Thoughts on the Epically Long Bad Book Review (by a confused reader and slightly nervous author)

Picture the scene.

You’re browsing the internet. You find a page of reviews for a book you loved, or perhaps fall down a book blog rabbit hole. You spend a delightful tea break reading all the posts from people who, like you, find this book FANTASTIC. You are warmed in your soul; you feel connected to these reviewers, these strangers across oceans; you’re joined by the thread of mutual appreciation.

And then.

Snuggled amongst the posts, like a wee moth in a dresser of comfy jumpers, is a two star review. Not just a two star rating. There’s prose. It’s five paragraphs long. It runs to hundreds of words. It’s an Epically Long Bad Review.

You’re devastated. Well. Displeased. Perplexed. DID THIS PERSON READ THE SAME BOOK YOU DID? Maybe they were born without good taste. That’s not their fault. But, you think, five paragraphs and hundreds of words? That’s quite some commitment when you consider edits. Why? Whyyyy?

Okay back to first person. We all knew I meant ‘me.’

I am, obviously, writing this now not because I’ve only just discovered book reviews but because I’m spending a lot of time on Goodreads and engaging with the #bookstagram tag as part of the promotion for The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes (blog tour ongoing!), so reviews are very much on my mind. I’m also using Goodreads to keep track of my reading and share my thoughts on some books (my reviews are either very earnest or your drunk auntie at a party, no five paragraphers from me unless it’s a Read, If You Like). Thus, a lot of time on Goodreads. I’m also trying to focus my energy on things that either feel productive or are genuinely enjoyable, because if 2020’s legacy is anything, it’s ‘let’s try to enjoy this tyre fire of a world before the planet dies completely…’

So, yeah, I’m perplexed by the existence of the Epically Long Bad Review. Why would you put so much care into a blog post or Goodreads entry explaining why you hate a book? It feels counterproductive at best and, at worse, like you’re wallowing in bad feeling. You didn’t enjoy a novel, it wasn’t worth your attention… so why are you telling us about it? Why, when, according to the internet, you will only live for 40,000,000 minutes? It’s not the author’s time you’re wasting, you know?

In the interests of balance, because I used to want to be a journalist

I’m not against negative reviews in general. It’s good to tell potential readers, ‘don’t read this book if you don’t like memoirs written by a famous person who is not naturally an author, whose prose feels a little like walking through mud.’ Or ‘I didn’t love the arguably unnecessary violence in this novel and you might not either.’ That’s useful. I want to know if a book deals in heavy themes with all the nuance of a sledgehammer. But who are you really serving by spending paragraphs and paragraphs talking about each and every terrible aspect of the book when you could say the same thing in a couple of sentences?

Maybe I’m overthinking this. One reader’s five star review is another’s one star, after all. ‘The prose felt childlike and the plot moved too fast; this is a juvenile waste of my time,’ is another reader’s ‘the writing was direct and didn’t faff around. The pacing was so fast, I was on the edge of my seat and couldn’t put it down.’ I think I’m really just in awe of the length and detail of some of these Epically Long Bad Reviews. It’s the love that goes into them that bemuses me.

Kermit the frog typing manically from Giphy
from Giphy

Time to declare my conflict of interest

Obviously I’m biased about reviews when it comes to one particular writer over all others. I’m a newly-published author who needs good press. At time of writing, I’m organising that blog tour for The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes and crossing my fingers for good, or at least neutral, feedback. At the moment, as there are so few reviews up for the book, I’d rather none of them were less than four stars. If they are less than four stars, I’d prefer there wasn’t a five paragraph explanation of everything the reader hated about it. Not because I’m personally offended by the review or the reviewer – I know they aren’t being personal. I also know I wrote a book that stands up with, if not the best of them, than at least not the worst. I feel reasonably confident in saying that because I’ve read thousands of novels in my life and watched thousands of films and TV shows: I can tell the difference between a well executed plot and a badly executed one. I can identify good prose versus prose that just needs a bit of polishing versus prose that’s genuinely terrible. I know the next novel I write will be better, because I’ll have had more practise and read more books. So although I may spend a few precious seconds of my 40,000,000 minutes reading that Epically Long Bad Review, thinking ‘god that reader has no taste,’ I’ll survive.

