Monday, July 18, 2011

Be Deliberate

Don't write crap.

I've said this many times, but I believe it needs to be clarified.

Here's my succinct explanation:

Write deliberately.

Taste is subjective. But very few people are able to separate their feelings about something from the value it might actually have (as evidenced by the thought that went into it), simply because they can't perceive its value, or don't bother trying to perceive it.

Which is lazy. Or ignorant. Or outright stupid. Or some combination of all three

We can offhandedly say "That TV show sucks" simply because we don't like that type of show, or don't care for one of the actors on that show, or it didn't provoke emotion. But chances are high that the show doesn't actually suck, because there was a lot of work that went into it, by a lot of people who did their best. It takes a lot of dedicated folks a lot of hours to create a television show. That doesn't mean the show is automatically excellent, but knee-jerk or cavalier dismissal of something that took so much time shows little understanding of the creation process, and devalues it.

All opinions are valid, because you can't argue with subjectivity. But just because something doesn't work for you doesn't mean it doesn't work.

So I've begun taking a closer look at media that I both like and dislike, and have been searching for the thing that indicates quality, even if it isn't something I enjoy.

I believe that thing is deliberation.

Since I write fiction, let's focus on novels. According to my criteria, a novel is a success if:

1. The writer intentionally sets out to do something within the story.

and

2. As a result of deliberation and execution, the story meets the writer's expectations.

No story will ever meet all readers' expectations. Some readers don't even know what to look for. Some will confuse their personal taste with quality. Some form instant opinions based on misapprehension, bias, or false expectation.

But if a writer is completely aware of why they wrote what they wrote, and can explain the reason for every chapter, scene, and sentence, I'd call that deliberate, and by definition, it can't be crap.

It's similar to a pool shark running a table, calling his shots. If you call it, and make it, you're doing something right.

Of course, that means having an understanding of writing craft, but for the sake of this argument let's assume a base level of professionalism. To know craft is to intentionally use craft.

I've tried a few times to read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I don't enjoy his prose, and believe he takes too long to get into conflict. But I'm betting this is deliberate on his part. He's not a newbie without a clue what he's doing. In fact, he knows exactly what he's doing. It just doesn't appeal to me. This doesn't make it crap, much as I don't like it.

An easy example of this is the story I wrote with Blake Crouch, Serial. As of this writing, that free story has gotten 139 one star reviews.

As I like to say, it's difficult to judge quality if you're an idiot.

In the case of Serial, I can safely qualify most of those one star reviewers as idiots, because they criticize the story for doing the exact things Blake and I want it to do. No one should be surprised that a story about two serial killers is violent and disturbing. But because it is free, and the description likely wasn't read before the one-click download, many readers were surprised by the content, and they responded with one-star reviews.

That's their problem, not the story's problem.

Conversely, we got hammered for being overly gory and gratuitous. This amuses me to no end, because Serial is purposely understated when it comes to the on-page mayhem. The prose is spare, not purple. We don't go into descriptive detail. We pull way, way back and let the reader fill in the blanks.

We did this deliberately. The fact that people imagine gore that isn't there is proof the writing works. If you don't like it, it doesn't mean the story sucks.

One of the deep-rooted problems in our society is how people form quick opinions without analyzing why they reached their conclusions. Then they'll defend those opinions without thinking. It's a basic flaw of human nature that most people would rather fight to the death for their beliefs before questioning them. The ability to change one's mind is a rare thing.

I understand that casual dismissal is necessary, to a degree. We're bombarded with choice, and we need to be able to quickly make decisions.

But casual dismissal coupled with the anonymity (and the cushion) of the Internet has turned a bunch of lazy morons into bitter critics who spout off their idiotic opinions without any sense to back them up.

Note I am spouting off my opinion here, but I'm backing it up with a clear trail of logic. I'm also keeping this argument general, rather than personal. Much as it might amuse me to attack specific people or reviews, you won't see me do much of that.

I don't like critics in general (I don't like awards either, but that's another rant.) But a good critic can remain somewhat objective.

The world wide web has spawned an unpleasant epidemic of idiots who are quick to criticize, insult, dismiss, and reject without any accountability. These folks really believe their nearsighted and downright idiotic opinions are not only correct, but need to be voiced in public.

Are you one of these idiots? I hope not. And if you are, I hope you have the capacity to change.

Here are some signs you might be an idiot.

If you've ever called someone a name without any provocation, you're probably an idiot.

If you think the world really cares about how much you hate something, you're probably an idiot.

If you've ever given a one-star review to anything, you're probably an idiot.

If you've ever posted anonymously, you're probably an idiot.

If you've ever casually dismissed something that others find value in, you're definitely an idiot.

If you talk before you think, you're definitely an idiot.

If you have a closed mind, you're definitely an idiot.

If this blog post makes you angry, you're definitely an idiot.

Now you might say, "Joe, but I've done one or more of these things. Does that mean I'm an idiot?"

Possibly not. True idiots usually aren't aware that they're idiots. But if you're doing a lot of the above, you aren't doing yourself any favors.

Remember how I said that writers should be deliberate?

That goes for everyone. We should all be self-aware. We should be deliberate in everything we do, including when we're being critical. Especially when we're being critical.

So, to recap:

If you're a writer, make sure you understand why you're writing what you write, and have a clear idea of what you want those words to do. Then you'll never write crap.

If you're a human being, make sure you truly understand why you say and do the things you say and do. An unexamined life ain't worth living. And an unexamined life that tweets or posts reviews on Amazon is a big waste of carbon. And oxygen.

There was no particular inciting event that made me go off on this rant. But I've seen too much stupidity on the Internets over the years, and the number of clueless morons seems to be rising.

Don't be a clueless moron, in your writing, or in your life.

Be deliberate. Everything you write, whether it be fiction or commentary, should be carefully thought through and intentional. If you ever dismiss something deliberate without being deliberate yourself, you're going to come off looking like an idiot.

And to my many critics: Disagreeing with me doesn't make you wrong. It's your inability to adequately articulate why you disagree with me that makes you wrong.

Being wrong is fine, if you learn from it.

324 comments:

1 – 200 of 324   Newer›   Newest»
Michael Peevish said...

And if you make broad, sweeping statements that automatically label someone an idiot... couldn't that make you an idiot, too?

Anonymous said...

Ishtar had a large group of hard-working, deliberate veterans making an epic that sucked by every measurement of film. Time has judged it even more harshly than the box office did. Because it sucked, regardless of the earnest, deliberate work of hundreds.

Sometimes things suck. Sometimes ascribing value to effort is idiocy. Sometimes you earnestly work at cooking something good, and it sucks.

It happens.

All Hollywood films have large groups of earnest folk behind the scene doing their best. By your criteria, none suck. And yet most do.

You're wrong on this one. That sometimes happens. It's only a, well, idiot, who believes that doesn't.

Marctaro said...

You finally got me with the combo of free and controversial! I'm a reader now!

Joe Konrath said...

All Hollywood films have large groups of earnest folk behind the scene doing their best. By your criteria, none suck. And yet most do.

Ack.

I'm certainly open to you explaining to my why you believe Ishtar sucks. But I'd bet good money your answer will be subjective. Whether or not you like Ishtar doesn't negate the fact that it follows classic narrative structure, and can be identified as a comedy. The fact that there is a cult of people demanding for the soundtrack to be released can speak to it being deliberate. Some folks like it.

Joe Konrath said...

And if you make broad, sweeping statements...

The generalizations I made speak to my point, which follows a logic path to a provable conclusion. I clearly stated I wasn't going to post specific examples.

Perhaps you missed the part where I said, "Be deliberate" a dozen or so times.

Jimmie Hammel said...

Some things deserve a 1-star review. I don't tend to review things poorly just because I don't like them, but if I find a novel that is poorly written I will post a negative review as a warning to others. That's the entire point. Even then, I'm unlikely to give fewer than three stars. Even bad authors usually get something right.

That said, I completely agree that 1-star reviews shouldn't be given based on taste, UNLESS the product description is wildly inaccurate. I would be miffed if I bought a novel that claimed to be paranormal romance and was actually an espionage novel.

David Barron said...

If I remember a book long enough to post a review about it, it's getting five stars. Otherwise, well, I'll just read the next book.

Meb Bryant said...

I understand your frustrations over the one star ratings. It's a cowardly way to express an opinion of an author's novel, especially a complimentary copy.

You're in the limelight now and have become an easy target. Shake it off. Laugh all the way to the bank and take comfort from your good deeds. Tomorrow's another day with problems of its own.

I've got to finish Serial so I can review it. I guarantee more than one star.

Meb

Vern said...

Joe alienates half his readers in 1 post...

Joe Konrath said...

I understand your frustrations over the one star ratings.

I've long ago stopped caring about the opinions of strangers. But I am a bit annoyed at the seemingly growing number of people who apparently haven't learned how to properly think. Are we really that stupid? Is consideration a quaint gesture from a time long past? Has it become so easy to criticize and dismiss that it has become second nature?

There has always been a gap between creator and consumer. That's expected. But we need to own our opinions, like we own our words. The other direction lies chaos.

Corey W. Williams said...

Now, Joe, I'm a big fan of this blog. I find it very informative, it made me want to self-publish, and most of the time it is very informative.

But this entry leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But, because part of the point of this entry is that things should not be casually dismissed without analysis or explanation, let me go into a little detail here.

I understand the point of the post, and it’s not a bad point at all. In fact, the first half of the blog post makes a really good point. Lots of reviews online in general are overly subjective, many dismissive and completely missing the point of what the work is trying to achieve. I agree with this.

But, where the post starts to lose me is in the second half, where you call out people who give bad, subjective reviews as idiots. I agree with the point you’re trying to make, but the whole second half almost seems to undermine your own point. I may not agree with every opinion someone has and may think they’re reasons for reaching that conclusion are faulty, but I think it’s a bit far to say anyone who has given a one-star review is probably an idiot.

That’s what bugs me, the name calling of people who have written bad reviews as idiots. (Which is ironic, since one of your bullet points is ‘If you've ever called someone a name without any provocation, you're probably an idiot’ which includes name-calling in the sentence itself). It seems dismissive. Granted, I have personally seen some Amazon reviews or Youtube comments and said to myself “Wow, that’s stupid.” Everyone has. But I don’t publically announce that any person who gives such a review is an idiot because I would feel like that kind of behavior emulates the very thing I don’t like.

Again, I don’t think the point the entry is trying to make is a bad one. The point, “Be deliberate with what you say and do, think before you do it,” is one I agree with. I read the entire first half agreeing with you, only to feel disappointed when it denigrated into name-calling and seemed to adapt some characteristics you yourself were denouncing (being dismissive, being overly subjective). It seemed kinda ... immature.

I really like your blog and I know you’re a very intelligent, capable person. This blog didn’t make me angry enough to stop reading this blog or your work altogether, but it did make me feel pretty disappointed since you usually back up your opinions a lot more effectively than you did here. You made a very good point. I just think the way you went about it was faulty for the reasons I’ve gone into here.

Anonymous said...

Joe gets dropped by the Big 6 = the Big 6 are idiots.

Joe fails to win awards = Joe doesn't like awards.

Joe believes in the democratic marketplace but gets one-star reviews = reviewers are idiots.

The universe revolves around Joe.

S Alini said...

There might be another reason people gave one star reviews to Serial, Joe. That is that people often assign value to something based on how much they're asked to pay for it. So if you give it to them for free, some are likely to think it has zero value.
Look at how people behave when they're given free food. They eat half and toss it(at least in the US). They act very differently when they pay for the food.

S Alini
SuperBurger
alinibooks.blogspot.com

Joe Konrath said...

I just think the way you went about it was faulty for the reasons I’ve gone into here.

I thought quite a bit before posting this. But the people I describe in this blog post are, indeed, idiots, and I believe I've adequately identified why.

Diehard idiots won't change as a result of reading this. But if this makes even a small percentage of readers more deliberate because they don't want to be labeled as idiots, then I've accomplished what I set out to do.

If this post alienates some people, it's a good exercise in self-awareness to reason out why they feel alienated. I'm not attacked anyone specifically. I'm attacking actions that aren't thought-out.

evilphilip said...

Allow me to translate:

"Author bitter about 1-star reviews calls everyone else idiots from throne of Kindle money. Film at 11."

Joe Konrath said...

Joe gets dropped by the Big 6 = the Big 6 are idiots.

Joe got dropped by Hyperion, even though his books are in multiple printings and still selling. He then pulled his books Hachette and Berkely.

Joe fails to win awards = Joe doesn't like awards.

Off the top of my head, I've won at least six writing awards.

Joe believes in the democratic marketplace but gets one-star reviews = reviewers are idiots.

Which they are, for the reasons I outlined. I also mentioned something about people who post anonymously.

Joe Konrath said...

"Author bitter about 1-star reviews calls everyone else idiots from throne of Kindle money. Film at 11."

The one star reviews Serial has received have been a continuing source of amusement for me and Blake, and we laugh about it often. Anyone who values the opinions of strangers either has low self-esteem, or is an idiot.

Life is too short to be bitter.

But this blog is all about teaching, and if I can get a few idiots to stop being idiots, the world will be a better place.

Of course, that means I open myself up to a lot of criticism. But I already explained how much strangers' opinions are worth.

