Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Recently a conversation took place on an online loop about whether writers should construct honest book reviews for other writers’ releases. I understand the conundrum.
You’re part of a community of writers, and you want to support others and do everything within your limited power to help them be successful. I get that.
So, when a colleague puts out a plea for everyone to leave a review on Amazon for his new book release, you want to help out. But what if you don’t think the book is that good? What if you actually think it’s pretty amateurish? Or that it has significant deficits? What do you do then?
My mother taught me (and yours probably uttered the same adage): If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. This is a good time to apply Mother’s advice. If you don’t think the book is that good (and, yes, you should read it before you rush to write a review), one option you have is not to write a review. Better to be silent than to–and let me blunt here–tell a lie.
“One of the most exciting books I’ve ever read; I couldn’t put it down,” is a lie if you fell asleep while trying to plow through a book.
Here’s the thing: You’re not only telling a lie, but you’re also attaching your name to a statement that is the opposite of your opinion. Let’s say you’ve published a book or two of your own; a reader has read one of your books and liked it. That means your review translates to an endorsement as far as the reader is concerned, and so the reader purchases the book. That reader might well ignore you the next time you tell her to read a book. And maybe the reader will pass up buying your next book because she can tell that your opinion about a book doesn’t match hers.
Do you see what a minefield writing a false review is?
If you’re in a bind and think you must write something, don’t make it about the book. “Susie O’Shay is one of the most imaginative writers I know. Her creativity abounds” is a truthful statement about your writer-friend Susie, but it doesn’t pin down your opinion of her latest book.
Now, lest you think no one reads Amazon reviews, let me recount a personal experience. This experience comes with a confession. I bought a novel based on an editor’s recommendation. I knew nothing about the book except the title when I started to read it. Turns out it was completely outside my typical reading selections: a romance between a vampire and a witch.
I was pretty shocked when I realized that was the editor’s selection. But, uh, even more shocked to discover I really enjoyed it. It became a guilty pleasure to plunge into the story each night, and I stayed up too late often because I couldn’t stop reading. (The book is entitled A Discovery of Witches, by the way.)
As soon as I finished the novel, I checked on Amazon to see if the second book in the All Souls Trilogy had released. Much to my delight, it had…But wait, it received only a 2 1/2 star rating while the first book had a 4 1/2 star rating.
I started reading the reviews. They all pretty much said the same thing: Couldn’t wait to buy the second book; what a disappointment; the characters have morphed into beings I don’t even recognize from the first book; way too much talking and no action; nothing happens in the book until 2/3 of the way through; I’ll never buy another book by this author; how could the same person write two books that vary so much in quality, etc.
I took my finger off the “buy” button and moved it over to download a sample of the book on my Kindle. I wanted to see for myself if I agreed with those harsh reviews.
It didn’t take me long to see that the poor author desperately needed the strong hand of an editor to step in early in the writing process and say, “Stop. You don’t have to tell all this backstory at the beginning of the book. You need to drop the characters into the action and move them quickly to their goals only to be stopped by external and internal forces.”
The reviewers couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong, but they knew a disappointing story when they encountered it and named several elements of their disappointment. I thought they were pretty astute in their analysis. And their opinions persuaded me not to buy a book. They could just as well have persuaded me the other way. I’m so glad they were honest reviews. (There were a few, “Ohmygosh, the best book I’ve read this year” sort of reviews. Hm, friends of the author perhaps?)
So that’s my offering about the power of reviews. For good or for ill.
Now, what do you think? Should YOU write honest reviews? Do reviews help you to decide whether to buy a book? How do you respond if you read a glowing review from an author you know only to discover you disagree?
I’ve read books that were HIGHLY recommended, and forced myself to finish them.
As if finishing them got my money back?
One, which was a NYT best seller, disappointed me greatly with the life altering trauma that happens and then brush, brush, brush, lift the rug and it’s all taken care of. And then the ending felt like “red alert, word count max approaching, dump scenes!”
My lingering response kind of surprised me. It was “well, I am NOT letting that happen. I am not going to get my characters to the top of the mountain and have them magically find parachutes. They need to hike down. Which is just as hard.”
The next time I pick up a book based on a recommendation, I’m going to skim the pages and see if the writing draws me in and sings to me. Then I’ll ask around and read reviews. THEN I might buy it.
Or borrow it.
Disappointment is cheaper when someone else has already paid the price.
Jennifer, your last line, “Disappointment is cheaper when someone else has already paid the price” is so true.” Honest reviews steer us toward–or away from books. Obviously individual taste comes into play with reviews, but especially if a book has a lot of reviews, I think the highs and lows even each other out.
In the past I’ve written honest (though I hope, kind) reviews of books I just couldn’t stand. I felt like I was doing a favor to those who were thinking about purchasing the book. Since I’ve been writing and making my way down the road toward publication, however, I’ve really only reviewed books I love. I have too much empathy now to write bad reviews.
And yes, I’m strongly influenced by reviews. I like to read the worst ones and the best ones. What did people hate? What did they love? One person’s liver and onions is another person’s duck confit.
Sarah, I appreciate your reminding all of us that kindness and honesty aren’t mutually exclusive. I felt sad for the author of All Souls Trilogy because she clearly was at a loss as to how to write the second book in a series. I see the failure falling onto her shoulders for not seeking help and on her editor’s for accepting the manuscript. (Of course we have no idea what publishing contingencies were at play.)
I was asked to review a book by a publicist who is a friend. I felt compelled to write a positive review. I had just began blogging. Which I did, because there were positive and redeemable things in the content. I tried to focus on strengths. Had I not been asked by a friend, I would not have chosen to review the book after reading it. So, when the author asked for reviews on Amazon, I did decide to stay silent.
Now, I feel as a writer, I would want people to respect me and my writing enough to be honest. How can you improve without honesty? I hope I can offer that back to others, with a really large portion of encouragement on the side 🙂
It’s such a hard balance, isn’t it, Lisa. And that’s a large part of the struggle for a writer. You KNOW how hard it is to write a strong manuscript. But I don’t think we can let be our guiding thought when it comes to writing reviews. And, you know, you could go back to the publicist friend and say, “Maybe it’s just my personal taste, but I really didn’t care for the manuscript so I can’t write a review.” You don’t need to diss the work when you turn down reviewing it.
One of the reason why I like Books & Such’s blog page so much is because you have a little box that tells what books each of you is reading and a little blurb about that book. I like that fact that you are briefly reviewing books that are not written by your clients.
I am more apt to believe a book review if it comes from someone who is not connected (another author, an agent, an editor etc..) to a particular author. That’s why Amazon reivews and particularly word of mouth are important to me.
Lori, thanks for mentioning our very brief reviews connected to our blog. We’re all book people, and we’re always exploring new reads; why not share our experience with others?
By the way, the deeper I read The Imperfectionists, the more engaging the book. So, if you’re looking for a well-done novel (collection of short stories) I would recommend this one.
I’ll keep that in mind. I like short stories and I like stories that take place in Italy. If you are looking for a good book that takes place in Venice, may I recommend John Berendt’s “The City of Falling Angels”. However, I am keen on getting “Spirit Hunger” which is the one Wendy is currently reading.
Lori, Wendy is loving Spirit Hunger. She talks to me about it every time she and I chat.
Reviews…..I’ve done very few of them on Amazon. I tend to believe as you mentioned–if I can’t share truth nicely about a book, I would rather say nothing at all. Especially now that I’m writing, I want to speak gracious words. Aside from that,
I also don’t write a lot of reviews because I’m time-strapped. But, I know they help authors….so I’m kind of stuck, and that’s a different story.
If I was to read a book that received high reviews on line and I disagreed with the reviews, I think I’d be reluctant to read anything else by that author. As was mentioned above, and as you did, I would peruse part of it before buying it.
Word of mouth is one of the best reviews I can give or receive about a book.
We haven’t even looked at the time issue when it comes to reviews. The more established you become as an author, the more review/endorsement requests you receive. That’s when it’s important to put some policies in place and figure out how to graciously say no–or spend all of your time writing endorsements rather than your own books.
There’s an author who, for awhile, seemed to be reviewing everything out there. I saw her review for a particular book, raving about how fabulous this book was. It was kind of an over-the-top review, saying this was one of those amazing, rare books.
The book was very blah. Average. Mediocre. Boring.
I caught myself rejecting books that author reviewed because I didn’t trust her reviews anymore. I felt that she’d lied. And I didn’t read anything by her for a long time either.
I’ve done some reviewing on my blog. I’m honestly doing very little anymore, and I try to do books that I’m sure I’ll love because I hate saying that a book someone spent months on is no good.
But the group I’m with requires that we post a review, even if we hated it, so there have been a couple times I’ve had to say I didn’t care for a book. I try to be nice about it, but I don’t want to link my name to a book that isn’t very good. 🙁 Readers don’t forget that.
Sally, every reader among us thanks you for being honest in saying you didn’t care for a book. You know, our reviews don’t have to pan a book. We can find some redeemable aspect of almost anything we read, but I think we need to say what disappointed us as well.
I’ve never written a review, because I’m a bit afraid of the things you’ve mentioned. However, I’ll recommend friends’ books on Facebook and “like” them on Amazon if I do like them. I probably should try to write reviews for the ones I really do like…I’m just afraid of friends coming to expect it and falling into the conundrum you mentioned!
Lindsay, at some point in your career, you’ll have to face these issues. That’s why I wanted to write about it. You might avoid it until you’re more established, but having to write reviews/endorsements will eventually find you. Thinking through how to handle a book you can’t honestly say only positive things about, is a task you will face at some point.
Thanks for the tips on how to handle them graciously, Janet. 🙂
Oooh, and what about Goodreads? Lots of writers on there and even if we don’t write out a review, we often give star ratings. How honest are you with your stars?
Good question, Sarah. It’s easy to fudge when it’s star-rating.
Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts
I’m glad you brought that up, Sarah. I was thinking of Goodreads while I was reading Janet’s post. You can write a review as well as give stars. Mostly I’ve just given reviews to books that I have genuinely loved. Recently, however, I did do a review of a book that I did not like. I did try to be kind in the way I said what I thought, but I also made it clear that I was disappointed in the story and the writing, was sorry that I bought the book and would not recommend it to anyone else.
