Sunday, June 16, 2019

Writer's Guide To Dealing With Haters

Hey! An axe!

Let's grind it.

Back in 2013 I wrote a post about critics. Four years prior to that, I did another post about critics.

It's time to revisit.

Like all breakthrough technologies, the Internet has improved life for a lot of people.

We now have a fast and easy way to reach other people who share our interests and ideals. We have unrestricted access to information. We can entertain ourselves, educate ourselves, make some money, improve the world, and make life better.

And then there are the haters.

The first human who invented fire: "Look! I can harness this wondrous new technology that can keep us warm and cook our food to prevent disease and protect us from predators!"

The first critic: "It sucks and you're an asshole."

I understand some fundamental concepts concerning genetics. As a species, we must band together to reproduce. We're wired to seek out each other, to share, to empathize, to help.

But we're also tribal. That means we're fiercely protective of our tribe, and suspicious of others. In fact, we're suspicious of everything, because knowing what is good and what is bad could save us from terrible deaths.

Somewhere along the evolutionary path, hating a rival group of Homo heidelbergensis because they might kill us all and steal our food was beneficial to our survival.

And somehow, in just three hundred thousand short years, that led to people hating one another for their skin color, religion, sexual identity, country of origin, politics they follow, way they dress, sports teams they watch, and art they enjoy.

Everyone has an opinion. And I truly believe all opinions are valid.

Those opinions may not be defensible (XY, you have zero say in what XX decides to do with their bodies.) Or they may be defensible (We are going to destroy the planet if we don't reduce human-caused greenhouse gases.)

No matter your opinion, right or wrong, you are entitled to it, and entitled to shout it out everywhere. Even if you are an ignorant pinhead.

Free speech is required in society. It allows ideas to be exchanged and debated. Asshats who are relentlessly negative, clueless, bigoted, stupid, raised-wrong, and incapable of using logic, reason, common-sense, or facts to form their dumb opinions, must still be allowed to voice those dumb opinions.

And you, as an open-minded skeptic with a thick skin, are allowed to calmly and dispassionately engage and refute those opinions without ad hominem attacks or any other fallacious endeavors.

Unless you are a public figure.

Some public figures should be openly criticized, and should defend themselves. Those we elect to serve us should suffer the slings and arrows of voters with opposing viewpoints, so that they may better govern. Unleash your inner hater to comment on the injustices you perceive due to unequal representation in politics. And, through town halls and public debates and social media, discourse can happen between those who govern and those who elect them.

This is required.

But other public figures aren't allowed that opportunity.

If you play sports, professionally, you will be publicly hated, and so will your team.

If you are an actor or director, you will be publicly hated, and so will the movies and shows you are involved in.

If you make music, you will be publicly hated, and so will your music.

Create YouTube videos that you pour your heart and soul into even though you don't make a dime? Publicly hated.

The down votes and dislikes and mean comments will always follow you, because people have opinions and they believe if a series finale doesn't live up to expectations its just as enraging and terrible and worthy of a petition as the twelve million tons of plastic dumped into the ocean every year.

Unlike the sociopath politician, who probably doesn't want to have to deal with the finicky voters and would much rather govern with absolute control, but must engage sometimes because there are laws in place, other public figures have one rule and one rule only when dealing with criticism.

Shut up and take it.

Some moron can take twenty seconds to write a venom-filled screed that publicly lambastes something you worked on for ten months, and your options are to ignore it, or ignore it.

That seems one-sided and unfair, doesn't it?

I'll watch sports figures getting roasted on Twitter for a bad play, and my first reaction is, "Wow, not a single person slinging the hate could ever play professional sports."

How do I know that is 100% true? Because unless you are in MMA, professional sports players don't trash talk each other. They are respectful in public. Probably because it would bring negative press. But maybe part of it is because they know how much work it takes to become a professional sports player, and there is respect there.

You'll never see me give a one star review to anything. I'm an artist. I know how hard art is. Even art I don't like. Even if the art is demonstrably terrible.

Even though the Internet makes it sooooo easy.

I could spend every waking hour bashing other artists. I could even make a living at it (no one misses you, Roger Ebert.) I could even do it anonymously.

