A little early morning rant with your espresso?

16451156Okay. I admit I don’t often read the Administrative Science Quarterly. Okay, well, I never read it. But it was cited recently in a mash-up piece on The Passive Voice and while I’m still not going to read the paper, I will throw my two cents in on what seems, combined with my own growing experience, to be an unfortunate and unpleasant phenomenon.

Here’s an excerpt from the paper in the Administrative Science Quarterly, that started this rant:

Comparing thousands of reader reviews on Goodreads.com of 64 English-language books that either won or were short-listed for prestigious book awards between 2007 and 2011, we find that prizewinning books tend to attract more readers following the announcement of an award and that readers’ ratings of award-winning books tend to decline more precipitously following the announcement of an award relative to books that were named as finalists but did not win.

First, we propose that the audience evaluating a high-status actor or object tends to shift as a result of a public status shock, like an award, increasing in number but also in diverse tastes. We outline how this shift might translate into less favorable evaluations of quality.

Second, we show that the increase in popularity that tends to follow a status shock is off-putting to some, also resulting in more negative evaluations. We show that our proposed mechanisms together explain the negative effect of status on evaluations in the context of the literary world.

So basically, it seems there is a tendency by the general reading public–once a book is deemed worthy  by some measuring stick respected by the literary-reading world–to attempt to devalue that work.

I know there will always be haters. Got it. I’m a University of Florida alumna so Been There. Won the National Championship. Got the T-shirt. It’s not the fact that, as an author, I feel vulnerable to the masses weighing in on my stories or writing ability. I  had a long career as an advertising copywriter so not only have I suffered the literary slings and arrows of clients (and account execs) as well as Creative Directors (who started out as Art Directors I feel inclined to point out) in reference to my writing, I’ve run my precious literary babies up the flag pole and had readers as far away as Australia and India use them as target practice, too.

But even as thick-skinned as I tend to be, after experiencing a couple of bad mornings which were the result of reading a particularly cruel review on one of my titles, I generally don’t go there anymore. I’m lucky enough to have a buffer between me and my reviews, good or bad. My husband  checks Amazon frequently for me so I don’t have to. I’ll often get texts from him throughout the day that read: “Another 5-star for SOF!” or “Check out your 4-star on FF…from a male reader, no less.” (Note: he’s not being sexist, most of my readers are female.)

What my husband typically keeps to himself are the 1 and 2 star reviews that inevitably come down the pike. Because he has an inquisitive mind and because he wants to know why one title with three hundred 4 and 5 star reviews would prompt someone—especially someone who goes onto the review page and SEES all the love–to write a vitriolic rant condemning it, he often tracks down the reviewer.

30326822Now I don’t mean he gets their GPS coordinates, but he traces the reviewer’s link back thru the Amazon website to find out who they are and what their story is. Once in awhile he’ll tell me: “You got a 2-star from some old lady in Tampa who’s only ever reviewed foot powder ’til now.” But usually–and it makes me mad just to write it–usually, he’s discovered the ultra-negative reviewer is not only another author–but one in my genre and one not doing well (which you can easily determine by the ranking on the book page.)

Let me say, if not from the get go (little late for that), that I’m not trying to say my books are just so awesome that someone’s negative opinion—if it results in a two-star review—must be wrong. I’m saying I see a pattern related to most of the one and two star reviews I receive on certain of my books. And it seems to reveal that the more visibly loved a book appears, (ie 300 4 & 5 star reviews) the more one-star reviews it attracts.

This post is not really about crap reviews. It is a lamentation about the fact that it appears that the higher up you go, the more people want to jerk you back down. I follow several authors’ blogs who used to regularly tell how much money they made on their book sales in an effort to help other authors figure out possible promotion methods, etc. Frankly, I’ve found those blog posts very helpful in showing me what might be. It’s unusual in publishing to have that kind of transparency and it was refreshing and beneficial to see it. Recently, I’ve been reading those same authors say that when they release that kind of information they then see an avalanche of 1 and 2 star reviews show up on their Amazon book pages. Most say they won’t do it anymore.

"While I only read part of the first chapter of this book, I knew the whole book sucked. In fact, probably ALL her books suck! In fact, I think the AUTHOR sucks! Don't read any of her books ever! You've been warned!"

“While I only read part of the first chapter of this book, I knew the whole book sucked. In fact, probably ALL her books suck!”–Signed Disgusted Reader who also has a book you’ll like lots better available for 99c HERE.”

Keep in mind, these are not blogs addressed primarily to readers. These are blogs focused specifically on writing and indie publishing. So unless there’s a bunch of Big Five spies lurking on their blogs, these knee-jerk bad reviews are coming from jealous writers!

And not just newbies–in fact, I’d say rarely newbies. My husband’s own investigations show the poor reviews that I get from other writers are writers who are either traditionally published or are attempting to sell their backlist from back-in-the-day when they WERE traditionally published.

Which makes me want to ask: does it really make anyone feel better about themselves to tear someone else down? Does it really help?

Really?

9 responses to “A little early morning rant with your espresso?