Cindy R. Wilson
Yes, I definitely think we should write honest reviews. I’ve written several reviews, and I try to write at least one thing I enjoyed about the book, but I still try to be honest as much as I can.
With one I was politely honest, mentioning that the book didn’t seem to fit in the CBA market, and got some dislikes and a few comments, but on that book in particular I was glad I wrote the truth. I didn’t want readers who were looking for something specific to be mislead because of where the book was placed on the shelves or under a certain genre. I know I’d want to know if I were the consumer!
And that’s the point, Cindy, what would you want to know if you were considering buying a book? Will your review help a person make that decision, or is the review just over-the-top nice?
Heather Day Gilbert
Interesting question Sarah had about stars on Goodreads. I think the star ratings might mean different things to each of us in our MINDS, but they say 4 stars means “Really liked it” and five stars is something above that. For me, 5 stars means I might want to one day read it again. The language/story were strong enough for me to LOVE it.
And it is difficult in the CBA, when you feel like you know everyone. I agree to be influencer for books when I know the author and appreciate the genre they’re writing in. Might not mean I’ll give it a 5-star review, but I’ll help them promote their stories.
If I LOVE LOVE LOVE a book in the CBA, I’ll typically devote an entire blogpost to my review. That way, I give the author some props and give my readers a heads-up on it, too.
But in the end, our tastes all differ. What I like might fall flat for someone else. And your Amish fiction recommendation might be a glowing five stars, but I probably won’t buy it, just because that genre holds no appeal for me.
Am I following you on Goodreads, Sarah? Will check it out. And we’ll try to keep it real…
Keep it real like WV mountain girls always do!
I agree that the star rating probably mean different things to different people. To me, three stars feel like saying, “eh, it was okay” while Goodreads says three stars is “I liked it”. I’m always reminding myself to go with the Goodreads definition instead of mine!
I think writers are evolving into the new gatekeepers and it’s important to maintain professional honesty (even w/ yourself). I’ve written very few reviews, and those have only been when I’ve been so badly disappointed by a series I was almost ANGRY w/ the author. That’s when I realized that readers take our words very personally… and they know when they’ve been screwed.
Stephanie, that’s an interesting point about writers being the new gatekeepers. Actually, I think reviewers will play that role, and you don’t need to be a writer to create reviews. But writers, who are connected with each other, often will choose to put together reviews.
Gatekeepers have a responsibility to be even-handed (not extreme one way or the other) and as helpful as possible to potential readers.
I do avoid writing a review if I can’t say nice words about the book, but I learned an important lesson about book reviews from a reviewer who panned one of my Alaska books in a major newspaper.
My book had received a lot of good reviews – even from the New York Times – so I was caught off guard when that reviewer led off with a statement about how disappointed he was in my novel. If the review-reader read far enough, he or she found out that the reviewer didn’t like my book because it was a NOVEL. He went on to say that he didn’t understand how anyone could like novels and why anyone wrote novels. He finished up by telling his audience that, as inferior as novels are compared to other long literary works, mine had to be one of the better, but darn it all, it wasn’t non-fiction so it wasn’t worth reading.
I really had a laugh about that. Kind of like a judge complaining at a dog show that all the dogs were – yeesshh – DOGS. Anyway, so now when I do write a review, I give a book stars or accolades not only for how much I enjoyed it, but also according to how it stacks up to other books in the same genre.
Sue, I guess you could call that odd review a left-handed compliment. And, you know, that reviewer wasn’t being fair. Why write a review about a category you detest? Talk about not being able to differentiate your personal opinion from a well-reasoned response…
And on the positive side, for me, it was a gentle intro to negative reviews. I’ve certainly received my share of those since, and I usually learn something from each of them about how to improve my writing!
That’s the spirit, Sue. If someone sees a flaw in your writing; a negative review can be a real help in honing your craft.
I post a book review on my blog every week. So far I’ve only reviewed books I like. Is it bad to review a book that I didn’t like and explain why? One of my blog readers recently asked me if I ever do that? What are people’s opinions on this?
I think it would make your reviews much more interesting and helpful. In essence, you’re choosing to write endorsements of books rather than reviews at this point.
A review should point out what’s good and what’s not so good about a book, which helps the reader to judge for him/herself whether to read the book.
We all know writing a flawless book is nigh onto impossible; so if we help a reader to determine if the book sounds good enough to give a try, we’ve done that person a real service.
Thanks! That is a very helpful insight. I do sometimes mention weak points of a book I like, but perhaps I’ll consider reviewing not-so-favorite books in the future.
Someone linked this post through an Amazon forum and your comment caught my eye as I was scrolling through.
Personally, if I only ever see a person giving really good reviews to books, I either figure that they “love” everything or that they don’t publish negative reviews. While I don’t disagree with them doing it, I find a harder time placing value in their reviews because I have no comparison that I can use for my likes/dislikes to see where the individuals opinion matches/diverges from mine.
Book reviews… I totally shy away from them. I don’t like to write reviews because I’m too analytical and I have a hard time just saying what I think without explaining or justifying my opinions.
That being said, if I happen to read a book I like, I’ll recommend it in a post about it. I usually pick one aspect about the book that I liked and post about that particular aspect.