Plus, in ten years’ time, if The Princess and the Dragon has hundreds of four-plus star reviews, reports solid royalties and remains a piece of work I’m proud of, I’m not going to give a shit if Briana from Nottingham found the writing immature and the sub plots boring. I might get drunk with my mates and read Briana’s review out loud when we have a get together, because I’m drinking a gin and tonic purchased with those sweet royalties (you would too, don’t pretend otherwise), but I will be fine. And I won’t nurse a grudge against Briana for her honesty.

That’s ten years’ time, though. While I’m getting this book off the ground and trying to recoup some of the publishing costs, I’m mindful that Briana and her Nottingham-based book-themed Instagram could impact my burgeoning reputation. Does that mean Briana shouldn’t post her honest opinion? Of course not. Free speech, man. I might curse you and the potential damage to my gin and tonic money, but your time’s your own to do with what you will, and freedom of expression is as important when you disagree with that the thing being expressed as when you agree with it (it might be more important when you disagree). If you think my work should be thrown in the proverbial bonfire, you’re more than welcome to tell people that. But what do you really want to achieve by it? Do you want me to see fewer sales? Do you want to dampen some of the noise around my book’s release?

I respect that if you also think that I should be thrown in the proverbial bonfire – maybe we disagreed on Twitter once, or you don’t like how I run my businesses, or I stepped through a door you were holding and didn’t say thank you. If that’s the case, I understand that telling people to avoid me and avoid lining my pockets is something you might want to spend time doing. (I especially respect that if you’ve had experiences with an author who’s been racist towards you, or you saw them being rude to fans at events, or they’ve been accused of plagiarism by a credible source, etc. There’s another conversation to be had about the line between a creator and their work, and how much one can be considered separate from the other, but if you think a person’s actions cause another person harm, you arguably have a moral duty to do your level best to talk about it.)

But if you just didn’t click with the book I wrote? I’m not sure what you’re aiming to do in five paragraphs that you couldn’t do in five sentences or less: ‘this book wasn’t for me, because of [reason]. I also didn’t like the way [something] was portrayed and I thought the prose was [something else]. If you do like those things, you might have better luck than I did.’

Alice curtsying
From Giphy I believe

Just saying. You stretch your free speech muscles, woo. I’m glad that you didn’t feel like you had to lie about how you felt while also feeling relieved you were reasonably objective. My sales and reputation can continue growing, woo.

When it comes to my own reviews or recommendations, I don’t review anything on Goodreads that I consider anything less than four stars. It doesn’t feel necessary. Not when my three stars is another person’s five. Not when I know how long it takes to write a novel, and how much soul goes into each draft and edit and late night hunched over the computer. It feels like I’m being a bad author by talking shit about another author. We all earn peanuts at the end of the day, we all do the work because we love it and we all want the publishing industry, book selling industry and reader communities to thrive. Like I said, I’ve got better things to do with my 40,000,000 minutes.

What are your thoughts on the Epically Long Bad Review? I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether you’re a vivacious reviewer, a causal reader, an author or a mix of the above. Do you write long reviews? Do you write short reviews? I think that, as a reader, I’m still perplexed. As a writer, I’m definitely slightly nauseous every time I see there’s a new review for The Princess and the Dragon. I don’t think that will go away any time soon, even if I do figure out the point of the five paragraph bitchathon.

Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Or we could just get coffee? If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my book, The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

I Learnt How Tennis Works and Now I’m an EXPERT. Also, here’s a drawing of a rodent.

I started a quick five minute sidebar update about… half an hour ago? More? I can’t even remember what the intended effect was but I know I don’t want to look at the sidebar for another half an hour. You look instead.

