Monday, March 30, 2015

HOW DO YOU REVIEW?

by Kate Collins

 
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?

60 comments:

Anonymous said...

I rarely read reviews so will go with the authors/series I already know or with the blurb on the back. I read Dru's reviews but have frequently already bought the books. I do try books that are personally recommended if I know that the person tends to like the same thing I do. I have one friend to whom I have given many recommendations, and the only series she did not like was Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon books but that's because the friend's husband's name is Zach as was Anna's first husband. She said it was just too close to home.

I want to know the setting; the main characters; if it has paranormal or psychological elements, how much; and how much gore as I don't read only cozies. I hated the only Robert Ludlum book I tried because there was so much gratuitous killing and yet love watching "Midsomer Murders" DVDs which has almost as much killing sometimes but with lots of wry British humor. Cordella

Lynda Turpin said...

I don't often use reviews to decide if I want to read a book, but if I do, I read multiple reviews and look to see if a substantial number of reviewers like or dislike the same thing about the book. I ignore negative comments from a single reviewer, and I get irritated with negative reviews that are not done in a courteous manner meant to give helpful feedback. I remember a situation where someone gave one star reviews to ANY book that another reviewer had given 5 stars to. It didn't matter to her how good or bad the book was. And she actually had the nerve to admit that was the reason for her rating (a lot of readers reported her and her reviews were eventually removed).

Personally, I only write reviews if I like a book. My thinking is that just because I don't care for a book, that doesn't mean it's bad - it just means it's not my personal taste.

Book Dragon said...

I agree with most of what Lynda said (Thanks Lynda!). I'm a book blogger and I did review a book I couldn't finish. I thought I was respectful in explaining what I liked about the book and why I couldn't finish it. The author was kind to me in her comments.

When I review a book, I am usually long winded, typing up as I read, and trying very hard to tell you why I'm excited about the book without giving the whole story up. (good example review of Repairing Rainbows)

I am so appreciative of the work an author puts in each book, even the ones I don't read, that for me to trash it makes me the bad guy. Except for Twilight and 50 Shades ~shudder~ and most of that is from improper research!

Kate Collins said...

That's my philosophy, too, Lynda. If I like it, I will review it. If I don't, then I keep my mouth -- pen? -- shut. Just because I don't doesn't mean someone else can't love it.

Kate Collins said...

I like your philosophy! It's fair and kind and yet honest. We need more like you.

Gram said...

I do read Dru's Musings and Escape with Dollycas. They are usually right on target. Even if they like a book the review will usually tell me if I will also like the book or if it really isn't for me.

Ramona said...

I have been writing quick daily reviews of books by/about women as a blog project. I developed a formula out of necessity, but boy do I now appreciate the work of book bloggers and reviewers! Those who do it well have a gift.

For myself, as a reader, I look for something in the review that reveals more than the plot. Is the book about an issue, is it based on or inspired by true events, does the author have a connection, etc.

mary kennedy said...

Kate, this is a fabulous post!! I hope it goes wide so everyone can benefit from it. You really nailed it, loved reading your thoughts on books and the art of reviewing them.

Robert Giddings said...

When reviewing, I try to avoid the negative. I generally start with a short over view, move to what I enjoyed, then what I did not like I try to phrase as possible improvements. I'm not writing an in depth critique, and the fact the book is in print means others more qualified than I think it is worth reading. The review should simply help the reader narrow down choices.

Linda Cowan said...

I have written a few reviews on sites. I mostly mention why I did or did not like a book.

I have criticized spelling and grammar when there are a lot of errors. Those are usually self-published or independent ebooks that are cheap or free.

Most often I just do a star rating.

I look at reviews before buying a book, looking at some of the high and low reviews. Sometimes I look at other reviews that those people have done.

Thanks for your tips, Kate.

Annette N said...

I generally do not do a review if it is going to be about a book I do not like at all. I try to describe things I do admire. I like vanilla, someone else prefers chocolate, does not mean chocolate is not good, simply not my taste.

Interestingly, when I check previous reviews, I have found on one particular site that at times ugly reviews are the only thing ever credited to that reader. And at times I also see that the reviewer only likes books publised by certain publishers. I am sure that is all coincidence.

I do look at reviews, but that is not all that will influence me. I admire authors, so I certainly would not want to be disrespectful of their efforts.

Diane LaBrie Leverson said...

I really don't read the reviews. What some may not like, I might. I know what I will like and I tend to buy by authors I know. I do like to read a brief synopsis of the story. I can pretty well judge if I will like the book or not. I must say, I almost always like a book. Maybe I'm too easy to please but all you Cozy Chicks, keep writing the way you are an I'll be happy.

Chris said...

I usually read reviews for a series or an author that is new to me. I try to read enough of the reviews so that I can make an informed decision about reading the book. Until recently, I didn't review books. I'm trying to do more of that since I now realize how important reviews are to authors. I don't review or rate a book I didn't finish or didn't like. I have seen many reviews on B&N that are 1 or 2 stars because a reader was upset that another reviewer told too much of the story. That is so unfair to the author!

Stash Empress said...

I generally only write reviews on books I really like, so obviously they're going to be 5 star reviews. The exception is when (rarely) a book takes a nasty or offensive twist that wasn't expected based on the blurb. In that case I think future readers should be forewarned -- because if I'd known in advance I wouldn't have bought the book myself.

Aurian said...

I do write reviews about every book I read (in fact, I should be writing now as I am so very much behind!). If I DNF a book, I don't write a review, unless it really hits a nerve why I dislike it so and I need to vent. But, those I only post on my blog, not on review sites.
I don't read reviews on Amazon or Goodreads or such, I only read reviews on blogs I follow, people whom I know share my taste. I want to know what the book is about, but no real spoilers please. I try to tease people with some minor details and make them want to read the book.
I don't have much time to try and discover new authors as staying catched up with all those authors whose books I love, is impossible already.

Kaye said...

I do read some reviews at Goodreads and Amazon but hone in on the low star rating to see what their objection to the book is. I ignore reviews that just say " this was the worst book I ever read". That tells me nothing. I want to know WHY you didn't like it or WHY you did like it.

This is what I try to do while reviewing books on my blog, I try to convey why I liked the book or why I didn't. Some of my criteria are:

Did it grab my attention right away or was it a slow starter?
Did it keep my attention or did it lag half way through? Was the basic premise of the plot line plausible for the genre? I know in some cozies, the premise is so unbelievable that it just annoys me.

Of course there can be mistakes BUT numerous repeated grammatical errors tells me that the author could use a refresher course or the book needs a much better editor.. What really drives me nuts is the incorrect usage of pronouns, especially after a preposition and the character says for/from/to so and so and I. No, no, no! It is so and so and ME.

I try to leave a reader with the desire to read the book and decide for themselves.

Margaret said...

I have never been a fan of reviews, be it restaurants, movies, books and so on. That is not to say I have never read a review or considered what a reviewer said. But, I know from experience that not every taste is the same and many things I have heard bad reviews of, I have loved. And, things that people RAVE about, I thought were awful.
I choose what to watch, listen to, read, see or eat by what I like and sometimes I find out (the hard way) that the review was right; but that is just fine with me. I am not afraid of learning from my own mistakes.
I was on a steering committee for a local (and at the time small and up and coming) club; we were discussing looking for authors to speak. I felt since we were up and coming we should find new and eager authors. I was told "but what if their work isn't good, we don't want to look like we are endorsing a bad writer." My response was sorry I didn't realize this committees' opinion was the only valid one. I am no longer a member of that club.
Poor reviews are not much different from unsolicited or non constructive criticism; I always choose to consider the source and usually the source is no one whose oppinion I value.

Rachelle21 said...

I look for cozy mystery somewhere in the review as they are what I am reading and if there is an animal on the cover, esp a cat, I might want to read the book. I even will read reviews about some non-fiction books.

I do have some favorite blogs and may read their reviews even if the book is something I might not normally consider.

Kate Collins said...

Those are good suggestions. Mine always have a current theme: child abduction, animal abuse, rescue animals, etc. Noting that in a review might help make a decision.

Kate Collins said...

Well put, Robert. It's a guide of sorts.

Kate Collins said...

Thanks for adding your tips, Linda. I forgot about the grammatical issues of self-pubbed books. That is a huge annoyance for me.

Kate Collins said...

