|Seagulls Talking About Reviews|
Until last year, when I became a published Indie author, I always considered reviews from the angle of a reader. I read a lot of books and some I consider so great that I want to talk about them. Those are the books I want to shout to the world, "Hey, you have to read this! This book is great, stupendous, glorious, outstanding, incredible, amazing, awesome!" You get the picture.
I wrote a fair number of those reviews on Amazon about books I loved and thought others would love too. I penned 5-Star Reviews for the ones I loved the most and 4-Star Reviews for those I enjoyed and felt them good enough to recommend to others. So for me, reviews were all about recommending a good/great book to other readers. It never dawned on me that reviews might be written for another purpose.
Now, as an Indie author, I'm hearing that reviews are really for constructive criticism to tell the author what's wrong with his or her book and how to make it into a better book. Huh? Did I hear that right? Now let's look at this from the author's point of view. Said author has spent one, or two, or more years writing a novel. Said author has put his/her whole heart and soul into that novel. Now that novel is published and out there for the reading public to read, savor and hopefully enjoy/love. But wait, a reviewer comes on the scene.
This reviewer may or may not be an author. That part doesn't really matter. But this reviewer wasn't part of that blood, sweat and tears process. This review says, "This book is a piece of crap and should be thrown in the garbage." Say what? I'm not making this up. I've seen so many reviews like this one that I've lost count.
I like to study things and analyze the whys and wherefores of something. So I've made it a point of studying reviews, hundreds of reviews, maybe into the thousands by now. I've studied reviews written on books by best selling authors published by the Big Six, books written by genre authors, books written by Indie authors. The reviews that say, "This book is a piece of crap..." run the gamut of all those categories of books.
Now we're going back to the constructive criticism part of reviews. Is the review that says, "This book is a piece of crap..." constructive criticism? Or is this just pure meanness being vented at some hapless author? This is what I'm trying to understand. If this is constructive criticism, is the author truly supposed to take the reviewer at his or her word and throw the book in the garbage?
Here's an example of 1 and 2-Star Reviews for a single book. One review says, "This book is so bad the author should never write another book as long as she lives." Another review says, "I was looking for a romantic comedy and this is anything but." Another says, "I would have liked the book but it didn't have enough dialogue." Another says, "Too much talk and not enough action." Another says, "Not enough sex." Another says, "Warning, explicit sex. Don't read." Now, if this is constructive criticism, what is this author supposed to do?
Assuming this author can pull the book off the market and make changes, what changes need to be made? Add more dialogue? Or less dialogue? Add more action? Or less action? Add more sex/romance? Or clean up the explicit sex?
In most cases, the book has gone through a publisher, either the Big Six or one of the zillions of smaller publishers out there. So the book can't be pulled off the shelves, rewritten and then republished. The result, these reviewers have virtually just killed this book. Most readers will now pass on this book, because obviously it has too many problems to be read by anyone.
If this author happens to be an Indie who self-pubbed, maybe the book can be pulled and rewritten and re-published. But to whose standards? Reviewer A, B, C, D or ? Which reviewer is really in the know and can tell that author exactly what needs to be done to improve that book? No matter how you look at it, this is a no win situation, because when the book is rewritten it's most likely going to garner another whole set of 1 and 2-Star Reviews.
Then there's the reviewer who wrote that 1-Star Review and said, "This book is so bad the author should never write another book as long as she lives." Does the author take that reviewer at his or her word and never write another book again? Sadly, some authors do just that. Authors are sensitive souls who put it all on the line when they offer a book to the reading public. Does the reading public, the reviewers, have the right to destroy that writer's career and break that writer's heart and soul? I don't think so.
Another side to all this, I've heard many reviewers say that all 5-Star Reviews are suspect because no book is perfect. That may or may not be true, but as a reviewer is it your job to find every flaw in a book and point it out to the world? Is that what reviewing is all about?
I can honestly say that I don't think I've ever read a single book that didn't have a misspelled word, a missing word, the wrong word, grammatical errors, a typo. Even with the innovation of spellcheck, errors get through. Even with editors and beta readers, errors get through. It's a fact of life. Writers are only human and so are the editors and beta readers. What I'm getting at is that people aren't perfect, so why should we expect the books they write to be perfect?
