On Reviews

GIVING REVIEWS

I wrote a review the other day on Treasure Island, The Musical, and my Statcounter app tells me it’s been viewed a few times by someone who might’ve been upset by the review. I felt bad about that for a while, really, that my opinion might have upset someone because it wasn’t said in hate, it was just something I had an issue with and I voiced my opinion.

But I’m noticing that I don’t really want to review things I like, or that I have no problems with, I just want to slag shit I don’t like. So I end up not reviewing stuff often. But more importantly, I don’t like feeling like the bad guy. The asshole. Which makes me realize any necessary component for a successful reviewer is an absolute indifference to what the creator or artist might think of him or her. This frees them up to say whatever they want. Of course, they’re probably insufferable assholes, as well, but that’s just the kit of the proverbial caboodle.

RECEIVING REVIEWS

I get all sorts of reviews for my books, most good, but there’s always the bad, the one stars, the folks that hate my work. There’s not much I can add to the discussion about being on the receiving end that John Scalzi hasn’t already said here and here. Some of the highlights:

1. Everyone is entitled to their opinion about the things they read (or watch, or listen to, or taste, or whatever). They’re also entitled to express them online.

2. Sometimes those opinions will be ones you don’t like.

3. Sometimes those opinions won’t be very nice.

4. The people expressing those may be (but are not always) assholes.

And this:

Once again: How do I feel about one star reviews? I’m fine with them. I’m sorry these folks had an unhappy reading experience, but the point is that no matter what I wrote, someone would have had an unhappy reading experience. I know this because there’s not a novel I’ve written that someone hasn’t seen fit to complain about, often at length and sometimes with the vitriol usually reserved for politicians of the party one does not like.

It’s part of the territory, and the sooner one as a creator comes to grips with it and accepts it as part of the process, the better off one will be. I think as a creator you owe your audience your best efforts, but if at the end of your best effort some of them are still not happy, the best response is, oh, well, maybe next time. You will never make everyone happy. If you try, you’ll likely create something mediocre, and then nobody will be happy. Least of all you.

As usual, Scalzi does a great job of breaking it all down and I suggest you read it if you are an author, a musician, or anyone in the public eye.

READING REVIEWS AS POTENTIAL AUDIENCE

I want to discuss how pointless reviews truly are from the audience point of view, at least for me as the audience, that is. From the potential buyer, potential fan, looking for something to read, looking for some entertainment.

Here’s the way I see it: 5 and 4 star gushing, cum-bath reviews rarely say anything worthwhile about the book, movie, album in question other than sticky (and salty but hey, full of protein! Okay, I’ll stop), overblown praise. It’s nice as a “content provider” to get them, but they’re like empty calories.

1 and 2 star reviews are often so negative, I find myself trying to figure out why the reviewer is so full of vitriol. Is the subject matter making him or her have all the FEELS they don’t want to have? Is there some social/political slant that’s informing this person’s worldview to the point of monomania?

3 star reviews are often where you find the most penetrating and even-handed insights regarding a work. The reviewers have weighed the good and the bad and offer that up for your perusal, allowing you to make a decision regarding purchase.

I’m going to digress for a moment. The other day, Jared, @pornokitsch tweeted this.

I went to the review, read it. It was entertaining because I had read Wise Man’s Fear prior to reading the review and I could see what the reviewer said had some merit, even through all the hate. I skimmed through some of the other reviews. That lead me to another reviewer’s site that was BONKERS in its hate-filled screeds against some fantasy books. I won’t mention the website (partly because the reviewer, obviously brilliant, scares the shit out of me) but also I don’t want to bum you out because surely, if you began to read this person’s reviews, you’d start feeling physically ill. Karma and all that.

But, like Blackbeard’s wife, I opened the door and looked. I read them anyway. One of the reviews was for Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man, which I had just bought and was currently reading. The review eviscerated the book, I mean, really took it apart, albeit from a very limited viewpoint, but disassembled the novel, shat upon the the various parts, attacked the author and then shat upon him. Lots and lots of shitting.

So when I returned to reading The Warded Man, I couldn’t help read the book through the prism of the review. Everything thing that had a whiff of what the reviewer complained about, I noted it.

My mind was tainted against the book.

I managed to work through it because The Warded Man is quite a fun read, full of fun characters and demons of all stripe (and you know how I loves me some infernal shiznit).

This brought to my attention how susceptible I am toward negativity. I’ve noticed this trend for me, negative (or three star with heavy doses of criticism) reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or Rotten Tomatos taint my experience though I still am able to enjoy the thing reviewed. Examples – Daniel Polansky’s Low Town, Jack the Giant Slayer, and The Hobbit movie.

The reviews, in essence, became an irritant during the experience of the media but didn’t kill the enjoyment of the media itself. Like spending a day at the beach, drinking beer, soaking up the rays. Yeah, there’s some sand in your swimming trunks, chafing your funbits a smidge, but nothing you can’t handle. The sun and beer and surf outweigh the itch.

Anyway, I’ve already tried to stop reading reviews of my own books, unless they’re brought to my attention by a publicist. But now I’ve found I have to start ignoring reviews as a customer as well. In the end, the only valuable reviews have some modicum of negativity and I need to stay positive now.

Looks like I’ll have to form opinions about stuff all on my own.

That is all.

 

 

 

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