  1. I really wish people were held accountable for their critiques. I think it comes down to mean-spiritedness and laziness for a lot of people. It hurts to see yourself slipping while someone else is doing well but it’s no excuse to try to sabotage their success. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a site where we could review reviewers? The cyber-bullying culture has gotten so far out of control is it even possible anymore to rein it in? As for laziness, It’s hard to give a constructive negative review. I don’t give reviews unless I have the time and energy to make my comments fair and objective. I understand art is subjective and you can’t please everyone but if you’re like me and want feedback to improve, it’s frustrating to read comments that are full of malice and vitriol when in fact there may be a legitimate weakness they’ve found but haven’t bothered mentioning.

    Keep you chin up! It’s wonderful that you have someone who will filter your reviews and help you stay focused on the positives. Jealousy is an ugly, ugly trait and I know I would rather be surrounded by wonderful, supportive 2- or 3-star authors than bitter 4- or 5-star writers.

    • I do think the author-reviewers who give scathing 1-star reviews to books that generally rate in the high-fours are protesting too much. It’s pretty transparent why they’re writing hate-reviews–to everyone but themselves, of course. Thanks for chiming in!

  2. I wonder if Amazon, at least, is trying to respond to this trend. I don’t review a whole lot of books, and I don’t bother if I can’t give the book three or more stars. I also review under my original Amazon ID — Catana. I was checking this morning to see if I had reviewed a book that I liked very much but that hasn’t made a whole lot of headway. I had, but I also noticed that the review section was topped by several reviewers’ names, including mine, but as my publishing name, and as the author of ____. (Not going to promote myself here.) It was rather alarming because we do all know that author/reviewers can get their own books slammed, and the whole issue of authors reviewing other authors is so controversial. So, my anonymity as a reviewer is now gone, and while I understand that might give me more authority (?) it also makes me more vulnerable. Anonymity cuts both ways, so I still don’t know exactly where I stand on the issue, other than keeping my fingers crossed.

    • I’m with you, Sylvie. If I can’t give at least a 3-star, I don’t write one at all. I didn’t like at all the last of the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series but what point would I be trying to make by jumping on and giving it a one-star? That I’m bucking the trend and so I’m special? That I have a unique world-view? That’s just kind of pathetic, really.

  3. No, it doesn’t.

    I will post a negative review to Amazon for example, if it’s a movie I really disliked and thought was a waste of time. I’ll do the same with a book, but the line I draw is if the book’s mainstream. I won’t go after an indie author that way, but if they’re backed up by a big company, I have no problem skewering them, but the reasons must be precise and justified. It can’t be the sort of “this book sucked” kind of notion.

    • Ha ha, I like your attitude, William! And you make a good point. If the book’s had the benefit of a platoon of editors, then continuity errors and implausibilities in the storyline are inexcusable.

  4. What you’re describing is very common, alas. On my experience it’s certainly the default position of academic military historians in New Zealand. The problem, alas, is that this behaviour can – and does – do real damage. I stopped writing military history because of the viciously explosive cascades of creative worth-denial to which these hostile strangers subjected me, all played out in the media while they hid behind their employment status as a device for invalidating my right of reply. Without exception, those doing it lacked the guts to approach me in person. It got to the point where their circus performances were damaging my commercial book sales and good repute. It finished when I had one of the more egregious outbursts (in the ‘NZ Listener’, you may remember that mag from your days in Auckland) read for content under the Defamation Act. But it was cheaper to back away from the hate.

    Incredibly, that hasn’t stopped these cowards, since, from infringing my copyright material and intellectual property and then ignoring my letters. Apparently they are above normal law and morality. I keep paying their salaries, of course, through my taxes.

    I happens elsewhere, too – as you’ve described – and in general I think it’s disturbing, as a writer, to be target of the malice of strangers for no better reason than that you write in the ‘territory’ they use to validate their self-worth. What follows is endemic, but kind of sad when you think about it. I mean, surely the pie grows with its contributors – every writer has something different to add, and we all win if we help each other. I mean, it’s a no brainer… isn’t it…?

    • That’s just plain awful, Matthew! How do these people look themselves in the mirror? What sorts of rationalization must they balm themselves with to be able make these kinds of attacks? I guess it’s a whole lot easier to tear someone else down who has the guts to produce a public work than it is to go produce one yourself. Your line “to be the target of the malice of strangers for no better reason than that you write in the territory they use to validate their self-worth” is spot-on. What fantasies some people create and then live in in order to get thru their days. And when reality intrudes, (ie someone else receives acclaim for work they wish THEY’D done) they’ll do what’s necessary to maintain the illusion. I guess this is where I attempt to feel sorry for them! :-)

      • I imagine that, having torn into my stuff, these people feel good about themselves and return to their entitled, salaried, insecure little lives…I measure the cost to me in real income lost and damage to my fair opportunity to earn an income, on merit, in their field of employment. It wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t so gutless about it – not one of them, as I say, has actually approached me with the problem. I appeared on a radio panel once with one of them…in the Green Room, prior, he saw me and was so angry he was having trouble controlling his voice. I could go on…sigh…

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