Friday, July 03, 2009

Reviews and reviewers

The Alice Hoffman incident blazes on. I'm referring to literary novelist Alice Hoffman taking it to a reviewer via Twitter she felt had wronged her.

Lillith Saintcrow (a fantasy writer I've just started reading and enjoying) recently wrote a long response to the Hoffmann incident on her blog. She's obviously in sympathy with Hoffman. I should note that everybody from Publisher's Weekly to Romantic Times has praised her books. She's very, very good.

I should note here that I don't see much of any of what Lillith is talking about in the mystery genre.

"Here’s the thing: we are awash, on the Internet, with people calling themselves “reviewers.” Pretty much everyone’s got a dog in the fight. There’s Amazon reviews, which are a sinkhole of comments that may or may not be about the book or item in question. There’s Internet “review sites” that do follow Sturgeon’s Law–many of them are there to stroke the “reviewer’s” ego, and end up being crap. There are group review sites where the group dynamic has more in common with the locker room or a Plastics clique.


"...I’ve read reviews where the reviewers obviously had a personal problem with something I’d said on my blog, or something they thought I said, or even something someone else said or a bad hair day or something, and they took it out in the review, on my book. I’ve read screeds that don’t even spell the characters’ names right, where it was obvious they didn’t even read more than the cover copy, spoilers galore, and a whole host of inappropriate and highly inflammatory reviews. They stung, yes. They were out there on the Net for everyone to see. And in some cases there were the usual blog swarm of Yes Men piling on to show how cool they were by trashing the subject du jour. Which just happened to be my book on that day.

"This is why I understand Hoffman’s frustration. We are literally drowning in reviewers, online and off. The Boston Globe reviewer did give spoilers, and did clunk through an embarrassing (and in my opinion, unwarranted) bad review. (The review reads to me like the reviewer wanted to cause a bit of ruckus by panning the book, for her own reasons. But that’s just me.) The seduction of the easy response was there on Twitter, and Hoffman took it. When you’re mad you don’t think straight. I’m pretty sure that at some point in the future I’m going to be mad enough to break my own rules and cause an Internet kerfluffle. The flesh, alas, is weak. "


pattinase (abbott) said...

I've been watching a bunch of reviewers on something call Amazon Vine trashing a book that hasn't even come out yet. That is wrong. I think reviews backed by newspapers is one thing. But as those decline and blog reviews and amazon reviews take on more importance, we have to be very careful in what is said. Amazon should not allow this because people do tend to read those reviews if they're ordering from them.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Patti, I agree about the Amazon Vine program--I think the reviewers just want to review as many books as possible and show that they're willing to give bad reviews so that they keeping getting books for free, and am very happy that my publisher has chosen not to participate in this (its up to the publisher, not amazon, if books are part of the VINE program). I'm not sure how much amazon reviews on fiction books influence buyers. A nonscientific poll of mine where I was asking friends at work, not one of them was willing to say that bad amazon reviews would keep them from buying a novel. Nonfiction is different, especially technical or health books. Bad reviews there will definitely kill sales.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Being an Amazon Vine Reviewer as well as a reviewer for a number of sites, I don't agree. I can't speak for others. My reviews are based only on the book in question. Some of the books there have been very good and some were appallingly bad. They were reviewed accordingly.

I would also disagree that just because a reviewer writes for a newspaper somehow means the review is not remotely true. My local paper was graced for decades with at least three reviewers who gave away the plot of each and every book every single time and had major factual errors in every review. These were not local reviewers but ones who had made the leap into being syndicated incompetent reviewers. Thanks to the latest round of budget cuts all three syndicated fools have been dropped.

Instead of assuming that everyone in a group whether it is Amazon, Amazon Vine or whatever is bad, know the reviewer. Look at the body of work he or she has produced. Take the time to look at the track record. That should tell you quite a lot about the reviewer as well as whether or not you want to read what he or she says. It also helps if you have actually read the book being reviewed so you have some idea if the reviewer is any good.

It is easy to trash reviewers. Some deserve it. But, far more don't.

(End of rant--my blood pressure can't take it these days)

Dave Zeltserman said...

Kevin, of course you're right. You know I have a lot of respect for you and reviews, which is why I welcomed your involvement so much with Hardluck Stories, and why I send you copies of all my books. If there was any justice you'd be reviewing for a major paper. My comments were purely generatizations, not intended for specific VINE reviewers, and were made from looking at VINE reviews for several books that I thought were outstanding and where I saw reviews that looked to me as if the reviewers had no real interest in the genre but were trying to post reviews to hit their numbers, and show that they were writing negative as well as postive reviews.

Anyway, mea culpa on my part.

Todd Mason said...

Indeed. Patti, I've disagreed with you on this in the past, and not solely out of contrariness...thoughtless reviews will tend to be discounted, as Dave notes, even as he then goes on to somehow think that these obvious kill jobs are going to encourage publishers to send books (as opposed to simply being irrelevant...if there's someone at a trade publisher whose job it is to send review copies, particularly as newspaper reviewers disappear (I'm still mourning the WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD, even if the POST still runs some reviews--in Philly, the INKY doesn't bother much), they will send them to whoever falls on their lists, or else they have less reason to be drawing that paycheck...they aren't (usually) called upon to monitor those reviews. It makes no sense to think that negative reviews will encourage review-copy delivery, any more than it makes sense to be Happy all the timee in reviewing...some books are bad, and while it's hard to produce one which is objectively bad, it makes no sense to reward every book with a good review, nor even to ignore all the bad ones. It might make fewer enemies, but certain trends and individual horrors need to be labelled for what they are, to aid the unwary. You don't want your novels overlooked because all the Happy reviews suggested that some tired bit of hackwork or inept bit of tyro activity is uniformly positively reviewed, making the casual reader realize that reviews aren't to be trusted any more than a Chamber of Commerce brochure.

Todd Mason said...

Trying that again, in doesn't want the process of reviewing discounted by All Happy Reviews, even for tired hack or tyro sub-hack, so that reviews generally can't be trusted by the casual to fairly assess the good or good-enough work, which all of our books (if my small segments of books or any future books we do count) might be.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

I know you do, Dave and I appreciate that fact. I also am very grateful to have been part of Hardluck Stories back in the day. I think some very good work was done there in a review and interview sense. And, of course, there was some mighty good fiction as well. :)) I took your comments in the usual "everyone in the group is bad" deal that so many folks seem to be doing these days. Believe me, I am well aware of the fact that some in the Amazon Vine group have no business commenting on anything. That could be said for nearly every group as well. Which is why I have consistently said for years that the way around this is to know the reviewer. Look at the body of work. Only then can one judge anything about how good the reviewer is and wither or not they have a clue.

Kevin R. Tipple

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