The Problem With Positive Reviews
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.

First off, there are some of us who live in rural areas that are devoid of any New Age bookstores. The closest one may literally be hours 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...

So those of us who live in rural areas but love to collect Tarot decks/use them for reading--or devour metaphysical books like ones dedicated to Tarot--are crap out of luck.

That is, of course, except for the wonderful world of the Internet.

Folks like me often must buy books and decks sight unseen and rely heavily on reviews. We hope they're honest--we trust that they'll be comprehensive--but...guess what? Sometimes, they are not.

Although I can, and do, get 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 for free isn't stopping this trend!

In other words, I was a consumer before I was a reviewer--and am still among the supporters/consumers of metaphysical books, decks, DVDs and CDs.

Now, here's a scenario for you to consider that I trust will explain 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 (to put it mildly). I bought the former because I saw some attractive (but small) images in The Tarot Bible, and the latter because I saw it on a "Which Card Are You?" on-line 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 on-line site that features card images.

Not surprisingly, the card images displayed by that site are NOT representative of the whole deck. Just 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 often intricate--cards in the Tarot.
I've noticed this before, which is one reason I try to pick 15-18 representative cards from a deck to accompany my deck reviews--even cards that I don't like.

But I do believe that was  the first time I've been burned on my own purchases. Now, that would be bad enough, but there are two other details that bug me about the site I'm referring to:

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 it's 100% awful, I'll rarely even bother to post a review. I usually reserve those kinds of reviews for NY Times bestselling authors.)

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 without being cruel and 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 that isn't cruel--isn't a "negative" one. (Obviously, what determines "balanced" can be 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.

This shows me that critical reviews also serve the public for the simple fact that what I may consider a "downside" may very well be an "upside" for someone else.

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--those whose job it is to describe the contents of a book, deck, or product--and then 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.

© Janet Boyer

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