Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Do Authors Deserve a Little Respect?

By Andrew E. Kaufman

Let me first say that I will, until the day I die, defend a reader’s right to give an honest assessment—good or bad—about any author’s work, my own included. It's their right, and after all, that’s what reviews are about. It’s a safe bet to say that opinions will vary greatly in this business, often going from one extreme to the other. Some may love a book, some may hate it, while others may have no opinion either way. I get that. But do they also have the right to be disrespectful or even downright mean?

I’m not so sure.

I do come across these from time to time and it kind of bothers me. I suppose that’s because as an author, I understand how incredibly difficult it is to write a novel and how much we give of ourselves during that process. Granted, we choose to make ourselves fair game—it’s what we sign up for. I’m just not sure whether ridicule and name-calling are supposed to be part of the deal. And if a reader wants people to take his or her review seriously, isn't that more likely to occur if they give their opinion in a manner that's thoughtful rather than disrespectful and angry?

photo by Hannibal Poenaru
I once had a reader call one of my books dumb, stupid, and ridiculous, not once, but four times in a review. Fortunately, his opinon was in the minority; most of the eighty-six reviews were five starred. But even so, I found it a bit troubling. I can’t imagine what I’d done to make him so angry—after all, it’s just a book—but I have to wonder if whatever that was, it merited such hostility.

I also have to wonder if he realized that as authors, most of us write because we want to give our readers enjoyment and that we’re just as disappointed when we don't as they are—maybe even more so. 

Of course, I do realize this is the exception, that the majority who leave reviews on Amazon are extremely courteous and constructive, even when they don’t like a book.

But I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter, both as readers and as writers. Is it no-holds-barred where reviews are concerned? Is an opinion just an opinion, no matter how strong the language might be? Do we, as authors, give up the right to be human, to have feelings, and does our right to get respect end where the word "published" begins?


  1. As a reviewer, I see part of my job as being honest. While I have never called a book "dumb, stupid and ridiculous," I have said when it contains horrible factual inaccuracies (yes, even fiction should be factually accurate when it references a historical personage) and what they were. I have talked about major editorial problems like homophone problems and malapropisms.

    I also make a point of trying to find something to like about even the worst books I've read.

    At the end of the day, it's one person's opinion. I long ago stopped believing that I write for everyone; some people will "get it" and others won't. And I'm fine with that.

  2. Much of what I see as wrong with current society is the lack of respect: for self or for others. As an unpublished novelist leery of criticism, I cannot imagine the extraordinary "armor" a published author must have to face down critics. Yes, there will always be some-readers and reviewers-who dislike a particular books, while others will rave over it. But a novel can be disliked, found uninteresting, or perceived as too explicit, without disparaging the author, his/her reputation, ancestry, ethnicity, and intelligence. There simply is no excuse or rationale for disparagement. Constructive and positive criticism, always; negativity and name-calling, never.

  3. In my opinion, reviewers should follow the old adage, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything." If a reviewer can't honestly give a positive review, he/she should contact the author privately and say so and tell him/her why. This is much more respectful, considerate, and constructive than just blasting away. After all, it IS only her/his own opinion. Anyway, that's MY opinion.

  4. Authors always deserve respect, just like anyone else! Reviewers should phrase their negative opinions in tactful, constructive language. Period.

  5. JMRinaldo, it is not always feasible for a reviewer to contact an author. I know that I don't want my entire readership to be able to send me an e-mail.

    The additional problem with your scenario, as I see it, is that you get only a bunch of glowing reviews that may be reflective only of friends and family who naturally think that their loved one walks on water and can do no wrong.

    Criticism always includes the good and the bad if it is to be well-rounded, IMO.

    I know that everyone reviews differently. My methodology is that all books start with 5 stars, right off the bat. If the book didn't look like it would interest me, I'm not going to pick it up; hence, I assume it's going to be excellent. Oftentimes, that is the case. My review rating average is 4.36. My "helpful" rating on Amazon is 83 percent. I think that these two things go together. It takes a lot for me to rate something only one or two stars, but I have done it.

    As you point out, each person's opinion is only one opinion. But to say that reviewers should keep their mouths shut if they didn't like a book does a disservice to everyone -- in my opinion.

  6. Regardless of what we do with our lives, there will be people who we connect with and people we don't.

    If my chosen career was as a doctor or an accountant, an editor or a banker, the people who chose to use the services of someone else would do so . . . but they'd be less vocal because none of those career choices is as terribly public as the career I've chosen. And those career choices also involve a very objective criteria to determine whether one is a good doctor or accountant.

