author C.C.Cole's blog

Monday, January 23, 2012

On the Full Circle of Book Reviews

Once again, at risk of touching the hot stove with this controversial topic, I’ve seen in authors’ groups and Tweep-writers a run on one/two star reviews following big features/giveaways done around Christmas.  Some of them had great success leading to increased sales, while others are suffering the mental heartbreak of bad reviews over hard work they gave away for free with current slumping sales numbers.  I didn’t participate in the programs (there were more than one), because of publishing issues out of my control.  (Yes, it even happens with self-published authors).

I’ve made it no secret that I don’t post reviews under three out of five stars.  Reasons:  1) I’m not a paid “professional” reviewer, just a reader
2) I see no gain for new authors by slamming their work in a public forum. 

I do handle negative opinions by private email, which has worked out well.   I learned this strategy by other authors/reviewers and follow their example.  Also, as I wrote in “One of My First Reviews” I know all too well the heartbreak of my work being blasted in public.

Other reviewers often disagree with my strategy, saying that it looks like “puff” reviews and it doesn’t look “real” on sale sites like amazon because a well rounded audience has good and bad reviews (defining bad as two or less stars).  I respect the opinions of other reviewers, as well as their right to say/write their opinion, like anyone else. But at the same time, I respectfully disagree with some of them.  Not all of them.

I agree that reviewers should be honest, and reviews are subjective.  But to rationalize that bad reviews bring favorable attention to your work, I respectfully disagree with those that say so.  I’ll give my own books as an example:  In “Act of Redemption” after several five-star reviews, including Midwest Book Review, one gave me two stars for something like “clunky prose and awkward pacing.”  As an observer, its no big deal, but it slammed the door on my sales for the next several months.  Let me clarify that it wouldn’t have been a blockbuster without the review, but it certainly didn’t help me get readers.   We new authors have small audiences so small numbers affect small numbers, including a small number of negative reviews.

But lately, we’ve come full circle.  Since the infamous Howlett on-line meltdown, which I posted as a bad example for a reaction to a reviewer, now writers have slammed reviewers on their blogs and other social sites.  I’ve read these too, and are every bit as mean as any review I’ve read on anyone.  Now some reviewers are feeling their own pain and I’m not saying they deserve it. 

In this ebook revolution, I believe what we’re seeing is the scrutiny of reviewers being turned back to them with the easy usage of cyber-space and public forums like blogs and Twitter.  Our opinions as readers and writers didn’t matter in the past while we relied on paper to communicate.  Now with cyber-space, we make our opinions matter because we are able to show them to hundreds/thousands/millions of people. 

I’m not going to patronize and say do away with negative reviews.  As writers, we need to give reviewers their freedom to give us the freedom to feature our work as something of value.  As reviewers, we need to remember if we knock a new author down, they will rise up and it will not look nice.  There are professional ways to handle reviews on both sides, and that’s what we should strive for.


  1. I agree with you. It is a matter of opinion as far as reviews go. Yes, I have responded to a bad review, but not a scathing one. I personally do not like attacks either attacking or being attacked. It isn't professional and as authors we should be professional.

    Cyber space is a great tool and can be your worst enemy.

  2. Excellent point, and thank you for commenting.

  3. Sorry, C.c, but I disagree with your idea of needing 'negative' reviews. Authors don't need 'negative' reviews, we need 'constructive' reviews. Those from which we can draw some helpful clues to problems in our work. Negativism serves no purpose.

  4. Hi, Shawn, thanks for commenting, and I respect your opinion as well as others. You're right, "negative" does sound bad, and that's how some of these reviews and backlashes read. We need Professionalism (meaning "constructive" hopefully) from reviewers with silent authors. There's nothing to be learned from public slamming but bitterness and sadness on both sides.

  5. I'm between a rock and a hard place here because as you know I recently blogged about someone who set out to deliberately discredit me and sabotage my book sales. Having said that, I think book reviewers are entitled not to like our books and I would never personally respond to a book review on Amazon whether it be good or bad.
    I recently heard an author give out a torrent of abuse because his book was only given 1 star, so it can work the other way.
    I would like to see Amazon impose stricter guidlines for reviewers so they can get rid of the Trolls who seem to make a hobby out of deliberately doling out 1 star reviews.
    Great post!

  6. Thanks Michelle! There's no easy answer, but most reviewers are sharp enough to analyze a book without blasting it like it's a used paper in a bus station, and still give one star. "Book Vacation" is a good example of to me a professional.

  7. I received a one star that showed he was so engrossed in my characters it was actually flattering. But the ones from people who just leave a mean remark or obviously haven't read it kinda hurt. I am developing thicker skin. And I try to feel sorry for the little old lady with the cat in the dusty garret writing it. Enough people "get" my work and say so that I'm all right.

  8. Thanks for the comment, Virginia! Yes, posting a one-star review while admitting to not reading the book is way uncool!