Are reviews professional?

From last month’s discussion about low rating reviews, another talking point spawned. That is the concept of a “professional review.” When reading the various wanks surrounding reviews from cliques to conspiracies, one particular criticism is used consistently – the review is not professional. Whenever someone dislikes a particular review the instant criticism is that the review is not professional (such as this incredible wank from an author who resented that her work was “predictable” and the reviewer response) . No matter what additional problems are identified from snarky to mean, lazy to overly subjective, the number one insult is always to call the review unprofessional.

This of course got me wondering – what IS a professional review?

To me a “professional” review is written by someone paid for their review. I don’t mean in free products but that their words give them cold hard cash. It’s their job to review products. I think of professional reviews in print media or online magazines that are paid to do so. This means the review can be glowing, it can be snarky. I’ve read professional reviews that are more scathing than anything this genre has seen. I’ve seen reviews that are basically lengthy book reports about what happened in the book. So clearly a professional review – one written by someone paid for their commentary – is not a direct correlate to the quality of the review.

Along those lines, since the majority of the reviewers in this genre (to keep it home) aren’t professionally employed, we’re not professional reviewers. Ok we’re merely readers that have something to say. Definitely not bad but then, does it matter if our reviews are professional?

Now that doesn’t mean we don’t attempt to keep the reviews on point, polite, and professional anyway. Even though we’re not paid at all that doesn’t mean we don’t hold ourselves to own code of conduct. Of course that varies from reviewer to reviewer. But at the same time I can’t think of one high profile professional reviewer in this genre. Can anyone? Seriously help me out here.

I can think of a plethora of well respected reviewers in the genre. I can think of websites dedicated to reviewing the genre, numerous review sites and so on but even those aren’t what I would deem professional. The review sites (again for this genre to keep it local) aren’t designed to make money. The reviews on those sites can easily be called “unprofessional” if the claim is going to be made. The reviewers sure as hell aren’t getting paid for their reviews.

So my questions are two fold:

1. Just what is a professional review?

2. Should reviewers be held to this criticism even if we aren’t professionals?

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31 thoughts on “Are reviews professional?

  1. In my opinion “professional” does mean paid to do that job. However I think over time, professional has taken on a more adjective meaning. To conduct yourself in a professional manner means to have a certain moral code of conduct that would be appropriate for the work place. Most people would not call their boss an asshole (to their face), mock coworkers (out loud) or attack someone verbally or physically. So I think often there is that sense of “is it professional?” which was what you noted. Keeping it respectful and polite, however that does not mean being all sunshine and roses. If people in the workplace never criticized, very few businesses would be in business beyond 6 months. You don’t need yes-men, you need concrete feedback.

    So I think there are both sides. I’m not capital P professional, no one pays me and I don’t even get that many free books for doing this. However I’d like to think I’m small p professional. I may not love your book but I’ll try not to make you feel like crap when I say so (although it probably still hurts). I won’t rub salt in the wound by insulting your mother and the town you grew up in at the same time, and hey, you always have the chance to blow my socks off next time. 🙂

    So there, my treatise on how the word “professional” has a double meaning.

    • See I tend to agree with you. I think while we reviewers aren’t paid and therefore “P” professionals we do try to conducts ourselves in a professional way. But that puts the onus on US the individual reader/reviewer to say what we think of as appropriate conduct doesn’t it?

      If an author calls out one of your reviews as unprofessional for example, do you think that’s a fair critique? Can you be held to the “professional” standards when you are not in fact a professional? We hold ourselves there yes very true… but does it hold true that authors should be able to do it as well?

      I wonder if authors view blogger reviews as “professional” .. I mean when it’s a good review there seems to be a lot of lauding that the review is professional. But when it’s bad thats the first insult hurled across the fence. Is that because it’s the only weapon authors can use in the current atmosphere? I’m just curious really…

      • Tam says:

        That’s a good point too about what professional means. In my business it might mean something very different than someone who works in very different industry. Is mine right or wrong? No answer, it’s all perception and experience that attached a judgement to that word. However I think in general terms, being polite is pretty universal.

        • Very true. I do think the term “professional” is used when people want to say the review is polite or simply rude. Sort of like an easy, generalized term to throw out to encompass a lot of things.

  2. Marie Sexton says:

    I think Tam’s point regarding Professional vs. professional is a good one. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a review in m/m that I felt was unprofessional. I think every time I’ve seen that term thrown around, it’s been by an author who felt the review was unfair, and that seems to be a sort of generic criticism they can toss out there to try to rally other authors to their defense. Mostly, I think it’s bullshit. As was mentioned on your other post, reviews are for readers, not for authors. The sooner we authors get that through our thick neurotic skulls, the better off we’ll all be.

