(Wow. You know you have a good article when you sit down to start outlining it and suddenly you find yourself scribbling the last sentence, PERIOD. I had fun writing this one. I hope you’ll enjoy it. It’s extra snarky with a side of snark. Let me know what you think!)
I love reading reviews. Movie reviews, book reviews, video game reviews… I love comments and observations that get me excited about something I’m about to experience. I hate reading reviews of my own work. If the review is positive, I worry about getting an ego or I worry that I won’t learn anything from the critique. If the review is negative, I want to throw myself off a bridge because someone didn’t like my work that I spent almost a year crafting. I imagine it would feel like someone coming up to my future child, looking him or her over, shrugging, and slapping a sticker on my kid’s forehead that says “2 Stars”. Everything I make is “5 Star” material in my own mind. I think most people feel that way. If my book weren’t the next big thing to me, I would never let it see the light of day.
I’m not going to write an entry about how much I hate bad reviews, though. We all get them. They’re a part of life. Just remember that any time you get a bad review and you feel worthless and sour in spirits, that’s why God created Seal and that’s why Seal created “Kiss From a Rose”. Crank that volume up and suddenly you’re back in a good place. BAY-BAYYYY I COMPARE YA TO A KISS FROM A ROSE ON THE GRAY! Whatever the Hell that means.
Where was I?
Ah, yes. I love reading reviews. However, I am frequently dumbfounded by some of the comments I see in reviews, so I wanted to give some fun (but helpful) advice to potential reviewers on how to give a review. My first piece of advice? Give everything I write five stars. …Did it work? No? Okay, scratch that. You can’t blame me for trying, though, right? Okay, let’s get serious. Here are some observations I’ve made about reviewing and what pisses me off royally when I read them. Most of these observations aren’t even in regard to my own work.
Don’t Dock My Book for Not Being Something It ISN’T! Ah, double negatives. In trying to market my new book Naked in Korea, I did a fair amount of research on what other people had already written about teaching in Korea. One thing I found in a few reviews for various books that made me feel sorry for the author was the following comment: “I didn’t think the book talked enough about traveling around Korea”. At least one of those comments was made about a book that was literally called “Teaching in Korea”. To that reviewer I would say, it looks like you picked up the WRONG DAMN BOOK, but of course he or she went ahead and abused the writer by giving the book two out of five stars. Somehow it was the writer’s fault for not delivering on a promise that he or she never made in the first place.
It would be like me writing a book called “Oranges: The Untold Story” and having a reviewer slam my book for not going into “bananas”. It would be like me writing a book called “The Monkeys of Brazil” and having someone slam my book for not going into “monkeys of Madagascar”. Madagascar might have the most amazing damn monkeys you’ve ever seen (does Madagascar have monkeys? I saw the animated films but it’s been a while), but if my book is about Brazilian monkeys, I am in no way obligated to leave that country!
So for Pete’s sake, reviewers, before you slam a writer or a book, ask yourself whether or not your criticism is valid. It might be! I’m not saying you shouldn’t be critical! But in all of my reviews for “Prometheus”, never once do I slam that film for not being “Alien”. I slam it for being an incompetent piece of garbage that I wouldn’t leave playing in an empty apartment for my dogs to watch.
Don’t Dock My Story for Being What It Is! The inspiration for this article came from a review I read a few minutes ago for the movie “Amor Es Perros”. The movie is pretty brutal, especially in the first half, because of its graphic depiction of dog-fighting (it’s all staged, I promised). In case you’re curious, the movie ultimately explores the animalistic traits of our own interpersonal relationships through the way we treat animals. It’s actually quite profound and gets better as it goes, ending with a flourish of brilliance that had me in tears. I rarely use the phrase “cinematic poetry” (in fact, I never use that phrase; I don’t know what I said that), but this movie came close to embodying that idea for me…
And then you had this chick on Facebook who gave the movie “two stars” because she “didn’t like the dog-fighting”. I had to slap myself across the forehead. Please, readers: Whenever you are shocked by something in a book or movie, as yourself whether or not the shock is artistically deliberate and if it carries a message, or if the shock is just a cheap ploy. Cheap shock’s do not merit good reviews, but the other kind of shock MIGHT. In slamming a movie for its central metaphor, even a violent and morally offensive one, YOU become the dog viciously ripping out the throat of a potential work of art. Slamming “Amor Es Perros” for dog-fighting is like slamming “Schindler’s List” for showing The Holocaust! Do a little research and understand what you’re getting yourself into beforehand. No one is trying to make you endorse dog-fighting (unless there was a Michael Vick cameo in that movie that I missed completely). That film was trying to take you some place and you refused to follow! The fault is with you, not the author/director.
4 Stars? What the Hell is that?? (Warning: The following observation is intended more as satire. It should be considered humorous while carrying shades of the way I actually feel about this subject. )
My more misogynistic male friends have this system that they developed in college where basically the score girls by attractiveness on a “binary system”. If a girl is attractive, she gets a “1”. If she isn’t, she gets a “0”. They say, why beat around the bush? Why bother nitpicking over 7s, 8s, and 9s, when the only two scores that really matter are whether you find her attractive or not. I’m not going to comment on THEIR usage of the system, but I WOULD employ a binary system for reviews. Do you give the book a PASS or don’t you? That’s my question. At the risk of sounding like somewhat of a jerk, I get annoyed at receiving 4-Star reviews on Amazon. You couldn’t just give it a 5 to help me out as an independent author? 4-Star reviews might be more honest, and I respect that, but save it for Stephen King! You know what I don’t have that Stephen King has? An army of agents, publishers, commentators, experts, etc. at his command. I can only work with what I have and, frankly, 5-star reviews help me a lot more than 4-Star reviews on an outlet like Amazon. So, as much as I value and, in fact, WORSHIP your noble intentions, I’d like to ask you, on behalf of all struggling independent writers, to just give us the “5” if you really like the book. If a “4” is what you feel in your heart, whisper it in my ear, and that will be our little secret.
The question is: Do you find our books attractive, or don’t you?
…I hope this article was funny. I doubt that it was helpful. Judging by some of the comments I’ve received on this site, there are a lot of people who come by here who feel my pain on a number of these issues and I just want to reach out to you all every now and then to let you know that I feel your pain. Vent away! We’re all in this together, fellow writers!