Is Scathing Acceptable?

I have joined a lot of book groups on Facebook over the years and really enjoy reading feedback from readers about books I am reading, will read or I am on the fence about reading. Being part of such groups is fun because we are all different when it comes to reading preferences and like any self-respecting bibliophile I am always on the look out for more titles to read despite having towering to-be-read pillars of books by my bedside.

It’s not at all unusual to read posts about how a book just does not appeal or a reader is finding it difficult to get into a book. In fact, helpful tips, such as reading the first hundred pages before you decide the book really isn’t for you, are thankfully plenty. The groups also heavily recommend books and are probably my primary resource for searching out good titles to add to my to be read list.

So, I was a bit startled when on one such book group a post went up that tagged an author and then, indelicately in my opinion, criticised the style of grammar in the authors book. The book has been popular and I have read and enjoyed it, as had many other members of this group, many of whom came out to defend the author.

I do not know the author personally. In the discussion that ensued, two camps emerged: those outraged at the tagging and harsh criticism and those who felt the author should take it as par for the course. I decided not to comment on the thread but to reflect on it.

I agree a certain amount of open minded tolerance to critique and those who will not like your work is paramount when you do, virtually, anything, but I know if it had been me I would have felt hurt, upset and humiliated. It would be my personal nightmare to be shown up in this manor and that is the main reason I wouldn’t want to make anyone else feel that way.

When I am personally tagged in a post on Facebook, the post becomes a direct dialogue with me in the public domain, depending on the privacy settings of the group, and therefore what the original poster had done in effect is say-NOT in these words, but the gist: your grammar is crap, go back to school.

Even if I read a book where indeed grammar was creative or lacking enough to be irksome, I would never say it quite so harshly and I would never tag on a public group, but that’s just me. I have my suspicions that the original poster didn’t know the author was a member of the book group and perhaps isn’t clear what tagging someone in a post means to the person tagged. If you wouldn’t verbally say it face to face it’s not a good idea to type it and tag.

Looking around Goodreads and Amazon, there are some very forthright reviews and opinions, which are scathing, but is it really necessary to point errors out in a way to belittle an individual? None of us is perfect and given any subject we would all write differently in style, so why the widespread intolerance and negativity? Does being mean really make you feel good, when it makes you look so bad?

I don’t condone being untruthful in a review, but being constructive with sensitivity, as many hours go into writing a book, surely isn’t too much to ask.

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63 thoughts on “Is Scathing Acceptable?

  1. Best to stick to ones genre and if a book is bad or a basket case, just do nothing at all. Three stars is okay for an award, but anything less, looks a bit personal. I have had this in the past, but after some research, I discovered that the reviewer was a cancer sufferer and this meant that they were probably on chemo! Chemo makes you a bit batty, I know, a friend of mine was a sufferer, so I ignored it. But, as you know, all us artists are tender and sensitive souls!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Not just artists, Patrick, I must say after reading the related thread I was willing to forgive the author anything for having to face the humiliation. What was scary, for me, was the attitude that it was ok to abuse someone because their work is in the public domain. I’m sure, it’s not unusual to come across these sorts of opinions, which makes me blissfully naive.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I believe I saw the post you’re on about, and I agree. While some criticism is fine, the comment what was piste was completely outrageous. It wasn’t fair on the author one bit!! If it was a private message and wor else differently then fair enough but to drag it out on to social media, and use the horrible tone it did wasn’t acceptable in my eyes. I felt quite bad for th author, it would have been my own nightmare as well!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I couldn’t imagine anyone being so rude in a private message either, I’m being naive again I’m sure, but I would think even the poster would have been more polite in an e-mail. What did she think would happen when she tagged that poor author?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I didn’t see all the following comments but I can imagine that it was awful!! I wouldn’t say you were being naive, either way it was done would have been horrible but you can delete private messages like that, a public post once loads of people have commented aren’t easy to hide!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I missed the the more personal posts on the thread and I think it was closed and them removed by admin, but I did read related posts the next day and I think the original poster left the group, much to the protest of all the lovely people in the group. It all pretty much ended the way these things always end: with two of the strongest voices leaving, admin wringing their hands and a certain amount of residual awkwardness after all is said and done. It doesn’t happen often on book groups so I hope that’s it for the next couple of years as far as scathing posts go.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a firm believer that the world has gotten a bit too cruel over the Internet. Someone can slam and criticize someone else by cowardly hiding behind a keyboard and monitor. I always say that people should ask themselves – “would I feel comfortable saying these things face to face?”. If not, maybe it’s time to tone down the criticism. It’s easy to be mean and critical – but reviewing a book that you didn’t like takes thoughtfulness and patience. By using the star system of rating, or by really taking the time to choose words wisely, it’s possible to write a critical review without being scathing.

