Thursday, December 1, 2011

The difference between a Negative and a Bad Review.

'also a lovey book !' photo (c) 2010, tim geers - license:

The thorny debate of reviewing - and negative reviews - has raised its ugly head again. Many an author has spoken forcefully on the subject with the most recent being this blog post on reviews and amazon reviews in particular

While the post has been edited repeatedly showing the author has listened to some objections, the original problematic nature remains (albeit watered down) and we feel, as reviewers, that we need to address the suggestion that reviews should provide positive reviews - and the very idea that 20 words constitutes a review

Firstly, we want to challenge the idea that a negative review is a bad review. These terms should not be confused. A review that says “ZOMG SO AWESOME YAAAY BUY IT!” is a bad review. It’s awful. Why is this book awesome? Why should I buy it? This tells me as a reader absolutely nothing. I don’t know if my tastes match the reviewers, I don’t know what parts they like and why and for all I know it could be written by the author’s mother.

Similarly a negative review that explains in detail the many reasons why the reviewer didn’t like the book and all the problems within it? That is a good review. It’s a great review - and it can even recommend the book. If I read a review that says “there wasn’t nearly enough focus on the relationship development and far too much distraction when X, Y and Z happen in the plot” then to me that is a recommendation to me - because plot focus rather than relationship focus is what II prefer. Similarly if you read our review of a paranormal romance and see that we didn’t like it because there’s too much focus on the sex and relationship angst - or we didn’t like a YA because there was too much highschool drama and you want to read that - then our review recommends it.

A good review isn’t a positive review, it’s a detailed review. It’s a review that truly gives the reader an insight into the book and what problems it may have - and whether they are enough to put the reader off - or recommend it to them.

There is a lot of concern here for the impact of a negative review on an author - but what about the impact of a false positive review on authors who have written genuinely great work? To take Amazon reviews as an example - if the mediocre (or outright awful!) books are given 4 or 5 stars (especially with short, scrappy “reviews” accompanying them) then how do we find the actual gems that are worth the 4 or 5 stars? If we, on Fangs, decide to give trope laden, boring, outright offensive or just plain awful books 4 fangs or more then how can you find which books we truly fanpoodle?

There are no more book clerks to give you recommendations on books - but what value would even their recommendations have been if they were lying? If anything this creates a greater onus on the reviewer to be honest - even brutally so when called for.

Let us be clear here - we are reviewers. We give honest opinions on the books (and films and tv series) we’ve read. We are not the author’s marketing or advertisers. That is not the role of reviewers nor what we should be considering when we write reviews - our reviews are not based on what will make the book sell; our reviews are based on the quality of the book. Why does this have to be said? Any other critic is expected to be honest - harsh in fact. We don’t expect the Michelin Star judge to considera restaurants sales; we expect him to consider the food quality

Also, while authors are concerned about their reputation their good name and whether people think they can produce a good product, what about reviewers? What about our reputation and name? What about the trust of our readers? If we sugarcoat reviews - or write outright deceptive reviews, then no-one will trust us. It is our name, our product, our reputation that is flushed down the tubes. And just as a bad (or, should I say UNFLATTERING) review remains on the Internet to haunt the author forever, so does a bad (as in INACCURATE) review remain for the reviewer.

Which brings us to the all important role of integrity. As reviewers (and bloggers in general) we build a relationship with our readers - and in doing so we encourage them to trust our opinions and analysis. We violate that trust when we lie - and destroy that relationship and that trust.

From our specific point of view, sugarcoating a review is problematic. Fangs for the Fantasy is a site that analyses the genre (and occasionally outside of it) from a social justice point of view and we do this because we think it is important. We can’t ignore or downplay prejudice/stereotype/erasure without defeating our purpose. And every book we read, every series we watch, will contain criticism. No matter how much we love it or how tempted we are to fanpoodle, nothing is perfect, there’s always something wrong. And everything is a product of our prejudiced and generally problematic society – and will be stained by that. It’s a matter of “how much” more than “whether it is or not.”

And most online reviewers have comment sections. If you think we’ve not given a book justice then come, comment, debate (try not to fanpoodle mindlessly though, we will mock you rather cruelly and do recall that, as a social justice space if you come in carrying a load of prejudice foolery we will treat it accordingly) tell us what you thought or what we missed or even if we made a mistake or you have an entirely new perspective – let your comments add to the review. That is the joy of the Internet - you don’t have statements, you have discussions