Still, I'm hoping for some intelligent discussion rather than the knee-jerk reactions I anticipated. If I'm wrong, explain why I'm wrong.

Joe Konrath said...

So if you give it to them for free, some are likely to think it has zero value.

That's an excellent point.

Serial is free and has an average star rating of 3 stars.

Serial Uncut (Serial plus some extra stuff) is $2.99 and has a 4 star average.

evilphilip said...

"I'm hoping for some intelligent discussion rather than the knee-jerk reactions I anticipated. If I'm wrong, explain why I'm wrong."

The first thing that comes to mind is that you are wrong partially because there is a lot of media out there: movies, TV, comics, books, that IS complete crap.

The people who put it together might have been hard working honest people trying to do the best job that they could, but it doesn't mean that they didn't fail miserably and don't deserve a good thrashing from the customer (Remember him? He is the guy with the open wallet.).

Because people read something or watch something and think it is crap and fire off a guns-blazing 1-star review doesn't make them idiots. It means they weren't happy and they had a medium to express it and they did so.

Some of those people will express it in a way you can take value from, "The dialog wasn't believable and the story is trite." and some people will phrase it more eloquently, "It STINKS!".

Neither method of expressing it is wrong and neither reviewer is automatically an "idiot".

Anonymous said...

Joe sez: "Anyone who values the opinions of strangers either has low self-esteem, or is an idiot."

But isn't that the whole basis of your "cream will rise to the top in the crowded e-market" belief?

evilphilip said...

"The one star reviews Serial has received have been a continuing source of amusement for me and Blake, and we laugh about it often. Anyone who values the opinions of strangers either has low self-esteem, or is an idiot."

You aren't selling your product very well. Obviously you do care and it does bother you or you wouldn't have spent the time putting together a huge blog post about it.

Anonymous said...

Joe puts foot in mouth. Joe is an idiot.

Anonymous said...

This blog should be retitled "Joe And His Rejection Issues."

Joe Konrath said...

The first thing that comes to mind is that you are wrong partially because there is a lot of media out there: movies, TV, comics, books, that IS complete crap.

That's opinion, and opinion is subjective.

One of the points of this blog post is to get people to analyze their own opinions, and defend them.

To say "a lot of media is crap" is a cavalier dismissal that I'm cautioning against. Not liking something doesn't mean it has no value. Others may like it. Tastes differ.

I have about 5000 movies in my DVD collection, many of them rare, indie, foreign, obscure. A very, very small percentage are pure crap. Some I don't like, but it's wrong assume my opinion is valid for everyone.

It means they weren't happy and they had a medium to express it and they did so.

I agree, to a point. But expressing unhappiness about a piece of media and saying it has no value are two different things, and they shouldn't be interchangeable.

Neither method of expressing it is wrong and neither reviewer is automatically an "idiot".

We disagree on this point. Saying the dialog wasn't believable requires thought on the part of the reviewer. Just saying "It stinks" does not require thought, and qualifies for idiocy.

But a 1 star review should be an epic fail. Lackluster dialog (assuming we could objectively quantify it) doesn't automatically equate with epic fail. There are many other things to consider.

Joe Konrath said...

This blog should be retitled "Joe And His Rejection Issues."

Instead I'm retitling it "Joe Turns of Anonymous Posting Due to Recurring Idiocy."

Attack the argument using your own name or find something else to do with your time.

Stephen Parrish said...

I love this post. I agree with every word. I don't think by "idiots" that Joe meant people with single digit IQs, rather people who don't think before they act.

I'm sure there are exceptions, but in general writers don't give other writers one start reviews. And it's not for fear of retaliation, rather because they know how hard it is to write a novel, and the kind of gauntlet it must survive enroute to publication.

And I disagree with the notion that one star reviews should be posted "as a warning to others." First, readers have no such responsibility to other readers, no such mandate. Second, the person you warn, who elects not to make the purchase as a result, may have liked the book.

A one star review should be employed only in extraordinary circumstances, for example if the author is clearly trying to dupe the readers. Or if the reviewer can say with absolute certainty that no other readers will like the book either. As for the latter, I don't know anyone with that kind of market sense.

Joe Konrath said...

@ EvilPhilip - Here's a different example. We're both gamers. There are some aspects of a game that could be immediately identifiable as poorly done: graphics, movement, poor level design, etc.

But other things, such as storyline, are more subjective. So is the amount of fun you can have playing it. Some may dig it. Some won't. Whose opinion is right?

Well written reviews can both inform and entertain. There are some 1 star IMDB reviews that made me laugh out loud, with reviewers listing unpleasant things they'd rather do than be forced to watch the movie again.

But those reviews are thought-out and deliberate. I love the AVG (and MST3K.)

Joe Konrath said...

One of the things I should have mentioned in this blog post was an example from the art world.

A few years ago, a watercolor was entered into a contest (in the UK?) and the judges declared it a masterpiece.

Later, it was revealed that the work was done by a child playing with paint.

If a bunch of respected art critics can't tell the difference between a deliberate work done by a genius, and a six-year-old brushing randomly, it says a lot about both subjectivity and intent.

I'd say the work was not a masterpiece, because it wasn't intentional. But you never can tell what some folks will like. Which is why automatically dismissing something is silly.

Alvaro said...

They're already making it a marketing campaign... the fact is they readed because it was free not because it wasn't meant for them.

You already have the slogans ;-) and they should be on the book description.

Gross!!!!!!!!!
Absolutely SICK
Too disturbing & graphic
Pure Trash
Garbage
Disturbing!
Just plain AWFUL!
Excessively Disturbing
Not for sensitive minds…

up to 138 readers hate Serial on Amazon already!!! Are you disturbed enough for Serial?.

You know what they say there's no such thing as bad publicity.

S Alini said...

Joe,
As an experiment, start charging $0.99 for Serial. See if there's a difference in percentage of negative reviews during that time period. Continued success.

@SanAlini on Twitter
alinibooks.blogspot.com
SuperBurger

Joe Konrath said...

You know what they say there's no such thing as bad publicity.

I know. Serial has been downloaded 500,000 times. I'm sure the many 1 star reviews make people curious, because many reviewers say they do.

I don't think I've ever seen a book or movie on Amazon that doesn't have a few 1 star reviews. It's endemic to our culture. Some jackass always has to pan something, and it is often without thinking.

That said, I gave a 1 star review (my only one) to Hannibal by Thomas Harris, years ago. But boy oh boy did I think about it, deeply and at length, before writing it, and I articulated the reasons for my review.

Thinking back, I should have given it 2 stars, even though I still hate it.

Joe Konrath said...

As an experiment, start charging $0.99 for Serial.

We did, for a while. Those who paid for it gave it an average higher rating than those who got it for free.

Joe Konrath said...

But isn't that the whole basis of your "cream will rise to the top in the crowded e-market" belief?

Lots of people enjoy my writing. Some people dislike it. I don't take praise or criticism personally. I simply do my best to write compelling stories, and trust they will appeal to enough people to make a living. If I can do it, it stands to reason that others can too.

Glynn James said...

I have noticed that all my 1 and 2 star reviews came from people who downloaded my book for free.

I agree with most of your post, but I suppose even that is subjective. I wonder how many authors would read this and nod, and how many folks who aren't writers would get angry about it? What I mean is that receiving bad book reviews is an experience only writers have. So non-writers may not understand why there is an issue in the first place.

It's easy to say "get over it" when you have no point of reference.

I'm glad you switched off anonymous posting. I always skip reading them anyway.

Heidi C. Vlach said...

I do notice a lot of book reviews where the reviewer thinks "not to my taste" = "worthless junk". Especially when they know the book was self-published. Like if the book doesn't appeal to everyone ever, the author obviously just published a terrible first draft out of laziness. I'm guessing most of those reviewers aren't writers and aren't inclined to think much in general.

And I'd argue that attacking someone anonymously doesn't make you an idiot. Anonymity is a tactically sound way to keep your opponent from attacking back on equal terms. So it's more like cowardice.

Joshua James said...

Great post, absolutely ...

frankpalardy said...

I don't know about the movies. Nowadays they're all a certain calabre, but there used to be a good number of b movies made without much concern about quality. Look at some of Roger Corman's work. When you have a large company with many people involved they have to deliver the product even if they aren't happy. Even great movies like Blade Runner get screwed up in the cutting room. I wouldn't give writers 1's but I like reading them. Often they hit the point, but people tend to make odd complaints like the book not being delivered fast enough. The weaker books often have a flat curve with ratings at all numbers. The comment about free books is right on. It also explains why publishers don't care about writers who aren't published.

Steven said...

Sorry to say it, but I think that you're contradicting yourself.

By saying (to paraphrase) nothing deserves a one-star rating, you seem to be saying that nothing that has been written and published is crap. The mantra "Don't write crap" doesn't make sense if it is impossible to write crap.

Plenty of stuff has been written without deliberation. From what I can understand here, you're saying if I find one of those books and give it a one-star rating, I'm probably an idiot. And if what you're saying is that one-star reviewers really can't judge the author's level of deliberation, that might be true, but no reviewer can judge that unless the they happen to actually BE the author.

In fact, if one-star reviews are going to be discouraged, we should discourage all reviews - by definition the star rating system is about subjective responses.

Ellen Fisher said...

"If you've ever given a one-star review to anything, you're probably an idiot."

I'm a bit baffled by this. You're the one who's talked about how awful slush is-- you judged it in contests, if I recall correctly. And some of that slush does in fact find its way onto Amazon, unedited. I've read samples of books on Amazon that absolutely deserved a one-star review-- and even one star would be generous. I haven't left reviews of such books personally, but if others do, that surely doesn't make them idiots.

This particular statement doesn't seem to match up with your prior comments about all the dreadful slush that's out there.

A.Rosaria said...

I think I know why there are so many people that have a knee jerk reaction to anything in their life.

If you observe around yourself, and really see things for what they are, and think about it you will notice that most of us are ruled by fear. Fear is set in from childhood. Many grow up conditioned to react with fight or flight instict at almost anything that disagrees to them.

D.A. Boulter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
timstout said...

Conversely, we got hammered for being overly gory and gratuitous. This amuses me to no end, because Serial is purposely understated when it comes to the on-page mayhem. The prose is spare, not purple. We don't go into descriptive detail. We pull way, way back and let the reader fill in the blanks.

This IS hilarious. "This book made me use my imagination and I didn't like it. One star."

D.A. Boulter said...

Joe, I respect you. Without your blog I would likely not have published and would not now be earning what I consider to be a decent living. However, saying that if you've ever posted a 1-star review you're probably an idiot is, well, a little idiotic.

In any rating system, some rated items must, by definition, fall within each category. If we take our Amazon 5-star rating system and you say that nothing is 'utter crap' and deserves to be rated 1-star, and I say that nothing is 'truly perfect' and deserves to be 5-star, then we're left with a 3-star rating system and surely something must deserve the new 1-star rating and something must deserve the new 3-star rating or we're left with our new 1-star only rating system, which encompasses all the rated items.

Now, I can turn around and say that 1-star doesn't mean 'utter crap' and you can reply that 5-star does not mean 'truly perfect'. Then we're back to the 5-star system in which each rating will have members--and deservedly so.

The nomenclature or definition of each category can change to whatever word you desire, but some rated items still must fall into the lowest category, otherwise there is no sense in having it.

This reminds me of my days working in an Operation and Management company contracted by the USAF. They had their quality assessors come around and rate us from time to time. The ratings were: 'Excellent', 'Good', 'Fair' and 'Poor'. Then some bright person said, "Hey, we shouldn't have a term like, 'excellent', because that's the level we expect our contractors to work at. Therefore our new rating system will be: 'Satisfactory', 'Satisfactory with discrepancies', 'Marginal' and 'Unsatisfactory'."

It was still a 4-star system and some actions still fell withing the 'Excellent'/'Satisfactory' category, and some still fell within the 'Poor'/'Unsatisfactory' category.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Reviews are about the reviewer, not the work.

I'm beginning to believe there's a lot of truth in "perception of value." Give away a book, and then you'll see what happens when people get something for free just because it was free, realize they didn't want it int he first place, and then blame you for giving it to them.

My $2.99 books always have better star ratings than my 99 cent books. That tells me they are more likely to get to the people who want them, as opposed to people who just want a bargain.

I can't say anything about the mindset of the consumer, but that's my experience.

Scott Nicholson
http://hauntedcomputer.blogspot.com

antares said...

According to Amazon,
***** = I love it;
**** = I like it;
*** = It's okay;
** = I don't like it; and
* = I hate it.

Were I to rate Lloyd Douglas, The Robe, I would give it 5 stars. That book changed the way I interpret the Gospels. At one point, I put the book down and wept.

I gave Nathan Lowell, Quarter Share, and Suzanne Tyrpak, Ghost Plane, 4 stars. I liked their books; they write well; but I did not love them like I loved The Robe.

I gave Wild Night Calling 3 stars. In my review, I wrote the piece was well-written, but I don't like horror. I wrote that those who do like horror would enjoy the piece. Just not to my taste.

I gave Brainbox 1 star. According to Amazon's guidelines that means I hate it, and I do. I read the negative reviews before I bought the piece. There were two 1-star reviews; both slammed the piece because it was a short story, vice a novel. So I dismissed those reviews as irrelevant.

