Monday, July 11, 2011

On the Internet, Every Review is Equal

One interesting thing I've noticed since We are the Monsters went free on Amazon (and it still is as of this writing): people who wouldn't normally read your book will review it when they paid nothing.

From a recent two star review:

"This book was not good. It jumped from reality to nonreality."

Well, yes... That's what I write. Fantastic fiction. Speculation. Horror and the surreal.


This post isn't about the review (it's folly to do these things), but it is about reviews in general. A wealth of book-related websites now exist (with the best of them being Goodreads, LibraryThing, and the all-powerful Amazon), and they all have star ratings.

Once upon a time, an author looked to a handful of powerful review sources for validation. Now, anyone with WiFi can hang out in a coffee shop and spread his/her opinion. This is positive, of course... I believe in free speech and the open internet... But there is a caveat.

Take this example: I do not read romance novels. I think they are drivel. You are welcome to disagree with my opinion because, quite frankly, that's all it is: opinion. I'm sure many folks would say the same about the "nonreality" nonsense I write. Drivel.

But what if I decided to review a romance novel? The power to do so is only a few clicks away.

One star: mushy and unrealistic.

One star: cheesy love scenes.

One star: this is why my students can't read literature.

You get the idea. Of course, I wouldn't ever do such a thing--I don't read romance and have no grounds from which to review a romance novel.

Even in the age of the internet and a voice for all, not all reviews are created equal. They just appear that way on the surface.


Brendan P. Myers said...

I'm beginning to believe that people who receive books and stories for free are not only more likely to leave a review, but they are more likely to leave a negative one.

It might be as simple as they literally have no stake in it. After all, they got it for free, and therefore need no validation that they spent their money wisely. Indeed, they're telling the world how smart they are that they didn't pay for it, and their not paying for it was validated by how "bad it was."

Have no idea why they seem more likely to leave a review on free stuff, but I do know my free stuff has been reviewed far more (and more harshly) than anything I sell. I sometimes wonder if it's worth it, like, is the free stuff (being reviewed badly) undermining what I have for sale.

Anyway, I suspect someone smarter than me or more knowledgable about psychology could explain it. But for what it's worth, I'm seeing it too.

Anthony Rapino said...

Everyone's a critic.

I wrote a blog post a while back about netflix user reviews, and how--forgive me--95% of the people who write them are imbeciles.

Scroll through some of the reviews and you'll find 1 star reviews and 5 star reviews. Very few in between. Sometimes I wonder how the people can watch so many "worst movies of all time" in a year. Seriously, every other day they see a movie that was "the worst movie they ever saw." Fascinating.

I want to believe people who write Amazon reviews for books are more intelligent, but sometimes I wonder.

I'm being mean. I'm sorry. I should say, "They believe their opinion is the only right one, even if it's an opinion about a genre they don't even like," but I'm allowed to be a little mean because I don't have any books on Amazon, and I've never had a review written for any of my work, so this isn't personal. Right? Right. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I finished We Are the Monsters this weekend, and I've got to say: I think it's your best work to date. Much better than Loathsome which dragged a bit for me and could have been tighter/shorter. I'd give Monsters nothing less than 4 stars, maybe even 5. Anybody who rates it lower is, to quote Mr. Rapino, an "imbecile."

S. Williams said...

Maybe a little off subject but I think frame of mind plays into it as well. Some people have to be sold on what to expect up front. A couple of years ago a coworker that I always talked movies with had just seen the last Desperado movie “Once upon a time in Mexico”. He hated it, said it was too outlandish and “Cartoonie”. In the weeks before he had seen both the James bond with the invisible car and Charlie’s Angles and loved both of them.

for what its worth I think We are the monsters is 4 stars.

Cate Gardner said...

I'm of the opinion that everyone is entitled to an opinion. Especially me.

Seriously though, although I was being semi-serious above, if a review praises something that I think I did right, then I try to remember that for next time, and if a review points something out that I did badly and I agree, then I remember that for next time too. Everything else is gratefully received because folk taking the time to read your stories is awesome, they are awesome (and of course you know that).

Some people say you shouldn't read your reviews. Those people are mad--it's impossible to resist. My opinion. :D

Erin Cole said...

I love your response to the two star review. Personal tastes and opinions are not adequate indicators of good or bad writing.

There are plenty of people who dislike King, Gaiman, John Hart, and I don’t even understand how books like “The Invisible Wall” could get a one star. Talk about monsters.

Aaron Polson said...

Brendan - Very good point re: free. Free means nothing to a reader. What's the point?

Anthony - But you did get that Stoker suggestion... ;)

Milo - Thanks. I trend toward shorter story lines, and one of the benefits of the e-revolution is that your tiny book doesn't look wimpy compared to 500 page "epics".

S. - Thanks. I'll take Once Upon a Time in Mexico over Charlie's Angels any day of the week. Sheesh.

Cate - Time is the most precious resource, so yes--of course any read is a good read. Thank you all!

Erin - There are one-star reviews of amazing books (The Things They Carried, etc.). Taste is taste.

Laura Eno said...

I've seen reviews where the person states they never read the book but gave it one star because they didn't like the synopsis. O.o

Katey said...

Yeah, these people are idiots. It's that whole "opinions are like assholes..." thing my granddaddy used to say.

Double-edged, though. The same freedom that means we can get our stuff out there (and do it RIGHT) means they can get their opinions out there. In that way, at least, the good of easy access net stuff outweighs the bad, to my mind.

Freedom to be awesome or be an idiot. Just wish it wouldn't eff up peoples' stars :/

Simon Kewin said...

Yes, that's a very fair point. I suppose that, given enough reviews, the odd anomalous one gets drowned out. It is weird what people base their reviews on, though. Amazon, for example, seems to have many 1 star reviews that were given because the delivery service was bad or something, completely ignoring the product being reviewed.

James Everington said...

Everyone has the right to review something now, but everyone has the right to ignore obviously biased, ill-informed, or blatantly insane reviews.

I've frequently been persuaded to buy a book or CD due to a 1-star review from someone who appeared to someone who's tastes were the opposite of mine. Of course some 4/5 stars help...

Fox Lee said...

You can't leave reviews on Amazon unless you have an account, which always annoyed me.

Danielle Birch said...

I'd love to know exactly what this person does like to read.

J. R. Tomlin said...

Most of the reviews my novels have received were from free books from Librarything giveaways.

Most of them have been positive.

So the "people who receive free books mostly leave negative reviews" may just be... a negative review. That isn't my experience at all.

Toyin O. said...

Interesting thoughts here, I am not a big fan of Romance novels either, but I will probably give an honest review if I was given a free book.

Brendan P. Myers said...

@J.R.: Not sure who you're quoting there, but it certainly isn't me. I'd point out too that becoming a member of and then signing up for a Librarything giveaway is quite different than simply anonymously downloading something from the Internet. After all, if the Librarything giveaways are anything like the Goodreads giveaways . . . you have their addresses! (:>)

Lyn said...

I give this blog post one star. It says things.