Book Reviews

Reviews.  Authors love them, want them, need them. At least, so long as they’re good ones. On the other hand, authors aren’t too keen on getting not-so-good reviews.

In many ways, talking about the review process is like walking through a minefield. Opinions are likely to go off anywhere — and tempers could flare.  It’s a touchy subject — and both authors and readers tend to tiptoe around it. Let’s chat about it today, OK? Let’s put some of the questions out there, share a few thoughts, and see if we can better understand the whole complicated issue of book reviews.

Why are reviews so important?

Today, there are thousands of authors publishing tens of thousands of books in every genre and sub-genre you can think of — and probably in a few you never thought of.  Remember the “dino love” craze? The “robot romance” fad?  Some things are better forgotten, and I’d put those two on that list.

On a more serious note, readers have a multitude of options today. Reviews — ideally — should help a reader find (a) books worth reading, (b) books that the reader might especially enjoy, and (c) books from different genres that might entice the reader to try something new.

Book reviews help readers make wise buying choices; they help authors sell books. Everyone benefits.

So, what’s the problem?

Reviews should be a win-win situation for both author and reader. Unfortunately, just as the writing industry itself has changed in recent years, the review process has changed, as well.  Changes often bring problems, and that’s definitely happened with the review process. Together, we’re exploring new possibilities, and nobody is quite sure yet how to make it all work.

In the past, reviews were professionally written and generally published in newspapers or magazines where the appropriate “reading public” would find them. That still happens, of course. I’ve purchased a lot of history books after reading reviews in American History or American Heritage. Reader and author are somewhat removed from one another, and the reviewer is typically a professional with impressive credentials. He/She shares an informed opinion with you/me, and we decide to buy or not based upon that opinion. 

Today, it’s different. Today, there’s the internet…and there’s Amazon. Amazon is a book-lover’s delight. Hardbacks, paperbacks, and ebooks are available with a single click. And reviews are everywhere! Whenever you make a purchase from Amazon, you’ll soon receive a request: Please review!

A lot of readers do just that. Others don’t.

Why? Or why not?

In discussions about reviews, readers have sometimes said they don’t like to leave “bad” reviews. They resort to the old adage that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  Sounds like a nice thing to do, but then again, it leads to a lot of questions. If I browse books at Amazon and find one that has no reviews, am I, as a reader, supposed to take this as a sign that nobody liked the book? Or is it merely that no one has read it? Or that those who have read it simply didn’t bother to write a review?  I’m left with little to go on.

On the other hand, if I, as a reader, see dozens of glowing reviews, am I guaranteed that the book will be worth reading? Sadly, no. I’ve read some really bad books with lots of 5-star reviews. Chances are, you have, too.

How does that happen? How do truly awful books get stellar reviews?

I wish I knew the answer.  I’ve heard a lot of “guesses”.  The most frequent guess is that the author and his/her friends and family have written those glowing reviews.  Another good guess is that, in some way, the author has paid for those 5 stars.  I’ve seen authors run contests: Read and review my book, they say, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for…  Fill in the blank with a nice prize. Now, seriously, would you write a bad review and submit it?  I don’t think so. In hopes of winning that lovely gift, you’d probably write a few lovely words, right? Lovely. Just lovely.

Should bad reviews be given?

The “sticky wicket” with book reviews seems to be this unavoidable question. “What do I do if I read a bad book?” Do you leave a bad review? If so, don’t be surprised if the author swoops down on you and takes you to task, telling you that “You just don’t understand my point,” or that, “I spent hours researching this setting,” or “I’m an author and I have the right to take literary license,” or “You’re obviously not the sort of reader I want.”  Yikes! Yes, an irate author can be downright snarky.

Of course, let’s be honest. Disappointed readers can be a bit snarky, too. “Didn’t anybody bother to proofread this book?” “My ten-year-old daughter could write better than this author.” “Plot holes big enough to drive a semi through!”  “Total waste of time and money.”

I’ve read those comments — thankfully, not on any books I’ve written — and you’ve probably read them, too, while browsing through reviews.

Are reviews like this helpful in any way? If an author’s writing needs improvement, shouldn’t we point that fact out? Or should we keep our mouth shut? Should we express an opinion, but do it as nicely as possible? And what about other readers? If a book truly isn’t worth reading — and definitely not worth spending hard-earned money to buy — shouldn’t we let other readers know that?

What’s your opinion?

Do you leave reviews on books you’ve read? Only on books you’ve read and enjoyed? Do you read reviews? Do those reviews influence your decision to purchase a book? Would you buy a book if there were no reviews for it? Would you buy a book that had bad reviews?

ElephantReviews are a bit like that “elephant in the room”. We all know the problem is there, but nobody wants to acknowledge it.

Let’s chat about it!


14 thoughts on “Book Reviews

  1. If the book is written by a friend, I tend to focus more on the positive aspects and MIGHT in the end rate it a bit better. I do, however, keep my reviews honest. If I ever find I don’t like a book or would give it less than 3 stars, I usually choose not to write a review at all.
    Since I have started writing myself, I have realized how important a review can be. Plus, my reading has changed as I can’t help viewing things from the writer’s side, so now I do take the time to rate and review.

    • I think this is the approach most authors now take toward reading and reviewing. The downside here — not as a disagreement but as a topic for discussion — is that if we all do that, the only reviews authors will ever receive are 4 and 5 star reviews…but not all books are 4 and 5 star books. In a way, if all we ever find are good reviews, the review process loses a little meaning, doesn’t it? Again, I’m not saying this in disagreement, but as something to think about and something to discuss.

  2. Christina, you have hit the nail on the head as far as the rigmarole of reviewing is concerned. What an insightful article. It is a sticky situation and I haven’t a clue what to do. I think, perhaps, a rating, but no review if the book has more negatives than positives? Who that helps is moot. Is there even a right answer?
    Thank you Devika for drawing my attention to this post…

    • I don’t think there is a right answer, Reet Singh. Reviews are important, yet only when written for the right reasons (my opinion). I’ve created my own review guidelines to help me judge a book’s quality, and like most other authors, I won’t post a review on Amazon or Goodreads unless I can give at least 4 or 5 stars. I think the important thing for a reviewer is to have a positive slant. If a book deserves 2 or 3 stars, that’s what it should get, I think. It’s possible to write a review and focus on good things while also pointing out weaknesses, isn’t it? Isn’t an honest review (written in a constructive manner) more helpful for both an author and other readers than “fluff” reviews or no review at all?

  3. Since I started publishing myself, I don’t post reviews below a 3 star rating. I do however give reviews under that rating to the author for their own benefit if they have requested the review.
    Regardless of whether I know or like you, I will give you an honest review. I try to be constructive in my criticism, and never mean or hurtful. But as you said, we can’t grow as an author if all we hear is “oh I loved it” That’s not what I want to hear from my peers when I ask for an honest review. Especially if it is during the editing process.
    Just my opinion

    • A thought occurred to me earlier. When we leave a review on a site like Amazon, is it for the benefit of other readers? Or to benefit the book’s author? Perhaps as authors ourselves, our perspective is a bit skewed.

  4. I actually had someone accuse me of having friends write my reviews for me. I didn’t and was devastated at the accusation. I was lucky enough to also have a support group of friends who encouraged me and told me not to let this one person bring me down. I suppose I was lucky she privately messaged me but she really ripped into my story.

    I responded back but I don’t think I was rude or snarky, though I did say that I didn’t think she had read the entire book based on some of the questions she was asking (I was right). I told her frankly that I actually based this book on several real things that happened in my life, so while she thought it wasn’t realistic, I knew it was. She replied back saying ‘Oh-well good luck on your books’.

    My criteria for reviewing is I normally only review books I really like. However there was one book I read that was just so awful (And it had dozens of 4 & 5 star reviews) that I did review, and for the first time in my life I felt I had to give someone 1 star. I felt bad but at the same time I thought it was so offensive I felt that was all it deserved.

    • Thank you for stopping by, Penny. I’d never really given much thought to “customer reviews” on books. I’ve always relied on “professional” reviews. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the “reader reviews” are truly helpful to anyone.

  5. Robyn Echols says:

    I do not review every book I read…not enough hours in the day. I hate to give 1 or 2 star reviews and will usually not review those books, mostly because I write and know how important reviews are. On the other hand, as a reader I have appreciated those who have made comments like there is no plot or the characters are too stereotyped or not well developed. That has often helped me decide whether or not to buy a book. For one of my books I paid For a Kirkus review. They zinged me on one aspect of my writing style. I felt by making changes based on their criticism it made me a better writer. So even though I couldn’t use it to advertise my books I felt it was worth it.

    • Reviews are important — for authors and for readers. As you’ve pointed out, constructive criticism can help us improve our writing. Oh, but criticism is never easy to take. Glad you dropped by to share your thoughts.

  6. I want honest reviews for my books – and I think I get them since I don’t have a Street Team or a relative who posts reviews on my behalf (and I don’t seem to have close friends who read my genre). But that also means it can take a long time to get enough reviews to get the book featured on The Fussy Librarian or on other promotional sites. As for reviewing other books, well, I’m having a tough time with the book I’m reading now — it captured my interest, and I’m reading the entire thing, despite the lack of punctuation, incorrect words, run-on sentences and generally poor grammar. I’d like to leave a review, but I hesitate to do so. It could be a 4-star book, but with a 1-star rating for the poor grammar means I’d have to give it 2-1/2 stars. Bummer, especially since I know the author personally.

    • You must have more patience that I do. I can’t enjoy a book — even a good story — if I have to struggle through poor grammar, incorrect punctuation, and overall bad writing. Here, I think, is the drawback to today’s self-publishing opportunities. In the past, if an author’s writing was really awful, it got rejected. The author knew he or she needed to learn more about the craft. He or she worked, studied, practiced, wrote, and continued getting rejections until the work was publishable quality. With each improvement, the rejection letters became more positive with editors pointing out strengths and weaknesses. Those rejections, painful though they could be, served to guide the aspiring author toward success. We don’t have that today. So, where’s the real incentive for a writer to improve? Readers are left with poorly-written books, and only a very skewed “review” system to guide them toward books that are worth reading.

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