The Dark Side of Reviews

In the past, I’ve blogged my thoughts about the review process, and I’m at it again. It’s the wonderful experience when publishing a book. Every author, whether self-published or traditional, has a star-filled future from one to five.

After being in the public eye since 2008, I’ve come to one conclusion. The entire review process is so – what’s the word I want to use here – LAME! Why lame? Because frankly, folks, it’s a broken process limping along that has little value, if any, these days.

Why do I say that? Recently, I’ve discovered a very disturbing trend from readers, especially on Goodreads and Amazon, who post reviews purposely to bring down the ratings of self-published authors. This is not the first time it’s happened to me or to my peers. I find the practice not only disturbing, but perturbing as well.

What are authors looking for in a review? Well, I’ll give you my two cents worth. I want to know how my story touched you as an individual. Tell me whether you thought it was a good plot. Let me know if you think my characters and dialogue were right on or not. Write about how the story either moved you or failed to move you and tell me why. Give me tips on how I could make things better, or recommend me to others if I’ve made your day.

What do authors not want from a review? Hateful comments or one stars with no comments from mean people with chips on their shoulders or grudges because they’re prejudice against self-published authors. Mean spirited reviews from people who trash your work, who clearly haven’t read it because their reviews are contrary to the content of the book itself. Being targeted when you piss off a reader, because you hold views contrary to their own.

The longer I am an author, the longer I despise the review process because it is so ambiguous. I’ve had my share of professional reviews, as well, that have run the gambit from one end to the other. I often wondered if they read the same book! However, at least the reviews were written for the most part with intelligent reasons behind why they liked or didn’t like the book.

What set me off on this article? Well, recently a certain Goodreads reader opened and account and went on a rampage of one star reviews that were given to a bunch of self-published authors who wrote Phantom of the Opera sequel books. Some of these individuals targeted, including myself, are well respected in their work. No comments were placed under the books about why it deserved its rating. Only 16 golden one-star bashes placed upon our heads for books that were probably not even read by this person.

Actions like that are clearly actions of abuse and serve no purpose in a reading community like Goodreads, and I made my complaint known to Goodreads as well. It’s not only places like Goodreads, but it happens on Amazon. Reviews are now rarely given for literary criticism; they have turned into dumping grounds for mean-spirited people with agendas to discredit or trash the work of self-published authors.

What’s interesting in this review blitz was that all the sequels to Phantom of the Opera were one-starred, but traditional published authors or those who kept to the time line of the early story as portrayed in Leroux, but wrote no sequel, were all given give five stars. The end result? Some authors stats went up; 16 stats went down. Why? Because someone wanted to show their displeasure over sequels.

This immature action speaks volumes, and frankly, I’m tired of it. It’s too bad that authors can’t turn off the review function on Goodreads and Amazon like you can on Youtube. I’d rather advertise my book without someone’s review and let people decide for themselves in private, rather than trying to market myself based on grudges and lies from people who really know nothing about my work.

Okay, I’ve vented. I’ve vented on behalf of myself, and I’ve vented on behalf of some of my dear author friends who were caught up in this frenzy. Actions like these, really showcase what a poison pen can do. However, in this day and age, we can call it the poison mouse. I’m also stuck in a genre with The Phantom of Valletta (my book), that feeds obsession. Unfortunately, some individuals tend to get ticked off at a drop of a hat. I even received a warning last year, via a personal message on Twitter, that if I wanted people to buy my books, I’d better back off on a certain opinion I held.

It’s about time, authors, we stood up for ourselves over these abusive tactics rather than sitting down and ignoring mean-spirited people who have targeted us out of spite. I know some authors think we shouldn’t comment on bad reviews, but being reviewed for real is one thing; being reviewed by someone who hasn’t even read your book and has an agenda out to discredit you is entirely another matter.

In the end, I come to only one conclusion. The review process is broken and lame. Until somebody fixes it, it’s worthless. I really believe only verified authorized purchases should be allowed to review on Goodreads, Amazon, and other book sites. Perhaps if people were charged the price of purchasing a book in order to have the privilege of reviewing it, they’d be less reluctant to go on rampages if it cost them to do so. Had that individual been charged $15 per book for 16 copies, that would have been a hefty $240 fee to give their opinion. I suppose they might have thought about it twice before going down that road.

