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When do negative reviews go too far?

I know this has been discussed before, and I certainly don’t want to beat a dead horse (that’s just cruel), but I think this subject warrants a discussion based on recent happenings.

Last night on Twitter, Amy pointed out a post over at Babbling About Books And More entitled Reviewer Beware! No Books For You! The gist of the story is that Emmy, a book reviewer, received an email from a person who runs a site she reviewes for saying that publishers and authors have requested Emmy not be given books to review based on a few of her harshly negative reviews. Emmy has never claimed to be a professional reviewer, and her reviews tend to be her emotional reaction to the book as opposed to discussing plot, characterization, etc. To her credit, I think her reviews tend  to work for the genre that she reviews, which is romance/erotica.

(Edited to add: Thanks to Natasha for clarifying something that might not be clear about the situation (read Natasha’s full comment below): “Emmy was being asked to either tone down her reviews or no longer receive books from certain publishers because of the reviews she posted on a review site, as opposed to her own blog.”)

An interesting discussion ensued on Twitter, at the base of the discussion whether publishers have the right to deny books to bloggers who write excessively negative reviews. A few other issues came up that I wanted to discuss as well, so I’ve sectioned the issues out.

Can publishers and authors refuse to send books to bloggers who don’t write good reviews?

Publishers and authors can do whatever they want. After all, they’re the ones wielding the free books! I WISH publishers and authors were more discerning in who received free books. There was a point last year where all you had to say was “I have a blog!” and you’d get inundated with free books. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I think that is slowly changing.

I don’t think this is a bad practice on the part of publishers and authors. Publishers and authors should be more discerning in who they give free books to, largely because not everyone enjoys every genre of book.

Book bloggers are not professional reviewers

Good point. But is it wrong of publishers to expect professional behavior in return for sending a free book?

I think that in accepting a book for review, you’re entering into a business relationship with the publisher/author, and should behave as such. Saying, “I’m not a professional reviewer” is a cop out. The reviewer is essentially saying, “I want a free book but I don’t want to be held to any standard of conduct.”

It’s my blog! I can say whatever I want!

True. But what I don’t understand is when snarkiness became okay. It angers me to no end that society is going the way of “whatever you do is okay and no one can criticize you”. I’ll be the first to admit snarkiness is funny, but snarkiness directed at a person or a person’s work is rude, cruel, and unacceptable. Good for you if you pride yourself on being so honest that it comes out snarky. But frankly, I don’t think you would say your snarky things to the recipient’s face, so I just find it to be cowardly.

Specifically, Emmy used the words “craptastic”, “suckage”, and “OH MY GAWD MY EYES!!1!! *gouges out with rusty spoon to stop the pain*”. But don’t think I’m picking on Emmy! I bring up those examples from her reviews because she was the one who received the email about her negative reviews. To be fair, I wrote a particularly scathing review that is a little harsh when I re-read it, but believe me, the book really WAS that bad.  If I read that book today, would I write the same review? Maybe, maybe not. But I’ve written other reviews of books I didn’t enjoy (Bunko Babes and The Darker Side and Out Stealing Horses to name a few), and they certainly aren’t cruel. They’re honest, even very  honest, but never cruel.

I think that bloggers can “say whatever they want” when they only review books they’ve purchased themselves. When you purchase a book yourself, go ahead and trash it as much as you want (though I still don’t think that’s acceptable behavior). But when you receive books for free and trash the books and then wonder why no one sends you books when all you were doing was being honest  and you have a disclaimer that you’re brutally honest, wah wah wah, don’t come crying to me.

Why do professional reviewers in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and the NY Times get a pass on being cruel but book bloggers don’t?

I think people who review for PW, Kirkus, the NYT, etc, can be cruel because authors don’t have a choice. Those publications give them so much exposure that they take what they can get. But bloggers? Boy, do authors have a choice! And when people have a choice, they have the ability to somewhat dictate how things happen, because they’re confident they’ll be able to find someone who will  follow their guidelines.

_____________________

I’m interested to know what you think about this. Can a review be too harsh? Do reviewers have any obligation to write reviews that aren’t cruel and rude when they receive books?

If you don’t have a blog, I’d especially like to hear from you! Do you think bloggers should have an unwritten code of conduct? Do you think publishers have a right to demand book bloggers not post malicious and cruel reviews?

| Tags: , , , 92 comments »

92 Responses to “When do negative reviews go too far?”

  1. Julie P.

    Great post! I missed the discussion last night, but I think what you said here is right on. I find it extremely difficult to write cruel things about a book. I have to think that there are good things about every book (well, almost every book) and I feel it’s part of my responsibility as a reviewer to point out those things. In addition, I don’t mind giving my opinion b/c that’s why I blog/review, but I do think that there are writing a book is like having a child — I wouldn’t really appreciate anyone telling me that kids are not too bright or not very attractive. I try to respect the effort an author put into his/her work. I hope that I can find that every book (like every child) has something positive about it. And even if I don’t love it, it might be great to someone else.

    [Reply]

  2. Ti

    You want my real opinion? I think that a publisher should check out a blog before sending a book to a particular blogger. In this case I don’t think the negativity is what irked the publisher/author. It was the way the review was written. Well, this particular blogger always writes this way. At least that is how I understood it. The mediary knew this yet still sent books to her. If it’s not the right site, then send them elsewhere.

    Again, I don’t mean this as a way to wean out the negative reviewers, but if the style is not right, then go with another blogger. It takes just a glance to get a feel for a person’s writing style regardless of the content.

    [Reply]

    Jen - Devourer of Books Reply:

    I think that’s a good point. Her style is definitely very different than a lot of book reviewers and not something that personally appeals to me (it is a little dramatic for my taste, from what Trish quoted). If that’s really their problem, they have only themselves to blame, it wasn’t as if they couldn’t read her work before sending her books.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I always want your real opinion, Ti! :D

    And you’re right, Ti, and the ironic thing is that I’m sure the authors were okay with the style of reviewing…until they got burned.

    [Reply]

    Beth F Reply:

    I agree, a publicist should have an idea of just who is receiving the books for review. If he or she sends a book to a reviewer whose style doesn’t make the publisher’s or author’s, then the blogger really isn’t to blame.

    [Reply]

  3. Jen - Devourer of Books

    I have definitely written negative reviews in my time, but in general I try to be even-handed and objective about what I liked and didn’t, particularly when a book is something I feel just didn’t work for me, but might work for others. I think it is pretty obvious that publishers and authors are under no obligation to send books to someone who savages them, but I also think that if one out of every couple hundred reviews someone writes is brutal, that’s okay too because some books just ARE that bad (I have one that comes to mind – I wasn’t very nice in that review, but neither did I say ‘gouges eyes out with a rusty spoon,’ because that isn’t helpful to MY readers).

    [Reply]

    Beth F Reply:

    I believe it is absolutely possible to write a totally negative review without being mean. As long as you have reasons for your negative opinion and state them objectively, there is no problem with this kind of honest review. And it’s always good to remember that we’re reviewing the book not the author as a person.

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  4. Jennsbookshelf

    I personally believe a blogger can give an honest (and if appropriate, negative) review of a book without being crude. If I review a book that I dislike, I state the reasons and, if applicable, I also state the things I liked about the book. Some publishers and web sites require positive reviews from their reviewers. They have a history of removing or prohibiting any negative reviews about their books. But I think removing such reviews does a disservice to both the author and the reading community. If a publisher or site only displays positive reviews, how valid/reliable are they? I’m more willing to read a site if I know that the reviews are honest, both positive and negative. And be it a negative review or positive review, it still provides visibility to the author.