    This is a great post, and something that I think needs to be said more often.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I have to agree that the evolution of social media and the removed anonymity of being in front of a screen as opposed to a human being is responsible for most of these florid threads of heightened tempers and discord. I think anyone posting anything should take note and ask themselves what they would say face to face. Couldn’t agree with you more. It definitely is a rare gift to critique with humility and kindness.

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  4. Sadly it is the lot of all authors to become targets of armchair critics, literary snobs, internet trolls, other authors jealous of your books success, etc,etc. If a book does not appeal to you personally, better to simply move on…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. When I write my reviews I try to be honest but not hurtful. It helps that I read mostly genres that I’m interested in reading. Sometimes, I’ll read a British author, and the grammar will look funny, but honestly, we speak differently in all countries and cultures, so who am I to say if in their country that isn’t the way they speak? I try to look at things with a humorous slant, and in that case would just say I enjoyed the slang, or something to that effect. I never want to be hurtful, it’s just not necessary!

    I loved that you wrote about that incident. we all need to remember that words are powerful!
    Deb

    Liked by 3 people

    • Absolutely, that proverb about sticks and stones does not take into account the weight of words. I almost trashed this post yesterday rather than publishing it, as a little voice in my head, kept saying, “move on. Don’t dwell on this.” However, I think reflection on something that illicits a strong reaction was rewarding in this instance.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sadly, soshul meeja seems to encourage cowardly attacks. As you say – the writer of the put down wouldn’t say it to the author’s face, but doesn’t have to as the offensive remarks are just jotted down and ‘click’ they’re posted. It is cheap. And, IMHO, nasty. And hurtful. Authors usually have quite thin skins. Indie authors, especially, rely on reviews – both numbers of and quality of – to get their work known. If you don’t like the work, say nothing! The only valid questions for a reviewer are ‘will a reader like this book? What sorts of readers might like it? How can I get this across without massive spoilers?’ Endof.

    Well, not quite endof … Apparently we live in an era of experimental fiction. Grammar as we know it may be subverted for literary effect. And grammar, anyway, changes over time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Language evolves over time as does grammar as you rightly say. I know what its like to be irritated whilst reading but I still personally couldn’t use that irritation to dissuade another reader from picking up a book.

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  7. This topic has actually been a recent discussion with some of my bookstagram friends. It’s quite crazy how people tag the author along with their harsh criticism. I saw this this one post on instagram where the person hates on the book harshly and she tags the author. Also on Twitter an author actually tweets to rethink on tagging an author when they hate/bash their books. But at the end of the day you can’t control people’s actions. Just be aware of it. Also thanks for liking my first review. Funnily, I haven’t told people about my site yet. Still working on it. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re very welcome, WordPress reader is fastidious about getting your blog out to fellow bloggers. It feels wrong on so many levels to tag an author to tell them you didn’t like their book. There’s definitely no telling people what they should or shouldn’t post/tag and to do so would be dangerous territory, but asking them to think and perhaps put themselves in the authors place would be good practice.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I don’t like dishonest reviews (to be ‘nice’) because I start to not trust the reviewer if all the reviews are five stars. And I will gladly pick up a book with three stars if it looks interesting to me. I prefer to know how the reviewer really felt about it but completely agree it should be respectful and sensitive. There’s no need to bash an author.
    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It is true enough that the rise of Internet anonymity has allowed people to be more brutal. The problem is that sometimes it’s brutal frankness, and sometimes it’s brutal showing-off. A certain percentage of reviewers treat it like a bullfight, where style points matter as one teases, lances, sticks with barbed flags, and ultimately kills with the sword. It’s not that style does not matter, but rather that in some cases the reviewer is going overboard for the sake of showing off.

    In such a case, of course, the level of consideration on display is like that in a bullfight. What I want from a review is brutal but intelligent candor. I don’t wish to be told “she can’t write.” That may well be true, but unless the reviewer can tell me what’s wrong with her writing, I am not convinced the reviewer is qualified to say that. We all have those flaws we will accept, and those we will not. Maybe one reader simply hates first-person fiction; if that’s the reason for the complaint, then tell me so. If this reviewer believes it is 1p fiction done badly (which is distressingly common in today’s market, where everyone can be an author). But maybe it’s other stuff: bad scene-setting, inconsistencies, contrivance, what have you. If the reviewer can at least tell me why, I have a lot of latitude for a crushing review, because that feedback does help not only me but the author.

