Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"You're not my friend anymore!" (an IWSG post)

Remember those days when you were a kid... What? You don't? Well, let me remind you...

You're playing with your best friend, one of your many "best" friends (because aren't they all when you're a kid?), and everything's going fine. For a while. Then, one of you does something the other one doesn't like: had GI Joe kiss a Barbie, won in a game of Checkers, used the wrong shade of blue while coloring Spider-Man and, suddenly, the dreaded phrase rings out, "You're not my friend anymore!" Usually, that's followed by the offended party running away, probably, to go tattle while leaving the unfriended in tears wondering what s/he actually did wrong.

Of course, you didn't do anything wrong, did you? Even when you told your friend that you didn't like the picture he drew. Because, you know what, it's not wrong to have preferences.

And what inevitably happens (at least when responsible parents are involved) is that the kid who yelled "You're not my friend anymore!" is marched back in to apologize for being hurtful, which is as it should be.

[And this is when I would like to talk about being forced to eat horrible things that I didn't like when I was a kid all in the name of being polite, but I don't really have room to go into that.]

Some of you know that I do a lot of reviews ("lot" being a relative term) and that I try to focus on indie authors. Being an indie author, I know how important the reviews are. Yea! for reviews, right? But, also, I don't give any special consideration, which means I give negative reviews, too. I believe honest reviews are better for the community overall than just lying and giving someone 4 or 5 stars. This has the unfortunate result of people (metaphorically) yelling, "You're not my friend anymore!" and running off and unfriending me from all of social media. Mostly, I'm okay with that, because I should be allowed to say whether I like something or not, and I'm not the one exhibiting the bad behavior (unless you're one of those in the camp that says a bad review is bad behavior, in which case, you should yell at me right now and run on off and unfriend me).

Here's the thing, I was checking out the reviews for a book I've been looking at reading and the book only has 5-star reviews and all from people that are in the blogging community. Okay, so right away, that sets my warning bells off. I don't tend to read 5-star reviews, because they usually amount to no more than "Everything is Awesome!" But I was scanning down the reviews for this book and one of them happened to catch my eye. The reviewer had a list of all the things she didn't like about the book. Okay, that intrigued me, so I read the review. Now, let me make this clear, the review only had negative things to say about the book but, at the end, she said, basically, "But it was intense and I loved it," and she gave it 5-stars. This was not a short review, either. Paragraphs and paragraphs about the issues with the book and then gave it 5-stars. Clearly, there is some amount of dishonesty happening here.

One of  my favorite reviews for a book was by a guy who ripped the book to shreds in his review. I mean, he really tore it apart. It was an even longer review than one I mentioned above. He had absolutely nothing good to say about the book but ended with something like "But it was very creative and a good read" and gave it 4-stars. The author actually responded with, "I'd hate to have seen what you would have said if you hadn't liked it." Again, clearly, there is some amount of dishonesty happening here.

All of that to say two things:
1. Reviews are believed to be important. [It's hard to say how important, though, because there is some evidence that suggests that reviews are not as important as we think. I think early in an author's career, though, they are important.] As an indie author who wants to support the idea of doing reviews, I do reviews. We have to learn to be comfortable with giving honest reviews. It hurts everyone when all we do is lie to our friends and give them 4- and 5-star reviews. Yes, that means we have to be willing to risk people yelling "You're not my friend anymore!" at us.

It also means we have to address only the work. For instance, it would be okay for me to say, "I didn't like how the author chose to color Spider-Man's costume green. I believe Spider-Man's costume should be the traditional red and blue." It is not okay for me to say, "This author is SO STUPID! She couldn't even get Spider-Man's costume right! Flaming IDIOT! Don't read this crap!" See, when I say, "I didn't like the green the costume," someone else might see that and think, "Huh? A green costume? That sounds interesting." But, if I attack the author's intelligence, we've moved the discussion away from creativity and made it personal.