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  5. Natasha @ Maw Books

    Just as a point of clarification, I believe Emmy was being asked to either tone down her reviews or no longer receive books from certain publishers because of the reviews she posted on a review site, as opposed to her own blog. I imagine that the review site has some type of guidelines or standard in place in which were being disregarded. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Well, we totally talked about this a ton last night so you pretty much know my opinion and I won’t address everything. And I think we agree pretty much on everything that was said. Yes, publishers and authors have every right to be discerning on who they send their books too. If they don’t like a bloggers personal style of reviews, then why bother sending them a book? Yes, I think that as a blogger, accepting a book is entering into a business relationship and should be treated as such. No, I’m not a professional reviewer only in the sense that I’m not trained for it. But dang it! I’m a good reader and I’ve got valid opinions! I don’t think there is any reason to write reviews that are exceedingly cruel and malicious.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Thanks for clarifying, Natasha. That’s what I meant to say but I may have been unclear, so I edited my post to add your clarifying sentence.

    And yes, we agree on pretty much everything! lol

    [Reply]

    Amy @ My Friend Amy Reply:

    Well it didn’t take much to learn that this review site is actually a blog and I don’t think they had any guidelines in place, though it appears they do now.

    I went back and reread some of Emmy’s reviews through feed (she has deleted them from the other blog), and truth be told I still think she’s a decent reviewer. She does review based on plot points, characterization, pacing, and believability. The examples used above seem to be the most extreme. I can’t go back and look at the comments which were a big part of the criticism since they’ve been deleted. It would seem from reading the new solicitation for a reviewer that some commenters are passionate about books they loved and maybe she fought with them. I have to admit that has been tempting to me at times, but I never do it. ;)

    Probably this blog’s source of books was threatened and so the blog owner decided to cut off the reviewer raising problems so the rest of them could continue to get books and review. I honestly don’t know what I would have done in that situation. I understand protecting the other reviewers and the reputation of the blog, but there’s something to be said for solidarity and standing by one’s first decision to choose a reviewer.

    [Reply]

  6. Kaylie Jones

    Fantastic discussion. I was curious about one thing: what is the style of Emmy’s reviews that possibly displeased the publishers? I am new to Twitter and am old enough to remember the days of paper reviews, some so malicious they were horrifying. Yet, writers were glad to get reviewed at all. The Internet has turned publishing on its head! And I hope it continues to do so.

    [Reply]

    Amy @ My Friend Amy Reply:

    This is what bothers me. I don’t think it’s fair to bully blogger reviewers just because you can.

    [Reply]

    Beth F Reply:

    Amy, you’re so right. It works both ways.

    [Reply]

  7. Bookfool, aka Nancy

    What a terrific post! I totally agree with you that publishers and publicists can do whatever they want; if they choose not to send to a particular blogger because of “unprofessional” reviews, that’s their choice. Can a reviewer be too harsh? Absolutely. One of the things I love about bloggers is their honesty level, but I think you can write a negative review with kindness and sensitivity. I attempt to at least find something positive to say. If I’m unable to do so, sometimes I’ll write to an author or publicist and ask their preference: Honest review (because I’m not going to lie!) or nothing at all. I’m willing to skip a review if I can’t say anything positive at all, although those skipped books will still show up in my end-of-month wrap-ups with a brief opinion.

    Should there be an unwritten code of conduct? Hmm. I think there’s a little common sense involved. Anyone who chooses to be honest with a “snarky” tone should probably expect to have a little trouble with people who offer free books. From my perspective, the ARCs are a bonus. I have literally thousands of books. I don’t need ARCs. I love reading; I love reviewing; I love writers. If someone wants me to review and I’m interested in the book — terrific! But, if the free books dried up this moment, I would continue to read and review from my shelves and stacks. So, I guess I have a little trouble with anyone getting upset that someone doesn’t want to send them free books. If you desire to review for people and it’s not working out, maybe a little adaptation is necessary. It’s a two-way street.

    The thing is, the reviewing of those ARCs is mutually beneficial. I don’t think consistently positive reviews create an atmosphere of trust for the readers of a blog, so honesty is good. Example: Who on earth trusts a review by Harriet Klausner, the Positive Reviewing Queen of the internet world? But, I do think those who offer up books for review have every right to ask for a modicum of professionalism and dignity in reviews.

    Professional reviewers . . . Why can they be cruel while bloggers are asked to be more respectful? Well, let’s think about that. Writing style may enter into the equation. Professional reviewers tend to look at certain elements and evaluate a book based on technical merit. There’s always going to be an opinion factor, but their method tends to be a little different. We’re more emotion-based. They’re more element-based. Since the vast majority of the general reading population cares more about how a book makes them feel, the joy they get out of the wording and the meaning they take away from a book, it makes sense that bloggers are drawing away the reading audience from professionals, doesn’t it? And, if they tear a book apart, they’re usually doing it for different reasons. At least, that’s how I see it.

    Wow, this is a really long response. Apparently, I have some strong opinions about this issue! :)

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Nancy, that’s a great point about the difference between professional reviews and bloggers. Thanks for pointing that out!

    [Reply]

  8. Pam

    Absolutely a review can be too harsh, and I agree with everything you say 100%! I think that English is a particularly fun and flowery language. We have an amazing list of adjectives for every description needed so at no point do I see a need to use abrasive adjectives to describe a book a read when another person is involved and it is defer mating to the author or his material.

    Book Bloggers are not professional reviewers fair enough, and if I buy something on my blog I should be able to do or say what I want, fair enough. I can be as snarky or rude or plain out demeaning as I want its my blog. Sure thing. Just do not be surprised when other reviewers think your site stinks and avoid it, the publishers will go to more professional resources for their precious copies.

    It is up to you what level of professionalism you maintain on your blog. I never post conversational posts, posts about my personal life, or anything other than having to do with books. In my about me, I have a bit about how I read and things I like to read. I have my favorite books on the site, no where on my blog will you get a feel for who I really am as a person, but hopefully you see a serious and dedicated reviewer. Thank goodness that is what the pubs see!

    So too bloggers like Emmy that just want some laughs out of people for how cool and uninterested they can sound, the publishing industry should shy away from those blogs. They should also research the blogs they have on their list, are they current, are they good, do they use the good King’s English. What is important to that publisher should be showcased in those places these review copies go. Maybe this is something to suggest for those of you doing the penguin forum, I haven’t decided if I am going to or not yet.

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  9. Shauna

    Fantastic post, Trish. I’ve never written a scathing review, though if a book was a disappointment to me, I’ve certainly expressed that. I kind of followed along with the discussion last night, even though I didn’t say anything, and I read the posts mentioned at the time. I think that, if you’re going to negatively review a book you received for free for the purpose of reviewing it, you need to do so tactfully. I agree with you that there comes a time when it’s not okay to be snarky (and I’ve gotten in my fair share of trouble for snark), but I’ve never intentionally been mean to someone. I’ve think it particularly tactless to be intentionally mean to someone who has already done something nice for you in providing you with a free book. So I think the obligation reviewers have is to be human, and remember that the people who’s books are being reviewed are human as well (I think there may be a couple exceptions to this rule). There’s nothing the matter with acting with basic human decency.

    [Reply]

    Amy @ My Friend Amy Reply:

    There’s no such thing as a free book. I work HARD on my blog and I work hard to get books read on time and reviewed if accepted for that purpose. As long as we continue to send the message that we are the ones gaining by the publisher/blogger relationship and as long as we allow them to dictate how our reviews should read as a result of that, we’ll have a hard time having integrity with our readers and with the culture at large.

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    Chris@bookarama Reply:

    I agree Amy. It’s not really free. My time is worth something.

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    Beth F Reply:

    Well said, Amy. I’m a freelance professional and I know just how much my time is worth. The price of a free book doesn’t even come close to covering the amount of work I do to maintain my blog and develop a professional relationship with publicists and marketing people. And then there’s the reading and reviewing. I’m not getting anything free, I’m paying.

    [Reply]

  10. Carrie K.

    I think there is a way to be completely honest in the review without trashing an author or the work they put so much time into. As a freelance writer, I understand the time and effort people put into their writing – and how devastating it can be to have that work torn into shreds.

    I will always be honest in my review, but never personal – I never attack the author personally, or use crude, hyperbolic words to describe the book. I don’t like reading reviews like that on other people’s blogs, either.