Possibly I chose the wrong time to poke about with delicate design work – I’ve not really woken up from Saturday’s heat/festival/but seriously the heat brain fog and I’ve got one of those to do lists that seems to be getting longer every time I tick something off it. I just tried to spell ‘to do’ as ‘two do’. Hmm. Possibly what I need to do is clock off early and watch Wimbledon. I recently learnt that ‘game, set, match’ isn’t just a turn of phrase. Whoever wins the most games wins the sets and whoever wins the most sets wins the match. How did my exemplary education miss out that nugget of info? Now I actually understand what the point of Wimbledon is!

It is of course possible that my exemplary education did mention that, and I was too busy rolling tennis balls across the court with the edge of a racquet to notice.

18th century drawing of a shrew from unseeliefaerie.tumblr.com
I was looking for a sporting gif and this 18th century illustration of a shrew perfectly sums up my attitude to physical education. Hahaaaaa. [from unseeliefaerie.tumblr.com]
Anyway. The festival. I wrote some actual thank yous over on my portfolio site but in case I haven’t been vocal enough: I loved meeting everyone at Village Green and I can’t wait to do another market or event and meet you all again… once I’ve had about 30 hours sleep and a sack of Colombian coffee. I’ve had about a thousand and one ideas for art and blogs and projects, so watch this space – well, I’m in a lot of spaces on the Internet, I think that’s what I was going for when I added 20 links to the sidebar – and in the mean time, I’m curious: is there anything you guys would like me to blog about? Indifferent Ignorance has been, amongst other things, a politics blog, a book blog, an MCR fan blog and a satire blog. Sometimes it’s been all of them at one time, sometimes it’s been none of them. I quite like that I chop and change according to the weather, but I’m aware that can make for uneven viewing. Since I’m feeling very enthused (honestly, I’m so delighted by the game, set, match thing) I thought I’d put it out there.

If you guys just want more shrew illustrations, I am totally down for that.

Broody BFF Challenge: YA & Music (ft. Maggie Stiefvater, Troye Sivan and… fan fiction)

Okay, so you might have noticed I’m a Maggie Stiefvater fan. I reviewed The Raven Boys way back, I met Maggie at YALC last summer and offered her my dad’s Mustang, I irritated my brother into reading The Raven Cycle and he took The Dream Thieves to Asia with us and now it looks like this:

 

Coincidentally I’ve also been trying to practise my screenwriting, and since I cut my prose teeth on FanFiction.net (yes, you can still find me on there and no, I’m not providing a direct link) I thought I’d do the same with scripts: using a book as a template so I could stop worrying about inventing a story and focus on practising how to tell it. Since The Raven Cycle is one of those books that has found its way into my bloodstream and will never leave, I played around with ideas for a Raven Boys TV show (this was way before the actual TV series was announced). I have index cards and post it notes and tiny little Fade In documents, and it’s safe to say I will look at them again when I want to pull out my eyeballs with embarrassment – think very bad fan fictions, then think of something worse. 

Onto the #BroodyBFF challenge. Last year The Raven King came out and if I love my own books half as much I’ll be pleased. I won’t give anything away but there is a scene that reminded me of a song. Or the song reminded me of a scene, I can’t remember which came first. If I were writing this in a show, I thought to myself, this is how that episode would end. Here is the song:

It would not be a spoiler to say that Bite is not really about anything to do with that scene – it’s about certain clubs with sticky floors and certain men who visit them – but I can’t not think of The Raven King when it comes up on my playlist. Which, once you’ve read the books, is either really appropriate or really inappropriate. Kind of like fan fiction is, now I think about it.

Am I looking forward to the TV show? No. I’ve only ever come across one good book-film adaptation, and that involved the book’s author, who is also a screenwriter and director, doing the screenwriting and directing. As far as I know, Maggie Stiefvater’s long list of talents does not include those things. Also, I’m not writing it. That scene will never end that way with that song. So probably one day I will either write that scene myself into my Fade In documents to satisfy my artistic hunger or I’ll put it in  piece of my own work instead. It’ll be fucking awesome.

