13 November 2018

To Read or Not to Read: the Reviews of Your Books

From the truth in advertising department: I did this piece a few years ago at a different blog. I think it’s worth repeating. But the main reason I’m doing that is because I’m having major computer issues and it’s hard to work on my computer. I hope we have these issues worked out over the next few days. Believe me, I’m ready to CENSORED.

And I want to say that I hope everyone had a good Veterans Day and that we actually stopped to remember what it was for.

So, how do I react to negative reviews? 

I call up my friends in the Mossad and tell them to seek out and destroy all negative reviewers in the shank of a dark and stormy night. Oh wait, no, that’s what a producer said he was going to do to me when we got in an argument about a script.

Take 2:

Some people say never to read reviews and that’s probably good advice, and probably what one should do. But it’s hard not to. Why? Because, I’m sure, we all want to have our egos stroked. And we’re looking for the positive reinforcement that says we haven’t wasted our lives working on something that nobody likes. So our expectation—our hope—is to get good reviews for that and other reasons. When we don’t our egos are shattered. And those who say it doesn’t affect them, well, let’s just say I think they’re most likely doing that stiff upper lip thing.

I’ve been gratified by most reviews, whether by professional reviewers or consumers on Amazon and the like. But every once in a while...

Even big stars like to check their reviews. I was on the Warner Brothers lot (though it may have been called The Burbank Studios at the time, now it’s back to Warner Brothers [long story]) one day and saw Bill Murray leaning against a car reading a review of his version of “The Razor’s Edge” (1984) that had just come out (and based on my tied for favorite book along with The Count of Monte Cristo). It wasn’t getting rave reviews to say the least, but as I say above, we all want to be validated and maybe also get some constructive criticism as to what went wrong. And I remember thinking even Bill Murray, with all his popularity from “Ghostbusters,” etc. still must feel the sting of a bad review like everyone else.

Hell, even Bob Dylan doesn’t like the sting of being booed, as when he first went electric and rock from strictly acoustic folk music. Check out this YouTube clip. It’s less than a minute long:

So let’s focus on Amazon reviews because they’re there, for good or ill. I don’t like reading negative reviews, but how I react depends on the review. Not everybody can like everything. I get that. Of course, one is tempted to remind some reviewers what their mommies told them, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” But that isn’t the real world, is it? So for me, it depends on what the reviewer says. Does it seem like they actually read the book? Do they have an axe to grind? Are they offering constructive comments about what worked or didn’t for them or are they just off on some kind of tangent? Did they get what I was trying to say and, if not, is that my fault or theirs?

I got a couple of one star reviews for my short story collection “LA Late @ Night”. And they did piss me off. I had gotten some lukewarm reviews on “White Heat” and lived with them. But these two reviews for “LA Late @ Night” just didn’t make sense to me. These two reviewers, who seemed cut from the same cloth (literally), both hated the book and the stories in it. But their comments made little sense.

One said: “Uninteresting, choppy writing. No plots. I wouldn't waste my time reading this series of books as they are rambling writings.”

Where do I start? With the fact that it’s not a series. Uninteresting, well, that’s your opinion. Choppy, well that’s my style on some things. But each story had previously been published in a magazine or anthology, so somebody found them interesting. No plots, see previous response. Bottom line, I wonder if they even knew what book they were reviewing—But Wait: There’s More. The Kicker is yet to come. But First:

The other crappy review:

“Not that great of stories and the writing is stilted...I didn't even finish them all!”

Oh, where to begin: How ’bout them criticizing my writing as being stilted when their sentence is grammatically incorrect? So maybe someone who doesn’t know proper grammar criticizing my grammar is actually a compliment.

Okay, here it comes. Hold your breath. The Kicker:

Being a glutton for punishment, I of course had to check each person’s profile to see why they hated my book so much. What I saw were reviews for muffin pans, muck boots, kitchen gadgets, children’s books, religious/inspirational books and very few mystery books, and no noir or hardboiled books. So I wondered why they even bought my book…if they really did? Judging from their other reviews I could have told them they wouldn’t like it and would have saved them the time, aggravation and money.

It made no sense to me why they would even read a book like mine. So I had to assume there was an agenda going on. I called this to Amazon’s attention, asking them to remove these reviews, which they wouldn’t. I still think there was some kind of agenda happening here, though I couldn’t say exactly what the motivation is and these are the kind of reviews, totally baseless, that really piss me off. And I know authors are not supposed to say that, we’re not supposed have emotions or respond, but hey, we do.

And here are some other One Star Amazon reviews for your entertainment pleasure, only the names have been removed to protect the guilty.

Reviews from Amazon – yellow highlights and purple comments have been added by me.

Reviews of The Big Sleep: 

One Star, boring 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase

"The book is a big sleep." (Paul’s comment: Well, some of us who liked this book must just be insomniacs.) 

One Star 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase


Reviews of Crime and Punishment: 

One Star 
By Amazon Customer
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

"Very slow & plodding." (Paul’s comment: That damn Raskolnikov, why didn’t he just get it over and confess? On “Law & Order” Briscoe and Curtis would have had him spilling all in 2 minutes flat.)

Too long 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

"Long and pretty boring I don't like the old timely language they use in this book I know it's translated from German or Russian maybe but I was bored to tears and there was never any payoff really just goes on and on."

Reviews of 1984: 

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I love a good dystopian but this was just such a ... 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase

"I have always heard about 1984 being the father of all dystopian novels... I love a good dystopian but this was just such a hard book to read because in the entire story, there is no room for hope." (Paul’s comment: Maybe Katniss from “Hunger Games” should show up and rescue Winston and Julia from O’Brien.) 

