What Do Authors Want from a Review/Reviewer?

why do authors behave badlyI’ve had to ask myself a question recently:  why on earth do I bother reviewing books?  Actually, I know why I started to … it coincided with the purchase of my Kindle. I fancied an anthology of my opinions and what I thought of all the books I read on it because I thought the advent of digital books was quite a Big Thing. So, wait … let me rephrase that: the behaviour of authors has made me ask myself the question.

What’s brought this about? Yet another slightly disgruntled author disapproving of one little criticism — despite a pretty good review — of his book. And worse, two (if not more … I haven’t looked recently) of his minions/supporters/fans having a little dig as well. Bad move. They made the author look worse when he did a very good job all by himself.

So, another question is … please, authors, what on earth is it you want from a review/reviewer? I really don’t know the answer.

Does your ‘Please review my book’ come with a ‘But make sure it’s a good one, or I’ll attack you and get an army of supporters to do the same’? Or, when you say ‘I’d be grateful for an honest review’, do you mean, ‘Well, not too honest’?

I will give an honest review whether you want one or not. One. Hundred. Percent. Honest. If it’s good, I’ll say so. If it’s not, I’ll say so. If it’s good with a few ‘buts’, I’ll say so. If it’s bad, I’ll say so and why. And even if it’s a complete fiasco, I will find some virtues. But I will not lie. The review is mine for my little ‘anthology’, first and foremost.

I’m not saying: Don’t engage with the reviewer. An author who says thank you for your review is polite, courteous and humanises him/her. But if it’s to express annoyance that, ‘Well, when I said honest, I didn’t mean that honest’, then don’t do it publicly. You won’t be showing up the reviewer, only yourself. The reviewer will come out better. And getting your followers to gang up on the reviewer is just professional suicide.

There’s also little point trying to justify errors/misunderstandings in your book or explaining them. If they need either, you need to revisit the issues. A reader cannot be bothered with post-read clarification — s/he has moved on to the next book or four.

So, please be very clear what you are asking from your reviewer. I am close to giving it up and shutting down my review site; I’ll just bin all the books I have left to review and visit the real best-selling, traditionally published authors who have learnt professional etiquette.

So. Cards on the table … please explain. What do you want from us?

Author: Cathy Speight

Reviewer Cathy Speight is British and lives in England. The Kindle revived her passion for reading and after stumbling on a Facebook group of independent authors, she now does her best to encourage and assist indies as much as possible. Books by indie author form the majority of her collection. Cathy shares her views on the books she has read on her blog.

17 thoughts on “What Do Authors Want from a Review/Reviewer?”

  1. I want an honest review. Truly. Every book gets a poor review now and then for various reasons, it’s part of the game. Just write your opinion and give an honest rating.

    And I never, ever respond to reviews, certainly not in public or as comments on the reviews. I could imagine asking a reviewer, privately, to expand, again privately, on something said in a review for my own education. For example, if you said there were grammar errors, I might send an email asking if you remembered where they are so I can correct them. This is always done privately and never with an implication that the review should be changed.

    I believe it is unprofessional for an author to comment on reviews, and results in exactly the feelings you are describing.

    So please, by all means, write your honest opinion. That’s all I ask.

  2. As an author and a book reviewer I only write what I’d like to get – – – AN HONEST REVIEW.
    On top of that I DON’T give away any spoilers for the book, instead I write to try and whet a potential reader’s enough so they might consider buying the book I review.
    In order to control the number of books I’ve got on my TBReviewed pile I DON’T accept requests to review a book, All the books I review I either receive from the giveaways I’ve entered or are those I’ve interested in reading.
    The worst thing an author can do is to ask a reviewer who’s not interest in that author’s genre for a review for their book.
    There ways of writing a review for 3 STARS or less without bashing the entire book.
    I’ve seen reviews in which the reviewer ignores the intended audience for a book and only writes their own opinion, a reviewer MUST take the intended audience for a book into account when reviewing it.

  3. I “like” reviews on Goodreads, only because some reviewers feel it helps them rise in the ranks and therefore it’s rude not to. I seldom respond at all, but recently felt called to after a reviewer apparently accidentally mashed together a review of my book with a review a completely different book with plot points that had nothing to do with mine. (I also responded once to a reviewer who said there were missing pages — there weren’t — with an offer to help resolve the technical issue.) But I do feel your pain. I left a four-star review recently for a book that I thought was good but had one pretty big issue and can’t help but wonder if the writer and her pals despise me for it. And I remember choosing not to leave any review once for a book I would have given four stars because I could tell the author would not tolerate anything less than five. These days I just don’t review books I’d give fewer than four stars unless the author is dead or perhaps traditionally published and I think my three-star review will be actually be more supportive than the average. (These are all Goodreads reviews — the rating system there, to my mind, is tighter than Amazon — “is amazing” is a pretty high standard for five stars, and personally I’m perfectly content when people give me three stars there.)

