I recently missed an event on Facebook and I felt terrible about it. So, I told the author whose book release I missed that I would read and review it. I put everything else I was reading aside and concentrated on it... and I didn't enjoy the book. Why I didn't or what book it was doesn't matter, what matters is that afterwards came the Hard Talk.
Because I felt pretty strongly about my dislike and I just can't... I just can't be dishonest. I can't just write "It was great 5 stars" when I don't mean it. I know this is "just" my pen name, but I still want to be known for some integrity. If I say I like something, I like it. If I don't, I don't. However, as an author reviewing another author's book, it gets tricky. First, because we're in the same genre, Amazon could view the review as me trying to sink the other author's book, which that's not the intention. Second, you can get into a 'Well, you rated me a 2 I'm rating your shit a 1!', although most of the authors I've met have been really nice and I don't THINK they'd do that, they still might. Three, it's... well, it's kind of dickish to do that without talking to them first.
I approached the author and said "Hey, I finished Book X and I can review it if you want me to, but it won't be a good review". They asked if I could hold off, which of course I'm more than happy to do. I didn't really want to post a bad review. I don't like doing it. After that, they asked me what I didn't like, and so I went through most of my points (I forgot one, but oh well) and ended with the sincere "I think you've really got some talent, it was just X that I really didn't enjoy, but I am also not your target audience, so that may make a difference too." I ended it on a positive note, because I do think the author has the potential to be really good, and the writing wasn't terrible. They also used cunt, which that's a word I love even though most other women don't. Personal preference.
It's hard to be honest like that and go up to someone and say, "Hey, that thing you put all your time and effort into? I hated it." However... criticism has to mean something. Reviews have to mean something. I used to belong to a writing site many years ago. You would review stories people posted to get things to use to promote your own stories. It was all for free, but fun, and I learned a lot there. When I reviewed, I was always brutally honest. I mean scathingly, brutally honest. And you know what?
People requested I review their stuff.
Why? It was because I was brutally honest and they wanted to learn. I wanted to learn. That's why I was there. A "great story 5 stars" might be nice to see, but it's not constructive. Even in positive reviews, you can always point out "I really loved Bit X and Bit Y, but Bit Z was a little off to me." There's nothing wrong with that. Constructive criticism is how we learn. But it has to be constructive. Just saying something sucked or something was awesome is not helpful, and in fact, it can be downright hurtful.
So I want to tell people not to be afraid to be honest in their reviews. If you loved the book, but really didn't care for Character Y or Plot B or whatever, tell them. Tell them why you didn't like it. Not every story is going to be to everyone's tastes, and that's OK. Don't be mean. Don't be harsh. I always try to end on a positive note, too. It takes some of the hurt out because yeah, getting those low reviews does hurt. You try not to let it, but it does anyway. And it's encouraging.
As a side note, don't listen to those people who say "WELL, you didn't write a book, so you can't criticize!" That's total bullshit. Anyone can. I've said that before and I'll say it again. Anyone can criticize because everyone has an opinion. It's a matter, as an author, of seeing if you value that person's opinion and the deciding what you might learn from it.
Here's another quick story (bunch of them today!). I reviewed another author's book because I thought it sounded really exciting, but when I read it, I was so disappointed. I couldn't even finish it the book was pissing me off so much. I write a very long review about why, and put a lot of thought into making it constructive and well researched. Yes, I researched for a review. I take them seriously! When the author found out about it, they went off on Facebook about how it was horrible and they didn't know anything and blah blah blah. Now, I'd written the review under my real name (as I tend to do on Amazon) and they didn't know I was seeing the backlash. I never said anything to them about that, but I was shocked at the reaction and the behavior. It was vicious. What made matters worse was that the author had followers, a lot of them, who were mean, nasty, and said some really terrible things that I was stupid and didn't know what the fuck I was talking about and SHE didn't write a book so SHE can't criticize and stuff.
Again, I was pretty shocked at the reaction. And it wasn't like I said "It sucks, the end." It was thought out. The review itself was long, about 1500 words in length so I spent a significant time on the review... because it meant that much to me. Being able to see things from both sides made me really think about what I want to put out in the world as far as reviews go, and helped me to learn how to react to bad ones. Which is almost the same as how I react to good ones in that I say, "Thank you. Why did you feel that way?"
That, I think, is how authors should respond to reviews, good and bad. Why did you like something? Why did you hate it? Was it the writing? The style? Characters? Plot? Setting? So on and so forth. I know this first author I mentioned probably won't ever read this, but if they do, I want to say thank you for being a bigger person, standing up and saying, "Thank you. Why did you feel that way?" It not only shows they are willing to learn and adapt, but that they value what I thought. For readers, I think that's really important.
K, done rambling now.