Wow! It seems the entire literary community is on fire about reviews and alleged “troll” attacks. First, let me say that indieBRAG does not depend on reviews for several very good reasons. A well-written review by a reviewer who genuinely cares about books is a valuable source of information – favorable or not. However, there are more than a few people out there who use this venue just to be mean and disagreeable. Others try to show their higher level “intellect” by picking any book apart. They believe that to critique means simply to find fault. As evidence of this I should note that even the universally acclaimed book, To Kill A Mockingbird, has received one star reviews!
We will be offering some information about writing a respectful and responsible review.
We will also be offering authors some advice and, hopefully, help in dealing with negative reviews.
So here we go, be sure to join the conversation-
Our B.R.A.G. interviewer and a book reviewer from www.layeredpages.com Stephanie Moore:
The most important thing to do when reviewing is to read the book first of course. You must understand what you are reading in order to write a good and honest review. Here are tips I use when reviewing, everyone has their own method, but I have found that this works best for me. Some people highlight passages, or scribble in the margins. I, however- do not want to mark up my precious books, so I keep a notebook. As I read each chapter, I jot down what stood out to me and my feelings of what I’ve just read. After reading the entire book, I wait a day to gather my thoughts before sitting down to start on my review. I start by writing a few sentences. Then I take a step back and ponder on a few things more.
First, I ask myself, if the author wanted me to get an idea from the book, what would it be? How does it compare to the world I know? What has the author accomplished in writing their story? What is the subject matter or topic of the book? Does the author cover the subject adequately? For instance, if it’s historical fiction, is it true to time and place? Is the voice of the characters true to the language of the time? Does the author use intelligent and eloquent prose? I look at the overall layout of the book and for any editing problems I see.
Second, take care of your reader, don’t write a spoiler. Giving the plot away ruins the appeal for a potential buyer of the book. I discourage this strongly, you want to attract the reader’s attention to the story, not write a book about the book. The art of writing a good review is to build a bridge between the book and the reader.
Third, too often I see insulting, crass and downright rude reviews. It turns many readers-such as myself- off to wanting to read anymore reviews by that person. Please keep in mind that the author has put so much time and effort into their story. Instead of being crass, give constructive criticism, show actual examples of the problems you had with the book.
(“Constructive criticism is the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one. In collaborative work, this kind of criticism is often a valuable tool in raising and maintaining performance standards.”)
If you feel you cannot give a good report of the book without being insulting, then it’s best not to write the review. Just because everyone else might be trashing the book, it doesn’t mean you have to step in line and do the same. Just move on to the next book.
Really glad to see this blog topic – great tips Geri! I have seen this and experienced it first-hand. Constructive criticism is always appreciated (and useful), but some people just go out of their way to be nasty. Independently published authors have many challenges to overcome before seeing their work in print, not to mention the distribution and marketing of it. I wish more people were aware of the process and celebrated all the hard work of these authors
A great post with some great tips. Thanks for sharing this.
I like the advice about the process of reviewing – sadly, too many reviews on Good Reads and even on Amazon give away the whole book. And, yet, I have a hard time discussing the book without giving *anything* away. I feel like I have to go beyond “great book, you should read it” though because then people will think that I’m a friend of the author and shilling for them. Sigh.
I agree. I think good reviewers, and there are many, realize the blood , sweat and tears tha goes into writing a book. It is important that they take what they do just as seriously.
Well said Stephanie. A very professional attitude. If reviewers take a professional outlook toward a book and are reading it for all the right reasons, then the review can never be wrong.
I like a review that gives you a reason to read a book. I just read one that added “spoiler” below before giving away too much- I thought that was a fun way to handle this problem we all face.
We got a zing recently on the blog post we add for our Honorees. The commenter said that she had no idea who we were and we added nothing to giving a reason to read a book. I would have thought a reader might have found out who we were if she thought our comment mattered. However, as we will be discussing in the second part of this blog, you can learn from negative comments – we now add the website address for people to discover who we are! Obviously reviews matter.
I like the idea of this, and I have reviewed a lot of books. Most from the big houses, and several from indie, self-published sources. I agree that spoilers should be kept out, but I have a caveat. Sometimes you can drive a Mack Truck through the plot of a writer, when trying to suspend your disbelief for one reason or another. I as a reviewer have found that these sometimes do need to be pointed out. That a writer who indeed has spent a great deal of time, but did not spend the effort to get other unbiased opinions before publishing, needs to have this pointed out.
