As most people who read this blog probably already know, when you’re a writer there’s always something to worry about. If you’re not worrying about finishing your novel, you’re worrying about getting an agent, or selling your book, or revisions, or line edits, or copyedits, or writing your next book, or sales, or…I could go on forever. Eventually, you start worrying about reviews. Sure, somebody liked the book enough to represent it, and somebody liked it enough to buy it, but will readers like it? Will reviewers like it? Or will anyone even notice it’s out at all?

For some writers, getting a bad review can kill the party but good. Somebody calls you derivitive or pokes holes in your painfully crafted story or rags on your characters and suddenly the streamers droop, the balloons deflate, and the world’s loudest scratching noise can be heard as someone pulls the Kool and the Gang “Celebration” LP off the record player (all figurative “I’m so awesome because I published a book” parties take place in 1981, obviously) and everyone stares and points.

At least, I’m assuming that’s what it’s like, not having had a bad review myself because my book is still in the gentle hands of people who love it. But I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. It’s a curse I’m assuming no author avoids, not for long. And as someone whose writing has been picked apart and dismissed by National Book Award-nominated professors and University of Chicago undergraduates alike, I know what it feels like to have someone say your book came in way below par. Which is why I totally get the idea behind Worst Review Ever, a new blog started by YA author Alexa Young (Frenemies).

Worst Review Ever features various authors’ worst reviews, according to the author, and a short interview that allows the author to comment on said review and explain how it made her/him feel. All fine. Such a blog serves a couple of really great functions. First, it’s cathartic. Authors boast about good reviews all the time on their blogs and websites, but most, I would suspect, sit on their negative reviews and pretend they don’t see them (of course they see them, though; hello, Google Alerts), which must feel sort of like keeping a dirty secret.

Myself, because I don’t believe in directing readers towards reviews that just speak ill of your book, however honestly they’re written, I would definitely not want to say anything about them, and when in my life have I ever not talked about how I feel about something? Never, is the answer to that question. I’d imagine at least some authors would feel the same. So: catharsis. Letting the bad review go out into the world, on someone else’s blog–admitting it’s there, admitting you’ve seen it, but not giving it any face time on your own blog. A repository of negativity without having it stick around in your archives forever and ever. Got it. Makes total sense.

Also, it gives the author a chance to laugh about the bad review, because if Harry Potter taught us nothing else, if you laugh in the face of your fear it goes back into the haunted wardrobe it was trapped in before your Defense Against the Dark Arts professor let it out, or at least concentrates its reign of terror on someone else. And that’s what most of the authors on Worst Review Ever have done–laughed. Because it’s not that big of a deal. It’s part of the biz, Liz. And for every bad review, you probably get a good one, maybe even two, maybe even ten. So at the end of the day, one person not liking your book is just one person not liking your book–not the end of the world, or your career, as you know it.

But today I clicked on Worst Review Ever in my Google Reader and I read a post by Lauren Lipton (It’s About Your Husband) that sort of bothered me. I don’t know Ms. Lipton, I haven’t read any of her books, so I’m not equipped to judge on either account and I certainly don’t want to go all neg on the situation, or look like I’m picking on anyone in particular (which I don’t mean to do), but hear me out:

There’s nothing wrong with the review she posted. I mean, aside from bothersome italicized coda at the end of it. (The passive-aggressive “<ahem>” is also pretty unnecessary, but whatever, it’s her blog.) It’s just an honest review, honestly negative. She didn’t like the book, and she said so. Maybe she shouldn’t have requested the book for review, knowing that it’s not the kind of book she would normally read or buy for herself, because she was kind of setting it up to fail, but as a reviewer that’s her prerogative. I can’t imagine every book reviewed by the New York Times goes to a reviewer who adores the genre, and anyway sometimes that can be a good thing–a reviewer gets a book in a genre they don’t like, and then the book totally changes their opinion of the genre. Mea culpas abound! Can be a cool experience for both reviewer and author.

What I didn’t like about the Worst Review Ever post was that it implied that it wasn’t right of Everyday Goddess to post a negative review of a book she received for free from a publisher. I vehemently disagree with that. Maybe it’s true that there’s an unspoken rule in magazine and newspaper publishing that a product received for free will either be positively reviewed/featured or ignored, but blogs and websites are not the magazine and newspaper industry, nor should they be.

Most bloggers do what they do because they love it, not for revenue, and they shouldn’t be expected to lie about how they feel about something (by omission or otherwise) just because magazines and newspapers do it. It’s up to the editor of the blog to decide whether or not they felt strongly enough about a book (or a different product), either way, to post about it, and they shouldn’t be chastised when they do, or told that that’s not how “real” journalists do it. Especially since bad reviews don’t actually hurt sales! Mary Rambin doesn’t review books, but she has a lot of well-articulated thoughts on the subject of product endorsement that I think apply here.

There’s also the fact that when you receive a book for review from the publisher, you feel bound to talk about it, even negatively, which Everyday Goddess even said. In fact, I think it’s completely likely that bloggers feel less compelled to write a negative review of a book they received for free because they’re afraid of damaging their relationship with the publisher and/or the author.

There is a roaring debate in the YA world right now about reviewers just expecting ARCs of all the upcoming releases even if they have no intention to review them, about bugging authors for free ARCs and finished copies, about bloggers getting snotty with authors who won’t or can’t provide those things. This isn’t the same, but it’s related. Giving things away for free, while a marketing strategy lots of people are really big on, can be controversial, because there’s no way to quantify how much product reviews that come from sending free “samples” actually moves. So I understand that people are sensitive about it, and it does seem a bit ungrateful to accept something for free from the publisher and then trash it.

But…oh well. In a perfect world we’d all love every book we read, but we don’t. The mouthier ones* feel the need to talk about it, and I think that’s fair. When you (or your publisher) give a copy of the book away for free in the hopes of a good review that encourages people to buy the book, you have to open yourself up to scrutiny as well. That’s the only way the book blog review process can stay open and respectable.

Now, when I whine about bad reviews of All Unquiet Things in January, please send me this link in an email with a subject that says: GET OVER YOURSELF, PREACHY.

*I of course count myself among this number–you have NO IDEA how hard it’s been to stop reviewing books, but I feel like, given how critical I can be, it’s not wise.

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