Saturday, July 14, 2012

Who Died and Made You an Expert? By Lorca Damon


If you’re ever unsure of the intelligence of the average human, go check out the comments section of any article on Yahoo or video posted to YouTube. It’s like the internet has given people the necessary anonymity to say whatever dumb thing pops into their little minds. Sadly, the same thing is true for book reviews.

Everyone who’s ever read a book is now an expert on writing, thanks to the ability to post reviews on the online sales pages of books. Whether you actually read the book cover-to-cover or if you just walked by the display in your local bookstore, you’re now able to write your comments for all the internet to see.

In the interest of full disclosure, here is the most aggravating review of my own book on autism:

“This book was okay if your child is younger. My son was diagnosed at age six and I had already put into place most of the practices discussed and was past other stages. If your child is older than 2, I recommend books by Ellen Notbohm and Paula Kluth instead.”

Let’s dissect this: first of all, her child is older than my child. HOW WAS THAT MY FAULT? You gave this book a 3-star review, thus dropping its status, because you squeezed your kid out before I did? Then you proceeded to completely shanghai my Amazon page with a COMMERCIAL FOR A DIFFERENT BOOK. That’s like me going to the Amazon page for THE HOLY BIBLE and writing, “Y’all should totally read The Torah, it’s way better.”

Now, I realize this sounds like me just venting some anger at a pointless review. Let me be the first to assure you that it’s not the case. I have two UGLY one-star reviews from people who absolutely hated my book and I respect them for having strong feelings about a topic and trying to share those feelings with others. I don’t like what they had to say, obviously, but I respect their opinions. This crappy review above, however, was just unnecessary.

As readers, we should make our points clearly and succinctly. I agree that having forked over some of my hard-earned cash to purchase a book does give me some right to voice an opinion on it. But as writers, we should stick to an honest evaluation of the writing in a book we review. I can read a book on a topic I don’t really care about but still be able to intelligently appraise the book’s value. I am literate enough to understand whether or not other readers will be able to appreciate the book or if they will have to put on their hip waders to muck their ways through its poor editing and outright rape of the English language.

Reviewing a book is an awesome responsibility. As a reviewer, I may unwittingly encourage one to spend their money or worse, stop someone from reading a life-changing book. It’s not a job I take lightly, and I would hope that other writers feel the same way.

 Lorca Damon is a teacher in a juvenile correctional facility and staff writer for GoodEReader.com. Her first non-fiction title, Autism By Hand, is an Amazon bestseller and her first fiction title, The Earth is for Dancing, was recently published as well. She is also one of the funniest people I know.  You should stalk her at

Her website:  lorcadamon.com
Twitter: @LorcaDamon
Good E-Reader goodereader.com

18 comments:

Kathy Lynn Hall said...

Lorca - I have often thought the same thoughts. Half the people who review books have no business reviewing them or anything else. One of my earlier reviewers knocked off points because she thought the title sounded too much like a cocktail. Take heart in the fact that most people don't pay that much attention to the reviews on Amazon and they don't believe it if you have too many 5 star reviews.

Good post.

Julia Barrett said...

Honey, have you seen this kerfluffle? Similar topic - http://www.thepassivevoice.com/07/2012/stop-the-goodreads-bullies/

Suzanne Shumaker said...

Yes, I have used these reviews and decided to buy a book from another author ... frustrating when you're the author. But I also see that review as positive - I have a child with Autism and this reviewer says that your advice is sound and has worked for her - totally out of line giving you a 3 star over her previous experience though.

The reviews that annoy me the most begin with: "I haven't read this book, but..." sheesh, if you haven't read it, please don't rate/review it!

Lorca Damon said...

And that happens far too often! One of the one-star reviews I mentioned above said something to the effect of, "I'm so glad your daughter can't read so she'll never know what you really think of her." Well, rocket scientist, I devoted an entire chapter to the misconceptions and stereotypes associated with autism in which I explain that my daughter read on a 10th grade level in kindergarten, but had no math ability whatsoever! She didn't finish the book.