2. We have to learn not to yell "You're not my friend anymore!" That's just destructive behavior. Sure, I get that it doesn't feel good to have people not like what you worked so hard on (which is why you have to like it enough to not worry about how other people feel about it (but that's a different discussion (and one I've had before, but I'm not finding that post, at the moment)), but cutting someone off is like kicking someone out of your restaurant because she didn't like one particular dish. Maybe you should try saying, "Well, I'm sorry you didn't like this book; maybe, you'll like this other one better." Or the next one. Or whatever. What I can say for sure, though, is that, in my case specifically, I won't be returning to the particular author who unfriended me because I didn't like that particular book. She's not someone I'll continue to support.

And you might be thinking, "But a negative review isn't support," but I would argue with you that it is.
1. I bought the book, which is, honestly, more support than most of you out there are willing to give (I have hard evidence on that by looking at my sales numbers).
2. I left a review and, even if it's not a 4- or 5-star review, it shows that I read the book, which, again, is more than most of you out there are doing. And there is a component that quantity of reviews are just as important (or more important) than quality of reviews.
3. My reviews mean something. Whether I like the book or not, I give the reasons why I did or did not. Those things are important. They tell other people, like with the green Spider-Man example, whether they think they want to read it.

At any rate, all of this stuff is insecurity inducing, but, as authors, it's stuff we have to learn to deal with. If you want people (especially other authors) to be willing to give your book a review, you need to be willing to do reviews for other people. If you want to get reviews, you need to be willing to listen without unfriending people when they say, "I didn't like this one."

This post has been brought you in part by the Insecure Writer's Support Group.


  1. Sounds fair to me. Although if I disliked a book enough that I would give it two stars or less, I wouldn't finish it, and thus, never review it, because reviewing a book you haven't read isn't right.
    That favorite review of yours with the ripped four star - I had one of those. Wasn't dishonest though - the reviewer was just uber critical.

  2. I was always the kid who said, 'well you're still my friend' which caused no end of drama...

    I think an 'honesty only' policy is admirable and I think a book with only 5 star reviews looks highly suspicious. That said, I fear backlash. I give honest reviews, but if it is below a 3, I don't actually post them unless the author is a millionaire (in which case they can take it). I don't want to hurt anyone's livelihood and I don't want to get into a battle with someone small enough to notice me.

  3. As much as I'm dreading a terrible review from someone when I finally publish my book, I'd rather have that honesty than someone blowing smoke. How will I learn to improve if people aren't honest with me? I'll think my work is gold when it's plain crap. Like you said, if it's constructive and not mean, I'm more inclined to change.

  4. I think there is a point at which you back off from reviewing if you really did not like a book. I've had that happen. I try to focus on the good of the book, but sometimes it just really didn't resonate with me. Which reminds me, I have two books I need to go review!

    Unleashing the Dreamworld

  5. No, Alex, that's the exact reason WHY you review it! And that goes for Crystal, too. I firmly believe that "this book was so bad, I barely made it to the 100 page mark" counts as a solid review. I paid for the book, and I hated it so much I couldn't even finish something I willingly spent money on. That truly says something about the book.

    I mean, if we don't leave negative reviews, how will people know a book is bad? People can naively focus on the good, yes, but I don't want to buy a book that has solid 5 star reviews only to find out it's absolutely terrible because people just didn't want to be "mean" and tell the truth.

  6. I like to read 1, 2, and 3–star reviews first. A well-written negative review is often more helpful than a parade of mindless, regurgitated praise. Though it's so frustrating and annoying when people by Amazon give "not helpful" votes to reviews that dared give a bad review to a book, film, or album they liked. I'm kind of afraid to leave my scathing review of the massively overrated Book Thief by Amazon, for fear of a host of hateful comments personally attacking me, and hundreds of revengeful "not helpful" votes. My blog post ripping that book a new one was even rejected by Ink Pageant as "too demeaning."

  7. I do appreciate honest reviews. And they help me find things I would not have otherwise found. One's trash could be another's treasure, etc. There are some that are just plain mean for entertainment's sake. The overly inflated, insincere ones are easy to spot. :)

  8. If I have constructive criticism of a book, I email it to the author and put in on my blog review. When I put the review on Amazon or Good Reads, I take out the negative parts. I don't like to hurt or discourage people, and I've never said that a horrible book is great.


