What Reviewers Want (Part 2)

Artist's conception of a book reviewer

[This is a golden oldie—it ran on Indies Unlimited back on October 10, 2011.]

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.

*     *     *     *     *

Stephen Hise is an author and the Founder and Evil Mastermind of Indies Unlimited. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and his website:http://stephenhise.com/[subscribe2]

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.

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

  1. -grin- a list of do's and don't's never made me laugh this much before. Great post!

    I never reviews books I truly can't stand but then I'm an amateur and I'm only reviewing because that gives me an excuse to read more. Don't think I could do it at all with that kind of feedback :/

    I guess it's human nature to want to 'shoot the messenger'.

  2. Good article! I had to go back and read the first post regarding this subject since I am new to the site, but I always enjoy hearing from actual reviewers. They can seem so daunting (even for myself who occasionally reviews books from time to time) and like intangible omnipotent beings. Also, this article opened up links to a couple of reviewers I was unfamiliar with. So, thank you!

    BC Brown ~ "Because Weird is Good."

  3. I have the greatest respect for reviewers because I think they have an incredibly difficult job. Where literary agents and publishers can hide behind the form rejection, "Your writing is great, but it's not for us", the reviewer who takes on Indie published books knows what they will be responsible for, and must justify their comments and opinion in a way agents and publishers never have to.

    It must be a tough job when a reviewer gets to a book that really does have everything wrong in it. I'm pretty sure I'd never do it.

  4. I am an amateur reviewer. I do reviews for my own website where we recommend books. Since we do recommend we rarely have a book on our site with what an author would call a bad review. If I receive a book to review that is bad, I don't finish reading it and I don't review it. I then notify the author that it won't be reviewed and the reasons for the decision, nicely and privately.

    I have, even with our policy, received complaints from authors that my 4 Star review should have been 5 Stars. One author even complained in a public forum. It's really bad form to do that. I won't review that authors books again.

    I did review Anne Rice once. On my own since I had read the book for pleasure. I got a nice note from her (or probably one of her people thanking me) for my 4 Star review. I then received, by e-mail, several comments from her fans that were threatening in nature. Apparently she has some rabid fans out there.

    Karen Bryant Doering,

    Parents' Little Black Book

  5. I have had a couple of authors notify me and ask me 'how's it going?' when I haven't actually started the book. I have actually yielded and made theirs the next book I review. Ok – they've bumped themselves up the list rather cheeekily – but at the end of the day I've managed to cross them of the TBR list. It's a bit rude, but they've been nice enough, so what the heck. How can anyone read 23 books a month? That's nearly one a day. Can anyone really properly read a book in that time?

  6. To me this is all about being professional. And about respect for the reviewer's time and opinion. I would never ask someone to give a thoughtful opinion and then argue the point. And I consider my own view of my work to be biased, which is why I value honest feedback from others.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: