Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Macavity-winner Daniel Friedman Talks about Book Reviews: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


MISS EDNA: Susan Elia MacNeal (or, as I call her, Miss Susan) is a bit under the weather, so she asked me to fill in for one of her days on Jungle Red Writers. I’m an honorary member, after all! (See my red sweater, red adult beverage, and red nail polish—Jungle Red! And I remember the term from The Women, darlings.)
            
I’m not a mystery writer like the Reds, but I am a long time mystery and thriller fan. I remember reading my first Agatha Christie novel at around age twelve — so that’s about seventy some-odd years of reading mysteries! (Miss Edna is not embarrassed to admit her age — if you looked this good at eighty-two, you wouldn’t either.)
            
And I’m delighted to introduce today’s guest, Daniel Friedman. Dan is the author of Don’t Ever Get Old, a title Miss Edna certainly relates to. It was nominated for the Edgar, Thriller, and Anthony, and won the Macavity award for Best First Novel. (It won against my darling daughter-in-law's Mr. Churchill's Secretary — but we won't get into that
now.) It was also optioned for film by the producers of the "Sherlock Holmes" movies. (Dan, I hope you will remember Miss Edna when you are a Big Hollywood Star.)

Darlings, I must say, I’m reading Don't Ever Get Old now, and absolutely love it. First, Dan — bless him because he’s so young — has managed to capture perfectly the voice of an 80-something, with all of our aches and pains and memories. And he's funny — I bust out laughing at least five times just during the first few pages., and continue to laugh my way through.

And now, Miss Edna is thrilled to introduce Dan Friedman, author of the Macavity-award winning DON’T EVER GET OLD,  to talk about book reviews. 
           
DANIEL FRIEDMAN: Over the summer, there was a minor Twitter controversy over the Los Angeles Review of Books' policy to not publish negative reviews of first novels.  Since then, the popularwebsite Buzzfeed has hired an editor to helm a new books section that will not run any bad reviews at all.  As such "no
haters" editorial policies become more commonplace, there has been a lot of discussion among bookish types about bad reviews and whether we need them.

There's a pretty good argument against many bad book reviews: Knowing what's good is inherently more useful than knowing what's bad, because you can act on a recommendation, but not a pan.  Telling someone they should read a book is inherently more useful than telling someone they should not read a book. 

Publications have limited space or resources to devote to book reviews. Readers have limited attention to devote to them.  And publishers publish far more books than any reader can ever possibly consume, or even be aware of. 

Publishers Weekly reviews 7000 books per year, and the NYT book review, one of the last standalone book-sections still in print, manages to review only about 300 of them.  There are hundreds of books every year that get starred reviews in places like PW and and are completely ignored by mainstream publications like the NYTBR or Buzzfeed.  No good review. No bad review. No review at all.  With space and attention at such a premium, printing a bad review of a bad book, in many cases, means that the publication won't have room to run a review of a good book.  

Nobody proposes a film review site with no bad reviews because there are only about three new wide-release films a week, and publications can just review everything that's playing.  Not all of the films will be good, so some reviews must be bad.  On the other hand, if there are 300 new books out this week, and you are only running five reviews, it's a reasonable editorial priority to tell readers about the best five, rather than running a takedown on one that fails.

On the other hand, among those 7000 books are some more privileged than others; bought with giant advances and backed by enormous marketing campaigns.  When a book is commanding a huge amount of reader interest and is dominating the bestseller lists and the conversation, reviewing publications can't ignore it if they want to remain relevant.  And they shouldn't always have to say nice things about books like that, because books like that aren't always good.

It may be true that haters gonna hate, but it's also true that suckers gonna suck, and the people who benefit the most when the haters are silenced tend to be the people who suck, or the makers of sucky things.  If people hate you, they probably hate you for a reason, and if you don't hate anything, it's probably because you don't care very much. Positivity may garner better social-
networking amplification than negativity, and, therefore, more pageviews.  Saying nice things about products will never offend an advertiser.  But there are a lot of emperors with no clothes in the publishing business, and somebody has to stand up and warn people that Dan Brown is overly fond of airing his junk out.  If you will speak no ill of big books, then you can't effectively speak up for the underdogs.  A culture of positivity reinforces the status quo, and if a well-funded marketing message isn't loudly contradicted by an outlet with authority, it tends to be accepted.  

