On negative reviews and hidden agendas

I have always maintained that e-book reviews, and particularly negative e-book reviews, so often tell us more about the people who write them than they ever do about the work under consideration.
You don’t think so? O.K. so imagine this. . .

So, you’re sitting in a fancy new restaurant and about to treat your family and friends to a special meal out. Money isn’t flowing from your ears and so you pick a salad, followed by something made with chicken, and hope the others follow suit.

The waiter arrives and takes your order.
You ask for the wine list.

It arrives, courtesy of a pompous-looking sommelier, who then hovers in suspended judgement as you peruse the fare on offer.

You look at the prices. Wow! Not cheap.

You briefly scan the left-hand column, and then carefully peruse the right-hand column. You privately wince as you dismiss the vintage Champagnes, first growths and chateau-bottled, skip past the grand crus and premier crus, on to the next page, and the next, and the one after that, along and down, past the basic Burgundy and Bordeaux sections, through the Italian, Spanish, and German, past the New World and Eastern European, and on to the bin-ends. Still pretty pricey. Hmmm, too many guests for a half bottle, and you don’t want to look like a cheapskate.
You close the wine list and hand it back to the sommelier, look knowledgeably at your table guests, and say. . .
“Tell you what, let’s be different tonight. Let’s not start with the same old Grand Cru Chablis, move on to Chateau Lafitte, and finish off with the same old boring Chateau d’Yquem.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve not tried this place before, and I always say the house wine tells us more about a restaurant than anything else, don’t you?”
They all nod. They’re on a free meal, what else can they do? You smile a smile of knowing superiority and look up, to where the sommelier has clearly read your every thought, and say. . . “The house wine. . .  what is it?”
“The sommelier explains that it’s an unpretentious little paint-stripper from the slopes to the south of Mount Otgontenger in Central Mongolia: grown, harvested and pressed by a distant cousin of the owner’s next-door-neighbour’s pen-pal. You nod wisely. “Good, good.” You recall a re-run episode of ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ and say “Oh, yes, Otgontenger, in The Hangai Range.” And then, while everyone does a double-take, you press your good fortune. “In that case I think we’ll start with a couple of bottles of the house white, and a couple of the house red, see where we go from there.”

A Sommelier decanting and serving wine

You dismiss the sommelier, smile broadly at the semi-circle of dumbstruck features looking back at you, and privately hope that by the time they’ve drained a couple more bottles of Mongolian paint-stripper most will have forgotten all about your mentioning of Sauternes’ finest.
The wine duly arrives. You check the label. It certainly looks Mongolian. The sommelier checks the quality and temperature, and then passes the final decision to you. You sip, swill, savour, swallow, and savour again (no, you don’t spit), and then nod appreciatively and say to your spellbound audience. “I tell you something, that’s not at all bad. I reckon these Mongolians know a thing or two about wine. In fact that’s really rather good. I think you’re going to like it.”
English: Relief map of Mongolia Equirectangula...
Now, I guarantee that, when you sum-up your evening, whatever criticism you might consider valid about food, service, ambience, and price, and whatever damning judgement you might otherwise levy at the meal’s conclusion, you won’t be offering anything other than complimentary murmurings about the wine.
O.K. So now, having read that, you all know that if I ever offer to take you out for a meal you will politely but firmly decline. I don’t blame you, but what else do you know?
You know that when you are given a description of the goods, allowed to actually sample the goods before purchase, and instantaneously supplied with the goods as sampled, it is very difficult to legitimately complain. . . or is it?
Now, let’s move on to e-books, and talk about those people who choose a genre, look at the book cover, read the blurb, consider the author, download three sample chapters (often around ten-thousand words), then buy the book and proceed to write a scathing review.
Why would they do this? They had every facility and chance to make an informed buying decision. They were offered every opportunity to sample prior to purchase. So why then buy and decry?
Perhaps the first three chapters bore no relationship to the next twenty or so. It can happen. Perhaps the rest of the book was a genuine stinker. Perhaps they made an honest mistake in the purchase, and now feel obliged to prevent others making the same mistake? All perfectly legitimate.
English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...
Or perhaps they are writers themselves, taking time out to damage the competition. Perhaps they feel insignificant, and want the author and the rest of the world to sit up and take note. Perhaps they need to somehow validate an otherwise unfulfilled life. Perhaps they read something in the book that touched a nerve, from childhood or some previous unhappy experience. Perhaps they have some sort of hidden pain, and are taking the opportunity to relieve the symptoms by transferring a little of that pain to the author. Then again, perhaps they are just sad people who delight in hurting and damaging others.
So the next time you see a negative e-book review, especially one among numerous positive reviews, don’t just take it at face value, take a closer look. Don’t just read the words as written, but see if you can read between the lines. It may well be that he or she genuinely didn’t enjoy the remaining chapters, and that’s fine, but so often it’s something more, something that lies dormant and undeclared.
Try it, and see if I’m not right.
As an author I don’t write book reviews, either good or bad, because I refuse to say bad or negative things about the work of my fellow authors, and if I only ever said good and positive things my stated opinions would, quite rightly, be treated with suspicion.
I’m also in agreement with dear-old Walt Disney’s Bambi, and the endearing Thumper who once so famously sang. . .

Young adult Thumper thumping his foot from Bambi

Young adult Thumper thumping his foot from Bambi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
Reviews are important. The people who write them are important to any author, be they famous infamous or unknown. A constructive and informed review will significantly help the buying decision. I know all that, agree with all that, heartily applaud those who write them, and heavily rely on those same constructive reviews and reviewers to sell my books. I am extremely grateful for them.
But let us not allow the review to be an excuse for hidden agendas, self-aggrandisement, and vitriol.
Perhaps I should leave the final judgement, on my mistrust of scathing e-book reviews and the people who write them, to the deliciously immoral Mandy Rice-Davies, who, when confronted in court with Lord Astor’s denial of their alleged affair, is often quoted as saying. . .
“Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”
Well, of course I would.
Nevertheless, you take my point (and if you don’t it was probably that last bottle of Chateau Mongolia 2013).

Have a good one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s