A Guest Post
by T.K. McEachin
It’s no secret to those who know me personally that I am not a huge fan of the Harry Potter novels. Needless to say, if these novels or any others encourage reading in children, that alone is reason enough to admire & respect the authors. So, a few months ago, J.K. Rowling enters the adult fiction genre with her latest book, The Casual Vacancy. After reading so many of the bad reviews that were unrelated to the quality of the book itself (silly comparisons to Harry Potter, for example), I realized one thing: many readers simply do not understand the purpose of the reviewing ability many websites give them. I estimate that approximately 20-40% of reader reviews are unfair & biased (which is their right upon coughing up the cash for the book, technically). Many are useless in that they tell you nothing about the book itself. I’m one of those avid readers who will peruse dozens of reviews for a work of fiction, to aid in my buying decision. This is especially the case, when deciding whether or not to buy a new book that a seasoned author has written, when I didn’t care for the previous one(s). Even if I don’t like a book, I don’t always give up on an author and when reviewing, I try to find some redeeming quality to share along with the negative aspects, after all, I’m a writer as well.
In order to determine if these biased ratings on the part of some reader reviewers seems to be a trend, I analyzed the bad reviews for many well known writers of several fictional genres and some neophyte, self-published writers on Amazon. Not that one has to write a dissertation on what they loved or disliked about any book, but so many of the reviews I saw (only looking at one and two star ratings) were a mere 1 to 3 sentences of “Why does this book cost so much?” or “This author can’t write” diatribes. Some of them were so idiotic and vicious, that I began to wonder if they were the ex-lovers or former, childhood bullying targets of the author, under the guise of a pseudonym, dishing out karmic revenge. Yes, some were that bad.
Folks, the purpose of a review is to share your assessment after reading a novel or at least after reading the free sample available for most books. Either you’re going to love or hate the book, or find yourself somewhere in between, but the review is to give honest feedback to other, potential readers. If you hate (or love) a book, be specific in describing why. Were the characters realistic, memorable or believable? The dialogue? How well did the author make use of literary techniques? Did the book use adequate, excessive or too few descriptions? Did the book contain grammatical errors? Those are the types of questions that readers should answer in a review. If you’re only going to say “I didn’t like the book”(excuse my candor), but can you please explain why you didn’t like the book when reviewing? Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and that of potential readers like me, who rely heavily on reviews.
The other point I’ll make, is that if you’re unhappy about the price or availability of a novel (for example), the review section is not the place for those type of complaints, especially since such complaints usually come from those who have not even read the book. It’s very unfair for an author to take a ratings hit by someone who hasn’t even read their book. Those hits are even harder to withstand if you’re the struggling, self-published writer, as so many are, without the backing of a major publishing house, mainstream, professional reviews or the coveted window spot in your local bookstore. Go to the author’s website and utilize the contact information, utilize the complaint section of the bookseller website administrators or utilize the chat forum of sites like Amazon to create a topic about how Book X’s price is too high, not the review/ratings feature of websites. With that said, I’m not the ratings policewoman, but after observing so many vague or unfair 1 and 2 star ratings, I thought I’d remind folks of the purpose of the ratings feature. To my fellow writers, I cannot wave a magic wand & make your negative ratings disappear, but given the percentages of unfair ones, learn to take some of them with a grain of salt and others to improve your writing. On another note, given the number of authors who utilize paid reviewers out there, who give 5 star ratings because, well…they are paid to do so, perhaps that brings some balance to the entire system…or karmic revenge.
T.K. McEachin is an up & coming writer of fiction & political/cultural blogger born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She studied Biology & Philosophy at Georgia State University. She is the host of BlogTalk radio show Book Reads, where she interviews writers of fictional works and allows them share live excerpts of their works. She is very active in several local and national writing & critique groups and is an editorial writer for several political & literary sites including CainTV & Black Literature Magazine. Her first novel, The Elements Book I, the first installment in a Fantasy series, will be released in 2013. You can learn more about Talitha at her website.
45 thoughts on “Writing Reviews: What many readers don’t know”
Well said. Thank you.
Thank YOU Yvonne!
Definitely sharing this! Great post, Talitha 🙂
@DV Berkom, thanks so much!
I have published 29 reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, mostly of historical fiction but some other genres as well. I don’t review books I don’t like so my reviews generally have four or five stars. I have my own book on Amazon that has gotten six good reviews and one one star review which I have written off as the work of a troll. I suspect that authors who review the books of other authors will hesitate to give negative reviews because they figure that what goes around comes around. Most negative reviews come from readers who found something in the book that they disagreed with or that the book didn’t meet their expectations. A completely negative one star review is generally the work of someone with an ax to grind. Reasonable people write balanced reviews.
@ robinlevin -For the most part I agree. Based on the hundreds of reviews I looked at to form an opinion I would agree although sometimes some authors publish books that need editing…etc and deserve such a bad review – especially self-published writers. However, I have found that most 1 star reviews are not warranted. They usually come from someone with an ax to grind as you say or someone who hasn’t even read the book!
Hey! I do not have an axe to grind!
It’s more like a halberd, actually…
@ Rich Meyer lol I agree that a halberd is more appropriate given the impact of many negative reviews!
Brava, TK! Thank you!
@laurieboris thanks so much!
I have recently started writing reviews and, like Robin, I don’t review books I don’t like. And I don’t mention the mechanics and grammar, because I was asked to do a review, not a critique. To me, that’s another job. Fortunately, I keep in touch with the author I’m reviewing, and if some part of the story doesn’t follow or gives me a “mental whiplash”, I will point it out privately to him/her. They are always grateful that I caught it. My own book has had a lot of praise, and one pan–I could tell this reader simply didn’t get it. So—yes, people have the right to give an HONEST review. I just wish they’d keep their keyboards zipped if they don’t have anything constructive to say. (Did that make sense, or am I just rambling? It’s been a long day.)
@ K.R. Morrrison, that is such great advice/feedback. Thanks so much! It makes perfect sense 😉
@ Elisabeth Zguta – thanks!
I couldn’t agree more, that reviews are a major element to promotion. I want some synopsis within a review I read, but mostly I want to know the impact of a story and if it is highly recommended, and of course, why. After that, I read an excerpt, and for the most part, the writing stops me cold. In the end it’s the caliber of the writing which makes me want more. Basically, it’s the same chance an unknown book has from a shelf in a store.
I thoroughly enjoyed this article, Talitha, and it made me think of the classic: ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’… not too long ago a book did extremely well on negative remarks like: this is the dirtiest, nastiest book I have ever read; it was so gross I couldn’t finish it’. The readership rushed like a buffalo stampede to purchase. A low movie rating doesn’t stop me from going if the actors are great.
I am an indie author. My novel is 700 pages, so it’s difficult to get a reviewer to read, and with a daunting learning curve (to catch up to technology) ahead of me, I am (so far) invisible to Amazon and the other jungles out there. I haven’t given up.
@ Veronica Knox (I have a great friend from college with the same name!) Exactly! I don’t always let bad reviews keep me from seeing a movie either& no one should. You have made excellent points & thanks so much! I am humbled!
Also, what is the name of your novel?
My 700 page novel is titled ‘Second Lisa’. It’s a fictional biography of Leonardo da Vinci’s sister, Lisa(betta).
My second novel is ‘Woo Woo – the posthumous love story of Miss Emily Carr’, and will be posted on Indies sneak peaks on January 12.
‘Second Lisa’ is still on the waiting list.
Wonderful! I’ll check them out 😉
Nice summary of the review situation, T.K. — thanks!
@lynnecantwell7, thank YOU! 😉
Very good piece, and you make a distinction between a bad review and an unfavorable one. Well done!
23 minutes ago · Like · 1
Thanks so much James & that’s an important distinction that many miss.
Personally I don’t read fantasy fiction, but my firm belief is that if a read of the sort encourages curiosity for history in young people, then it’s of use. Thank you, Talitha, for your interesting article.
@ Larisa, thank YOU!
Excellent post, T.K. I only review books I like. I can’t publicly bash a work that someone poured their heart and soul into just because it isn’t my cup of tea. If it’s a “fixable” issue like editing, I may (and have) contact the author. Frankly, reviewing a book never crossed my mind before publishing, just as it doesn’t with the majority of readers.
Thanks so much Elise.I have given a 1 or 2 star review before but on the rare occasion that I do so on a public forum, it is definitely constructive criticism, I won’t just bash the book or berate the author. Most of the time if I don’t like a book I simply refrain from reviewing though. Now, with non-fiction I review as I please but I’m still not mean. I always review books I buy (I am usually asked by the author) & products. I agree that contacting the author directly is a great idea. If it’s an ebook they can go back & fix some things before the print edition is released.