  4. What do authors want from reviewers? Frankly, the answer should be ‘who cares?’ Reviewers are vital to the working of the modern publishing industry, and they should be left to get on with it without fear or censorship.

    For several years now I have not read reviews (with two exceptions). Amazon-type reviews are for potential readers, not me. I hope they are honest, but I know I won’t please everyone all the time and some will be ‘bad’. If those help inform customers looking to buy one of my novels, great – at least they’ll know what they’re getting!

    The first exception is for those rare reviews I have specifically requested – from bloggers and so on. I respond, privately, to those but usually just to say thanks.

    The other exception is if I am sent a review (by email, FB or on Wattpad for example). This is an opportunity to engage with a reader, but I never quibble about the subjective opinions expressed.

  5. What I don’t want is a book report like we used to do in middle school because that’s just a re-hash of the plot. Readers know that from the book’s back cover and the publisher’s description.

    Unless the editing is really shoddy, I don’t want the reviewer making a big deal out of several typographical errors because that makes a missing word or letter here and there loom larger in the scheme of things than it is.

    What I don’t want is a reviewer reading a book from an unfamiliar genre and then rating it down when the author is “simply” doing what is natural within that genre.

    What I do want is what is the approach you are taking. And from the comments here so far, so do the rest of us. As long as we’re not letting our own biases get in our way, the best we can do is read the book and say whether–within the book’s scope and genre–whether or not the author told a good story. I think you’re in good company with other reviewers who are trying their best to deliver a fair appraisal.


  6. What I do I want in a review? I guess it depends on where I am in the publishing process. If it’s pre-release, I want a completely honest review. That doesn’t mean it has to be tactless, but the last thing any author wants is to release a clunker (there is no book clunker for cash program that I’m aware of). My objectives change post-release. An ideal review creates more positive visibility for my work. Of those two qualities, I’d probably be happier with higher scores for visibility than positives. Other than an ego stroke (which I sometimes need) what good is an overly positive review that no one reads?

    That said, I’m not sure that what I want really matters too much. If you buy my book, as far as I’m concerned you’re entitled to review it as you see fit. I’d like to think that you’ll be balanced and polite, but that’s really up to the reviewer. I don’t engage reviewers (other than providing encouragement for purchasers to write a review). I should amend that. I will thank them if they contact me, post links to it on my FB page, or something like that.

    As for my own review policy. I’m an infrequent reviewer. I try to follow my own guidelines as much as possible. I probably err on the side of politeness – if I don’t like a post-release book I generally don’t write a review. It may not help the reading public, but the world’s an imperfect place.

  7. I guess the thing I most want from a review is the knowledge that I have achieved my objective to touch the reader, to take him or her to a place and time where they might, briefly, find something that pleases, perhaps, even, enlightens them.
    Like Armen, I don’t want a critique unless I’ve specifically asked for that.
    As a reviewer, I will not publish a review of a book if it failed to impress me. If I know the author I might contact him or her privately with what I hope are suggestions for where (s)he could improve their work.

  8. I’m simply looking for an honest review. If you liked my book, fine. If you didn’t, fine. Maybe it’s a mixed bag? Fine.

    When approaching/requesting reviews from bloggers, I always read through their set of requirements. Most do a very good job of detailing how their review/rating process works, what genres they read, and how to submit. If I’m not a good match, then I move on and don’t bother them.

    From a marketing standpoint, I think that reviews are a validation tool. It shows anyone who’s looking at a book that yes, people have read it. Reviews also share a reader’s experience with the book so other readers can gauge their interest.

    From a personal standpoint, I enjoy reading people’s thoughts on my work. It helps me to hone my writing skills. It reinforces what I’m doing right, and/or provides valuable feedback on things that I need to improve upon. Sometimes readers walk away with impressions that I never expected. Then there are times when readers just plain don’t like my story, which is okay.

    Like many here, I don’t provide any unsolicited comments to reviews. That’s just a very bad idea that rarely leads to anything good. I have, however, interacted with reviewers – but only after they had initiated contact. Most of the time it’s just to say “thanks.”

    Cathy, I can image running a book review blog is very challenging. It sounds like you’re routinely dealing with poor author behavior. I admire your courage to take this on and hope that you’ll continue your review site.

