Friday, August 14, 2015

Writing: Reviews

One of the first things writers are told--along with "avoid the passive voice" and "don't abruptly switch point of view"--is not to read reviews. When we talk with someone else, whether a neighbor or friend or co-worker or whomever, we put words out into the air. But when we write, those words might as well be chiseled in stone, because they're preserved on paper or electronically for anyone to read...and to judge.

I try not to read reviews, but at times I can't help myself. I received notification that my latest book, Fatal Trauma, had received some new reviews on Amazon, so naturally, I looked. Along the way, I saw a number of reviews from Amazon's Vine reviewers--these are people sent the book free of charge in exchange for an honest review. Some of them liked the book, some didn't, a few criticized the writing style. And I couldn't help wondering if they would have bought it in the first place, and if so, would the review have been different?

 Let me hasten to say that good reviews and comments about our writing stoke the fires of authors. But I have to admit that when I read a critical review, it sometimes gets me down.

What's your opinion about reviews? If you're a writer, do you read them? If you're a reader, do you leave them? Leave a comment. I promise not to get too depressed if you don't like this post.

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11 comments:

Patricia Bradley said...

Richard, I rarely read review unless my publicist sends one to me. And if I go to Amazon, I'm very careful not to even look at the reviews. :-) I do look at the ratings, though.

One reason I don't read them is that a good review might make me think I'm better than I am and a 1 or 2 star rating will make me feel bad, :-) Good question.

Suzie Waltner said...

As someone who loves to read, I review for several people and publishers. If I enjoy a book that I'm not obligated to review, I loved to leave a review as well. And if I'm reviewing a book that's not really my style or I didn't love, I try to point out what others may prefer. There are so many different options out there, I think it helps someone who is thinking about picking up a book if they see others opinions about the book.

On the flip side, as someone who is fairly new to writing, I don't read reviews of my own work. My main reason is because right now I'm not writing to make a living. I'm writing because I love it and if I can share a good, clean story with a handful of others, I'm happy with that.

Richard Mabry said...

Suzie, you point out something that you, Patricia, and I have in common--we try not to read our reviews. On the other hand, I'm delighted to see that you leave reviews on virtually every novel you read, even those that don't end up being your cup of tea.
My un-favorite (which I didn't mention in this post) is the review that has a spoiler in it. That's just unfair to both writer and potential reader.
Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

I am a reader who writes reviews. I love the offer of free books (what avid reader doesn't?), but I get into a quandary about how to write reviews on books I don't like. If I had bought a book and thought it boring or annoying, I wouldn't automatically write a bad review about it. I would just donate it or cancel it off my kindle (unless it is SO bad that I just can't keep silent!). But with a free book I am obligated to write a review, even if I REALLY don't like it. So I end up writing a carefully worded review that may or may not be entirely honest simply because I don't want to hurt the author (either in reputation or in sales). The review no longer expresses my true opinion, but is an innocuous blurb that effectively says nothing. Do you have any suggestions on what an author is really looking for in asking for reviews? If it is just for word of mouth sales, then I hate being obligated to write a lousy review, as that doesn't further the goal. If an author takes meaning out of reviews, then is he/she looking for helpful criticisms? I can do that better through email than a public forum. If the author will not look at the reviews anyway, then I guess my best option is to simply write sweet "it wasn't my cup of tea" reviews.

Richard Mabry said...

Anonymous (and I can see why you choose not to identify yourself)--Thanks for bringing up a subject that is a prickly one. Recently, my publisher arranged for my latest novel, Fatal Trauma, to be sent to Amazon "Vine" reviewers. They get free books, and in return are obligated to write a review--whether they like it, dislike it, or are indifferent. These are people who might not be the ones who'll buy the book in the first place, but since they're obligated, I've received most of my less-than-stellar reviews from them. And I think that's unfair on all fronts.

I realize how nice it is to get free books. But when the "reviewer" has no real choice of which ones he/she will receive, but has an obligation to review no matter what, the result is what we've both seen.
My only suggestion to you is to see if there's a way you can choose the free books you get for review. If not, then simply post a review that says in effect, "This was sent to me for review, but it's not the kind of book I like to read. Perhaps you do, but you'll have to make that decision on your own."

