‘Troll Reviews’: Why Readers and Authors Shouldn’t Take Them Seriously

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Both an article on the ABC News web site and a recent Facebook group on a number of writers quitting inspired me to write today’s post.

Authors always gave a skeptical side eye to reviewers long as books have existed, but with social media and other online forums making authors and books more accessible to readers, the rising trend of what one indie author described as leaning toward the rise of “nasty reviews by gangs of ‘Mean Girls’ and personal attacks.”

Thanks to the Internet, it’s possible for people to remain anonymous, and many take nastiness to the extreme. This is yet another reasons authors need thick skin for this business; we aren’t the only ones who are targets. Anyone who puts out creative work (actors, musicians, writers, artists, etc.) becomes fair game to potential cybertrolls and bullies.

I’m not saying all reviews should be glowing; I’d rather see an occasional constructive critical review of my work than constant five-star ones with little or no feedback. The highest-ranking raves can be flattering, but nothing garners my respect more than readers who actually took the time to give honest, detailed opinions of particular books. The latter are types of reviews that can help us grow as writers.

On the other hand, what do “reviews” containing personal attacks or other references not relevant to the book at hand? What do those who write such things expect to accomplish aside from making themselves appear ridiculous?

While some authors either considered or have quit, there are many others – myself included – still in the business and perceive online abuse thinly disguised as feedback for what it actually is: vapid words written by insecure, jealous people who likely never realized their own personal and/or professional successes. Most of these people are unpopular and/or lack attention in real life. They aim for some type of reaction not only to compensate for feelings of inadequacy, but also experience the thrills of upsetting someone they neither know personally nor will likely ever meet.

Would these same people be brave enough to openly express their vile thoughts if they didn’t have the luxuries of hiding behind keyboards and phone apps? I have sincere doubts they would. The best way to diffuse the abusers is altogether ignore their tactics. Once they realize we aren’t taking the bait, they’ll become bored and move on.

Another theory brought up in the Facebook discussion I mentioned earlier are review trolls (people who post one star without explanation or didn’t read the books at all, to name two examples) are other authors attempting to sabotage ratings on colleagues’ work, perhaps as result of becoming personally offended by someone honest enough to state they didn’t like the authors’ particular book(s). There are readers who don’t fancy mine, but I never take it personally. It’s a general life lesson that we’re not going to please everyone all the time, and bad reviews aren’t going to make the world end.

I don’t bother reading reviews when I spot books with descriptions that attract my interest. I have some authors I follow on Facebook and Twitter (and several – including a few prominent authors – who follow me as well), so I’m naturally going to be drawn to their work.

I may not always enjoy what I’ve read, but always felt authors should support – not sabotage – one another. This is especially important among self-published and independent writers in our business. If a book doesn’t appeal to me, I stay quiet; if there are many things I enjoyed, chances are good a review will show up on Amazon or some other bookseller site. If specific books really stand out, it will eventually be featured on my blog as Book of the Week.

Some online booksellers and author profile sites either moderate potential reviews prior to approval and/or allow customers to flag/report inappropriate feedback. Both are aimed towards curtailing “troll reviews,” but not all related sites are as diligent. In any event, the disgraceful actions of some people shouldn’t be the reason for authors to give up what they loved doing for years.

We’ll always have critics, but it’s best not to take some of them to heart, especially those having little to offer in our creative endeavors. I’ll only quit when writing stops being fun; otherwise, I don’t plan on going anywhere soon.

Have a blessed weekend, and may you experience degrees of success on all your creative paths. Winners never quit, and quitters never win.

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