I know this is a chicken way of avoiding the review process,but I read too many books that are highly rated but fall flat to me, or are like you posted, Janet, and the rating just doesn’t ring true. Or right. In fact, a few years ago, I bought a book by a fairly popular author (whom I hadn’t read before) based on a VERY well-known author’s review…and by the first few chapters, was appalled that she’d put her stamp of approval on the book. I have not picked up a book from either one of those authors since – because of that review. I feel either manipulated or duped and I can’t tell which. So I avoid them both.
And then I read books that are given 3 or 4 stars and I find them to be exceptional. The whole review process feels so ambiguous to me.
If you’re analytical, then we need you, Becky. Tell us what you liked/didn’t like about a book. That’s an honest review. And helps me to decide if I want to dip my toes into the waters of that particular book.
I have a few critique partners – this took me a long time to be comfortable doing, too. I know, especially on paper – without inflection, without tone, without emphasis – things can be misconstrued. I REALLY like what Keli Gwyn has contributed today – and if I couldn’t give it a 4-5 star rating, I’d be more than willing to speak with the author in private. I just don’t want to rain on them in public, you know?
Good to see your voice on the page again, Janet. You continue to be in my prayers.
Becky is a very smart woman and can carefully write a review in such a manner that her crit partners STILL love her.
When I agree to read a book as a potential reviewer or influencer, I tell the author up front that I will only post a review if I can honestly give the book four or five stars. I believe giving a book fewer would be more harmful than helpful, and I’m unwilling to hurt another author’s chances of attracting readers. I remind myself that reviews are subjective. A story that might be a three for me could be a five for someone else.
What a great prerequisite! Then the author knows you’re going to be honest, too. I’m going to have to consider this….
A Discovery of Witches is on my TBR pile because one of the women in my book club highly recommended it. If you hadn’t mentioned reading it, I never would have admitted that in this comment. Which brings me to my point, sometimes it seems like there isn’t much room for honesty as we go about crafting our online presence.
I read both ABA and CBA, but predominantly ABA because that’s where I tend to find books I want to read. I have standards and convictions, but they are my own and may not line up with others in my online community. I worry that a positive review of a book which didn’t offend my moral sensibilities could come back to bite me if someone more easily offended took my recommendation and was disappointed.
But I think I do myself a disservice when I fear being honest about the books I love. After all, don’t I try to write books that I will love? And if I like books with supernatural elements, powerful but not smutty attractions, and a struggle between good and evil then there’s a strong chance there are others like me. They are my potential audience, and I’d rather be authentic for them than for someone who enjoys a completely different genre and wouldn’t care for my book anyway.
Is that a reasonable approach, or as an aspiring novelist should I try to be all things to all people?
Evangeline, you’ll note I never mentioned A Discovery of Witches in the “What We’re Reading” box beside our blog. I really wanted to, but I knew that a one-sentence comment wouldn’t be enough to prepare a reader for the book’s content. For those who read mostly CBA books, it would be a pretty big shocker to take my mention of the book and then to discover the plotline.
So I’d say, if you can tell enough about the story to explain why you enjoyed reading it and what it’s about, I see no reason to withhold recommending books you enjoyed that like-minded readers would enjoy too. It’s too hard to find really good books!
Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts
Janet, I generally agree with the adage that “if you don’t have anything good to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all.” It’s rare that I will write a negative review (I mentioned above to Sarah that I did put one on Goodreads because I just felt potential readers needed to be saved from the same mistake I made). I completely agree with you: if you’re going to say something, be honest. A lie is a lie is a lie. But for a person to write a positive review of a mediocre book just because the author is a friend or even just a fellow author is more than a lie. It is fraud. Not only will readers be disappointed, but readers will be cheated out of money they wouldn’t have spent if the reviews had been honest. I don’t always agree with reviews. At times, I have loved books and movies that got rotten reviews from critics and I have disliked books and movies that got rave reviews. But the main issue here is one’s own integrity. I’ve had some Twitter followers ask me to reviews for them on Amazon. Some have been reasonable and said, “If you like my book, please write a review,” but others have tried to get as many people as possible to write reviews–even if they haven’t read the book! As you pointed out, if I write a review, my name is on it and so my reputation is at stake, but even if I could do it anonymously, I still would know that the review was dishonest. So again, it all comes down to integrity. If a friend asks me to write a good review and I know the book is mediocre, the best thing I can do is be honest with my friend. It sounds like the poor author you used in your example needed a real friend before the book went to print. If a friend wants me to write a good review of his / her book just because we’re friends, then my “friend” is using me and it’s time for me to reconsider the relationship.
Have a blessed Monday!
Christine, I would hope those who request reviews would understand that sometimes the book just wasn’t what I had hoped for as a reader. And the relationship needs to be strong enough for you to tell that person in private that you can’t offer a positive review–and to ask if they’d like a summary of why you responded that way, just in case it helped them to consider some aspect of their writing they could be doing differently.