    My own hobbyhorse is not the scathing review itself, but the stupid reaction to the review–from the author or from commenters/raters. Too often it’s been obvious that the reactions were based upon “I disagree with the reviewer’s general views” rather than “this review is uninformative.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Evidentiary support of criticism is, in my opinion, constructive, but you’re right, the showboating and point scoring it may come with can have negative effects. It’s a shame because opportunities to learn and develop shrouded in insults are hard to take. It’s like the Socratic method of teaching I underwent at medical school, it’s been abandoned largely these days, but was sworn by and allegedly character building years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Criticism should always be respectful and constructive. I don’t see the point in public-shaming an author and I never take into consideration any review that lacks respect for the work the author has provided. I try to be sensitive when I need to review I book I did not enjoy or with which I had issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Public shaming was the main reason I stopped reading Amazon reviews a few years ago. I think keeping it in perspective helps, remembering its one book in dozens and that I may not be the target audience for a book based on my preferences, helps me move on.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. As a reviewer, I always try to be honest, but kind, even if I really don’t care for a book or the grammar/editing/proofreading is obviously poorly done. I know that author put a lot of time & energy in to that work, and it is just outright disrespectful to them to be so blatantly rude. I would certainly never tag them in such a public manner, if I had something scathing to say.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I agree completely! The trouble with the written word is that it misses the nuances of verbal communication – body language, tone, the eyes, pitch and everything else – and it can come across as really harsh. Always put yourself in the other’s shoes.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Yes! I’ve made a point of never putting down the author in my reviews, even if I very easily could.
    It doesn’t serve any purpose other than making the Scather feel better than the Scathee.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I agree. I tend to stay away from reviewing something harshly, if I have strong views that may hurt, I just keep them to myself and don’t review at all. If I think my thoughts are not hurtful and could be constructive/helpful, then I will phrase them as delicately as I can. I think the harshest review I have ever posted was of Mockingjay. It was one of thousands of reviews though (on Goodreads) and I reckon the author is highly unlikely to ever read it!

    As an author myself, I know that smaller-time writers will read every single word written about them when independent reviews are few and far between, so to dish out something really scathing to such a person it pretty nasty.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I tend not to post highly critical reviews either. Perhaps that makes it seem that I like everything I read (which is not necessarily the case) but, particularly with a new author, I’m very much aware that there’s a real person behind the author’s name. I avoid reviewing books that I know are out of my genre too, because often my objections relate more to the genre than the actual example. I have criticized spelling errors in a book, but it was more a criticism of the publishing house (a well known academic publisher) than the author- I would have thought that more care would have gone into the editing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m the same I don’t write or blog about books that don’t have some sort of appeal. So it seems like I love everything, but I skip the three and two starred books mostly, although I have published the odd three star review on here. If I’m off-genre I say so in my review, but it doesn’t happen often.

      Like

  16. My experience of Facebook writer groups is that they are ghastly hotbeds of bitching, cliques, and oneupmanship. Won’t have anything to do with them, I’d rather spend the time writing and reading. As for hauling this book over the coals, perhaps the fact that it’s a popular book had something to do with it. After all, if you don’t like a book because you don’t feel the grammar is up to scratch, you can just stop reading it, can’t you?

    Like you, I will not lie in a review, but you can be honest in a constructive way. I am known as being a fairly harsh reviewer, but I do take care to point out the good as well as the bad. With my own choices, I have no interest in reading a book to which I couldn’t give at least 4*. For my choices from Rosie’s review list, obviously I pick some that I end up not liking, so give a few 3*, but I try to review with the reader in mind, always – which might mean saying something like ‘there are a few grammar errors but it didn’t stop me wanting to read the book’, or I’ll make a note about the plus points if the book really is below what I would consider publishable standard – then it’s up to the reader to decide how picky they are/aren’t.

