Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What's With the Snark?

My mother always taught her children, "if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all."  In book reviews, those words aren't always easy to heed, BUT, there are ways to offer constructive criticism without crucifying the author and desecrating their work.  Some folks need to learn that.

Since Kindle has become such a big hit with readers, the number of reviews left on Amazon continues to soar, and sadly some of them are of no help whatsoever, instead are hurtful, snark-filled, and just plain mean.  I wish I had escaped the wrath of the few who need to drop by and "bomb" my book site with unkind comments, but I simply read them and go on about my day, letting the majority of the favorable reviews speak in place of ones left by people who seem to adhere better to the saying, "misery loves company."

I scratch my head and wonder what reward snarky people get from being so nasty.  Are they authors whose books aren't faring well and they want to make sure someone else fails, too?  In some cases, yes.  In fact, if you click on "read all the reviews" left by a particular person, you might see that they never have anything good to say.  That's very sad, because as an author, I can empathize with having someone attack something you've worked months on, slaved over, and grown to love.  I'm glad it hasn't happened often, though sadly these types of reviews are on the increase and every one of us can become a target.

No one likes a bad review, but as writer's we've learned through editing to take constructive criticism and learn from it.  I don't think any of us expect untruths to be told on our behalf, because that defeats the purpose.  If someone chooses to leave a "glowing" review of my books, I hope they've read and mean ever word they've written, and on the other hand, if you read the book and really didn't like it, then tell me what I could have done better not what you would have done.  I think the most annoying review an author can receive is one based on unrealistic expectations.  I received a summary of my sweet western romance...a review filled with disappointment that the book wasn't a rootin', tootin' shoot-em-up filled with more sex.  Gee, how about reading the blurb that tells you what you can expect, then you won't end up looking so foolish. Want sex and guns...write your own novel. 

How about this review I received on First Degree Innocence?  It sits among some very favorable ones that seem to disagree...in this case appearing right after a review that claims RIVETING as the readers assessment:   

first degree boredom
Very boring book, written without seriousness. The prison scenes do not seem real. The book is more like a romance ( a poor one at that) and is very highly predictable.

Well, all I can say in response is I'm well aware that my writing is never going to be everyone's cup of tea.  As far as the prison scenes...I spent a year as a correctional officer, so I made the scenes as real as they were to me every day I walked the halls, tossed the cells, dealt with the inmates, and the officers who arrested them.  Can't do more than that.  As far as predictable...most publishing houses require a "happily ever after," so  most books end in that manner.  I've written a couple that use a different approach, and there are those who dislike the fact that there wasn't the standard HEA.  Sometimes, you just can't win and you have to forget the negatives and concentrate on the positive.

How about these comments found on a fellow author's review?

The guy in this book really sucks. Maybe for a dose of reality a hero can have one bastard child for that one time he made a boo boo in all of his amorous activities. However, this guy has at least three bastard children and is pretty sure he has more but can't be certain bc the mothers never told him! To add...he had his mistress set up in the same room he puts his wife! uh... GROSS! Added to that he gave his original fiance false hopes for like almost 10 years. Sorry but in this case I gotta hate the playa and the game.

Sometimes I want to react and respond, but in this case I held my tongue.  It doesn't help to engage people who set out on a mission to hurt and destroy.  Too bad the reader didn't apply the era in which the book was written to her thought processes.  She would have realized having mistresses and "bastard" children were the norm for the time and place.  We do our research, but often, readers don't.  Again...it's all about expectations, personal likes and dislikes.  

I laugh when I see people give short stories or novellas bad marks because the reader wished the story had been longer.  Doesn't that at least indicate they liked what they read and wanted more?  If you think there wasn't room for character development, say so.  If you think the plot lacked something, tell the author, but would it kill you in the process to say something favorable about the book?  There has to be something positive in everything we read or it wouldn't have been published.

Yeah, yeah, I know...some of you are shaking your head and saying that self-publishing defeats the sentence above.  Still, the number of seasoned authors who self-publish have been through the trials and tribulations of traditional publishing and have leaned in the process.  Sadly, some of the self-pub opportunities have given platform to new authors who tell a good story, but have no idea how to hone it into a fine read.  That's the very first lesson I learned.  Anyone can tell a story, but only an author can write a novel.  Oh, and it appears anyone can be a reviewer.  *smile*

 So, the next time you feel a need to leave a review, stop and think how you would feel, being on the receiving end.  Tell the truth, but don't forget the niceness.  Everyone needs a "warm fuzzy" now and then.  Besides, you'll feel better about yourself.  

