Sunday, January 31, 2016

Reviews: How You're Doing It Wrong

TL:DR - You're not. 

The two easiest ways a book buyer can ensure their favourite author keeps writing are: 1. buy their books (not download from pirate sites) and 2. review their book. Authors, particularly indie authors, need reviews. That's a fact. Reviews are vital for some promotional companies and if an author doesn't have enough, they will likely never be able to take advantage of those promos.

Reviews also tell Amazon and iBooks and other booksellers, "Hey, this book is getting attention, you should promote it to other people." They help readers decide whether or not to buy a book. They can help legitimize a book (if someone is thinking of buying a book, human nature dictates they'll be more likely to buy one with 100 reviews over one with 2 or 3 reviews). In short, reviews are awesome.

With that said, I have seen a few people lately talking about reviews. This is natural when I have so many indie authors and awesome supporters on my friends list. Inevitably the talk often turns to things that reviewers shouldn't do, how not to review, or things that should be off limit to criticism. To me, this is dangerous. Why? Because in the current climate, with authors and readers/reviewers more accessible to each other than ever before, it causes tension. I know plenty of readers less likely to leave a review for fear of "doing it wrong." Here's the simple fact: Reviews are opinions. There is no "wrong" (except of course a personal attack against the author, but that's just basic human decency).

These "doing it wrong" posts often boil down to a couple of reasons people "shouldn't" review a book (or shouldn't drop a star from a review). Now, I can't speak for everyone, but if I'm on the fence about a book, I look at the bad reviews first. And if the reviews are, "This book stinks because of this personal opinion I have," and it's a personal opinion I don't share, I'll usually go ahead and grab it. (E.g. "This book stinks because the hero wears a pink tutu at one stage and I don't think the hero should ever wear a pink tutu" would probably have me rushing to buy the book. Why is the hero in a pink tutu? I want to know that story!)

So what are some of the reasons someone "shouldn't" review? I've listed some below, but it's by no means an extensive list of reasons I've heard/been told.

Personal Taste: 
The argument: You shouldn't review if you don't like the genre. (Why are you even reading the genre). Variation: If you don't like the tense/POV style/etc 
My counter-argument: How boring would like be if we all read the same genre constantly? If we didn't try to step out of our comfort zone once in a while, how would we find new books? New authors? New genres that we'd previously had prejudices against for whatever reason. I don't particularly enjoy spy dramas, and yet I loved Dan Brown's books (let the judging commence LOL).

If someone is given a book that their friend is raving about, let's say a paranormal romance, but the first person doesn't like paranormal romance there are a few ways it could go.
1. The new reader might read the book and love it regardless of the elements they don't like.
2. The new reader could discover a new genre they thought they didn't like but really do.
3. The new reader might read the book and think it's okay, but what might have been a 5 star read for a fan becomes a 3 star read for that reader.
4. The new reader might find the book reinforces everything they hate about the genre.

So if the new reader hates it, should they not review just because they don't like the genre? In my opinion, it's their choice. If they want to write a 1 star, scathing review spelling out all of the reasons they hate the genre and why that booked sucked out the butthole... they can and should. That sort of bad review isn't going to affect the sales of the author. Not really. I mean see above, that is my buying habit, and I know I'm not alone in that buying habit. If someone reads something outside of genre and doesn't feel comfortable reviewing it, then they shouldn't. Note: it's totally up to the reader to decide whether or not they feel like they should review.

The argument: Some authors can't afford an editor, so please don't down-rate books for bad grammar.
My counter-argument: Please do. Honestly, please, please do. I am a fussy reader. I don't want to work for my books, I like to sink into a book and just enjoy it from start to finish without having to try to sort out what the author is saying versus what the author meant to say. This is not to say typos won't sneak into the book. They will. Even traditionally published books get errors like that. I'm talking about constant incorrect word usage, constant pronoun confusion, shifting tense, head-hopping, These are all things that I want to know about. If people want to review and knock down a star for this, go for it. If they don't feel comfortable, they don't need to. If they want to contact the author direct instead, then that's a personal choice too.

Didn't finish the book: 
The argument: You can't review a book you haven't finished. 
My counter-argument: I get it. This is a tough one. And highly controversial. In fact, it's probably one of the most hotly debated ones. How do you know you don't like a book if you haven't read the whole thing? Maybe the author turns it all around in the last 10% of the book and that 10% is awesome and the best thing ever. But if you have to fight 90%, are you really going to enjoy the book overall? Can even the best author turn it around that much? If you don't feel comfortable rating a book you didn't read all the way through, don't. But if you want to tell everyone why you couldn't finish...well, that's fine too.

So, how should someone review? 
However they want to. That's how. Even if they don't feel comfortable reviewing at all, that is their right as a book reader.

It's awesome if you review. You keep doing your thing, and do it however the hell you like. Out of courtesy to other readers it's better to avoid (or at least flag) spoilers and say why you (dis)liked the book rather than just repeating the blurb, but I'm not going to say that they are must do's. There is no "must do" when it comes to reviews. Review however you want, with whatever rating system works for you, for whatever reason you choose.

The most important thing is to have fun reading, because reading is awesome.

Tell me, what do you think? Do you usually leave reviews? Is there anything you personally don't like to leave reviews for?