I really enjoyed your article, Talitha, It reminded me that most reviewers are generous and literary people. The sock puppets and one-star-miseries are both aberrations in a fabulously democratic world of real readers. Having tried to review books honestly I have found it hard to do well, and it’s great to hear from a reader who ‘gets it’ with the people who misunderstand the point of it all. Terrific post!
@Carolyn Steele, excellent points & the reviews unrelated to the book’s content/writing on the part of some simply frustrated me & thus this piece was born 😉
Excellent post, TK. A review with a low ranking that explains why the reader didn’t like the book can, IMO, actually be a positive, depending on what their issue was. Too much sex, used that word I’ll get in trouble for using here, I’ll see that as a positive. It can help a reader determine if they’re in the book’s target audience and everyone benefits. “This books sucks” does nothing except maybe give the reviewer a chance to rant in public.
@BigAl Exactly! One can give a one to two start rating that can be helpful to the author but you’re right, some comments do nothing but give the reader a platform to rant. That’s how I felt about all of the one star ratings that were “This book costs too much so I’m not going to read it.” The ratings feature is just not the place for such comments.
Thankfully, mostly, I’ve had good experiences with the reviews I’ve received. However, like most writers it seems, I have had one dreadful reader review; from some of the comments he made, I have to wonder whether he read an entirely different book.
On the other side, I write some reviews for Goodreads but, in general, I won’t write a review for a book that I don’t think is worth at least three stars. Actually I did write one; although I thought that, in that particular case, whatever I wrote wouldn’t affect the author or his income: I gave two stars to Catcher in the Rye. Having said all of the above, I would just like to add, I think the star system for reviewing is quite erroneous.
Excellent post, TK.
@T.D. McKinnon, thanks so much! Your comment “whatever I wrote wouldn’t affect the author or his income” is most interesting. The seasoned authors & authors of classics are hardly affected by 1 & two star ratings. I find such ratings of those books to be honest criticism usually. Excellent point! As far as Catcher In The Rye, I had some issues with it but found the characterization of the main character most intriguing. Hats off to Salinger for writing an entire book whose plot takes place in like a day though right? lol
The inherent beauty in any art is the subjective nature of “value.” I haven’t read any of Rowling’s work, but I did notice the terrible reviews of her foray into adult fiction. I have to wonder if these reviews were based on an expectation of what the other books were like.
@ Erich probably so but it’s silly given that her latest book is in an entirely different genre and she made that clear. Excellent point!
great post & I agree with all points!
Thanks @ lancem11
Nice read. Chalk the cruelties of amateur reviews up to one of the pitfalls (in the benefits and pitfalls category) of social media. Artist, writers, etc. have more access then ever before to shop their wares to the general public, making self publishing an ever increasingly profitable avenue to success. With this access however comes the course realities of life with the man on the street unfiltered through the refined means of the big publishing houses. If an artist is smart they would shy away from reading too many of the these reviews.
@Keith I agree. I have even seen authors respond to bad reviews in public forums which is even worse. It makes the author look childish & bad & can potentially scare off potential readers.
I think you gave a fantastic overview of reviewers who don’t sometimes give their full attention and just skim over the book making the review worthless. I’m so glad you brought this subject up. Kudoos to you. I have a question if you don’t mind, You all were talking about CATCHER IN THE RYE? I’ve wanted to read that for years and could you tell me where I might get a print copy. Thanks. If you know where please email me at [email protected]. I have a blog, BOOKS,REVIEWS, ETC. at http://bemiown.blogspot.com
@bemiown (Gayle) Hi & thanks so much for your feedback! CATHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger is a classic novel and can be found on any bookseller’s website or your local store. I purchased my copy from Amazon.com and it was not inexpensive. You should be able to find a used copy from a seller as well. I’m not sure if it has been made available as an e-book yet but you’ll find a paperback copy very easily. Thanks again & happy reading! Definitely let me know what you think of the book, either here or you can message me on http://www.theelementsbooks.com. I’m going to check out your blog as well!
Great thoughts, Talitha…I agree…people seem to lose their objectivity…guess it shows how emotionally tied we are to reading/writing : )
I agree Donna, people really do lose their objectivity. Thanks so much!
Great post and the first I have seen on this subject that gives specifics on where readers can voice their complaints on things not related to the quality of the book. Well done TK!
@ K. Dunn, thanks so much! I really appreciate it!
Comments are closed.