For those of you who don't want to feel better about yourself and want others to join your "pity party"...I decline the invite, but I send you this balloon bouquet to help with your decorations.


Beth Trissel said...

Ginger, I couldn't agree with you more or have said it better. Amen sister.

Ginger Simpson said...

Thanks, Beth. I guess why people need to be cruel will remain one of life's mysteries. I'm happy I missed out on that "gene."

Roseanne Dowell said...

Amen, Ginger, Amen. I tried to twitter this, but Google Chrome couldn't connect for some reason.

Cynthia said...

Just never sink to their level. Hopefully other readers will sort out who needs an enema for themselves.

Cynthia said...

Just never sink to their level. Hopefully other readers will sort out who needs an enema for themselves.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Good points. I remember the one who was dissappointed that you hadn't written a John Wayne type western.....she made herself look like silly.

Lyn Horner said...

Ginger, I couldn't agree more! I've gotten some negative reviews on my cat book, and they do sting, especially one from a person who said she'd only read a few pages and hoped the author wasn't trying to make a living from writing. However, that icky review is offset by several glowing ones -- not from friends and family -- so I try not to let it bother me.

What really made me mad was when another author hung several nasty tags on my Amazon product page for Darlin' Druid -- because I had dared to plug it on two or three romance forum threads. (This was before Amazon created the Meet Our Authors forum.) If it bothered her so much, she could have simply advised me not to do it again. I would have taken that as good advice. Instead, she chose to behave like a snarky child.

BLCSDina said...

Hi Ginger-Awesome article! I'm very green to this whole world of online reviews, blogs, etc. Your article and many other Yahoo Author's Group postings have made me scared to ask for any reviews. Although I haven't received a bad review or snarky review yet, I received an "OK" rating on fictionwise.com, the only rating, and it killed me. I thought 'who is going to buy an OK book when it's the only rating', and was crushed. But I've had many rejection letters before getting published, so I'm prepared for that sinking feeling! BTW-I bought an ebook from fictionwise and rated it myself-figured 6.00 was a cheap way of un-negating my book's standing! Thanks for letting me rant. Dina

Devon Matthews said...

Great post, Ginger! The worst review I've gotten (knock wood) was from an author whose intent was to knock down my star rating while promoting her own books. lol! Have to laugh, but people are a piece of work.

Lin said...

If I read a book I cannot give four to five stars to, that author will never know because I will NOT leave public negativity.

I learned long ago, from my petite Native American Grandmother, it does no one good to spew nastiness, and in the end all it really does is turn your heart to coal and your soul to despair. IU'd rather pass on that than publically harm another.

And of course I DO believe what you put out there will come back upon you three times...so I'd rather triple kindness come back on me than triple ctuelty.

Thanks Ging. As always, you give us exceptional words of wisdom...oh and I'm "borrowing" your little icon to copy onto my FB wall.

Kathy Fischer-Brown said...

What's all this talk about sharks? Sharks can neither read nor write, let alone download a book to a kindle. (Can a kindle even function under water?) Sharks can be mean and nasty, but maybe not intentionally; it's just in their nature to attack without thinking.... Oh, you meant snarks!

Never mind!

Lorrie said...

I haven't had this happen to me yet, lol, although I haven't checked my reviews in some time. I do like honest reviews, but not snarky and purposelessly knocking someones hard work down because of jealousy, and trying to get a step ahead of them.

I don't know what we can do to stop this, nothing I guess. Just grin and bear it.

Being authors, we know how much heart and soul goes into our writing. Readers have no idea.

Alison E. Bruce said...

I'm with Lin, I don't leave a review unless I can give at least 4 stars to it. I also don't look at reviews of less than 3 stars. Three stars is the tipping point. One reviewer's 3 stars is another reviewer's 4 stars. With 3 and 4 star reviews, you can assume there was something there they liked. Their criticism may be helpful.

