Separating Negative Reviews from Personal Attacks

Barbara Vey -- February 13th, 2013

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I am struck by the amount of begging for reviews I see online.  The consensus is that the more a book is reviewed, the better chance it has to sell more copies.  Authors feel that good, bad or otherwise, a review will somehow make their book more legitimate.

While I agree that reviews can be helpful, authors need to have really thick skin about it.  Giving readers carte blanche can be asking for trouble.  With no boundaries, reader reviewers often cross the line and move from reviewing the book to reviewing the person who wrote the book.  Too often I see little about why the reader didn’t like the book and more about what an idiot the writer was in writing the book in the first place.  It especially galls me when the reviewer admits that they haven’t yet read the book.  How on earth can you say anything intelligent about it if you haven’t even read it?

Melissa McCarthy

Books aren’t the only things that garner personal attack reviews.  I’ve been following the story of reviewer Rex Reed going after actress Melissa McCarthy because of her weight while reviewer her new movie, Identity Theft.  He said she is “tractor-sized,” “a humongous creep” and a “female hippo.”  Please explain to me what that has to do with the movie.  In a world of stick thin models and actresses, I find watching women of different sizes refreshing.  Rex Reed has been around a long time and should know better.

Melissa McCarthy received an Oscar nomination for Bridesmaids (which I saw 5 times, mostly because of her).  She stars in the tv show Mike and Molly that says it’s ok for overweight people to fall in love.  A part for which she won an Emmy.  I’d say there’s a little talent there.

I don’t remember reading about Robbie Coltrane’s weight as Hagrid in Harry Potter being an issue or John Goodman or George Wendt.   At least authors don’t have to worry about their weight being a reason for their bad book review (not that I’ve heard of…yet).

Melissa McCarthy hasn’t come out and commented on this and I give her a lot of credit for it, but her staunch supporters have.  It’s the same for authors.  Do not engage.  It seems to me that some reviewers are spoiling for a fight.  A yelling match doesn’t help anyone.

And, like books, sometimes bad publicity works.  Identity Theft is number one at the box office this week and isn’t that the sweetest revenge of all?

Bottom Line:  I plan to see Identity Theft because I like Melissa McCarthy, just like I read certain books because I like the author.

24 thoughts on “Separating Negative Reviews from Personal Attacks

  1. Kathy Kulig

    Great article Barbara. It does seem that the numbers of reviews help increase sales and reviews aren’t easy to get unless you’re a well known author. If you take two similar books on Amazon, one has 10 reviews (some good, some bad) and the other book has no reviews. Even if both authors are new, which book do you think a reader is going to buy? Sadly, there does seem to be a lot of negative comments and drama online. Don’t know why.

    1. Barbara Vey Post author

      Kathy, my son says it’s because of the anonymous nature of some of the review sites. It gives some people a sense of power. They say things they wouldn’t necessarily say to a person’s face. Authors have to either learn to ignore it or don’t go looking for them.

  2. Beverly Diehl

    Often authors are their own worst enemies. I had one author-acquaintance who asked me to review her (self-published) book; I agreed to do so. Some parts of the book were very enjoyable, there were other parts I found… very problematic, including the ending, which was, IMO, terrible. (Not terrible in that it didn’t end the way I wanted, terrible in that the heroine did not take action herself to resolve the conflict, it was decided for her, a deus ex machina. Plus other unbelievable elements.)

    Because we were (then) in a crit group together, I didn’t want her to feel blindsided, so I sent her the review draft, and while she had no fault to find with what I’d said about the book, she also asked me NOT to post it unless I could give it 4-5 stars. Since I felt that 3 stars was generous, no review from me.

    Reed being unable to distance himself from an actress’s weight in evaluating that movie (which, btw, everyone of my girlfriends has loved) and review based on her PERFORMANCE speaks more about him than it does about Ms. McCarthy. I totally agree with you, he should know better. I also find, for my part, that comedies are generally judged much more harshly than dramas, even though comedy is harder to do. Give somebody a crippling illness, the critics love it; make somebody laugh and it’s crass and lowbrow. Comedic movies almost never get recognized for Oscars in leading roles, and certainly not as Best Picture.

    1. ConanTheGrammarian

      These are wise words!: “I also find, for my part, that comedies are generally judged much more harshly than dramas, even though comedy is harder to do. Give somebody a crippling illness, the critics love it; make somebody laugh and it’s crass and lowbrow.”

      A similar bias afflicts children’s books and cookbooks: I mean, c’mon—how difficult could either of those be to produce?