But I don't do that.

Others do, though.

This is because, from an evolutionary standpoint, we are still fighting with other tribes over who gets to hunt in the mammoth breeding grounds. And by fight, I mean face-to-face combat to the death.

But modern technology lets us vent that pent-up aggression instantly and without consequence. And not at people taking our food, but at people who created a prequel we didn't like.

Face-to-face? Ha! You'll likely never meet whomever you are criticizing.

And if they have the temerity to fight back? They can't do that! They're a celebrity! They have to take criticism and not respond, because that's their job!

Welcome to the Internet. Technology that could improve humankind, reduced to a megaphone for schoolyard bullies.

For the insecure, the quickest way to feel better about yourself it to put someone else down. Especially someone who won't defend themselves. This will never change. There will always be haters. And artists will always have to ignore it and never engage with those haters.

That said, I'm a writer, with a blog about writing and publishing, and this blog gives advice based on years of experience, hard work, deep thinking, and how I'm feeling based on what I had to eat today.

So here is the Writer's Guide To Dealing With Haters.

RULE 1: Don't Read Your Reviews

I know that this is easier said than done. Especially when you first put a book out there, and you are desperate for feedback. Resist the temptation to read what people are saying about you. Their opinion of you, and of your story, is none of your business.

RULE 2: Do Not Engage

Okay, you're human, and you accidentally read a 1 star review where some baby compared your book to a giant pile of horse shit except your book would attract more flies. Then this baby goes on to spout a whole bunch of lies about your book that are just plain incorrect.

It doesn't matter. Don't respond. No matter how tempting, you cannot defend yourself. It will always backfire.

RULE 3: Don't Write Negative Reviews

This should go without saying. You shouldn't bash your peers. Or anyone, really, except for politicians. Treat people on the Internet like you would treat them if a friend introduced you at a party. Always.

RULE 4: Pyt

This is a Danish word, sort of a combination of "shit happens" and "no big deal." You don't need to get over it, because it was never a thing in the first place.

We don't have control over how other people act. We do have control over how we react. As a writer, you will get reviews. If something is inevitable, unchangeable, and impersonal, the most you should react is by shrugging, maybe with a knowing little smile.

Pyt.

RULE 5: Haters Gonna Hate

What Peter says about Paul reveals more about Peter than Paul. That bad review has nothing to do with you. Someone with a very small mind and a very unhappy life needs to attack art to feel better about themselves. Who cares? Not your problem. You don't have to deal with them. And it isn't going to hurt your sales, or harm other peoples' opinion of your book.

Do you know why? Because you have bought and enjoyed books that others have given one star. If you don't care, no one else cares.

To sum this up in one sentence; Ignore critics because people suck, be a nice person, and if you run into anything negative, pyt.

Q: But Joe! What if I have legitimate problems with some work of art and I want to protect people from making the same mistake I did?

A: Take a good long look in the mirror and keep repeating "Nobody cares what I fucking think" over and over until you go hoarse. Because nobody cares what you fucking think. You aren't protecting others. You're being a petty, selfish dick.

Q: But Joe! What if I'm writing thoughtful, heartfelt opinions, backed up with examples and logic?

A: Save that for reviews of art that you like. Writing positive reviews is encouraged. Hate should not encouraged, ever. You're not marching to save the rain forest. You're annoyed because you feel you wasted some of you leisure time. Get over it.

Q: But I'm allowed to say what I want!

A: Here's a litmus test:

Would you say it directly to the artist's face, live on stage in front of ten thousand people?

If not, don't post it.

Would you say it directly to the artist's face if the artist was a mixed martial arts expert and had their teeth clenched in rage?

If not, don't post it.

Would you say it directly to the artist's face if you knew their mother just died and they couldn't stop sobbing?

If not, don't post it.

Would you say it directly to the artist's face no matter what?

If so, you're a douchebag. Fuck off.

Now go read WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI, by latest novel, which debuted for free.

If you hate it, cool. Write a review anyway. I promise you won't have to say it to my face. :)

22 comments:

  1. Joe: I 99.9999% agree with you on this.

    Just one point: I do think there is a legitimate case for honest and fair criticism and commentary. If there is a problem with a story or song or whatever, it is fair game to do a critique of it.

