Disappointed…insult in disguise?

One of the best things about this little community is that everything is so immediate and close. This is also one of the double edged swords. Since the genre is so incestuous – authors mingling with readers and reviewers to an almost obscene degree – but it also lets readers’ in on how authors think and act. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, and sometimes baffling.

This latest category happened to me the other day on twitter. A couple authors were talking about how much they hated to hear a reader say they were “disappointed.” They felt it was almost a slap in the face to the author. I was pretty shocked to hear that since to me, being disappointed in a book is well yes bad but it shows a level of commitment to the author and book you don’t always see. Usually readers only have expectations to get disappointed if they like the author to begin with or the book is being hyped (and thereby beloved already by many).

So is being disappointed in a book the worst criticism it can get?
I think it’s actually a compliment (ok maybe backhanded) in that the reader was more invested than usual. But perhaps it’s really the worst thing a reader can say.

What do you think?

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23 thoughts on “Disappointed…insult in disguise?

  1. I think it’s a valid term to use in reviewing, because I know exactly what you’re getting at – you’ve enjoyed the author’s previous works, but for some reason this one didn’t work for you. But I think the author can also take it on a personal level because it’s such a personal word, and we (also meaning non-authory people) hate to be told they have disappointed people on any level.

    So would I be blue if I had that used in a review for something of mine? Of course I would, but I would also understand it.

    • Kassa says:

      See I guess I don’t see where it’s so personal. I do think being disappointed means the reader invested in the author and/or book. It wasn’t some random book (though that does happen) but usually a favorite author or series. Readers are actually disappointed quite often. You hear it all the time with popular series. I guess the frequent use of the word makes me think it doesn’t really sting that much. At least from my perspective.

      I keep seeing it as an innocuous and almost soft peddled criticism. Because when you care enough to be disappointed, you’re for sure going to buy that author again.

  2. Tam says:

    I think it stings more perhaps because you know people were expecting something, that they believed something about you and your talent and you let them down. It’s a something you can’t avoid. Authors (some) work damn hard to build a public reputation, they are on the net, they post blog posts, they twitter, they want people to like them and their work and they develop a persona, perhaps even develop a reputation within a genre. But what that does is build expectations and can only ultimately lead to disappointment because no one can ever live up to their own hype 24/7 no matter how modest it is. If you make a name writing witty light hearted stories, people are going to expect that and the one time it doesn’t quite work (and eventually it won’t) those readers who expected that from you are going to be disappointed and tell you so.

    What would you rather they say? It falls into the “if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all” category? If a reader says “I hated the book” authors don’t like that. If they say “I was disappointed, I expected more” they don’t like that. If they say it was “boring and meh”, they don’t like that. Anytime, someone says anything other than “I loved it”, it’s got to hurt and sting, but personally, I don’t think one hurts more than the other but then, maybe my turn is coming to find out. :-/

    • Kassa says:

      Hey Tam, great comment.

      I think you’re right in that no matter what someone says, the authors won’t like the criticism. Everything hurts (so to speak) so I can understand that no matter what is said, it’s not good. I was just surprised by the level of discord over such an innocuous (to me) term.

      Part of it is you see people saying they’re disappointed all the time. Like you said authors work hard to build a reputation and anytime they do something different, not everyone is going to like it. For example look at long running series from JD Robb or JR Ward or Jim Butcher or any big name authors. Readers say they’re disappointed in various parts of the series all the time.

      Similarly even smaller authors can and will hear this because of the sheer number of people reading their books. I always felt it was an easy criticism because readers are invested and really care about a series or characters or author.

      But good luck with your own venture into writing. It seems the bug bites everyone eventually and here’s to hoping you hit it out of the park!

      • Tam says:

        I’m always nice. I’ve been nice to you, so I expect you to be nice back. That’s how it works with reviews no? You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours? Just kidding of course. I’ve been working on thickening my skin. Self-flagellation does wonders.

  3. I see “disappointed” as a kind of backhanded compliment too, but then I haven’t yet had it applied to my writing – I don’t know if I’ll feel the same way when it happens (as it’s bound to if I keep writing).

    I think the most hurtful thing a reader could say is “I’m never wasting my money on this author again”. I can see why those who’ve been writing for a few years tend not to read their reviews – that way, madness lies. You can never please everyone all of the time.

    • Kassa says:

      Yea exactly. It’s almost like if 10 people love it and 1 person hates it, all the author can remember is the one person who loathed it. Instead just send out your baby with love and look to the new one while buying fabulous shoes with your profits : D.