    • I think you’re right. I was curious if it was just the only thing authors could sling at bloggers (when annoyed/dismayed/hating the review) so in that case it becomes a silly and moot point. Who cares if the review is professional or unprofessional if it gets the point across. Since most bloggers hold themselves to professional standards anyway it’s a non-issue.

  3. I agree with the other comments about Professional v professional. There are some review sites we don’t submit our work to because we don’t feel those reviewers conduct themselves in professional manner. I don’t really care for snarky, nasty reviews–as a reader or a writer–and so we avoid reviewers who do that. Before we compiled our initial list of reviewers we wanted to work with, we did research them and read their past reviews and comments. I think that’s an incredibly important detail authors/publishers need to do: research the people you’re asking to review your work.

    I prefer reviewers who are thorough, articulate, respectful, and honest. You can do those things and not be nasty, which I think is what some authors think any review less than 4-stars is. Part of the problem, I think, are the authors, not the reviewers. Authors need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and remember that reviews are merely opinions and not some sort of death knell. Yes, authors have egos and want to be praised, but authors also need to be realistic. Reviewers are people, and they are typically underpaid, under appreciated people, and outbursts like the one you linked to only make some reviewers want to be even more sarcastic and snotty about their reviews.

    I mean, if you’re going to catch flack for it, you might as well do it, right?

    Authors need to treat reviewers with more respect and less entitlement, and I think some reviewers need to not be as cruel or snarky in their reviews. A little well-placed humor can be appreciated, but sometimes… the humor is just meanness. To me, that’s professional, the knowing when to be light-hearted, when to get down to the nitty gritty, and when to just walk away. Honesty and respect are the two things I admire most in the reviewers we submit to, and I try to give what I expect in return.

    • To me, that’s professional, the knowing when to be light-hearted, when to get down to the nitty gritty, and when to just walk away. Honesty and respect are the two things I admire most in the reviewers we submit to, and I try to give what I expect in return.

      You really nailed the argument in those two sentences. I totally agree with your entire comment but I think those two phrases should be the touchstones for both sides. I don’t mind humor but a lot of the humor in reviews is mean spirited. It pokes fun at the book for being stupid, ridiculous, moronic. Sure we might all laugh and agree but that’s not a review, thats a roast.

      A little more distance and respect on both sides can be helpful.

  4. I think one interesting point about this discussion is that there are no ‘rules’ regarding how reviewers conduct themselves on reviewing sites and therefore most review sites have to draw up their own rules of conduct – or even self police each other. I suppose that is how we gain a reputation for being ‘professional’ – through the approval of our peers and for behaving in a polite and reasonable manner. Those who don’t behave in this way are ostracised by others and are deemed less professional in the way they behave.

    It’s also interesting that calling a reviewer unprofessional is seen as an insult when in reality we are not paid professionals and so it’s actually a truth, not an insult. I think it’s the implication – even more so with the name ‘amateur’ which is essentially the same as being called unprofessional – that the review is actually badly reasoned, or clumsily written or not thought out properly. Often this isn’t the case at all – and is never the case with you Kassa – but is the last resort insult for an author who may be lashing out in anger at a review which is highly critical.

    Hmm, that was a bit of a rambling comment, but what I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t really matter what insult an author throws at a reviewer for a critical review because that author is always going to come across as the ‘unprofessional’ one as a result of a temper tantrum, not the reviewer.

    • It’s also interesting that calling a reviewer unprofessional is seen as an insult when in reality we are not paid professionals and so it’s actually a truth, not an insult. I think it’s the implication – even more so with the name ‘amateur’ which is essentially the same as being called unprofessional – that the review is actually badly reasoned, or clumsily written or not thought out properly. Often this isn’t the case at all – and is never the case with you Kassa – but is the last resort insult for an author who may be lashing out in anger at a review which is highly critical.

      This is exactly the heart of the topic. It’s used to denigrate a review as worthless and worse, unintelligent. When in fact the ‘professionalism’ of the review is immaterial. The real question is what does the review offer to a reader. If the review helps readers make informed decisions than other than being polite and articulate, the quality of the review is up to the reader.

      The topic caught my attention for a while now since the term ‘professional’ is bandied about so often. Authors use it frequently in regards to blogger reviews and I found it odd no one’s ever questioned or challenged the fact that it’s a useless point.

    • Hmm, that was a bit of a rambling comment, but what I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t really matter what insult an author throws at a reviewer for a critical review because that author is always going to come across as the ‘unprofessional’ one as a result of a temper tantrum, not the reviewer.

      Absolutely.

  5. Being paid by a vested party (meaning, a party that’s in the business of turning a profit) in a given field/industry to perform a specific task implies a certain degree of professionalism vs. amateurism required.

    It goes without saying that I would call the guy who works on my car at the Toyota dealership, who has undergone Toyota’s exacting certification programs and passed them, a professional.

