Book Reviews That Bite

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Any author will tell you their success at finding readers lives and dies on reviews. Well, and sales. That's a given.

Actually, not all writers will tell you that. Stephen King doesn't worry about reviews so much. Neither does Rowling, these days. Come to think of it, these days they don't have to worry about sales so much, either.

Still, for most of us reviews are a big deal. There's one thing we all desire more than reviews, though: Good reviews. If the reviews contain the words "greatest ever", "genius", or "eat your heart out, King and Rowling", it's probably a good review. Not always, though. Here's a review I got for my first novel, Storm Chaser:

"This is the greatest ever waste of space--getting people to buy it was a genius con. Eat your heart out, King and Rowling: You'd have never gotten away with this."

So there are always exceptions. Here are some questionable reviews my other books received:

Storm Chaser Shorts:
 "Dude, shorts are never mentioned at any of these stories. Sure, there are some storms, and people get chased once or twice, but that's only two-thirds of the title. No truth in advertising!"


Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century Or So With the Albion Fire Department:
"This book should have been way longer. He didn't cover every single day. He missed most nights. And what's this 'or so' crap? This guy will never write another history book again."

The No-Campfire Girls:
"I'm all for adventure, but don't they have a safety director at this summer camp? Arrows, explosives, storms, fires--it's an insurance nightmare. Also, it has all these teenage girls, and no representation from teenage boys; it should have been more gender neutral."

Slightly Off the Mark: The Unpublished Columns:
"Opinions are fine as long as they're mine, but these just aren't my opinions at all. Also, I have the strangest feeling the author is trying to be funny. That's just unacceptable. I'm fairly certain I'm offended."

Images of America: Albion and Noble County:
"Okay, this is lazy, lazy stuff. They're supposed to be writing, and instead they jam the whole book full of pictures. And they didn't even take them themselves! Somebody paid them for this? (Update: Okay, somebody pointed out that 'Images' is in the title, but that's just lazy titling.)"

The Notorious Ian Grant:
"So this offensive guy drives all the way across America just so he can insult people in a different state from the one he usually insults people in. Then he's surprised when people want to kill him. Well, California wisecracking doesn't cut it in the Hoosier state, fella: Take your sexy stubble and go home before you get Tazed just like everyone else in this story."

Hoosier Hysterical: How the West Became the Midwest Without Moving At All:
"I appreciated all the photos, but I don't know what they're of. Also, I'll bet the jokes would be funny if I knew what they were about. I think this is about history. I don't like history, but the section on Indiana celebrities was cool. But I've never heard of most of them."

Radio Red:
"I've never heard of this book. Should I have heard of this book? Maybe if it was free, I'd try it. Why do these writers want so much money, anyway?"

I'm afraid to even bring up the newest anthology, The Very True Legends of Ol' Man Wickleberry and his Demise. I mean, it's got violence and ageism in it.  On the other hand, it could be worse. None of the reviewers specifically referred to me as a "bad writer".

Well, none that you'll hear about from me.


