Reviews

The Funnel Theory of Book Reviews

15 August 2017

From The Writing Cooperative:

I read books.

Many, many books….about 125 a year.

Some are pre-release review copies. I read them and post my honest review on amazon, Goodreads and wherever else the author has specified. My favorite guidance from an author was to post my most forthright and honest review prior to release date because any review is better than none.

During a dynamic seminar by Gabriela Pereira, she talked about her stance on book reviews: she doesn’t do them. She is also a prodigious reader with wide-ranging interests and deep expertise. Her view is that if she posted reviews, they would have to be what she thought of the good, the bad, and the ugly — and she doesn’t want to do that. If she did not post negative book reviews along with the positive ones, she reasons that you won’t be able to trust her integrity, intelligence, and discernment: when every book is brilliant, no book is brilliant — obscuring the truly remarkable, important books of brilliance. (Plus, she is a profoundly kind, compassionate, and encouraging person.)

. . . .

While I finish reading approximately 125 books a year, that is not the total number of books that I eagerly borrow from the library or clutch to my chest in bookstores, swap meets, and other venues.

Many, many books don’t make the cut.

The cut is not a well-developed, profoundly considered benchmark. A book makes the cut when I am lost in the story, captivated by characters, laughing out loud in quiet public spaces, or weeping through every tissue. It is a lively experience, me and the words on the page, the story enticing, inspiring, and urging me to think, to feel, to imagine differently than I ever have before. This relationship with the book extends to all genres, all types of fiction and nonfiction alike.

. . . .

My book reviews tend to be positive, because I don’t read books that don’t work for me. It’s a big world with all kinds of readers; what doesn’t draw me in may be the best possible experience for someone else. Let them read it, review it, and attract readers who like that kind of story.

Link to the rest at The Writing Cooperative

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What Happened to the Negative Music Review?

14 August 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

If you rely on reviews to decide what books to buy, movies to watch or restaurants to visit, you may have noticed something strange when it comes to pop music: Negative reviews have become extremely rare.

Between 2012 and 2016, Metacritic, a website that aggregates critics’ reviews for music, films, television and video-games, gave just eight out of 7,287 albums a “red” score—a designation that means reviews were “generally unfavorable” or worse.

Movies, by comparison, garner many more negatives: So far this year, Metacritic has given 39 out of 380 movies a red score. For albums, not one out of 787 albums aggregated thus far this year has received a red score.

“It’s actually news at this point when an album does get a bad review,” says Dan Ozzi, a writer at VICE’s music site, Noisey.

The dearth of negative music reviews is due to a number of factors. In the digital era, outlets covering music have become decentralized with fewer dominant players and more outlets running reviews. That’s helped create a new power dynamic between pop stars and the press—one where stars are less dependent on critics and critics are more eager to please artists.

Reviewers generally herd together—especially in praise of megastars like Adele, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift—instead of dissenting or championing less-known artists. With shrinking staff, growing competition and limited space, publications may simply not write about a bad album at all, says Jim Merlis, a veteran publicist who has worked with Nirvana and the Strokes.

A recent album by Radiohead was excessively praised by critics, notes freelance critic Joseph Schafer. “A Moon Shaped Pool,” which includes old songs that the band had performed but had not previously recorded, appeared on many year-end lists. “The band’s first album in five years was half a B-sides collection and half boring,” Mr. Schafer says, who didn’t review the album. “This record was lazy, why didn’t people call the band out?” Radiohead declined to comment.

“It can sometimes feel like there’s less of an appetite for [serious] criticism, or the culture has decided it’s unimportant,” says Amanda Petrusich, an assistant professor at New York University who teaches music writing and contributes to the New Yorker. “It makes [criticism] feel like just an extension of public relations.”

. . . .

Meanwhile, megastars like Drake, armed with huge social-media followings, can generate publicity themselves; there’s little upside to giving interviews or forwarding advance copies to critics. Some artists—Beyoncé and her sister Solange, for example—have taken to interviewing each other.

. . . .