If we don’t, then another person will spend his or her $$ and not appreciate what we have uncovered. A story really not ready to be sprung on the world. I am not saying reviewers are gatekeepers, but sometimes authors who publish needed to take a hard look at their craft. Also, sometimes we have to report in our reviews how well a book is constructed in regards to format, for instance, because sometimes that falls apart as well. We don’t have to be nasty about it, and can write the review so that it offers ways to address the matter, or let others no. I cited plagiarism once and got called for being nasty when it was information to be disseminated. So that has its place as well
You are so right! One of the biggest problems with self-publishing is that many writers push “publish” much to soon. Our next addition to this blog will be on the authors. A good reviewer who is one who has thoughtful, intelligent information to impart on your book – and this may not be info a writer wants to hear! There is a big difference between trashing a book and reviewing it.
Coming from one whose career it is to review, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Great post, Stephanie!
As a former book reviewer for the Los Angeles Daily News and other publications and an author who generally gets good reviews, I have one plea. Read the entire book! Seriously, the only reviews I complain about are the ones where it is obvious that this has not been done, that the reviewer has stopped after a few chapters to meet a deadline or move on to the next book in the stack because they make more money that way and they think no one will notice. This is incompetent and unethical behavior. The author is always going to notice because the reviewer has gotten it wrong. A minor character is recast as the protagonist or a minor matter is made larger than it should be. Regardless of what you think of the style, story or author, read the entire book! If you can’t do that, then do not write the review.
To me, not reading the entire book is cheating. I have changed my mind about many books after reading into the second half.- sometimes for the better, sometimes not.
A slow building book can take off and really grab you, but I have read some riveting books that cop out in the end and left me so disappointed! I just finished a book that I liked a lot 3/4 of the way and then it was like the author couldn’t figure out how to end it all and lost me.
You’ve covered it beautifully, Stephanie. I think it’s the best advice for writing reviews that I’ve ever read. Concise, professional. and eminently do-able. Much appreciated.
I agree, I wish there was more people aware of the process.
I have only written one bad review in all the book reviews I have done. I must say, that this book was a sequel to an absolutely fantastic book. I was so shocked at the terrible plot and the protagonists change in character, that I can only assume that either it was written by some else, who had never read the first book in the series, or this author got very bored and lost interest in the characters. I took a few days before posting it, as I felt bad for writing a bad review. I was one of the first book reviews to review this particular book as well. Now, when I look at the reviews for this book, there are over 50 book reviews that gave it one star. I on the other hand gave it at least 2 stars and pointed out the weakness in this book and how disappointed I was after really loving the first book ( which I gave 5 out of 5). There were 46 people who gave it two stars also….I can not be that wrong, can I? There is to be a third book in the series and I hope the author uses the criticism to his/her advantage
Thank you Cynthia, when I say,” a book is great,” I always try to go a bit further and say what was great about it. I learned a lot from an editor (Andrea Connell) through the Historical Novel Society when I was reviewing for them. She gave me wonderful insight to reviewing and the technique.
Thank you Paula, I take my reviewing very seriously and more so for the past six months. I must admit I hear it’s not always easy when dealing with a lot of different personalities but I’ve had a wonderful experience thus far and have really enjoyed getting to know so many wonderul people through this experience. Including you , Paula.
I agree, that reviews do matter. I’m hearing more and more that they will be a thing of the past. But I really hope not. I see people who add “spoiler” all the time on book sites and I won’t read them. I want to enjoy and discover the plot for myself. Not having it revealed to me, that takes the joy out of reading. If anyone would like to know how to write about the content of a book without giving the plot away, I would gladly share how too.
David, I can see what you mean about them needing to be pointed out at times. Before self-publishing, it would be a good idea to have a reader read your work first. I have often read MS for authors before they have published and have pointed things out that they might want to change and later on thanked me for doing so.
I agree 100%! Many reviewers don’t read the book first or all the way through. Badly done on their part and it cheats not only the author but the potential reader.
Thank you TJ!
One thing that helps to prevent from having to read a badly written book or poorly edited book all the way through, before agreeing to write a review. Tell the author, that you will look over the first 50 to 100 pages and if you have too many problems with it, stop reading and tell the author why you will not review it. However, I’ve had great luck selecting books to review by researching about a little bit of it first. I’ve heard a lot of book agents won’t get past the first page before throwing it in the trash.
Thank you Christopher. Your comment really means a lot and it means I got my point across. Which I’m delighted!