  4. Amanda says:

    This is something I have never really thought of but the disappointment I feel toward a book is really more about me the reader then about the author or the material. I know that sometimes when waiting for a favorite author’s book to comeout (ESPECIALLY if part of a series) I do start think about what might happen in the book, all the different possiblities. Often when I do this I do find myself disappointed by the book because my expectations have gotten so big. The thing is if go back and reread a book a few months after I was first disappointed by it then I occasionally find I enjoy the book more. I can see it for what it is without the excitement that comes with a first read.
    So while it might sting to hear that someone is disappointed in their work an author should realize that disappointment is really more about the readers expectations and not the author’s actual work.

    • Kassa says:

      So while it might sting to hear that someone is disappointed in their work an author should realize that disappointment is really more about the readers expectations and not the author’s actual work.

      This is actually a really excellent point you bring up. That sometimes it’s what the readers want versus a problem in the actual book. I agree that especially on series you get all caught up in what you want to see happen so you can get disappointed in what is actually happening. Then there is nothing the author could have done differently.

  5. I think it’s simply that we hate to feel we’ve let the reader down. We may understand in our heads that we can’t please and entertain every reader, but in our hearts, we always hope to. Naturally we’re going to feel bad if a reader comes back to say his hard-earned money and precious time have been squandered.

    Think of the time, labor, and love you put into the work you do, no matter what your career; there’s no way it won’t hurt if someone tells you the end result is no good.

    “Disappointed” isn’t an insult. Insult is the wrong word. That makes it sound like we’re affronted and indignant that readers would be disappointed. We’re just sad, embarrassed, regretful. At least, I always am, when a reader expresses disappointment. I would think the same is true of at least some writers, if not most.

    • Kassa says:

      I think though that Amanda had a brilliant insight in that sometimes it’s just what the reader wants/expects versus a flaw in the book. Since you can’t really please everyone it becomes a juggling game. If you’d change something for one reader, would that then disappoint another reader?

      I can understand that authors feel the weight of any criticism and in fact “disappointed” is just another one. I guess it’s good to know that authors don’t see this as the worst criticism to get, but just one of many that they wish hadn’t happened.

  6. I wrote in a review summary a few months ago that I was “disappointed” by a book written by one of my auto buy authors, and I listed several elements of the plot and characterizations that didn’t work for me. About half of the readers agreed with me and the rest didn’t because she’s a well loved author and they were willing to give her a pass. I thought the book was a mess. Two other authors commented on the review that I was perhaps harsh and should not base my rating on this one book but that I should rate it based on her body of work. Well I was reviewing one book not her entire backlist.

    When an author I have come to trust lets me down I am disappointed, more than if it were someone whose writing I didn’t care about. I don’t know how else to word my assessment of the book: I didn’t hate it but I certainly didn’t love it.

    • What, so if you like an author now you’re NEVER supposed to review a book on its own merits, just gush about how much you loved the past ones?

      Shit, that means you’ll never have to write another review again!

      I hate that kind of between-author nepotism. Or when an author’s minions come in for an attack because someone dared criticise their darling.

      We can’t hit a home run every time, but that being said not every word we write is gold either.

    • That’s ridiculous. You’re not reviewing an author, you’re reviewing the work. You know that’s a huge criticism about how we as readers have to remember to review the work NOT the author. But when we don’t like it, we’re supposed to ignore the bad work and review the author instead? But then you’d get slammed too.

      The bottom line is that no one likes negative critiques, no matter how well written or articulate. I think we just have to accept that and move on. You’re perfectly correct in being honest about that book, period.

  7. I can understand where authors are coming from.
    ‘Disappointed’ is the sort of criticism a parent would give to a child (along the lines of saying they had ‘so much potential’ if they would ‘only set their mind’ to something). It could be taken as somewhat condescending.

    But I do use the disappointment-card in my reviews and I never intend for it to be as sinister as these authors seem to assume. I use that word for my favorite authors and hyped books – the disappointment comes because I *know* that I love an author’s work (just not *this* work) or I know that there was a great premise there, poorly executed. The disappointment comes, I think, from expectations not meant (but that fact that there were expectations in place to begin with is a compliment unto itself!). Double-edged sword.

    • I use that word for my favorite authors and hyped books – the disappointment comes because I *know* that I love an author’s work (just not *this* work) or I know that there was a great premise there, poorly executed. The disappointment comes, I think, from expectations not meant (but that fact that there were expectations in place to begin with is a compliment unto itself!).

      Perfectly said 🙂

  8. I agree with most of the comments here already but I’ll put my 2 cents in anyway. If I’m disappointed by a book, it means I wanted to like it but I couldn’t and I found that disappointing – this usually happens with an author I have read and loved before or the much-hyped work – my expectations have been built and the work doesn’t live up to it. I think it is a back-handed compliment – it means I care enough to want the author to succeed and was disappointed that for me, that author did not on this occasion. Unless it’s happened a lot, it also means I’ll still be picking up the next book the author writes in the hope that the disappointment was for that book only. …which is pretty much what everyone else has said but now I’ve said it too! 😀

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