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  11. Maree

    I agree with Ti. If publishers and authors want their books reviewed by bloggers, then a little research makes sense, to try and match a blogger with the genres of books they read. Also to get a feel for their writing style. For example, there would be no point sending me romance novels, because I don’t read the genre.
    I don’t really get ARCs, mostly because I live in New Zealand I think, and it never occurs to me to go and ask. I see my blog primarily as a reading blog rather than a reviewing blog anyway. However, if I read something I don’t like and have a negative reaction that I then write about, I try to back up my opinion, which I think is also key.

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  12. Elizabeth Burton

    Back when I sat on the other side of the editorial desk, I had an online review zine for about three years, where I did most of the reviews myself. If I received a book that was literally so bad I couldn’t give it at least a few good words, I would inform the author I didn’t feel I could review it. Usually, I would explain why.

    That’s not to say I never wrote anything but raves. If a decent book had flaws, I mentioned them. However, I wanted the tone of the zine to be professional, and I consider it highly unprofessional to use one’s position to attack someone in public. It’s a self-indulgence that serves no good purpose other than perhaps to give the person who does it some kind of ego stroke.

    The biggest problem with online reviews, and this is particularly true in the case of erotica and erotic romance, is that there is no distinction in some cases between a review, which implies that the writer has kept to a professional standard and has sufficient knowledge of writing to speak to technical issues such as plot, characterization, dialogue and so on, and a reader review, which is basically someone giving their personal opinion of a book based solely on reaction.

    As a corollary, I have all too often seen a book receive a scathing review not because it’s a bad book but solely on the basis that it’s not the kind of book the “reviewer” likes to read. My question in that case is: Then why in the name of all that’s holy did you read it, much less criticize it for not being what it never pretended to be? This type almost always arises where the “reviewers” are really readers.

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  13. Kathy

    I think this is a great post, but I don’t really have anything new to add to the conversation. I do think that it is a privilege, not a right, to receive books from authors and publishers. I also think it’s possible to post an honest negative review without attacking the author or their work.

    [Reply]

  14. Melissa @ Melissa's Bookshelf

    Great post, Trish. I read about this first on My Friend Amy’s blog and went back through the various posts about it. However, I missed all the tweeting. I agree with your post 100%–you expressed it all more eloquently than I could have.

    Posting snarky reviews on one’s own blog is one thing–after all, I imagine there is a large audience that enjoys that style of reviewing. However, when contributing to a review site, it seems to me that a higher level of professionalism ought to be maintained.

    Personally, I don’t enjoy giving snarky reviews. I HATE having to write reviews for books I don’t enjoy and I do my best to find some kind of positives to write about to temper the negatives. I don’t like to think that I’m hurting anyone’s feelings so I try to be fair without being rude and hurtful.

    It’s only natural that someone who posts snarky reviews will likely see fewer free books from authors and publishers. Yes, they have the right to post such reviews on their own blog, they had just better plan on having to buy most of the books they review. There’s no law that says an author or publisher has to send free books to any of us, and I prefer to maintain as good a relationship with them as I can. Hence, no snarky reviews on my blog.

    [Reply]

  15. Chris@bookarama

    I’m going to try to be brief because I spent too much time online today.

    I don’t know anything about Emmy’s reviews but the publicists should have familiarized themselves with her work. You really can’t expect someone to write a completely different way just because you give them free books. There are some blogs that are very snarky and that’s their thing.

    Today I had to write a review of a book I didn’t really care for. I wandered around my house grumbling to myself about it. When it came to reviewing it, I could have said a lot of the things I had been thinking. After writing a few of the negatives, I think I made my point. I didn’t need to empty my head onto the page. It was enough to let people know how I felt about it without going over the edge. Really, does anyone want me to go on and on forever? lol

    I think I would be hurt by a letter like Emmy received. Maybe she didn’t know how she was coming off. However, I don’t think I’m harsh, just honest, if a publicist had a problem with that, I can still find books elsewhere. Emmy might not be getting ARCs anymore but she can still keep reviewing what she reads.

    If a publicist contacted her about a book she had bought, then that would be something different.

    [Reply]

    Amy @ My Friend Amy Reply:

    I agree and I think Emmy WAS hurt and that’s why she brought it out. I think the site copped out..instead of saying they couldn’t work with her anymore, they tried to blame it on the publishers. It may have seemed kind at the time, but I think the reviewing site should have taken the definitive action.

    [Reply]

    Rebecca Reply:

    You raise a great point, Chris. I think the authors and publishers should have done their homework, too. If she wrote reviews like these before, she probably will again, and they can’t say she switched it up on them. I do think the letter was not written in a professional manner any more than her reviews were. While I understand the authors and the publishers’ points of view, I also think they should have done their research ahead of time instead of sending out free books to any old blogger. I would rather receive books because an author thinks I would appreciate their book or write an honest (but professional) review, not just because I write a book blog.

    [Reply]

  16. thatsthebook

    I would have to agree with much of what you said. I don’t think you should be saying anything on your blog that you wouldn’t say to the author in person. I’ve done a few reviews that may not have been the nicest thing in the world. I think anyone reviewing a book or anything else should have the right and obligation to express their true feelings about what they’ve read. If you don’t like something tell us, on the flip side you don’t have to be rude about it.

    As for getting free books, well I wish I got more than I do but then again who doesn’t, the publish can give them to who they want and don’t really need to justify their choices. I’m sure publishers are talking about who should get these books and who shouldn’t.

    [Reply]

  17. Missy

    Great post! I agree with Carrie K. It is difficult for me to review books that I did not enjoy reading. I will point out parts and/or characters of the book, and what I didn’t like about them, but in a professional manner. There is no reason for reviewers to be rude. I feel terrible when I read a professional review that is unkind. I am not familiar with Emmy, but from what I have read, it sounds as though she doesn’t take her reviews seriously.

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  18. Robin of My Two Blessings

    You make some excellent points.

    I didn’t see the twitter conversation, but I did read the post. My first thought about the post was that emmy must be young. I could see why the person who wrote the letter said what she did. Maybe if Emmy used different verbage rather than tween speak, she might be taken seriously. I checked out her website and was immediately turned off by the language. I don’t frequent bloggers who use profanity especially certain words. So unfortunately that gave me an instant impression and i didn’t stay too long on her site.

    Anyway if I received a letter like that one I probably wouldn’t want to review books for them anymore. Either that or if I seriously wanted to work with them, would take it as educational and constructive criticism and try to use better language.

    The publishers have every right to refuse to send a book blogger books if all the reviews are negative. They were giving her the choice. She could either tone it down or she loses the privilege of be handed free books. The publishers, after all do have a reputation to uphold and even though Emmy isn’t a professional reviewer, her reviews create a bad impression for not only the publishers, but the authors as well.

    I personally try not to post negative reviews and If I don’t like the book, I’ll generally pose it in a positive light as possible. Saying this book is “craptastic” is denigrating to the author and not reviewing the story itself. I would never say negative or critical things about the author.

    [Reply]

    Beth F Reply:

    And even more, what does “craptastic” even mean? This type of language tells the reader nothing. I have no problem writing a negative review. If it is written properly you won’t be turning everyone off to the book anyway. Let’s say I write this: “One of the principal things I dislike about the book was the slap-stick humor. That isn’t to my taste, and I just couldn’t get past it.” But then you read my *negative* review and say, “Wow! I love slap-stick. I really have to check out this book.” Saying a book stinks, may be truthful, but it isn’t helpful.

    [Reply]

    Wendy Reply:

    Beth makes an excellent point here – what one reader might hate, another may love. If I am giving a negative review, I try to be specific about what I didn’t like…and usually I try to indicate WHO might like the book (example: “those readers who love biblical romance stories will probably enjoy this one”). I have actually written negative reviews where someone has left a comment and said they would read the book anyway because it sounded like their type of book.

    I think what all reviewers need to keep in their mind is that a review is really just THEIR opinion. Even the “professional” reviewers do not always agree *smiles*

    [Reply]

    Tonya Reply:

    Doesn’t this point about Emmy’s languange on her blog go back the original point that the ones giving her the books should have read her previous reviews first? I haven’t seen her site so I’m not sure what it was like before she started receiving review copies, but my guess is her writing style didn’t change.