    But yeah, a critique is my opinion and my opinion only and some people may agree with my (I think sparkly vampires are stupid) and lots of people are going to disagree with me (I just don't get the current fascination with zombie stories). And ALL of it is OKAY.

    And THANK YOU for coming back with the recent batch of blog posts. They have been wonderful.

    Because, hey, we don't have to like the same things. If somebody creates something that somebody else doesn't like, it's okay because they are obviously not the audience that that work was intended for. But there is a whole other audience out there that will love it.

    So, I can critique the things I have issue with, although I prefer to rave about the stuff I love and why it is awesome, and if I am going to criticize something, I try to offer constructive commentary about what I specifically think is the issue and possible how it could have been better with the acknowledgement that it is just my opinion because other people may not have any issues at all with this thing I am critiquing.

    And as a writer, hey, if someone loves what I do, awesome. And if someone doesn't get it, I will read the commentary to see if there is anything insightful I can get from it to improve my craft, while knowing that not only will what I write (space fantasy) not appeal to everyone, I don't even try to appeal to everyone, because in the end, I am writing for me. I am writing the stories I want to write and whether people love or hate my stories, I'm still going to do my stories, my way, and if you don't like them, you don't have to read them.

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  2. If there is a problem with a story or song or whatever, it is fair game to do a critique of it.

    Is it something you'd say to the artist's face? And what if someone said it to your face? And is it attached to a 1 star review or a 3 star review?

    Giving someone a 1 star review, no matter what your honest criticism is, is the same thing as insulting someone who lost their horse because they left the barn door open.

    Not helpful. A dick move. That would be mean done in person. Done in public, on the Internet, which lasts forever, is shitty.

    And if someone doesn't get it, I will read the commentary to see if there is anything insightful I can get from it to improve my craft

    I have been published since 2003, and have tens of thousands of reviews. The only insightful thing I ever got from a reviewer is spotting a typo.

    And now Amazon sends emails informing us of typos. There is zero reason to read reviews.

    So I disagree with these points of yours, but this is a discussion I'd be fine with having on a panel in front of a room full of authors. It's a civil exchange of ideas, and I'm not criticizing you because we don't share the same opinion. I'd give you comment three stars. :)

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  3. I’ve found myself practicing this as well—reviewing only those books that I can unequivocally say I liked. There are quite a few books where that isn’t the case, but I try to stay silent about my experiences with those. If I was just a consumer, it would be different, but it’s better for me to spend my energy as a creator building up those that admire, rather than tearing down those who (to me) fall short.

    The only catch I’ve found to this (and the positives still far outweigh the potential negatives) is that being an indie author who ONLY gives good reviews can lead some people to question your word, as so many authors out there are partaking in review swaps and other shady things. I want people to know that when I say I love something, I mean it.



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  4. I want people to know that when I say I love something, I mean it.

    I used to do the same thing. Then the Great Amazon Review Purge happened because a stupid group of whiny baby authors decided that moral panic was a good idea.

    It began here:

    http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/09/ethical-roulette.html

    Then here:

    http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/09/enough-already.html

    And it lead to this:

    http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/11/amazon-removes-reviews.html

    Which led to my new policy: I don't review other authors anymore.

    I also don't post negative reviews. Of anything. Every so other I'll be happy with some non-book related Amazon product and post a review. But I no longer comment on my peers. I don't give blurbs. I don't review books.

    I posted honest reviews, and they were removed. Posting negative reviews is a douche move.

    Let readers post reviews. And of course some of them will be negative.

    Ignore them. No good comes from reading your reviews. Ever.

    Writers are insecure enough without having some jackass ruin your day and question your talent by posting some hateful screen about how they don't think your protagonist is sympathetic enough. Let those folks have their opinions. They have nothing to do with me or my book.

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  5. Joe:

    Still in agreement, I tend to be a little tempered in my reviews, I don't go out and trash something. Generally, if I don't have positive things to say, I say very little.

    But a review is not for the author. It is for other readers. It is intended to assess both the good and the bad of a work, at least that is how I approach my commentary. It helps readers compare other works and see if something is what they'd enjoy.

