For several years, I was the New Age Editor at the second largest women's site on the web. We once had a discussion about reviews and someone asked me why all my book reviews were positive. (At that time, I focused solely on reviewing books.)
I answered that I happened to be reviewing books that I liked--and that I didn't want to "send out negativity" into the Universe by writing a negative review. Knowing how time-consuming and, at times, excruciating the creative process can often be, I certainly didn't want to be responsible for discouraging an author, either! Not only that, just because I didn't like a book doesn't mean that someone else wouldn't benefit from it.
A few individuals shared with me that readers would take reviewers more seriously if they posted both positive and negative reviews. I was reluctant to begin writing "negative" reviews, but I eventually began doing so and I'll tell you why.
For those of us who live in rural areas devoid of any New Age bookstores, the closest one may be an hour or more away. Although some larger chains like Barnes and Noble and Borders may carry a few decks and metaphysical titles, the selection can be pretty darn paltry--even in more populated towns.
And the local libraries in my area? Utterly devoid of occult titles, except for the occasional Sylvia Browne book. But forget trying to find a book or deck on Tarot, let alone serious tomes on esoteric subjects. The librarians tell me that occult books are the ones that get stolen as soon as they’re added to the shelves.
This means that those of us who live in rural areas but love to collect Tarot decks or devour metaphysical books lare crap out of luck.
That is, of course, except for the wonderful world of the Internet.
Although I can, and do, get tons of decks and books directly from publishers for review, I often spend hundreds of dollars a year on similar items. Why? Because I may not want to wait or I may have communication glitches with publicists/publishers, so I just go ahead and buy them myself. (Not to mention the dozens of impulse buys. Yikes!) I have spent thousands of dollars over the years on such books and getting many free isn't stopping this trend!
In other words, I was a consumer before I was a reviewer of metaphysical books, decks, DVDs and CDs. And, I still am.
Now, here's a scenario for you explaining why I happen to write "negative" reviews: Some time ago, I received The Fantastical Tarot and The Crystal Tarot from Amazon.com. While The Crystal Tarot isn't so bad, The Fantastical Tarot isn't my cup of tea. I bought the former because I saw some attractive (but small) images in The Tarot Bible, and the latter because I saw it at a "Which Card Are You?" online quiz.
No, I didn't read the reviews first because I rarely, if ever, read reviews of items that I think I'll someday review myself. (Just my way of not wanting to be influenced, even subconsciously, by the views of others.) However, I did look at an online site that features card images and reviews.
Not surprisingly, the card images displayed by that site are NOT representative of the whole deck. Only the most attractive images are featured, and if the Minors happen to be Pips only (e.g. the 6 of Wands showing 6 actual wands or the 8 of Swords showing 8 actual swords), only selections from the Majors, Aces, and Court Cards are (conveniently) shown.
In other words, the most decorated and intricate cards in the Tarot.
I've noticed this skewed trend of only showing the pretty cards, which is one reason I try to pick 15-18 representative cards from a deck to accompany my reviews, even cards that I don't like.
1. It only publishes positive reviews
2. It is an affiliate of several outlets that sell books and decks
How do I know? Because none of my (submitted) "negative" deck or book reviews have been published on that site--only positive ones. And, I don't recall ever finding a negative review on that site. Ever.
While this may be good for deck creators and authors (not to mention the site publishing only positive reviews and attractive images who get money from every purchase), it is NOT good for consumers. Not only does this cheat people out of their money, but it also engenders a sense of distrust among readers towards reviewers in general.
Is it easier to write positive reviews than negative ones? Absolutely! And more fun, to boot! Positive reviews fly off my fingers while critical reviews take longer, especially since, at the very least, I try to point out the positives of a book or deck if there are any redeeming qualities.
But this latest experience of getting burned on on-line purchases reminded me (and encouraged me) as to why I write critical reviews: My sense of ethics compels me to be honest. My first loyalty as a reviewer is to the consumer, my fellow book and deck enthusiasts—not the publisher, not a publicist, not an author or deck creator (even if such happens to be an acquaintance or colleague!)
In my mind, a critical review—an objective, balanced review—isn't a "negative" one. (Obviously, what determines "balanced" is subjective!) In fact, there are times when readers email me about a "negative" review gushing, "Thank you so much for this review. I went out and bought the book and LOVED it!"
Yes, you read right.
So don't we reviewers owe it to the public to provide balanced, honest reviews? I think so. At least, this is what my personal ethics compels me to do.
Otherwise, reviewers just serve as publicists. It is the publicist’s job to describe the contents of a book, deck, or product and then to apply the most positive, compelling spin possible in the hopes that someone agrees to review the product or interview the author for the ultimate purpose increased sales—not mine.
And the hell I catch for some of my reviews? Unfreakinbelievable. And all from the Tarot community. They harass me on forums, stalk me on Twitter, complain about me to publishing companies, send me anonymous emails and stir up pitchfork mobs. It’s bizarre, really. No wonder people think Tarot users are whack jobs!
Instead of appreciating the other 1,200 reviews I’ve written to help consumers, they focus on the one they disagree with—or, sometimes, a “negative” review of a book penned by author they adore or are friends with. They call me a bully, repeatedly, hoping the perception sticks. Then, any OTHER author or fangirl that gets disgruntled picks up the whining buzz of these Twalkers, further perpetrating the droning “Janet is a bully” line.
I’ve been reviewing books for almost a decade because I love books! Same with Tarot decks. But I benefit from honest reviews, too. Before you start to rag on me or any other reviewer, consider:
1. We aren’t paid for our reviews
2. Free stuff is NOT commensurate the time and energy spent on reviewing
3. A book isn't an author’s “baby”, it’s a product
4. A negative review isn’t personal
5. Literary criticism is a respected art form
6. Public harassment by an author makes the AUTHOR look bad, not the reviewer
7. Negative reviews can generate buzz and exposure, too
8. One review isn’t going to sink a book or a career
9. Honest reviews do consumers a great service
10. Reviewers are real people behind the screen, just like the author