    [Reply]

  19. Trish

    Gah! Wish I had time to go back and read all the comments before me. This is such a fascinating topic, but I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews. I’ve actually stopped reading certain blogs as often because all the reviews are so dang positive. I want to hear a little bit of criticism and don’t think it is bad to offer criticism on a book. I think we need to be respectful, but I think in general it is easier to be more honest or a little harsh when we don’t have a personal connection with the author. I guess it all comes down to keeping in mind that we are reviewing the book not the author. Wait, that’s not what you’re asking. :) It might be more difficult to review a book you didn’t like (I struggled with my thoughts on a Patterson book last night, but just tried to keep it short). Reviewing is work and should take time. I respect bloggers who obviously put thought and effort into making their reviews balanced.

    In terms of everyone and their dog being able to receive review copies, I’d say that’s a big reason why I don’t seek out review copies anymore. I got really turned off by the whole “I started my blog last week, give me free books!!” that I saw on some blogs or on Book Blogs website. I’ve got more to say on that, but I’ll hold my tongue. Sure I love new books, but I’ve also got 200+ unread books on my shelves that need reading. It doesn’t break my heart to know that I’m not receiving 20 books in the mail every week. And honestly, why are people accepting so many books each week when they clearly can’t keep up with the demand? Ok, let the holding of the tongue commence.

    I absolutely agree that publishers reserve the right to send books to certain reviewers or not send a book to a person who is rude and “snarky.” Should publishers send books on the condition that the book will only receive glowing reviews? No Way. See comment above on overly positive reviews. I like to see balance in reviews and hope that other readers do as well. Balance and above all honesty.

    [Reply]

    Bobbie - Book Reviews By Bobbie Reply:

    Hi Trish,

    Here are a few negative reviews that I have posted on my book review blog:

    http://bookreviewsbybobbie.wordpress.com/2008/12/05/book-review-of-diverse-druids/

    http://bookreviewsbybobbie.wordpress.com/2009/03/09/book-review-of-2/

    http://bookreviewsbybobbie.wordpress.com/2009/02/01/book-review-of-warrior/

    Enjoy! :-)

    -Bobbie

    [Reply]

    Trish Reply:

    Thanks for the links Bobbie. I think “negative” wasn’t the correct word to use as I’ve seen and written “negative” reviews. I haven’t seen many of the bashing or “snarky” reviews out there.

    [Reply]

    Becky Reply:

    I have to agree with Trish about “going after” the review copies. I’m pretty new to the blogging community, although I’ve reviewed books for awhile. I do put in for awards and such, but came to realize (pretty quickly), that I had to decide what I loved. Yes, I love reading, but as with all of us here, have limited time. That’s why I joined the great community of readers, so that I could get good suggestions that I could then pass along, and visa versa. When an ARC is offered up by a favorite author, I DEFINITELY throw my hat in the ring, but for now, I appreciate those that keep up with a barrage of new material so that I don’t have to!

    As for the negative review, I’m a little squeamish about the letter from the publisher getting out like this in the first place, but can see that it gives rise to a discussion that maybe needs to take place about product review. (Let’s be honest though…have you ever taken a look at Amazon reviews? They can burn a product/text/author to death!) I just wonder if this could have been handled between the publisher and reviewer??? (Here goes my need to avoid conflict!)

    In the end, I am learning, like many, that our reviews can’t merely be our gut reaction…although that should play a role. After all, we’re each different in our tastes, so to give a book a complete “Simon Cowell” (sorry for the comparison…and I don’t even watch Idol!) rather than a review of strengths and weaknesses merely limits the novel from the beginning.

    All right, I’ve blabbered! In short, a reviewer should be able to give a negative review, but should also be aware of the audience and purpose, and accept the results of an especially negative review.

    [Reply]

    Tonya Reply:

    Trish – good point! This is exactly why I stopped receiving review copies. First of all I couldn’t keep up with the demand. Second, I wasn’t receiving what I really like – Sci-fi/fantasy. Just couldn’t find out how to get only those books. Now I just read and review genres I know I’m into. Then if I don’ like the book, it isn’t because I was wan’t into that “type” of book.

    [Reply]

  20. Wendy

    I don’t twitter, so I wasn’t in on all the early talk – but I read about some of this earlier. You make EXCELLENT points, Trish. And here are my thought:

    1. Authors and publishers need to do their homework – anyone who goes to Emmy’s site can see in about 10 seconds how she reviews books – snarky, honest, brutal, funny. If you don’t like that style, don’t send her your book.
    2. That said, I like to think that as bloggers who review books we are sensitive as well as honest. There are plenty of books I don’t love; I try to be FAIR and honest. I don’t like cruelty no matter how it is packaged…and just because one owns a blog doesn’t mean one has to be mean.
    3. As reviewers we can turn down offers for review (and I do that plenty of times); as publishers/authors you can choose who to send your books to. Sounds like equality to me.
    4. Bloggers need to take a little responsibility for what they write. We have the freedom to write whatever we want…that goes without saying. But if you choose to be nasty, than learn to accept the inevitable criticism that goes with that behavior.

    [Reply]

  21. Rebecca

    Trish,
    Great post. I am glad you are keeping the discussion going. As I said before, I am totally in agreement with you here. There is a difference between negative reviews and personal, hateful comments towards an author. Constructive criticism is one thing, but saying “craptastic”, etc. is beyond a negative review to me. It’s childish. I believe in 100 percent honest reviews, but a reviewer can still have class and be tactful while being honest. Thanks again for the follow-up.

    [Reply]

  22. Literate Housewife

    I didn’t get a chance to read all of the comments, so please forgive me if I just repeat what others have to say. I am not a professional book blogger, but that doesn’t mean that I am not a professional. I enjoy reading, although I don’t always enjoy what I read. If I need to vent, I’ll do so outside of the realm of my review. I respect others, just as I hope that they will respect me.

    I think that snarkiness is often easier than honesty. I know that sarcasm comes easier for me when I don’t like something. It would be lazy for me to rely upon that. It also makes me wonder if the person read the book completely or fully. If you sat down and thought about a book you absolutely hated, you could come up with something constructive to say, however short that statement may be.

    I think that publishers, authors, etc. most certainly have the right to determine to whom they send books for review. That really is the last thing over which they have control. Once it’s on sale, what happens and what is said about the book is anyone’s guess. I do wish that publishers would be a little more discriminating in what they send. I get a ton of political commentary which I have absolutely no desire to read. It makes me feel bad to know that the book is “wasted” on me. I try to do giveaways and publicize them anyway, but still.

    Great topic, Trish. I will hop over to Amy’s and tell her the same thing.

    [Reply]

  23. Katrina Stonoff

    That was a fascinating conversation last night!

    I’m with Ti — the publishers and/or publicists have a responsibility to research the bloggers and find the ones who reach the niche they’re trying to reach. Then the odds are much higher than that reviewer will (first) like the book, and that the readers will (second) purchase the book.

    One example: I recently wrote what I considered a very cool review of an author I’ve always adored in the past (I think she’s trying to put out too many books a year now; her rate doubled last year). My readers responded by saying, “Wow! Sounds like a great book, thanks!” Blew me away!

    My point is: they know me, and they know my tastes. They know I’m probably pickier than they are. And they know I wouldn’t recommend it at all if I didn’t think it was worth the read.

    It takes time for a publicist to find bloggers like me in any given niche (and I’m not using “genre” because book reviewers are much more specialized than genre). But in our increasingly splintered online world, that time is more effective than most other methods of trying to reach readers.

    Love the post, Trish, thanks!

    [Reply]

  24. Jeanne

    To say that someone is a professional is to say that person gets paid for what they do. So unless you have a sign around your neck saying “will work for books” or unless you’re actually getting paid, you’re not a professional. Book blogging is still, for the most part, an amateur pursuit.