It's entirely possible for even a fairly voracious reader to exclusively read the biggest franchise authors, and this is exactly what many readers do.  James Patterson has created a network of co-authors that allows him to churn out as much branded content as the market can consume, and, as a result, a significant percentage of mystery/thriller readers read nothing but James Patterson. 

These readers feel they have no reason to look beyond what they're already reading; they might like another book, but they already know they like James Patterson is, so reading something else that they might not like involves a risk.  Before anyone can persuade those readers to explore the larger literary world that Buzzfeed is so positive about, somebody first has to convince them to stop reading ten James Patterson books a year.  Somebody has to persuade them that reading nothing but James Patterson is a bad decision.  The rave review's exhortation to "read this" contains, as a necessary corollary:  "not that."

Bad reviews should certainly be employed judiciously.  There's no reason to use the critical platform to do what Tom Lutz of the Los Angeles Review of Books described as wasting "scant time and resources killing a book that is in the process of dying a natural death."  But there's no point in forging a +2 enchanted sword if you're unwilling to use it, on occasion, to slay a dragon.

Thank you, Dan! And thank you, darlings, for indulging a senior citizen's first "blog post."

What do you think about negative book reviews, especially for debut authors? Are you a reviewer? Have you been reviewed? Will you be checking out the Los Angeles Review of Books's and Buzzfeed's new positive reviews? 

(With all due respect to Dan, Miss Edna must agree with the the Los Angeles Review of Books. And also Issac Fitzgerald, the new book reviews editor of Buzzfeed, who quoted Thumper from Bambi: "If you can't say nuthin', nice, then don't say nuthin' at all." I only tweet about books I love. No time for anything else, darlings. "Too blessed to be stressed" is my motto and I live by it. That's just me.)


Dan’s web site is here.
Follow Dan on Twitter here.
Friend him on Facebook here.

Daniel Friedman’s next novel, DON'T EVER LOOK BACK, will be released in 2014.


And you can follow Miss Edna, who often tweets about mysteries and thrillers here.



(Hatchet image from Randy Robertson via Flickr.)


(Dictated by Miss Edna and typed and entered by Miss Susan.)

38 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

I have decidedly mixed thoughts on this. Positive reviews are definitely good for the authors, but the reviewer needs to fairly review the book. As for the negative reviews, I think it depends on your definition . . . is it simply trashing the book or is it providing constructive criticism? While trashing is all but useless, the thoughtful constructive criticism may very well have a place. Like everyone, I have favorite authors whose books I always read and I can get really upset when someone writes a totally negative review of a book that I have read and loved. Then I have to remind myself that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, even if I completely disagree with it.

This means that when I review a book for Goodreads or LibraryThing, I try to remember that everyone has differing feelings about what they read/write and I am careful not to simply criticize the book . . . but I do feel compelled to be honest. Often, I’ve received a book that I really enjoyed, and that makes the whole process quite simple. But I believe a review should be fair and truthful and I’ve had a few books to review that were a bit problematic. So, first book or not, if I didn’t find it to be worthy of those four or five stars, I didn’t give them . . . but I always found something positive and constructive to say about the book. After all, somebody in the publishing world thought it was good enough to put it into print, so it can’t be all bad . . . .

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Joan, good points, all. When I was reviewing for Publisher's Weekly, I always asked myself, "What is the author trying to do? Did she achieve it? And if not, why?"

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Also, (and I'll ask Dan about this when he joins us), I believe he's talking about the big professional journals. And first novels. So, it it worth the New York Times Book Review's precious space to trash a first novel? What do you think?

Denise Ann said...

Dan, are you a lawyer? philosopher? Whatever you are -- other than a writer -- you sure are a good logical thinker -- you raise so many interesting points.
I am done with negativity in general, and certainly agree that new writers deserve a break.
A new author's book -- if it rises to the attention of a reviewer -- deserved to be praised.
However, no book is perfect, and giving the reader a heads up about the weak points is helpful.
I tend to read reviews with the understanding that the reviewer and I do not need to agree -- he or she should (as you have done this morning), make me think.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The last few months have been an exciting experience, this writer getting 46 ratings and 32 reviews for his first novel on Goodreads. The summary judgement is much more enlightening than any single journal or online critic. People are so different, the reactions all over the place, and the reviewers say as much about themselves and their tastes as they do the book. It has helped me focus on who my real readers are. I am much encouraged.