I'm seeing this alarming trend on Twitter, too. People who comment on a blog post and trash talk it after only reading a tweet about the post. Sad.

Thanks for your comment and I've love to hear more about your child and what you've done that's worked. I blog about autism at AutismByHand.com.

Lorca Damon said...

I just read it and I have to say, I want a pet kerfluffle. Seriously, the author makes a great point. If you ever a) use profanity in a review b) attack the author as a human being or c) misspell anything, you need to be kicked in the head. By a kerfluffle.

Lorca Damon said...

And the great point you've made is so truly sad. I get paid to review books and I really hope that the things I saw in a book--good or bad--resonate with people. But if it's gotten to the point that no one can even pay attention to the reviews on Amazon because we all just accept that the reviews are pointless, something's wrong with the system. Thanks for reading and commenting!

D.C. said...

I have rules about reviewing books. I won't give a star rating of less than four to an indie published book or less than three to a traditionally published work. If I think the story deserves less than this, I don't review, period. I will, however, give an honest opinion privately only if it is solicited.

My worst review was a three or four star (I can't recall) but in her comments, the author skewered the editing (or lack of). There were a few errors but I wondered if she counted the Canadian spelling of words as typos. Regardless, I was fine with the review because she liked the writing, characters, setting and plot, etc., she just thought it needed better editing. My publisher, however, was livid. She attacked me as if I had written the review personally, telling me that her editor was top-notch and I had sullied the publishing house's reputation with this review. It completely severed our already tenuous relationship and I ended up (finally) getting all of the rights to my books back. I cannot believe how badly the pub reacted. Bad reviews are things we can't control but we should show a little restraint when reacting to them.

Amberr Meadows said...

Some book reviewers just aren't qualified. That review from the woman with the older child is shitty, and for her to plug other books on your review is disrespectful. IMO

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I occasionally review books on my blog but I prefer to stick to traditionally published books, and then I try to give an insightful review based on the quality of the writing. I don't review indie books unless asked, and then I won't publish it if the writer doesn't like the review.

I did see a review by a woman on Amazon that a) was a total spoiler for the book and wasn't marked as containing spoilers and b) she ranted about the book because she was religious and didn't like the actions of the characters she considered immoral. Spoilers are totally inappropriate because anyone reading that review now won't want to buy the book, and as for b), I wonder how she expected there to be any conflict if all the characters did the right things according to her moral code? Setting aside, of course, the fact the characters are not her, and everyone else isn't her either. It just wasn't the right basis on which to review the books.

Lorca Damon said...

I've reviewed indie books and I, for one, have not shied away from telling it like it is when it comes to atrocious writing, horrible editing, and the like. Of course, that was my job working for a company that reviewed indie books, so the kinder option of handling it privately or not publishing the review wasn't available to me. Maybe that's why I'm so harsh about ugly reviews...I have personally had to deliver several one-star ratings to books that I actually thought may have been my initiation as the "new girl" reviewing for this well-known company, but I have yet to attack an author or use insulting, foul language. There are ways to handle the criticism without crushing a writer's soul.

Rachel Thompson said...

Lorca, I just wrote about this topic on my BadRedheadMedia.com blog & I agree with your points. It's hard not to get wrapped up in what dumbasses say about our work. But -- without hopefully sounded like too much of a mom -- take this frustration and anger and put it into more of your terrific writing.

(wait, did I just advertise my blog here? oops. not my intention haha)...just making a point.

You know it's a great book. You know you're a great writer. Keeping writing, babe. That's enough.

Lorca Damon said...

You are way too kind, but I certainly appreciate it! :) I checked out your piece on bad reviews and you were spot on. Reviewing has become a personal attack against writers now, instead of a helpful source of feedback. My first question when reading any pointlessly ugly review is, "And the title of your book is..."

Keta Diablo said...