Public shaming on social media can dissuade critics from being negative. While discussions between critics and angry artists once were private, now they are public, with pop stars sometimes haranguing critics on Twitter. Even without an artist prodding them, fans can attack a writer online. A critic being paid $75 for a quick review may seek to avoid being berated for a week on the Internet, critics say.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

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The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter

8 August 2017

From Vulture:

Young-adult books are being targeted in intense social-media callouts, draggings, and pile-ons — sometimes before anybody’s even read them.

. . . .

The Black Witch, a debut young-adult fantasy novel by Laurie Forest, was still seven weeks from its May 1 publication date, but positive buzz was already building, with early reviews calling it “an intoxicating tale of rebellion and star-crossed romance,” “a massive page-turner that leaves readers longing for more,” and “an uncompromising condemnation of prejudice and injustice.”

The hype train was derailed in mid-March, however, by Shauna Sinyard, a bookstore employee and blogger who writes primarily about YA and had a different take: “The Black Witch is the most dangerous, offensive book I have ever read,” she wrote in a nearly 9,000-word review that blasted the novel as an end-to-end mess of unadulterated bigotry. “It was ultimately written for white people. It was written for the type of white person who considers themselves to be not-racist and thinks that they deserve recognition and praise for treating POC like they are actually human.”

The Black Witch centers on a girl named Elloren who has been raised in a stratified society where other races (including selkies, fae, wolfmen, etc.) are considered inferior at best and enemies at worst. But when she goes off to college, she begins to question her beliefs, an ideological transformation she’s still working on when she joins with the rebellion in the last of the novel’s 600 pages. (It’s the first of a series; one hopes that Elloren will be more woke in book two.)

It was this premise that led Sinyard to slam The Black Witch as “racist, ableist, homophobic, and … written with no marginalized people in mind,” in a review that consisted largely of pull quotes featuring the book’s racist characters saying or doing racist things. Here’s a representative excerpt, an offending sentence juxtaposed with Sinyard’s commentary:

“pg. 163. The Kelts are not a pure race like us. They’re more accepting of intermarriage, and because of this, they’re hopelessly mixed.”

Yes, you just read that with your own two eyes. This is one of the times my jaw dropped in horror and I had to walk away from this book.

. . . .

Based almost solely on Sinyard’s opinion, the novel became the object of sustained, aggressive opposition in the weeks leading up its release. Its publisher, Harlequin Teen, was bombarded with angry emails demanding they pull the book. The Black Witch’s Goodreads rating dropped to an abysmal 1.71 thanks to a mass coordinated campaign of one-star reviews, mostly from people who admitted to not having read it.

. . . .

The harm Mimi describes is central to campaigns like the one against The Black Witch, which are almost always waged in the name of protecting vulnerable teens from dangerous ideas. These books, it’s claimed, are hurting children.

. . . .

Dramatic as that sounds, it’s worth noting that my attempts to report this piece were met with intense pushback. Sinyard politely declined my request for an interview in what seemed like a routine exchange, but then announced on Twitter that our interaction had “scared” her, leading to backlash from community members who insisted that the as-yet-unwritten story would endanger her life. Rumors quickly spread that I had threatened or harassed Sinyard; several influential authors instructed their followers not to speak to me; and one librarian and member of the Newbery Award committee tweeted at Vulture nearly a dozen times accusing them of enabling “a washed-up YA author” engaged in “a personalized crusade” against the entire publishing community (disclosure: while freelance culture writing makes up the bulk of my work, I published a pair of young adult novels in 2012 and 2014.) With one exception, all my sources insisted on anonymity, citing fear of professional damage and abuse.

None of this comes as a surprise to the folks concerned by the current state of the discourse, who describe being harassed for dissenting from or even questioning the community’s dynamics. One prominent children’s-book agent told me, “None of us are willing to comment publicly for fear of being targeted and labeled racist or bigoted. But if children’s-book publishing is no longer allowed to feature an unlikable character, who grows as a person over the course of the story, then we’re going to have a pretty boring business.”

Another agent, via email, said that while being tarred as problematic may not kill an author’s career — “It’s likely made the rounds as gossip, but I don’t know it’s impacting acquisitions or agents offering representation” — the potential for reputational damage is real: “No one wants to be called a racist, or sexist, or homophobic. That stink doesn’t wash off.”