    But because I'm an "artist" and every element of art is subjective, the spectrum of approval or disapproval is incredibly wide. And because what we do as artists is very personal, every element that comes back to us in the form of a review, or sales, is utterly personal. My skin might grow more thick over time, but there will be chinks and cracks and other weak spots where I know I'll be hurt by a negative review.

    One of the things that lists such as DorothyL has done for me, is help to see that the taste of readers, even in the same genre, is enormous. I hope I can hang on to that thought down the road.

    And hopefully, I'll remember that some people are very unhappy and want others to feel the same way.

  7. As a reader and reviewer I do think honost opinions are important even if it is to tell you did not like the book. It happens we can't all like the same things!

    But the most important thing is to have respect. Insulting reviews do not show respect. When reviewing you just need to remember that the author put a lot of work in this book. I always try to make sure I explain why I did not like the book without offending someone. And I still have to find a book that was so bad I did not have a good thing to say about it.

    But just so you know a negative review doesn't have to be bad. I have bought books after reading negative reviews and some raving reviews make sure I will not pick up that book.

  8. I never write a bad review anymore. No matter how nice and respectful I try to be, it always comes out sounding mean to me, so I don't post it. Ranting is done to my friends.
    Authors deserve respect and have every right to expect it. Anyone who stoops to hostility, insults, name calling and downright nastiness, has more serious issues than being disappointed in a book.

  9. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but a review should be more than an opinion. It should contain information that helps others make an informed decision, and ideally be at least somewhat analytical. "This is stupid" is not nearly as informative as something like "This includes factual errors regarding X subject, which I know because I'm an expert in X."

    When I was in art school, we had to learn how to give critiques. You couldn't just say "I like it" or "I don't like it." You had to explain why you felt the way you did with the goal of helping the artist improve their work.

    I do reviews through the New York Journal of Books, and I like the standards they set. No stars, numerical ratings, or even recommended/not. Rather, reviewers try to give an intelligent analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the book, as it fits within its category, without personal emotion. Someone reading the review should be able to decide for themselves whether it sounds like their kind of thing.

  10. In reading through the comments here, it reinforces my beliefs that for the most part, readers are very considerate and constructive when they leave reviews and they do respect authors. For those who feel the need to insult or be rude, chances are good they're not going to be taken seriously anyway. In other words, as I like to say, the cream always rises to the top.

  11. I don't review books, but I've reviewed hundreds of blues music releases over the years. There have been plenty of times that I've received CDs that are absolute dreck. I feel that it is my job to let the consumer know what my honest opinion of a release is so they can make a more inform buying decision. When the CD sucks, it is tempting to use that exact term, but I try to find more diplomatic ways of getting that across. Knowing quite well that a hard working bunch of musicians put their hearts into the release, I try to find as snippets of positives to add to the review. Bottom line though, is that I owe to my readers to be honest, because they've grown to trust my instincts. So, if I don't like it, I must say so...but kindly.

  12. A very interesting post Andrew. I agree with Peg that you can never write something that appeals to everyone but that is not an excuse for nasty comments. Like Jodi said, autors benefit from constructive criticism. I've started a number of NYT BSA novels that I put down after a couple of chapters for a variety of reasons, but it wasn't because they were technically bad writers. The story or style may not have connected with me but that's perhaps as much a reflection on me as it is on the author. I like what I like, period. We can't control reviewers obviously but we can all take a monment to reflect on our criticism and ask ourselves a simple question. Is this criticism for the benefit of the author or simply to unload?

  13. I know that my fiction and/or nonfiction writings will not appeal to everyone. And there will be those who may not care for best-selling books written by my late husband. The rudeness and negativity occasionally posted about someone’s book appears to be nothing more than a good reflection of the person writing the post. I would personally have more respect for someone saying, “I didn’t care for the story” ...and leave it at that, then those who try to tear it into pieces and spit it out.

    Lack of respect for authors is now prevalent at the Amazon forums. Some of those who attack authors seem to forget that authors are also readers, too, and we have opinions and favorite authors.

    My husband, Don Pendleton, said many of those who professionally critiqued books often did so because they were “frustrated writers.” Maybe he was right about that. (and he had a 30 year successful writing career to weigh that idea...and before the Internet).

    I am often flabbergasted by the hateful comments that are made on the Internet whether it be about a celebrity, a news item, or an event.

    I guess the lesson for us as authors, is to ignore the negativity and smile when we hear someone enjoys our work. Most of us will keep writing even if the only smile is the one on our own face as we work with our characters.

    This idea mentioned that authors' families and friends write all their reviews is not the way it is for any authors I know. We feel lucky if our families even read our books. Maybe that is why we dedicate books to our family—hoping they might read it. LOL. But write a review-I doubt it.


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