I criticized the piece for other reasons. You can read my review at Amazon.

Am I an idiot?

I don't think so.

BTW Brainbox has ten 5-star reviews.

Are all opinions valid?

What does 'valid' mean?

I think it means supportable; that is, can you back it up with reasoned argument?

So ... are all opinions supportable?

Hell, no.

Some opinions are based on education; those tend to be supportable. Some opinions are based on prejudice; those are not supportable. Some opinions are based on abject ignorance; those are not supportable.

The notion that a 1-star review is tantamount to saying that a piece is an epic fail is not supportable. A 1-star review means that the reviewer hated the piece.

Did the reviewer give a reasoned argument for his rating? If no, then the review is a drive-by and irrelevant. If yes, I suggest you pay attention to it. See if those reasons resonate with you.

When Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, hit bookstores (those were the days), I entered a Borders to find a pyramid of TDVC in front of the entrance. I picked up a volume and read the first chapter at my enjoyment speed (about a page a minute). By the time I finished the first chapter, I had decided that I really didn't like Dan Brown's writing style and that, in my judgment, his use of the English language and line-level mechanics was inferior to the writers I was accustomed to reading. So I stood there and speed-read the rest of the book (about 5,000 words a minute). When I finished, I thought, "Intriguing idea, but poorly executed."

Am I wrong?

In my opinion -- and others share my opinion (there's a group on Shelfari called I hate The Da Vinci Code) -- The Da Vinci Code is shyt. But it proves that shyt sells.

Joe, you often say "Don't write crap." I disagree with that, because wannabees have to write crap to learn to write better. I say "Don't sell crap."

Are my opinions valid? Yes, because I support them with reasoned argument.

That's all I got.

antares said...

PS I realized that I did not publish a review of Wild Night Is Calling at Amazon. My review is on my blog. I chose not to publish my review on Amazon, because I did not want to adversely affect the work's rating with an opinion by a reader who does not regularly read horror stories.

The Hostess with the Mostest said...

Yes. Double triple yes.
I saw an article last week that describes this from a psychological POV. I've named it the Drunk Troll Review Syndrome. I created a sign for it.

http://www.news.com.au/technology/anonymous-alcoholics-study-finds-web-trolls-get-a-feeling-of-abandon-similar-to-drunks-and-dictators/story-e6frfro0-1226080815072#ixzz1ReNidOv6

Wendy.b said...

Congratulations on presenting an obviously very deliberately written post that achieved exactly what you intended, I'm guessing. Your slick sidestep into hyperbole got people thinking enough to object to the overblown statements -- just not quite enough to recognize them as a subtle tool, expertly wielded for effect.
I don't give one-star reviews, and my book is not well enough known, alas, to have received any yet. But I know I'll be even more careful in the future to make allowance for the author's intent when expressing an opinion.
Bravo!

Romana Grimm said...

I agree with antares. Writers have to write crap at some point to become someone that writes cream, but they sure shouldn't SELL the stuff.

As to the one star reviews on amazon and wherever else they have the five star system, I think that the one star option is necessary. People should be able to say what they hated and why.

My most memorable experience was with Meyers Breaking Dawn. Since I'm from Germany I had to wait a day or two before our stores sold the book and so I went to amazon.com to check whether people had already read and rated the book. Imagine my surprise at discovering just as many one star reviews as there were five star comments! I read them all (the one star reviews), and immensely enjoyed myself. Many of them were well-written, wonderfully reasoned and entirely accurate. I got the book, read it and found it just as bad as all the other one star reviewers. Many of the five stars, however, were one-liners full of praise that didn't tell me anything about how well the book is thought out or what the reader found especially good.

It may be true that Meyer sat down many hours to write her book. It may also be true that she thought long and hard about how her characters act, what happened in which scene and so forth. Unfortunately I still hated the book and gave it one star because as a reader (and I admit tentative fan) I was truly disappointed. Her writing was secondary to the way she butchered her plot, betrayed her own rules and just about spoiled everything else she built up in the previous books. In such a case readers aren't very inclined to grant authors a star for their efforts. If they're disappointed they'll say so.

My point is, I really don't think that the stars are the problem here, but the reviews themselves. As a writer I'd rather get a detailed one star review which points out my weaknesses than a five star one-liner which doesn't help me at all. Equally I'd rather read a long review that tells me what to expect rather than buying blindly and regretting it afterwards. How many stars such a review has is secondary, mostly I'm interested in the whys and hows.

Cheers,
Romana

Gary Ponzo said...

I liked Ishtar. It's lonely on my side of the fence.

antares said...

"I liked Ishtar. It's lonely on my side of the fence."

I know how you feel, Gary. I liked Legend (with Tom Cruise).

C'est la guerre.

Heather Hildenbrand said...

Joe, I agreed with this post and thought it was really interesting. Just because I don't like something doesn't make it total crap. Especially when plenty of others love it. (example: True Blood, the TV show; cant stand it but its got more fans than Twilight right now.)I forget sometimes, though, that it's all subjective and we should give credit to those who work hard at producing a piece of entertainment, whether its writing or television or music. it does have value, whether I value it or not. BTW, the 'you might be an idiot' theme was funny to me and I wasn't at all offended even though I've read several books I'd give a 1-star review. I thought it was thought-provoking, which I'm assuming was your point in the first place.

www.heatherhildenbrand.blogspot.com

Guy Anthony De Marco said...

Whatever anyone says, Joe, at least you have people thinking.

I gave out one-star reviews to a couple of "gender changing" public domain books (Conan). The "author" just did a find-and-replace of pronouns and names, then published it. They didn't even bother to re-read it to catch the rather obvious glaring errors (a dude adjusting his dress to look sexier, for example).

I gave out a three star to a story I absolutely hated, but explained what I didn't like, which was mostly a style issue. I saw I had a very subjective reason for disliking it, whereas most of the other reviews were 2-3 stars with one-liners.

If I give out a review, I do my best to explain what worked and what didn't, with (non-spoiler) examples to back it up. I feel reviews are writing jobs that don't pay much, so I need to write as though I'm crafting a short story. In the end, it's just writing practice.

Ingpark said...

Joe, you're catching it. :)

One star reviews hurt, even if they are patently written by an idiot. Equally irritating can be the four star review attached to the most glowing praise and posted by someone who believes nobody deserves five stars.

My feeling is that you don't need to have stated reasons for five stars, but if you give two or one star reviews, you'd better explain.

And giving a novel one star because you think the price (12.99 set by the publisher) is too high when other e-books run 2.99 to 4.99 is absolutely stupid. Don't people know that authors have nothing to do with that? And that it has nothing to do with the quality of the novel?

Stephen Knight said...

I feel the exact same way about anonymous posts.

If something bugs someone so much that they just HAVE to chime in with a negative report, then own up to it and put a name on the post.

M.P. McDonald said...

Some one-star reviews are helpful although it takes me a week or so to get over my anger and see the usefulness of them. They can warn away readers who have the same mindset. I had one that said one of my books should have been marked as Christian fiction. Another review for the same book said it had Satanism. To my mind, neither is correct, but those reviews should warn away readers who would also have a knee-jerk reaction to it.

Like you, one of my books gets complaints about violence, specifically torture, that happens to the character. They say it goes on far too long, pages and pages, etc. I finally went through and counted the paragraphs. I found 8 paragraphs. 8! Not even long ones and never more than two at a time. In a 92,000 word book, less than 1200 words were about torture.

I just have to shake my head and hope that fans of, say, the tv show, 24, see those reviews and decide my book is *exactly* what they want to read. ;-) (Personally, 24 was too violent for me! lol)

Mary Stella said...

God, I hate when I spend time writing a thoughtful, deliberate comment and then hit the wrong button before the comment registers. What an idiot!

Take two.

A reader recently posted a positive review of one of my books on Amazon. She titled it A Good Read, explained why she liked my book, and gave it three stars.

Why three and not four? Who knows? That's as subjective a choice as anything else.

As a reader, I care more about why someone else liked or didn't like a book. If I see a book receive rankings on both ends of the scale, I'm interesting in knowing what might have polarized the reactions.

Right now, I'm more interested in knowing if the star ratings have any impact on the sales rankings of Amazon. To my mind, those rankings ought to relate directly, and solely, to the number of copies sold. I've heard more than one author claim that the star ratings matter as well.

Other authors claim the velocity of the sales and the percentage of increase factor into the rankings.

Due to a promotional opportunity, I had a sizeable one day jump in sales. For awhile, I'd normally seen a couple of sales a day. On this day in particular, I sold over 80 copies which not only represented velocity, but also a higher percentage increase over my normal rate. That title briefly broke the top 1000 in the Kindle store and the top 100 list for contemporary romances.

The improved ranking maintained a higher rate of sales for a few days that gradually dwindled. Finally, when the book exhausted the momentum and sank out of the top #10,000, the daily sales returned to previous small number.

So, would more five star reviews improve my rankings which would then attract more interest, resulting, hopefully, in higher sales numbers that would continue the momentum for a longer period of time?

Joe, do you have any thoughts on whether great star ratings matter, or is it another example of authors trying to figure out how Amazon calculates everything?

Thanks!

J.M.Cornwell said...

I admit it. There was a little prickle of disagreement because you dislike critics in general; however, then you qualified your remark. A critic who doesn't know why s/he doesn't like something and doesn't know what is wrong is an idiot. I do agree. A considered opinion is still an opinion but one that does have merit, for all I may disagree with the assessment, as I disagree with the two one-star reviews my novel received. Neither one could find anything wrong with the book, except that they believed it to be slow, and that it wasn't the kind of book they liked to read. Idiots.

Internet stores invite criticism by sending emails to "please take the time to comment on this product you have purchased." It's annoying and pointless. Yes, I realize people need to be validated. No, it does not mean I have to validate you. If there isn't a problem, I may not comment. Be glad. My comments can be biting and cut directly to the heart of the matter.

People who comment just because they can are the kind of people I was warned about, the ones who should keep their mouths shut and their fingers off the keyboard and send button because they remove all doubt that they are idiots.

Thank you for this, Joe. Despite being a critic, a professional critic of books, at least you get what is right and wrong with the process.

Henri said...

I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only person, who abandoned reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Darlene Underdahl said...

Joe, I'm seeing garden-variety jealousy here. You and Blake produce books and sell them. It makes other people feel like losers in comparison, but envy is unflattering, so they come up with other excuses for their criticism.

Time was, folks like that could be easily backed into a corner and forced to face their jealousy, but now they can ambush anonymously from a hundred places.

Don't give up your good work, and I really like the "unexamined life" quote.

www.VermillionRoadPress.com

Joe Konrath said...

What I mean is that receiving bad book reviews is an experience only writers have.

True. But my intent wasn't to write a "walk a mile in my shoes" post. I should have made it clearer that I'm not bothered by 1 star reviews.

A more succinct way of making my point is: What Peter says about Paul describes Peter more than Paul. So maybe Peter oughta start thinking a bit more about what he's saying.

Paul shouldn't care either way.

This post isn't about protecting poor, innocent, hardworking writers from trolls. It's about trying to save trolls from themselves.

Joe Konrath said...

Look at some of Roger Corman's work.

I love low budget movies. Corman, HG Lewis, TV Mikels, RD Steckler, Ed Wood, John Waters, Andy Milligan, etc. They were made cheaply and quickly without much talent.

But they still entertain. Many have cult followings. It's really hard to make "this sucks" stick objectively and be universally agreed with.

I don't think all media is equally good. But I do think some folks review without thinking. Practically every movie and book has been rated 1 star by someone.

Joe Konrath said...

By saying (to paraphrase) nothing deserves a one-star rating, you seem to be saying that nothing that has been written and published is crap. The mantra "Don't write crap" doesn't make sense if it is impossible to write crap.

Thank you. Great point. I should have mentioned this.

I'm not saying nothing published is crap. I'm saying nothing written deliberately is crap. Some things can be of lesser quality, and it is probably because not enough thought or care or deliberation was involved in their creation. But if someone reviews something like that, those points should be mentioned and logically defended.

no reviewer can judge that unless the they happen to actually BE the author.

Another good point. But what I'm trying to say is that even the author may be clueless. The remedy to that is neither the author, nor the reviewer, should be clueless. They should be deliberate.

In the blog post I do say that we need to assume a certain level of craft. There are cases where that level isn't achieved. If that's the case, deliberation is needed.

Rex Kusler said...

I also liked Ishtar. It's one of my top ten movies of all time. I'm a deliberate idiot. It's more fun that way.

Joe Konrath said...

I've read samples of books on Amazon that absolutely deserved a one-star review-- and even one star would be generous.

It's a slippery slope, and a lot of subjective gray area.

Yes, there are some books that don't meet the minimum requirements of narrative structure, or lack craft. These books aren't deliberate. But do they really deserve 1 star? Are you sure they won't appeal to someone, somewhere?

This blog cautions against believing your opinion is fact, and talking without thinking.

I don't believe I'm saying that everything is excellent. I'm saying think more.

Joe Konrath said...

most of us are ruled by fear

FTW.

Fear and insecurity are indeed endemic in our species.

But the internet has allowed a way to whistle past the graveyard by saying things we'd never say directly to someone's face, because we'd get punched.

