So What’s the Big Deal?

What I find fascinating about the entire concept of disappearing negative reviews is that some, if not most, of the negative reviews, as I understand it, were written by members of a book club, an online group that exists and was founded based on a complete and utter adoration of all things Evanovich and Plum. According to one of the group’s founders, they are by invitation only, and they read all kinds of books, but a special amount of anticipation and attention is paid to the Plum series. They discuss the books before they come out, and if they get an ARC they pass it around to each member so they can all read and enjoy it. They love the series, they love the characters, and they love reading.

I can relate to that. I also got into a nice healthy “Nuh UH” debate with one of them about Morelli vs. Ranger. I can attest from my own interaction – these fans are some hard core lovers of this series.

So it’s all the more disappointing for them, not only that they didn’t like Fearless Fourteen but that their reviews which stated their opinions were removed from BN.com without explanation. It’s not like these are drive-by reviewers who flipped open the cover, maybe read the dust jacket, put it back and wrote a review, or even people who haven’t read the series who feel the need to trash the genre. Sure, that happens, but these folks, these are fans. Big fans. Huge fans. I bet the potential thread of Morelli v. Ranger goes on for hundreds and hundreds of comments.

So who better to discuss why and how they were disappointed? And whose opinions, for that matter, might carry a bit more weight than, “Omg I am SO ExCITeD?!!?11”? And thus, whose opinions are going to be deleted if, as they allege, their comments dropped the sales figures of the book for a time, only to have that elusive sales rank restored to a higher number once the negatives were removed?

Laurie Likes Books wrote back in 1997 her description of how a disappointing book makes her feel, and in her description quotes Jo Beverly. It’s marvelously apt, and a feeling I’ve totally had:

Sometimes I get frustrated when a book turns out to be a dud, and other times I feel morose. When the author is new to me, the feeling is usually frustration. When the author is a favorite, I either experience anger if I felt she wrote the book in her sleep, or sadness if she veered off in a direction I couldn’t follow. I’ve felt the anger with recent releases by Johanna Lindsey and Arnette Lamb. I’ve felt the sadness with Kimberley Cates. Some of you who wrote me experienced similar feelings. Author Jo Beverley wrote that my comments struck a chord with her.

“As a reader, I find really wonderful books rare, particularly since I became an author. We just get picky. So the ones that do work are particularly precious.

“When I have no high expectation of a book, or when one starts out okay and continues that way, I’m fine. I have a pleasant read (or not, and put it aside) and don’t suffer. But when it’s a book by a favorite author, and it just doesn’t work for me, or when it starts brilliantly and then peters out, I grieve. I grieve for the book that might have been, the one I almost had in my grasp, and the incredible reading pleasure I was looking forward to. It’s a loss of something almost real.

“I know the author has done her best, and no one can be brilliant all the time, but it hurts.”

Oh, that is so true. I have taken it very personally when a book series I’ve adored steered directly down the express lane to What The FucksVille. I imagine Anita Blake and Stephanie Plum holding hands and skipping down the frontage road as trucks labeled “Vampire Romance”  and “Sweet Valley High” whiz by.

So here’s the part that I just shake my head over: to whomever took down the reviews, and to whomever decided to ask that they be removed: what the crap were you thinking? Do you honestly think that removing the opinions of fans who love the series and were seriously let down by the quality of the latest installment is going to get you anywhere in the long run? Lemme introduce you to the internet. There’s a lot of us out here, and we have opinions. We like to share them. And we will keep doing so.

The decision to remove negative reviews strikes me as so very, very shortsighted. For one thing, Evanovich is going to sell no matter what the reviews are, in my opinion, simply because there are enough auto-buys that will ignore the reviews or not even consider reading them and instead head directly to the bookstore. The series is popular enough that in the big, big picture, I honestly don’t think the reviews would have made much of a dent in the total sales. If anything, it might help. Consider it a corollary to the “Ben’s Wildflower Trainwreck Principle.” Some folks will buy it because they really, really wanna read it, and don’t care what the general consensus is. And some folks will buy it because they heard it was awful and wanna see for themselves. Hell, by the time #15 comes out, those same people will head to the bookstore, some because they hope for writing that restores what they consider the quality of the series, and some because they wouldn’t think of missing one, no matter how bad #14 was.