  3. Dianna Love

    The internet has made it possible for anyone to call themselves a reviewer so I’m sure many of those who consider themselves professional reviewers cringe when lumped into one category. I have a personal code, as an author and a person, to only post my positive opinion (I’m not a reviewer) about something I enjoyed. I don’t post anything negative because I understand that it’s a matter of taste and choice. My husband and I love to see movies, but after the movie we don’t always agree on good, bad, average, awesome, boring, etc. We do enjoy talking about the things that we saw differently. Example: I LOVED the A Team movie and he was just so-so on it.

    I think it’s appalling for anyone to be attacked in a review for any reason, because an attack is not professional, it’s personal. Identity Theft is a movie I’d like to see because I find Melissa McCarthy funny. I don’t think about her size or anything else, because she’s talented. And, for the record, I think she’s an attractive woman. I enjoy watching her perform her roles. Adam Sandler is an attractive man and I like him in “some” things, not everything, but someone else probably loves him in a movie that didn’t work for me.

    I wish people would go back to the basics and show some respect for others. I believe there is a way to say something constructively and with grace.

    Good blog, Barbara. Hugs to Melissa. Hope she continues to ignore someone not worth her energy.

  4. Tish

    Society has warped peoples perception of beauty, thanks to media, magazines, stick figure models and leading ladies on the big screen. I do not agree that beauty is a size 0, beauty is not biased when it comes to shape, size nor color.
    I am not a skinny girl, but I am still pretty, I have heard every name in the book because I refuse to conform to societies standards of how a woman should look and weigh, I would rather be a hippo then a stick figure.
    I personally love Melissa McCarthy she brings so much to each of her characters, she justifiably gives them a life us “hippos” can only give and has proven that her talent comes from the mind, heart and soul rather then her pants size.

  5. Debbie Kaufman

    Wow, what Rex Reed did was beyond the pale. Personally, I carry a lot of extra weight. does that effect my ability to write a book, or should my book be judged by my personal appearance? Reviewers have a lot of power, whether they are professional or the average joe. Because of that, readers and moviegoers should be able to count on the reviewer’s integrity. The only good thing I see in this situation is that people who read reviews are savvy enough to see someone’s personal prejudice shine through, so I suspect that Reed’s review will backfire and garner Melissa McCarthy and Identity Theft a lot more attendance and McCarthy a lot of empathy and support.

  6. Ramona Richards

    On the mark, Barbara, as usual. The number of personal attack reviews on the retail sites has skyrocketed, so it’s become difficult to tell what’s a real opinion and what’s an unjustified attack. My request for reviews always garnered few results, so this time I’ve signed up for a blog tour (and received an unexpected 40 requests).

    I’m not a fan of Melissa McCarthy. This is more lack of awareness than a judgment: I don’t have a TV, and I didn’t care for Bridesmaids at all (although I thought she nailed her character). I plan to see Identity Theft, and Mr. Reed’s unwarranted attack pretty much INSURED I would.

    A fair and impartial review of ANY work seems a rarity these days. I hope this changes, although I’m not counting on it.

  7. Kathy

    I think amateur reviewers and many readers have not learned to separate “good” from “I liked it.” There are plenty of good books out there that I personally didn’t like and plenty of books I like that may not be the best literature in the world. As a reviewer, you need to be able to remove yourself enough from the equation to admit that a work might be quality even if you didn’t like it. Your emotional reaction to the book is part of the review, but not all of it.

  8. LuAnn McLane

    When Taylor Swift was trashed by a critic she wrote the song, “Why You Gotta be so Mean? I think it says it all. There is never ever a reason to be mean. While authors, actors and musicians are told to have a thick skin… well most of us just simply don’t. Harsh, mean reviews hurt and always will. But what more than makes up for any mean review is a note from a reader that was touched by a character or story. I write for these dear readers.
    I was planning to see this movie and now I know I will!

  9. Jacqui Lyonelle aka Jacs

    As I told my friend who showed me this “review”, “Huh..I thought Re Reed was dead…” (not kidding!) while I never cared for his review style, I can’t remember him making it such a personal attack. Shame Ion him.

  10. Nancy Naigle

    You know…I grew up with the “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” motto and I still live by that. Every book, just like every flavor of ice cream, is not going to appeal to everyone. If it’s not for you, move on to another == there are plenty to choose from. I’m so surprised at the number of people that feel like it’s their duty to ward off all future readers.