  1. Very wise words and they struck me that as a blogger I have to review books a lot in fact more than I have ever done, and I admit I hate writing reviews as I'm not great at them but I do them because I know how important that they are to an author. I'm all about the reading of a book but putting my thoughts down on paper is hard. I am unique though because I don't tend to read the books that trend and are the popular choice of the more well known indie authors I like reading the lesser known authors and so this is why I make sure I read and review even though the reviewing part is my own personal bane!

    1. I'm the same with trending books. There are a couple that grabbed me, but the trend of MC romances and the like just don't do it for me. And I suck at writing reviews too. I'd rather write a 100k book. As soon as I have to express my opinion, I turn into a babbling idiot.

      As an author, I value honest reviews whether they're one line or fifty.

  2. Very true! I think reviewers should use as many or as little stars as they feel comfortable with. I know as a reader, if I look to a reviewer as to what to read next, I want to know they don't think every book is "the best thing ever" but have different opinions about each book.
    Reviewers should rate DNF-5 star if they want to.

    And as long as it doesn't attack the author, I think every review is good. It all helps. One or two bad reviews won't change anything.
    Heck, There is a best seller on amazon with an average between a 3 and 4 star rating. Those low reviews haven't effect those sales one bit!

    1. Yep. If I know a reviewer reviews across the gambit of stars, I actually tend to value their opinion a little higher, I know that's probably weird, but there you have it.

  3. This is a hard subject to approach, as a reader who's gone from not reviewing books at all (2014) to reviewing every single 1 I read now... it's hard to know what to write sometimes. But I have a few rules for myself, never spoil a book for other readers & just be honest (I mean that's what most authors ask for). I also have another big rule... if the grammer or spelling or consistancy in a book is all over the place, I usually try not to write that in, in a bad way, I then pm or email the author.

    Hell I suppose I could be rude & to the point in a review but, it doesn't take any longer to actually still be polite & then let an author know privately that they need to fix a few bits in their baby.

    As for the did not finish books... I'm still unsure how to go about them.

    1. It's hard to know what to say sometimes. Ultimately, you've just got to do what's right for you.

  4. Amen. I read what I want and I review what I read. Whether ai bought it or it was gifted or it was an ARC, I'd be honest how it made me feel. That's why I usually ask those who request to have their books reviewed to check my reviews first if they really want me to read and review their work.

    1. Exactly. To be honest, I'm a little cautious about reviewing too harshly because my author name is my reviewer name and I worry about backlash, but I try because I value the lower stars as much as the higher ones, both as a reader and author.

  5. i review every book i read. I just started doing this in 2015 when i started tracking how many books i was reading and I learned how much reviews helped authors. I do stop and think how I am wording my reviews as I write them because i want anyone who would read my review to know my feelings on this book. I will include things like this book does end in a cliff hanger (because there are folks who don't like to read cliff hangers) or I might say this is part of a series that each book is a stand alone that works within a set of books. I love to read and have become just as hooked on reviewing as well. It is hard to give low reviews and there are times when it simply must be done. When I do have to I will do so with a well written explanation.

  6. Very well said!

    I have been asked several times by authors to review books that I normally wouldn't read. I read them and reviewed them on their merit instead of my enjoyment. I state that I don't really care for this genre so the review will be more technical. I talk about how well it was written-spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. I mention if the story flows smoothly, if the characters were interesting, etc. I write everything but how I felt about the book. That way the author gets a review and I have been honest and hopefully helpful. In all cases, the books were excellent even though I didn't really care for them.

    I only mention spelling, grammar errors when they are everywhere. I don't care if the author couldn't afford an editor, they should be able to write better than every paragraph having multiple errors.

    I review DNFs. There has to be a very good reason for me to not finish a book. If it was that bad, the author isn't going to be able to redeem the book(IMO) and I feel that is a relevant review.

    If there is something about the book that bothers me, I state that it is my opinion. Unless it isn't an opinion--I read a mystery stand-alone book(not in a series) where none of the mysteries were solved. I also state the good things about the book first. I never attack an author for ANY reason--even if I think the book deserves zero stars.

    I always read the bad reviews first. Most of the time they tell me more about the book than the good ones. If they are like the ones you mentioned--just bashing--I figure the book is good and the trolls are out!!

  7. This has been super helpful. I just started reviewing books, 10 reviews so far. I couldn't figure out if I was supposed to put a little bit about what the book was about first and then what I thought or just what I thought. I would never want to attack an author that sounds so mean.

    1. Thank you for starting to review! Seriously, it is amazing how much impact a few words can have. There is the impact on the author to get a gold shiny if you loved the book. There is the impact on other readers maybe picking it up based on your recommendation. And for authors there is the ability to start planning promotions around the books based on review numbers.

      I think The biggest thing to remember (and this is just in my opinion) is to think about what you would want to know about the book if you hadn't already read it. What would you want to tell your friend about the book if they asked you "so what did you think of that book." People are likely to have an idea what the book is about from the blurb anyway, so the best thing is to go with your impression of the book unless you want to include a summary to get things straight in your own head first. Don't worry if you get stumped for words, I always do too LOL Some of my reviews end up incoherent and rambling, like this one hehehe