But nothing makes a fan more pissed than bad quality + rapid decline and shitsvilling of a series + being told her opinion doesn’t count or would be better kept to herself. It makes people want to start hot pink weblogs about romance, you know? 

 

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  1. 1
    tudorpot says:

    The whole review situation is very distressing for those of us who use reviews when choosing a book. I made the mistake of trusting another romance site’s reviews (all about romance- http://www.likesbooks.com/- I’m naming them as they need to be held accountable) and bought two books. Both had A or A+ ratings. I could not finish the first chapter in one and the second was only finished with grim determination. What’s even more depressing is that the post I sent to the site was ignored. While it is one thing not to like a genre or a particular plot device, or feel the characters are not well portrayed, when a book is so badly written it is appalling that it was published and even more so that fake reviews were posted.

  2. 2
    Suze says:

    Consider it a corollary to the “Ben’s Wildflower Trainwreck Principle.”

    Okay, I’ve googled several permuations of the phrase, but I’m confuzzled.  What is this principle?

    And, yeah, this taking down of negative reviews.  Has this kind of thing always happened, or is it considered acceptable now to restrict data to only the points that please you?  Not to bring the hideousness of politics into it, but the current American administration now has a nearly decade-long history of allowing only sympathetic reporters to ask questions, and allowing only supporters to attend events.

    It seems to be spreading.  The Canadian PM started refusing to accept questions of reporters he doesn’t like, and even not allowing certain reporters into press conferences.  It made a brief blip on the news.

    How can it possibly be useful, in any way, to ignore huge portions of data, just because it doesn’t give you the warm fuzzies?

    And I’m stopping there.

  3. 3

    It’s interesting that BN allows reviews to be posted before—I didn’t realize that. Sounds like this situation is just plain wrong. The reviews are what they are, and this book club’s reviews should have been left there.

    On Amazon, on the other hand, NOW a person cannot review until the book is out.

    Interestingly, when my first book for St. Martin’s Press, someone was literally “out to get me.” It was SO obvious.  That person would post virtually the same review under different aliases. I kid you not. I chose to ignore the reviews at a point because the person was being hurtful and hateful. The book ended up with 3 stars. At that time anyone could post under any alias. Despite all the negative reviews, I chose to ignore them and did not ask to have any taken down. A friend did for one, though, that was a mean, mean, mean, “personal” attack—the first review. After that—screw it.

    When my next book in the series came out, Amazon had changed their policy so that a person had to have bought something, anything, under the name they reviewed with to be able to post a review. Very interesting that my reviews on all of my books since then have been 4 to 4 1/2 stars. And I’m not asking any friends to review me. What’s there—the reveiws are what they are, and if the reviewer says anything negative about my book(s) that’s their opinion, and they have the right to state it. The fact that not just anyone can pop on under multiple aliases is fabulous. That way we get honest reviews.

    I’ve heard lots of other authors have had the same thing happen to them that happened with my first book. Plain mean people out to drag the author down. Why do they do that? It’s sad that they don’t have a life beyond hurting other writers. Really sad.

    But this is a different story from the BN one and it sounds very wrong that the reviews were taken down from a bookclub that gave their honest opinions. If they took down those reviews, then they should have taken down ALL of the reviews.

    However, I do believe a review shouldn’t be allowed unless the reviewer has purchased something from the bookseller. It makes it more legit, IMO.

    Chey

  4. 4
    Georgiasblu says:

    I cannot imagine giving a bad review just because I’ve read the cover copy and found it wanting or because I didn’t like the genre.  That is just wrong.  I think most intelligent people can recognize those when they see them.  I am one who does read reviews as part of the process of choosing a book, I look at what other books a reviewer may recommend and then note the tone of the review.  Quite often I’ll check the reviews for an author I might consider an auto buy just to see what others are saying.

  5. 5
    Wryhag says:

    Both had A or A+ ratings. I could not finish the first chapter in one and the second was only finished with grim determination.

    I’ve seen a lot of this—i.e., truly shitty books getting absurdly high ratings from reviewers.  Wish I could get a sensible explanation for it.  On the other hand, as Chey pointed out, some assessments are unreasonably and inexplicably vicious.