I figure anyone giving me a 1 or 2 star review doesn't get what I'm laying down. Why should I pick up what they're dishing out?

Besides, if you don't look, you don't acknowledge that the review is useful. If no one is interested in the review, it will eventually fade away.

Ginger Simpson said...

That's okay...I belong to Triberr, so this gets plenty of tweets. I'm just so appreciative that you are always supportive. Love ya!

Ginger Simpson said...

Hopefully, there are more of us who know the importance of a helpful review over a snarky one. :)

Ginger Simpson said...

Yep...it's amazing what a reader can discover when they read the blurb. :) Thanks for coming by.

Ginger Simpson said...

I had the same problem when I first discovered the romance thread on Amazon. The people I encountered there are the epitome of the kind who would leave these snarky reviews. Because I dared mention my own work, I found irrelevant tags, a few of these "snarky" summaries, and of course tongue lashings on the thread that went on for days. When I started a separate thread and invited my fellow authors to come and comment, they went through the same thing. Misery does love company, and they prove it. I found people who hang out there to be anything but loving. :)

Ginger Simpson said...

I used to believe in reviews, but I don't anymore. In fact, I don't even solicit them because they are ONE person's opinion and sometimes that person is ill-informed or too dense to get what an author is trying to convey. I've seen it too many times. Besides, the rating system varies so much from site to site that you might get a glowing report but only a three rating. According to most, a three indicates a "good" read, which should be suitable for us, but we've all been groomed to be insulted with anything less than a four. :)

Ginger Simpson said...

I honestly think that's what is happening on Amazon. Those with books that aren't enjoying the "ratings" of some are determined to undermine the efforts of those benefiting the most. Sad!

Ginger Simpson said...

There is really nothing wrong with a three-star review. In fact, when I first started writing, that was the norm. Few books earned fives, but now we've become so accustomed to getting higher ratings, we're actually insulted with anything less than a four. I don't solicit reviews anymore, but on Amazon, you get them whether you want them or not. I put much more stock in the written review than the amount of stars. You should always be able to glean something positive from a review, but sadly, these days, that's getting tough.

Ginger Simpson said...

Okay girl, you've been working too hard. :)

Ginger Simpson said...

I remember when reviews had everything to do with the content of the book and not someone's attitude. Sadly that's changed. I hope you continue to enjoy the good reviews you've earned. You're a great author.

Ginger Simpson said...

I believe the star system or numerical rating should disappear. There is way too much room for variation. It's like the old toe-may-toe/ta-mat-o analogy...I much prefer to just express my opinion about the book and not have to assign an over-used and misunderstood rating. Another method I dislike it a rating without any commentary. How can you learn from that, and isn't writing all about continuing to grow as an author?

Gail Roughton said...

I'm with Ginger on one of my pet peeves being folks who criticize a book that is in a particular genre for the very thing that makes it a book in that particular genre. If you don't like "hot" reads, don't give a "hot" read a 1 because it's "hot". It's sorta supposed to be. If you don't like "sweet" reads, don't give a sweet romance a 1 because it's "sweet". So far I've been very fortunate with my reviews and I appreciate that more than any reviewer will ever know. But I got a 1 from a snark who complained, among other things, that after the start, it just "got unbelieveable". The book's a paranormal romantic suspense. I mean, isn't the word "paranormal" sort of a hint that things are gonna happen that aren't "believable" in the ordinary definition of the word? Although I did have a great champion who swooped in and commented back, let me see if I can remember the name of that champion...OH YEAH. GINGER SIMPSON!! Love you, Ging!

Ginger Simpson said...

Gail, we're cut from the same cloth. :) I was happy to "swooop" on your behalf. That review was a prime example of the unrealistic crap that people feel need to be mentioned. I would definitely think a paranormal read might expose me to some pretty out-of-the-ordinary events, if not impossible ones. We write blurbs for a reason and follow genre requirements. I really love those who read romance and are disturbed because a hero and heroine get all sappy over each other. I very rarely read reviews anymore because of the bitterness, but I've never been one to be influenced by the opinions of others. I prefer to form my own. :) Some of the best restaurants I've been in have gotten crappy reviews. It's all about taste, and we all have very different ones...except for when we find a soul sister. *smile*

Margaret Tanner said...

