Monday, February 18, 2008

The Art of Ignoring Reviews

One of the most nerve-wracking aspects of becoming a published author, something we'll all have to face when our books hit bookstore shelves, is reviews. There seem to be a million and one places online for people to post reviews, which only increases the chances that we'll eventually see something written about our work that doesn't particularly make us happy. I've heard published authors say that they don't read their reviews, but I'm not sure I'll be that strong. It's actually kind of strange that I would care so much about my reviews considering I rarely consult reviews when choosing my own reading material or which movies to watch.

I admit that years ago I did consult the reviews on at least one romance review site, The Romance Reader. Most of the time, I tended to agree with them. But I've seen lukewarm or even bad reviews for stories I've enjoyed. Think about it -- how many times have you loved a book or movie only to find out someone you know hated it? My husband and I love O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but two other members of our family think it's one of the worst movies they've ever seen. One of my favorite movies is Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day-Lewis, but my husband can't stand to watch it. When the movie Stardust came out last year, I don't think it got very good reviews. But when I watched it last week, I really enjoyed it. It was a fun combination of fantasy, humor, a quest story, and romance. I liked the performances given by Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Robert DeNiro. And we've all heard the stories about movies that got bad reviews but racked in big bucks at the box office.

Maybe I'm easily entertained or maybe reviewers go into reviewing a movie or book with the mindset of, "I must find everything that could conceivably be wrong with this." Granted, there are books and movies that deserve their horrible reviews. Gigli, anyone? Gah, the worst movie I've EVER seen! I saw an article recently that said it even eclipsed Ishtar (which I've not seen) as the worst movie of all time. But there are stories in various forms that receive what I feel are undeserved negative reviews. I don't know if the reviewers are just harsh, they're having a bad day, or negativity, for whatever reason, tends to draw more traffic.

I saw another online article recently that questioned the relevance of reviews, particularly for movies, because people tend not to pay attention to them if they are negative. The article's author stated that while negative reviews might not end up having a negative effect (unless, of course, it's an overwhelming chorus of horrible reviews), lots of positive reviews tend to create positive buzz and word of mouth. Maybe we all trust word of mouth passed along to us by friends more than reviews by faceless critics. Maybe we just don't want someone else telling us what we should and shouldn't like; we want to make up our minds for ourselves.

So what about you? Do you pay attention to reviews? Have you ever enjoyed a book or movie that was panned by reviewers? If so, what was it?


Helen Scott Taylor said...

Great post, Trish. I've learned to ignore movie reviews. So many times I've read bad reviews and loved the movie or good reviews and found it mediocre. I think a glowing review raises my expectations too high and I'm always dissapointed, where as the opposite is true with bad reviews.

I tend to buy most of my books from Amazon, and I do take note of the reviews they post. I also read the Romantic Times reviews to find good books, especially if I'm buying a category romance.

We've all had a taste of reviews with the judges comments on our entries in American Title. I can understand why some authors chose not to read reviews of their own books, but I think when the time comes, I'll read mine. I'd rather know what is being said about my work. Who knows, it might help me improve the next book!

Evonne Wareham said...

As usual you raise a lot of good points Trish. I've learned over the years that when certain critics pan a film, book or theatre performace that usually means I will enjoy it! When it comes down to it, it's a matter of taste. If we were all the same, it would be a pretty dull world.

Mel Hiers said...

I actually use reviews a lot. At work I've ordered DVDs, audiobooks, and fiction and we're required to select based on 'em.

I wasn't really satisfied with a lot of the professional print reviews. There's no way for them to review everything and our readership is really high in genre fiction. So I talked 'em into letting me use some of the better online review zines like Dear Author, SF Site, Super Librarian, etc. I'll have to check The Romance Reader!

For my own personal use? I don't rely on reviews to tell me what to read. I do use them, in addition to word of mouth and bookstore spelunking, to discover what's being released and what might interest me.

Film reviews? The only resource I like is the Rotten Tomatoes site. They compile all the reviews they can find on a certain movie and give it a fresh or rotten rating. But I find that the stuff I like the most doesn't really snag stellar ratings.

Okay, I'm babble girl today. :P Great post, Trish!

Trish Milburn said...

Helen, I've read the occasional Amazon review, more so the RT ones. Usually I consult RT to see how my friends' books fared and I stumble upon other books that sound interesting. It's dangerous though because my TBR mountain is already gigantic. :)

And yes, I think the AT judges' comments, as well as critiques I've received in chapter contests, have helped brace me for other reviews to come down the line.

I know what you mean about really good reviews raising your expectations too high. I remember that happening to me when I watched Jerry McGuire. I still enjoyed it, but I didn't think it held up to all the hype. Of course, I doubt I could watch it now that Tom Cruise has gone bat-crap bonkers. :)

Trish Milburn said...

Evonne, that is so true about if we all had the same taste. Can you imagine how dull the world would be? Shudder.

Mel, I can totally understand you using the reviews for your job. That makes sense. And I've consulted Rotten Tomatoes a few times.

Savanna Kougar said...

Great perceptive blog, Trish.
So true, everyone, what's already been said, although, I must disagree about Tom Cruise, not that he's a particular favorite actor of mine. I think the bad rap he's gotten is highly over-rated.
But, actually, that's just a side issue. I'm having a thought -- what if I read someone else's reviews, and they read mine, and we acted like filters for each other?
From an objective perspective reviews are sometimes a writing art unto themselves, whether they reflect the quality and content of the book, or not.
Naw, I don't pay attention to reviews except as their own campy art, or if they hit certain themes in movies I like, or are the types of stories I'm interested in.
As Sylvia Day said, she goes for the story itself, not the rating of the book. That's me too.
It could be the highest-rated book since a Nora Roberts, but if it's got the secret baby them...forget about it!
With the caveat that there are excellent enjoyable 'secret baby' romances. It's just so ubiquitous, makes my tummy queasy.

Lexie O'Neill said...

Thank you for the post! It helped me put some perspective on reviews. While I'll probably always devour anything anyone ever says/writes about my own helped me remember that I NEVER rely on reviews when choosing a book or movie for myself!

Trish Milburn said...

Savanna, I think you're right about writing reviews being an art. You can tell the ones where someone actually read the book with an eye to giving it an honest, thorough review without giving away spoilers. I don't think all reviews should be all wonderful all the time. I'm all for constructive criticism. It's the ones where they seem to take delight in pointing out every single thing they didn't like that bug me.

Lexie, I think perspective is the key. Of course, that's going to be easier said than done when it's out own work. It's odd how one negative comment about our work can make so much more of an impression than 10 positive remarks. I don't know why it's that way, but it is.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Sorry I'm so late but let me chime in! I really don't base my choices on reviews. I'm moved to pick up a book or a movie based on my personal likes and dislikes. I've picked up books strictly because the cover art motivated me--and not always in a good way. I've bought books just because the cover art was over-the-top and hilarious and then discovered a wonderful story between the pages. Same thing with movies. I listen to a rather odd inner voice and I find wonders that many don't. I think you have to judge for yourself because what moves me may not move another. Different strokes for different folks. And that's what keeps the world interesting. :)