    The lesson is, I guess, that readers must familiarize themselves with reviewers and learn which ones have opinions worth considering.

  6. 6
    AgTigress says:

    There seem to be three main problems:
    1.  The ease with which anyone can post anything on the internet is part of the trouble.  Consider the number of ‘reviews’ that are written by people whose written English is so poor that it is a wonder they can read a whole novel at all.
    2.  The fact that many readers do not grasp that the writing of reviews is, itself, quite a demanding discipline, with its own rules.  Of course the ‘rules’ are flexible, but if the purpose of the review is to explain to other potential readers what the book is about, and to draw attention to the strengths and weaknesses of the work, then certain things must be objectively considered and set out.
    3.  Fiction, to a far greater extent than non-fiction work, is so very much a matter of personal taste, making objective judgement particularly hard.  Even when real care has been taken, it can all too easily come down to the sort of argument that is equivalent to two people disagreeing vehemently on whether Brussels sprouts are delicious or revolting.

  7. 7
    Shreela says:

    B&N;should have requirements like Amazon does: no reviewing before release, accounts should be verified by a purchase before being able to review, and maybe they need to add a place to check off that the reviewer did indeed read the book, rather than just being excited it’s to be released soon (DOH!)

    I read quite a few bad reviews on the thirteenth Plum book, and I still loved it.

  8. 8
    Jackie L. says:

    Uh, I’ll still be at the grocery store on the 21st of June for Fourteen, no matter what.  If Diesel hasn’t scared me off the series, nothing can (I hope).

  9. 9
    Lesley says:

    I am one of the online book club members that wrote a review of Fearless Fourteen on B&N;that disppeared, and I have to say that I am outraged. I can understand if B&N;had a policy of not allowing book reviews before the release date as Amazon does, but to allow only 4 or 5 star reviews of those who have not read the book, and to remove low rated reviews of those that have read the book is discriminatory.
    It seems simple to me, B&N;should either remove ALL of the reviews, or allow all or the reviews.

  10. 10
    francois says:

    Seems nuts to remove negative reviews – especially when an author gets positive reviews for other books.  You risk scaring off potential future buyers by selling them a poor book, when the reviews could have steered them towards one of your better ones and made them a fan for life. For all the negative feeling about later books, Evanovich fans do seem still to be committed buyers of her books. Perhaps this is because they started with the good ones?

  11. 11
    Julie Leto says:

    First, I totally agree that all reviews, good and bad, unless they contain spoilers without warning or attack the author personally, should remain up.  I don’t see what’s so wrong with putting up reviews before the release date…I mean, ARCs go out specifically for that reason, don’t they?

    That said, I’m reading comments here that seem to equate “bad review with bad book” and “good review with good book.”  A review is just one person’s opinion.  Just because one site rates a book an A doesn’t mean every reader who reads it is going to agree.  And if you disagree, that doesn’t mean the review was bogus.  It just means you didn’t agree!

    I recently read a book that I thought was brilliant.  Not just good—brilliant.  And yet, there was a review at Amazon that said it was poorly written.  Clearly, I think this reviewer is an idiot, but I don’t think their review is bogus.  I just think this person couldn’t adequately express why this book didn’t work for them, so they pulled out the pat “poorly written” comment, when in fact, it was not.  (I mean that the grammar, sentence structure, spelling and punctuation were not problematic…to me, that’s what “poorly written” means.)  But it clearly means something else to the reviewer.

  12. 12
    TracyS says:

    I’m reading comments here that seem to equate “bad review with bad book” and “good review with good book.” A review is just one person’s opinion.  Just because one site rates a book an A doesn’t mean every reader who reads it is going to agree.  And if you disagree, that doesn’t mean the review was bogus.  It just means you didn’t agree!

    That’s what I was thinking as I read the comments.  Reviews are really very subjective.  I’ve seen books on Dear Author (I think the most recent was The Spymaster’s Lady) that had A reviews and one DNF!  All of those women have great reviews and valid reasons why they felt this way.

    If I reviewed a book it would be based on how the book made me feel and how I connected with the characters. Unless the grammar or punctuation is horrific, that doesn’t get it my way. However, someone else may notice every mistake and that takes them out of the story.

