Reviews Are Not For Authors

Reviews Are Not For Authors

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Hello! Welcome to the end of August (nearly). Where I am, the nights are starting to get cool, and some of the trees have begun their autumnal blush. It is my favourite time of the year, at risk of outing myself as ‘basic.’ It honestly is wonderful. The heat finally leaves. I blame my largely Irish ancestry for my inability to handle the summer temperatures. The night air moves from obnoxious heavy and thick to clear and brisk. As the season progresses, an evening walk will deliver the delightful, homey scent of wood-burning fireplaces, and the sweeter scent and satisfying crunch of fallen leaves. Coats and hats and scarves make an appearance. It’s the perfect weather for a blanket, your favourite warm drink, and a good book.


So much better than summer, in my opinion. I am of the firm opinion that the heat makes people a little nutty. That might be why this summer I’ve been watching from the edges of author and reader social media and watched a couple of writers careen wildly into a good many readers ‘Never Read’ piles. This is not on the weakness of their work, but rather a horrifying flight of their good sense. Two happened quite recently, and I watched from a safe distance (as I hadn’t yet read or reviewed the books in question); both weirdly similar situations, in which authors received a review that was less than absolutely gushing and seemed to lose their minds.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

The first case I was made aware of involved Susan Stusek, who was dropped by her publisher because of the backlash she received on TikTok and GoodReads following her behaviour.  The book, to be released by publisher Sparkpress September 12th of this year was sent to several book reviewers to drum up publicity, as is the norm. One reviewer had the sheer temerity not to rate the book a perfect five stars, rating it instead four stars; still a brilliant rating by any measure. The accompanying review was also very positive.

Stusek did not seem to agree. She took to TikTok to voice her vexation with the four star review, saying:

I had a perfect 5 star average till this bitch came up. She said, ‘The ending was kind of predictable.’ Yeah, well, it’s my life, not a fucking murder mystery. ‘But other than that, it was incredible,’ so you just gave me four stars?

Well, BookTok and the YouTube reader community kicked off. The storm of video rebuttals, updates and readers voicing their frustration and irritation with the author’s behaviour dominated my for you page of TikTok for quite a while. Reviewers also took to review-bombing the work on GoodReads, rating the work a one star; whether or not they’d read it. While I think the video rebuttals, and skits that made her the punchline were pretty much to be expected, given how when called up on to apologise, she doubled down instead, saying:

I got a community guidelines violation because you guys can’t take a joke. I’m literally a comedian. You obviously haven’t read my book. But anyways, welcome to the show!

(In case anyone is confused, calling someone a slur because they didn’t give your work a perfect rating is not comedy. It’s not anywhere near the vicinity of humorous. It’s vicious.)

I’m less convinced that review-bombing was the way to go, though I do understand the desire to ensure that the author knows they misstepped badly (as so many people who are horrible and do horrible things rarely see any real punishment). I would simply move the book to the ‘Never Read’ pile and be done with it, but that’s a personal thing. I completely understand if people think it’s prefectly fine.

The backlash was so quick and fierce that Sparkpress dropped the book and the author. Whether that was the right move or no, I’ll leave for debate. Personally, I do think that it was the thing to do, particularly since the author so vehemently refused to apologise in the most schoolyard bully manner imaginable. Actions have consequences. Ideally.

Ms. Stusek ruined her book over a four star review. Four. Stars.

Image by Jose Antonio Alba from Pixabay

As if unable to learn by example, another similar controversy has kicked off with horror writer Matt Shaw… but this one is much more stomach churning. Again, it kicked off with a GoodReads review in which the reviewer made mention of the disappointing manner in which the author treated women (and members of the POC and LGBTQA2S+ communities).

This is an unfortunate reality for a fair few writers. Mr. Shaw found himself in good company. He, however, did not find that to be the case, and went on a strange Twitter screed, which included some incredibly lewd comments. According to the Distractify article (the Tweets have since been taken down, or made private. I couldn’t find them, in any case) reporting on the drama, he created a thread which claimed that:

…women love his writing, as evidenced by the numerous ladies who allegedly send him photos of themselves masturbating to sex scenes from his books. Matt goes on to say he is “good in bed” and describes how many “pumps” it took him to ejaculate while having sex with a recent partner.

That’s a… thing. Not a good thing. But a thing.