    That doesn’t mean that book bloggers should stoop to ad hominen attacks, one of the marks of bad logic and bad writing.

    I love snarky reviews, though. If we all write in a wishy-washy way trying to please everyone, we’ll end up pleasing no one. We should be kind to authors in person and on any kind of social contact site, but it’s not honest–or kind, in the long run–to be mealy-mouthed when a book stinks.

    And as so many have pointed out here, publishers should do their homework and see what kind of review they’re likely to get. I’d like to see more book bloggers specialize in certain genres, and perhaps certain styles of writing–like this blog is “chatty,” so we come here to enjoy that.

    [Reply]

  25. Yvette Kelly

    If you are in a position to review a book then I assume you have read the entire book which means that there must have been something good about it.I mention what was good and then what I did not like.Strangely enough the worst review I ever did, mentioned that there were too much graphic details of a crime and lo and behold, this book has been ordered the most off my site.I dont like the graphic details but apparently there are people out there who do.My point is different readers like different styles of writing and just making sure your review mentions those will still result in publicity for the book.There is no such thing as bad publicity.I think those publishers are making a mistake by limiting the books that this “bad review” lady gets because I am sure that she gets many people reading her reviews for the “entertainment” factor and thus their books are put “out there”.Readers will still make their own decisions anyway.I for one would just buy a book and read it to see if I agree with her or not so I can then publish my own opinion and take her up on what she said.

    [Reply]

  26. Stephanie

    I guess I missed all the fun last night!! Trish, I think this is a great topic. And I agree with almost all of the things you said.

    Since I don’t know what site Emmy reviewed for, I can’t be sure how the reviews are handled. I review for a certain online ezine sometimes, and I know that the books are handed out by the editor of the ezine, not the publisher itself. In that case, I don’t see it a case of the publisher “doing it’s homework”.

    For me, negative reviews are hard. And I find them exponentially harder when it’s a book that I have received from an author or a publisher instead of say just a book I checked out from the library. If I’ve received a review copy of a book, I feel somewhat more responsible for what I publish on my blog. And I also try to limit the books I accept for review to genres that I like or topics that appeal to me. I get numerous requests for reviews for books, and I’m pretty picky about what I will accept. That said, I would never give a great review for a book I don’t like. I don’t think it’s fair to anyone, especially the people that read my blog.

    I also don’t think it’s necessary to cut down an author personally. A review can be written and come off negatively, and still be respectful. After all the scrutiny that book bloggers have been under lately, I really think something like this makes us look bad. We want to be taken seriously, and yet here’s a case of very unprofessional behavior that really tends to dimish some wonderfully written reviews by bloggers, both positive and negative. To each his own….yada, yada, yada. Yes, you can say whatever you want on your own blog. But when you are cruel and nasty, don’t expect authors/publishers to be knocking down your door to review for them. They have every right to pick and choose who they want to review their books. Is it fair? Probably not. But neither is life.

    Sorry for the ramble…..it’s late, and I’m probably not thinking all that straight!

    [Reply]

  27. Shannon C.

    Great post and fascinating conversation.

    I agree with a lot of people–it’s the publicist’s job to do her homework before sending free books out to any blogger. I also think there’s some value in what every blogger brings to the table, even the snarky ones. After all, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? And there are several bloggers who have made careers out of being snarky on the Internet, and the traffic on their blogs bears out the fact that *someone* finds value in what they bring to the discussion.

    I don’t consider myself particularly snarky for my own part–I’m too nonconfrontational, although I will and have written negative reviews, some of them quite scathing. I think it’s important for bloggers to be aware of who they’re writing for. I’m conscious of the fact that I’m a reader and that’s who I write for. If an author likes my review, yay, and I’m glad to have made them a little bit happier that day, but it’s more important to me to find out that someone whose reading tastes are similar to mine is inspired by my words to pick up a book. I’m not doing this for the free books, although those are really nice when they come up. I don’t even know how one goes about requesting free books from a publisher and I’m cool not having that information.

    Another thing that’s interesting to me about these conversations is that so many of us have different opinions about what constitutes cruel, snarky or unprofessional reviews. Like, I don’t blink at all at “craptastic”, whereas several of you do. I’ve also had authors accuse me of trashing their books when I wrote mostly positive comments with a couple of paragraphs expressing my irritation at some aspect of the book. So while I think there is something to be said for not being a jerk when you’re reviewing, I also have had the experience that there are lots of people out there with skin that isn’t thick at all, which has always baffled me, since presumably an author had to have, say, her editor picking apart her book long before a reviewer got to it.

    Anyway, I ramble. I’m also sorry I missed the twitter discussion, too!

    [Reply]

  28. Susan @ Reading Upside Down

    Sorry to have missed the Twitter discussion last night. A friend mentioned it to me today and I’m glad to have caught up with everything through this post. Thanks Trish.

    I agree with much of what has been said above. I have written negative reviews of books before. I generally try to say what I disliked and why. I would never personally criticise an author and I try to always justify my response to a book, whether positive or negative.

    I am more inclined to take on board reviews written by someone who points out flaws or weaknesses occasionally in their reviews, as long as these flaws are highlighted intelligently. 100% positive summaries of books can be found at publisher and author websites. I read reviews to get an honest opinion.

    [Reply]

  29. Biblibio

    I think there are a lot of interesting points to be made, starting with, perhaps, the courtesy level. I don’t think negative reviews equate to harsh reviews. The fact is, if I don’t like a book (even if I was sent it for free, even if I got it as a gift, even if I bought it myself) I have the right to say so. And I have the right (and, in a sense, obligation), as a reviewer, to publish it. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s right to pointlessly bash and be rude. Say, for instance, use the word “suckage”. A review can say something like, “The book proved to be tedious and poorly written. Every aspect failed to meet even the lowest standards.” That’s a harsh critique, but it still maintains its cool and doesn’t resort to out-and-out insulting the author or the book.

    Still, the idea that professional reviewers can somehow write scathing reviews without receiving this kind of anger is fairly ridiculous. The idea of a blogger is that one of those everyday readers is simply saying something. Their opinion means no more or no less than that of an official paid critic and their points should not be trivialized for it. The difference perhaps lies in the attitude of the review. Many bloggers seem to feel they deserve free books. Still, the option of “not reviewing honestly because the book was free” does not exist. And the misconceptions and bitterness on all sides means that the issue will need to be looked into seriously one day. Ultimately, there are wrongs on all sides.

    [Reply]

  30. Ruth D~

    As an associate editor of the Internet Review of Books, I not only write reviews, but also edit the many we receive for publication. Our purpose is to inform the potential reader of the book rather than to help the author or publisher. In a few instances reviewers felt the book was just too bad to say anything nice. In those cases we opt not to review, figuring it’s not worth giving PR to a book that’s bad.

    Still, reviewing is subjective, and anyone who reads a review understands that. A reviewer may not like the book particularly, but the should tell how the book handles the subject matter first and foremost. Then of course the reviewer’s personal evaluation mis important. Some readers crave detail, others are impatient with it, so a review can say, “At times the detail was overwhelming but Civil War buffs may revel in it” . . . that gets the point across nicely.

    The reviewer who blatantly trashes a book places his or her ego above that of the author and the potential reader. Tell me what the book’s about? It’s strengths and weaknesses. I’ll make up my own opinion. Try to be too cute or snarky and I’ll suspect the reviewer’s credibility; it’s more about “look at me” than “look at the book.”

    Please visit the Internet Review of Books at:
    http://internetreviewofbooks.com

    [Reply]

    Tonya Reply:

    I think for me my blog IS about “look at me.” I write about books for me, not for the author or publisher. Maybe that’s another reason I stopped taking review copies! I want others to enjoy the books I write about but I’m putting up my blog for ME, not for anyone else. In cases like mine, maybe we shouldn’t take on review copies?

    [Reply]

  31. Veronica

    I think this is one of those topics that it’s going to be a long time before people agree. I think it’s never okay to be overtly rude or cruel when reviewing a book. I don’t ask for or receive any ARCs (I feel my TBR list is big enough without trying to read books that haven’t even come out yet!), but I don’t think that makes a difference. Whether you bought the book yourself or were given it for free…there’s no reason to be cruel. This is someone’s work, something they are (hopefully) fairly proud of creating. And to trash it is just unfeeling and heartless. There have been many books that I’ve read and reviewed that I haven’t liked. I feel in my reviews I’m honest about my dislike for the book, and I try to be specific as to what I disliked about it. But I try to never be cruel.

    [Reply]

  32. sarah pekkanen

    I think being cruel is unnecessary. Yes, it is entertaining sometimes, but it is so hurtful to people who have presumably agonized over their finished product. Authors really take bad reviews to heart — at least, I’ve heard most authors say they do (Tess Gerritsen got into a brouhaha over this a while back and actually quit blogging for a while because of it) — and I think when reviewing a book, it’s important to be at least somewhat respectful. That doesn’t mean never writing anything negative, it just means not saying anything you wouldn’t say if you knew the author was going to read it.

    [Reply]

  33. Florinda

    I seem to miss all of these conversations on Twitter, so I’m glad you (and Amy) revisit them via blog posts for the rest of us, Trish :-)!

    You can have an unfavorable opinion of something without being mean about it. But honestly, if you can write snark well, it’s hilarious (go back to the archives of Television Without Pity for examples of how it’s done) – and it STILL doesn’t have to be personal or attack anything/anyone.

    I agree with Ti and Wendy that publishers should do their research before they offer books to bloggers for review. Many of us have posted review policies and have plenty of reviews they can check out for examples of how we do our thing. Granted, it would take them longer than just looking up URLs and e-mail addresses, but it would probably help make better matches between book and reader/reviewer. Personally, I get a number of offers to review books that have nothing to do with anything I’ve ever reviewed before – and I turn down most of them – so I’d appreciate a little better targeting!

    But once we accept those books and review them, I think we do have a responsibility to be fair and honest in what we say – and NOT be mean for its own sake. It’s just not necessary.

    [Reply]

  34. bexadler

    Personally, I think the reason people depend on book blogs more than some of the professional reviewers is because they can trust that bloggers are going to give their honest opinion. Book bloggers aren’t getting paid to give a nice, friendly review of the book, nor are they depending on advertising dollars from the publishers, so they get to be honest – even brutally honest if the book is terrible. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

    However, if EVERY review you do is trashing the book, then perhaps you should change the genre of book you’re reading. I’ve written poor reviews of books before without being mean, and I think that’s really the way to do it. It’s easy to say, “This book wasn’t really for me, but I can see how other people might enjoy it.” If you trash every single book though, I’d be prepared to have publishers stop sending you books.

    [Reply]

  35. Moni

    Another thought-provoking post! I agree, I really dislike snarkiness. I’m sure I’m guilty of it, unfortunately. But lately when I read snarky book reviews I am turned off. I would rather read something more thoughtful than “craptastic” you know?

    I do think that if I buy a book or check it out I should be free to post a negative review if I didn’t like the book. I do appreciate honesty when I read reviews and if someone doesn’t like it I like to know about it and why. However, as you said, if I am given a book by a publisher (which I am not, and that is fine with me), I think that I would not review the book if I didn’t like it or give it a good review.

    [Reply]

  36. Meredith @ thinkthinks

    Excellent discussion. I agree with many that negative reviews are par for the course, but there is a difference between negative and harsh. I would also add that while every reviewer will occasionally be required to publish a negative review (we can’t like every book that crosses our path), if a blogger only posts “snarky” reviews of a particular genre then they are not really a reviewer, but a satirist. Each has their place, but a publisher will only offer review copies to one of them.

    [Reply]

  37. Darlene

    I always look for the positive in a book and I will focus a review on that. I do for the most part write reviews in which I like the books because I do truly like the books. I’ve taken what I liked and I talk about that. I can’t be mean-it’s not in my personality to do that and I don’t think it’s necessary. If there is something I wasn’t really fond of that I think people should know I’ll say so but in a nice way. For me, if I don’t like a book I’m reading then odds are I’m not going to finish it and it’s not going to end up on my blog. In that case I’d privately email the author and just tell them their book wasn’t for me. I would not, could not bash them.

    [Reply]

  38. Dreamybee

    I think your point about buying a book v. getting a free copy of a book is a good one. If I pay $25 for a meal at a restaurant, and it’s no good, I feel I have a pretty strong case for making my feelings known. I’m still going to attempt to do it politely though. I’m not going to stand up and start throwing food around and yelling at the manager. On the other hand if my neighbor brings over a plate of cookies and says, “I’m trying a new recipe, what do you think?” and they are inedible, I will probably try to find something constructive to say like, “The orange flavor is a little overwhelming, but I really like the hint of cinnamon,” but I probably won’t nominate her to bring dessert to the next neighborhood board meeting.

    [Reply]

    Jackie (Farm Lane Books) Reply:

    This is the best analogy I have seen! LOL! Here’s to the cinnamon!!!

    [Reply]

  39. zibilee

    I think this is an excellent discussion. I always feel like if I have to post a negative review of a book I have read, I need to try to balance it out with at least a few positive sentiments because I really don’t want to feel like I am bashing an author or their work. If I receive a review copy from a publisher, I don’t think that necessarily means I am obligated to post a positive review of the book, only an honest one. I have given negative reviews to books I have received, but I always try to mention somewhere in the review who I think the target audience might be for that particular book.

    I don’t believe that one has to be disrespectful to the author in order to express that a book didn’t work for them, but I also don’t understand why a publisher wouldn’t research the reviewer’s blog before sending out a review copy of a book. It doesn’t seem to make sense that the reviewer would just spontaneously change their style of review just because they were offered a free book to review.

    [Reply]

  40. softdrink

    Just testing comments for you. Please ignore.

    [Reply]

  41. natalie @ book, line, and sinker

    i only recently started my book blog and initially felt bad because i didn’t really enjoy the first four or five books i reviewed. now you’ve got me wondering if i was too snarky and that i’ll be blackballed from the blogging community.

    [Reply]

  42. Anysia (Booklorn on Twitter)

    I think the publishers’/publicists’ freewheeling handing out of books (and perhaps some misrepresentation by bloggers of their status — some I say, not all or even most) has come back to bite the publishers/publicists in the derriere. The majority of them haven’t been doing their research, nor have they been tracking the results (only sometimes do publishers/publicists actually ask for a link to a review for an ARC, though more so lately).

    Unfortunately, the response seems to have been to start ordering book bloggers not to write negative reviews (I make this generalization based on this incident, the Quirk letter, and an email that I received the other day which I will blog about soon). As many people have pointed out, all you have to do is poke around a book blog for a few minutes to see what the reviews are like before sending out a book. It is hard to sympathize with the industry if they want to rely on free labour to create buzz about their product, yet are unwilling to target their efforts or even find out what they are likely to get.

    I have an About page that clearly states my review practices, whether I give negative reviews (I do though I don’t revel in it) and what form they take. Many book bloggers have a similar page so the information is available for anyone who cares to look.

    On a more general note (and speaking solely for myself) I don’t take many review copies, but when I do I am getting tired of being referred to as “lucky” to receive a “leftover” ARC for which I am warned “negative reviews will not be tolerated.” Oh, and by the way I will have to donate about up to 10 hours of my time for the privilege.

    There are plenty of publishers/publicists who do their homework and deal with book bloggers with courtesy and are treated with courtesy in return. There’s no need to deal with the rest (for one thing, I can go to the library and find a lifetime of “free” books to review).

    Aside: I have no problem with “craptastic” which I take to mean “fantastically crappy” but I want something concrete to back up the opinion that a book is “craptastic” otherwise the review is of no use to me as a reader.

    [Reply]

  43. Amy @ My Friend Amy

    Ah yes, you come along and make so much sense! I think I know of at last one email you’re referring to and was also taken aback by the overall tone coupled with this incident has really made me think hard about the blogger/publisher relationship.