    Someone else above mentioned getting to know reviewers and their tastes and finding which reviewers you most agree with and trust them for your book choices.

  13. 13
    Nora Roberts says:

    ~The lesson is, I guess, that readers must familiarize themselves with reviewers and learn which ones have opinions worth considering.~

    I agree, but would say not ‘worth considering’ but which seem to jibe with your own personal likes and dislikes.

    I don’t often talk about specific books, but I did just recently read Spymaster’s Lady. I loved it. LOVED it. And I see at Dear Author there are some reviewers who agree, and some who don’t. I actually got why the reviewers who didn’t like the book didn’t like it. They had valid points. But none of their points bothered me in the least while reading the book.

    I think their review(s) were worth considering. But their needs, taste, emotional reaction simply differed from mine.

  14. 14
    AgTigress says:

    Because we tend to engage with fiction emotionally rather than intellectually, it is even more important that reviewers should try to follow the fundamental rules that are current in the reviewing of non-fiction, where the aim is a fair and objective assessment (and the quality of academic reviews really matters, because one needs to get an accurate idea of whether one needs to read the book or not – nobody has time to read all the books published in their own discipline). 
    It is perfectly possible to separate emotional response from the factual elements, and to write down what the story is about (without the ‘spoilers’ that seem to rile people so much), and to decide whether the book is competently written, and whether the plot and characters flow and develop naturally. 
    It is quite possible to say, ‘Although the story has some huge plot holes, and some of the secondary characters are cardboard cut-outs, I loved every minute of this book – it simply appealed to me on a visceral level’.  Just as it is possible to say, ‘this is a very well-written and elegantly constructed novel with a clever and inventive plot, but for for some reason, I just found it a bore.  The story did not come to life for me.  Other readers may well find it most enjoyable’.
    One helpful approach for a reviewer is to imagine herself in the author’s shoes.  An honest writer knows that her work is never perfect, and she also knows that some readers will like it better than others.  If she has the courage to publish at all, she must have the courage to take criticism – but it must be fair criticism.  Corrections and suggestions for improvement are valuable, and should be welcome, however much they may hurt at first.  And that means that the reviewer must separate her emotional and intellectual responses, so that those who read the review (including the writer) can distinguish personal taste from objective judgement.

  15. 15
    SonomaLass says:

    Thanks, Nora, you said exactly what I wanted to, and almost certainly more eloquently than I would have. 

    To me, a good review is one where the reviewer clearly articulates her or his reaction to the book and the reasons for it.  A bad review doesn’t do that.  (This to distinguish good review writing from positive and negative reviews.)  With a good review, I can often tell whether or not I would be likely to react in a similar way to the book.

    And put me in the camp that says that the point of ARCs to allow some readers to not only read the book in advance but actually to review it before it comes out.  Or am I wrong about what the “R” stands for?

  16. 16
    GrowlyCub says:

    AAR never worked for me, because so many of their reviewers appreciate the kinds of romance writing that do not work for me at all (fluff in historical romance being the chief example).  I do remember buying a couple of books and having them shipped from the U.S. to Germany due to AAR A reviews and not being able to finish them either.  I was not a happy camper, but even so that doesn’t necessarily mean that the reviews were rigged or fake, just that the reviewers have different tastes (as hard as it is to understand on occasion ;).

    A point to illustrate how it’s really not review sites but individual reviewers that are useful to me as a reader are the recent reviews at DA of the J. Bourne book.  Spy books aren’t my cup of tea, but I did see a lot of buzz about this book all over the net and a number of friends who have overlapping tastes really liked it, so I was considering getting a copy until Janine posted her review on DA.  Once I read that review I realized that I would dislike the book extremely, because many of the points Janine raised are on my pet peeve list.

    So, even though this was only one dissenting review in a sea of positives I saw all over the place, this review was the one that I needed to read. 

    But even if you agree with a reviewer about one book, that still doesn’t guarantee compatibility in other areas.

  17. 17
    Allie says:

    Amazon’s and now B&N;‘s actions really bother me because for me there are two reasons why I read reviews – one is to find out if the book will be to my liking, and the other is to be a part of a discussion about a book.  That’s why I prefer AAR’s discussion boards, or DA, or the SBs to amazon because at these sites there are places for more open discussion (although I suppose amazon has boards now) and response.  But even at a site like amazon, which used to only have an option for sort of isolated reviews, those reviews were a kind of discussion.