It doesn’t stop there. He wrote a book in which he made a dedication to that reviewer. She rated it a one star, though she had not read it, citing there was no way she would read a book this man dedicated to her, given the author’s fondness for ‘torture porn.’ Which… fair. Shaw went on the attack, claiming that clearly this meant that the reviewer never read the books she reviews and all her reviews are, therefore, bogus. Convenient for those books she rated low, I suppose. He also extended an invitation for her to come and have a ‘real discussion’ on a podcast. Of course she declined. I would, too, given the… well, everything-ness about the unhinged response to her initial review.

Last I heard, the reviewer is still refusing to interact with him, and he’s taken his grievances to his private Facebook group where he can play the victim in his personal safe space.

Mr. Shaw is a self-published author, so there will be no repercussions for his abhorrent behaviour from any greater authority. Unfortunately. Many readers, however, have moved any and all books of his to their ‘Never Read’ piles, and that, I think, is more than fair.

Image by Silvia from Pixabay

I have had, in the distant past, my own brush with an author behaving badly. In my panel reviews that I upload to YouTube, I reviewed a self-published science fiction novel, the title of which I can no longer recall. The author, whose name I also cannot recall (my defence, it was years ago. I thought I had saved the emails, but my provider recently switched hosts, and they may have deleted all the ancient emails), emailed me after the episode aired with some of the strangest vitriol I had ever read. It was not particularly well-written vitriol. 1.5 stars; some sentences were coherent, but the complaints could have used a thorough edit.

I had not given the book a bad review (I think it was 3 stars or around there), though I had mentioned that there were some subplots (and one in particular) left hanging that needed a resolution, and the book could have used the aid of an experienced editor. But the concept was great, and there was a lot to enjoy about the book.

Well… That was tantamount to killing his cat, apparently. I never once responded, but the emails kept coming — for a couple of weeks to my recollection. I believe that he threatened my writing career (hah hah hah! What career?). I never once felt truly threatened, but someone new to the scene and perhaps less confident of their chances in a brawl might have been.

As a writer, I truly do understand the hurt that drives an ice-spike in the chest when things don’t go as we imagined. It’s hard not to take things personally sometimes. This is particularly true of anything creative. For writers, we spend months, even years pouring our souls out onto the page. We spend yet more months or years attempting to prefect it. Then we release it into the world hoping the world will love what we tried to gift them. It hits a little close to home if we feel our work, which is to say, that gift of a little piece of our soul, is rejected.

But here’s the thing, fellow writers: when you release that work, it is no longer yours. It belongs to those who read it. In the writing and editing of the work, you have done your job. It is now outside of your sphere of influence. Readers will take that work and make of it what they will. You cannot control the reception of it. When readers review a piece, they’re doing it not for you, but for themselves and other readers. I know it can hurt, but this sphere is not yours. Reviews are not for you, they’re for readers. Enter the reviewer space at your own peril.

Your feelings are valid. It’s alright to be hurt or frustrated. But the expression of these perfectly reasonable responses should be shared with your friends, your therapist or, as a last resort, a glass of whiskey. Never to your audience, and absolutely not, under any circumstances, to the reviewer you feel dealt the injustice. Goodness.

This is not the first time this has been said, and I am not the first one to say it. It’s an embarrassment to writing in general that it needs to be said at all, let alone more than once.

Writers, the review is not for you. Stay out of it.

When S.M. Carrière isn’t brutally killing your favorite characters, she spends her time teaching martial arts, live streaming video games, occasionally teaching at the University of Ottawa, and cuddling her cat. In other words, she spends her time teaching others to kill, streaming her digital kills, teaching about historical death, and cuddling a furry murderer. Her latest novels are SkylarkDaughters of Britain, and Human.


Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Eric Desmarais

My first nasty review was from a person I considered a friend. He gave me 2 stars and called the story unrealistic, perplexing, and under-written. Also called the dialogue robotic with a complete lack of emotion. Ended the review saying it was not a good book.

I chose not to engage then, or when he gave my next book a 1 star.

The only time I feel like raging against a review is when someone reviews a month or two before the book comes out and I know they didn’t get an arc. Why? Why do that?

Eugene R.

Sometimes, the review is not even for the readers but for the book sellers, in which case literary merit may be less important than potential salability. “In the style of Big Best-selling Author!” is a real plus from a seller viewpoint but not always for a reader.

In either case, the reviewer should also remember that the review is by them, but not for them, if they are paid to review. That objectivity is a slippery target to grasp, indeed.

