Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Can a Bad Review End a Career?

Today's post is stolen borrowed from Murderati, yes, again. What can I say, they have the most interesting discussions! This post is by one of my favorite authors, Tess Gerritsen, and is entitled "Can a bad review end your career?"
I realize that's a pretty blunt answer, and many of you will disagree with me on this. Nobody reads reviews anyway, you'll argue. Bad reviews come with the territory, and authors survive them all the time. Or you'll observe (accurately) that I'm famously hypersensitive to lousy reviews and I endow them with more power than they really have.
So let me explain why I think one bad review can, indeed, end your career as a published author.

.. imagine that your first review appears in Publishers Weekly, and they pronounce it a disaster. They call your publisher a house of idiots for buying it.
Now your editor looks like a dope. The enthusiasm at your publishing house suddenly deflates like a popped balloon. Everyone there feels a bit embarrassed, not just for you, but for themselves. The big bookstore orders don't come in. Costco and Walmart take a pass on it. Even before your book goes on sale, it already feels like a big failure and an expensive mistake."

But is it not only the first time writer that can have a terrible reaction from a bad review. She then goes on to tell her own experience from a bad review last year. How very depressing it was, how it made her consider quiting!

A number of very interesting points made in the post and in the comments too...go read the whole thing. There are several items that could be discussed but there is one point, made in the comments, that I would disagree with. Even if it is made by a cartoon character...
Someone quotes the critic Anton Ego, in the movie Ratatouille, saying
"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read."

Oh no...oh no...I must disagree with that idea. I hate to write a negative review. You will not have to look very far down on my blog to find one, but I hate doing it. I know that out there is someone who has poured themselves into this book, who has labored on it for years perhaps. Someone who thinks it is wonderful,or beautiful, or amusing.
And then I must say, that in my opinion, it is not. Granted, it is just my opinion, and let's face it, I am no one, relatively speaking, but still...
In their place, I wouldn't want to hear it from a person in line at the grocery store, let alone the reviewer at the NY Times. Which is why I am not a writer. That and a lack of talent.

Then why am I so bold as to write some reviews? Well, I see myself and many of my fellow bloggers as Every Reader, if you will. I read a fair bit, I love books, and I think at this point that I have some ability to give some objective opinions. Is it a good plot, does it make sense, does it seem honest, are the characters developed, are they true to themselves, does the dialogue sound natural? Did it effect me in some way, make me laugh, make me think, make me understand something in a different way? Bottom line, would I recommend it to a friend, to a fellow book lover?

And I hate to answer no to that. I will, but I hate it.


  1. Very interesting - thanks for pointing out this discusion. I know what you mean - as a blog reviewer and avid reader we are basically saying whether we'd recommend the reading experience and to whom. Still, not a responsibility to be taken lightly by any means.

  2. Great post. I don't think anyone likes writing a bad review - who starts a book hoping it won't be good? But, if all of your reviews are great, you lose credibility in my mind.

  3. No, not to be taken lightly lenore.

    BOnion, you are right, that a book, especially one that we looked toward to, and that turns out to disappoint us, is a sad thing.
    But I feel even worse for the author!

  4. I don't think I've ever said I hated anything but I always point out what I don't like or don't understand about a book. As we know, I'm forgiving so if it's a minor detail that bothers me I usually don't share, and because then usually I'm giving away the plot!

  5. Caite, this is an interesting post. I hate writing bad reviews too and I guess I'm lucky that I rarely read a book that I don't at least *like*. Lately I've been reading quite a lot that I LOVE.

    My Friend Amy had a similar discussion last week.

  6. so, I see.
    I will have you know that I did not steal the idea from there, since I already admitted to stealing it from Muderati. ;-)

    but I did post a comment there too.

  7. Caite...I know you didn't steal, it, ha! Besides your take is different.

    Like Shana, I generally like most of what I read.

    I thought it was funny when I read this post at Murderati b/c it fits in with this discussion. I plan to link to it today. It's always worth discussing!

  8. Great post and like you I write for the READER...and I don't write negative reviews...but I will write an unfavorable review with reasons as to why the book didn't work for I find it hard to believe that my ONE review will make or break a book sale...but hmmm if you have 10 reviews and more than half of us are saying your book suckes...I mean has issues...then hmmm sorry the book isn't as good as you or your publisher want us to think it is.

  9. First let me say that I have not read any of Ms. Gerritson's books, so this is NOT aimed at her personally. I think some writing careers should be cut short by a bad review. I've read (or attempted to read) some books in this past year that were so poorly written they were not worthy of copyright, let alone publication. And I blame publishers for that, not authors. Authors aren't supposed to be objective about their work, but publishers, if they expect to stay in business, certainly should be.

    I don't mind writing a bad review if the book deserves it, after all I spent time and money on it and I dislike wasting both. But I also dislike spending time writing a bad review, as that often gives more credence to a book than I care to impart. A bad review, if done honestly, thoughtfully, and with a genuine analysis of the book, can actually be a help to an author if the author is open to constructive criticism. Malicious reviews are easily spotted and should be avoided, and not only by the author.

    I have no doubt that there are authors who are extremely sensitve to bad reviews. Some authors have fans who are just as sensitive about it. But the fact is that no author's work is going to be loved by everyone who reads it. That's not realistic to expect it, and the author needs a sense of perspective (like remembering the 100+ rejection slips James Lee Burke received for a book that later earned him a Pulitzer nomination). And if bad reviews are something an author cannot cope with under any circumstances, said author should do his/her utmost to avoid reading reviews altogether. Or indeed, finding a new career.

  10. Yes, I agree that publishers are at fault. I have read books that were so bad, I wondered how a published actually agreed to publish them.
    And then there are, the number of times I wish I had a big red pen to take to a book.
    Maybe it is just me, but all these 400-500 page books...rare is the story that should take that long to tell. Take the big red pen and cross out a 100 pages or so..

    And I say this in only the kindest way... ;-)


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