    Sometimes, a less than favourable review can help a writer. And I agree with Sarah – reviewers who give everything 5* might as well not bother to review at all. Most of these tend to be writers who hope that the authors of the books will give them 5* back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You definitely hit the nail on the head regarding the books popularity and why continue to read if the grammar is driving me around the twist? I had no idea how bitchy author groups get as a reader, as I only seem to register the promotional posts rather quickly to see if they are books I should add to my wishlist. I know I am more lenient with my stars, yet still get emails from authors when I award four stars but have the audacity to add constructive criticism, as a four star review shouldn’t have any criticism or minimal by an author’s standards. I think I’ve just become acclimated to the odd typo here and there, so do judge the book as a whole once I’ve turned the last page. I remember early on in my reviewing, back in 2012/2013, I would get messages of gratitude from authors offering to review my book in kind. When I replied I haven’t written a book, I just enjoy reading, I felt a sad note of regret for the integrity of the review system. My four star reviews do include a multiple of sins.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Babus, I am going to re-hash a very popular blog post I wrote a while back for a now defunct site, about authors reviewing authors! Whenever I get a reaction like you mentioned from an author, I just tell them there is no need for it and I read/review because I want to, not because I want one back; I actually find the suggestion that I would need to resort to such tactics quite insulting!!!

        Yes, my 4* usually include some criticism, too, otherwise they’d be a 5*! I just try to go by the Amazon and Goodreads guidelines; 4* on Goodreads means ‘I really liked it’. I can’t always say that about a 4* on Amazon, so might give it 3* on Goodreads. Similarly, 5* means ‘it was amazing’ on Goodreads. Yet some writer/readerss throw them about like confetti, unless the book is actually unreadable.

        Incidentally, someone on Goodreads with a private profile has seen fit to read 4 of my books (last time I looked) and give them all 2 or 3 star ratings. Why wouldn’t you just stop reading them if you don’t think they’re much good??!!

        Liked by 1 person

  17. In general, I’d say that the best policy is to find the good points in someone’s work and offer some advice on improving the weaker sections, poorly developed characters, or mention the more glaring typos.

    I agree with others in that lengthy nitpicking over spelling and grammar is a waste of time, and as for personal abuse…well, that’s today’s anti-social media. People feel emboldened by their online disguises. The worst review I’ve had is by a troll pretending to have read a book, and found myriad factual errors – when challenged the said errors haven’t been listed. That’s all you can do in the end; stand by your work as being the best you could do at the time.
    Publish and be damned!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely, isn’t that something we learn in our formative years to find what we like first? I think if a book got me captured until the end it did something right. You can’t please all the people, but I do believe there’s a reader who will appreciate a book even if I don’t.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Reblogged this on Judith Barrow and commented:
    A post that all reviewers should read, I think. One of the first handouts I give to new students is on constructive criticism. Trashing someone’s work is both cruel and unnecessary.The good and not so good points in a book should be balanced – and kindly written or said.

    Like

  19. Ironically an overly harsh review is likely to encourage me to check out the author’s work. I agree reviewers should be honest but kind, pointing out the positive as well as the negative points in an author’s work. Having said that, there are a minority of authors who take any criticism badly irrespective of how it is expressed. As an author/poet I know how criticism can sting, however I am not arrogant enough to believe that my writing is perfect. Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes there are authors who haven’t quite honed the skill of taking criticism. I must say I don’t bother picking up their books if they are consistently intolerant of anything other than praise.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Judith Barrow kindly shared this post on Ajoobacats blog and certainly it will strike a chord with many of us. Constructive criticism is always useful but not in the public domain. Most of us have links where you can leave a private message if you do not have an email that is public. I feel that most of these unconstructive comments are made by people who should be wary of blowback.. It does not make them look good. Well worth reading… we all need to be a little careful about what we post about others.. it is despite evidence to the contrary…. a very small world. Thanks Judith for the find.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Well said. That kind of criticism isn’t only unkind. It is also a sign of immaturity in a critic. But human beings do make mistakes, and are capable of learning from them. I hope the rebuttals have given this person a chance to review her/his review and take a more thoughtful — even compassionate — approach to critiquing a work from now on.

    Like

  22. Yes, I agree. I’ve made a point of never putting down the author in my reviews, even if I very easily could, when read a book with errors or even if i don’t like the book i am reading, i still write a nice review. why should i put down a writer, who has put so much effort to write the book? Be positive and joyful.
    thank you for the article

    Like

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    Do you’ve any? Please let me realize in order that I may just subscribe.

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    Liked by 1 person

  24. Often times the scalding review comes from another author. The publishing world s extremely competitive. Some thinks pointing out another”s short coming will highlight their strong points. For Indies, editing is very expensive. Most does their own or acquire the aid of family and friends.

    Liked by 1 person

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