On Facebook the other day, a reader posed a question about what she should include in a book review. It not only generated a nice discussion but also got me thinking.
Anyone in the entertainment industry is subject to being reviewed, and reviews can be harsh, so whether you’re a writer, actor, painter or musician, it helps to have a thick skin. I love reading good reviews and feel wounded by bad ones. However, I’ve also learned to sift through them to see if there’s some truth in there that I can use.
This doesn’t apply to personal attacks, of course, or a rating based on something that doesn’t matter at all to the plot, characterization, or writing. As someone put it, you can’t fix stupid. I once got a one star review because the “reviewer” was outraged that my sleuth, a struggling florist, would own a 1960 Corvette convertible. Too bad this reader didn’t actually read the beginning of the book, where it was explained how Abby Knight happened to come by it. And it’s a cute anecdote, by the way. Of course Abby couldn’t have paid a fortune -- for any vehicle. Yet how many potential buyers were turned off by the one star she left based on an incorrect assumption?
A friend of mine recently was criticized in a review because the reviewer didn’t like her character Georgia. Sadly, no such character exists in that book, and yet based on that false comment, many people won’t buy it now.
But we’re always being urged by various sites to leave reviews, so let’s try to figure out what is fair and what is not.
Fair: A comment on the plot. Does it move along at a nice clip? Is it a page-turner? Does it have twists and turns? Is it suspenseful? Romantic? Scary? Funny? Does it do what it’s supposed to do?
Not fair: A personal attack on the writer. A comment based on a typographical error that somehow slipped past 3 different pairs of eyes. Yes, mistakes do happen.
Fair: A comment about the characters. Did you like the way they interacted? Played off each other? Antagonized their opponents? Showed their emotions, bravery, or humanness? Did they seem real? Would you want to know them?
Not fair: Picking on one of the characters (hopefully one who actually exists) about a look, pet, occupation, or possession to base the entire review on.
Fair: A comment about the ending. Did it wrap everything up nicely or leave you hanging – or wanting more? Why or why not?
Not fair: Giving away the ending.
I’ll end with this beautiful quote my friend Jenn MacKinlay passed along. It’s attributed to Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming...who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
On behalf of writers everywhere, I thank you for allowing us to be human and make mistakes. Have a wonderful week.
Now it’s your turn!
1. When you’re looking for a book, do you base your decision on book reviews?
2. When you read a review, what are the main things you want to know about the book?