I think we need to back up here and determine the real purpose for writing a book review. This isn't like in college when we had to write a paper, literary criticism, of some classic. Reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes&Noble, etc. are not meant to be literary criticism. Unless I've got it all wrong, these reviews are to recommend or not recommend books to other readers. If you really loved a book, shouldn't that be a 5-Star review? If you only liked the book, shouldn't that be a 4-Star Review? If you read it, but you're not particularly crazy about it, shouldn't that be a 3-Star Review?
Personally, if I can't write a 4 or 5-Star Review on a book then I don't write a review. I don't believe it's my place to point out the flaws to another author. So I don't write 1, 2 or 3-Star Reviews. Like I said, that's a personal thing. When I write a 5-Star Review it's because I absolutely loved the book and think others will love it too. I'm not saying, "This book is perfect." We've already come to the agreement that no books are perfect, though actually I think I've read some perfect books through the years.
Personally, I'm a bit offended if someone would think that a 5-Star Review I happened to write on a book is suspect. If I say I loved a book and think you'll love it to, well, I mean just that. I'm not writing that review to make points, or please a friend, or trying to see how many 5-Star Reviews I can write. If I love a book, it's a 5-Star book. That's all there is to it. For me a 4-Star Review is a book I really enjoyed, but it didn't get into my "best of the best" books that I love. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the book. It just means that particular book didn't resonate in my soul, didn't have that extra "zing" that made me say, "Oh, wow!" A book that I write a 4-Star Review may be a 5-Star book for someone else. We all have different likes and dislikes.
I'd really like to know what other readers, reviewers, writers, authors think about reviews. Why do you write reviews? What is the purpose of those reviews? What are you hoping to achieve by writing those reviews? I hope you'll join this discussion.
I happen to love great reviews and not love the mean reviews, it's as simple as that. First off, I think it's wonderful that someone would a) buy one of my books, b) read one of my books, c) take the time out of their busy schedule to write a review about one of my books. I can't thank those readers/reviewers enough. You are wonderful, incredible, awesome people!
Now here's one of my pet peeves, and it happens to the best selling authors, the Indie authors and everyone in between. Why would anyone write a 1-Star Review about a book they've never bought or never read? Is this to just be mean? Is this to eliminate the competition? Is it because the reviewer got out of the wrong side of the bed in the morning or his/her toast was burned? What motivates a person to do that?
I can't tell you the number of 1-Star Reviews I've read that go something like this, "The book was so terrible I couldn't get past the first page." If that's the case, get a refund on the book, take it to the library or the used bookstore, give it to someone on the street, throw it in the garbage. Why in the world waste precious time writing about why you couldn't read past the first page?
I read a 1-Star Review this morning on book that was a best seller years back and has now been brought out as an ebook. This reviewer went on a tirade, about a thousand words in length, about why she couldn't read beyond the first page. To sum it up, she couldn't get past the first page because, a) the book was different from what she expected it to be and b) the book had religious elements and this reader didn't like religious books. All I can say is, read the free excerpt on a book before buying it. Most bookstores or online book distributors will take the book back and give a refund. This particular review was on the Amazon/Kindle version of a book. Amazon will take the ebook back and give a refund. It's not necessary to rant and rave about it.
I've bought many books that turned out to be different from what I thought they were going to be. I read them anyway and usually find the journey enjoyable. Sometimes I come across a book that just doesn't come together for me. Maybe it's too slow or too violent or it doesn't have that "zing" that I've mentioned before. I put the book back on the shelf and often give it a try later. Many a time I've picked up one of those books and found I loved it at the second try. I can only imagine that the first attempt I was in the wrong frame of mind to read that particular book. For those books, very few I might add, that just don't do it for me, I pass them on. I give them to a neighbor, a used bookstore, the library. I've never thrown a book in the garbage and never come across a book I thought should be thrown in the garbage. But remember, this is just me, this is just my personal opinion.
Thank you to all who have read this lengthy post. As you can probably tell, this is an issue I feel passionate about. I think it's incredible to have the privilege to be both a reader and a writer/author. This is a dream come true. I know it's a dream come true for countless others too. I can only wish all other writers/authors the very best in their dreams. It's certainly not my purpose in life to write reviews that destroy that dream. Just sayin'...
I hope you'll add your comments to this post. I truly feel this is something we can and should talk about. By the way, I'm just sure this is what those two seagulls were talking about the other day on Pensacola Beach.