Deb Romano said...

When I read a review that vehemently blasts a book, I wonder if the reviewer has a grudge against the author. I'm more likely to at least take a look at the book, and I might even read it and love it. I no longer read Amazon reviews until after I've read the book. It's surprising how many books I've loved that are hated, viciously, by Amazon reviewers.

Since tastes in reading are subjective, I really wonder how helpful a positive or negative review really is. My own taste has changed over time. Right now I'm rereading a book I first read a few years ago and found riveting, but this time around it's a chore for me to get through it! The quality of the writing hasn't changed; I'm the one who has changed.

Deb Romano said...

Miss Edna,

So nice to finally "meet" you! On Facebook I've enjoyed reading your opinions on various matters, as reported to us by Miss Susan!

Miss Edna said...

So lovely to meet you, too, Miss Deb. Glad to be here. Hello, everyone!

Karen in Ohio said...

Miss Edna, we have the same taste in books, it seems. I also enjoyed Dan's first book. It was hilarious, but also a well-crafted mystery, and I'll be watching for the next one.

If this ban on negative reviews is only for professional-level journals, what is the point, exactly? Does it mean booksellers, librarians, and other book choosers can't be made aware of poor writing that slips past editors?

I fully agree that the digital age has made it possible for just about anyone to sabotage others for whatever reasons, but maybe this is not the way. It's a tough nut to crack, it is.

Kristopher said...

A topic near and dear to my heart. As most JRW followers know, over at my blog BOLOBook.com, I do not run negative reviews. This is just the policy I started with since I was aiming to spread the joy of reading.

I certainly read many books that I don't like and I simply don't talk about them on the blog. Some of them are the "Big" books, some of them are by authors that I usually love, some of them are first time novelist. Makes no difference, if I didn't like it, I don't discuss it on the blog.

I never feel like I "have" to review something, regardless of how big the title is and I think it is fine for larger review sites to do that as well. After all, by virtue of ignoring a book, a statement is being made.

Lastly, I will say that I think positive book reviews can certainly lead readers to new books they might love, but I am not sure that a negative review keeps people away in the same way. Those readers of James Patterson and Dan Brown continue to read them because they like those books. I don't think a negative review is going to make them stop reading those books. Because they don't think they are bad books.

What might change their mind is to hear about a book that intrigues them (from a positive review) and then reading that book and realizing there might be better books out there. For me, no negative energy is needed for this process to happen.

I don't dislike negative reviews and read many myself. But just like positive reviews, they must be honest. It should be about the book and nothing else. Too many negative reviews read like they are personal attacks.

Cathy Reilly said...

I look forward to reading both
"Never Get Old" AND more of the "Jungle Red" Blog. And Miss Edna is BRILLIANT!!!

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

I also don't think negative reviews are necessarily bad. I adore David Denby's film reviews in the New Yorker precisely because we agree on nothing — whatever he hates, I love and vice versa. So if he rips apart a film, I'm probably more likely to go see it! What keeps me coming back to Denby is his prodigious knowledge of films and film history, as well as his true passion for film. So, while I may not agree with his opinion, I do respect it, and enjoy reading it.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

A bloodbath of a review on a literary novel was William Geraldi's attack on Alix Ohlin's Inside and Signs and Wonders in the New York Times last year.

Honestly, I felt ill after reading it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/books/review/inside-and-signs-and-wonders-by-alix-ohlin.html?_r=0

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Miss Edna--so delighted to have you visit JRW. What a sweetheart to help our ailing Susan...

Deb R--have to agree with your point--if a book is trashed, may say more about the reviewer than the book. Unless it's a consensus...I have had a few over the years that made me scratch my head and ask: "ok, what nerve did I touch with this book?"

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Lucy/Roberta, yes! I've had a few of those, too!

Kristoppher, I read Miss Edna your comment and she says, "Bravo!"

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Kristopher. So sorry. very clumsy fingers have I this morning….

Kristopher said...

So happy to be on the same page with Miss Edna. Thanks Susan.

Rhys said...

