Civility and Book Reviews

BulletHoleNot until I published my first novel did I notice the lack of civility in so many reader reviews. Once my novel, The Shekinah Legacy, was on Amazon, I  witnessed firsthand how the disintegration of public discourse in politics is mirrored in the small world of book (and presumably also “product”) reviews. As a standard rule of thumb, authors usually hope to keep very negative reviews to 20% or less of the total reviews reported on Amazon, but we really don’t have management tools for this save controlling the quality of our books.

I’ve been fortunate because most of this book’s 300 reviews are 4- and 5-star reviews (and really, only a half-dozen or so are from friends and family). But over the past few days, due to the astonishing uptick in sales for my thriller, I received three negative reviews in a row. And these were not just negative reviews — they were the equivalent of hate mail. One said:

It started out slow and got worse from there.

Really? In the first 15 pages the protagonist is kidnapped in Iraq, nearly raped by terrorists,  rescued by mysterious men who cannot be identified… and a home in Minnesota is invaded with six individuals killed. Literally, the pace picks up from there.

The review certainly confused me. At first I thought maybe the reviewer posted it on the wrong book page. But then two other reviews came in and attacked me for stuffing the review ballot box with phony friends-and-family reviews because, obviously, the high reviews were contrary to the poster’s impression of my book.

I don’t mind it when people take shots at my book (well, maybe a little). Some readers will pick up my book thinking it is one thing, then be disappointed when it turns out to be something quite different. Some of those people will lambast the book instead of their own carelessness. I understand… they feel that they have wasted some of their precious time. Of course I want everyone to love my book, but I understand that some (perhaps many) people will not like the violence in it, or my style of writing, or the controversial alternative history of their favorite religion, or the way I ended the book. Fair game, I say! Express your opinion. Make your case.

But don’t be nasty about it! And please don’t accuse authors of cheating simply because so many readers, who you don’t even know, have said they like a book.

So there — that’s my review of that mercifully small group of reviewers who use their ability to broadcast their opinions into a tool of personal attack.

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