    (For example, grimdark fantasy, which has taken over the market, is not my thing. I appreciate reviewers and critiques that point out whether the flavor of a book is "fun epic" or "grimdark." Authors and publishers often don't make that distinction in their blurbs and marketing.)

    I do think that authors and any creators should generally not let reviews or critiques to get them and often should ignore them. Let it slide, somebody doesn't like your work, it's not for them. You can't please everyone, you shouldn't try. You do you, and all that. There is a much larger audience that (probably) loves your work just as it is that will never leave a review or say a word.

    Reviews and feedback are generally from the most emotional 1%, both the people who love your work and the "Grievance Brigade," and the vast majority of folks never leave any feedback beyond keeping on buying your stuff or not.

    But to say that there is no place for reviews or commentary, I think, is troubling. It would be like saying there is no place in journalism for calling out prominent politicians when they say outright falsehoods ... and look where that has gotten us. :)

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  6. Okay, but...
    I just bought a book in which a character served in the Navy during the Cuban missile crisis, and is still on active duty today..... more than 50 years later.
    That's not how the Navy works.
    I'm a military guy, and it's difficult for me to not point out this glaring impossibility in a review.
    But on a more positive note, I just downloaded your new book. Thank you for making it a freebie.

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  7. Sorry, but I disagree, at least to a point. I only have so many hours in the day and only so much money to spend to dedicate to reading, watching movies and (formerly) playing video games. If an author I like spits out a clunker full of plot holes, cliched characters and dialog straight out of a laundry detergent ad circa 1974, at a minimum I would like to know that before starting, though in all likelihood I would in fact move on to something else.

    Having said that, I do think there are ways of doing it. And not doing it. I don't want a diatribe about an author's politics, their sexual preferences, their religion of choice, the color of their skin or the sports team they follow. (Unless they're Yankees fans. Then I have to hate them. j/k. Sort of.)

    Just out of curiosity, how would you handle something like the recent and on-going kerfuffle over Naomi Wolf's latest book, which was found to be so rife with errors of fact the publisher has decided to recall all extant copies? Would you simply have noted the errors and kept silent about them? As someone not well versed in the topic of the book, I'd have read it and simply assumed everything in it was correct when this is apparently far from being the case.

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  8. But to say that there is no place for reviews or commentary, I think, is troubling.

    I'm saying, with art, the place for negative commentary is among friends and family. Not in a public forum that will be live forever.

    We should also factor in that people change their minds. I have disliked some art in the past, revisited it years later, and enjoyed it. If I had posted my 1 star review years ago, not only would I have possibly dissuaded others from trying the art, but I would have been wrong.

    I'm all for reviews, and for commentary. And I think people who one-star art are d-bags. Those aren't imcompatible views.

    Semi-related, I was a film and TV major in college. I know the work it takes to make a movie or show. I've seen many, many movies and TV shows I dislike. But those shows were worked on by many many many talented, motivated people. Any art professionally done, meeting the minimum quality standard of its form, simply can't be 1 star. A monkey randomly typing words on paper is 1 star. Any human being putting thought and care into a story deserves a little credit, no permanent online hate.

    As for reviews being for readers, I disagree. Reviews are for the person who did the review.

    We're all selfish. I am writing this response for me, not for you. As Dorothy Parker said, "The opposite of talking, is waiting."

    That's not to say I haven't read reviews, or steered away from products because they had a lot of negative reviews. But in that case I'm talking about a BluRay player or a blender. If the review is about something more subjective--a board game, videogame, book, movie, CD--then the reviews are meaningless at best, mean at worst.

    A blender works well or breaks after five uses. A book means different things to different people, and who am I to tell other readers that something sucks?

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  9. I'm a military guy, and it's difficult for me to not point out this glaring impossibility in a review.

    Thanks for your service. But if you REALLY want to make a difference, email the author and tell them. Then they have a chance not only to learn, but to correct.

    But on a more positive note, I just downloaded your new book. Thank you for making it a freebie.

    Thank you for grabbing it. I had a military advisor on this book. I took a lot of his suggestions, but rejected a few because I decided a story point was more important than pure realism. That said, I'm very curious to hear your opinion, and feel free to post a review even if I got some military stuff wrong.

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  10. If an author I like spits out a clunker full of plot holes, cliched characters and dialog straight out of a laundry detergent ad circa 1974, at a minimum I would like to know that before starting

    Yeah, but isn't the only way to really know that to read it yourself? And even if you read it and think it is garbage, do you really think publicly trashing a book you don't like is a positive addition to the world?

    Writing a book (even a bad book) is a worthwhile contribution to humanity.

    Trashing someone's art is not.

    Just out of curiosity, how would you handle something like the recent and on-going kerfuffle over Naomi Wolf's latest book, which was found to be so rife with errors of fact the publisher has decided to recall all extant copies? Would you simply have noted the errors and kept silent about them? As someone not well versed in the topic of the book, I'd have read it and simply assumed everything in it was correct when this is apparently far from being the case.

    Excellent question. I was in a beta program when Amazon first allowed pre-orders. I set a deadline with plenty of time to make the on-sale date, but life interfered and the only way I could get it live was without a final proofread. That ebook had over 100 errors in it.

    I was mortified. A few readers were irritated. But mostly, my fans overlooked it, and several of them emailed me a list of mistakes which I quickly corrected (after thanking them profusely.

    The book sales weren't harmed, the reviews were still overwhelmingly positive, and I was glad that most readers were forgiving, and some had my back.

    In Naomi's case, it seems the errors were factual and historical, and I agree with your assessment. Those should have been caught be her, or her publisher. If readers catch them, they should call them out. Ebing wrong about history is objective fact, not subjective opinion.

    I'm fine with a 1 star review that says: "This book is incorrect, the South didn't win the Civil War". I have a problem with: "This book sucks because I didn't think the cat was realistic enough."

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  11. I really appreciate and enjoy reading these new blog posts. Bravo!

    I used to read reviews on my work, but have stopped...for the most part. Every once in a while I will break down and look, but it rarely ends well. A lot of unnecessary anxiety is caused when someone just bashes your art. Even when they don't say very much - it can just be a single sentence saying that they've read better books - it negatively affects my output as a writer. And I don't need that! It's already daunting enough to plot out a full novel and bang the keyboard until it's completely told. There's no time for second-guessing your next story as you write it.

    But, as you said, reviews for blenders and such? Man, I don't buy anything like that unless I read at least a few opinions! Those things either work or they don't, and I like appliances that work and also last a while. Books? Let me experience the story for myself! I've had books and even movies where friends hated it, but because one of the characters had a very small sliver of something that I experienced in the past and could relate to, I connected and loved the story. You just never know what will connect or just fall apart.

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  12. Books? Let me experience the story for myself!

    Agreed. The Internet is often just a lot of people telling others what to do while ignoring others who tell them what to do.

    I think I'm gonna tweet that.

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  13. (To significant other): "I'll be with you in a bit, love. Give me just another half an hour. Somebody on the Internet is wrong about something."

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  14. Screw it Dude let's go bowling. Nothing sits on the shoulders of a man/woman who has accepted himself/herself as is with no judgement. Just pick up the bowling ball, lace up your shoes and roll dude roll!

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  15. Agreed, Joe. I rarely leave reviews anymore, but when I do, I only take the time to review books or movies I enjoyed. If I dislike something, I probably won't finish it anyway and any more time spent on it (like writing a review) is time I'll never get back.

    Some people think they should leave bad reviews so others don't get duped into buying bad art and have to suffer through it, or suffer through the first five pages. While I understand the sentiment, it's totally unnecessary. Amazon offers a Look Inside feature that enables readers to get a feel for a writer's style, the characters, and the plot. Even if it's an author you've never read before, you get to read a pretty big sample of the book. And, so what if nobody leaves a bad review on a "bad" book? Novels with zero reviews on Amazon aren't going to sell a shit-ton of copies anyway and will sink in the rankings like a stone. Very few people are going to see the book when searching Zon, so how "harmful" can the book be be?