I hope part of the discussion on how authors can respond to negative reviews includes the reminder that as authors you are agreeing to an unspoken understanding that you are providing some source of entertainment. People pay for that entertainment and the author has no right to deem whether the purchaser should enjoy what they have written, despite the lofty ‘blood, sweat and tears’ that are poured into books. Could reviews take the time to be more careful about their criticisms? Perhaps, but it is still not within the author’s purview, nor the fans of said author, to go about demanding retractions or slogging readers for ‘nasty, bullying, brutish’ behavior when they dare to say something negative. If an author does not want to have to face negative reviews, where some might be considered hurtful, then don’t publish. The entertainment business is by all accounts fairly brutal. It takes a thick skin to go out and try to provide enjoyment to a diverse group of people. There will always be wins and loses but I have infinitely more respect for any other who is able to rise above the mudslinging and roll with the punches, so to speak. It is clearly an emotional subject, but I think authors do themselves and the reading world a great disservice by their caterwauling about negative reviewers and What’s To Be Done about them. Do nothing. If your work is so great the positive reviews will always outweigh the bad ones. Also, I believe if we are going to reference ‘classic’ stories like “To Kill a Mockingbird” is it not reasonable to think the people who read that book might take with a grain of salt what any ‘bullying’ reviewer says about it? Not all forms of entertainment will appeal to all people and that is something that has to be acceptable to authors.
I agree with you. I hope we can have such a welcome discourse on how authors should deal with reviews as we have had on reviewers. I think this is very helpful. I will save my thoughts on that subject for next week. My point in referencing classics which have received negative reviews was to point out that just because someone doesn’t like the work doesn’t mean they are attacking- perhaps they didn’t like it and if they are just spoilers, ignore it. I would say to a reviewer explain what you dislike and leave off the comments that can be seen as personal attacks such as “this writer is should never write another book until they learn how to do it properly”- I actually saw this. It is unnecessary and demeans the reviewer along with the writer. I read an interesting observation that one should probably not read the 1star or the 5 star reviews and consider what the 3 stars say. They are probably less emotional. Perhaps this is true.
Great article and very interesting discussion. I agree with Christopher. If there’s one thing I dislike it’s when a reviewer bases his review on the first twenty or thirty percent of the book and hasn’t read the whole work.
I think as time goes on the professional sites and reviewers will stand out and Stephanie and BRAG are definitely pros. Nice to see this kind of discussion happening. Good work, Stephanie!
Totally agree Liz. It is very true, that no two people read the same book. There are a number of books that I found to be very entertaining as you put it and recommended the book to others, hoping they will be as taken with the novel as I was, only to find out that they were not as keen on the book as I was. You can’t please all of the people….
Hi Geri, I accept what you have said. And authors who self-publish have to play a different ball game as they have the additional task of promoting and marketing their book. Hence, the reviewers have to play second fiddle to promote (if the book is really good) and as a critic and well-wisher (if the book has glitches) and pinpoint the author’s problem. That way, I see a positive scope for authors to improve on their book (content-wise) when they publish next time. Reviewers should play as a confidence booster even if it’s constructive criticism.
Thank you for sharing. This is an excellent article which provides great tips for reviewing books. I can appreciate it from both an author and avid reader stance.
Thank you Martin! Brag and I felt it was time to have this discussion about how reviews are written and how we as readers and authors respond to them.
I agree with you Liz and thank you for your comment. Well said…
In my experience with two novels, 98% of my readers will thoroughly enjoy what I read. Some of them may write a quick review, others not. Like anyone, I enjoy the praise and feedback. The remaining 2% (if that) find it necessary to criticize minute flaws. I’m always willing to learn from mistakes. It makes me a better writer in the long run. I find it unfortunate that that small fraction of readers read too critically, and never enjoyed their time with my novel!
I reviewed a book that was beautifully written by an obvious talent. I almost didn’t continue with the book after the first few pages, however, because the grammatical and punctuation mistakes were offputting, to say the least. I did persist, however, and found beneath all the problems existed an extremely talented writer. I ended up giving the book a 3 rating, which was a compromise between a 5 rating for substance but a 1 rating for editing. I described my dilemma in the review. Have you had this experience — and how have you handled it?
Since our process is different because we do not right reviews and we do not give authors feedback, a few books have been denied a medallion because of those faults. Our policy is the book must receive a unanimous “yes” and it is possible that a book gets raves for the story but one reader just can’t get past the errors you describe. I think you did exactly right. Informing a writer of these kinds of mistakes is hopefully taken as constructive advice. It is far easier to fix than a bad story!!
Very good post, read this via Karen Aminadra’s Facebook page
Thank you for joining us. We will be discussing the author’s response today- should be interesting!
I know many reviewers, who after counting a dozen grammatical and punctuation mistakes, will no longer continue to read the story and will contact the author and state why. That is why it is so important to have an editor. If one cannot afford an editor, use reliable beta readers. I will most likely be discussing this subject on my next article.