Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad reviews — and what to do about them

st of all, there are OK-ish bad reviews — “Just not my kind of a book”… “Too complicated”… “The end was a little sudden”… “Squeaky clean — TOO much so, in my opinion…”

These are the good bad reviews. One can learn quite a lot from these — particularly when the same issues keep surfacing. Reviews like these led to my providing a cast-list for Harriet because, as you’ll know, there are quite a lot of characters in Emma!

But then there are the reviews that are stinkers. If you stick religiously to Austen canon you may never experience reviews like these, but I’ve had a few, pretty memorable stinkers.

I even had one, clearly unbalanced, reviewer screeching that my award-winning Harriet was so ‘horrible’ that it should ‘be thrown into Mount Doom to ‘Burn, baby, burn!’ — a reviewer on LibraryThing, who admitted to being a wannabe author. (To be fair, when I checked her exact wording this week… Had it really been Mount Doom? I mean, wowsers! — she’d kept the one-star but removed the most offensive sentences. My bet was LibraryThing had forced her to tone it down.)

Later I found the original version on Goodreads, utterly unamended, so LibraryThing must have indeed blown the whistle:

“This book is horrible, just horrible, easily the worst Austen abomination I’ve read… I don’t merely dislike this book, I want to drop it into the fires of mount doom and watch it burn, baby, burn!!!!)”

Not a review, then, more like vulgar abuse. But certainly not the worst that I’ve endured… No, that would be “Splat.” Because “Splat” was smart, as well as destructive.

First, “Splat” created a fake Amazon account. (Why do I say “fake?” — and with such assurance? — Because “Splat” has no profile, no photo and has never reviewed anything except my novel, from an electric grill to a toothbrush.)

She timed it — perfectly — for the week during which the most people EVER were checking out my novel (it was a finalist for a major book award — didn’t win it, sadly). After dismissing my book with one star — meaning “unreadable” — a book which had already won one international award — she went on about how superior this other JAFF writer was, presumably herself. Finally, to add insult to injury, she even gave away my plot twist without a spoiler alert. Thanks, Splat!!!!!

Sometimes many writers get blasted, as when Goodreads eventually banned one for going around giving anonymous one-stars to every book in her genre not written by herself.

All anonymous one-stars ought to be banned, imho. Reviewers ought to have to scribble something, if only to give authors a sporting chance of guessing which ex-lover/peeved neighbour is behaving baaaaaaadly. Frankly, if I hate a book — and I do — I simply refuse to review it. That’s the civilised reader’s response. Someone is bound to love it — it just wasn’t right for me, personally.

But it’s not only the occasional nutcases. You also get the dim reviewers — readers, for example, who never checked out the blurb/cover/’look inside and who are still shocked and aggrieved to learn that yours isn’t their kind of a book. (“Not a patch on Sexed-up Bridgerton: the True Story”… “Couldn’t understand this book. Seems to happen in another century!”…“I only picked this book because I had to read a book starting with ‘H’ for my reading challenge…”)

These reviews don’t bother me. One simply shakes the head and moves on… So, what kind of review does bug me?

This kind: “Was disappointed in McVeigh’s Harriet. All these editorial reviews rave about how stylish it is, but it’s still not proper Regency writing. For example, using ‘gifting’ as a verb, in the 1800s? I don’t think so!”

Now, in fact, the Oxford English Dictionary claims that the use of gifting as a verb started in the sixteenth century.

Yeah. Just a tad before the Regency, wouldn’t you agree? — But authors get no right of reply on Amazon. We just have to “suck it up, buttercup,” and sometimes, ‘burn, baby, burn” — inside, I mean.

And we are justified in burning. Because I’ve spent years of my life checking things like “when did gifting start being a verb?” to have some reader put me down for being right seems a little “off” to me — in the adjectival sense, meaning “rude/outrageous/not done” — as we’ve been saying here in London for, um, roughly a century.

And yes, one can complain to the Amazon bots but, I’m that’s only a waste of good writing time.

Me …. Just used a review to boost her own books…

Amazon Bot: Boosting Books is Good.

Me: … Not the slightest warning before the spoiler of the plot twist…

Amazon Bot: Sadly, We do Not Sell Plot Twists.

Me: … So she sets up this fake account, calling herself “Splat”…

Amazon Bot: Setting Up Account is Good.

Me: … never so much as reviewed a toothbrush. Only my book!

Amazon Bot: (BRIGHTENING) May I Show You Some Fine Toothbrushes?

The only time Amazon sits up and pay attention is if someone uses profanity. That review’ll be whipped out faster than a politician can shove a loincloth on Michelangelo’s David. Mind, I don’t disagree about profanity — I agree with Amazon about it — my objection is that nothing else receives anything like the same level of attention in reviews. If only Splat had written, “My books are the best d**n books ever!” her review would’ve been history!

So, to return to my headline, what can you do about baaaaaaaaaaad reviews?

Not a lot.

What I do is to run a hot bath, and brew up this fantastic tea — Teapig ‘calm’ variety, mostly Valerian — the one which sold out throughout the UK during the pandemic. Then I take a deep breath and try to forget.

I only wish I had something more brilliant to suggest!

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Alice McVeigh: award-winning novelist

Novels by London-based Alice McVeigh have been published by Orion/Hachette, UK’s Unbound Publishing, and Warleigh Hall Press.