    So when amazon and B&N;delete negative reviews for no good reason – they are in effect ending an open discussion about a book.  Even if they think they are only deleting individual reviews (which is bad enough), they are also not letting readers think about what others are saying and they are closing off avenues of thought and response.  It really pisses me off and it’s why I joined the amazon boycott and will now boycott B&N;.

  18. 18
    Marianne McA says:

    I like AAR, because between the reviews and the reader comments, you usually get a good sense of the book.
    There are reviewers I match well with, and also reviewers who I reliably mismatch with – if they love a book, I’ll probably hate it.

    With series like Stephanie Plum, I’m less sure the reviews matter. I think if you’ve read the first thirteen, you’re unlikely to boycott the fourteenth on someone else’s say so.  I know I loved Number Ten – and I seemed to read nothing but bad reviews for that one – and then abandoned the series on the eleventh book, which people seemed to like. 

    GrowlyCub – if I’d read Janine’s review without having read the book, I’d have expected to dislike it.  I can’t even argue with her – the points she makes are all valid. But sometimes there are books that you know you’ll hate, but accidentally read, and love. If you found a cheap second hand copy, it might be worth trying anyway.

  19. 19
    Heidi says:

    I am one of those rabid Evanovich fans who read the ARC of Fearless Fourteen and whose negative review was deleted (repeatedly) from bn.com despite adhering to their review posting rules.  I have hardly been more angry in my life than I am about this blatant censorship.  The point of asking for reader reviews is to gather opinions, good or bad.  We have instituted a Barnes & Noble boycott in our house and I have shared my story with several others, all of whom are equally outraged.  I emailed Alex Evanovich (after getting no response from bn.com) asking her if she knew why all less-than-rave reviews were being deleted.  I know that JE’s tour stops are often at B&N;stores so I thought maybe she’d have inside knowledge.  Not surprisingly, I have not received any sort of response.  For the last several years I have been engrossed in the Plum world, staking out stores a week in advance of a release, going to book signings, rereading the books over and over and getting involved heavily in the online fandom.  I’m not that fussy, sure I prefer Ranger to Morelli, but all I expect from JE (or any author) is to be entertained, to laugh and experience a day in the life of the characters that I have loved for years.  Fearless Fourteen was not entertaining to me, not in the least, and I wanted to voice that opinion but was shut down by a company who is apparently too far in bed with Evanovich to be objective.  It’s a pathetic shame.  Thank you for taking up the cause here!  :)

  20. 20
    Heidi says:

    Oops, sorry for the bold in my previous post, lol.  I’m really not shouting :).

  21. 21
    DS says:

    I’m not a Stephanie Plum fan, but I went over to Amazon to look at the discussions.  There’s Stephanie Plum fan fiction???

  22. 22
    MoJo says:

    The thing about finding reviewers who share your taste, though, is that you have to read a few books they’ve reviewed to figure that out. By then, you may have been burned.

    On the other hand, I’ve bought books based on negative reviews because what the reviewer said she didn’t like is what I do like.

  23. 23
    Heidi says:

    Yup, lots and lots and lots of it.  It’s the only fanfiction that I’m familiar with but I would imagine that the amount of it is up there compared to other series.  There are dozens of groups on Yahoo Groups alone and there is a large section of it on fanfiction.net.

    Cheers,
    Heidi

  24. 24
    Liz says:

    Let‘s remember this isn‘t a question of whether this book sucked so hard it pulled the Earth off its axis.  Some will like it, some will hate it, some will think it‘s just alright, some won‘t bother forming an opinion either way.  There‘s no rule that says if one person dislikes a book, everyone else must follow suit, or vice versa. 

    There are as many sides to this as there are readers, and to me, refusing to represent any number of those sides is deceitful and manipulative.  If Barnes & Noble doesn‘t want to publish reviews on this author prior to a book‘s release date, why not extend that courtesy to other authors as well?  A quick look at the B&N;page for LKH‘s upcoming novel shows several reader reviews, not all of them positive, and that book isn‘t scheduled for release until later this week.  It‘s clear favoritism, and while I know business neither ethical nor fair, it seems to me like this kind of douchebaggery would be more likely to bite them in the derriere than any number of negative reviews on a title with numbers so massive, it really has little to lose.