Link to the rest at Vulture

On some days, PG feels like he’s living

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Watership Frown

3 August 2017

From The Literary Hub:

BACK IN 1974, THE NEW YORK TIMES‘ RICHARD GILMAN WASN’T OVERLY ENTHUSED BY RICHARD ADAMS’ BELOVED RABBIT ADVENTURE STORY

. . . .

“The impulse to make animals represent or incarnate human significances is of long standing in literature, going back at least as far as Aesop. For whatever reason, English literature has for scene time been especially lavish in the granting to animals of human properties: speech, humor, moral values, histories. One distinction of this kind of writing is that while it is mostly directed toward children, adults have enjoyed the best of it as much as children and sometimes more: Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, surely, but also Kipling, A. A. Milne, Kenneth Grahame, even Beatrix potter.

I doubt that Richard Adams’s Watership Down is really aimed at young children, despite his having said that it arose from impromptu stories he used to tell his small daughters. I can’t imagine many readers under 13 or 14, an age when the lines between juvenile and adult fiction begin to blur, having the patience and grasp of extended allegorical strategies to persevere to the end of a 426‐page epic about a community of rabbits. And while older teen‐agers may well enjoy it, I suspect that this tour de force, the Iliad and Odyssey of Oryctolagus cuniculus, is going to find its true audience mainly among the people who have made a cult of Tolkien, among ecology‐minded romantics and all those in need of a positive statement, not too subtle but not too blatant either, about the future of courage, native simplicity, the life‐force, and so on.

I don’t mean to be condescending. Watership Down is in some ways a delightful book, at times an affecting one. But faced with the extraordinary praise given the book in England, one has to draw back some distance. Lacking the high wit and imaginative force of Alice in Wonderland or the triumphant (if occasionally purple) lyricism of The Wind in the Willows, the book seems to me a good deal less than the ‘classic’—with the implication in the word of settled universal appeal—that British commentators have so reflexively proclaimed it.

. . . .

“As in all such fiction, the plausibility issues from the detail and consistency with which the animal life is rendered, and above all from the resemblances we can discern to aspects of our own lives. To this end Adams offers a remarkable wealth of information on rabbit existence and wisely concentrates on matters of sustenance, living arrangement, behavior toward other animals, and the like.

“But as anthropomorphic fantasy replaces observation (the book is in an actual area of Berkshire, England, and Adams is particularly fine on landscapes and flora, weathers and seasons) he sees fit to give rabbits a folklore and folk‐heroes, a mythology complete with creationmyth and, finally, a language …  If I remember correctly, the great writers of animal fiction let their characters unselfconsciously speak the authors’ own languages, and this is proper because the imaginative act is complete once the literary decision has been made to allow animals to speak in words; to let them use their own worth, their own verbal language, is to tempt the pathetic fallacy beyond its acceptable limits. This may seem a small point, especially since the Lapine is a very minor element of the rhetoric, brit I think it symptomatic of what is wrong with Watership Down, or rather what keeps it from being wholly right.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

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When Should We Ignore Criticism?

8 July 2017

From freeCodeCamp:

A fairly well-known and respected graphic designer once openly criticized something I had written and shared publicly. He did a poor job with his feedback however, as his only remark—in its entirety—was: “This guy doesn’t get it.”

The feedback stung, but it also made me question the designer’s intention and understanding of what he was criticizing.

“This guy doesn’t get it.” What was the “it” he was referring to exactly? How might I begin learning how to “get” whatever “it” was? What could I do to improve and become as seemingly aware and insightful as the critic? He failed to provide any answers. His criticism was hurtful and loud, but ultimately useless.

Of course criticism is important: it can expose us to perspectives we weren’t aware of, uncover flaws in our work, and help us identify areas for learning and growing. Criticism can be generative and help us create a more complete picture of whatever it is we’re trying to do. But some criticism, while obnoxiously loud, will lack any real substance.

Knowing when to tune-in and probe or when to ignore criticism is valuable. It will save you time, help you avoid headaches and heartaches, and get you to a place where you’re growing and producing good work rather than obsessing over the impossible pursuit of perfection.

In his book Antifragile Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes:

“When you take risks, insults by small men, those who don’t risk anything, are similar to barks by nonhuman animals; you can’t feel insulted by a dog.”

In my example story, this once noble designer may have had some great years of experience, but if the only guidance he can muster to a fellow designer is: “you don’t get it,” he’s wasting his time. He wasn’t helping me, or any of his dutiful followers, just barking like an obnoxious dog.

When you hear or give criticism you must consider whether it’s additive or generative—is it offering anything that can be built on?—or is it neutral or subtractive?

If I had listened to the criticism—if I had taken the words to heart and believed that I wasn’t “getting it,” if I had done anything because of the criticism—I’d be no better off. Absolutely unchanged. Because I wouldn’t have had the slightest clue as to any reason the criticism might be true. What was the argument to be made against whatever “it” was I wasn’t getting? What was the way forward, toward understanding?

Link to the rest at freeCodeCamp

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When tweeters attack: why do readers send authors their bad reviews?

30 May 2017

From The Guardian:

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. It’s a simple enough rule that most of us learned as young children. So why is it that some readers seem incapable of holding back from telling an author that they didn’t like their book?

It is a lesson one reader might have heeded before addressing the writer Nina Stibbe with some feedback on her 2013 novel Love, Nina: “My #bookgroup really not loving #lovenina. Voted it 1.3 (out of 10). Our lowest EVER score in 5 years and 60 books. Sorry @ninastibbe.”

Aside from the score – how on earth did they reach that .3? – the “sorry” makes it sound like Stibbe was on tenterhooks for her feedback. She wasn’t. But she did retweet the comment, much to the amusement of fellow writers who then shared their experiences of similar reader over-shares. The Latte Years author Philippa Moore’s experience was typical. “I was tagged in an ‘I won this book, didn’t like it, gave it to my mum’ Instagram post once,” she said. “I was like WHY DO I NEED TO KNOW THAT?”

. . . .

Every author I know has been tagged by readers like this. Usually the reader announces they have reviewed the author’s latest novel. Only it’s a vicious review, awarding two stars (one for arriving on time). Why would they announce that to the author?

Crime writer Alex Marwood says snippy comments directed at her come through her Facebook page, which is meant to be for fans. One reader kindly told her she was “a craptastic author”. Another delighted in telling her about a scathing Amazon review (since removed), which Marwood later printed off and framed.

What is telling is that in almost every case – including that of Stibbe – the reader removes their original comment soon after it has reached its target. Could sudden self-awareness be at work? It is as hard to fathom as it is to know why they tagged the author in the first place.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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Rotten Reviews and Terrible Trolls

23 April 2017

From Lit World Interviews:

You will get bad reviews. It’s inevitable, I promise you. Take comfort in the fact that it’s a rite of passage all writers go through. Every – single – one of them, and after the first one has you on the floor, bawling your eyes out, and inexplicably trying to chew your own foot off for a while, they’re not so hard to deal with. Some are pretty funny, and some are just to be ignored. There are people out there who delight in trashing books, and sometimes the authors of books too, for reasons unknown to most decent humans. Sometimes it’s jealousy, and sometimes it’s just because they’re mean. Sometimes also these one star stabs to the soul are perfectly legitimate in their author’s hearts and minds, because they really didn’t enjoy what you wrote for reasons that do or don’t make sense to you. Whatever the reasons are for your one star clanger, you must never, ever, never, never, and I repeat, never respond to them. If you really need to share your pain then talk to a friend – preferably a writer friend, who will totally get you. I personally don’t think that it’s a good idea to respond to fabulous five star rave reviews either. “Liking” that wonderful review is good enough. The reviewer might actually not appreciate being gushed at by an unknown author, no matter how much you really want to catch a plane, find them, and kiss them on the lips. Reviews are for readers, good ones and bad ones. It’s best for you to let them be.

. . . .

When you do get a negative review, pass it on to that part of you who is the business – not the writer – figure out if there is anything to learn from it, in which case it becomes helpful, and if not, move right along and forget about it. Don’t waste your valuable online time on trolls and hurtful reviews.

Link to the rest at Lit World Interviews

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One-star review activism is still a contentious issue on Amazon and elsewhere

21 April 2017

From TeleRead:

We’ve had a lot to say on the subject of one-star reviews over the last few years. Consumers have used them to protest practices they didn’t like, be they windowing the publication of an ebook, applying unfriendly DRM to video games, or even double-dipping on Lord of the Rings DVD releases.

Beyond that, organized rating or voting campaigns have become a favorite tool for online activists, be they Gamergaters who want to smear the works of feminists whom they loathe (or feminist movies like the Paul Feig Ghostbusters remake), Sad or Rabid Puppies who want to influence or trash the Hugo Awards respectively, Greenpeace downrating Amazon’s Fire phone, or even the wags who tried to force a British government agency to name its newest research vessel “Boaty McBoatface.”

The Hollywood Reporter has the story of the latest such incident to make the news. The Promise, a movie about the controversial Armenian genocide during World War I, has seen its Internet Movie Database listing receive 100,000 1-star votes as the result of a campaign by those who would deny there was a genocide at all. IMDB has said that there’s not a lot they can do, and even with the filmmakers organizing their own campaign to vote the movie back up, it’s still only ranked at 5 stars on IMDB (4.2 when the article was written).

. . . .

Given how much has already been said about the added difficulty of discovering new works online, activists gaming the ratings for ideological reasons is not going to make it any easier. In the end, it’s going to be up to sites that allow review rankings to figure out their own way of dealing with this issue.

 

Link to the rest at TeleRead

A question occurred to PG while he was reading the OP.

Has any author who is the target of organized negative review campaigns ever inserted an explanation of what’s happening with his/her reviews in the book’s description? Something like, “A group calling itself Friends of Dogs has organized a protest against my books because they portray cats in a positive manner. Many of the one-star reviews of my books are part of that protest.”

On the one hand, it might help potential readers understand that some of the reviews are not really about the book’s content. On the other hand, it might spur protesters to even more extreme actions.

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Star Reviews

7 April 2017

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Confessions of a paid Amazon review writer

20 March 2017

From Digiday:

Many marketing jobs are far from glamorous. Take those toiling in the black market for positive reviews on Amazon.

Merchants have historically offered writers on Amazon free products or services in exchange for positive online write-ups. The practice became so rampant that Amazon updated its community guidelines last October to remove incentivized reviews. But still, many retailers are trying to get around the new policy, according to one top-ranked Amazon reviewer.

. . . .

How does one become an influential Amazon reviewer in the first place?
I have been reviewing on Amazon for a few years, sporadically, but only in the past year have I been doing it seriously. That is because I suddenly broke into the top 10,000 reviewers and then began quickly climbing up. At that point, I decided to see how far up I could get. [She made it to top 50.] Once I got into the top 10,000, vendors started to send me requests to review their products. At that time, it was acceptable for a vendor to send you their product for free in exchange for a review so long as you made it clear in the review that you had received the product in exchange for the review.

What is the most expensive item you have received for free in exchange for reviews?
I would say a Bluetooth speaker that is worth $50 or so.

. . . .

Did anything change after Amazon’s crackdown last October?
Prior to the crackdown, vendors could provide you with an item for free so that you could review it for them. Since that policy change, vendors are not allowed to do that [other than for books], and reviewers are not allowed to accept items for free in exchange for a review. So, if one was reviewing in order to get free items to review, it affects them a great deal. I know that a top reviewer was removed by Amazon recently all of a sudden, for no reason.

. . . .

Are brands trying to get around Amazon’s crackdown?
Some still ask me to go around it. I get dozens of requests to review products every week, some from vendors who do not seem to be aware of the policy change, and others from vendors who are clearly aware of the policy change and are asking me to do something underhanded to violate Amazon’s policy, so that they can get their product into my hands so that I will review it.

What do you mean by “something underhanded?”
Here is an example that I received recently. The seller is telling me to buy the product on Amazon, and it will reimburse me through PayPal, “so it will be a verified purchase review.” Or a seller suggests I order the product through Amazon, then request to return it and receive the refund but keep the product: “After you receive the product, then you apply for a refund but do not need to return product. We will refund your full payment. So you do not have to spend any fees for this product and will enjoy the rapid distribution of Amazon.” This is the most ridiculous, and dishonest, thing that a vendor has asked me to do. In addition, I have had vendors who track me down and message me on Facebook.

Link to the rest at Digiday and thanks to E.M. for the tip.

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