On Amateur Book Reviews

This isn’t a case of an author getting even with a shitty book review[er]. True, I got a shitty book review recently, but I really have no comments about that. It was a little weird, a misguided, but if that’s what the particular reader took away from it, then I can’t criticize.

Oh, wait, aren’t we all critics?

We keep hearing about “quality control” issues with independently published works. The shitty writing, the inconsistent editing, the flat-out embarrassing typos, the clumsiness of writers going it alone.

What about quality control issues with the flurry of book reviewers? Hey, it’s a democratic platforms we’re promulgating here, so even the best book with the tightest editing and production quality–published independently or not–is up for review by any of the thousands of amateur book reviewers. I’ve seen some of the most appallingly half-assed book reviews recently. Comments like, “Why can’t this author make characters that are believable. Real vampires would never say things like that…” and “I didn’t even bother finishing it since I figured out the ending in the first chapter.” Really? REALLY? Why the fuck are you writing a review, then, asshole? Read the fucking book, that’s what a book reviewer does.

Listen, we asked for democracy and we got it. But are there no guidelines? Apparently not, because amateur book reviewers are in it for pure glory–there are no incentives for them to be responsible, other than, well, um, ETHICS, but let’s leave that alone for now.

We want as many people reading books as possible. The only solid, consistent way for new and independently produced books to gain visibility is by word-of-mouth, which is effectively amateur book reviewers on their forums and blogs: we don’t want to shut any of that out. But just like with marketing our independent books (on those ferkakte author-review websites), we have to manage to weed out the noisy barkers and find the quality feedback.

My solution is to call amateur book reviews Feedback. Or something to that effect. If we’re getting people who admittedly haven’t even completed the book calling it a book review, something is very wrong with the semantics. As much as I would like to criticize those types of “reviews,” we can discredit the legitimacy of stupid reviews by taking them out of the review category and calling it feedback, which is what it is.

If someone reads a book that is way over their head; or they just didn’t take the time to contemplate the experimental value of a work, and they call it stupid or bad or ugly or meaningless, it’s not really a review, is it? How can we put that person in the same category as some of the world’s brilliant minds of literary criticism? Roland Barthes, Northrop Frye, Jacques Lacan, Levi-Strauss, de Saussure…and the rest of the gang of structuralists would be incensed to be put in the same category as “CheekyMama” on all those threads who just loves vampire romances but who refuses to read a book without a photo of the author on the flap.

Go ahead, call me an elitist hypocrite. I dare you.

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9 Comments

Filed under commentary, essay

9 responses to “On Amateur Book Reviews

  1. I had my first negative review about 5 months ago though, as someone else pointed out, it was more like a drive-by than a “review.” It stung, and it bothered me for a few days, but I did what you’ve done now: I wrote about it.

    That they didn’t like the book wasn’t the part that bothered me. It was that they used it as an opportunity to throw in the “No wonder it’s self-published” argument. I couldn’t let that one go. So I blogged it, and took it as feedback even if I can’t really consider it as such. I decided that, atop the mountain of other, better reasons why I write, pissing off this person by continuing to do what I do would be one more thing to add to the pile.

    So I did, and I continue to do so, and every time I put my fingers to the keys, I think about that person. And then my work brings me a little more joy.

    People are fickle. They always will be. As a writer, we have to learn to take what we’re given, even if it’s negative, and channel it into our work.

    Besides, writers are best when they’re pissed off.

    • Ah, I love that response.

      What’s interesting here is that you’ve uncovered another, parallel discussion which I never would have expected could come from the book review criticism: Who do we write for?

      For the longest time I was so self-satisfied that I didn’t write for agents or publishers–it was liberating. Now that I’m realizing that people–strangers and not my peers–are out there free to write whatever they want about my work that I ostensibly put out there for them to discuss.

      That was part of my issue with last week’s post, the self-doubt thing. But you just said it: “every time I put my fingers to the keys, I think about that person.” So I suppose it’s what we do with that motivation which is key.

      Some writers write to people; some write against them; some just write for themselves only. I don’t think I’m in any of those camps (yet) but certainly at times my ego gets the better of me and I find myself writing for/against the world.

      Thanks.

  2. I don’t get upset over the reviews for the plain fact that I don’t read them. I’ll make up my own mind. All I want other people to do is point out interesting books. I can do the rest.

    >>>For a long time, Google didn’t even advertise, the service sold itself, via word of mouth. Is your music as good as Google?

    http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/index.php/archives/2010/05/04/quote-of-the-day-4/

    Is your WRITING as good as Google was back then? If so, then fuck the reviews/ WoM will take care of things.

    • Yes, yes, yes, of course. And bunnies and unicorns will beat Lloyd Blankfein to death and circulate the YouTube video for all to see.

      I’d like to think that WoM solves all when you have good material. I don’t have that kind of faith in the universe, though.

      Look, I don’t look to get reviewed because I’m afraid some knuckledragger will trash it. Somehow it would feel better if the NY Review of Books trashed it. But reviews–or, better, opinions–regardless of how qualified they may be are a reality.

  3. Becky

    I think one thing you need to remember is that book bloggers are (for the most part) READER reviews. Most of them take what they do extremely serious, but in the end they are READERS, not professional reviewers getting paid by an organization that gives them a template to use.

    While they may not seem useful, book bloggers are needed. I am not saying they will bury a book they don’t like or turn one into a bestseller, but if they have enough influence, people will listen to their views.

    When a reviewer doesn’t complete a book and then writes about it, isn’t that what opinions are? When you go to a store and see a shirt on the rack, you walk by I say “that’s ugly”. You didn’t try it on and all you did was look at it.

    Once you put a product out there, you open up the opportunity for someone to form an opinion on it whether they just looked at the cover or read the entire thing. As long as the reviewer is honest about not reading the entire book, and states what bothered them, they are free to post it.

    • No, you’re right, it’s all true. It’s a part of our landscape. Check out my last post, Ego v. Self, in questioning what I’m doing by even putting my stuff out there to be reviewed–or potentially just hated on–by gads of people who I didn’t choose to review.

      Thanks for reading.
      lp

  4. Most of the retardia happens on Amazon. And most of that is in violation of the Amazon review posting TOS. All one has to do is keep an eye on their reviews and if a review violates TOS, report it to Amazon and have it removed. And not reading the book but making a review? That’s in violation. You can’t read two pages and then review the whole book. All you can say, IF you want to say something is… I couldn’t finish this book, it wasn’t for me.

  5. it is a good idea to look for book reviews first before buying an expensive book ‘

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