Monday, March 21, 2011

Good News About Bad Reviews

I never read a book before reviewing it – it prejudices a man so. – Sydney Smith

I’ve been pleased with the reviews I received on The Ride. Yes, I paused here to knock on wood. OK…it was the side of my head, but let’s not worry about details.

Recently I read about an interesting study, Positive Effects of Negative Publicity: Can Negative Reviews Increase Sales? Don’t get me wrong, I am not asking for someone to write a bad review. In fact, I’m hoping that doesn’t happen. I’m only saying the results of the study were intriguing.

The report scrutinized the effects of a New York Times review on the sales of 244 fiction hardcover books. A negative review for established authors led to a 15% decrease in sales. A negative review for unknown authors increased sales by 45%. That’s quite an increase.

For unknown writers, I’m wondering if the increased sales have more to do with being reviewed by the New York Times than the actual content of the review.

Honestly I think a bad review would make me think more like Steve Lehto in his article, “When an Author Meets His Critics.” After receiving positive reviews in the New York Times, Vanity Fair and The Wall Street Journal, he talks about how bad a one-star review on Amazon made him feel.

He went on to check the reviews on some classics. He says:

To Kill a Mockingbird was called "A BORING, WORTHLESS WRECK OF A BOOK" -- yes, in ALL CAPS -- by one reader, and "one of the most overrated and hyped books of our time," by another. I don't know about you, but I'm feeling better already.”

I suggest reading the entire article, especially if you need a few chuckles after receiving a bad review.

Have you ever given a book a one-star review? How do you handle negative reviews? Would a positive or negative review in the New York Times influence your decision to purchase a book.

Tags: Sydney Smith, negative reviews, New York Times review, Steve Lehto, Amazon, To Kill a Mockingbird


Akum said...

I guess a review from such a big news paper might change one views... But its unfair if we let someone else choose what we want to read...

Jim Murdoch said...

I don’t give stars at all. If you said that Anna Karenina was 5-stars then basically nothing published in about the last 50 years is worth more than 4-stars at best. I pay far more attention to what a reviewer has to say in their comments. Often when I’m writing my own reviews I’ll have a look at Amazon or Goodreads to see what other people have said but I usually concentrate on the 1- and 2-star reviews to see if I can provide a bit of balance to my own. Some books receive as many bad reviews as they do good ones. The Road was one like that as was Beatrice and Virgil. I don’t mind pointing out that although I may have loved a book that others have not as long as they’ve given a reason why they couldn’t connect with it. There was a blog post recently about the use of the word ‘boring’ in reviews – they were pointing the finger at Amazon reviewers mainly – and how unhelpful it is to say something like, “I hated it – I was boring.” I’m all for subjectivity but if you are going to dismiss an author then state your case. I try to remember that most books will have an audience and what all us writers want to do is get our books into the hands of people who will appreciate them. I’ve only had one really bad review for any of my books so far and it was a girl on Goodreads who never finished it. I wanted to ask her why but I decided not to be paranoid. If I really can’t find anything good to say about a book I won’t review it. I’ve just passed on Notes from Underground which I was sent a review copy of a few weeks back. I know it’s dead famous and all that but I hated it and I really couldn’t be bothered trying to explain why I hated it – it just didn’t connect with me – so I told the publisher I was going to pass on it. As for whether a review in The New Yorker or similar would influence me I guess it all depends on what they had to say. There are plenty of great books and plays that have received awful reviews when they first saw the light of day that have gone onto become classics. I seem to recall that Waiting for Godot got only one decent review in the London press.

Elisabeth said...

Well it gives a person heart does it not? A bad review can lead to more readers.
I can understand this intuitively, given that everyone knows, hopefully, that reviewers are as subjective as readers. One person's poison is another's wine.

Mason Canyon said...

I could see where a bad review might lead to someone buying a book. If I read a bad review and I don't agree with some of the reviewers points, I'll check out the book to see what my own thoughts are. The reviewer may not like the fact certain background information is included, where I would enjoy that. I also try to find several reviews on the book too. Chances are there will be only one bad review.