Like another poster said, cowardice plays a part.

Joe Konrath said...

In any rating system, some rated items must, by definition, fall within each category.

This is an excellent point and I should have addressed it.

Serial has some 1 star reviews that are well-reasoned out, not knee-jerk. While I don't agree with them, they are written deliberately and any reasonable person can read those reviews and see a rational point is being made.

Any rating system should have high ends and low ends, and things can be rated comparatively. But this should be deliberate.

The majority of 1 star reviews I read aren't deliberate. They really do confuse taste with quality.

But here's the thing: a lot of 5 star reviews are equally vapid.

Joe Konrath said...

@antares - I read your Brainbox review. And no, you aren't an idiot. Your review is deliberate.

You notice I said "probably" people who post 1 star reviews are idiots, not "definitely."

So ... are all opinions supportable?

Yours are. So are mine. I believe everyones' should be.

A 1-star review means that the reviewer hated the piece.

But is the piece worthy of hate?

I believe we all should think long and hard about that.

I say "Don't sell crap."

Well put. Your entire post was well put.

Joe Konrath said...

I chose not to publish my review on Amazon, because I did not want to adversely affect the work's rating with an opinion by a reader who does not regularly read horror stories.

Now you've just become one of the most intelligent strangers I've ever encountered on the Internet. Wow. That's damn impressive.

If only everyone else was this deliberate.

Joe Konrath said...

Thumbs up on the drunken trolls link. Makes sense to me.


Anonymous Alcoholics

Joe Konrath said...

Her writing was secondary to the way she butchered her plot, betrayed her own rules and just about spoiled everything else she built up in the previous books.

This is a deliberate review. You're not an idiot. :)

Joe Konrath said...

I liked Ishtar. It's lonely on my side of the fence.

Telling the truth can be dangerous business. Honest and popular don't go hand in hand. If I were to tell you I played the accordion. You wouldn't hire me for a rock n roll band.

And oddly appropriate song for a movie that I also liked. I own the one sheet. So there. ;)

Joe Konrath said...

I thought it was thought-provoking, which I'm assuming was your point in the first place.

On the nose.

TK Kenyon said...

Sing it, brother!

TK Kenyon

Joe Konrath said...

If I give out a review, I do my best to explain what worked and what didn't, with (non-spoiler) examples to back it up.

You're deliberate, and not the type of person this post is describing.

Joe Konrath said...

Joe, you're catching it. :)

I knew I would. I'm a big boy and can take it. I felt strongly enough about this issue to accept the widespread scorn it will provoke in those who don't fully think things through.

That's okay. They wouldn't have gotten it anyway, even if I toned down the snark.

And giving a novel one star because you think the price (12.99 set by the publisher) is too high when other e-books run 2.99 to 4.99 is absolutely stupid.

I agree. It's unfair to the author and the book.

But...

Civil disobedience has been shown to influence positive change. In the case of the $9.99 boycott, customers are showing the publishers, authors, and retailers what they want. It's foolish not to listen.

Joe Konrath said...

They can warn away readers who have the same mindset.

That is a provocative point, and I agree.

But in many cases, the "same mindset" is equal to "people who talk without thinking."

Kari Wolfe said...

Joe, of course people review without thinking -- some people go with their gut instinct: did they like it? Did they not like it? That's what most people think reviews are for. Some people can't explain why they liked something or not. Some people just don't want to take the time to write it all down -- they just want to say yay or nay. It happens.

Does that mean they're an idiot? I'm inclined to say no, it doesn't. Does it make them LOOK like idiots? It most definitely does, in my eyes. But it doesn't mean that they are idiots.

For the most part, I agree with you, but I think you're not taking all the possibilities into consideration. When someone is asked to write a review, most people think that whether they like the book or not is the majority of what they're expected to write.

And others just simply don't care. They didn't like it, therefore it gets one star because, well, they didn't like it.

But I agree that everything a person does should be done deliberately. However I'm also aware that not everyone does that.

Joe Konrath said...

Joe, do you have any thoughts on whether great star ratings matter,

I believe star ratings indeed matter. They're a subconscious signal to buy or not buy.

Luckily, time is the great equalizer. If you've written a deliberate story, eternity is a long time to find that core readership who appreciates it. Just keep at it.

Joe Konrath said...

Don't give up your good work, and I really like the "unexamined life" quote.

Thanks. It was some dead Greek guy.

Some 1 star reviews are no doubt envy based. A lot of trolls on this blog have textbook envy issues, but I don't bring that up because it makes me look like a pompous egomaniac.

Don't get me wrong. I am a pompous egomaniac. But there is no advantage to announcing that constantly. ;P

Joe Konrath said...

Does that mean they're an idiot? I'm inclined to say no, it doesn't. Does it make them LOOK like idiots? It most definitely does, in my eyes. But it doesn't mean that they are idiots.

Several people have made some great points, this one included.

I'll respond by saying that all we have to go on is perception. If it looks like a goat, acts like a goat, and smells like a goat, I'll call it a goat. Ditto idiots.

If you're an idiot, or look like an idiot, don't review things. Just like if you can't cook you need to stay out of the kitchen.

But most people aren't self-aware enough to do this.

Joe Konrath said...

I don't believe, in 650 blog posts, that I've ever replied this much to comments.

Perhaps it speaks to my level of commitment on this issue.

Edward M. Grant said...

Those who paid for it gave it an average higher rating than those who got it for free.

That may explain a lot. I've downloaded dozens of free ebooks in genres that I don't normally read, so there's a greater than normal chance that I won't like them when I do.

Of course I wouldn't give them a one-star review just because I don't normally read the genre. But I'm sure plenty of people do.

PJ Lincoln said...

I tend to agree with Scott Nicholson on this point.

Thus far, I've only published one short and have priced it at 99 cents. I have a 20K word novella I will publish within a month - which I've invested a fair amount of time and money in writing, rewriting, having cover art, formatting and editing done for me.

The value of this work should be more than 99 cents, but I most likely will use that price point because I am, obviously, an unknown writer/author.

From my perspective, it's a double-edged sword. Do I price cheap in hopes of attracting readers and risk more negative reviews, or price at $1.99 or $2.99 and make fewer sales, but hopefully get better reviews?

Nancy Beck said...

Ingpark said: And giving a novel one star because you think the price (12.99 set by the publisher) is too high when other e-books run 2.99 to 4.99 is absolutely stupid. Don't people know that authors have nothing to do with that? And that it has nothing to do with the quality of the novel?

Might as well join in the fun. :-)

This burns me up, too, and trying to explain to the reviewer is like talking to a brick wall. So I usually fight back the only way I can: I click the Report Inappropriate Post thingie and let Amazon know.

Don't know if it actually works, but I figure it's worth a shot.

palavering said...

In order for a novel to be a good novel, it has to have the following: Theme, Plot, Characterization, and style. Missing any one of these ingredients is a failure on the writer's part, IMO.

J.M.Cornwell said...

In order for a novel to be a good novel, it has to have the following: Theme, Plot, Characterization, and style. Missing any one of these ingredients is a failure on the writer's part, IMO.

I do not agree. You can have all those elements, but use them wrong or completely disregard the basics of writing, and good writing, and still fail. It's not that you have dotted all the Is and crossed all the Ts, but that you did it in way that actually tells a story that makes the difference. Get it wrong and tell me a story and I'll forgive you. But get it wrong and fail to tell a story and you've lost my vote.

Joe Konrath said...

At my wife's insistence, since she likes it when anonymous trolls get stupid, I've turned back on anonymous posting.

Matching Socks said...

My name is LeNore Merritt.

You made some excellent points. With affordable reading material on Amazon I have purchased outside my preferred reading genre. I think others must do the same. I think that does contribute to lower ratings. I have been guilty of that.

I don't read the Amazon reviews anymore because many of those people are mean and hateful!

I do value one star reviews as a reader (I'm not a writer). I read reviews before I purchase a hardback book. Right there in the bookstore I look up goodreads and get some intel. I only read the one and two star reviews. I know what the five star reviews will say. What I want to know is, does the book have stuff I won't like. It is easy to disregard most of the one stars, they don't like the book for unspecified reasons. Most of the time, the reasons listed in the one stars are not sufficient to dissuade me from making the purchase. Sometimes they reference certain types of content and that is a big help to me.

If we all did as you have suggested, and gave articulate well thought out reviews, reviews in general would be much more useful. Thanks for the food for thought.

Heath said...

Joe, this is a brilliant post, and the number of negative responses pretty much proves it. People don't like to be called out for their knee-jerk reactions; logic and reason are rare commodities that everyone seems to think they possess, but few actually do. Many of the negative responses here focus on one particular thing or another, taking it out of context, and that indicates what? More knee-jerk responses.

Nancy Beck said...

@PJ Lincoln said, "The value of this work should be more than 99 cents, but I most likely will use that price point because I am, obviously, an unknown writer/author."

I've had a novella up (since July 2), and I have it priced at $2.99. I don't think I've sold any as yet, but that's okay; I'm in this for the long haul (with the next novella in the series coming out in September).

Pay yourself what you're worth; don't shortchange yourself. :-) (And check out the Think Like a Publisher series on Dean Wesley Smith's site as to pricing; that's how I've decided to price my stuff.

Joe Konrath said...

logic and reason are rare commodities that everyone seems to think they possess, but few actually do

Heh. Too true.

It's like 90% of drivers believing they are above average. Obviously there is some delusion going on.

To quote one of my favorite sages, Dirty Harry: "A man has got to know his limitations."

Buddy Gott said...

Great posting, Joe!

One thing that always sort of baffles me is how I see so many 1-star reviews of books that people obviously hate.

My question is always: Why in the world would you read an entire book that you despised?

I know very early on in the reading of a book whether or not I hate it. If there's nothing there that's got me wanting to keep turning the pages, then I simply stop reading it.

If I do that, I'm not going to review the book, because I don't feel right posting a review of a book that I didn't read in its entirety.

But that's me. To each their own.

P.S. - I'm also someone who loves Ishtar. Totally underrated movie!

Burritoclock said...

Typically I only review a book that I absolutely love. So I give it 5 stars and move on to the next book. I'm not a critic, I have no desire to explain why I liked something to people I'll never meet or be able to discuss the book with. But when I really really enjoy something I want to make sure and help the author with a 5 star review.

Maybe that makes me an idiot but, eh. I have thought about these looking like family reviews on books that have few reviews. Then I over think it and try to make it sound legit by criticizing something. Well, F them, from now on it's 5 stars and "Loved it, great book!"

motherearthseries said...

The pixels are mightier …

If Joe had phrased his Foxworthyesque comments like this, "If you wrote a one-star review, you acted like an idiot," I don't think as many people would have reacted so strongly to the post. "Acted like" and "are" — two very different things. We've all acted like idiots on occasion, does that make us idiots?

Deliberate.

Joe wanted people to think, consider, get emotional, then pause and think again about why they got emotional about the post. Many don't get that far.

I will argue with one point however. I believe that "most" self published authors have been deliberate in what they've written. Meaning that they chose a path to follow and did so to the best of their ability, but where many fail is in lacking technical knowledge of writing, grammar and punctuation, and not having someone who is familiar with those things look over their work before they push their pixels onto the Internet. Most works I've read, whether traditionally published or not, have had some mistakes in them, but "self published" has earned its reputation of crap from those works which are riddled with mistakes.

Joe may argue that these people weren't deliberate because they didn't take that extra step to have their work vetted. I guess my response is that maybe there are degrees of deliberation.

Joe Konrath said...

I guess my response is that maybe there are degrees of deliberation.

I agree.

It's very easy for newbie authors to post work that they believe is ready. One of the things my buddy Lee Goldberg is correct about is that the old gatekeeping system of legacy publishing did ensure a base level of competency.

It's difficult to be self-aware about one's own work. I call this Ugly Baby Syndrome. We love what we create and have a hard time being objective.

So all writers should have others vet their manuscripts. If you really start looking at why you wrote a chapter, a sentence, a word, you'll only get better. A lot of newbies haven't reached this point yet, and are doing themselves a disservice by publishing too early.

Rex Kusler said...

If you wonder where all those reviews come from, next time you're in a crowded room, take a look around.

Tyson Adams said...

Hi Joe,

I tend to agree with your post, people do tend to have opinions without any real basis for them. Yet this lack of basis, or understanding or their opinion, doesn't stop them from expressing it and arguing it fiercely.

Although I don't necessarily agree that things can't suck. I agree "suck" is largely subjective, but lets face the fact that the "subjective suck" refers to a professional piece of media. There is plenty of unprofessional media that could be objectively denoted "sucks".

I've given out 1 star reviews, but always with my reasons for doing so. Don't worry though, still a fan. Sometimes people have to have the question asked "So why do you hold that opinion?" Amazing how often people can't answer that.

Cheers, Tim.

Rasputin said...

I am astonished at the negative feedback here though perhaps I shouldn't be.

I was immediately reminded of my favorite passage from Elements of Style:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

I am also reminded of an essay writing technique I learned in a history class long ago. Go through the essay paragraph by paragraph. For each paragraph summarize it in one sentence. If you can't do this then the paragraph is either not a full paragraph or is more than one paragraph mashed together.