Great thoughts, Janet, and I appreciate your honesty. I shy away from reviews, both reading and writing them, and reviews (in general) don’t determine for me whether or not to buy a book. The back cover copy does that. What concerns me in this whole discussion is that taste in books is SO subjective. There have been plenty of bestsellers that everyone raved over that I read and then wondered what the big deal was. The reverse is also true. In your specific situation with the sequel, I probably would have made the same decision not to buy because the criticism was of a basic element of fiction. But if it’s something like “I didn’t connect with the characters”, then I’ll judge for myself. Because all of this is subjective, I’m also a little concerned with readers dropping a big-name author because they wrote a glowing review of someone else’s book that then said reader didn’t like. We’re all different. Just because the big-name author loved that book and we didn’t, doesn’t mean that we won’t like the big-name author’s next book. It just means that we have some different preferences.
Let’s say, Janet, that you and I go for a coffee together, and, with my encouragement, you try something other than your regular blend. If you didn’t like it, would you not want to go for a coffee with me again? (BTW, I’m available on Friday!)
Meghan, I so agree with you that reviews are personal opinion pieces. Everyone needs to keep that in mind–the author, the reviewer, and the reader of the review.
What would deter me from buying said big-name author’s next book is if that author raved about a book I thought was poorly written. To me, that says the author either wasn’t sincere in his/her praise or the author lacks good judgment in what makes for a strong book.
Since I have so little time to read, I wouldn’t take the time to read that author’s next book to see which was the case.
And I’d happily try a new coffee blend, if you suggested it. You would be offering me the chance to try something new because you sincerely enjoyed it yourself.
As an author I wouldn’t leave lower than a three star review, choosing rather to abstain from leaving a review at all. If I am reading a friend’s work and can’t give it either a 4 or 5, I will abstain from leaving a review. Truth is, I value my friendships and my brand more than the need for a random reader to have my opinion. I create more value of my opinions if I rate things I love, because it will let readers know I can cheer for other successful writers.
That’s a good strategy, Michelle.
Sharon K Mayhew
I tend to only write reviews if I like or really like a book. I adhere to the if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all policy.
I do promote authors on my blog, but if the book is out of my normal genre, I don’t usually buy it. If it is in my genre and I liked it I may come back and do a post about it.
Do you promote books you haven’t read? Because that could prove tricky for you, if the books aren’t great.
Sharon K Mayhew
I wouldn’t calling it promoting, but when of my blog/writing friends has a book release day I share the good news. If I haven’t read the book I don’t give an opinion.
I hope my blog is always a positive place to visit and I love sharing when something good happens to someone in the writing community.
I blog about other things too. I travel quite a bit and post photos and some of what I learned while I was there. I did three posts on my trip to Alaska. (Sorry, I’m rambling on…)
What an interesting post today. I am a writer, so I understand the dilemma But I am also a reader and I want honest reviews. I am a member of a book club and one of our criteria for a book selection is it has to have a lot of reviews and usually we want 3 to 4 stars for the majority of reviews.
We have found if the book only has 25 or so reviews they are probably friends and family. That being said, I think it is important to write honest reviews, because for many of us that is how we determine the book. We no longer browse bookstores (unfortunately) to see if a book strikes our fancy.
I do not think a review needs to be brutal, but honest. Every book has something in it that can be said as a positive and every book has something that could have been improved upon.
As an avid reader, I say PLEASE review books. As a writer I ask be honest, but kind and gentle.
I think you’re suggesting a nice balance, Susanne.
It’s interesting that your book club makes selections based on reviews. I realize you have other criteria, but it sounds as though reviews carry a lot of weight. And you’ve found that only after a certain number of reviews are you likely to get beyond the author’s circle of friends and family.
Meadow Rue Merrill
As a way to increase traffic to my blog and promote other writers, I recently became a book reviewer for Tyndale House and Waterbrook Press. I also write reviews on books I enjoy for my own reading. I try to focus on the areas I enjoy in the books I review and will offer a constructive criticism toward the bottom when appropriate. Best fiction CBA I’ve read this year was Michale Morris'”Man in the Blue Moon.”
Meadow, I’m curious. What effect does being hired by a publisher have on your reviewing of those books? Do you have to agree to write positive reviews? What if you wrote a scathing review? (Not that you would, but I just wonder if publishers lay down any principles for you to follow.)
I also review for Waterbrook on my blog. They encourage honest reviews. Since we get to choose which books we review, I carefully pick from authors/genres that I *think* I will like. I’ve only had one or two instances where I seriously disliked the book. Even then, I was able to offer a few things I appreciated about it before pointing out the parts I struggled with.
I definitely think reviews should be honest,
especially since I’m often persuaded to buy or not buy. It’s always disappointing to trust
a review and then find out it’s not what has
I feel the same way, Dale.
Janet Ann Collins
I don’t review books I don’t like, but I do try to be honest about minor flaws or things that certain readers might dislike. After all, the reason to read a review is to see if you’re likely to enjoy the book or not.
Janet, I think it is important to point out elements of a book that some might not like. That isn’t necessarily a weakness of the book but it is a matter of taste. And no one should take offense when you point those elements out.
I write lots of children’s book reviews, and since there are so many great books out there, I just choose the ones I really like to review. Simple as that. I don’t give bad book reviews, because I don’t review books that I think are poorly written.
(And I also keep in mind that different people like different books. Just because I don’t care for a book doesn’t mean it’s bad. Sometimes it’s just not my thing.)
