Saturday, November 8, 2008

Book Review! The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing

Multi-genre author Mayra Calvani has been a reviewer for ten years. She’s the author of the supernatural thrillers, Embraced by the Shadows and Dark Lullaby. A regular contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, she’s also a member of Broad Universe, Authors Coalition, and The Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. Visit her website at: For her children’s books, visit Mayra also keeps a blog, The Dark Phantom Review, where she regularly posts reviews and author interviews. To learn more about The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, visit

Amazon Reviews… and Mothers-in-Law

By Mayra Calvani

You’ve published your book. You’ve sent it to many review sites and begun collecting rave quotes for promotional use. You check Amazon regularly to see whether any readers have written anything about your book. They have! Wonderful. The comments are positive. You keep checking almost everyday until—what’s this?!—suddenly you find a HORRIBLE review at the top of the list.

You’re aghast. Your face flushes as if a subterranean volcano exploded inside of you. How dare anybody say anything negative about your masterpiece creation? What an atrocity. This is sabotage!

After a few glasses of wine, you tell yourself you’re a reasonable person. You realize chances are not everybody can love your book.

But there are negative reviews and there are negative reviews… and this is book annihilation! This particular review seems to have been written by someone who not necessarily hates the book, but hates YOU.

This happened to a friend of mine recently. A few days after her book came out in Amazon, someone wrote a mean, nasty review.

The review in question was something along these lines: “This is the WORST book I’ve ever read in my entire life. It is filled with thousands of spelling, grammatical mistakes and clichés. Please don’t waste your book on this book. You’ll regret it for as long as you live…” etc, etc, etc… The review went on and on, its author clearly deranged or driven by sweet revenge.

Not surprisingly, my friend later found out that it had been written by her dear mother-in-law in reaction to how my friend depicted her in the novel (Lesson: DO NOT use your mother-in-law as one of your characters).

I know the lady in question, and while I think it’s true that she has “sagging cheeks like day-old pancakes” and clammy hands like “large wobbly maggots,” as my friend wrote in her novel, I believe she shouldn’t have gone so berserk. I mean, there’s something to be said for self control, right?

If any of you is the victim of such atrocity, there’s something you can do about it. Remember that Amazon wants you to sell your book almost as much as you do (they should—they take 55% off the retail price!), so all you have to do is contact them and explain them the situation. Most likely they’ll remove the review. Email them at:

But pleeeeeease don’t contact them for negative reviews that were clearly written by serious readers or reviewers, otherwise they’ll think we authors are egotistical maniacs who break at the slightest lashing … and we wouldn’t want that now, would we? (it’s important to keep our true nature low profiled).

Mayra Calvani

Congratulations, Mayra on being a USA Best Book Award Finalist!

Mayra Calvani Website


Reader of Books said...

Book reviews are a slippery slope. Putting your work out there is always scary. It sounds like Mayra offers solid advice.

Mayra Calvani said...

Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog, Mary!

The Creative Cafe said...

Wow - those are the things nightmares are made of. Kind of like when you're planning something a wedding...and you dream that nobody shows up at the reception.

Thanks've given me a new nightmare...if and when I ever get published. ;-)

But I did enjoy your post AND it's good to know that something can be done about those slam type of reviews.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

I love this, Mayra. It is tough learning to be a professional. Whether we are a newbie or oldie. But getting charged up about a negative review (or even one negative comment in a review!) is a waste of time. We have free speech, after all, so a better approach is to consider if the comment has value--something we could or should change--and then move on. Life is too darn short.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series for writers

Susan Stephenson said...

I agree with Carolyn. It IS tough learning to be a professional. Sometimes I settle for at least acting professional, even though I'm seething inside.

But then, nobody's compared my hands to wobbly maggots yet.

Susan Stephenson
The Book Chook

A. F. Stewart said...

That makes me glad I don't have a mother-in-law.

Donna McDine said...

Great post...LOL. I agree this is certainly what makes a nightmare.


Mayra Calvani said...

Thanks so much for your comments, Ladies! I appreciate your stopping by!

Margot Finke said...

Great post Mayra, but the bit about the disgruntled M-in-L smacked me in the face. If my son-in-law put me in his book , and described me like that, I would at least cut him out of my will!!

Really, if you are thoughtless enough to put a relative in a book in such an unflattering way, and then make it obvious to all, whom you are referring too, then you must expect a nasty reaction.

Using the quirks and frailties of friends and relatives in their books is a time-honored author secret. But the smart ones disguise the characters well enough, so that no one's feelings get hurt.

I am afraid my sympathy is with M-in-L. If I was parodied as a fat, red headed, wrinkled old bag, I would be HURT - even if it was true. However, her huge chunk of revenge was WAY over the top.

ME? Hmmmm. . . I guess I would have taken out an add in the New York Times, rather than scribbled in Amazon. Don't mess with this Aussie sheila, mate!!

Love to be a fly on the wall during their family Thanksgiving dinner.

By the way, my M-in-L is a sweetheart. If I put her in a book there would be a halo over her name.

Margot Finke
"Rattlesnake Jam"
Fun with Gran and Pa

Mary Cunningham said...

Happy you host you, Mayra. Anytime!

As to the M-in-L horror story, I'm torn. She may not have realized the damage such an awful review could do, but, as the author, I think I would've disguised her character a little better. LOL!

billkirkwrites said...

Mayra: Nice blog post and your book is square on the mark. In the early going, most of us are eager for good reviews, both for the positive strokes they give us and to help our book promotion efforts. You provide some much needed and valuable perspective and advice about what reviews of all kinds can mean for new writers and veterans alike.

Lindsay said...

Ha, it is always hard to take criticism and writers get more of it than most professions. Can you imagine if frequent reviews were written about doctors? I don't think they could take it like we can!

Erin Aislinn said...

As an author, I often find myself waiting for reviews with baited breath. I've had great reviews and so-so reviews, but the worst reviews are those that seem to go on and on raving about by book only to give it an average star rating. That makes me crazy.

I've also tried my hand at being a reviewer and can understand how challenging it can be to write a review that fairly and accurately expresses my opinion, especially if I had misgivings about a book. It's so easy and fun to rave about something I like, but to have to share why I didn't like it is quite another story.

Erin Aislinn

Norm Cowie said...

About a month ago, I decided to post the only negative review about me ... on the first page of my website (

Soon after, my site started getting a bunch of hits from a forum that was all about the SciFi Dune series.

I followed the thread, and there were a bunch of funny posts where the posters were all slamming the guy who reviewed my book. I went, "huh?"

Turns out that the negative review was by a grandson of the creator of Dune, and these posters all feel that the second generation Dune had been ruined by the guy who reviewed my book. So he's basically a whipping boy for them.

Weird, but true.

Norm Cowie

Mary Cunningham said...

I discovered, early on, that even a less-than-perfect review is better than no review at all.

I was given a choice, by a reviewer whether to post a review or not. It wasn't that she didn't like the book, but she had an extreme fear of clowns and an evil clown was featured in the book (YA book). Her phobia seemed to drive the review.

I made the decision to pull the review and I've regretted it ever since. Think of the attention it would've gotten!! Duh!

I've taken a completely different attitude on reviews and reviewers ever since.

Now, that doesn't mean I'd want to be savaged by a review from a relative!! LOL