Then you go through paragraph by paragraph and state in one sentence the purpose of the paragraph in the essay. If you can't do that then why is it in there?

This is pretty clearly designed for essays rather than fiction but I was wondering if you have ever done something similar with fiction?

Stephen Prosapio said...

So you're saying the person who called Serial "discusting" is an idiot?!?!??!

LMAOOOOOO! If there's one thing I love more as a writer than a great review, it's a bad review that completely proves the reviewer an idiot. My work is not to be read by the brainless.

Rebecca Stroud said...

Re: If you've ever given a one-star review to anything, you're probably an idiot...

The other night I started a novel written by a fairly well-known author, published by one of the Big 6.

I got no further than Chapter One before the book got trashed, literally, for the following reasons:

1) Twin-girls had blonde hair on one page; red hair on the next.
2) Teen-ager was from Ohio in one paragraph; from Indiana on the next.
3) Odd words were capitalized for no rhyme or reason.
4) The scenes jumped from one page to another with no rhyme or reason.

So, using your logic, should this book NOT have received a 1-star review (even that would've been gratuitous)? Or are the reasons stated "deliberate" enough?

My point is: Even if I'd have posted a review, I was so disgusted by this pathetic piece of junk that I wouldn't have wasted my time to elaborate. So does that make me an idiot if I simply said, "This book sucks big time"?

IMHO, I think you used an extremely broad brush in this post and, consequently, painted over what could've been some sound points.

N.R. Wick said...

Being deliberate is so important because nothing chaps my ass more than careless storytelling, or in the case of reviews: careless opinion.

It's interesting how this post is lighting an angry fire in some people and, in turn, they may be missing the point. For anyone who thinks you're writing this because you got one too many 1 star reviews, well, they may have proved your point a little. Especially because we don't have to know you personally to see that getting 1 star reviews is not something that would get you worked up or push you enough to write a whole blog post about it. Anyone who's read enough of this blog should be able to see that. I mean, really.

I DO think I know what sparked this post, though, and I wonder if having an idea of where it's coming from helped me understand what you are saying for what it is rather than what hasty conclusions can be formed from it.

As for the idiot list, well, I may be guilty of some of them. Does it make me an idiot? Perhaps. But, I'm not going to write a nasty comment about how you're totally wrong and generalizing and blah blah blah. Maybe some people are just too sensitive and can't control themselves?

Thanks for the interestingly timed post!

Joe Konrath said...

I was wondering if you have ever done something similar with fiction?

I tend to write very sparse prose, and as a result, my books have more things happen in them in 300 pages than other 300 page books.

That said, I reread my work many times before it goes live, with an eye on "is this word/sentence/scene really necessary?"

If I'm ably to justify it, it stays.

Joe Konrath said...

So does that make me an idiot if I simply said, "This book sucks big time"?

Yes. But if you'd gone into detail explaining why you think the book sucks, then you're being deliberate.

1) Twin-girls had blonde hair on one page; red hair on the next.
2) Teen-ager was from Ohio in one paragraph; from Indiana on the next.
3) Odd words were capitalized for no rhyme or reason.
4) The scenes jumped from one page to another with no rhyme or reason.


Adding these points to a review means you're being deliberate. It also shows how important these things are to you, and explains your 1 star rating.

But I'd also say that some people might not let these things get in the way of what they think is a good story. Perhaps the overall impact is more important than some incorrect facts, and people can overlook minutiae for the bigger picture.

If we can defend our opinions with logic and examples, we're being deliberate.

Stephen Prosapio said...

Joe,
I think this is the kind of 1-star review you're referring to. It's my only 1-star review in my now year plus of thousands of sales. I'll cherish it.


"This review is from: Dream War (Kindle Edition)
This book is just awful - by which I mean it just stinks.

If you like Dean Koontz, Stephen King et al, you'll probably enjoy it. But to have this rubbish recommended along side Neal Asher, Richard Morgan and Terry Pratchett is like fries and custard.

I want my 5 train trips back!"

Joe Konrath said...

As for the idiot list, well, I may be guilty of some of them.

I'm also guilty of some of them. But I'm trying more and more to catch myself when I act without thinking.

It's like Sam Jackson at the end of Pulp Fiction. "I'm trying, real hard, to be the shepherd."

Heather said...

Meb Bryant said: "I understand your frustrations over the one star ratings. It's a cowardly way to express an opinion of an author's novel, especially a complimentary copy."

Especially a complimentary copy? So, you think that getting a copy as a freebie/review copy should influence a reader/reviewer's publicly expressed opinion? You know, the worry that this would happen is exactly why reviewers are now required to say in reviews when they received a copy for free---so readers can be aware that the reviewer might be biased by the freebie. Most of us work extremely hard to make it clear that our reviews and ratings can't be bought, and now you're saying they SHOULD be? Seriously?

*headdesk*

Joe Konrath said...

Here's something else I should have said in the post: How often does you opinion change?

I've seen movies that I disliked, watched them again a few years later, and wound up liking them.

Who is right? The me from a while ago, or the current me?

Some things can grow on you. Conversely, you can outgrow some things.

If you've ever changed your mind about something, be wary of criticizing.

J. Viser said...

Hey Joe - In general it has been my experience that the majority of people in the world are highly opinionated without knowing the "why."

Knee-jerk reactions aren't something new, but what is new is that the Internet. Online communications gives "idiots" the ability to spout in real time without repurcussions. It is highly satisfying for emotionally-centered people to rip on someone from the safety of your own computer screen.

I do appreciate your focus in this post on analyzing the "why." How many of our opinions and thoughts are pre-programmed reactions based on our particular ideology, fears, hang-ups, addictions, habits, assumptions, greed, occupation, family background, etc? These are all potential sources of mental and emotional traps we create for ourselves. If these traps control us, then indeed we are "idiots," because we are no longer thinking for ourselves.

If someone is truly free from individual weakness and able to form an opinion from a position of the strength of his or her character, then they'll make a good review.

Otherwise, we're just stuck with a bunch of idiots.

Joe Konrath said...

Most of us work extremely hard to make it clear that our reviews and ratings can't be bought, and now you're saying they SHOULD be? Seriously?

I don't want to speak for the commenter, but my take is that expectations can influence opinion. Which they do. It's a scientific fact. We ascribe value to things before experiencing them, and it does effect the experience.

The Hiesenberg Uncertainty Principal in action. You can't observe something without changing it.

Joe Konrath said...

How many of our opinions and thoughts are pre-programmed reactions based on our particular ideology, fears, hang-ups, addictions, habits, assumptions, greed, occupation, family background, etc? These are all potential sources of mental and emotional traps we create for ourselves. If these traps control us, then indeed we are "idiots," because we are no longer thinking for ourselves.

Well said.

Robert Carraher said...

I write book reviews and therefore I am a critic. When I started writin reviews 2 or three years ago I siad I would never write a negative review because, well, if I disliked a book that badly, I'd never finish it to be qualified to review it as crap. Put another way, momma told me, "If you don't have anything nice to say...."

My first reviews, in retrospect are crap. All I did was say, "wow, nice book" in so many different ways. I didn't analyize "why" it was good or appealed to me. So I set out to learn how to write a review. I learned it was alright to say you didn't like a book, but if and when you did, you needed to understand and write "Why". Same if you loved it. I just published a 3 Star, and my critisism was that "I like my thrillers and crime fiction realistic", and I like them this way because I am may be getting old. I also stated I like my character developement to happen quicker, and I don't like too many loose ends. Then I said, BUT the story worked because the pace was breath taking the characters eventually engaging and I'd read the second in the trilogy just to find out where it went. I also stated that readers who liked novels laid out in a Graphic Novel kind of way would probably love it and even compared it to Frank Millers "Sin City" a movie tho it isn't classical noir - my genre of choice, I always watch when I get a chance.

Now, I think I did my job (not that I get paid for this, but if choose to write, then it's my job to write what I feel)by 'rating it' by my standards, and stating plainly why I didn't like it, and also ballancing it with why it may have value for other readers. I hope I am not an idiot.

Richard C. Rogers said...

Good blog, and good discussion. I agree with Joe about 90% here.

Many people believe that their taste coincides with objective reality. They say "This is a good book," or "This is not a good book," and think they have captured a universal truth as long as they have their reasons. (I don't care for Lady Gaga, and I have my reasons--but I don't mind if others lover her. Let them. Enjoy.)

If you like it, it's good--for you. If you don't like it, that doesn't mean it isn't good for someone else. I didn't care for Twilight, but I'm glad my daughter enjoyed the series. JK Rowling and Dan Brown take a lot of hits, but I have enjoyed their books, and hope they write more.

Read what you like. And if you really don't like it, give it 1 star (the point where I disagree with Joe). Just be sure to write "I didn't care for it," not "It wasn't good." Only one of those statements has a chance of being true.

gniz said...

Joe,

It does seem that you've back-tracked ever so slightly, until I read your posting and noticed that you deliberately did not say that it was improper to ever give a one star review.

Funny that I thought you did...

Was that part of the point?

BTW, my novella SNUFFED has only two reviews. One was a four-star review that had some fair criticism. The other was a brutal one-star review that didn't give any reasoning, but said they'd like another book of mine and were really disappointed by SNUFFED. My sales for the novella have drastically diminished since the 1-star review, and it saddens me that someone who clearly realized I put some amount of effort into my work still torpedoed it that way...

Anonymous said...

"Are we really that stupid? Is consideration a quaint gesture from a time long past? Has it become so easy to criticize and dismiss that it has become second nature?"

Sadly, Joe. The answer to your question is "Yes!" Human beings seem to be more and more mean-spirited these days. And lots of those ridiculous disgusting cowards use the Internet and Amazon to spew their hatred for their own miserable lives upon talented hardworking authors. Why? Because they can. And because they want to ruin someone else's life...and their writing career.

You are 100% right, Joe. And I hope you will use any influence that you have with Amazon to bring about change, regarding their review system. Such change is more than overdue. Writers should be able to publish in a much less negative environment than the one we have now.

Ellen Fisher said...

"It's a slippery slope, and a lot of subjective gray area.

"Yes, there are some books that don't meet the minimum requirements of narrative structure, or lack craft. These books aren't deliberate. But do they really deserve 1 star? Are you sure they won't appeal to someone, somewhere?"

IMHO, just because they might "appeal to someone, somewhere" doesn't mean they don't deserve one star. A one-star review is MY opinion-- I don't think I'm obligated to take into account the possible opinion of every reader everywhere before I post the review.

That being said, I do agree that it would be nice if reviews were well-written and detailed about what's right and wrong with the book. But there are plenty of readers out there who just post a thought or two, and those reviews might have validity, too. I don't think I agree that someone's review has to be thoughtful, extensive, and detailed to have value.

carl brookins said...

Fascinating. esp. the comments. Stars, many or few, are relatively useless without some justification. That, of course, requires thoughtful deliberation. I'd not use stars at all, if that was an option. Labeling those who engage in idiotic actions as "idiots," will guarantee reactions, especially from some who may fit the description. Dare I assume that was a deliberate act?

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

And giving a novel one star because you think the price (12.99 set by the publisher) is too high when other e-books run 2.99 to 4.99 is absolutely stupid.

I agree. It's unfair to the author and the book.


Speaking of unfair to the author and the book, here's my favorite moron one-star review from one of my own books.

"This review is from: Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture

This seems to be a great book and just what I've been looking for in terms of content.

The bad news is the printing. The subject headings, images, note boxes, and in some cases entire pages are printed with an incorrect offset so that everything appears blurry. Spending any time trying to read these pages will literally give you a headache because of the print. In some cases it is so far off you can see the red lines distinct and outside the blue."

I posted a response and told the person I'd make it right if he or she would send me his or her contact information. I'd have signed a copy and mailed it to the person, but I got no response.

Asphodelia said...

Possibly the best post you have ever written, Joe. I'm not a writer but I love reading and write reviews on Amazon, Goodreads etc (wrote one for 'Origin' and one for 'Shaken', under nickname 'Esofagus' on Amazon UK). It drives me crazy to see how the morons just dismiss a book, film or album just by sheer laziness. Because they couldn't make the effort to at least figure out WHY they didn't like it. The idiot cannot be articulate but they can still shout, unfortunately.

Adam Pepper said...

I know I'm guilty of this sometimes. "American Idol is for morons." "Only an idiot would watch Jersey Shore." "You dont like Cormac McCarthy? Probably because you're too stupid...stick to Konrath."

I dont think it makes me an idiot, but it is a bit arrogant to think my taste is somehow better than others. It's a fairly common trait, but not an attractive one.

But I love Cormac McCarthy. Try him again in a couple years, Joe. Maybe the Joe a few years from now will like it.

W. Dean said...

1. I see your point when it comes to confusing taste with the objective standards of writing, though deliberateness is not the criterion to use. After all, if I write a novel that is supposed to be funny and no one laughs, is it funny because I meant it to be? If I sit down and deliberately write the Great American Novel (perhaps entitled, “This is the Great American Novel”), are my lights alone enough to make it so?

I think the answer in these cases is “no.” Between subjective taste and intention is execution: it’s not just what you intended to do, it’s how you do it. You acknowledged this point when you mentioned newbie writers and their mistakes, which are really mistakes of execution (like starting out a story with the weather or using adverbs to intensify adjectives that don’t need intensifying).