I’m at Village Green this Saturday so Read, If You Like... will probably go up Monday. If you’re one of the #BroodyBFFs, link me your blogs! And if you’re involved with the TRB TV show, I am prepared to trade four books worth of script feedback for my firstborn child.

Read, If You Like… Ostrich Boys, by Keith Gray

I could have sworn that I reviewed this way back in the day before I called it Read, If You Like, but I can’t find it so clearly it didn’t get past the idea stage. I’ve had this book lying around for ages, and although it took me a while to get to it, it was one of those that surprised me in the best way. It’s either on the children’s end of YA or on the young adult end of children’s (do we let children read the word ‘tits’? I just saw it when I was flicking through) but I think it’s one of those that, should you be emotionally mature enough for tits, you’ll enjoy it.  Anyway. I meant to blog on Saturday, but I looked up the publication date for Ostrich Boys just now and it was actually published on this exact day nine years ago. So that’s a point for my lack of organisation…

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray (2008)

Read, if you like…

  • Groups of kids
  • Grieving kids
  • Kids who kidnap
  • Okay, one of the kids is a dead kid. Not in a ghost way, in a ‘present in our thoughts’ way
  • Day trips (as in one trip over multiple days not multiple trips)
  • Ostrich metaphors
  • The hamlet of Ross in Scotland
  • Honestly, the best thing is the kids read it for them

Ostrich Boys Keith Gray

I was going to give this away but now I think about it, I might keep it on and read it again. I think it’s one of those that you can take something from each time you pick it up. Also, it involves teenagers kidnapping an urn of human ash, so it’s worth reading just for the escapism (if you’ve ever actually kidnapped an urn of human ash, hit me up. How’d it go?). I’m rereading The Raven Cycle at the moment but I think I’ll make it on to something new next week. I’m a bit harassed with Village Green until Saturday – I have an internship to attend, hair to dye and several paper bags to stamp before then – so comfort reading is paramount. A stiff drink may be in order on Saturday night. I should probably go and stamp some paper bags. Any ideas for my to-read list?

Read, If You Like… #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

If any of you are familiar with Sophia Amoruso, the ‘#Girlboss’ movement/Insta hashtag and/or Nasty Gal, you are probably aware that Nasty Gal is a clothing brand, originally on eBay, that enjoyed one of those meteoric rises to fame that puts its founder on the Forbes front cover and wields legions of loyal fans. Said founder, Sophia Amoruso, amid the meteorism, wrote #GIRLBOSS as a part memoir and part ‘this is how a young woman can become a financial success’ guide book. Last year Nasty Gal went bankrupt, and has since been sold to BooHoo. If I hadn’t read #GIRLBOSS before the bankruptcy, I would look at it and think ‘clearly this woman has no idea what she’s doing, why would I read that?’ But I had – it was recommended to me last year – and when I gave it another whirl a few weeks ago, I found it as inspiring and helpful as I had the first time round. Most businesses fail and most within the first five years; Sophia was at the helm of Nasty Gal for the best part of a decade, and the company is actually still going. So with all that in mind…

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso (2014)

Read, if you like…

  • Self help books that don’t require a PhD in Translating Corporate and/or Hippie Bullshit
  • Cute illustrations
  • No-nonsense advice. Sophia does not mince her words and the book’s underlying massage is ‘get off your bum and get to work’
  • Words of financial wisdom that don’t sound like your Careers teacher went off on a rant about Millennials buying avocados
  • A really Instagramable cover and hashtag
  • The occasional slightly annoying almost-cliche. I nearly didn’t include this as a point because I’m aware people have difference levels of tolerance for sage advice wrapped up in snappy, alliterative sentences. My tolerance is very, very low so maybe I picked up on the odd sentence here and there, but the advice itself is solid gold so who cares
  • An entrepreneur who doesn’t tear down the competition or pretend they were born with a company that had already succeeded. Other ‘girlbosses’ have passages in the book, and Sophia is very open about her past lives as a freegan and a petty thief. She started her eBay store as a way to avoid getting a proper job, so she kind of had me at hello

Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso review
That stain? I dropped the book in the sink.

