Wednesday, 20 July 2011

To review or not to review?

When I started out with self-publishing, I promised myself to review every book I buy and read, simply because I knew every authors yearns for reviews. Now, I came to the conclusion that it's better to not do it anymore. The point is, and I know I'll be making enemies by saying this, I've tried a few self-published books and soon switched on my editin- programme in my head, which is a bad sign, really. Of course, being an editor has somewhat destroyed the ability to just read and take in the story, I will admit that. A book must be really well-written, with well-developed characters, a complex story with no holes in them and logical.
If a book fails to fulfil that, I will stop reading and move on to the next. Others might not see those mistakes, but I do. Not saying I've written the perfect book, but moving away from me being an author, to me being a reader, I have high expectations and rightly so. I did have those beforehand and I have stopped reading traditionally published books in the past, but not that many.

My first impulse is to e-mail the author and tell him or her about my concerns, but then you have cases like the infamous author, who couldn't take criticism and hell broke loose. Further on, it's not my responsibility to give constructive criticism; I'm a reader, by buying the book and spending time with it, I've fulfilled what can be expected from me.

Back to me being an author again I feel a little bit in a pickle; if I give a negative review, I might be in danger of getting one in return, just for revenge, or when I give a positive review - despite my dislike of the book - I'd lie and I don't like lying.

In addition to that, pure readers check out the reviewers of a book and indie authors reviewing other indie authors is widely understood as cheating. People automatically assume it's a review exchange. I will also not tell an author anymore that I've bought his or her book, in case I don't like it, I can just walk away, silently, but if I really love a book, I'll be there to support it. And that's a promise.

Disclaimer: I'm an editor for plot and character development, also for dialogue attributes, not for grammar. Although I might correct the odd errors there, too. :-)


  1. Hi Stella,
    Interesting that this is the second blog post I read tonight on reviews. The opinion expressed in this other post is the complete opposite to yours. I probably review one in every three books I read. My philosophy is to be honest, whether I like it or not, and if the review is less than positive, then make it constructive. I guess I'm lucky because although I do read reviews from authors I know and chat to on Twitter, I haven't yet read one that I didn't like. And I wonder how I'd react if I didn't. Would I still review? I'm not sure of my answer. In any case, I totally see your point.

  2. Hi, Elpi

    Yes, to be honest is my philosophy, too. Problem is that I have given authors less favourable reviews, though I'd like to think they're certainly contructive. On the other hand, reviews aren't for the authors, they're mainly for potential readers and if I put a negative review on a book, it can potentially damage the sales. I don't want that for an author. At the end of the day it's only my opinion and we authors are a sensitive bunch and I'm a damn picky reader.

  3. Stella, I think you've put that absolutely perfectly. I ranted a couple of times last month about indie authors misusing the review system - the way they will turn on negative reviews as being from sock puppets whilst it seems to be OK for them to get any number of friends to post a solitary 5-star review to their book, and the really nasty responses to reviewers that can end up doing more to damage an author's reputation than any number of negative reviews.

    But I think the points you make are the very best - any time you review another writer you know there will be some kind of ulterior motive, conscious or not. And that's not fair on the writer, on you, or most of all on the reader.

  4. Exactly, Dan.

    I think it's really better to be left to the 'pure' readers who don't have a book up to review, then, those are the ones, who often don't review as they're not sure of what to write.

    If it was for me, I'd get rid of the whole review system. Reading is down to taste and some 'reviewers' spoil the plot, some just write really nasty stuff, which is not right either. If you buy a book that's 'rubbish' in your eyes, after sampling it, it's your bad. Don't buy another one from that author, simples.

  5. I started reviewing books after my 2nd book came out. I've reviewed new Indie authors & big-time authors like J. Franzen, and do a classic every 4th or 5th book. If I read a new author book 2 or less stars, I email & don't post the review. As a new author, I dont think humiliation is helpful,And leave that to other reviewers. I do favor short, concise reviews to avoid embellishment and spoilers.

    I don't expect reviewers to buy my books, but I do expect them to finish them (they're novellas!). Posting a bad review admitting to not finishing is uncool.

    I think reading is the best training for a writer, and I agree reviews are subjective, which makes them important for flushing out your audience.

  6. But Carla,

    Honestly, I do see your point, on the other hand I find it's not all right to only post positive reviews. I mean you are a 'book reviewer', people send their books to you for an objective opinion. And I personally think you should post negative reviews, too. If Harper Collins sends out a book to an independend reviewer, they can get a really positive one and a really negative one. That's part of the job of being an author/publisher, and a reviewer of course.

    Nobody wants to hurt people , but if an author can't do his or her job properly, then it's their fault, not the reviewer's.

  7. Becoming published hasn't changed the way I handle reviewing books, I've discovered. If I really have soemthing to say I will review it. If I don't I won't. It's as simple as that. I am part of a writing group and we have had people go nuts over a negative review and beg us to go leave positive ones, and I first I did. But the more time went by the older it got (and it's only been six months. So now my opinion is, even if we're friends, wow me and I'll let the world know. If it's terrible I will attempt to contact you privately. Middle ground, you won't hear a peep. But that's just my two cents...

  8. I just had this dilemma over a short story that I read. I left a negative review, and then I wondered if I shouldn't have. I felt bad, even though I wasn't trying to be mean. I also kept thinking it might come back to haunt me. People can be very immature about that sort of thing, and I may have been a little too honest about my issues with the story. I tried to rationalize that there were only positive reviews, probably from her friends and family, and I was letting people know what they should actually expect. But I still think I may not write another like that. I felt like a traitor to my fellow writers for being hard on someone. So I understand your thoughts. I wish I had someone to verify whether or not I should bother or just skip it.

  9. Elisabeth, probably the best approach and exactly what I'm doing now.

    Elysiadawnielle: If you put your work out there and ask for reviews, you must be prepared to take the worst. Personally, I think all this 'every customer can review' is a total nuisance. Readers read and writers write, reviewers review. Leave it to those who know what they're doing. I've read so many spoilers in reviews that's unbelievable, it takes away the joy of reading, takes away the suspense.

    As for cringe-worthy works: well, so many authors think they've written the next bestseller, their friends and family think so, too, but then comes an actual customer and rips it apart. That should get them thinking instead of lashing out at the one honest person, or worse: getting back by doing the same. Hurt ego has no place in the business.

  10. I can totally understand your reasons for preferring not to review. I think most authors read a book and remember the bits that could do with improvement. It's good to offer support to other authors, especially indie authors, but in a lot of cases, we need to be a little restrained when offering criticism. You're a good editor, I should know!

    CJ xx

  11. I think my reviews were honest, but considerate. Still, some authors can't take it and will shoot back.

    Supporting is good, but it should be honest, meaning to support books you're read and really liked.
    And thank you for the compliment :-) Hope your book does well. xx