2. I agree that one-star reviews based on taste are unfair. But it’s often the case that one- and two-star reviews are the accurate ones, especially when it comes to non-fiction, because they’re written by people who actually know something.

I’ve given half a dozen one-star reviews to non-fiction books because they were (a) misleading, low-quality spam, (b) repackaged public domain material for a premium price, or (c) political cant dressed up as impartial information. I expect it would be fair to do the same for some of the fiction I’ve read, though I have not bothered reviewing any on Amazon.

3. Invoking the subjective character of taste cuts both ways: if one man’s book is above reproach, so is another man’s opinion about it. So the general principle doesn’t allow a defense of one without providing an excuse for the other.

dsobkowiak said...

I can see from a more Buddhist perspective that the deliberateness of something is important. You must be deliberate in your breathing, just as you should be purposeful in your actions.

Knee-jerk reactions are not deliberate, but neither is thoughtless commentary about individual's opinion.

One cannot say that all opinions are valid and then say that some are less valid. The two statements are a contradiction.

I think I understand the basis of what you are saying in this post, but I think Wil Wheaton said it best when he espoused:"Don't be a dick.:

Imogen Rose said...

I don't always agree with you, but this post is spot on.

Joe Konrath said...

One cannot say that all opinions are valid and then say that some are less valid. The two statements are a contradiction.

In the context of my explanation, my intent was to say that opinions are certainly valid for the individual, but they don't necessarily translate to a universal objective truth to the work the opinion is about.

V. J. Chambers said...

This is my first response on this blog, but this post really struck me when I read it last night. I'm only now able to get here to respond.

Especially, it was this bit:
If you're a human being, make sure you truly understand why you say and do the things you say and do. An unexamined life ain't worth living. And an unexamined life that tweets or posts reviews on Amazon is a big waste of carbon. And oxygen.

I teach high school English, and I think these few sentences pretty much sum up all of my frustration with teaching right there.

While it makes a bit more sense for teenagers than adults to be struggling to examine themselves and their opinions since they are young people, it's frustrating to not be able to ignite a spark of inspiration in young people to actually be interested in themselves and their own opinions. I often wonder what separates people who do examine their own opinions and change them from people who don't. In my own experience, it seems the people who don't are often poorer and less motivated students. I don't know if it comes down to fear (as someone mentioned somewhere else) or laziness or lack of skills or what.

It's odd to connect this to a larger population of people besides high school students, and it's a little troubling.

As a final note, I do think that some reviews really can be a work of art in themselves, but only if they are deliberate. I have to admit that personally, the deliberate reviews that are the most fun for me are generally negative. For instance Red Letter Media's complete dismantling of the Star Wars prequels. Of course, you can't get much more deliberate than that. Each of the reviews are nearly as long as the movies themselves. I'm not sure why I end up digging the negative reviews more. Maybe I'm just attracted to really well done scathing remarks.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Joe.

Joe Konrath said...

Just saw this tweet:

"When I see an author attacking readers like @jakonrath did it makes me not want to read them in case I don't like it."

I didn't respond directly precisely because my post was NOT about attacking readers. It was generalizing some 1 star reviewers as idiots because they aren't paying close attention.

I could point out this tweeter wasn't paying close attention if they think I'm attacking people.

It's perfectly valid to not like something. But be aware what about it you don't like, and be able to defend it. People should be able to use logic and sense to defend everything they say, and every opinion and belief they have. Or else they're a waste of carbon.

Reread what antares said in the comments.

Al MacDiarmid said...

OK, so when we select an ID in the comments, we get Google, OpenID, Name/URL and Anonymous. There has been more than one occasion when the ONLY one that worked for me was the last one, Anon. Lately it has seemed a lot better and the Google has been working, but one never knows when it is going to work or not. Should I post my name in the body in case the thing ends up in Anon or should I just forget the comment and cancel it if it gets down to Anon being the only choice? Al in Bardstown, KY (I know, more information than you wanted!)

J. R. Tomlin said...

Joe let me try to examine your thinking here:

If I honestly think a story is so bad that it rates a 1-star review, then I should lieA in my review, because someone, somewhere might have a different opinion and like it.

Yes, my opinion is subjective. By definition, that is what ALL reviews (and opinions) are. 5-star reviews are just as subjective, yet you aren't saying not to give those.

Hmmmmm....

I'm afraid I don't agree. I think I should give my honest opinion and they should give theirs. If I give your story a 1-star review for being too violent, fans of violent stories may just decide that is a selling point. Potential readers will get a range of opinions and make up their minds whether to buy or not.

That is, in fact, supposed to be the point of reviews.

Rebecca Stroud said...

Re: If you've ever called someone a name without any provocation, you're probably an idiot...

Well, Joe, since you said I was an idiot and I didn't provoke you (other than my rhetorical question about leaving a review), I suppose that means we both should stamp our foreheads with a scarlet "I"..:-))

Al MacDiarmid said...

I have read where people sometimes give a one star review for a book that is priced higher than their clipping level. Maybe the idiots in your case think free is too high price to pay for your story. Serial is the first book of yours that I had read, and it got me hooked on your writing so I have read others since.

Joe Konrath said...

Yes, my opinion is subjective. By definition, that is what ALL reviews (and opinions) are.

But not all opinions are deliberate. Hence the title of this blog post. ;)

I think I should give my honest opinion and they should give theirs.

I agree. But know exactly why you like or dislike something, and be able to defend it. Hence the point of this post.

Al MacDiarmid said...

I rarely read the one star reviews on books but I do read them on the publishers or distributors because I don't want to get cheated and people who feel they got cheated by the store write one star reviews. On the other hand if the word "loose" in place of "lose" appears in the first sentence, I just delete and go on, because I figure the opinion of someone who is ignorant is not worth my attention. This applies to all the common mistakes of grammar as well. I recently read a 13 word comment that had two grammatical errors. Now that one was an idiot IMHO,

Joe Konrath said...

Well, Joe, since you said I was an idiot

Nope. I said as long as you're deliberate, you aren't an idiot.

jack said...

What I have come to realize is that only those who have a problem voice their opinions, well, for the most part that is.

You do not see a whole lot of people leave a long worded review of a product, and give it a perfect score. There are always flaws that they like to shine a light on.

Some people are just so insecure with their own faults, that they need to make yours out to be enormous, so they can feel better about themselves. And there is no better place to bash people without consequences than the internet.

I look at several things when I shop for a book:

1.) The cover
2.) The product description
3.) The date of publication
4.) The sales rank
5.) The reviews

In that order. I give very little stock to anyone's opinion except mine on what books I will enjoy. Because I know that most reviews will only tell me what your insecurities are.

Jack

Derek J. Canyon said...

Probably like most authors, I can't help but cringe when I see one-star reviews for my work. I’m pleased that out of 45 Amazon reviews for my 5 books, I’ve only received one 1-star.

However, I believe that some low rating reviews can be helpful.

For example, I agree with a 2-star rating of my Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance novel when it said the book was cynical. The book is cynical, that was deliberate. In this particular case, I think that 2-star review is helpful to my book. How?


1. It prevents other people who don’t like cynical content from buying the book and giving me more low ratings because of it.

2. It attracts people who do like cynical content.

I also think that there are many good 1-star reviews on Amazon that are helpful not only to the author, but other writers as well. Go check out the ones for Fablehaven or Twilight or whatever genre you write in. I think it actually helps my writing to read those 1-star reviews.

I don’t believe that the behavior of the reviewer community will ever change. Some people will always give unhelpful 1-star reviews. There is no legislation defining 1-star review parameters. So complaining about 1-star reviews is not a good use of my time. Instead, I seek out and read well-written 1-star reviews and try to learn from them.

Adventures in ePublishing

Russell Blake said...

I have read countless books that butcher story, style, language, and every other measure of the writer's craft - with incredible deliberation.

These deliberately-crafted junkers are, for lack of a better word, bad. They are bad on an objective level, as well as subjective. Bad because they mangle rules of usage and style, bad because they are cliche-ridden or poorly articulated, bad because they are clumsy and unskilled storytelling, and bad because you put them down after a few pages or chapters, preferring to slam yourself in the head with a brick than continue for one more paragraph.

I agree that those who don't think, or can't think well, will spout their opinions as though they are in great demand. I've also read incredibly deliberate, and wrong, treatments on an infinite variety of subjects. Think Keynesian economics, or treatises on homeopathy, or social engineering, or many medical truths that turned out to be false. Deliberation doesn't necessarily equate to quality or validity, just as spontaneous reaction doesn't necessarily equate to idiocy.

My point is that there is a bell curve in everything. Including one star reviews. Most will fall in the middle. Some will be well-reasoned, some will be "Yur all stoopeds," and most will be a vote that your work wasn't good, in the opinion of the reader. You can deconstruct the reader, and demand support for their disliking your work, but that's not how the world operates. You put you work out there, some like it (for whatever reason), some dislike it (in my work's case, because my critics are all asshats with sub-custodial reasoning capabilities and a chip on their miserable shoulders), and some don't really care.

Some things are empirically bad, and provably so. The Yugo comes to mind. Most british cars. Cheap tequila. They are measurable as being sub-standard, thus knowable as such. The problem with art is it is mostly subjective. And when you swim in subjective waters, you have to be willing to take your hits. It's just the game.

Fortunately, I am lucky enought to be beloved by all who purchase my fine work, thus don't have to contend with these issues. Until the miserable f#ckwads who are jealous of me troll by to one star books they never read, at which point I'll probably agree with you.

S.E. Gordon said...

Oh, come on. Are you saying that you wouldn't want to read Me & My Boogers: An Epic Love Story???

Robert Carraher said...

Raymond Chandler said it best, "Good critical writing is measured by the perception and evaluation of the subject; bad critical writing by the necessity of maintaining the professional standing (or ego) of the critic.”

Nicki Lynn Justice said...

Hey Joe!

Loved your post - as always!

You're right about the "mean trait" growing. That makes me sad.

Your comment that a person who knows they are an idiot isn't really an idiot pretty much says it all. There seems to be an expanding group of mean-spirited people out there who are idiots. But no matter how big the road signs are, they will never see it. Therefore, they will never change. And they will never know how much better their lives could have been.

So yeah, people who are willing to take that extra step to give someone a helping hand, or even just a smile, are gems!

Thanks for all the great advice, and for caring enough to say what needs to be said. Too bad the "idiots" are too dense to get it. Applause to those that aren't really idiots who make a positive change in their lives.


Nicki Lynn Justice

Katherine Owen said...

Deliberate. Deliberation. Deliberating. I like that, Joe. My opinion seems to match yours. The collective "we" sometimes, including myself, does not always take the time to deliberate before reacting or responding. It could be construed that even passing out 1-star reviews serves as more of as a virtual lash-out than anything else.

John Locke's view on these things is simply that 1, 2, and 3 star reviews (a 3 being a neutral zone; that doesn't mean much either way) indicates they are not part of your core no more than a clear indication that these readers--NOU--not one of us, as Mr. Locke puts it). His take on reviews helps me in when it comes to reviews and people's opinions of my work. It seems to dovetail with your take on utilizing deliberation in your writing and putting thought and deliberation before uttering a single word. Nicely done!

Thanks for the great post.

Robert Carraher said...

Russell Blake, got to agree with you on "butcher story, style, language, and every other measure of the writer's craft - with incredible deliberation.

These deliberately-crafted junkers are, for lack of a better word, bad. " I am reminded of henry miller and sentences that go on for pages, e.e. cummings and lack of capital letters, James Ellroys latter works where he uses too much slang, and not enough verbs....dreadfully crafted stuff ;-)

John D said...

But we need to own our opinions, like we own our words.

"You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant."
— Harlan Ellison

Steve said...

While I agree with everything you've said today, I'm even more pleased to read that someone despised the novel Hannibal just as much as I did.

The movie wasn't bad though . . .

Russell Blake said...

Robert Carraher:

I'm willing to bet that all those you mentioned understood the rules, and deliberately chose to disregard them for effect. One of my favorites, and a master at doing this, was David Foster Wallace.

No, I'm describing poorly executed storytelling with clunky or illiterate sentences, where every one of Strunk & White's sensible avisos are ignored out of ignorance.

It's OK to break rules, IMO, if you know what the rules are, why they're there, and you do so for an improved effect or for stylistic reasons. But too many simply write badly. Again, it's a bell curve. Most will fall in the middle. As in, average. Some will be bad. Some will be stunningly brilliant. As with all things.

Now back to work on Beaver Team Bravo - When building dams and gnawing down trees isn't enough, & this time it's personal. My audience awaits...

J. Tanner said...

Based on your additional commentary, it seems the actual star rating must be entirely irrelevant to the larger point. People are tied of in the idea that you're calling people writing 1-star reviews idiots, but a 3-star review that nothing more than "meh, it's okay" is equaly idiotic. As is a 5-star review that's "This book ROX!"

In hindsight, it might have been even more clever/provacative/(deliberate?) to call out the 5-star reviews without substance. :)

Anyway, the thing that prompted me to write is something you only said in the comments. You wrote a 1-star review of a Harris book. That's interesting. The fact that you'd write a review at all seems to swim against the stream. Personally, the moment I took up writing I found it unseemly to participate in being critical of my "peers" (though I consider myself a reasonably skilled hobbyist vs a pro--semantics mostly.) I've got no problem sharing what I like publicly, but I wouldn't even consider posting negative public reviews of books because of the peer issue and also because dwelling on things I don't enjoy seems petty.