Great blog Ginger, And so true. Yeah my mother also used to always say - if you can't say anything nice about etc.

I really think it is a bullying kind of thing. These people (usually un-identifiable)can denigrate someone else (their writing, in this case) and get away with it.



Rita Karnopp said...

Shame on those reviewers ... it sounds like several very mean and hurtful reviewers. I know how you feel... when a totally glowing 5 star average brought me down by one ... just one.... not so nice reviewer that wanted to be 'clever' and tear my book apart. Sounds like the same reviewers that felt a need to be rude, crude, and damaging to you. What purpose does it serve? Maybe they get a perverse satisfaction of making someone else look bad . . . I say it makes them look bad . . .and shame on them. Chin up ... we know you're a fabulous writer as well as even more fabulous person.

sashagirl said...

I agree with you fully. I don't mind bad reviews if they are fair and/or constructive. As some people know I usually get glowing reviews but about five months ago some reviewer on GOODREADS hated/trashed my 1985 (the old immmature version I first wrote at 21 years old) The Heart of the Rose, 1 star and personal attacks as well, and then when the new updated rewritten 2011 version came out she actually put that old review on it, too, on Amazon and everywhere! I made the BIG mistake of emailing her and asking her to read the new revised 2011 version of it before she plastered the old 1 star review on it. Only fair, I thought. I felt the new version was so much better, what with all the years inbetween when I'd been learning to be a better writer. BIG MISTAKE. She emailed me for a while pretending to be my friend but then when she replaced the old review with her new one on the new version she gave it 2 stars (bringing my average for that book way down as the other reviews were 4 -5 stars) and ATTACKED ME viciously; said I was stalking her and all kinds of horrible things about ME, whom she didn't know. It was crazy. Then all her followers jumped on and started saying terrible things, too, about me and they didn't even know me or had read my book. I was stunned. Shocked. Her followers put tags on my book everywhere, too, like "never read in a million years", etc. Goodreads refuses to take any of the mean remarks down, too. So they'll be there forever for everyone to read. First time that's happened to me, but I learned a lesson. NEVER respond to a bad review, for any reason. I don't know why people do this, but it's awful to attack an author personally. Kathryn Meyer Griffith

widdershins said...

Perhaps they think that smart-mouth snarking is a sign of an 'intellectual'.

But lets face it the age of the really brilliant snarkers is over. Dorothy Parker excelled at it, as did Mae West. Noel Coward epitomised it.
Let's compare these three with today's snarkers ... *sound of crickets chirping* ... no contest.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Popping in a bit late, Ginger -

I think you've done an excellent job summarizing the problem. You know the old saw about "opinions are like assholes..."? These days it's so easy for people to "express themselves" online, some individuals can't resist the opportunity. And writing negative reviews gives them the chance to feel superior.

What I find perhaps the most annoying are reviews rife with spelling and grammar errors. Excuse me, but if you can't produce correct English, are you really qualified to evaluate someone else's writing?

I agree with you about stars or any other kind of rating system. There's no way to insure that the standards applied by different raters are consistent. In fact, I'm not sure when I rate books on Goodreads that even my own standards are consistent over time. However, I don't think rating systems are going to disappear. They're just too darn convenient.

Finally - Widdershins, I love you comment! Amen!

Angela Verdenius said...

Hi Ginger

There is a lot of nastiness out there. If someone doesn't like a book, why not simply just grade it with the stars required and put something like 'Not my cup of tea'? Something simple! I only ever write reviews for books I like, and simply don't post reviews at all for those I don't like. If I've nothing nice to say about a book, I just don't say it! LOL I hear you, sister! There's a ine between being honest, and being nasty.

Anonymous said...

Great blog Ginger. Really enjoyed it. As a new writer with a debut novel due in August, I have to say I'm dreading the negative reviews. I know what (and how) I write may not appeal to everyone and I hope that reviewers will be kind and considerate when reviewing. I appreciate constructive criticism but would hate to receive some of the soul-destroying reviews I've read on others books. I too write book reviews and even if I don't enjoy a book, I try hard to find the positives to encourage rather than criticize. A writer's voice is like a good wine...it improves with age and practice.
Thanks for a great post :D

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