The mixed blessing of reviews

Are you the sort of person who likes to know the truth of what someone thinks of you?  Most people do, some people don’t.  I’m firmly in the latter and would entirely rather not know anyone, at any time, anywhere thinks of me unless it is 100% positive.

I know it is said that it is better to know what people think of you but really, I’d rather not know at all.  Similarly, I’d never tell anyone what I thought of them whether I like them or despise them and if I do very rarely give an opinion then I must really love them.

It can be hard living this way in the 21st century, we’re always told that everyone has a right to have an opinion on everything and that they should voice it.  I’m not sure it’s such a good thing myself.  For example on television when something really important is happening, I’m not too bothered on the opinion of the average person, especially those who think they know it all.  I’d much rather listen to the expert in their field with decades of experience and years of study rather than some chap stopped on the street coming out of McDonald’s.  I’ve already got either my own better informed opinion and if I don’t then I’d rather someone who knew better than myself was giving their advice or opinion.

Normally almost everything I do is based on the assumption that I am going to enjoy it.  It does mean I might miss out on some experiences or people but it also means I tend to really enjoy the people I meet or the places I go.  In that regards I’ve always been a bit of a Black or White sort of person.  I make instant judgements on people and places and am often mystified as to why others later complain that they were let down by such and such or surprised that someone or something turned out so bad.  Some people might think this is a bit of a bad attitude but I don’t ever remember taking a liking to someone either a friend, colleague or acquaintance and then ending up disliking them.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t be nasty to someone I didn’t like, I’d just ignore them and keep out of their way.

I act the same sort of way about leaving reviews.  I’ve never given anything a bad review.  Who knows the real reason why a product, restaurant or hotel turned out so bad on that one day you had reason to use it?  Maybe the hotel got robbed the night before, perhaps the waiter’s best friend got run over by a car last week and is entitled to be grumpy on a personal level if not professionally.   I’m certainly not going to publicly badmouth someone for that.

That’s not to say I don’t complain, well actually I don’t really but have done once or twice at the sort of things most people would already have killed someone for… and all of their living descendants.  If I don’t like something, I just don’t go there again.  I don’t buy their product any more.  Complaining can be more constructive than giving a bad review.

With that in mind, it can be a little unnerving being in my position as virtually my entire life is up for review on-line.  With Airbnb, our home is open to paying guests who obviously want to have a good time and have some sort of value for money.  The whole system is based upon hosts reviewing guests and guests reviewing hosts.  We’ve now had over 100 people stay with us, some for months on end.  Happily, we have over 65 Five Star reviews, well actually only 5 star reviews. I guess people either love us or are polite enough to not mention it if they don’t like us… actually a certain percentage of people don’t leave reviews at all which isn’t so nice when we give them good reviews.

When I started my Ye Olde England Tours, I was very anxious that if I were to get reviews they would be good ones.  Almost everyone these days consults with TripAdvisor or similar sites. I know I sometimes use them, not so much to check out bad places but to make sure the ones I am visiting are good ones.   There is one bad hotel I still enjoy reading the reviews of, The Step Hotel in Prague.  By far the worst place I have ever stayed in, surrounded by dozens of train lines, busy traffic, surly staff, broken rooms, awful food and alcoholics going to the toilet just yards from the entrance. Best summarised by the question “Who would you recommend this hotel for?  Insomniacs and train-spotters”.

Trip Advisor 5 star rated

Trip Advisor 5 star rated and recommended!

Every time I got a review I would be genuinely surprised, delighted and just a bit relieved.  After all with a whole world of tour companies to choose from, why would anyone chose mine with no reviews let alone with bad reviews.  Happily I now have about 13 Five Star reviews on Trip Advisor and several others elsewhere.

I genuinely love receiving good reviews.  Someone has taken the time to give me a recommendation days or weeks after they last saw me.  I’d liken a positive review as to a tip for a waiter.  Of course, I like tips too after my tours if guests are so minded but a review is non-monetary and so in some ways seem more genuine and meaningful.  I’ve also been told in person that I’ve made dreams come true and given people not just the best day of their holiday but the best day of their life.  To me, that makes much more sense telling someone that, rather than a simple ‘You suck’.

The other part of my life that is open to reviews are my books.  I have plenty of 5 star reviews that I treasure and I have some 3 and 4 star reviews which suit me just fine.  I don’t expect everyone to like everything and it’s not a personal insult if someone has a different opinion than myself or anyone else and it’s not a personal judgement on myself.  The fact I wouldn’t leave a review for anything less than 5 stars, if it wasn’t brilliant then I’m not highly motivated to tell anyone, doesn’t mean I judge them.  Probably, as is the case with myself, there are plenty of people who love things and never leave a review for anything.