Miss Edna--so delighted to see you blogging here (and looking so good too!).
I think bad reviews of first novels are a waste of valuable space. If the book is not good and nobody talks about it, then it will fade into oblivion.
But bad reviews of established writers? Absolutely. Readers need to know when their favorite writers are not up to snuff.

Kim said...

Wow, Daniel, what a well-written piece. And so much food for thought in all of the comments. I've felt jaded in recent years, reading reviews of the same literary darlings over and over and over. The good or the bad of the reviews makes no difference - it's the exposure that I feel counts ... I actually picked up a big book by a big name recently because it was simply everywhere (and the story idea intrigued me). The book was truly awful and much to my surprise, the NYT Book Review felt the same way ... the thing about the review that I admired was that it explained why the book didn't work. It wasn't simply a trash 'em piece, but a thoughtful exploration of why the book with its ambitious concept failed. The crazy thing is, I know that review won't stop people from buying the book. So I guess, as I ramble on here, I'm realizing that I'm not quite sure I understand the purpose of the big reviews in the land of publishing/being an author anymore. I do still adore The New York Review of Books. But in deciding what to read, I tend to follow authors I love and trust the word of mouth of fellow readers. So if any of you feel the same way - read Daniel's book. It's so well done and truly memorable!

Rhys said...

I meant to add that Amazon reviews are something else. If I am criticized by a professional reviewer I take the criticism to heart.
But when someone on Amazon says of my Royal Spyness books that they hate British books written by Americans and I know nothing about Britain, I'd rather like to reply that not only was I born and raised in England but married into an aristocratic family like Georgies who can trace their lineage back to 800 ad. How much more British can you be?

Kaye Barley said...

So happy to meet you Miss Edna, and hope we see you here often!

You and Dan have definitely given us food for thought.

One of the things in my life I'm most proud of is Meanderings and Muses where, for several years, I hosted authors ranging from NYT bestsellers to writers still working hard at their craft, and all levels in between.

I will often step in at Meanderings and Muses to squeal about a book I love, but I will never step in to talk about a book I didn't love. I just don't finish reading books I don't care for.

But. I am not a reviewer, so the point is moot.

I think a fair review pointing out the things about a book that keep it from being a good book are fair IF, as I said, they're done fairly and professionally and not with a nasty personal opinion. At the same time, even though they hurt, I think the writer needs to remember that those reviews are, after all, still an opinion. We know not everyone is going to love our books. We don't write them for everyone. I know there's an audience out there that will hate my WHIMSEY. So be it. But a "review" that says "don't waste your money" is not a review at all, serves no purpose and can easily (for me) be ignored.

My advice to any writer (including myself) is to prove the bastards wrong. Keep writing - there ARE people out there who will appreciate and love your work. That's who we're writing for.

Christopher Lord said...

I agree with Rhys, and actually find negative reviews on Amazon to be counter-productive--that is, the reviewer's bias often leads me toward the book, not away from it. When I'm doing an author appearance, I usually do dramatic readings of some of my one-star amazon reviews. Frankly, I get great responses because I "own" the criticism that comes from inherent reader bias. With respect to professional reviewers and established writers, I think sophisticated readers can discern whether they will like a book because of, or in spite of, a lukewarm or negative review. And readers come in all shapes, sizes, and with all kinds of tastes. No amount of praise will change my opinion that "A Visit From the Goon Squad" was not my cup of tea, whether it won a Pulitzer or not. And no amount of criticism will change my view that "Gilead" was one of the best books I have read in years.

Daniel Friedman said...

I don't know why it didn't occur to me to put this in the main text:

I think "no haters" reviews will end up looking like mainstream video game reviews.

Video game publications and websites rely on video game developers and publishers for both their news content, in terms of advance screenshots and game previews, and for advertising. They can't even run release-day reviews unless the game-publishers send them review copies in advance.

That means whatever policy of editorial independence they have, the whole enterprise can be jeopardized if Activision's PR department blacklists them. There's also a lot of socializing among game journalists and developers, and a bit of a revolving door where game-site editors routinely get jobs in game development.

The way this environment of back-scratching affects the reviews is this: Most game publications rate games on a scale of 1 to 10, but major games almost never get a score below a 7.5 at many mainstream sites.