  9. Admittedly, I can be a little harsh when I don't like a book (or a movie, or whatever I'm reviewing). But a review should be telling people why they might or might not enjoy something, not just mindless praise or hate.

  10. I like honesty in reviews. As long as there are solid points that support the arguments a reviewer is making then I think it's a useful review. Rave reviews or bashes that have nothing to back them up are reviews I pay no heed to. I have actually bought books that sounded good to me based on a scathing review that I've read and more often than not I've found that the reviewer had different tastes than what I had.

    I wish I could support more authors by buying their books but with my current state of income in retirement it's not something I can do. If you look at my reviews you can see the most recent ones are for old products that I own and bought back when I was working. Any others that are more recent are because I got them for free one way or another.

    When I review I try not to be overly harsh and I try to lean toward the positives, but I do try to be honest as well. A bad review is better than no review if it's a legitimate honest review. That's the way I see it at least.

    Tossing It Out

  11. It doesn't make sense to me that a reviewer would list a litany of things he disliked about a book, but then give it a four or five star review. There is a disconnect there. I am one of those people who thinks that a three, four, or five star review is pretty good. For me, I really have to connect with a book to give it five stars. There are plenty of books where I enjoy the writing style or the plot or the characters but I am not crazy in love with the way everything comes together.

    As far as I'm concerned, give real examples to back up your rating, don't nitpick, and be nice. If you do that, the author can't really gripe about what you say. You certainly have that right--same as she did when she decided to write for publication. Plus, you know what they say about publicity! I promise, if you ever decide to review my book, I will respect your opinion and be honored you took the time to read it!

  12. The problem with reviewing books when you're an author is the whole "not my friend anymore" thing, which isn't a worry if you're just a reader. I don't know why it's such an issue. You can pout and feel bad about a critique, but you don't get to bully your fellow authors into five star reviews.

    Anyway, I've read your reviews and nothing has even come close to the line between critiquing and bashing.

  13. Alex: Part of being critical, despite popular opinion, is to also state the good qualities. That's what a critique is.

    Hart: I'm not the kind of guy to say "you're not my friend," but, unfortunately, I am the kind of person who will say, "Fine! Be that way! See if I care!"

    As for hurting someone's livelihood, if your negative review is going to actually impact them, their livelihood is not derived from their writing.

    Elsie: There's a lot of that out there, the stroking of people's egos to avoid hurt feelings.

    Crystal: Unless someone says to me, "Please, don't review my book," if I read it, I'm going to review it. If I'm not going to review it, I'm going to skip it.
    And, well, if I have someone saying to me "please don't review my book" (and I've had several), it means they don't believe enough in their work to have it out there.

    ABftS: Generally, if I start a book, I'm going to finish it. I do believe in finishing the thing before I review it. There is one book I read that got 2 stars from me instead of 1 because I did finish it. However, I suppose if I did actually find a book I couldn't get through, it would deserve a review.
    All of that to say that I, of course, agree with you.

    Carrie-Anne: You have to just ignore the people who vote down your reviews. Mostly, those come from "haters" on 5-star reviews on popular franchises, anyway. And anyone wanting to look at the negative reviews, will still click to your review of the book. I'll have to check your review of Book Thief. I put that back down at the bookstore after just the first page. My reaction was "this is just dumb."
    My review like that was for Snow Crash. I still get comments on that review on Amazon, which I find amusing.

    David: Sure, they're easy to spot, but they don't do you any good when a book has 10 of those insincere friend reviews and that's it.

    And I think, if you're going to be mean, it ought to be for entertainment's sake. :P

    Janie: The problem with that is that reviews are not for the author but for the reader so, if you take out the negative parts of the review for places like Amazon, readers are unable to make an informed decision.

    M.R.R.: Sometimes, I'm harsh. Like, I'm looking forward to the 3rd Hobbit movie only because it means I will be able to rip it apart in my review. However, I will have reasons for the ripping.
    (Those movies cause me physical pain.)