Of course the thing about reviews is that not everyone is fair.  Some have bizarre personal viewpoints, particularly bad experiences or maybe just are written by horrid or even vindictive people.  I recently suffered from that, someone recently gave my WW1 history book a 2 star rating and gave it a scathing review.  At first sight, this could have been horrifying to me.  Why would anyone do that?   Who were they?

I thought to myself how typical it was, that my book must have been read by a leading academic at Oxford or Harvard but know.  I can find only one person with that name and they seem to be a very ordinary individual indeed.

Then I read their review through a few times and realised that almost everything in their review was simply wrong.  They even highlighted a spelling mistake for a military word which can be spelt in more than one way which obviously the reviewer was totally unaware of and spent a great deal of effort generally trashing by writing style.

Beware all those who publish here.

Beware all those who publish here.

Fair enough thought I, I’d been reviewed by the last living Victorian English professor but if you do leave a review and write something that isn’t just opinion but claiming to be factual like a spelling, then surely you should at the very least get your facts straight.  Interestingly given her overwhelmingly hostile nature, she didn’t find fault with any of the actual history, quite an achievement when dealing with something as large and complex as WW1.

Just when I put it behind me, a week or two later this same person left an even more vindictive review on a foreign Amazon site.  Who would do that? How much must you hate someone to try and sabotage their income and livelihood?  Why would you take the time to register for a foreign website just for the purpose of a character assassination and further incorrect opinions dressed up as facts?  Especially if they got the book on one of the Publishers Freebie-Kindle days as I am 99% sure they did.

My only guess is that they are a writer less down the path of publishing success than myself or possibly a fellow WW1 historian doing their best to get rid of new competition or just plain jealous.  Either way it seems this person has gone out of their way to unpleasant and deliberately misleading but that is always the risk if something you do is in the public eye.

It isn’t just the subject that at risk of judgement from the review.  If the majority of reviews are negative then perhaps they have a point but such a negative as this one risks turning the tables on the reviewer.  The reviewer can easily appear an idiot or their review can be seen for the over the top lies that this one seems to be.  Many websites now allow for the rating of the review when over the time the writer of the bad review becomes noted as the sad person they really are.

Lots of people do pay attention to reviews, most writers know that the more reviews they get, the more sales are produced.  That’s certainly the way with my tours though by far my best-selling book only has 1 review which I guess means it does the job as well as it could for 99 pence.

I could ask for Amazon to remove the offending review as it certainly merits that under their policy and it may indeed effect a small proportion of sales.  If I were particularly bored or insecure I could comment on their review but I think what I’ll continue to do is to do to this person on-line, what I would do in the real world and ignore her and having nothing to do with her.

As Theodore Roosevelt put it much better than I ever could:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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13 Responses to The mixed blessing of reviews

  1. blosslyn says:

    Dear Stephen, I think Theodore has it spot on……I can not write to save my life, even the little bits I do for my photos stretch me. I think you are quite right… not even give her your thought time, if she cannot be constructive and only be offensive, knowing the hurt she will cause, just think what she is like in the flesh……nasty. Anyway hope all your endeavours are going well, sounds like it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. PHILIP HEARD says:



  3. Boyer Writes says:

    Stephen, I have found in life that what fills our own hearts with joy…whether writing, art, cleaning a cabinet, watering a flower, traveling….etc… all that matters. Waste not your life or thoughts on those who do not deserve your waste of even one precious moment. Carry on, my friend. I read your book, Lest We Forget, and gave it a fine review. It is easier to see the black dot on a white sheet of paper than to see all the beautiful white that surrounds it. Get my point? Blessings from Nancy


    • I’m sorry for taking so long to reply but I have been away for over a week. Thanks for your kind words, I very much like your philosophy.

      Thank-you for your review, it was and still is very gratefully received. Have a lovely day.


  4. merrildsmith says:

    I’ve seen some bizarre reviews of my books on Amazon–people who expect what are clearly academic books to be novels and people who comment about an edited volume as though I wrote all of it. I’ve just ignored them, and hope those who read the reviews are more astute than those who left the stupid comments. Good luck!


  5. Cottage4Me says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post (your humour is so unexpected and refreshing). I too feel the same was about reviews (as a vacation rental owner in Canada). Airbnb has just recently become more popular the vacation rental industry (as it aims to capture some of the market previously dominated by vrbo and flipkey) and the honest truth is the reviews are a source of much anxiety, more so giving reviews than receiving them. We model our business on professionalism and try to uphold standard practices as you’d expect from a large company so the thought of reviewing (judging) my customers is very unsettling.
    Again, a great post! Best of luck with your business – you’re clearly doing something right (hehe!)

    Maybe consider writing a post on how you gracefully leave reviews!


    – cottage4me in Ontario, Canada


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