So you’re bringing the conversation back to the point that personal taste is a big part of how we respond to a certain book. It’s so true.
And you’ve skirted the issue of writing anything negative but choosing to review only those you like. That’s certainly one way to do it.
Interesting post today. Love all the discussion around it.
I’ve been reviewing books since 2006. An honest review is the only way to go. I don’t consider the author when I write a review, since reviews are meant to guide the consumer. That said, a professionally worded review only upsets those authors who have the most sensitive of feelings. In the years I’ve been reviewing, I’ve only had two authors complain about what I’ve written.
It’s rare that a book is all bad. You strike a balance between highlighting the good parts and mentioning the parts where the book failed your expectations. If I really struggle with a book, but it has received more positive reviews on Amazon, I will put a note at the end of my review encouraging my blog readers to check Amazon for other reviews of the book.
In the end, the consumer must weigh all the reviews and decide. I’ve steered away from books because of negative reviews, but I’ve also been known to buy a book or two with less than positive reviews just to see what my thoughts are on it.
You’ve made several good points here, Cheryl. First, is that it’s only fair to write a balanced review–few books are all good or all bad. Second, it’s a good idea to refer potential readers to other reviews that disagree with yours. That’s another way to provide balance. And third, I think we all like to consider ourselves independent thinkers, and just because a review of a book isn’t positive doesn’t mean I won’t consider the book. If something about the book is really compelling to me, I’ll check it out for myself. That’s what I did with A Discovery of Witches by downloading the sample chapters.
Wise advice, Janice! It’s a tough line to toe!
I’ve considered making book reviews a feature of my blog, but I’ve wondered how the publisher feels if I criticize aspects of a book–especially if I’m published by that house. Anyone have ideas about this?
That’s a twist to the conversation, Diane. I would think you would need to be balanced in your reviews. Panning a book would potentially do yourself harm. Saying only positive things would make you less credible as a reviewer. And either extreme would defeat the purpose for which you were creating a blog and offering reviews–to build yourself as an authority and to build readership for your own writing.
So true! And more. You may not only be judged by the quality of the story, but the style. I don’t always like the same books that many of my friends do, so I tend to go by the recommendations of those who share the same taste. If I say I like something that is not at all the style of what I read, maybe others will assume I don’t have the same taste and therefore I couldn’t write what they like.
I try to teach my children to be honest so people always know what they are getting from them. No one has to guess. I good way to live. I don’t expect to have the same opinion as everyone around me, but you should know what you are getting when you ask my opinion.
It’s one of the reasons I discontinued doing book reviews for free books. I didn’t want to speak ill of a work which had received five stars from another reviewer. However, I couldn’t get another book until I wrote a review. Now I try to stick with reviewing one’s I’ve tried samples of, or ones I choose on my own. I want my word to mean something!!!
Connie,it’s true that we are expressing what our taste is when we offer opinions about books. I want to remain consistently honest so people figure out what my taste is. If their’s matches mine, my opinions gain weight for them. I think we all have friends who like the same TV shows, movies, books, or restaurants as we do. They become our go-to people for that area of interest.
For authors, offering book reviews can inform readers about our taste. And readers might decide to read what we write based on our reviews.
I’ve bought too many books based on a glowing review I’ve read in a magazine only to be disappointed with the book and distraught over the money I spent.
I keep this in mind when I write reviews. Though I focus on the positive, I will point out any major flaws I see, trying to “speak the truth in love.” However, if I can’t honestly write a mostly positive review, I won’t write one at all.
I like those guidelines, Peter. Speaking the truth in love generally serves us best. And just choosing to step aside from writing a review, if it can’t be positive is also a good precept.
I do write honest reviews. If I do not particularly care for a book, I try to find at least one good thing I can say about it but I let people know I didn’t really like it and why.
We readers thank you, Jill.
Dean K Miller
And what do you do if a “memoir” is written with factual errors that are easily provable? Do you comment specifically or generalize with “there’s seems to be a lack of research” kind of statement.
I am pondering this very thing today.
My opinion is that I’d mention the lack of research and give one example.
Dean K Miller
Tactfully as well, I’m sure. A good approach.
I do write honest reviews, under my real name rather than my pen name so there’s no pressure BUT… I only review A.) books that were fantastic and I want to encourage others to read them (or just very good. But I liked it!) or B.) books that, for some reason, I want to flag a problem. For the second type, a book comes to mind where it was advertised as a novel, priced about $4, and it was only 12,000 words long. I flagged it as NOT a novel. Things like this.
I don’t tend to review books that didn’t impress me though. I might do a star rating, but no review.
Flagging problems would be a good service to potential readers.
Carole Lehr Johnson
It is nice to see how others handle book reviews. I always try to be honest in any reviews I write. Sometimes it is difficult to be totally straightforward because we each have varying opinions based on our likes and dislikes of genres, style of writing and character types, etc. Just because I don’t like a book doesn’t mean others won’t. So I just tell it like I see it, never being rude or unkind. Is that being too simplistic?
It sounds straightforward to me. I think of reviews as opinion pieces. If we remember not to be unkind of rude, sharing our opinion seems like a helpful contribution to make to a conversation about a book.
