We’ve all done it: we see a book advertised and decide to read the reviews. Smart thing to do really. Books are expensive, especially if you are a prolific reader. Even eBooks add up if you read a lot.
Now I’m also pretty sure that most of you also consult more than one review: although it shouldn’t, taste in style and genre can influence a review. But what if you only find one review? Do you pay attention to it, or ignore it?
I’m going to tell you a tale that I hope will alert you to some of the pitfalls of paying a lot of attention to one review—unless you know and trust the reviewer.
I have been taking part in an online writing workshop, as I often do. A group of people agree to critique each others writing in an effort to improve the work. Kind of like alpha and beta readers I guess—with some editing suggestions thrown in. It was for short stories with a particular theme. Everywhere I have done these workshops have participants sign a contract with similar details:
- Stories are original and unpublished
- The aim of the workshop is to assist other writers to develop their short stories. Helpful critique is what is required, not nasty personal comments.
- All work from the workshop is to remain within the workshop. Participants can’t publically criticise the writing of other workers in the workshop.
There are some very vulnerable, new and struggling authors in these workshops. It is important that they feel protected and safe in this type of environment. They need to be able to trust that everyone wants the best for everyone else.
As I often do, I submit two stories: one historical fiction and one paranormal. I know they both need a bit of polish—but I am also experienced enough to know that they aren’t half bad.
So—Week One rolls around. The first one reviewed is my historical fiction. As you probably know, I’ve already had three historical fiction short stories published, one of which was voted in the Top Three stories in the anthology. I knew I had researched thoroughly I liked the twist in the story. Again, I knew that I would need to change a few things, but the bones were strong.
I was shocked when the first so-called critique appeared on the document with nothing but nasty and insulting comments on it. No suggestions. Just venom. I had never seen anything like it! As I reread the comments I became more and more convinced that the critiquer did not understand the genre of historical fiction. He was even criticising me for not using modern language in dialogue—for a story set in 1695 Ireland. I seriously couldn’t imagine the MC saying: “Yeah Mum, it’s Sunday so I was at the church that I’m not supposed to go in” instead of “Be it Sunday? I was claiming my heritage” so I chose to ignore it. Thankfully, the second critique for the week was more along the lines I expected and actually said how much she enjoyed it. As did the next two critiquers the following week. All three of the others had suggestions, which I actually took on board. They were great suggestions.
So you can imagine my horror when I took the lazy way to find the workshop to see if I had more critiques via a search under the name of the possible anthology title to discover:
- The first four reviews (they were not critiques, they were reviews) had been published on the nasty critiquers blog/website
- The anthology title was used (which, based on his ‘reviews’ could damage the possible anthology)
- The group organising the workshop had been named
- Authors had been named
- A rating out of five had been given
- They had been referred to as books, not short stories
- All stories barr one had not particularly nice things said about them
Thankfully, due to the signed contract, it was pointed out by an organiser that he had breached his contract and needed to take said reviews down.
Now here are the issues with said reviews:
- What is a contract worth?
- None of these stories was published, so no one could check the validity of his statements.
- None of these stories was finished to the author’s satisfaction, so how could they be fairly be reviewed.
- He is a fantasy writer. Only two of the stories were fantasy. I would never publish a review for any genre that I was not familiar with
- Knowing his nationality, I am pretty confident that English is not his first language so he probably would have struggled with 1695 dialogue. But would anyone who read the reviews know that? Because the language in the reviews was nasty and condescending but basic.
- I read his work during Week Two. It was pretty bad. Glass houses???
- By naming the anthology and the group responsible, he was damaging the anthology before it was even published
- He betrayed the trust of everyone in the workshop. No one knows what is going on in anyone else’s life. Had it been vulnerable authors he had done this to, it may have been enough to stop them writing—or worse.
I’m not going to name him. I won’t stoop that low. He has been removed from the workshop. Which will cost him, because there are editors and authors published by publishing houses in the mix of this workshop.
But I will add that the ‘short story’ he submitted was designed to draw people into his novel—which is already self-published. Another breach of contract.
But I will say this: be careful when you read reviews. If you don’t know the reviewer, look for other reviews. Look on Amazon: they will usually provide you with a digital example so you can judge for yourself. And be aware that some reviewers have agendas. And, sometimes, they will have people do false reviews on their own work.
Be a wise reading consumer: we love and need you!
Featured image by athree23 on Pixabay
Kerry A Waight - Author
A writer of historical fiction and paranormal stories.