Nice blog post, Lorca. I tweeted about it. Anonymity is not good always. Yes, there is freedom of speech, but I don't think our forefathers meant it to be so loose. Some people say things on the Internet they would never say face to face and it's a shame.

Good for you! Keta
http://ketaskeep.blogspot.com

BLHmistress said...

I have read some reviews on the Amazon and I can't believe how nasty people can be and most are pointing out silly things like the price and typos and such. To be honest if I am into a book so much I really don't pay attention to that stuff, now if its confusing or I have to reread the sentence or even the paragraph again I might say something but never in a negative way.

Some think I am way too nice but IMO If I love or even like the book I am going to give it no less than a 3 star. But most of the time its a 4 or 5.

I did however for a blog tour, rate one book a 2, I felt so guilty for it too though my review wasn't harsh or anything and the author even commented on my blog appreciation for being honest. I still felt bad. Maybe I am too nice.

Charlieopera said...

8 books down the road, I've come to a single conclusion about reviews in general (good and bad) ... they're donuts; some good, some bad and never is one more substantially important than another (not to be confused with more valuable). A NY Times review is worth 10,000 (Or more) blog and/or amazon reviews ... but it is ONLY the opinion of one reviewer. As writers we might blurb "The New York Times said ..." but it's still ONE reviewer at the NYT ... no matter how well (or poorly) written, it's still one opinion vs. the potentially 300,000,000+ (it's nice to dream, no?) ... and when you factor in the fact that some reviewers have an agenda (and it could be a positive one--a friend/fan reviewing a book ... or a competitor looking to downgrade a book--this crap happens, unfortunately), what you have to surmize (I think--at least I do) is that they are donuts that one may choose to eat over and over (the good ones) and spit out (the bad ones) but neither is more substantially valuable than the other. Annonymous reviews piss me off in principal (including industry reviews because you just never know whether you nailed it in a good way or somebody nailed you in a bad way. I review books on my dopey blog all the time. I will not review books I don't like for the simple fact that this business is tough enough as it is (authors don't need an extra dose of aggravation in their lives) ... that may be viewed as the chicken way out, but that's the way it is. I review books I enjoy ... because I think they (the author) deserves the tiny press I can give them ... but in the end, my opinion is just another donut ...

Teri Heyer said...

Sorry to hear your book was given that bad/mean review. As they say, "It takes all kinds." I received a 3-star review on my novella because the reader/reviewer wanted it to be a novel. Also, some 1 and 2-star reviews on my short story prequel because the readers/reviewers felt cheated because it was short and not a novel. It'a particularly mean when someone reviews a book they never bought or read. In a kinder world this wouldn't happen. Thanks so much for writing this post and sharing it with others. Best wishes in your writing career, both in fiction and non-fiction.

Rachel said...

I haven't gotten any reviews on my novel yet (sad face), but I do get extremely frustrated with reviewers who give crap ratings to books because of something the author couldn't change without writing a different book.

The reviewer could have mentioned how helpful your book was in context instead of how it didn't relate to her, especially since she had a younger child with autism at some point. Knowing a mom with a special needs child, she is always on the look out for vetted books from people with experience.

I waffle on mentioning other books in the review. On one hand, a book is a product and the reviewer is probably *trying* to be helpful, but on the other, there are places to do this outside of crapping up someone's reviews.

Mario Bravo L. said...

It would be awesome to see that everybody simply appreciates the value of one's work, given the amount of effort it takes to sit down for hours only with random thoughts blurring the sight. I agree with several things you remark on this note, still something makes me wonder, I know this person made your day, I mean sure! That was a cheap shot; any guerrilla gorilla could post a crappy review. But here I raise the question, when someone reviews your book with five stars, and writes beautifully about your work would that make you post something in order to point at them like saying "you see, you see, I AM GOOD". Well I don't think you would, unless that review was made by some sort of Greek literature god, hard to find one willing to review your book anyway! Ok that was it, I said what came to my mind, hope it is not to pompous or a cheap shot like that reviewer gave you on Amazon.