    Lee: Well, I'm not suggesting that anyone spend more than they can afford and picking up free stuff is a good way to get around that. But, then, that just makes it even more important to read the authors you want to support and leave a review. It shows that you did the reading.

    Kim: I believe that disconnect is "I don't want to hurt this author's feelings and risk our friendship with a bad rating."

    Send me a link to your book, and I'll take a look at it.

    Jeanne: It really is a form of extortion. Author's dangling their friendship over other authors to get positive reviews. It makes me kind of sick.

    And I really do try to make sure I'm not bashing and never talk about the author.
    Except Peter Jackson and those horrible movies he called "The Hobbit."

  14. well said. I always tell my friends of the best books I read. and when I review books for blogging friends I just keep it short and simple. but it's a tough world out there and we all need to learn to take the criticism no matter where/who it comes from

  15. That happened to me earlier this year with a book. It had lots of 5 Star reviews and good things to say. Bought the book and within the first chapter could see similarities to another book. I was so frustrated that I blogged about it, but then read a post about people talking smack about other writers and giving bad reviews on books that I deleted the post because I thought they were talking about my venting post. :/

  16. Some people think authors shouldn't review other authors. I disagree and think everyone has a right to their opinion. I'm glad you brought up this issue. Once I won two ebooks from author I knew online one was hers and the other someone else I later realized was a friend of hers. I read the latter and hated it. A lot of people gave it positive reviews but I could barely go beyond a certain point and one of the two characters I just couldn't stand. Plus the writing left much to be desired in my opinion. What did I do? I did hesitate for a bit but in the end I posted my review. Why? Because I knew I had a right to how I felt and also that I gave the book a chance. Plus I looked through all those happy reviews and found others who agreed with me. Being mean is never the way to go with a review but honestly letting someone know the faults of their work isn't wrong. I can only hope when I my book is finally published people will be honest with me as well.

  17. Tammy: We especially need to learn to accept it from people who are offering actual criticism (objective(ish) positive and negative responses), because most people won't offer that.

    G_G: I remember that post from you. I think.

    Sheena: I think authors reviewing other authors is equivalent to doctors suggesting other doctors. Who else knows the field as well?

  18. I do intentionally look at the bad reviews of books (and other products) first, to see what they didn't like. Sometimes that thing they didn't like is precisely what appeals to me. For example, I'm primarily reading horror right now, so if a book gets 1 star because it was "too disturbing," well, I'll quite possibly like it more because of that. On the flip side of that, I tend to operate in a three star system, where a book if I like it is 4 stars, 5 stars only if I very much loved it (I believe I've only given 2 or 3 of those), and a 3 if it had too many issues for me to get past. I would be hard pressed to find a situation where 1 or 2 stars were warranted, though I believe there was a 2 star book that I chose not to review because mine would have been the ONLY review. I realize I still should have done it, but that felt harsh to me, so I left it. I don't recall what that book was, or I'd go back and check.

    Also, I hate that "you're not my friend" thing. My kids have been told not to do it on penalty of hanging by their toes in the attic. When I worked in an elementary school, the kids knew I was not okay with that. It is a major pet peeve for me.

  19. Shannon: Now you're making me wish I had an attic. That's a great threat. To threaten to fill them full of candy, too, and to then knock it all out of them?
    And what you're saying about your reviews is that they come in "regular," "large," and "extra-large," right?

  20. You give very sound advice and it seems they rip it to shreds and then feel bad, insecurities take hold and say 4 stars. It reminds me of people who diss the hell out of you personally and are on the attack and then say "I love you"???? I don;t get it. Criticism is to be constructive whether it be negative or positive. In both cases one has to make the points why and what was done correctly in their eyes or could use improvement. The person receiving the criticism needs to be open and understand where the creitique is coming from and not take it so to heart...harder to do than one realizes

  21. Birgit: Separating yourself from something you've created can be particularly hard, but it's something you have to be able to do.

  22. I guess that's pretty much what I'm saying. :p Also, our attic is tiny, but I'm sure I could fit upside down children in it.

  23. Shannon: Only horizontal children would fit in ours.