Basically, a bad review has come to look like a good review. If the reviewer hates a game, he'll say something like: "There's a lot to like about this, but it's not without some minor problems."

http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/10/25/batman-arkham-origins-review


A good review starts to look like: "OMG! OMG! OMG! I LUV IT SO, SO MUCH."
http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/06/05/the-last-of-us-review

The result is that game publishers can easily fish pull quotes out of bad reviews to drape on their ads, and not even look dishonest, and fanboys can insist the bad reviews are good reviews, and people who aren't familiar with the secret language of game reviews don't realize how huge the gulf between an 8.0 score and an 8.5 score is.

Essentially, the outcome benefits the producers of mediocre games.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

But Dan — don't you think there's a big difference between a negative review of a first novel and that of an established writer? I'd just rather see the NYT Book Review give space to something else, personally. It's like kicking a puppy. And did you read about the Alix Oline review?

Daniel Friedman said...

As far as reader reviews go, I have only written one since I became a published author, and it's not a nice one:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/712685768?type=review#rating_20010935

I rarely read more than 50 books a year, and I pretty much only read the very best literary fiction and very good crime novels, along with the very occasional lavishly-praised SF/F or ubiquitous-and-beloved YA, so my scope is narrow enough that I almost never read a book I really hate.

Occasionally, something I have high expectations for will disappoint me (the HUNGER GAMES sequels), or I'll look at something popular that is outside of my usual area of interest, and I'll hate everything about it (FIFTY SHADES).

Of course, I've met readers at places like Bouchercon who read upwards of 200 crime novels per year. I suspect that some readers here are like that, and you're likely to see a much larger range of quality.

In general, negative Amazon reviews seem to fall in three categories:

1) I read a huge number of books in this genre, and this one was mediocre.

2) I used to love this author, and now he is really phoning it in.

3) I expected to enjoy this book, but I found something about it extremely offensive.

Occasionally you get people who just hate the book, but you generally have to be enormously popular to really get into the hands of very many people who just really aren't into what you're doing.

For example, I hate "Heaven is For Real." I am pretty much entirely opposed to everything that guy is about. I think he is exploiting a child's purported guilelessness to give credibility to a book of platitudes that he has fabricated to extract money from the sick and the grieving.

But the only reason I've even heard about it is that it is a giant bestseller.

Karen in Ohio said...

Susan, I agree about David Denby, and will add that he very seldom (if ever) refers to the book a movie came from. Even if the plot makes no sense in the movie, he never seems to have an inkling that the story was changed from the original book. That happens a lot in the transformation from book to movie, and unless you've read one and seen the other you don't know that, but it is an important point to make, in my opinion.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, what a wonderful day! SO lovely to see you, and looking so glam, Miss Edna..and my dear Dan Friedman, who knows I love his book beyond all love. (I was laughing, then crying, reading it, on an airplane. ANd then laughing again. My seat mate thought I was--well, who knows.) Any way, bravo.

As for reviews. I was the movie reviewer for a TV station, early on. And I learned it was much more--fun, actually--to write a snarky review. Easier. Which is why I really began to rethink my role as a reviewer. It is very very difficult. There's a person on the other end, you know? (As you well know, Kristopher.)

My father, too, was the music critic for the Chicago Daily News, back in the 50's. I do remember he gave critical reviews...I'll have to ask him about that.

It's such a powerful thing, you know? Those snarky words, the ones people off-handedly throw around to be clever or witty--those go straight to the hearts of real people.

(And I am really sad when someone says--It's not what I expected, so I don't like it. That's simply unfair.)

Deb said...

Miss Edna, what a treat to have you here on Jungle Red!! And a darned good job with the introduction, too!

Great to see you, too, Dan, although I'm not sure I'm thanking you for introducing such a thorny topic on a day when I have a really bad headache...

I think I'm pretty much with the consensus. As little legitimate review space as is available these days, I don't see much point in trashing first novels--unless they are much-hyped books that received huge advances and don't live up to the push.

I don't usually read reviews on Amazon (especially reviews of my own books) and although I enjoy the NYTBR, if I decide to read a a reviewed book it is usually because the subject interests me, not because of the reviewers opinion.

Am I a little jaded? Maybe, or maybe it's the headache...

As for the Dan Brown/James Patterson readers, I doubt very much they would be swayed by bad reviews, and that is assuming that they read reviews. I suspect the only way to get them to broaden their reading experience is make a connection between the books they like and books that are much better.

