What Reviewers Want (Part 2)

Artist's conception of a book reviewer

In part 1 of this series, we discussed what reviewers want to see (and do not want to see) from authors as regards actual writing. All that stuff is what constitutes the middle of the relationship between an author and a reviewer. There is something more to the relationship on either end.

The relationship begins with the submission of your magnum opus to the reviewer. Next you wait. You keep waiting. You check their website and still don’t see anything. Over an hour has passed, and you are starting to get nervous. My advice (and it really is mine alone—all the reviewers I interviewed were too polite to bring this up), is to keep waiting. Do not call. Do not e-mail. Do not fax. Do not “check in” to see how they like it so far.  Find something else to occupy your mind and your time, because it may take a while.

Some reviewers have hundreds of books in their TBR piles. Yours will get to the top of the pile when it gets there and not a moment before. Big Al, of Big Al’s Books and Pals, reports reviewing about twenty-two or twenty-three books a month. Reviewers Cathy Speight and Kim Fowler each review eight to twelve books a month. Be respectful of the reviewer’s time and schedule. Making a nuisance of yourself will not help. If you really want a quick turnaround and a likely rave review you should give your book to your mom.

Eventually, that long-awaited day will come when your review is published. This is the other end of the relationship. What if it doesn’t happen the way you hoped? What if the reviewer had the temerity to point out some few grammatical errors, typos, or plot-holes?

This could be a real growth opportunity for you as a writer. This is especially so if the problems cited were technical in nature. Look at your writing again and see if you can find what the reviewer found. If you do, consider bucking up and doing a re-write.

Maybe you look at the review and just outright disagree with it.  People are allowed to disagree. You have one person’s opinion. True, it came from a reviewer and carries more weight in the literary community. Remember that some very famous writers got scathing reviews over the course of their careers. That was back when reviewers used words like “execrable.” If you disagree with a review, just shrug it off like a grown-up. If you really believe in your book just as it is, seek out another reviewer or two.

What you must never do is engage the reviewer in an effort to change his or her mind about your book. This is bad form. If you do it in a public forum you will become an internet meme, as in the infamous case of “The Greek Seaman.” This incident involved Big Al and an author who didn’t take her two-star review very well. This thing made me cringe. It blew up all over the internet. Maybe the author was shooting for becoming the John McEnroe of writing. Maybe it got her lots of attention she would not otherwise have gotten.

Reviewer Cathy Speight recounts an incident with an author as well. She once gave a three-star rating to an author who had previously only received five-star ratings on her book. Aside from typos and grammatical errors, she found the hook to be badly presented, the writing to be poorly researched, and it had the dreaded buy-the-next-book-to-see-what-happens type of ending. She received an angry note from the author. So, how did the author fare from this exchange?

“I might have given the sequel a go, but this response means I will never read any of this author’s books again,” Cathy says. After Cathy’s review posted, the author received several one-star reviews. I doubt that worked out the way she planned.

The irony here is that reviewers always try to find a way to be constructive. Reviewer Kim Fowler believes it is important to say something positive, even about a bad book. She says “It must be crushing for someone to put their heart and soul into something for people to trash it. My policy is to try to let people down gently. I am not in this to upset people!”

Reviewer Sue Palmer agrees, “I think a reviewer should always be constructive. If the book has bad points then the reviewer should try tactfully to point out why. I always try to end the review on a positive note.”

Author and reviewer Vickie Johnstone has some sound advice for authors who receive a bad review, “It’s not the end of the world…if a review gives some constructive criticism, work with it, see if you can improve the book with their tips.” That sums it up quite nicely.

In part 3, we will find out how reviewers rate indie authors in comparison to traditionally published authors and discuss the usefulness of ratings systems for books.


Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

9 thoughts on “What Reviewers Want (Part 2)”

  1. I find this series of articles on reviews extremelly useful to us writers. Many published books with poor reviews may have lacked a good beta read. Though I have found that quite a few reviewers will go by their gut response to a subject rather than technical. Others do not really have the qualifications to review fairly.

    Yes, let's see how us indie writers fare once compared to traditional writers. Good work, Stephen!

  2. Every day presents a new learning experience whether it be as a writer or in another facet of life. We never stop growing and improving. This series of articles not only teaches us what professional reviewers look for but how to improve our writing overall. If we can get a positive response from Sue, Cathy, etc., we as writers can feel more assured that our work pleases other readers as well.

  3. Excellent stuff, Stephen. Love to see/read more on this. I had thought about writing a series on this very subject on my blog, but couldn't get the time because of my day job and my own writing. One of the things I thought about was, that you could possibly do if you wanted to (or perhaps you already thought about), to just ask what is a reviewer, do they have to have certain credentials; i.e., a degree in English, or writing/reviewing, what makes a good reviewer, and can just anyone be a reviewer, are there professional reviewers and what makes them professional? Do reviews written by a reader carry more weight than a professional reviewer?

    Good job, look forward to reading more. Glad I subscribed so I don't miss anything.

    1. Thanks Jac. You raise some excellent questions. There is potential for further exploration of this topic, and I think it is one that authors find interesting. Thanks for subscribing! (I added you blog to my blog roll, BTW)

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