In conclusion, I thought I would share with you Goodread’s response to my complaint about this abusive tactic. Here is their reply:

Thank you for contacting us. We’re very sorry to hear that some users have been singling out your work and others with negative ratings.

It is Goodreads’ belief that honest reviews (positive or negative) are crucial for the site. We have never removed a review simply for its dislike of a book or low rating. That said, personal attacks on the author or unverifiable statements about the author will not be tolerated. Low star ratings or reviews such as “I didn’t like the stories/characters/etc.” are fine; but reviews that say “I hate the author,” “Don’t read this book because he/she is a jerk,” or “The author owes me money” are not. We have provided a space for a book review, not an author review.

If we open the door to Goodreads acting as a censor, we hope you’ll agree that there is no way for us to draw the line. We must be consistent in how we apply our policies. For this reason, we are unable to delete a rating or a member account for one-star ratings alone. If the member is abusive in other ways, please do not hesitate to flag the material or send us links to the content, and we will take appropriate action.

What’s to be done? Do we grit our teeth and accept it or do we expose the abusers and stand up for ourselves? I guess in the end, it will be a personal choice on what we care to tolerate as authors.

  • Wow! There are no easy answers to this dilemma.Sometimes I am so amazed that writers, many who have not published, should come down on someone who chooses to do it her way. Sheer stupidity. The gate-keepers are having their butts kicked right now, and the wave of the future belongs to Indie and small house publishers. Sometimes we even have to endure crap from former friends who just want to take digs at you. I’m getting that now. That sucks too. In the end, each writer has to decide what’s best for them and try to keep a cool head and just write the best damned book that’s ever been written. Then those one stars can find a proper home.

  • There was also a discussion on Goodreads about someone handing out one star ratings to books in the GLBT/gay categories. But ranting about it isn’t going to do any good. Especially when you lump reviews and ratings together, when what you’re actually complaining about is ratings. Very different things, I think. There’s a simple and practical solution, if enough authors were willing to get together and discuss it with Goodreads and Amazon staff. Readers shouldn’t be allowed to leave a rating until they’ve written a review. And there should be a minimum requirement of so many sentences or words to prevent someone from leaving something like “A pile of crap.”

  • True, ratings and reviews are two different animals, but my thought is when a reader looks at the number of cumulative stars right off the bat, an idea of how the book rates among the public is already established in their mind whether or not they take the time to read a written review. I know I often base a book’s performance on the star quality immediately, which is really a poor way to judge. However, your idea of making written reviews a criteria before leaving a star rating, might be another way to solve the problem. All I know is something should be done. Whether Amazon or Goodreads cares to tighten the rules is another story entirely. It would help with some abuses, but not all, such as authors writing their own reviews under false names to pump up their stats.

  • Mel Ericson

    I understand your frustration with cheap shot 1 star reviews. When I look a review, I try to qualify it’s value by looking at the history of the reviewer. In your case, the Goodreads critic gives 5 star reviews to literature I would never consider reading. Hopefully most Goodreads members “consider the source” when weighting the value of these semi-anonymous opinions. Carry on with your writing and let it go.

  • I had an interesting case where a reviewer on Smashwords slammed my book because she was peeved that it had overtaken her favorite Christian Erotica title too quickly for her comfort. I also have Goodreads folk regularly slam my collection of sarcastic retail humor (Bookstore Lore: The Stupidest Questions Ever Asked in a Bookstore) because they don’t think it’s funny, and I think it’s very funny that they do that!

    Since I give my books away I can “afford” to laugh it off, but I do feel sorry for people trying to make a buck getting trolled like that, and I hope those websites do the right thing in such obvious cases.

  • Matt Syverson

    The gatekeepers are so frustrating. I requested the use of a couple stanzas from some Led Zeppelin lyrics and was denied, as it was not in “the best interests of the band”. To think my novel, full of Led Zep worship, could tarnish the band’s legacy- they were heroin addicts performing bestial acts on groupies with sharks- is ridiculous. We, the self-published, must continue on, in spite of those that try to prevent our success. It is our time…

  • – t swell –

    Reviews can work both ways. They can be manipulated to raise awareness of your book/product. Here is an extreme (and fun) example:


    In the end, readers/consumers are not obligated to be helpful to the author/provider. Most make an effort to be helpful to potential readers/consumers and as a consumer I highly value this service.