I do know I have to read your book, based on the recommendations of Miss Edna and Miss Susan, as those really count!

Lisa Alber said...

This conversation is fascinating. For some reason I keep thinking about the "dumbing down of America" and the "culture of mediocrity." (Can't remember where I read those phrases.) I'm not sure what to say about all that, except that when I see an author being over-hyped everywhere, with nary even a mediocre review in sight, I have to wonder. Sometimes the book in question is that brilliant, most of the time it's just overhyped.

I call it "the bandwagon effect." Everyone gets on board the love train (OK, so it's not really a wagon) without thinking too hard and god forbid someone jump off to provide a reality check.

Lisa Alber said...

Oh, Daniel, I read your Goodreads bad review. Hilarious and so on the mark!

Miss Edna, hats off to you!

Gee-Gee S said...

As someone who regularly posts reviews on line, I thought the discussion was thought provoking. I want to be able to honestly review a book. I do not want to trash anyone. A lot of work has gone into writing a book, and I respect that. There is almost always something positive to be said about a book, and that should be shared in a review. But when character development is shallow and detracts from the story, I feel that should be said, etc.
And Ms Edna, it was wonderful "meeting" you. I follow SUsan's FB page so I have heard about you. You are everything wonderful about being an elder. Thanks for stepping in today.

Daniel Friedman said...

Susan, I looked at the Giraldi review of Alix Ohlin and googled some of the responses to the controversy. Here's how Giraldi defended the review in The Boston Globe:

“It was an attack on laziness, on the ubiquity of indolence that is currently polluting our literary culture.” Wait, there’s more. “Some people want to say the review was over the top,” said Giraldi. “Let’s keep in mind, over the top is the only way to conquer a mountain, and I was confronted with an Everest of awfulness.” Giraldi said he felt compelled to call out Ohlin. “Silence is not the answer. If you’re fearful of the epithets ‘elitist’ or ‘snob,’ then you’re just going to be another feckless component of capitulation.”

http://www.boston.com/names/2012/08/21/professor-defends-his-harsh-review-alix-ohlin-books/vaBkMk2jKgMOO2O1v7AdmL/story.html#sthash.Sb7hSlPO.dpuf

I haven't read the book, but he pulls a lot of really bad prose out of it in his review, and her defenders limply respond that she is "not a prose stylist," and isn't trying to be.

If he'd written the same sort of review about somebody huge like EL James, I think I would be cheering for him. Looking at the Amazon ranking and the small number of Amazon reviews this book has, however, it was pretty grotesque overkill to bring the full weight of the New York Times down on this book.

Giraldi's error, I think, is one of scale. He describes Ohlin's book as a "mountain," and the scale of this book's influence doesn't seem to bear out such a characterization.

On the other hand: Googling the book shows the power of the publicity engine that Knopf put behind Alix Ohlin. "Inside" was also reviewed in the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the SF Chronicle, and The New Yorker, EW and Oprah Magazine, among many others, even though it did not get a star from PW and does not seem to have been reviewed in the other trades.

I believe the other trades would have reviewed it had it been submitted to them, and I didn't spot any galley reviews on Goodreads, so it seems like Knopf was trying to promote this book without actually having people read it, to prevent Kirkus from poisoning the well before the book got into the hands of mainstream reviewers.

Scanning over other press reviews, I think widespread ambivalence about the book hurt INSIDE much more than Giraldi's vociferous opposition to it. So Alix Ohlin likely would have ended up in the same place without him having to cement his own reputation as the hatchet man.

But I am not sure Alix Ohlin is like a puppy. Giraldi did not pluck this book arbitrarily out of obscurity just to tear it down in front of a mass audience. Ohlin is someone who a major international conglomerate tried to ram into a position of literary prominence, and while I haven't read the book, the critical response beyond Giraldi's pan indicates she may not have delivered the goods to justify such positioning.

In general, books with lots of marketing backing get more attention than books without lots of marketing backing, even if the smaller books have rave pre-release reviews. "Buzz" is a function of advance marketing. The result of Knopf's push for INSIDE was a bunch of mixed reviews in wide-audience publications, with a couple of them being decidedly negative.