As for what authors want...As I've said in the past, I and most of my colleagues try to avoid reading reviews. But for some reason, the publishers and booksellers think reviews are important. The ones that count with me are ones that come to my email address (which is on every book) or even better, the friends who say, "I really liked your last book." No author is everyone's cup of tea, but it's nice to hear something nice every once in a while.

Whew! This was too long. Sorry. And thanks for your comment.

Martha A. said...

As a reviewer, I have learned to be careful of what books I agree to review. I have my own system as how I review books. I also have my own system as to how I decide to read and purchase books.

Honestly, over the last several years, I have bought and read more books because of the one and two star reviews than anything else. If a book inspired someone to that much passion to cut it down over issues that I want to read about, it piques my interest.

The one that is hard is the feeling of being "forced" to write a review. What if you couldn't get into the book? I have a couple that are that way. Yet, I feel bad for not reviewing them. If I reviewed them without finishing because I couldn't get into it, I feel that I would be gypping the author of a fair review. How do you like to see that handled?

Richard Mabry said...

Martha, it sounds as though you get to choose which books you purchase. That means you're under no obligation to review them, although as an author I'm always happy for an honest assessment of my books. I may not check reviews often, but if enough people say a particular thing about my writing, I certainly pay attention.
As for the books you just can't get into, I'd suggest you not try to review them at all, or if you can do so without assigning a star value or other rating, just honestly say they're not for you, and others will have to make up their own minds. Thanks for your comment (and, as an author, for reviewing the books you read).

LiteOfTheNite said...

Hi Richard,

I read, write, and review. :)

I read for leisure (when I have the time, LOL) and post reviews on books that strike me to do so. Sometimes I don't though. It's a matter of preference, I guess. I'm an author and understand the importance of reviews so I will drop one on Amazon or other places if the book is good...usually.

Professionally, I have a blog of which reviews are an element. The last week of each month, I feature one review (written from the reader perspective) on my site. The book is assigned a star rating (1-5). The review isn't sugarcoated and is my honest opinion.

I also post it to other sites such as Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, etc. Sometimes I even offer a giveaway of the book if the author wishes.

I wish I could give every book I read a five star but alas, that's not realistic. If the author keeps my interest, prevents me from flipping through the chapters, or ranting about something...the book will receive a four star. If not, I'll drop it to a three star, but will explain why. Less than that, I won't review it (unless it's slotted for my blog).
A five star? Those books are rare, but when I read them, I know it.

Most books I review receive a four star. Remember, I review as a reader NOT an author. I reign in my critical side and enjoy the STORY. I love to read. The only thing which may affect a review is the editing or writing, or lack thereof, and if it interferes with the reading process. If this happens, the score may drop, and the reasons will be mentioned in the review.

I believe reviews are important to other readers and the author. However, it should always be kept in mind (by both) that it's a subjective process. It's dependent on the personal preferences of the reader. One person's likes and dislikes may not be another's.

I review so that in one small way, I can give back to the writing community for all they have done for me.

Richard Mabry said...

Renee, thanks for a detailed and well-thought-out comment. I sometimes wish I could read as a reader, not also as an author, but it's tough for me. Glad you're able to do it.
On behalf of authors and readers alike, thanks for your honest reviews--for doing them at all, and for being open and (it would seem) accurate in your assessment.
And thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. As we say in Texas, "Don't be a stranger."

Gail Kittleson said...

Hi Richard,

You pose a challenging question and I enjoyed reading the other comments. Mine will be shorter, but meaningful, I hope.

I haven't reviewed a lot, but I'm always aware of FEELINGS…the author's and my own. I'm not sure if I'm reviewing as a writer or reader … could you explain the difference, though it may be obvious? I THINK it's as a reader, but then, I'd still like to know the parameters.

And so far, I've only read reviews of my memoir, so it's probably a different ballgame from fiction reviews.

Thanks.

Richard Mabry said...

Gail, Actually, I think you've hit on the difference: a reader's review doesn't always consider the author's feelings, while a review by a writer is often colored by either knowing the author will read it or by identifying with what the author may feel when reading it.
Thanks for dropping by and leaving your comment.