    That in no way indicates that my neighbor, who is self-taught and a savant whiz with Toyota engines, can’t produce work of equal quality in an equally professional manner.

    Is my neighbor “a professional?” No. Is he “professional?” Unequivocally, yes.

    Reviewing/critiquing the artistic work of others is every bit as subjective an art as the artistic work being reviewed/critiqued in the first place.

    Just like the artists they review, some people review/critique better than others, and no single format or style these reviewers employ is going to please and satisfy everyone. Nor should that be the case, any more than everyone should adore Stephen King’s work, or Stephenie Meyer’s, or Shakespeare’s, or anyone else’s.

    That said, as an author I’m personally more apt to take a critical review to heart (as pertaining to improving my product) if the negative criticism is presented in an intelligent, well-thought-out, polite manner rather than in a “your writing totally sucks and your mother dresses you funny” manner.

    But in the end, reviews are for readers and not writers, so whether being “professional” or not matters is up to the individual consumer of the review to decide, just like the work being reviewed.

    –Jaye

    • But in the end, reviews are for readers and not writers, so whether being “professional” or not matters is up to the individual consumer of the review to decide, just like the work being reviewed.

      I kind of want to laminate this and hand it out with reviews.

  6. Hmm, I just read the review and the super-weird comment exchange, as well as the author’s ‘beware’ post on her own blog. She definitely took it personally though the review didn’t stoop to any personal attacks.

    It was a bluntly worded review with a very impatient tone, and while it contained some solid feedback for the author if she chose to take it, it was clearly intended for the readers to warn them away from an improbable idea carried out by an unappealing main character.

    Maybe the author modeled the character on herself. Maybe she’s used to having criticism presented in a careful, neutral tone. I think that’s where her accusation of “unprofessional” comes in — a reaction against the reviewer not taking the time to put together a neutral tone. None of this is the fault of the reviewer.

    Like Jen was saying, authors use the label “unprofessional” to mean that the reviewer can’t communicate well enough or organize enough evidence to judge a book.

    So the professional/unprofessional accusation comes down to the author’s assumption that the reviewers obviously can’t write as well as the author (if they could, then THEY’D be published authors), and therefore the reviewers aren’t qualified to judge. But of course that’s ridiculous. The only basic qualification a reviewer needs to state a reaction is to have read widely. After that, the better a reviewer can communicate in writing, the more useful their opinion.

    • Hi Val and thank you! Very well said and articulate as always. You got to the heart of the matter incredibly succinctly. Your last comments really struck a cord because I think they get to the heart of the matter. I’ve heard authors complain before about reviewers not being as good writers – like that is a criticism of the review itself and somehow invalidates the statements.

      I wish authors didn’t spend so much time trying to counter negative reviews. Instead simply put it down to one person’s opinion and move on to a review you like. Isn’t that what readers do too?

  7. Oops, probably should have clarified my last two sentences. The only basic qualification a reviewer needs to state a reaction to the readers is to have read widely. After that, the better a reviewer can communicate in writing, the more useful their opinion to the author as in covering the full range of techniques that went into the story that can be critique. The reviewer that gives an honest reaction like that reviewer did is providing solid feedback to the readers, and that’s what a review blog is supposed to do rather than offer a writing group type critque to the author after the book has already been published.

    Maybe some authors will wig out over reviews because they’re newly and expecting feedback like what they got in critique groups. When they encounter reviews intended for the readers, the tone and focus are very different from what they’re used to.

  8. I guess a professional review makes me think of someone who writes a brief synopsis of the book, is generally positive and is often no use whatsoever to me!

    I don’t think someone’s opinion should be held criticism, it is just a personal opinion. You don’t necessarily have to agree with it, but I do think that everyone is entitled to their own ideas and thoughts.

    • Oh interesting, I’ve seen those types of “Professional” reviews as well. I do agree that it’s hard to criticize someone’s opinion. Very true. After all it’s just an author’s opinion too? Now you have a mirror argument, a worthless one at that.

  9. The posts you linked were fascinating, Kassa. I agree with Val, that I suspect it was the forthright way the review was worded that offended “anonymous” so much. Mind you, in a genre like Chick Lit, where most of the fiction is written in that style, it doesn’t seem at all unreasonable or “unprofessional” (whatever that means in context) to use the style of the fiction in a review.

    I like reviewers to be respectful and thoughtful, but I don’t mind if they point out things that they found unintentionally funny at times. So long as the review isn’t denigrating the writer personally, I don’t see this as in any way “unprofessional”.

    • I would agree with you Josephine. Can you believe those two blog wanks? Wow… you should have seen before the author got smart and deleted all the comments. Unbelievable the kind of vitrol people are willing to spew out on the internet. Especially those who want something from other people (readers, money, etc).