If you want to be a critic, it's your job and you do it. Value can be found there when articulated well. But I've never felt like partaking in and also criticising an artistic medium was a good decision.

Your thoughts?

S.E. Gordon said...

But writing crap is so much fun!

Kippoe said...

Great post I have been ridiculed for enjoying movies and books others have thought was just stupid to them. If I read a book,listen to an album, or see a movie that I feel passionate about I write a review.

I do not have time to write about something I did not like. If I did not like it thats not saying the next person wont like it.

The word Critic has such negative undertones to it I like to think that i'm sharing my likes with others and hopefully turn them onto something they will enjoy.

Joe Konrath said...

Personally, the moment I took up writing I found it unseemly to participate in being critical of my "peers"

Me too. I give a lot of my peers 5 star reviews, because I enjoy their work and I want to support them. But I don't post negative reviews.

Hannibal was written before I landed a book deal. I wouldn't have written the review if I'd been published.

That said, I did change it from 1 star to 2 stars. Deleting the review would be hypocritical, but much as I disliked the book, it did function as a narrative.

Robert Carraher said...

But..but, Russell...actually my response was delivered with tongue firmly in cheek. But, as a reviewer who is getting a tint bit of attention, I am also being bombarded with the exat thing you tlk about and usually craft a polite "decline to read" response after experiencing terrible craft. But I privately admit to a secret fear that I might be declining to read the next Ellroy or Miller.

A hundred years ago I owned a night club that had a rather large game room. Video games were justover taking pin ball machines and I made a ton of money on Pong, Space Invaders, Missle Comman etc...one day the company that owned the games, pool tables etc...brought in a new game while I wasn't there. They placed in smack in the middle of the bar where the best machines should go. The game was obvious to me way too juvenial to be in my place, so I being the expert on what made money in my place and an expert of what games would go over demanded they get it out of my place. They convinced me to keep it, so I stuck it in a dark corner where nobody would have to mess with it since it was an obvious loser. The damn thing still inexplicably made money. The Game was Pac Man...so much for my expertise.

Joe Konrath said...

Just saw this tweet from a so-called "publishing insider"

I’d like to add to Konrath’s “signs you might be an idiot”: if you’re JA Konrath, you’re an idiot.

LMAO.

First of all, way to prove my point. Though it is rather sad that a "publishing insider" can't follow a simple logic trail.

Secondly, it's time to put up that resume on Monster.com, dude. That ticking sound you hear is the countdown to the end of your industry.

Robin Sullivan said...

Here's the thing I've been struggling with...how can an indie author be "self-aware" enough to know they are "not there yet."

While I've read a lot of great submissions by writers, that yes, may need a bit of developmental editing here and there. I also see works that are so bad that they truly are fubar (f*'d up beyond all repair). It's not a matter of a little tweak here or there they are just so far off the mark that they need to scrap that and start again. Yet by the mere fact that they sent it to me they "think" it is ready for prime time.

I certainly "know it when I see it" but it seems not all authors have that same objectivity.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Ellen Fisher said...

"I also see works that are so bad that they truly are fubar (f*'d up beyond all repair). It's not a matter of a little tweak here or there they are just so far off the mark that they need to scrap that and start again. Yet by the mere fact that they sent it to me they "think" it is ready for prime time."

I agree, Robin, this is an interesting question. Authors presumably wouldn't put their books up on Amazon if they didn't think they were ready for prime time. And yet some of them are far, far away from being ready for public consumption. It seems that some authors lack any sort of objectivity when it comes to their own work.

It would help if people used an editor or two, of course, but then we get into the next thorny question-- if your writing skills aren't that good, can you be sure the editor you use is up to the job?

Joe Konrath said...

And yet some of them are far, far away from being ready for public consumption.

That's the rub, isn't it? How do you know if your stuff is good enough?

If you can adequately explain what every sentence does in your manuscript, you're on your way.

SandyT said...

"The first thing that comes to mind is that you are wrong partially because there is a lot of media out there: movies, TV, comics, books, that IS complete crap."

I don't consider myself an idiot, just someone with discriminating tastes. I can't stand reality TV shows. They are mindless...just my opinion. And there is just one show nominated for an Emmy that I watch or care to watch. The others never appealed to me and I can't for the life of me see their appeal nor understand how shows I love were passed up. Usually I only post reviews of books with 3, 4 or 5 stars. I don't think the "big I" is a correct description of me and I don't take offense, Joe.

Lucy V Morgan said...

A story element can be deliberate and a reviewer may still say that it doesn't work. A reader can say "this sucks" without mistaking their personal preference as a measure of quality.

You might not deliberately write something that sucks, but it's a possibility that it does regardless.

Mary Stella said...

Ingpark said: And giving a novel one star because you think the price (12.99 set by the publisher) is too high when other e-books run 2.99 to 4.99 is absolutely stupid. Don't people know that authors have nothing to do with that? And that it has nothing to do with the quality of the novel?

Equally bad, in my opinion, is giving a book one star or trashing it in the review because you didn't like the cover.

Most writers have no creative input, let alone control, over the covers produced for their books by the publishing houses.

Robin Sullivan said...

Joe said...If you can adequately explain what every sentence does in your manuscript, you're on your way.

For you...and Michael...and other people of talent...yes but for some of the hopeless they have a reason for it being there it just isn't a good reason.

The "newbie" mistakes of telling me things too soon, bad segues, or the worst...too many metaphors (they think it makes the work literary when it just makes it amateurish) were deliberate on the part of the author they just don't realize that they shouldn't have done these things.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Stephen Leather said...

Wow. From the heart, man, from the heart. I've stopped calling people idiots as idiots never realise that they're idiots now matter what you say to them. These days I just repeat a quote my Slovenian friend gave me - wherever eagles fly you hear the sound of crows.....

Joe Konrath said...

wherever eagles fly you hear the sound of crows

Too cool.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

@Joe: That's the rub, isn't it? How do you know if your stuff is good enough?

Today, Passive Guy reminded us of these words from Ernest Hemingway:

"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."

If your book can pass that test, you just might have written something worth reading. ;)

Donna said...

You rock, Joe! I've always wanted a posted criteria of what makes an idiot & you've covered everything I had in mind and then some ;-]

In my limited experience, I've learned people love trashing books they've gotten for free--Kindle freebies, contest drawings, etc. Why bitch about something that was given to you? Didn't like it? Move on. Of course, I would say these so-called reviewers are more assholes than idiots.

I've never hated a piece of writing enough to publicly trash it. I might tell my husband or friends it generally sucked, but I realize my tastes are stranger than most.

BTW, I loved "The Road," but then again, I loved "Serial" also.

antares said...

Joe said "Now you've just become one of the most intelligent strangers I've ever encountered on the Internet."

Thanks, Joe. I'll take all the compliments I can get.

Do you really want to help an 'intelligent stranger'?

I have a novel, Heart of Stone, that I am proofing. I plan to publish it on Amazon next week. I would appreciate it if you read and promoted it on your blog as you did with Scott Doornbosch, Basic Black.

Heart of Stone is a science-fiction techno-thriller. I'll send you a copy as a gift, if you want. The intro price will be 99 cents.

Mark Asher said...

"If you've ever given a one-star review to anything, you're probably an idiot."

There's no point in having a five star review scale if all ratings are not used.

Some things really are bad. If a book is in the bottom 20% in the reader's scale for quality, why shouldn't it get a one-star rating?

the-time-capsule.com said...

Suddenly I feel really good about EVERYTHING I self published. It all has purpose, even if the prose is not the greatest. I'm still learning, improving, and loving the stories I write.

Robert Carraher said...

Mark Asher, I rarely give five stars (actually hate the "Star" system but...) and I have never given a 1 Star. My reasons, if I happen to think a book is so bad it deserves a 1, I most likely won't finish it and therefore can't give an honest review because I haven't read it. Why no 5 stars? Well, a book has to satisfy a lot of criteria to be considered 5 Stars, almost flawless in all aspects or so original in it's use of language, plot devices, style, pace etc...that "I" would rate it with the greatest books I have ever read. hence, no 1 Stars because I haven't finished anything that bad, and few 5 stars because in my view maybe 10 books a decade live up to that.

Mark Asher said...

@Joe: Me too. I give a lot of my peers 5 star reviews, because I enjoy their work and I want to support them. But I don't post negative reviews.

I understand why you do this, but it's a bit of a disservice to readers. If it's a 4-star book, give it four stars. If it's truly an outstanding book, give it five stars. Etc.

Readers want honest reviews. Just as you would hope readers would discount the idiotic 1-star reviews you should also know readers appreciate honest reviews instead 5-star reviews handed out like candy.

When I see a book with nearly unanimous 5-star reviews my first thought is it's the result of shilling and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Mark Asher said...

Why no 5 stars? Well, a book has to satisfy a lot of criteria to be considered 5 Stars, almost flawless in all aspects or so original in it's use of language, plot devices, style, pace etc...that "I" would rate it with the greatest books I have ever read.

I feel the same. There are way too many 5-star reviews handed out. Those should be reserved for truly great books. I think I've only given out a couple of those.

I wish the review system was a simple thumbs up, thumbs down thing.

Charles Edgar said...

Is anyone else hearing Grimly from the LOTR movies saying, "It was deliberate, it was deliberate"? Could just be me.
Opinions are useless. Joe's right. If you can't say why a thing is or isn't blank, then the opinion holds no value.

Mark Terry said...

Didn't feel like a rant. I liked it and agreed with it. A successful book does what the author intended it to do. That doesn't mean it necessarily does what the reader wants it to do.

Jude Hardin said...

Joe, you ignorant slut.

Hehe. Just teasing. Great post, and I've enjoyed all the comments.

Very good advice to be deliberate in everything you do.

Amber J. Gardner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Konrath said...

If a book is in the bottom 20% in the reader's scale for quality, why shouldn't it get a one-star rating?

That's fine, as long as the reviewer is deliberate, and not an idiot.

Just as you would hope readers would discount the idiotic 1-star reviews you should also know readers appreciate honest reviews instead 5-star reviews handed out like candy.

Motive is needed to prove a crime.

What's my motive for leaving 5 star reviews? Am I doing it for readers, or to give a boost to my peers?

The things I say in my reviews are true. I don't lie. And they are deliberate.

Or, to paraphrase the Hippocratic oath, I've chosen to do no harm.

That said, I've mentioned that many good reviews are just as useless as bad reviews. But good reviews don't hurt sales. Idiots can hurt sales, and that's a shame. Especially because there wouldn't be so many 1 star reviews if just a bit more thought was put into it.

I wish the review system was a simple thumbs up, thumbs down thing.

That's a great idea. But if comments were still allowed, there would still be a problem with idiots.

Darley said...

The fault I have here is that the reader doesn’t necessarily know what the intent of the writer is, or if they in fact did a poor job of telling a story.

And those folks’ who gave you a one star review… they are as valid as the others. They didn’t like what they read. It’s an opinion. Is it their fault for giving something a chance by a writer they enjoy? I don’t think so. Even if they knew what to expect – doesn’t mean they have to enjoy it.

And I think you can intend to write well, and write poorly. I think you can accomplish what you set out to do, and it’ll still be bad. It’s not all a sliding scale of good.

But honestly, this post was clearly written to stir up $#%&. Good for you. We, who read it and commented, all took the bait. But next time, please give more thought to your posts before you think about insulting people who have or might buy your books.

And you might want to consider getting used to people giving their opinions on El Interwebs. It's here to stay.

One star to this post. Did I like it or didn't I? Did I see the merit of it or didn't I?

Doesn't matter, because I don't need to give specific examples to defend my opinion.

L.A. Tafe said...

Writing is an art form. and all art is a piece of the artist. The only person that will ever truly understand a novel is the author, everyone else interprets it in their own way.
If people can't figure that out and think about it before they leave a review they shouldn't be allowed to comment at all. haha.
When i don't like a book i don't leave a 1 star review and a few unhelpful words of advice. I just leave it be. Because that book was apparently just not my thing. Not that it wasn't good in it's own way, I just didn't care for it enough to figure out how it was good.

Susan Tunis said...

All I know is that you've come to me several times to have your work reviewed. So who's the idiot, Joe, you or me?

Amazon Reviewer #119

Joe Konrath said...

The fault I have here is that the reader doesn’t necessarily know what the intent of the writer is, or if they in fact did a poor job of telling a story.

I clearly used a word to describe readers like that. I think it started with the letter "i".

If people want to go through life forming opinions without thinking, they deserve the label I gave them.

And those folks’ who gave you a one star review… they are as valid as the others.

Valid, yes. But also thoughtless.

I like the Harlan Elison quote:

"You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant."

And I think you can intend to write well, and write poorly.

Intention and execution are two different things. If a writer understands why they wrote what they wrote, and how it is supposed to move the story forward and provoke a reaction in the reader, then the writer executed.

All writers intend to tell good stories. But some do it without deliberation, and they wind up doing a poor job.