Maybe this is a book too close to home for me not to recommend it. I also run an online shop, swear frequently and dislike being told what to do; I think what I like most about #GIRLBOSS is that Sophia is all of those things and she’s successful. Bankruptcy or no, she’s one of America’s richest self-made women. This isn’t a book about somebody I could never recognise in myself – it’s about somebody I recognise in a tonne of people I know, most of them young women who are usually patronised by people with Sophia’s level of money and influence. So if you’re in the market for something that might improve your bank balance, get this. From the library, obviously.

Read, If You Like… The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars

As you read this I’m probably staring at my newly-carpeted bedroom, sighing in happiness and planning the perfect way to display my MCR CDs. Operation Instagramable Bedroom will be in full swing, ladies and gents, and there will be fairy lights. Anyway, this week’s Read, If you Like… is something I’ve had on my shelf for a good decade. The cover wasn’t interesting enough to pull me in, but it’s a Puffin Modern Classic so I thought it was one I should probably read at some point to score literary brownie points. I ended up enjoying it way more than I thought I would, so well done Puffin.

The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars (1968)

Read, If You Like…

  • Children’s books
  • Something you can finish in an evening
  • Animal stories
  • Snapshots of Deep Southern ’60s life
  • An author who doesn’t patronise the children she writes for either linguistically or socially
  • Retrospective storytelling (there might be another term for this? The main character is looking back, like To Kill a Mockingbird which I am assuming you have read)
  • Stories about families

The Midnight Fox by Betsy Byars, 1968, Puffin Modern Classics
That white smudge is a price sticker, not a special piece of 3D illustration. The fox looks like she’s gazing at it though haha

The afterword in my edition points out that Betsy Byars has written a male main character whom small boys will ‘tolerate’ because the plot isn’t particularly packed with action; I have a good gut feeling that boys, when left to their own devices, do not give a shit, but I like the notion that Byars decided to write a male hero who doesn’t fit Ye Olde Gender Sterotypes. That could explain why the novel is a Puffin Modern Classic with its own afterword.

I’m not sure what I’ll review next week because I’ve not read anything new lately – my books have been in cupboards behind clothes and handbags and other books, and a bed covered in boxes has been in front of the cupboards, so I’ve been reading an old edition of The Economist… as fascinating as the rise of Bitcoin is, I might have to review something I’ve read loads of times, or pop down the library. Any suggestions?

Read, If You Like… Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson

This is the second in a series. Possibly I am onto a good thing here. It helps I can write them in ten minutes, but let’s not be picky…

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (2015)

Read, if you like:

  • Shapeshifting
  • Heroes versus villians
  • Male characters with beautiful flowing hair
  • Female characters who don’t have beautiful flowing hair
  • Comics (this one’s a dealbreaker; it started as a webcomic)
  • The illustrations in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl; Noelle Stevenson did those too
  • Dragons

Nimona graphic novel by Noelle Stevenson
I know I said I’d work on my #bookstagram, but there’s so little light in Southend at the moment that I dashed outside in my socks, put the book on a stone table, snapped and dashed back. It’s artfully crooked amirite

I don’t read a lot of comics, so shoutout to Ruby for giving me this a couple of Christmases ago. I’ve misplaced my library card so I’m making my way through the Shelves of Ignored Books in my room instead of just borrowing everything that sounds good (there is so much that sounds so gooooood). Be prepared for a mishmash of novels I’ve been too busy to read or novels with covers I don’t like. I started Oliver Twist this week – I managed to go 15 years in British education without ever studying Dickens, so my lazy Twitter-accustomed brain is struggling a bit – and I’m pretty sure there are some other total classics waiting to be discovered. The second Game of Thrones is a classic, yes?