If all those publications had "no haters" review policies, then some of those publications would have run positive reviews, and the others would have remained silent, and the conclusion a reader would draw from reading the aggregated press reviews of INSIDE would be very different.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Very good points, Dan.

I think your law background is showing… ; )

Kathy Reel said...

I have had one of my best reading years ever this year, and that is due in part to reading new authors in preparation for the Bouchercon event held in Albany this past September. I'm not just blowing smoke up when I add that those new authors include the Jungle Red Writers, who have enriched my reading life with each book I've read of theirs. As a passionate fan of mystery series, I quite frankly don't know how I lived without Deb's Gemma and Duncan, Julia's Clare and Russ, Rhys' Molly Murphy, and Lucy's Haley Snow. Then there are Hank and Hallie that have given me stories and characters to enjoy. I'm getting to new member Susan and to Rosemary.

Along with you great ladies, I've read other new authors, some writing their first book and some veterans. Again, the writing has been fantastic.

So, negative reviewing hasn't been on my radar this past exceptional year of reading. I haven't had to decide how much to comment on aspects of a book I didn't like. However, if I have given a less than stellar review in the past, I have attempted to state what didn't work for me. To just say that you don't like a book is unfair and disrespectful. I, also, try to include something that I did like, as there is usually redeemable. And, as Susan pointed out, I think the reader needs to try and understand what the author's purpose was, and, for me, who the audience is, if specific.

Should negative reviews take up space in major review publications? Daniel, that's a topic I hadn't really thought about, and I'm glad you've addressed it and made me ponder it a bit. I'm going with a conditional yes, only if the book has garnered national attention and doesn't really live up to its hype. I do prefer to spend my time reading postive reviews, so I can add to my TBR list, not negative ones that deny me that pleasure. However, neither do I think that there should only be glowing reviews. I guess I just want to have evidence presented as to the final verdict, whatever that may be.

Daniel, I knew the numbers were high concerning how many books are published each week, but you've definitely put it in perspective. Your article was most informative in these statistics and enjoyable in giving me food for thought about negative reviewing (see, I gave specific examples of what I liked, haha). I'm looking foward to reading Never Get Old.

Miss Edna, you are delightful. As we used to say in working with young writers in school, you got "voice." I hope you return soon to the Jungle Reds.

Miss Edna said...

Darlings, I'm off to bed (Miss Edna needs her beauty sleep), but it was wonderful to host Daniel Friedman. I absolutely love DON'T EVER GET OLD and highly recommend it, no matter what your age. I can't wait until DON'T EVER LOOK BACK.

I'll drop in again sometime, absolutely. So lovely to meet you all. Goodnight!

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Hey, Miss Edna may be going to bed, but I'm still here, if anyone wants to talk about Daniel Friedman's Don't Ever Get Old, book reviews, or really anything.

Karen, I'm so glad someone else reads David Denby the way I do!

I don't review on Goodreads, but I do rate books. If you look at my list, you'll see it's only 4 or 5 star reviews. This's because if I really don't like something, I'm just not going to put it down, especially without a well-reasoned explanation (and I just don't have the time or inclination).

So I guess I fall into the Miss Edna and Kristopher camp….

NancyM said...

Oh, reviews! Such a complicated subject. After 30+ years of publishing books, I've reached a viewpoint to live and let live. An infuriating review can be a body blow, but it can be a wake-up call. Or you shrug it off.

But as a reader, I confess the negative reviews on Amazon are the first ones I click on. Why? Because in this age of author street teams and the ability of authors to whip up friendly enthusiasm via social media, (I did it mysel earlier this year and felt dirty begging for reviews among my reader base) the positive reviews often seem over gushy--as if Mom wrote them. But a negative review is either written by someone who's being truly honest or by someone who picked up the wrong book and decided to be snarky (I agree with Hank--it's easier--and more self-serving---to be negative!) or a reader who clearly doesn't know her butt from a hole in the ground. If the negative criticism is legit, I can spot that and decide to agree or disagree. I do admit that the occasional negative review makes a book--especially a non-traditionally pubbed book--seem more legit to me. A book with nothing but positive reviews raises my suspicions about the overly zealous mom factor.

I wonder about the readership of those professional journals now. They seem to be read mostly by people in the biz. (Gatekeepers and buyers, of course, whose decisions affect us all.) Do Amazon reviews mean more because they reach more consumers?

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