    That’s just me … and even the books I don’t fall in love with have some good points. So there.
    Hugs and happy reading~
    Nancy

  11. Briana MacWilliam

    Great post, Barbara. I agree with your son. The impersonal quality of commenting on something through the internet removes the reciprocal emotional impact in my opinion. If a person can say something without having to “look them in the eye” so to speak, he or she may pontificate with no holes barred. A thick skin isn’t useful, its a requirement. I loved Dianna’s comment, and definitely agree, there IS a way to say something constructive with grace, and as an aspiring writer THAT is not only a reviewer I would like to have, its an author I would like to read.

  12. Jusy

    I don’t write reviews as I never liked writing book reports when I was in school. Majority of the time I do not read reviews before I read the book myself. I buy books from authors because I like the story they tell and how they tell it. When the author no longer entertains me, then I no longer purchase books from the author. I have to say I read reviews for their entertainment value when I have down time or it seems to be all the buzz on the internet.

    As for how I find new authors, it’s from recommendations from friends. I also try authors that are recommended from authors FB pages. If I like their stuff, I might possibly like what they recommend. If I’m hunting for something new, you better have a very good blurb/synopsis to draw me in to purchase it.

    So whether an author has received a review — bad, good, or indifferent — it will not matter to this reader. Reviews do not tell me what to read. I do the same with movie reviews, too.

    Oh pet peeve of mind, authors with pen names. I wish I knew all the alter egos. Guess how many more books you might sell if fans just knew. If I like how you tell a story, why would I not like to try something different from you. (Sorry, Barbara, for going on a different tangent. Possibly a new blog?)

  13. Rhonda Hughes

    We’ve been talking in our office about this issue specifically the last few weeks: “Reader reviewers often cross the line and move from reviewing the book to reviewing the person who wrote the book. Too often I see little about why the reader didn’t like the book and more about what an idiot the writer was in writing the book in the first place.”

    It’s not just reader reviewers who confuse reviewing the book with reviewing the author. Kirkus reviewed our one of spring memoirs by Jay Ponteri, Wedlocked, and focused on him as an author and his immaturity rather than the style, craft, and language of the book. Also, The Gay and Lesbian Review reviewed Greg Martin’s memoir, Stories for Boys, and focused on him as a son rather than the storyline, plot, or pacing.

    I think it is easier for reviewers to slip into reviewing the author of nonfiction books than writers of fiction. Has that been anyone else’s experience?

  14. Mary Buckham

    Barbara ~~ you’ve said what many of us have thought upon hearing the Rex Reed review. It wasn’t a review, it was a misdirected rant and reflected ill on him more than anyone considering the movie. Civility seems to be at an all time low, which is very sad. On the other hand it forces those who approach a review as a responsibility to stand up and be counted, too. If Rex Reed was a ten-year-old what he did would be called bullying. So thank you for standing up for every individual whether a writer, an actor/actress or any one in the creative arts who take that scary step of putting themselves out there.

  15. Miriam Downey

    I have blogged about books for the past three years, but I have never called myself a book reviewer. I am a blogger and I try to give a short summary of the book and then my personal reaction to it. I always try to find some way that I can relate to the book and record that response and make very few judgments about the quality of the book. I have lived a long time, and I can almost always find some way that I relate to the book and talk about that. This takes my writing out of the realm of the review and into a more personal realm. I am comfortable with that and the authors and publicists are comfortable with that as well. If I don’t like the book, I don’t finish it. That is the blogger’s prerogative. People are not reading my blog for a rant. They are reading my blog for insights.

  16. Pingback: Separating Negative Reviews from Personal Attacks (beyondherbook) | Soynadie

  17. RAnn

    I’m a book blogger and I review books. Generally I think I give positive reviews since I don’t finish books I don’t like, and unless I’ve agreed to do a review in exchange for a book, I don’t bother reviewing dnf books. That being said, I give very few five star or “A” reviews, simply because if I give every book I like five stars, it leaves me no mark for the extraordinary book. Also as to the comment that there are good books and there are books I like and they are not necessarily the same thing, I struggle with how to express that. For example I read a lot of romance. Those short formula romances are formula fiction without much (or any) depth. I know that when I pick on up. Do I mark them down for not having sub-plots or in-depth character development? I do, but I also generally put a disclaimer in the review saying that a B- is about the best I give that kind of book.

  18. Stephanie Scott

    Unfortunately, woman can’t escape their talent or abilities being weighted by their looks; it’s everywhere. In politics, Sarah Palin was ridiculed for buying a new wardrobe for her VP campaign, and she was constantly referred to as a young, attractive candidate, while Hillary Clinton, who had much more experience in politics, was lambasted for being not pretty enough, or cold, or shrill, or having caused her husband to stray. It’s sick. I love Melissa McCarthy; I hope she stays classy enough to not give those reviewers attention if they are only harping on her weight.

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