  9. I know you didn’t ask me, but … 🙂

    I was going to say essentially what Alan said. (Maybe it has to do with the name.) Reviews are for readers, not the authors. But having said that, I also understand your frustration.

  10. I am on both ends of the equation since I am both an author and a reviewer. As an author I naturally prefer good reviews and get annoyed at one star reviews that seem malicious to me. I think that most one star reviews say more about the reviewer than they do about the book. I prefer a review where the reader has obviously read the book and can cite quotes and discuss the work intelligently, even if they don’t give the book four or five stars. I have reviewed over 130 books on Amazon, and have given mostly four or five stars. I try to say nice things about the books even if I have to criticize them for some reason. I recently gave a 3 star review to a historical novel about ancient Rome because the writing was awkward, it needed editing and he got some concepts about Roman society wrong. The story was entertaining, if brutal, so I didn’t feel that I should give it a one or two star review. In the final analysis the reviewer should serve the readers and not the authors.

  11. Cathy, you are one of the most principled reviewers I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet (you too, Al) and I hope you never close up shop. Readers need reviewers who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions.

    I think the extreme reactions often are because many of those authors haven’t yet developed the thick hide needed in this biz. When an author’s unfamiliar with the vicissitudes of publishing and putting their stuff out there, many noobs feel as though a bad review is intended as a personal attack. It’s only through experience and gaining professional distance from your work that a bad review ends up hardly registering, or at least becomes a teaching moment. Being new to all this is not, however, an excuse for bad behavior.

    And then there are the ego-driven, narcissistic ones who can’t imagine their precious prose might not be perfect. But I suspect there are fewer of them than the former.

  12. I think there is more skill involved in both giving and receiving criticism than most authors ever consider. There are ways to defend ones work without being a jerk about just as there are ways to criticize work. I’ve read your reviews and have found them very helpful to the writer. People who write thoughtful honest reviews should be encouraged to continue and authors should consider the feedback as a tool. You don’t have to agree with a comment to benefit from it. One should be able to defend their artist choices, but also face their shortcomings and grow as a result of the process.

    Great article, thanks for your contributions as a reviewer as well!

  13. What would authors like in a review? Honesty tempered with respect–the good and the bad, sans nastiness. Those are the guidelines I follow when I review a book.

    On Amazon, readers are encouraged to leave comments under the reviews. People can have arguments about a book without the author’s knowledge. I was mortified to discover that someone had criticized another reader for her review of my book. The offended person, whoever it was, deleted the comment–whatever that was–and now, I have a low review with further negative comments by the affronted reviewer.

    I appreciate having a few fans, but if I could find the person who started the controversy, I’d set him/her straight. It’s frustrating to have no control over what other readers say or do on your book pages. Obviously, they don’t understand that the author will pay the ultimate price in the end.

  14. As and author/reviewer, I have come up with the answer to “What should an author want?” (not quite the original question, I know) that satisfies the needs of both ends of the stick. I try to write reviews that say what the book is like. I try to suggest what kind of reader would like this book, and who might not.
    I think the biggest source of disappointed customers and resulting bad reviews is from people who thought they were getting something else. Either from the cover, or from the blurb, or from overly subjective reviews, they got a false picture of the book, and when they read it, they felt cheated. Slam!

  15. I understand your frustration, Cathy. But I hope it doesn’t discourage you into stopping. As an author, I’ve learned that once I choose to publish a book, reader opinions are out of my hands. I may not always like that, but that’s the deal I’ve made. If I choose to ask for a review, I’ve asked for someone’s opinion and I get what I get. Back to the original question, I’d hope for honesty, because that could help a reader decide if he or she wants to invest their time in a book.

  16. I understand your frustraton, Cathy. I only ever write reviews of books that have left me with that ‘wow!’ feeling. I’m too much of a wimp to review ‘the others’. Writing a negative review is very stressful. 🙁

  17. I would like to have such a review as you’ve described, Cathy – honest, fair, balanced, and important plot points aren’t given away. Unfortunately, I’ve had reviews from people – not professionals, by the way, and let’s not mention the site out loud – who seem to enjoy tearing an author’s work apart as an ego-boost for themselves and for the entertainment of their supporters.
    Promotion has become complicated when some sites require a certain number of reviews with such-and-such a star rating before they will take your payment and publicize your book with their readers. Tough for new authors and new books. We seem to have gone review crazy, especially when it’s suggested that authors ask for reviews at the end of their e-books. I think that’s a bit much when the person has already paid to read the story.

Comments are closed.