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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - Book Reviews, That Is
Once you are lucky enough to have something published, sooner or later, you will get reviewed. There are two kinds of reviews: Professional reviews and reader reviews.
Professional reviews come from people who make either a career or a serious hobby out of reviewing books. In today's world, there are a lot of individuals writing review blogs as a hobby or a sideline, but they often fall into the category of professional reviewers. It's normal for publishers to send ARCs (Advance Review Copies) to professional and serious hobby reviewers. Reviewers, however, are legally obligated to declare that they received an ARC (as of early 2011).
Reader reviews are generally found on bookseller sites, such as Amazon, and are simply notes from people who have read and enjoyed (or not) your book.
Aside from this, though, reviews fall into four different categories: Good, Bad, Mixed and 'Ugly'. (If you haven't heard that term before, don't be surprised, it's one I made up and I'll explain it a little later.
Ah yes, the kind of review everyone wants. The reviewer loved your book. Or they call your story in an anthology a 'stand out'. They have nothing bad to say. Of course, some good reviews come from your friends. Some friends can be trusted to be honest, but some can't. In fact, Amazon has been cracking down lately on 'fake reviews' and have even threatened to remove self-published titles because of too many reviews from 'friends and family'. (Never let your mother review your work). Never review the work of anyone who lives with you or vice versa - reviews from the same internet connection will get you into trouble. Review exchanges with other authors are iffy too...most people find it hard to resist the temptation to give each other five star reviews that may not be deserved.
A good review is relatively rare, especially from professional reviewers, who often seem to feel obliged to find something bad to say about a book, even if they have to look hard for it.
Oh dear. The reviewer hated your book. They could not find a single good thing to say about it...and sometimes it seems as if they looked hard. They thought your writing was drivel, or spend the entire review nit picking some aspect of research.
Resist the temptation to respond to a bad review. It can be very strong, especially if it seems as if the reviewer read a totally different story. Writers who respond to bad reviews look bad and unprofessional.
Besides, when you get a bad review, just consider the fact that there might well be people out there who read that reviewer and then go and do the exact opposite to what they suggest. Sometimes, a reviewer who always hates what you like can be a very useful person to know. (In fact, some writers have discovered bad reviews trigger as many sales as good ones, if not more).
The vast majority of reviews are mixed. The reviewer loved some things, hated others, was meh about yet more.
Most reviews are not one thing or another. A reviewer might praise your opening, but not your ending. They might also say things that can be taken either way. Is saying a story is too short a criticism of your pacing, or a begging request for more?
Almost all professional reviewers will always give mixed reviews, because they feel it is their job to express opinions about a story's strong and weak points.
So. What is an "ugly" review? It's something I came up with myself to refer to a review that is not "bad" in the sense that the reviewer did not like your book, but is bad in some other sense.
An ugly review is one where the reviewer brings your politics, race or sexuality into the equation. Or where they complain because an ezine's publisher hit the wrong Wordpress upload button and messed up the formatting.
It could also be a case where somebody felt pushed to review a book in a genre they hate, and they are reviewing the genre, not the book.
Finally, an ugly review could also mean one where the reader decided something about the author's politics, religion or morality based off of the story and attacked the author. It's not uncommon for people to think that if your main character is a slut, you must be a slut as well. Or if you write about fascism, obviously, you're a fascist. Even if the fascists are the bad guys. This, sadly, happens all the time.
Another kind of ugly review is the review from a fellow author that is designed to make readers buy their book instead of yours. There was even an incident recently in which an author posted low star reviews on Amazon and included a link to her own work. The reviews were removed and she reposted them...without the link. (Because of this kind of thing, Amazon is cracking down on authors reviewing each other's work, which has always been against their terms of service).
As bad as it is to respond to a bad review, it is far worse to respond to an ugly one. Debates with trolls are unpleasant and a waste of time you could be spending writing.
Something else worth mentioning is the paid review. This is a sleazy practice engaged in by some people, often self publishers. They will hand out free copies and pay a small amount for people to review their book, usually on Amazon. Because of this, a lot of people will not give five star reviews on Amazon any more, as they tend to be scrutinized. I've even seen people say a book is excellent but only give it three stars because they didn't want the review to look suspicious. These "ugly" practices reduce the value of reader reviews significantly.
The most important thing to remember about reviews is not to respond to them, unless it's with a simple 'Thank you'. If somebody writes a good review, or a well written and thought out mixed one, they know it will be appreciated.
If they write a bad one, then engaging them looks like nothing more or less than sour grapes. Everyone gets bad reviews, and no matter how upsetting they are (especially if they degrade into some kind of personal attack), they are best ignored.
Besides, there is something worse than a bad review. Far worse.
No review at all.