  25. 25
    Penny says:

    Oh come on people! Really? I get that people are upset that they took the time to write a review and it didn’t go up, but it is the B&N;site and they have control over the content as they should as they a) pay for it and b) are trying to run a business.
    Personally I agree with what most people are saying, Janet’s books have been going downhill fast and seem to be the same story rehashed everytime, but the rabid fan mentality I’ve seen from being a member of some Plum groups is frightening quite frankly and I don’t blame B&N;for wanting to keep that off their site. People seem to like one character or the other and if that character doesn’t get enough time in the books in the way they want then fans tear it apart and engage in what borders on slander towards the author and organise to spam any site where the book is mentioned. Ultimately for better or for worse Janet is the author of these books, she owns them and the characters in them and can do whatever she sees fit with them. It’s fiction we’re dealing with here people not real life – and if the greatest injustice the world has brought you is to not have had your review posted on a website then you’re doing well.

  26. 26
    GrowlyCub says:

    Marianne,

    I might pick it up eventually, but as I mentioned, the premise was a strike against it to start with and I was only wavering due to the glowing reviews.  If I were a reader who gets off on the prose I might be more tempted, but I don’t see the lyricism for which reviewers are lauding certain authors.  I look at the examples and I don’t get it.  So, it’s a pass for now, but you just never know when it might come my way. 

    Thanks for taking the time to write. :)

  27. 27
    Heidi says:

    Penny,
    My outrage isn’t related to which character I favor or about how much I have loved Plum and Evanovich in the past or even how much I disliked Fearless Fourteen.  My outrage is that I went to a place that openly solicits opinions from those who have read an offering and when my opinion was not favorable, though honest, objective and well thought-out, it was deleted for being 2 stars while at the very same time other reviews that are 5 star raves (from people who have not actually read the book) are being allowed to be posted.  Additionally there are several other authors who have had negative reviews posted on bn.com before release day that are left up without incident.

    I don’t want anyone to lose the focus of our grievance and turn the discussion away from the actual point of the blog post.

  28. 28
    Lesley says:

    Oh come on people! Really? I get that people are upset that they took the time to write a review and it didn’t go up, but it is the B&N;site and they have control over the content as they should as they a) pay for it and b) are trying to run a business.

    Penny,
    I can honestly say that is not what I am upset about at all. The only thing that upsets me is that all negative reviews were deleted for this one book.
    If all books and authors were treated the same I would have no issue. But how can BN delete negative reviews from one book while they allow negative reviews on other books? Their policy should be the same for all authors and for all books released and not yet released books.

  29. 29
    SonomaLass says:

    Let’s see if this fixes the bold underlining issue….

    Good.  That done, I want to say “I understand” to the people whose reviews were deleted.  Penny is right that there are worse things in the world that can happen to you, but that’s pretty irrelevant here, as it’s pretty much true of almost EVERYTHING in life. 

    Yes, B&N has the right to do whatever they want with their site. And those who use it have the right to make their feelings known about what B&N are doing, especially when it seems biased and unfair.  That way people who vote with their pocketbooks can know this information and do what they please about it.  Like look elsewhere for more complete sets of reviews, if you are looking for reviews to help you decide whether or not to buy the book.  Or browse and shop elsewhere if you prefer sites that don’t censor using (at least) a double standard.

  30. 30
    Jen C says:

    I am amazed to see that other people don’t like the reviews on AAR.  There have been a few books I like more than the reviewers, but I can’t remember ever reading one that they liked that I hated. 

    On topic?  I don’t know that the SP books are review-proof.  I don’t ever (well, rarely) buy hardcovers, so I am not sure what makes people buy them, but I could easily see the reviews making people shy away from buying them, at least, until the book is in paperback.  And at that point, maybe they lose interest entirely?

    I can think of hundreds of books that, rightly or wrongly, I haven’t purchased because of amazon reviews.  They sway me more than they should, given that I realize some people are a little corrupt there, but they work on me.

    That said, if the reviewers didn’t like the book, leave the damn review up.

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