Criticism versus Reviews

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What any writer dreads the most are attacks by members of the public, often with an axe to grind…

In days gone by every writer knew that the only individuals who offered opinions about their work were journalists working for leading newspapers, in the guise of literary critics. Back then they encapsulated the essence of a new work of fiction in one line of carefully chosen words taken from the text in question. Never once did their newspaper’s editor allow them to speak harshly against a given work. Instead, they chose to beguile future readers with the use of a single sentence from the book in question as an enticement like the following:

“A dream, all a dream, that ends in nothing, and leaves the sleeper where he lay down, but I wish you to know that you inspired it.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

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Sadly those days are no more. Today, every reader has the freedom to criticise by writing whatever they believe is a review, knowing that they can get away with blue murder, then posting it on book sites such as Amazon. Most are not true reviews at all. Instead what you will see are endless examples of critiques, or far worse! The vast majority believe it is their god given right to tear apart any and every book, in particular ebooks by both traditional and indie authors.

It isn’t! All you are doing is showing your ignorance to the world at large. Some, not all, make it their business to harangue the author of the work they have just written about. A small number will insist that they could have made a far better job of writing the story!

To all of them I ask this – how many of them have ever written anything longer than their own signature I wonder? Have any of them ever had a book published? How would they feel if the boot was on the other foot? Would they feel outraged about the product of all their hard work being considered rubbish by hateful individuals? These people who go on the offensive are too cowardly to use their own name, preferring instead to remain anonymous by hiding behind a pseudonym.

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The Problem With Some Book Reviews

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When it comes to writing a book review, there is only one extremely simple thing for you to remember – if you have nothing positive or constructive to offer, say nothing.

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Since the general public found that they can now write a book review on sites like Amazon, it was inevitable that a few bitter and twisted individuals would rise to the surface. If what I am about to say sounds harsh to you, just think about the one, two and three star reviews written by people who have never read, let alone written, anything more complicated than a shopping list in their entire lives. Or for some totally unfathomable reason, believe that because they never actually bought a copy of the book they positively hate, that somehow or other it gives them the right to inflict their bile and hatred not only on the book, but also its author.

The greater majority of you are normal decent people, unlike the average internet troll(s). Even if they had bought a copy of the book, rather than venting their spleen it would be far better that they refrain if the book was not to their liking. But trolls are not normal, neither are they decent members of society.

From the point of view of the author of the book in question, there is one cardinal rule when you find your book and yourself have become the subject of troll attack – never rise to the bait. Even if you are seriously tempted, don’t say anything in reply to their review. Ignore them! While they may believe that what they say in their review will convince potential readers not to buy a copy, the reverse is often true. When people see highly negative reviews, at the very least it makes them curious enough to want to make up their own minds by buying and reading the book.

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Here are a few examples of the kinds of reviews I’m talking about, in this case one star reviews written about some classic works of literature, in this instance not necessarily by trolls, more than likely from paid literary critics :-

Plato’s – The Republic “it’s important that you all understand that Western society is based on the fallacy-ridden ramblings of an idiot.”

Dante – The Divine Comedy “The most worrisome part of this book is that Dante left out one circle of Hell… The one where you are forced to read this book.”

F.Scott Fitzgerald – The Beautiful and Damned “Does it get any worse than F. Scott Fuckgerald? The only thing good about this bastard is that he’s dead…”

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Now for two typical one star reviews from trolls on Amazon:-

William S Burroughs – Naked Lunch “This is probably the worst thing I have ever read. It is just a jumble of nonsence words from a junk basard. i love the Beat Generation, but come on Bill!!! … F@#$ You, Bill BURROUGHS!!! I’ve heard good things about Junky though. I might read that one.”

Amazon Reviewer – Charlie the Champion

Stephen Colbert’s – I Am America “I love the Colbert Report sometimes and hated this book all of the time.

Amazon Reviewer – Concerned Citizen

Notice the incorrect spelling and punctuation, and how neither of them actually used their name, preferring to hide behind a pseudonym. Most one star reviewers don’t even bother to edit their review before clicking on the ‘publish’ button as witnessed above.

So, the next time you think you have the right to slate a book and its author, especially if you didn’t even have the decency to purchase a copy – think again! Better still, stop making fools of yourselves and get a life…

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This article appeared in the New Statesman. I urge you all, both writers and book lovers, to read it – http://www.newstatesman.com/voices/2014/03/your-book-sucks-are-authors-being-bullied-one-star-amazon-reviews

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Lastly, why not support all writers by signing this petition. If you are on the side of common decency it is your duty to do so. This petition needs not just hundreds, but hundreds of thousands, even millions like you and I to sign it before book sites like Amazon will be forced to listen and stop siding with the trolls, by allowing them to get away with their often vicious attacks. If the attacks were physical, would the police do nothing? No. So why should Amazon condone what is happening on a daily basis?

https://www.change.org/petitions/amazon-com-protect-amazon-com-users-and-indie-publishing-authors-from-bullying-and-harassment-by-removing-anonymity-and-requiring-identity-verification-for-reviewing-and-forum-participation

Thank you for adding your name to the petition alongside mine.

PS – it might also pay you to read this:- http://www.derekhaines.ch/justpublishing/amazon-reviews-and-keyword-stacking/

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