In the larger view, a review is only one person’s opinion, no matter how well-formed or informed that opinion may be. The best ones, like Michael Moorcock’s delightful cover blurb (“As good as Tolkien!”) work to convey the reviewer’s opinion without unduly or unfairly biasing the audience for or against the item under review. (Mr. Moorcock has a low opinion of Prof. Tolkien’s fiction, so his blurb is a well-honed double-edged sword.)

[…] HOW DARE YOU. At Black Gate, S.M. Carrière reminds everyone that “Reviews Are Not For Authors”, with a couple spectacular examples of writers who felt […]

Sue Burke

I try not to read reviews, but when I accidentally do, the only time a bad review bothers me is if the reviewer points out a problem that is true and accurate. A lot of times, bad reviews are, essentially, “I bought this fruit, and I only like oranges, and it turned out to be an apple.” Well, it said apple on the cover. In any case, I never engage.

Rich Horton

When I used to put reviews on Amazon — something I stopped decades ago — I gave one book, a book of SF poetry, 3 stars.

The writer, a decent enough person in any previous interactions I’d had, complained bitterly. How could I do that? I basically said, 5 stars is meaningless if you don’t save it for truly transcendent work — for me, that means Wallace Stevens or Philip Larkin or A. E. Stallings, say. 4 stars, then, means really good stuff. And 3 stars means just fine.

He whined and whined …

Alas, he died of cancer not too long later, which made me feel obscurely guilty. (And, I uneasily upped the rating to 4 stars, on the rationale that grading on a curve of “All SF poetry” instead of “All poetry” maybe that was justified.) But if a reviewer can’t express their opinions — opinions aren’t necessarily correct, of course — what’s the point of a review? And why do people think everything has to be 5 stars? This sort of grade inflation happens everywhere! (Airbnb reviews, “service” reviews, everything!) You know, I’m happy to read 3 star books. Most books are 3 stars, really, and that, to me, still means they are fun.

One result is that I don’t do “Star” ratings any more.

Rich Horton

Oh, and it should be obvious — but no one should ever review, or rate, a book they haven’t read.

It’s OK to review a book one hasn’t finished, though — as long as you admit that. But if you write “I got 50 pages into Dan Brown’s book and the thoroughly dreadful prose wore me out, so I could not finish it” — that’s fine with me. (It only took me one page of THE DA VINCI CODE, mind you — though I never reviewed that.)

Thomas Parker

Agree completely. And – A.E. Stallings? You are a man of true taste, sir!

S.M. Carrière

I do wish more writers would understand that any rating of their work can never be objective. It always depends on the reader, their mood when they sat down to read, and where they might be in their lives, and so many other factors besides. In any case, the reviewer space is not made for authors, so if they can’t understand subjectivity, then they should at least stay away.

I absolutely agree with your star rating scale. 5 is exceptional – the kind of book that will sit with you, and will pop up randomly in your remembrances many months after it concluded – and that is a rare piece of literature indeed!

Most books hover around 3 stars for me as well. Perfectly great reads, but not earth-or-psyche-shattering.
I’m sorry you were made to feel guilty, and I totally get not wanting to do star ratings anymore.

Eugene R.

So true! I teach math and statistics, and test grading (when offering partial credit) is NOT objective. (Shhh!! Do not tell the students!)

Our monthly sf/f book group does “grade” on a 1 – 10 scale, and even if we restrict to integer values (no “7.25”, please!), we still often find a need to say “8 for plot, 7 for prose, so, ummm…”

Jan Vanek jr.

(Seems like the spamfilter here does not like my name, or link to my fanzine, or something…? Third attempt:)

I only graduated in statistics, and came to the conclusion that, per Shannon’s theorem, the most informative grading is based on quantiles (quintiles?).

Of course, there is a different “curve” for the set of published fiction, and for the slushpile, and it would be quite a headache trying to factor in one’s obvious tendency to avoid books with significant prior probability of being poor.

Still, a scale of 10 is way too much for most practical purposes. I remember a case or two when a publication tried to provide definition what everything from 10 % to 100 % meant. It was a hoot; and of course they soon ended up grading a vast majority of stuff between 60 and 80 %…

Thomas Parker

George Orwell said somewhere that for an honest reviewer, the only thing to say about the vast majority of books is, “I have nothing whatsoever to say about this book.”

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x