This is a great post, Janet. Several “Amen!” moments there. I feel exactly the same way about Mom’s advice. I don’t write negative reviews, partly for that reason, but more because I don’t force myself to read a book that isn’t thrilling me, and I think it’s wrong to review a book one has not read.
If I set a book aside after 25 pages, I don’t think it adds anything to the conversation for me to say I couldn’t get into it. (I’m a vegetarian; my review of a barbecue joint is of no value.)
In fact, I received a galley of DISCOVERY OF WITCHES from the publisher asking me for a review, and at that moment, I couldn’t get into it (I’m with you on the witch/vampire milieu as well), so I set it aside and said nothing. Later, I guess I was in a different head space; I picked it up one day and consumed it like a shredder. Enjoyed it very much. I’d feel terrible if I’d jumped on Amazon and belched out that first impression just because I thought so almighty much of myself. That would have been a review of my closed mind and fragmented attention span at that moment, not a valid, thoughtful review of the book.
I’m about to launch an online bookstore (Stella’s Umbrella) with a focus on small press and indie books, and I want to approach book reviews in a way that’s more authentic and more efficacious for both authors and readers. For one thing, it’ll be video reviews only. You’ll be able to see this person’s face, hear her/his voice, and view a profile so you know who s/he is and why (or not) you might be of like mind. That eliminates both trolls and back-scratchers and comes about as close as you can get to the personal word-of-mouth that has always been the best way to get genuine, effective book buzz.
Joni, what a great idea to do video reviews! I’d love to take a look once you have it up and running; so let us know, okay?
And, yes, our mood when we’re reading a book can definitely affect how we review it. That’s the scary part of being a reviewer and reminds us that we need to take the task seriously.
I always want to give a book a good review, but I promise two things on my blog: I’ll always review a book I’ve agreed to review, and I’ll always be honest. So I’ve had to write some one-star reviews to uphold those promises. I always try to find something I like about the book and point out ways the next book could turn out better, though, and I always mention when my reviews are a matter of writing quality or when they’re a matter of personal opinion/enjoyment.
Emily, those seem like super fair ways to approach writing reviews. Have you ever gotten complaints about reviews?
I have been writing book reviews for Christian publishers for almost 15 years–and no one seems to care anymore. No one stars or comments on my reviews, few people leave comments on my blog about them, authors don’t care to highlight my reviews on their blog (that’s if they even bother to read my opinion), and many of the review-gatekeeper type publicity organizations now require more and more work than just penning an honest review—yes, requiring multiple postings, additional “highlights” to their website, etc.
To be honest, it wasn’t just moving outside the contiguous US that is about to kill my reviewing career. Now it’s all the extra work, for a free NetGalley Kindle book that is so poorly formatted it’s often hard to read. Or, ARCs that have so many typos they’re hard for this English teacher to get past.
I may just throw in the towel soon.
Wow, Patti, thanks for that look inside the world of professional reviewing. It sounds pretty unrewarding and bleak. So, in your opinion, reviews that are written on blogs carry little weight–for the authors, the publishers or the publicist, right?
First of all, I’m not a professional in that I don’t get paid (well, except for a free book, I suppose). Second, I suppose I’m just discouraged and jaded. I guess blog reviews aren’t enough for most publicists and authors anymore.
Like most people, I just want a simple “thank you.” To be appreciated for what I do. Those days have been over for quite a while now.
I understand what you’re saying Pattie. At this point, I look more at traffic than comments, though I don’t think it would kill an author to take a minute and thank a blogger for her review. The fact that I’m getting anywhere between 9,000 and 10,000 views a month tells me someone is reading.
I have to admit, however, that the best thing is seeing blurbs from my reviews on author’s inside covers. Keep the faith, the buyers appreciate your time even if the expectations have increased.
I recently wrote an Amazon review of a book that I read because of a recommendation. It was heavy to slog through because the author did this very chatty, slow moving style thing. The glacial pace nearly obliterated the pertinent points – very good points – the author was making.
The author replied that his pacing was deliberate and that the piece had been extensively edited. (I had suggested that a good edit would have improved the work.)
My response to him – which is visible on Amazon – was an acknowledgment that it was a matter of taste.
I will probably not read or review this author again. And I will be very selective about reviewing in the future.
Judith, maybe that was one instance of differing responses to writing since, presumably, the person who recommended it to you liked it.
I know that I was over the moon when I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. I was shocked when I read the Amazon reviews. There seemed to be no middle ground: it was a love/hate book. Since I loved it, I couldn’t understand why people didn’t “get it” and wrote horrifyingly bad reviews.
But we all have a right to our opinions, and if you found the book glacial, then that’s exactly what it was for you. Too bad the author felt the need to defend his/her work.
Sharon A Lavy
I try not to leave less than a 4 star review. However, I do not review every book I read.
I would be afraid to write a dishonest review. Who would believe anything I wrote after that? However I try to be fair, and to make sure that my review does not reflect that I am tired of reading my non-favorite genre(s).
Sometimes my non-favorites begin to all sound alike. However, I can say readers of —genre will enjoy —title— if there is nothing wrong with the writing.
But if the author can not hold things together, if I cannot finish the book, if the story line is confusing, I simply do not review the book~~even if it is for a book tour.