    The only exception I might make to the no bad review rule is when a work is mismarketed. A book described as a "light comedy" shouldn't end with the protagonist's suicide after a long battle with cancer, for instance. In that case, my review would be more along the lines of, "John Doe Author sold me by saying it was X kind of book, but really it was Y kind of book." I appreciate there's a slippery slope here with this exception, like the reviewer who once complained about all the bad language I used in my hard-boiled murder mystery.

    The internet can be an amazing thing. But there's a ton of hate out there and I don't want to contribute to it.

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  16. Some people think they should leave bad reviews so others don't get duped into buying bad art and have to suffer through it

    That's what they say they're doing. That's self-deluded bullshit.

    People write bad reviews to vent, to cause harm, and because the Internet allows them protection without recourse.

    I can have a friend tell me, "Don't see that movie, it's terrible," and the most that will do is make me wait until it is on cable. I'll still see the movie eventually.

    Some stranger spouting hate on the Internet? That will never convince anyone of anything. Anyone who thinks they have the power to change someone's mind needs to remember the last time someone ont he Internet changed their mind, which was... never.

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  17. like the reviewer who once complained about all the bad language I used in my hard-boiled murder mystery.

    If you check out my Jack Daniels books on Amazon, I have ratings.

    If you are a more sensitive (or adventurous) reader, this handy scale rates specific categories from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) to give you some idea if this is your kind of book.

    SHOT GIRL by JA Konrath
    Bad Language - 7
    Scary - 9
    Violent - 7
    Funny - 4
    Sexy - 3

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  18. I like your scale, Joe. I used to put movie ratings in my book blurbs. Still had people complaining about violence and/or language in books that I clearly rated R. Can't win for trying sometimes ;-)

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  19. No good deed goes unpunished, Evan.

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  20. Anonymous11:31 PM

    Hi Joe -- Your "ratings" idea is brilliant. Think I'm going to start adding similar ratings to my books. Thank you for the inspiration!

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  21. Good, interesting article - except, of course, the people who leave moronic 1-star reviews won't be reading it *sigh*. I cannot understand 'readers' (I use the term with caution) who leave things on Amazon such as '1* I've not read the book yet'. Why on earth leave a comment if you haven't read the damn thing? Or '1* the packaging was torn' what has that got to do with the quality of the book? *eye roll*

    My funniest (hah) review was 'I didn't like this book because it was about violent battles'. Um... the novel was about the events that led to the _BATTLE_ of Hastings... the clue is in the tag line.

    I run a review blog for historical fiction (Discovering Diamonds - submissions welcome) we only review 4 or 5-star rated novels (occasionally a debut author would merit 3.5 - but still get a 4-star comment on Amazon.) VERY rarely do we post a review of anything less than 4. If we do there is a particular reason (and only ever for trad published authors who have trad publishers who ought to know better than to publish a poorly written novel.) (and even then we don't add a comment onto Amazon.)

    These books are submitted to us for review, which implies that the author is requesting an honest opinion, therefore, we do, often, include some constructive criticism: 'Great story, spotted a few typos' or 'Good story but another edit to catch those anachronisms would make it a great story'. And yes, these critiques would be/are also said direct to the author, because they are designed to be constructive, not destructive.
    There's a huge difference!

    However, the emphasis in our reviews is 'is this book value for money?' Is it written/produced well enough for a reader to enjoy?
    If 'yes' we review it, and add a brief, good, comment on Amazon and Goodreads. If 'no', we don't do either and move on to the next book.

    Unlike many of these sad people, I don't have time to waste on publishing negative comments.

    One UK chap delights in deliberately trashing books in order to tout for clients. ('This book has xxx errors, contact me for a list of them' - for which he charges a fee, of course.)

    Incidentally, it amazes me that authors who respond to a polite 'I'm sorry your novel wasn't quite suitable for Discovering Diamonds to review' with a tirade of abuse actually think that this sort of rudeness will make me change my mind and give a favourable review. Er no, it's a quick way to ensuring they get deleted and blocked...

    Thanks for the article.

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  22. Thank you for this post. A friend just published her first book. 1 out of 20 comments are from envious haters and they are mean-spirited!! I've shared this with her. Very useful!! - Neil

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