    [Reply]

  44. bybee

    This is precisely why I don’t want anything to do with reviewing new books: Authors with too-tender feelings and publishers trying to be oh-so-careful about their precious product.

    [Reply]

  45. lilly

    I must say I have read the other two posts, starting with Emmy’s and yours is the most accurate one and points out exactly what the bloggers’ conduct should be. Of course we all have a right to not like a book and we do have an obligation to be honest about it on our blogs, but as you pointed out, there is absolutely no reason to be ‘snarky’ or outright rude about it.
    Publishers and other companies working with publishers have gotten very smart about who they send books to, at least that’s my experience. I had been asked what genre I preferred and given a few choices of books to review before the books were sent to me or the publisher decided to work with me in the future. This way, if I get a book to review there is a good chance that I will like it (maybe not always love it) because it is within my likes.
    Another good point is, when I buy a book it is easier for me to write a much more negative review as opposed to an ARC copy from a publisher.

    [Reply]

  46. Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog

    I missed the discussion last night, and I’m pressed for time, so I’ll admit to having barely skimmed the previous comments here. The part of your post that really stood out to me is that you mentioned that with bloggers, authors feel they do have some choice, and if they try hard enough, they can find someone who will do things the way they want them done. Boy, is that ever true!

    I wrote a middling review of a book I received from the Library Thing Early Reviewers program last summer because the book, in my opinion, was middling. Now, the author, or at least his publicist, made the book available to LTER so it would gain exposure, and they had to know that in situations like that, there’s no guarantee for a positive review. My review pointed out what I saw as the strengths and weaknesses of the book, and I mentioned that I thought it was an interesting story but that the book didn’t really achieve its stated purpose. It wasn’t the happiest review I’ve written, but it also wasn’t the worst. I thought it was fair, and I continue to stand by it.

    If I had been a professional reviewer, the author would have had to just suck it up. But because I’m a blogger and he can comment on my page, he left several long (and insulting, might I add) comments complaining about my review and wondering why it turned up first on a Google search for reviews of his book. Uh, there’s this thing called Technorati that you might want to learn about, right?

    I politely pointed out errors in his comments (he accused me of not finishing his book and of being “off with the fairies” or something like that), and he apologized for the faux pas, and I thought it was over…..until his book started receiving recognition from other sources. Then he came back every time to comment again and tell me that so-and-so loved his book, or gave it an award, or whatever. In this case, I think the author’s behavior speaks for itself, and if he needs to leave numerous comments on my review to, I suppose, try to prove to my readers that my opinion of his book is wrong, then so be it.

    I know this is slightly off topic, but I think many of us have had these experiences, and it can be frustrating when we have no recourse.

    [Reply]

    Chris@bookarama Reply:

    Wow, what a childish reaction to your review.

    [Reply]

    Tonya Reply:

    Completely off topic – what is Technorati? I tried to look it up and it didn’t make sense.

    [Reply]

  47. Jennygirl

    Excellent post Trish.
    The way one reviews depends on the reviewer, and the situation (personal blog vs. review site). As for me, I just started reviewing this year and really enjoy it. But if I don’t like a book, or really hate a book, I say so and why, but in a professional way. I guess you could call it sugar-coated, but I don’t normally write words like “craptastic” or whatever. I might speak with my friends like that, but I don’t write and put pieces of myself out in the blogosphere like that. Maybe it’s because of what I do for a living, that I have two personas, the “meeting with the CEO” persona and the “coffee room” persona. There is a time and place for everything.
    I’m not saying you have to change yourself or anything, but if that’s how you are all the time then it should come as no surprise. Someone stated reading past reviews to get a flavor on the reviewer, that’s the job of the publishers and stuff. No, I don’t think it’s right or fair to always ask for good reviews, but it’s their product they want to market, and they can send it to whomever they like. But if the publisher doesn’t like the response they receive several times from a reviewer, then it’s up to them to choose someone else.
    As far as personal rules of conduct for a blog…if it’s your own personal blog, obviously you can do as you like. If people don’t like it, then they won’t read it. What can I say? You can’t please everyone :)

    [Reply]

  48. Marie

    Publishers and authors cannot expect professional-level reviews from amateur hobbyists because amateur hobbyists are not professionals. Professionals get paid money, they do what they do for a living and they are held to professional standards. Bloggers who accept books should be mature enough to write mature reviews, but it’s not realistic to expect anything of them. Obviously it’s up to the publishers and authors to decide to whom to send books- that’s the accountability bloggers face. Professional reviewers who write for Kirkus and PW and the like are not accountable to the publisher- they’re accountable to the publication for which they write, and it’s up to those publications to set standards and decide what’s acceptable. And I doubt that any professional publication would accept reviews from someone who submitted immature, nasty reviews. When I write for the pro library journal I review for, my reviews are different in tone and substance than those I post on my blog- because blog-style reviews aren’t appropriate for pro journals. On my blog I can do what I want, as long as I can take the consequences.

    [Reply]

  49. Yen

    I work for a large publishing house so I can say that yes, of course publishing houses reserve the right to send free books (or not send them) to whomever they so choose. On the other hand, I think bloggers also have the right to say whatever they please.

    Will a lot of negative reviews lead to fewer review copies? Possibly. But poorly written reviews (whether positive or negative) would probably also make us less likely to send books. Also, if we find we’re sending a lot of books to someone who never reviews any, the pipeline is likely to dry up. (While bloggers are by no means obligated to review everything they request, we need to see something, at least every once in a while.)

    The bottom line is that we don’t have an unlimited supply of review copies and any number of factors could influence whether we provide them. (For more information about obtaining review copies from publishing houses, you can do a keyword search for “review copies” at The Book Publicity Blog, http://yodiwan.wordpress.com.)
    ***
    Separately, I would like to note that bloggers — like print reviewers — don’t have an obligation to reveal whether the publishing house has provided the review copy, nor should bloggers feel compelled to positively review a book that has been provided gratis. But along the same lines, I don’t think bloggers should let the “circumstances” surrounding the book — press material, etc. — influence their review: if you’re reviewing a book, the review should be about the book.

    [Reply]

  50. Jenners

    This was a great post…and I saw My Friend Amy’s version of it over on her blog. I agree with you 100% — if you get a book for free, you owe them a professional review. I am very careful to be professional in my reviews for any books I get for free — note I didn’t say “dishonest.” I said “professional.” I think you can be honest in how you felt without trashing the book … and I don’t think anyone should trash an author. If a book isn’t my “cup of tea,” I try to think of who might like it and point that out. “if you like …… in a book, you might like this one.” Great post.

    [Reply]

  51. Kim L

    Trish you always write such thought-provoking posts. I know I’m way late to the game here, but here’s my $.02. I have gotten sick and tired of the expectation that I write a positive review so I’ve basically stopped accepting ARCs right now. I don’t feel bad giving a negative review to a book I get from the library or purchase myself.

    Although to be even more honest, I don’t finish books I don’t like, thus saving me from having to review books I hated.

    I have no problem with negative reviews of books and I tend to respect a blogger more if they are willing to speak honestly. I am not personally familiar with the blogger in question, but I suppose there is a line that could be crossed over with bashing of authors. However, what should publishers expect? That everyone will only publish good things about a book? No one will find flaws? No one will criticize? Seriously.

    [Reply]

  52. Steph

    I think everything that can be said on this probably has been at this point, but I guess my take is that reviewers can write whatever types of reviews they like, but it seems to go without saying that publishers and authors can also certainly choose not to send books to reviewers they feel will not showcase their book in the way the would like. Perhaps this means they don’t want people to write anything that is less than effusive in its praise, or maybe it means they expect a very formal (rather than colloquial style) – it’s their call. Of course, I tend to prefer to read the blogs of reviewers who aren’t afraid to post negative reviews, because I do think it’s important to know what a reader’s biases are, and someone who seems to LOVE everything she reads is probably going to be flagged as not very discerning in my book. But certainly, one can express dissatisfaction with a book without being cruel or rude. I think it’s quite obvious when someone is trashing a book simply for the fun of it, and while it doesn’t offend me or get my hackles up if they do, that review is less useful than someone who legitimately doesn’t like a book but bothers to take the time to provide some insight into why the book didn’t work for them. I don’t know that I think bloggers need to be held to the same professional reviewing standards as other reviewers (it doesn’t bother me if someone calls a book craptastic, so long as they qualify why they think this is the case), but if you’re going to be blasé and glib in your reviews, you may find yourself not receiving very many free books as a result, and that’s your choice. That being said, while publishers or reviewing sites can request that one’s reviews express a certain tone, I don’t think it’s appropriate for them to censor content or one’s general opinion about the book (fine to ask that reviews not be rude, do not contain inflammatory language etc., but I would balk at a reviewer asking only that I provide a positive review).

