Wednesday, 23 November 2011

No 4 Guest Blogger & Bad Book Reviews - Francine Howarth

Today's guest needs little introduction, so I give you Francine Howarth, writer of Regency romance. Today she is sharing her take on bad reviews. Have you had one or two? If you're as yet unpublished, gird up your loins, because not all reviews are good! But Francine says they can work in your favour...

Hi RFWers and followers!

Well you can relax, the last thing I’m going to do is promote myself or my writing. Nor is this meant as a sympathy vote post. Hell, you must all know where my serious-writer blog is located and, that updates on latest releases are posted as and when along with book trailers.  If you don’t, it’s here. ;)

Here at RFWers we’ve had guest bloggers who’ve talked about “how-to write romance, how-they write and what inspired them”.  So, I thought I’d talk about something a lot of writers think won’t happen to them and when it does it comes as a shock. Now the sad fact of life is, that as soon as your book goes public it’s open to scrutiny from readers who are neither family, friends, fellow groupie writers nor critique partners. You are now fair game to raw critique and social graces of some reviewers leaves a lot to be desired.

Fear of a bad book review is something all published authors learn to live with, yet nonetheless dread them. In fact, some authors within our blogosphere have received the odd one or two since their books hit Amazon, and the bad reviews knocked them for six. Yeah, it’s not nice if a bad review pops up, but the best way is to ignore it and never respond by comment to the reviewer. If you do you fall into the trap of making that reviewer feel even more self-important, and said person will feed off the attention granted them.

Now let’s assess outcome of a bad review.

Can a bad review of a book be detrimental to sales of said book, more especially if the reviewer declares your book to be crap? The answer to that is NO. A bad review is likely to draw more attention to your book than dozens of good reviews. So don’t panic and don’t fret if a bad review surfaces. Books reviewed by professional reviewers, as in Sunday Newspaper supplements and magazines, will consist of overall summary and no spoilers. It’s rare in today’s newspaper or magazine review columns to see a bad review, yet in the 1960s and long before scathing reviews of books were quite common and some critics were infamous and dreaded by all authors.

With the coming of Amazon, Smashwords and Goodreads etc., has come the every “wo/man and their dog/cat” who thinks themselves a book reviewer. But, where a “professional book reviewer” now has a publisher remit of “just give a summary, no spoilers for God’s sake and don’t kick up a storm of protest to vile reviews” your average Amazon reviewer seems to have no concept of what a spoiler is (reveal of plot inclusive ending), and most reviews blow the gaff either as glowing or vile reviews.   

But a BAD review can up your book sales. Strange as it may seem, people are curious creatures and BAD draws out the GOOD in most of us and what do we do when a bad book review pops up, we want to know for ourselves how BAD it is and more often than not the book is stunning for all the right reasons, in that it likely make us stop and think! I would imagine Sara Craven (Mills & Boon) author who dares to push boundaries has adopted elephant hide, because poor Sara has had more than her fair share of stick from Amazon reviewers. First off she was slammed for having a rape scene, and for having a heroine whom fell in love with the rapist. And, ever since that book it seems some reviewers purposely go out of their way to criticise her and ridicule her plots. Yeah, it’s a tough call to carry on writing when knowing malicious anonymous persons are lying in wait for your next book.

Luckily I have elephant hide, and I laughed like crazy when my latest “Scandalous Whispers” received the following review:

  “The hero and heroine are apart because of her mother's desire for Christina to marry a mean rake earl. Why Christina doesn't tell her silly mother she wants to marry Robert instead of the creepy earl and tell what the creep tries to do to get her alone and force his intentions on her is ridiculous! I love romance stories but this one just really misses the mark”.

Now bear in mind this reviewer titled the review thus: “Insipid”.

Did this review upset me? No.

Why not? Answer: I don’t do “Insipid”.  

As RFWers you all know that to say I write “Insipid stories” would be like saying I have a penchant for wearing pink, have fluffy pom-pom slippers and have a rose-tinted view on romance and adore stereotypical characters and mushy plots. As if – when in real life I love the waft of horse sweat, and don’t take kindly to horse shit from swanky dudes. The latter, fortunately, characterisation or caricature if you prefer, is moi, who loves a bit of romancing whilst able to smell a rat at fifty-paces. On the other hand, my character Christina is a young lady of the Regency era, and well brought up young ladies at that time were swayed by parental influence and often faced with arranged marriages.

Damn it all a 21st century chick-lit female is more than likely to knee a jerk / rake in his jewels and deflate all the tyres on his Porsche if he came on too strong. While a Regency Miss is far more likely to conceal immoral advances from a rake she despises for fear her parents think the worst and, get her wed to him quick sharp. After all, parental intention will be to prevent any scandal and save her from consequences out of wedlock despite protests that her chastity remains in tact. BTW: the latter is not my plot, there’s more to it than that simple equation. That said, there are 21st century women who can be pushy executives and high-flying businesswomen, yet become putty or simmering wrecks if a guy breaks through their defensive shield  and embeds a twisting screw! Same can be said of dude counterparts when temptation leads and things don't go his way!

Let’s be honest, here. Stand a 21st century young lady alongside one from the early 1800s little comparison can be drawn between them, beyond that of pent up emotions, raging hormones and young love exposed along with despair when things go badly wrong. So, what I’m saying is that the above review is written by a 21st century female who has little or no knowledge of life in Jane Austen’s era or, chooses to ignore it.  And, the strange aspect to the above review is that the heroine doesn’t even know if the hero is interested in her when the rake makes immoral advances, so why in hell should she tell her mother she loves Robert? I’m fairly sure this reviewer hasn’t even read the book, and has set up her review on the basis of info from the blurb alone and from reading the sample pages.

So let’s take a look at the differences in social behaviour 21st century Vs 1800s. Most young ladies born to gentry in the 1800s had little chance to rebel, their allowances ad dowry were subject to parental hand out, and if a young lady chose to run away she would have forfeited her allowance and her dowry. Young ladies of rank in the 1800s were very much under the control of parental persuasions, and I doubt many ran away for how were they to raise funds? That aspect I shall leave to your imaginations. And yes, some great storylines could come out of this kind of situation, but most would no doubt - in real-life 1800 mode - end in tragedy unlike the rosy-glow endings of your average historical romance novel. On the other hand a 21st century young women has every opportunity for independent living, and to make something of herself no matter her background. Success boils down to good manners, self-confidence and go-getting what it is you want from life. Sitting on your arse criticising others because they’re getting on with success is pitiful.          

So, chins up, and if you ever get a bad review, look on it as your having arrived on the book scene. Because hey, (a shout-out) someone other than a friend has gone out of their way to post up a shit review, which in itself says more about the reviewer than it does about your book. ;)

And so I say to my wonderful anonymous book reviewer (just in case you’re reading this): thanks for stopping by to post up your review. You did me a great service! Because, in essence, I was stuck for something to write about for this guest post and you provided the inspiration for a sufficiently long post to bore the pants off RFWers! :)

Have a lovely day

Francine X

Thanks Francine. Now let's hear what you think. Drop us a comment - do you agree with Francine's take on bad reviews? Do you have a story to share?

Don't forget our Dec 2 Writing Challenge - see sidebar/challenge page for details!

Denise (L'Aussie)


  1. Very uplifting positive post, Francine. Good for you! I read Philip Pullman's comments on reviews and he is quite philosophical that once a novel is 'out there' then it becomes public property and everyone feels they can judge and comment on it. So like you he says you have to take the good with the bad.

    Fingers crossed that I atually get to that stage!

  2. "Which in itself says more about the reviewer than it does about the book"

    I think that's the case 99.99% of the time. Jealousy, fueled by the desire to assert one's own opinion often leads to shit reviews.

    And you're right, especially if the rest of the reviews were good or great. Makes people wonder why it got such a bad rating.

    And then, look at The Sparkly Vampire/Werewolf thing. She got so many bad reviews, and now she's a multi-gazillionaire living on easy street.

    Don't sweat the small stuff, life's too short.

  3. Hi Madeleine,

    Yep, philosophical outlook is the best way forward as a writer!


  4. Hi Anne,

    Hee hee, I just knew we were on the same wavelength re reviews! One can often feel the jealousy oozing off the page when reading spiteful reviews, and sometimes element of enraged envy goes so deep it results in a badly written review. ;)


  5. Well done, Francine, for taking it on the chin. As you say, bad reviews are not all bad. This one gave you something to write about.

  6. Good point on all and as a reader of your book, Francine, I totally agree with what you said. She probably didn't even read it.

    As for myself. My first review was so terrible it took me for a spin. And the fantasy writer who reviewed it did so on Good Reads. Then he started emailing me in the public forum on Good Reads. I got curious and read his reviews. All of them where 1 or 2 stars and terrible. So I agree with the jealousy scenario.


  7. Hi all!
    Well reviewing used to be a high art, the realm of a very few learned gentleman and ladies. Their reviews made the literati tremble and actors running for the make-up pot to hide the ravages of tears. Today, any ole chappie can review books. It's become a public domain and there ain't no rules folks! So the author has to take it on the chin and I think best ignore the bad ones and hope they don't do too much damage.
    I read reviews before I book hotels worldwide and often one that has received a bad review is awesome. So, everywhere, you just have to go with your own judgement. I don't read books based on reviews, I don't see films based on reviews. If something looks interesting I try it for myself! And if I'm not a fan of a book I won't review it as I don't believe in giving bad reviews as my opinions are entirely subjective and I'd hate anyone to be mislead by my likes/dislikes. One man's meat is another man's poison and all that.


  8. Hi Ladies,

    Absolutely, reading tastes are subject to personal interest. I'm one of those with eclectic tastes so where I may read a vampire theme one week, a Tudor drama is next week's read, and then I'm likely to have my teeth into a high-brow literary piece of work.

    I'm of the opinion to only read one specific genre is likened to obsession and tunnel vision the result.

    Whereas, widely read gives greater scope for understanding differing ways of writing and why one story may thrill one reader whilst leaving another cold!

    One only has to read and hear comments like: "I skip the sexy bits!" and someone else says: "Wow, it was a fab raunchy read." ;)


  9. I dare say you certainly haven't bored us, Francine. I enjoy reading your posts. Your personality really shines through.

    I find myself in the middle being a reviewer as well as a writer. Reviewing is a subjective activity based on the judgement of the reviewer so it is always just expressed opinion. I agree that 'bad' reviews are not bad for the writer as readers would be curious about the book. But any reviewer who writes about a book for the purpose of rubbishing a writer is a bad reviewer. In my humble opinion, no book is completely bad and so one must do one's best to find also good things to say about a book.

  10. Hi Denise,

    You've got my review blog on the blog list. Can I also have my writing blog "Adura's Eyes" on the blog list? The URL is

    Many thanks:)

  11. Hi Adura,

    Well, in truth, a review is supposed to be a brief summary of content not a selling point nor a dumber-downer. But then, I used to do reviewing in a professional sense (paid to read) for a magazine! Hee hee, not under the name Francine H, so I had a remit that said "don't get us sued for defamation of authors please! ;)


  12. Well, if I have a choice, I prefer good reviews of my work :)

    But, a review is just an opinion - IMO - and you can't appeal to everyone. Rankings in Amazon for inde-publishing are based on number of reviews, not the content, so I'd say any review that is posted just helps with rankings.

    You make some valid points Francine. I hope as I'm writing reviews on books I've read, I'm adhering to these suggestions. It is difficult to give and honest "opinion" of a novel without worry that the author will feel attacted if it isn't a glowing "how do I love this" type review.


  13. Hi Donna,

    Reviews are that, or should be a brief summary of book's content. If you really liked (adored) a book that's why you might go to the trouble of saying so. But if you didn't like it or thought it a tad bland is there need to voice that opinion? Who do you want to hear/read your opinion? That's the key question. ;)

    I choose a book out of personal choice. It may be the blurb or the first few pages that sell it to me. I don't give a damn what others think about said book. Most of the reviews I've done on blogger are by request, though I did review books professionally at one time (paid) to review for a famous magazine! :o

    I guess, like most people I buy from Amazon but rarely go back to post up a review. As you say, reviews push up the rankings and often as not 1st books that wouldn't normally sell in great numbers can be top-billed on glowing buddy reviews. But, 2nd and 3rd books may not receive same acclaim to greatness. Better to let the book find it's own way!




  14. Hello.
    Sorry for my lateness in catching up with these guest posts.

    Francine, this was definitely entertaining to say the least! I don't think anything I've read of yours has ever been "insipid"...far from it!

    I agree with you about the differences in social behavior. Just this weekend, my wife & I watched Mansfield Park for the umpteenth time & isn't that about the mores of the rich vs the poor? My point is I think people who give bad reviews are indeed fueled by jealousy & just want their voice to be heard.

    Thanks for all the pointers. Awesome post!


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