As children, my mother taught us that if you had nothing nice to say you shouldn’t say anything, and to a degree I agree with her. What point is there in hurting or upsetting someone? Even if the person is not there to listen to your opinion, what good does that negativity do you? Surely it’s much better to pull back your shoulders, hush your thoughts, button your lip, and get on with something more constructive?
Ah yes, constructive criticism. Is that a different kettle of fish? Does that make your opinion, which is less than flattering, reasonable? Can it fall outside the scope of ‘if you have nothing nice to say?’ I think it does for the best part. Think of Simon Cowell giving feedback to that poor soul on stage, quivering in fear before Cowell has even opened his mouth. Should Simon Cowell mislead that person simply to be kind? I believe he should on occasion, or perhaps he could be a little gentler in the delivery of the message. But, and there is usually a but, he’s judging a competition, usually amateurs who need guidance, and those that knew exactly what he’s like, and what they were possibly letting themselves in for. So are they fair game? Is he always right? Of course not, who is? But sometimes things are simply a matter of one’s personal taste. I doubt Simon Cowell likes all genres of music, or the different styles in which it’s delivered, but he rarely passes negative comment on those that have already achieved a level of success. How would that help anyone? Which brings us neatly to the point of this post – reviews and critiques.
As an indie author, I check the reviews posted on my novels regularly. I still find it amazing that someone has taken the time to read them, let alone post a review, and it is with one eye shut and braced for the smack in the face, that I read the lower starred reviews. Sometimes, (in my opinion), the reader simply didn’t ‘get it’. Others read it hoping for a different type of story, and I accept that. I’ve read many books with fabulous reviews that I simply didn’t enjoy, perhaps because it wasn’t not detailed enough, or there’s too much detail, or the characters didn’t seem real, but to others that novel was almost the best thing since sliced bread, and I accept that too.
It’s the same with most things in life – food, fashion, films, contestants on talent shows – the list is endless. Sometimes I read the ‘bad’ review and it hits me between the eyes. It’s not so much a bad review as an honest one. The reviewer isn’t trying to be clever, or spiteful, they simply didn’t enjoy the story as much as they should have, and they are telling me and any potential readers why, and I take heed. I have tied to amend, or reduce, some of the things they say they didn’t like, but not so much as to change how I write, because for every poor review there are a bunch of great reviews. So, should they have kept quiet because they didn’t have anything nice to say? Of course not, that’s what reviews are all about. I know I have been lucky as none of the ‘poor’ reviews I have received have been spiteful, but that’s not always the case for other writers. It was reading an exchange between three fellow indie writers about the Fifty Shades trilogy that prompted me to write this post. We’ll call them Jane, Joanne, and Jenny. (I’m keen not to attract their attention), and it went something like this:
Jane: Writes several paragraphs explaining why she didn’t enjoy reading ANY of the three books, most of it was constructive. (I don’t understand why she went on to buy the second two, but I read on.)
Jenny: I agree, I simply don’t understand how James has had so much success. The books are badly written, the subject matter dull, and the characters shallow. Did you read the part in book three where… (She too bought three of these terrible books? Why?)
Joanne: I know, but people are lemmings, they simply follow each other into oblivion. I bet James is sitting in her ivory tower, surrounded by her millions, laughing at those poor saps. It just goes to show that you don’t need talent to make a fortune. Meanwhile, there are good writers out there struggling to get read, and it doesn’t seem fair. I haven’t read any of them on principle; I didn’t feel I should add to her coffers. (Really?!? You feel able to comment on something you haven’t read?)
Jenny: Lucky you, I’m trying to erase it from my mind. Do you know that she even copped out describing the female protagonist by having her examine herself in front of the mirror? No imagination went into introducing the girl’s appearance at all.
Jane: I know, I was surprised at that. But then the whole thing lacks effort. She has churned out fodder for the masses. I used the mirror thing in one of my earlier books; I really should go back and change it. It will be interesting to see what she comes up with next. (Again – really? You are going to buy another one – what about adding to her coffers – think on!)
At this point I stopped reading the exchange, and went to Amazon to check them out. I found they were indie authors, with a sprinkling of reviews, some good, some bad, just like the rest of us. I even did the ‘look inside’ thing on two of them. What I found wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t mind blowing either. I wondered why they would take the time and effort to bad mouth another author’s work, particularly Joanne who hadn’t even read the books, and thought that their efforts could be best used elsewhere. I came to the conclusion that they were the afore mentioned lemmings. They had a choice of which way to run, and they chose to follow those who wanted to be negative. Having reached this conclusion I decided that my mum was right, sometimes if you have nothing nice to say, you really should keep quiet, particularly if you have no grounds on which to be nasty. I then wondered if E L James had been a singer, would Cowell be quite so harsh because he’d not mentored her, I doubted that he would, after all, would that not be sour grapes? E L James started her career as an indie author, and even if you don’t like her work, you can’t begrudge her her success surely? That would be like begrudging your neighbour a lottery win, even if they were the person in the queue in front of you when you went to buy your ticket.
That’s better! I’m glad I got that off my chest. To those of you who are wondering, yes, I did read all three. I liked Ana and her vulnerability, and I wanted to know why Christian was as he was. I got bored with the repetitive sex scenes, and wished the ending wasn’t so perfect. I like people to have happy endings, (most of them involve Richard Gere – think Pretty Woman and An Officer and Gentleman), but not so much as they are perfect, because life rarely is, but then again, this isn’t life we’re talking about, it’s fiction.
So, at the end of all that, I would leave you with this advice: Unless you are being constructive from a sound knowledge base, if you have nothing nice to say, it’s best to say nothing. Unless of course you are judging a talent competition, in which case temper your critique, as being nasty isn’t necessary. Oh yes, and if you’ve read a book you didn’t enjoy, it might be fair to give the author another chance, but after hating three of them, it’s probably best you give up, but if you enjoyed it, take the time to say so, it will make you feel so much better than being negative.
Do you agree, or am I being soft?