This post was about those writers who know what they're doing, and I stated as much.

But next time, please give more thought to your posts before you think about insulting people who have or might buy your books.

This is a blog for writers, not fans. My fans don't care about the publishing world. The reason for writing this entry wasn't to stir things up, or sell books. It was to prompt change. Maybe someone will read this and think. That's the point. To get people to think.

And you might want to consider getting used to people giving their opinions on El Interwebs.

I'm used to it. That doesn't mean I think the dumbing down of the population is a good thing.

Doesn't matter, because I don't need to give specific examples to defend my opinion.

Too late. You wrote a well-reasoned response. I may disagree, but you were deliberate, and obviously thought before you posted. Congrats, you're not an idiot.

You are, however, wrong. :)

Joe Konrath said...

All I know is that you've come to me several times to have your work reviewed.

We both know that reviews sell books, Susan. Your reviews are always well thought out, so I'm not sure what point you're trying to make here.

Darley said...

Too late. You wrote a well-reasoned response. I may disagree, but you were deliberate, and obviously thought before you posted. Congrats, you're not an idiot.

You are, however, wrong. :)


Touche, Mr. K.

Joe Konrath said...

I just got a two star review for my first published novel, Whiskey Sour:

Not sure I will finish this book, it is rather dark and a lot of gruesome descriptions... I did finish the book, it was a good story, but I saw no need for the cuss words, and such gruesome details. So I only gave it a 2 star rating.

Guess what? I have no problem with this review at all. Though brief and lacking detail, it clearly states why the reviewer felt the way they did. The book did have some swear words, and it was violent. This is a decent review. The reader understands why they formed their opinion.

Marie Simas said...

The book did have some swear words, and it was violent.

I've gotten multiple bad reviews for profanity and sexual humor. This pisses meoff-- more so than someone who hates my book because they don't enjoy the writing.

If you're offended by the word "pussy" (and it's usually women) then look elsewhere. For God's sake, my first book has an unwrapped tampon on the cover. Doesn't that give you an idea about the nature of the content? Get a fucking clue.

The thing that kills me is that people will buy the first book, write a bad review about how "profane" it is-- then go on and buy the second book, too! It's like someone who tries to fight porn... by buying up all the porn.

But I digress! Joe, ignore the haters, and keep fuckin' that chicken.

Christina Carson said...

Thanks to the nature of contemporary marketing, we have opened the position of Reviewer to any and all.There is no requirement that people understand the long-standing attributes of a well constructed story. They need have no knowledge of story line, plot, character development or style.Without knowledge in these areas, all that is left is opinion. And opinions are rarely examined as to the basis on which they are formed. Thus the star rating system is Bob or Mary or Bill telling you how the book impacted Bob or Mary or Bill. It really had no value beyond that. If we give it value beyond that, silly us.
Christina Carson

Robert Carraher said...

I love this, about the swear words, I was on Lawrence Blocks new blog today and he mentioned that he had gotten a scathing response on Small Town because of the sex....I had to question if that person had ever read 80% of Blocks work. The guy made his bones writing erotica, and none of his books, Scudder, etc...except the Bernie Rodenbauer books shy away from sexual situations and description! He also got a 1 Star review for one of his novellas, Lust because the customer got an eBook that was baddly formatted....I'll mention formatting issues whether they are as simple as no chapter numbers or as serious as this guys was, commas and other punctuation came out as nonsense characters, but to give it 1 Star? I don't "mark down" for technical .

Susan Tunis said...

So, I was in a rush earlier, and now I'm just really tired, but I'm going to try to express what irked me about your post, Joe.

First, I totally disagree with your deliberation = quality premise. Chuck Palahniuk's novel Tell-All comes to mind because the author made such deliberate stylistic choices. But they were very, very BAD choices. It is a BAD book. I wrote six paragraphs detailing exactly why, as I am physically incapable of writing a review as concise as "This book sux!" (I hated it, but gave it 2 stars. Palahniuk is a talented, if sometimes misguided, writer.) And the thing is, Joe, that a majority of readers agreed with my assessment. They may not have documented or articulated their thoughts as thoroughly as I did, but there is some value to crowd sourcing.

I get that I'm not necessarily the reviewer you're calling out, but I have to tell you that I was inspired to write my very first book review by the worst book I'd ever read. It was a lengthy, detailed 1-star review. In the five years since, I've written 265 reviews. Three of them are 1-star. I don't rate any but the worst of the worst that way, If I give you one star, I really mean it.

On the other hand, I write a lot of 5-star reviews. I'm an enthusiast reader with a deep appreciation for and good knowledge of what y'all do. I've spent countless hours honing my literary criticism, and striving to improve my reviews. I've put a lot of time and effort into my "hobby." So, I do get a little irked when readers and writers are completely dismissive of reader reviewers. We're either idiots or we're shills. I know that not every review on the web is created equal, but I think the majority of reviewers, on some level, are attempting to be helpful.

As someone wrote hours ago, you wrote your post using very broad strokes, Joe. Not every reader is willing or able to spend the time I do writing reviews. Not every reader has the skills. And I have no illusion that every last opinion I express is on target. We do the best we can.

There are worse things you could do than simply listen to what your readers are saying. Take it to heart or dismiss it, your reader, a person who has given you time, attention, and possibly money is trying to communicate.

I, however, have probably failed in that endeavor, so I'm going to bed--without even proofreading.

Archangel said...

thanks Joe. Cogent post to rouse thought. I find over time, esp since I bought an ipad and can see entire chapter often of a book before purchase, that I dont weigh the number of stars at Amaz. very much... which I guess means that one chapter is 'first impression'...carrying a heck of a lot of weight in potential buyers mind. I might peruse the comments (so many seem less reviews that brief op eds) to see what else might be covered in the book; but the comments often arent reliablely covering various aspects of book. Except for buying a mechanical thing, like a reciprocating saw... I read the comments assiduously, just to see how previous buyers found reliability/ customer service, etc. But, with books, I am finding I want to 'sample' the book and like many readers, see for myself. On the other hand, I do listen when people I know recommend something they found cool, mostly I think, because it is a conversation, rather than a stone-cold comment with no person present.

Jon Olson said...

Mmm. I don't know. Some things, no matter how deliberate, are just crap.

Jon Olson
The Petoskey Stone
The Ride Home

Adam Pepper said...

I think Jon and Susan make some fair points. The Palahniuk example is a good one. I love Chuck and think he's brilliant, but he does make some very diliberate style choices and sometimes they hit, sometimes they miss. When they miss, isnt it fair to call them "crap?" It's not the most articulate response, but that doesnt make it unfair.

Adam Pepper said...

Or, to put it more bluntly. If I plunk down my hard earned cash for Chuck's latest book, and I hate the style choices he's made. Perhaps I'm not articulate enough to express, but I'm entitled to give the book 1 star and simply say "This books sux." I dont think it's fair to label that person an idiot. They're a disappointed reader.

W. Dean said...

Christina Carson writes:

…we have opened the position of Reviewer to any and all. There is no requirement that people understand the long-standing attributes of a well constructed story. They need have no knowledge of story line, plot, character development or style.

There’s no requirement that a writer know these things either.

And do I smell a little gate-keeper nostalgia here? Methinks you’re not the only one…

Susan Tunis writes:

…I think the majority of reviewers, on some level, are attempting to be helpful.

That makes them good people, not good reviewers.

…a person who has given you time, attention, and possibly money is trying to communicate.

This is a point some writers here have forgotten. Someone spent his time and money on you and your product. Even if he’s not the most articulate soul ever cast by the Maker, he bought his ticket to speak.

NavyThriller said...

Good post, Joe. You’ve stirred up some spirited interchange, and a blogger can't ask for more than that.

I don’t have your detachment regarding the opinions of strangers. I don’t cry over one-star reviews, and I don’t cheer when someone gives one of my books five stars. But I do try to listen to what the readers are saying. Reviews help me gauge how well I’m communicating the story to my readers.

Joe Konrath said...

Chuck Palahniuk's novel Tell-All comes to mind because the author made such deliberate stylistic choices.

Out of 92 Amazon reviews, Tell All has 25 4 and 5 star reviews.

So you're right and they're wrong?

I'd say that Chuck is right, and his work didn't appeal to you. That doesn't make it bad. It make you dislike what he intentionally did.

In my definition of deliberate, I clearly state that if the author meets their own expectations, the work isn't bad. I stand by that. It's a much more objective definition of quality that subjective taste.

So, I do get a little irked when readers and writers are completely dismissive of reader reviewers.

I'm not dismissing reviewers. I'm dismissing the reviewers who are idiots. We both know you don't fall into that category.

Joe Konrath said...

Perhaps I'm not articulate enough to express, but I'm entitled to give the book 1 star and simply say "This books sux." I dont think it's fair to label that person an idiot. They're a disappointed reader.

And I don't think it's fair to criticize something without an explanation. Especially when too many people are quite obviously being critical without doing any thinking whatsoever.

Earlier, I talked about motive. I write 5 star reviews for my peers as a show of support.

What is the motive behind leaving the review "this sux"? is it to warn others? Then the best way to do that is to explain yourself. Is it to vent? That also requires an explanation, or else you're just blowing hot air.

Going back to the Harlan quote. No one is entitled to be ignorant. And if you really aren't ignorant, but portray yourself that way, it's the same thing in the eyes of the world.

Joe Konrath said...

Even if he’s not the most articulate soul ever cast by the Maker, he bought his ticket to speak.

I agree. And I'm allowed to be critical of his half-assed criticism, and call him an idiot.

There's an obvious double-standard. As writers, it is considered very bad form to respond to criticism, let alone insult the person doing it. Supposedly, this isn't professional, and we need to be above that.

Fair enough. But in a court of law, if I'm accused of something, I have the right to defend myself. And in everyday life, if someone pushes, I should be able to push back.

Now, I don't respond to idiots in the wild. If an idiot comes to my blog and picks a fight, I give them a few warnings before I bitch slap them and bounce them out. But I never respond to reviewers.

And in this post, I'm not finger pointing at specific idiots. It's a generalization, meant to make people think a bit more before they spout of their opinions. Because those who don't are idiots.

Joe M. said...

While the e-book revolution has freed writers from the arbitrary whims of traditional publishers, the interactive nature of the online world has freed letter writers, reviewers and other opinion expressers from the tyranny of editors and other gatekeepers who previously decided which expressed views got presented for the rest of the world to see.

Yes, some of the rabble's views are rough and inelegantly expressed, but can't you be happy for your audience's newfound freedom the way we are about the newfound freedoms of our favorite writers?

Ty Johnston said...

Smashwords is having some issues with 1-star reviews of late.

As it's related to the topic at hand, check out the July 19 Site Update for Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/about/beta

Joe Konrath said...

Some things, no matter how deliberate, are just crap.

That's a slippery slope, Jon. Unless you're willing to appoint yourself the Overall Dictator of Quality for the Universe, and the universe agrees, there will always be some folks who like thing you don't like, and will be able to logically defend the quality of those things.

Come up with an example of crap, and I'll happily debate why it isn't.

Joe Konrath said...

but can't you be happy for your audience's newfound freedom the way we are about the newfound freedoms of our favorite writers?

Freedom has a cost, and those who are free have a responsibility. Or else it soon becomes anarchy.

If what we say and do really matters, we must be able to understand why we say and do those things. If we don't, we're either robots, or idiots.

Peter S. Hart said...

You said, “All opinions are valid, because you can’t argue with subjectivity.”

No, they’re not. Everyone is allowed his or her feelings and beliefs. Opinions, on the other hand, need to be informed, well reasoned, and stated intelligently. If they are not, they are less than useless, they are harmful, and shouldn’t even be given a forum in which to be expressed, much less listened to and taken to heart.

Cari Russo said...

This is the first time I visited this site, and can see you have a ton of comments, which makes me wonder if you'll even read mine. I do book reviews, www.carirusso.blogspot.com, but-I never review anything I don't like. It doesn't make since to put out such bad karma. I'm not a idiot. If I don't like it, doesn't mean it's to end all on my opinion. I've been encouraged to write my own book, and appreciate the work that goes into anything that is written, including shows. Since I live in Jersey and spend a lot of time in NYC and enjoy broadway, again I don't criticize. Everything is deliberate in a story, I'm quickly finding out. It's the author's vision, and may not be mine. Or I might not get it. I hate to admit. So I move on, to something I do understand, something I know I'll like, but even then at times that can be very subjective.

Nancy Beck said...

Perhaps I'm not articulate enough to express, but I'm entitled to give the book 1 star and simply say "This books sux." I dont think it's fair to label that person an idiot. They're a disappointed reader.

And I don't think it's fair to criticize something without an explanation.
========
This is what gets me when I read those 1- and 5-star reviews that have no explanation; drives me nuts.

A simple explanation (no longer than 1 or 2 sentences) goes a long way. Is that too much to ask?

B. Rehder said...

Hoping someone can help me out with a basic ebook question:

Say you have four ebooks to upload to Amazon, but you haven't uploaded them yet. You want to have a clickable bibliography at the back of each book. But how can the links in the bibliography be clickable when you haven't uploaded the books yet? You won't be able to provide web addresses for those links until you've uploaded each book.

I know I must be overlooking a very simple solution.

Thanks in advance for any input.

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