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
...must be a book only an English teacher would like. I classify this a worse than "Catcher and ... 
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

"This must be a book only an English teacher would like. I classify this a worse than 'Catcher and the Rye'" (Paul’s comment: Is that a new book, Catcher and the Rye, or is that something you get at Canter’s Deli (or Katniss’ Deli) – or maybe Canter’s and the Rye, or maybe Ham on Rye – h/t Chinaski.) 


Damn! I’m hungry now. So, overall, you have to take both the good and the bad with a grain of seasoned salt, a quesadilla and some damn good and spicy hot sauce.


And now for the usual BSP:

I’m honored and thrilled – more than I can say – that my story Windward appears in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler, which just came out this week. I wrote a blog on that on SleuthSayers if you want to check it out: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2018/10/the-impossible-dream.html .

I’m doubly thrilled to say that Windward won the Macavity Award at Bouchercon a few weeks ago. Wow! And thank you to everyone who voted for it.

And I’m even more thrilled by the great reviews that Broken Windows has been receiving. Here’s a small sampling:

Betty Webb, Mystery Scene Magazine:  "Broken Windows is extraordinary."

Kristin Centorcelli, Criminal Element"Although it’s set in 1994, it’s eerie how timely this story is. There’s an undeniable feeling of unease that threads through the narrative, which virtually oozes with the grit, glitz, and attitude of L.A. in the ‘90s. I’m an ecstatic new fan of Duke’s."

"Duke and company practically beg for their own TV show."

John Dwaine McKenna, Mysterious Book Report:  "This electrifying novel will jolt your sensibilities, stir your conscience and give every reader plenty of ammunition for the next mixed group where the I [immigration] -word is spoken!"

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com


  1. Reviews. I do not read them. Not just reviews of my books, but reviews of any book. It is all hot air. If I want to check out a book, I go to amazon.com and find it and look at the first few pages. If it grabs me, good. I may read the blurb put up by the writer and/or publisher. I know - literary criticism is supposed to be important but it all sounds like NFL pre-game shows. Yak. Yak. Yak. I don't give a rat's ass what commentators think of a certain quaterback or coach. I make up my own mind.

    I find many reviews on amazon more destructive than insightful.

    Having said all that, I know some reviews are well done. But I believe it is a small amount.

  2. I agree with you for the most part, O'Neil.

  3. I seldom get reviews because I'm self-published. The majority of them are good, but you can read every review for my fifteen books (14 novels & a collection of published short stories) in about five minutes.

    I agree with O'Neil that they don't mean anything. They do nothing for your sales and most people probably don't read them.

    I no longer have the link, but Peter Riva published a persuasive article in Publishers Weekly about two years ago, explaining how and why most Amazon reviews were worthless, and it's even truer now. You can find reviews a sentence long and the surname is the same as the authors, and, as you pointed out, Paul, the reviewer has never reviewed another book. That sentence is something like "I loved it."
    Now that I review occasionally for an online journal, I've found that it's easier to write a legitimate positive review than it is to write a negative one. For the good one, you remember the stuff you liked. I read a book a few months ago that I thought was so bad I went back and re-read the whole book again to make sure I hadn't missed or misunderstood an important point that affected my judgment. I hadn't, but you see where I'm going. Most readers won't do that.

    I often run into readers at my health club who will tell me they're reading a book they enjoy, but they can't give me the title, the author, or even a coherent plot summary.

    Not only is that what's out there, that's the audience we may be writing for...

  4. I have seen reviews for books I really loved that showed the poster must not have read the book, it wasn't their cup of tea, or they really did have an axe to grind. And there is always the possibility that the poster really had no clue... about much of anything. There are ways to offer polite and constructive criticism and there are ways to be a total... expletive deleted. If the writer knows his work, he will move on. After all, he did something that 98% of the population can't do... write.

  5. Paul, I enjoyed your blog article and got a kick out of some of the Amazon reviews. For some people, it must be the only power they have in life, and watch out world because they are going to use it.

  6. I would say never read reviews of your own stuff by people you don't know. Why should a writer have to feel any more suicidal despair than what we can conjure up ourselves?

  7. Thanks for your comment, Steve. And your adventures at the gym are totally disheartening ;-) .

    The only thing that bothers me overall about the reviews, well, two things I guess: when people seem to have an agenda and bad reviews lower the overall ratings.

    As for doing reviews, I always try to find the good in something, too. And you’re a better man than I – I wouldn’t go back and re-read something I couldn’t stand.

  8. Thanks, Gayle. I agree with you, there are ways to offer constructive criticism. But seem people just seem to want to be vindictive for one reason or another. And some are just stupid, I think…

  9. Thanks, R.T. Glad you enjoyed it. I agree, it’s a power trip and for some I guess it is their only power in life…

  10. Thanks, Eve. There’s nothing I can say to top what you said :-) . ’Cause you’re so right.

  11. I prefer that my writing receive good reviews, but I can't control other people's opinions. Where I think reviews matter is from the major review publications. Libraries order according to those reviews. Of course, if you're not published by one of the big five you're not as likely to get positive reviews or for that matter any reviews from the majors like LJ, PW, Booklist and Kirkus.

  12. Thanks for your comment, Jacqueline. I can't argue with anything you say.

  13. I agree that online reviewing---often merely commenting, not reviewing---gives some people power they never felt they had. I wish Amazon would delete the one-word comment I got: "BORING" in all caps. But then I like the one word "Fascinating" I also received. I also think that if someone can't finish the book, she/he should NOT review.

  14. Thanks for your comment, Maggie. And I agree with you about the power. I don't think I ever got a one word review though :-) . And I guess your two sort of even each other out.


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