    [Reply]

  53. Marinka

    First of all, you didn’t like “Out Stealing Horses”?!? We read that in my book group and were pretty evenly split. I thought it was a masterpiece, actually.
    About the topic at hand, and my disclaimer is that I don’t do any type of reviews, but I am an avid reader.
    I don’t think that a review can be too harsh, unless it’s just a tirade that’s unrelated to the book. I actually have a problem with a concept of well, the publisher sent me a book, I should reward them with a good review. I think that misses the point and actually gives less weight to all blog reviews, because as someone reading those reviews, I’m thinking ‘does she really love it, or is she being polite’?

    When the publisher sends a reviewer a copy, I don’t think they have the right to expect a certain type of review. If they have a set of guidelines — no profanity, no snark, that should be stated upfront.
    Interesting post. I didn’t want to gauge my eyes out at all!

    [Reply]

  54. Sending review copies of books to bloggers « The Book Publicity Blog

    [...] related matters, last week Hey Lady posted about the issue of negative reviews, particularly whether bloggers are obligated to positively review books they receive from [...]

  55. Linda

    Why do PW, NYT, and Kirkus reviewers get a pass while book bloggers don’t? Because the professional reviewers write thoughtful reviews with authoritative intelligence. Good luck with that, twitterfied blogosphere…

    [Reply]

    Natasha @ Maw Books Reply:

    Wow. I think I’d really like to ignore that statement.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Hi, Linda! While I appreciate dissenting opinions, your statements show a prejudice and an ignorance I find alarming, concerning both book bloggers and Twitter.

    If you don’t find any merit in the reviews of book reviews written by bloggers, then I encourage you not to read any book blogs. However, I know of multiple reviews that have been picked up by newspapers, so the newspapers have recognized that there are quality book review bloggers out there.

    I’ve seen authors leave comments on book blogs saying the reviewer brought up points even the author hadn’t thought about. Certainly an author is a good judge of whether a book review is thoughtful and intelligent.

    I take it from your tone that you don’t think much of Twitter. I’m saddened to find that many people don’t understand Twitter, and that which they don’t understand, they deride. Before you mock something, I would suggest you try it first. Publishers, authors, and even news agencies are utilizing Twitter for what it excels at being: an information exchange.

    If you would like to discuss this amicably, I would be happy to hear your thoughts.

    [Reply]

  56. Wendy

    So Linda – is this suppose to be an insult to book bloggers? I have read MANY book blogs with “thoughtful reviews with authoritative intelligence” and likewise I’ve read quite a few “professional” reviews that are simply pompous. I don’t think you can categorize things quite so neatly.

    [Reply]

  57. Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)

    I don’t twitter so I missed this discussion. but you bring up valid points…I think that professional behavior should be of the utmost importance…my grandmother used to say “treat others as you wish to be treated,” like most grandmothers….so if you wanted to be treated with snarkiness or whatever, then be my guest, but don’t be surprised if no one wants to work with you again…you know what I mean?

    [Reply]

  58. Sally McCartin

    I also work for publishers and second a lot of what Yen says above about review copies…This is still new territory for all of us–readers, publishers, authors–and its going to take some time to get the balance right. Readers have always had strong reactions to books but other than friends, they had limited avenues for expression. Now the line that professional criticism represented between author and reader is disappearing — we just have to remember that manners in print are probably as useful as they are anywhere else in public discourse. Overheated insults are not terribly useful in conversations and blogging in that way is also similiarly limited–its more showmanship than anything else. That said, the bottom line as Yen says–we only have so many review copies to send out and we are after all in business. We are going to pick and choose very carefully and send to people who have interesting, thoughtful things to say about books our authors have often spent years of their life creating.

    [Reply]

  59. ReviewEditor

    I do both print and online reviews, and try and send books to people that will be able to review them well. When we request books we look for what looks like “good” books. I don’t send the romance books to the sf reviewers or the history books to the pop fiction reviewers. though sometimes they request something out of their comfort zone.

    Once or twice I’ve been accused of being too positive. Too many of my reviewers like their books. The funny thing is the first time a reviewer doesn’t like the book, and I get an email asking if it is ok to turn in a negative review. I always tell them – send in what you feel, and what works for you. Just back it up.

    When I’ve pass on the upcoming negative review to a publicist (not as a warning, but more in passing when discussing something else), I’ve never had someone either complain, or threaten to cut us off. Usually they say something like, “most press is good press.” I think my own editing guidelines would have probably drawn the line at the gouging the eyes with a rusty spoon comment as over the top (but then again, that would depend on the reviewer, the review and the book.)

    Bottom line – it’s a symbiotic relationship. My job is to provide good reviews of books for my readers. For that I need good relationships with the publicists. But my relationships with the publicists are dictated not by providing them with POSITIVE reviews, but by GOOD and CONSISTENT reviews.

    [Reply]

  60. Tonya

    I haven’t taken the time to look at all the comments on this discussion yet, so forgive me if I repeat something that’s already been brought up. I was sent the link to this post because today I posted about my disgust with professional book reviews. It seems these people are writing more of an advertisement for the book instead of a review. I want to know what you think. I don’t want to rehash the plot and tell me I should read it. WHAT DID YOU THINK? Isn’t that the point? I applaud blog reviewers because they tell what they think of a book. It makes for a much more interesting review, which usually works in the author’s favor. How many of us have picked up a book because of the review we saw on a fellow blogger’s site? I’ve had people tell me they would pick up a book I gave a bad review to just see if they thought the same thing!

    [Reply]

  61. J.S. Brooks

    You are absolutely right. I’m only just now a recent blogger but a long time author and editor. If bloggers wish for their reviews to be taken seriously, then they need to take the job very seriously. Reviews need to be competent and to the point. If you dislike the book, you had better have strong technical reasons for saying so or you are not doing the job as a reviewer. Society as a whole is becoming ever mose caustic and that should be stopped. Authors and publishers do have every right to cut off bloggers who provide consistently poor, hostile, or uninformed reviews. Why give away a book to have it be dismantled in public?
    Further, the reviewer needs to be sure they stand on solid ground when making negative comments. I saw one reviewer of an antiques book complain that the book did not contain every pattern and piece of Victorian Flow Blue and therefore gave the book a very negative review. Had the reviewer done some homework, the reviewer would have discovered there are over 1500 identified patterns of Flow Blue and many unidentified patterns. Further Victorian dinner sets contained roughly 101 separate pieces. Therefore, the book this reviewer sought was impossible to produce.
    Your article is right on target. Civil, competent, well informed reviews are a service to the reading public, authors, and editors. Hostility and snarkiness are unwelcome and unuseful.

    [Reply]

  62. trish

    test

    [Reply]

    J.S. Brooks Reply:

    Um, test? For me?

    [Reply]

  63. Bookish Links for Saturday, April 25, 2009 | BOOKS AND MOVIES

    [...] Trish at Hey, Lady! Whatcha Readin’? has a post asking When Do Negative Reviews Go Too Far. Lots of great points made in the comments as [...]

  64. Cool Links And Some Thoughts

    [...] Are you a Randy, a Paula or a Simon? I love this analogy and subsequent discussion. Over at Hey Lady! Watcha’ Readin’?, Trish discusses “when do negative reviews go too far?” After reading both of these [...]

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