Thoughts in Progress

Carol Kilgore said...

I don't do reviews because I have somewhat quirky tastes. It wouldn't be fair to the author or readers. I've received reviews on some of my short work. Most were good. One was so-so. Sigh.

Joanne said...

I try to read more into the review, to get at the content of the book, rather than the reviewer's opinion. That's where I'll base my decision on whether or not to read. Something in the content has to connect to me in some way.

Old Kitty said...

Contrary to what the article suggests, it doesn't make me feel better to read these one star so-called reviews. I mean why bother splurging vitriol?!?! What or who does it serve?!?!

Dear oh dear. Take care

Unknown said...

I think any reviews impact sales. Really. Talk is talk. Reviews are opinions.

great post.

I woke up Sunday a.m. to find my blog, my 500 plus followers, my 100plus author interviews, and my 200 plus reviews gone. Blogger gave no explanation, but I think the account was hacked. Change your password often!

I have reloaded the interviews and reviews, plus redesigned the blog. But if you could, please hit the "follow" button so I can reclaim the fellow bloggers I miss. I'm still following you, as my account remained--thank goodness!

Thank you!
Kelly Moran

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

As a reader, I ignore the big reviewers, but I look for real reader reviews, like on Amazon. And take all of them with a grain of salt.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I love it! Too funny. Yes, if even the classics get one star, then I think the rest of us are in good company. :)

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

A. K. – I don’t think newspapers change most people’s views, but I'm sure they influence us in many ways.

Jim – I think your comment would make a really interesting blog! I also think you’re smart to not review books you don’t like.

Elisabeth – I believe writers need all the encouragement they can get! )

Mason – it makes it almost like a challenge to prove a negative review wrong.

Carol – to me a so-so review is positive not negative.

Joanne – that sounds like a good way to approach a review.

Karen – personal attacks on an author is not a review in my opinion. It sounds like a person with a chip on their shoulder.

Old Kitty – I couldn’t agree more!

Kelly- good point. It’s advertising you don’t have to pay for. Sorry to hear about your blog. I’ll be over to read and follow.

Alex – good idea, also.

Elizabeth – I think that article helped to put Amazon reviews in perspective.

Arlee Bird said...

I did a post on this topic a while back and came to essentially the same conclusion those college guy did without all of their charts and references. My feeling was that I'd rather have a bunch of bad reviews than zero reviews because at least I'd known that someone had read what I wrote and others might be curious enough to buy my book themselves to see if it's really as bad as the critics had said. A mention of any kind is better than not being recognized at all.

Tossing It Out

Anonymous said...

I don't give stars or smiles or any of the other rating symbols used for reviews. I also don't read the New York Times. To be honest, I never thought about reading it to see what the reviews say. I prefer reading reviews posted on blogs and sites like and B&N.

It is interesting that a bad review might help increase sales. I say might, because I'm skeptical about it. I don't think I'd ever want to receive a bad review of a book, so I could see if what they say is true.

Anonymous said...

I have never given a one star review. If a book is that bad I won't finish it. I've had to tell people I just can't finish their book. No offense. I'll tell them the same thing. Pay for an editor. An editor makes this much of a difference.

Daisy Hickman said...

Great post, Jane. Reviews are a source of angst for many, but the only remedy seems to ignore 99% of them. My sense is that too many reviews "get personal" and lack professional objectivity. So if a book doesn't strike a "personal chord" ... reviewers seem more likely to reach for negative words to evaluate. Therefore, best to ignore the good, the bad, and the in-between. Let the reviewer write a better book or a book.

Jayne said...

Very interesting! I don't let negative reviews dissuade me from picking up a book that looks interesting to me. Whether it's the New Yorker or the NYT, it's still subjective. And just because it may not be a literary masterpiece, it doesn't mean that its message won't have meaning for the reader.

Sarah Allen said...

Very interesting results. With known writers people probably think they can just wait for the next one, whereas with lesser knowns they might want to know whats up.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world