In fact I have become leery of joining book tours for this reason.
It’s good to hear your perspective on book tours. This would be the downside of the event.
Any authors want to speak to how blog book tours look from that side of the fence? Sharon, have you ever done a book tour as an author?
Goodness, I can’t imagine being dishonest in a review. I prefer to structure them more like a constructive critique, with good things and bad and things I felt weren’t exactly bad but could use improvement. Hopefully, that avoids stepping on toes. I try to avoid star systems, because that sort of implies that there are books that are absolutely perfect and books that are completely irredeemable, and I don’t believe that.
I recently read a book which had been highly recommended by a friend, fully expecting it to be wonderful, and I was ready to write a good review before reading the first page. But, while it was well written, the story itself did not cover what it said it would. I was really disgusted. And disappointed. And wondered how the author got that past the editor, (it was not self-published). So I simply closed the cover and set it aside, because I did not want to say–truthfully–that it didn’t meet its expectations. Like you said, Janet. Rather than write a bad review, I’d rather say nothing at all.
On Goodreads, I try to be honest with my ratings, but I generally won’t review a book, especially a review with any detail, unless I have a strong reaction to it, and that usually means loving it. If a negative reaction is that strong, I won’t read very long.Most of the time, my rating stands on its own, but sometimes I need to add a few comments.
First let me say I really enjoy posts on this blog. They are always thought-provoking and interesting. I review books for a book review site in the USA (I am in South Africa). Their policy is honesty with kindness. They also have a system whereby if the book is badly written (2-stars and worse) you can send your comments directly to the author, giving them a chance to absorb the info and act upon it. I have noticed nowadays that some traditional publishers are going ahead with books that are badly written (50SOG) but strike a chord with readers who are captivated by the story. I think this is important – even if you did not like a book, or there are poor editing and construction elements, to say in the review that despite these flaws (and show me the perfect book!) the tale is compelling. I also think choosing, to the best of one’s ability, the genre that appeals. I remember reading a scathing review of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency. Living in Africa, I enjoyed the lazy, almost indolent way the stories unfolded, and the truly African characteristics that anyone living on the continent will appreciate. At the end of the review, the reviewer actually said he did not know why he’d been asked to review the book because he ‘hated this kind of thing.’ This was for a newspaper and I thought his attitude was unprofessional. We have all been at the bottom of the ladder, and welcomed a kind word of advice or a helping hand. We should not forget that when commenting on someone else’s (to them) magnum opus.
Fiona Ingram » Fiona, your perspective is so helpful. A newspaper book reviewer (how few of those are still around!?) should have done his professional job and not panned the book because it wasn’t a genre he liked. If he was asked to review it, he should have done the job with a more agnostic (as in neutral) view. I also think bloggers who feel an obligation to offer a review for a genre they don’t appreciate should not do the review, or should not give a negative view because of a dislike for the genre.
I always write honest reviews on my blog or any other place, and appreciate when I see others do the same. Sometimes I question the all flowery reviews, because, quite simply, how can everything about every books we review be all positive? And if done in a respectful and sensitive way, authors can learn from not-so-flowery reviews as well.
Well-spoken Linda. I do the same. I can be honest and tactful. I too wonder about the over the top reviews, also those that are too brief, and those that only give a synopsis from the back cover of book.
I’m always in a conundrum when given an arc, and then hating the book. How do I fulfill my commitment and attach my name honestly to a review. Most recently, one of my closest friends had a book whose editor didn’t do his/her job. The story which didn’t grab me was made insufferable. In this case I chose silence.
But what do you do if given a book for the purposes of reviewing it?
Carol, since I don’t get offered free copies of books in exchange for reviewing them, I confess to not knowing how the system works. It seems as though the publisher or author offering the free copies would rather you say nothing than to offer a negative review. If necessary, you could let the sponsoring party know that read the book but you can’t offer a positive review and therefore won’t be writing one.
I have been writing book reviews and critical reviews since early 2007. For most of these years I was timid about writing a review on a book that was fair to poor range. I wrestled with expressing myself in being honest and yet also having tact. It takes a lot of practice! It takes a lot of prayer! It takes a lot of reading and studying other reviews, as well as information on book reviewing.
I feel that not only am I writing a review that the consumer will want to read in order to make up their mind about buying or reading the book, but I’m also writing a review for the author. I review new authors books and independent published books fairly often. The editing is not as accessible, they often have friends or a few well-chosen people to edit their book. If they are an author that wants to be a better writer then they will be open to another’s views on their book. For example I read two books recently that went back and forth in time, this was not smooth and I became lost more than once. I’m hoping after addressing this issue the author will “spruce-up” this issue.
I’m trying to use more critical thinking in writing a review, giving both positive and negative points on the book—not just stating I liked it or disliked it, but why.
I also ask myself—why does this book matter to me?
Great blog post. I’ve faced this problem several times. If someone wants a review on Amazon and I’ve got enough issues with the book, I will notify the author and tell them my issues and ask what they want me to do–post it with lower ranking or not. If a book is bad enough, I will not post a review. I would hope a reviewer would do the same for me. That way I don’t bash the author but I also don’t have to lie.