      I do think it’s important to separate the author from the work. I always try to say “the writing displeased” or “the story was weak” rather than “the author wrote a crappy story” where it may feel more personal. I don’t think a lot of reviewers intentionally target the author, it’s just poor choice of language that comes across that way and sparks wanks heard ’round the net.

  10. This is as fascinating topic and one with which I am very familiar with due to my own work where there are tensions between the concepts of the academic historian, the professional or consultant historian, and the ‘amateur’ historian.

    I am frequently at odds with my colleagues – the so-called Professional Historians (notice the capital ‘P’) – about the value of the work of ‘amateur’ or as I prefer to call them local historians and the purpose of the histories they research and write. Indeed, there are a number of these ‘amateurs’ who produce work which is far better than those of some of the Professionals.

    To me, therefore, it is not only a matter of someone getting paid or not. It’s a question of the quality or, perhaps more importantly, the standards to which a person produces their work.

    Like all things, however, this is a matter of perception. As the reviews or opinions of a book vary so to will those about the actual reviews themselves.

    I’m also certain that if you asked certain well-known paid reviewers what they thought of those who run their own blog sites some would be as equally dismissive as my colleagues or as some authors are.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think it is a simple black and white answer, but it is definitely a question worth exploring.

    Great post, Kassa.

    • -noddles- very, VERY true Kris. I read an article in a popular newspaper which talked about the importance or not of online blogger reviewers. The writer (also a paid reviewer) basically blasted blog reviewers as a waste of resources. They claimed it was an area that’s blown up in recent time but the quality of reviews have diminished, so on and so on. The article was scathing and a definite contempt for bloggers came across. Yet not once did the article offer any comparison, such as shown a crappy review and highlighted why the quality is bad. Just said anyone doing it on blogs clearly isn’t smart enough.

      I don’t consider myself “a professional” in any capacity but I’ll just hold myself to professional standards and call it a day. It’s a never ending wheel though as each reviewer makes that choice and their standards are different from the next and on and on.

  11. You ask good questions, Kassa! I like Jaye’s distinction of a professional vs being professional.

    I don’t necessarily remember the reviews I read in much detail, but I DO remember all the instances I’ve seen in which an author reacted to a review in an unprofessional, disrespectful, or divaish manner. And while the review in question might not have had much impact on whether I purchased future walk by that author, the author’s behavior guaranteed that I would not do so. Why support someone who thinks so little of his or her readers?

    • Hi Chris, thanks! I agree I hadn’t thought about it like that and really like that idea. Puts things in a different but welcome perspective.

      I also agree on your second comment. I don’t generally remember reviews (even my own). I remember a general feeling such as “this book was generally well liked or so-so or hated.” I don’t remember specific phrasing or even specific issues. I can’t even remember that stuff for the own books I read (one reason I’m kind of glad I got into reviewing). I do however remember each time an author makes an ass of themselves and I keep an actual list on my computer of “authors that wanked so do not buy.” Once an author goes on there, they never come off.

      • I would so love to see that list! I hear dark rumours of authors who have done this sort of thing, but never with names. I suppose I should be glad I don’t encounter this kind of author behaviour. Either authors are getting better at keeping these things to themlselves, or I just don’t tend to get friendly with the sort of people who are prone to having tantrums in public.

  12. I just read the blog post of this author for the first time. What does she mean by “beware of unprofessional reviewers” anyway? Has she ever looked at reviews on amazon? Compared to some reviews there bloggers usually “quantify” (sic!) their statements quite a bit. I have no idea what this woman is going on about. Is a reviewer unprofessional as soon as s/he dislikes this author’s work and says so out loud? Sounds like it.
    And, even if I ever only write grocery shopping lists myself, I am still able to determine whether I like a story or not. You don’t have to be a writer yourself in order to give an opinion about someone else’s writing.
    God, she annoyed me. Sorry for the rant on your blog.

    • Hi Rikki! I don’t blame you, she was incredibly insulting. I can understand not liking the terms used to describe her story (predictable, one dimensional, etc) but those are used frequently and it’s not an insult directed at the author.

      Trust me before the author deleted all the comments, they were mostly saying exactly what you’re saying. You’re not alone in your feelings! Thankfully we can just put her in the “dont read” category and move on.

  13. Another good post – I just read the article as well…

    Pity all the comments have been deleted – this topic is always one that have both sides of the fence crawling out of the wood work…

    I agree with heaps here – and clearly a reader is not meant to have an OPINION on a body of work if it is not in totaly gushing agreement with what the author wants to read… (Good luck with that lady)

    Clearly a few of these “writers’ need to rethink and reacces what battles they pick and how and when to use the “P” word..

    Thankfully we can just put her in the “dont read” category and move on

    Well said

    🙂

    vision o

    however getting cash for the review –

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