Mason Johnson Guest Post

When A Review Says Your Devoid Of Charm, It’s Probably Right…

[Ed. Note: Today we are excited to present a guest post from author Mason Johnson. He has recently released Sad Robot Stories and is touring the internet with it. I am especially glad that he has chosen to write about the relationship between authors and reviewers, something that seems increasingly relevant to what we do. I hope everyone enjoys this. Thank you Mason!]

“Summary: It is Pixar’s ‘Wall.E’ without focus and devoid of charm.”

That’s the first sentence to the only bad review (that I know of) for my book, Sad Robot Stories.

After reading that line, my first response was to laugh. After that, I thought, “No focus? Devoid of charm? Is she talking about the book or the author?”

I laughed again, because, like all terrible human beings, I laugh at my own bad jokes.

For a blog like Two Dudes in an Attic, books are examined, praised and criticized regularly. It seems fitting that I explore the relationship a reviewer has to the reviewed on a site that’s firmly on one side of the proverbial line in the sand. With the Internet connecting people like they’ve never been connected before, it’s easier than ever for authors and reviewers to tussle.

It is a truly beautiful world we live in.

Acutely aware of this potentially caustic dynamic the Internet fosters, Goodreads shows authors a warning before allowing them to comment on negative reviews for their work.

It’s pretty funny.

“Ok, you got a bad review. Deep breath. It happens to every author eventually. Keep in mind that one negative review will not impact your book’s sales. In fact, studies have shown that negative reviews can actually help book sales, as they legitimize the positive reviews on your book’s page.

“We really, really (really!) don’t think you should comment on this review…”

It makes sense that Goodreads would interfere in the squabbling that might occur on their website. The site is meant to turn the solitary acts of writing and reading into a more social endeavor — ideally for the better. I’d argue that they have a responsibility to keep things fun.

But! Goodreads wasn’t able stop my mother from being angry that a friend of mine gave my book a measly three stars.

Three STARS!

Three stars actually seemed decent. I mean it. As someone who barely graduated high school, I have no qualms settling for 60%.

Word that my mother was not pleased with the rating got around, and eventually the person who gave me the three stars heard about it and, afraid of mom’s wrath (I assume), knocked that up to four stars.

Sorry, Lizzie.

Coming back to the woman who downright didn’t like the book, she’s lucky I banned my mother from commenting about Sad Robot Stories on the Internet. I’d thought briefly about comically reviewing this woman’s review as a blog post, but that seemed like it could potentially come off as petty and even combative, so I decided not to. I also decided not to link her review here (you could easily find it if you wanted to), because that, too, could seem combative, as if I’m trying to lead a call to arms against her (that’d be really fuckin’ lame).

The thing is, her review ain’t bad. Who knows, maybe her review is right. My book has no focus and is devoid of charm? How is that opinion any more right or wrong than the compliments others have given my book? If she wants to call the voice of the book inconsistent, then she should be able to.

Hell, maybe the voice is inconsistent.

She may only be posting the review on Goodreads, but she’s also a computer scientist who teaches robotics (or so she says), so she at least has one avenue of credibility when she says, “I just did not care about any of the human characters and I certainly could not relate to the robots as described here.” (lol)

And even if she didn’t, again what would make her opinion any worse than mine or yours?

As the author, I don’t feel like I have the authority to disagree. I’m done writing the book. It’s off in the world. My opinions at this point might as well be as valid as the readers, especially considering the fact that my feelings about the book will never be the same as they were as I wrote the damn thing — I’ll never be able to recreate that.

Interestingly, a stranger commented on her review in defense of my book. He likes the book and ended his response to her with, “… while this writer is no Picasso, especially as far as not being a pioneer, he is obviously a master of his profession…”

And, similar to my response to the negative comments, this comment didn’t move me. I appreciate that this person has taken their time to say something nice about my work, and that’s a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling, but in regards to the book itself, I have no idea whether the writing in it proves I’m a master of anything. Maybe, maybe not. Who knows?

Mostly, I appreciate the woman who left me a bad review. Like the guy who had nice things to say, she spent her personal time to read my book. That’s amazing! The idea that anyone would spend time reading something I wrote, let alone spend time writing a review for it!

I don’t care what she said, I appreciate the time she devoted to saying it.

I’d tell her that, but Goodreads is warning me not to.

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2 thoughts on “Mason Johnson Guest Post

  1. I really like your attitude toward the negative review here. I’ve seen an author defend his book on Goodreads against a negative review, and it turned into a shit storm. It actually made me NOT want to read anything by the author. I know Stephan Graham Jones in particular (and I’m sure tons of others) never reads his reviews, ESPECIALLY on Goodreads. However, as a lady with zero books published, I’m quick to respond to naysayers on Goodreads, not to defend the book, but to see what they’re thinking in terms of quality and why. As a reviewer, this is very helpful to me. Reading those responses reminds me when I’m reviewing to focus on quality and not so much content. It I hate robots with a burning passion (lol, who would do that?), I have to ask myself: were those robots well written, or was it more like listening to a 90s-era printer banging out an essay? And I always write “Thanks for responding!” when a Goodreads reviewer actually writes back so that I can foster future dialogue. The only thing much MUCH worse than a negative review, in my opinion, is tons of great reviews from your “besties” who praise you as the next Burroughs, DFW, James Joyce, Bret Michaels, or whatever.

    • Thanks, Melanie!

      The idea of an author responding directly to negative comments just seems crazy to me. But maybe one day I’ll be maniacal enough to do just that. One day!

      I think it’s cool when readers defend the books they’ve read though. As a reader, I will.

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