors’ friends or relatives want their author to be successful, a reviewer should not be attacked in any way. Discussion is always welcome, but accusations, manipulation of the system, manipulation in the disguise of a “discussion,” name-calling, threatening, or bullying are strictly forbidden. If you are guilty of doing this, let me put it another way—your name in their mind will always be associated with that encounter. Why not let your name be linked to a positive experience instead?

More on that Friday as I share an example from years ago on why a good attitude is important. Meanwhile, tell me your story. If you are a book reviewer, what experiences have you had with book reviewing? 

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25 thoughts on “Why All The Sour Grapes?”

  1. I check out the writing track record of the author first before deciding to review a book and can tell by the end of the first three chapters or the ‘Look Inside” section on Amazon whether or not it is going to warrant 3 stars or over. If it doesn’t reach that standard I go on to the next book. Vindictive writers who seek out their reviewers when they get a less than perfect review have no business calling themselves professional writers. If you’ve had articles published for newspapers and journals and the piece, in the opinion of the editor doesn’t reach the standard they will send copy back for rewrites, ask for clarification or sometimes ask for an entire new piece. If you are putting your work out there and expecting to be paid for it and can’t handle criticism then that is a reflection on the writer – not the reviewer.

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    1. Thank you, Lambert, for your excellent comments regarding vindictive authors seeking out reviewers. What’s even worse is when an author writes up a blog post for the specific purpose of degrading a reviewer after 2 months have passed since the review was posted. That is spiteful and inappropriate to say the least.

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  2. I’ve had another author actually harass me to the point of claiming I drove across the country and practiced witchcraft on her front lawn! (trust me…didn’t happen). Then she called my (non-book related) EMPLOYER to tell them this wild story and created a blog about how she had a restraining order against me (also, not true). Never met or talked to the woman.

    Some of these authors are simply crazy!

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  3. I agree that the lavish praise of many 5 star reviews just don’t ring true–unless they back it up with some sound statements. Personally, I look for 4 stars–they seem to be more honest than someone’s friend or family going overboard (although I do appreciate the 5 star ones I’ve received). Additionally, it doesn’t take but a quick read of the sample to see if the writing ability is worthy of a 5 star.

    For those books I really don’t care for, I don’t leave a review. But I agree there are some angry people out there!

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    1. Some people don’t like giving negative reviews and so won’t post one if the book isn’t good. I respect that. I also agree that within a few chapters I can determine how well the reading is going to go. Lots of angry people, or rather, people who want control.

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  4. Writers are responsible for writing the work. Reviewers are responsible for reviewing it. As a writer, I hold to the adage “what other people think of me is none of my business.”

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  5. Think people should be able to voice their thoughts of a book and not be bullied for that review. I feel it is very wrong when you leave a review the author doesn’t like it and removes it. This has happened to me on amazon. Then she writes on her blog that the person was sorry and changed there mind and removed it which was a lie. they are not suppose to be able to do this but she did it some how. This author is nothing but a bully and picks on readers for her own cause. This is what needs to stop. If i love a book I love it and will mark as so if i hate a box and for what it stands for I have the right to mark it as so.

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    1. One other thing…always state why you don’t like a book. That’s important. A lot of times I read reviews and the person gives it the rating without really getting into the details of why it was that rating.

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  6. Thanks so much for going deeper into this topic. What I was told is that Christians should never say anything unkind. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all. That’s the rule. I don’t go around posting mean reviews. In fact, that negative review was one of only two I’d ever written that was negative. I felt the book encouraged some very dangerous thinking, aside from their being huge structural flaws. But I see some flaws in all books, including my own. I make a living finding and helping correct flaws in manuscripts, so that wasn’t it. i had a concern about the message the book was sending and it pertained to child-rearing. I felt I need to say something even if dozens of other readers raved about the book. I’ve longed gotten over wondering why so many really bad books make best-seller lists 🙂 I do think, though, it’s not worthwhile to trash a book or write a negative review just to say how terrible it is. There are a lot of those kinds of books out there. I feel book reviews should be saying something helpful, if they are going to be negative. I get my share of 2 and 3 star reviews on occasion for some of my novels, and I am fine with the reasons and know I’m not out to please everyone. I don’t expect everyone to love all my books. some reviewers even love one book and dislike another of mine. Each book is different.

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    1. I felt it needed to go deeper. The purpose was to point out to anyone considering fluffing their novels or books how bad this looks if they claim to be a Christian; bad in any case, but still…It is always my hope that change could happen if one just looks at the bigger picture. Yes, I’m dreaming. LOL.

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  7. This doesn’t occur just in book reviews and isn’t just a sign of the times today. Many years ago, I worked at a daily newspaper and wrote a so-so review of a theatrical performance. Oh my goodness, a family member of someone in the production called my home phone and gave me a tongue-lashing that lasted for a long time. My editor was afraid the guy would show up at our office to continue the tirade as he (the editor) had also been threatened several times after he wrote what he felt was an honest review. Some people just can’t take constructive criticism. 😦

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    1. I have told my husband he is not allowed to go after negative reviews of anything I write. LOL. In all seriousness, that is a little creepy. Actually, it’s all a bit creepy how far a person would go to silence a negative review.

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  8. I agree you should be honest with book reviews. I mean if all of them were good reviews then people couldn’t trust the review. Honesty causes us to take reviews serious. I love how you do that. 🙂

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  9. Bad reviews can sting – especially when that is their aim. There is a new breed of reviewer who takes on the job in order to make themselves seem clever or superior to the writer, the genre and even other readers. They write to wound. That said, you have to let those go. As a reader I shy away from book with ONLY 4 and 5 star reviews and as a writer I always say – “If everybody likes my books then not enough people are reading them!”

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    1. If a bad review is written well, then that’s good. If a person says the book was bad, but doesn’t say why or gives it a low star rating, but yet the review is positive, that’s a badly written review. I agree with you though that if everybody liked what I wrote or any novels I ever get published I would be suspicious, too. Not everyone likes everything. In fact, I am even considering making sure none of my relatives or friends write reviews for me. They are friends or family and so of course they are going to love whatever I write. :o)

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