Friday Review: Reviewing the Reviewers

(Yes, I am still making my way through Wicked and, yes, I am still finding it a difficult read. But it interests me enough to keep going. So, a little commentary style “review” here today.)

There has been a bit of a brouhaha lately over authors who respond negatively to less than favorable reviews. While I have not had this happen to me, personally, I know some who have. And it usually does not end well for the author, nor should it, really, especially if said author keeps arguing and, as in some cases, brings the fight to a personal level. However, there has been some backlash, particularly with the announcement recently from Goodreads on changes to their reviewing policy.

(For those not familiar, Goodreads has amended their review policy to permanently delete from the entire site reviews that are focused primarily on author behavior. They will also delete bookshelves and lists of books that are focused on author behavior.)

The backlash from this has caused some to leave Goodreads completely, and to consider the new policy a form of censorship.

Now, I am not saying that they are wrong. Nor are they completely right. But let’s look at this from another perspective. You read a book. You love it. You sign into your Goodreads account and write a lovely review, praising the book and the writing and all that. The author likes the review, and perhaps leaves a “Thank you” comment. Everyone feels good.

Or- you read a book. You don’t like it. You write a not so lovely review, panning the writing, the plot, the characters, all the things that made this a bad read for you. The author responds, critically and perhaps in a nasty way that is upsetting at best, and insulting at worst. What do you do?

A bad review is not fun, for the author or the reviewer. I have written some reviews, on Goodreads and other places, that were not favorable, and it is hard to write those, at least for me. I know that, most of the time, the author has worked very hard on that book, and to see someone say it wasn’t very good has to be disappointing, at best. The advice I have seen for those authors is: Ignore it. Bad reviews happen. There will always be those who can’t, who feel they have to respond. “You missed the whole point of the book.” “You obviously just don’t like this type of story.” Or worse. What do you do, as a reviewer?

I think the advice needs to go both ways. Ignore it. Authors Behaving Badly should not spark retaliation from Reviewers Behaving Badly. Should authors who make a habit out of harassing those who write less than favorable reviews be called out? Probably. No one wants to be on the receiving end of a campaign of harassment for an opinion. Because that is exactly what a review is- an opinion. Mine will be different from yours. Yours will be different from someone else. At the same time, if you receive backlash for your opinion, that does not automatically give you the freedom to lash out in an angry, focused campaign against an individual. It has become a vicious circle, and one that is spiraling out of control. There are stories of authors who have pulled books from publication, because of personal threats. Reviewers are afraid to say anything even remotely unfavorable about certain authors’ work, for fear of the backlash. If things have gotten to the point that a popularly used site like Goodreads, right or wrong, censorship or not, feels the need to start permanently deleting commentary, reviews, bookshelves, and lists focusing on behavior rather than content, isn’t that a sign that things have gone too far?

Maybe both sides need to take a step back, breathe deeply a few times, and try to understand that pushing back, harassing, and arguing is not the way to solve anything.