Jeffry Gilbert Added Apr 20, 2017 - 5:25am
You lie down with pigs and they'll call you a swine every time. - Hunter S. Thompson
Mark Hunter Added Apr 20, 2017 - 5:29am
Who am I to argue with that Hunter?
Mircea Negres Added Apr 20, 2017 - 10:50am
...And if you don't give a damn what anybody thinks, they call you "socially indifferent". It's impossible to make everyone happy. Screw it, just publish. Anyhow, I never bought a book because of the reviews it got, only based on what it was about and if that interested me. For whatever it's worth Mark, I like your posts and chances are would feel the same about your books if I was gainfully employed and could afford to buy them. Keep writing, man.
Ari Silverstein Added Apr 20, 2017 - 10:50am
This article simply a shameless plug for your book and not at all about book reviews in general.
John Minehan Added Apr 20, 2017 - 10:53am
"'The streets of every city in America are filled with men who would pay all the money they could lay their hands on to be transformed, even for a day, into hairy, hard-fisted brutes who walk all over cops, extort drinks from terrified bartenders and roar out of town on big motorcycles after raping the banker's daughter'. - Hunter S. Thompson"
But all those guys want is for the MI officers to settle the bar bill before they go to Korea or Germany of something.
Guess you had to be there. 
Nothing like having to tell an Intelligence officer that it is not only the right thing to do to settle the bad check to the biker bar, it might avoid a fate that involves innovative use of pool cues.
John Minehan Added Apr 20, 2017 - 11:07am
Was it Lincoln who reviewed a book by saying, "If you like that kind of thing, there is a lot of the kind of thing you like in this book."
Was it Marx (Groucho, to be specific) who reviewed a book by saying, "I could not put it down . . .  and someday, I may even read it." 
John Minehan Added Apr 20, 2017 - 11:08am
Speaking of things with bite  . . . .
Linda Paul Added Apr 20, 2017 - 11:13am
Reviews. Yeah. What a buggaboo! And little indie pubs have to badger and cajole readers to take the time to review their books. At least you are getting reviews...erhump.
As for buying based upon reviews? Well, I do read reviews. I generally ignore 5-star reviews as they are often paid for and I am suspicious that the authors of such reviews may lack critical expertise. I also ignore most 1-star reviews...unless they far outweigh the happier reviews. I look for the 3- and 4-star reviews that actually focus on what readers liked and what they didn't like about a book...or a product.
Mark Hunter Added Apr 20, 2017 - 11:35pm
Thanks, Mircea. If I ever made enough to write full time, maybe you could have my day job! Generally with my posts, I'd just trying to be entertaining and have fun, which in theory are not mutually exclusive. But in any case I just got contacted about writing another local history book, so I'll definitely keep writing.
Mark Hunter Added Apr 20, 2017 - 11:42pm
Ari, how many can I put you down for? Two each? I discount for bulk purchases.
The article was meant to make fun of book reviews in general; if all I wanted to do was shamelessly plug my books, I'd have been much nicer to myself. I do try to find ways to let people know about my writing and be entertaining at the same time, but the entertaining part has to come first--otherwise, people will accuse my writing of just being a shameless plug. It appears you weren't entertained, and so the whole house of cards came crashing down.
Mark Hunter Added Apr 20, 2017 - 11:55pm
A dinosaur-chicken, John! That's one step closer to some rich John Hammond somewhere, telling investigators, "I'm really sorry all those people got eaten--it seemed like a good idea at the time."
In any case, although I'm ashamed to say I never served in the military, I certainly agree that settling that biker bar bill would be a good thing. I hope there aren't many men who want to be the full-out brutes Thompson describes, but you don't want to be on the pool-stick end of one.
Lincoln and Groucho are both heroes of mine, but maybe it's for the best that they're not around to review my books. I'd rather cut myself down with a little self-deprecation than be on the receiving end of that kind of genius.
Mark Hunter Added Apr 20, 2017 - 11:59pm
That sounds like good thinking when it comes to reviews, Linda. Although I've never asked specific people for reviews, most of the ones I have are from people who know me--so although they're mostly five star, they'd also have to be mostly suspect. I made the decision that if I really like a book, I'll give it four stars; five stars are reserved for the really spectacular and rare reads.
Still, I generally read a book based on the blurb and the first few pages ... and I'm way too easily entertained.
Dino Manalis Added Apr 21, 2017 - 9:26am
Book reviews should be honest!
Mark Hunter Added Apr 21, 2017 - 3:48pm
Agreed, Dino ... although it's very subjective, so a book you consider to be awful might be one I think is great (or vice versa).
Shane Laing Added Apr 27, 2017 - 6:48am
Stuff the critics. Harry Potter books didn't sell on their first release. If you can get a first edition now they are worth loads of money. Remember film critics absolutely panned Shawshank Redemption when it was released and its now regarded as a classic. If you enjoy writing then do it and sod the rest.
Mark Hunter Added Apr 27, 2017 - 6:58am
Lots of books didn't sell well at first, and of course lots of authors' first books didn't sell well, but later books did a lot better. That's not uncommon in entertainment. I'm reminded of my favorite children's book, The Wizard of Oz -- the 1939 MGM movie version was considered a box office failure, but things worked out okay for it.
That's for other people to decide: I'm just having fun writing.

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