I like your thinking, Annette. Good analogy with the vanilla and chocolate. Any mention of chocolate gets my attention. LOL

Kate Collins said...

We aim to please, Diane. And we know we can't please everyone. Thank you for being a loyal Cozy Chick fan!

Kate Collins said...

Exactly, Chris! I wish reviewers would remember that this is the author's career and passion s/he is reviewing. We like critiques. Our editors critique us all the time, but it's to be helpful, to make the book stronger, not to hurt us. Why anyone would give a low rating to hurt another reviewer is beyond belief.

Kate Collins said...

Good point! I know as a reader I would appreciate it. I once bought a book based on good reviews and cover quotes. In the first page, the protagonist hurls kittens against a wall to kill them, one by one. I was sickened and never read anything by that author again!

Kate Collins said...

You said it well, Aurian.

Kate Collins said...

Excellent ideas, Kaye. Those are things I look for, too. Or is it me? Just kidding.

Kate Collins said...

I agree. I've gone to some movies that received high ratings and walked out halfway through. I've put down books for the same reason. I've also seen movies that didn't make much money that were excellent. To each his/her own!

Kate Collins said...

I've read books I probably would never have picked up simply because my book club decided on it. And I've discovered some really wonderful stories and authors that way. I tend to want to read light humorous books, which is why I write them!

Kate Collins said...

I hope people do take time to read all the comments, too. We've got excellent suggestions here. Thanks, Mary.

Duffy Brown said...

What a terrific blog, Kate and its great hearing what the reviews and readers have to say.
I always tell readers to write a review as if you were telling your BFF about it but if you give away a plot etc to mark it spoiler alert.

Tarri said...

I usually review everything I read on Amazon, Goodreads, and B&N; however, if there are already tons of reviews, I may not. I don't think I've ever given a one star review, and rarely would I give a two star, because if I hate the book that much I figure it's time to give up that author.

Five star reviews means I absolutely loved the book, except on Amazon where there is no "really liked it". If I am waffling between a four and five star review, the amount I paid for the book is a consideration. I'm all about good value, so a high four might just migrate to a five if the book is free or less than a dollar.

Four star review are books that I really like, held my interest, entertained me, made be think, or taught me something. Not all at once, of course, but that's my criteria.

Three star reviews are books that I could take or leave.

Two stars mean that I was bored silly and/or had trouble finishing. Also books with horrific subject matter that isn't clear before I started the book. Books where the personality of the main character changes from likeable to someone I wouldn't want to know. Another thing that will make me give a two or three review is unlikely plots or solutions.

I don't belong to a library, so I have to buy my books. If I don't think it's worth the money I paid, it would show in my review. That may not be fair, but value is important.

Tarri said...

P.S. I never give away the plot, because I figure I'm writing a review, not a book report.

Airieanne said...

Negative reviews do not deter me from reading a book. I have a poor opinion of anyone who would post a negative review. Telling me "spoiler alert" is appreciated, so I can avoid reading the review. If I don't like a book enough to give it 4-5 stars, I won't write the review. (I probably didn't finish reading it if I didn't like it, so a review would be amiss).

emilia.m said...

now you made me curious how Abby came to have that Corvette :D It will be hard for me to get to the #1 book, but I will do my best :D

and love the topic!
as to the negatives - they can be constructive, on the one condition: if the reader actually read the book and is honest about the things she/he writes...
But even then - there is something like personal opinion, which everyone is entitled too, of course, just that it not always makes a whole lot of sense...

AND I really feel for those authors, who had written a book, that had been totally misunderstood... :(

emilia.m said...

oh and when I write about a book I did not like very much? I still find something good about it. Because in my whole life, honestly, I haven't met a book that would be 100% bad :)

Dru said...

I don't read reviews of books I'm planning to read. I read what I like and I try to post a short review because I know it will help spread the word on the author's work. I know some people may not like the same books that I like but that is okay.

What I don't like is when I see a 4-5 stars on a book and the comment is "a review is forthcoming." How can you rate a book when you haven't even read it?

I actually prefer not to give out rating because in reality, most of the books I read, I like.

Lynn Delage said...

I have begun to review books lately. I appreciate this article and am printing it out as a guide for the future as I am not sure what should go into a review. I don't always read reviews unless I am unsure of the book. I recently was looking at a book that was offered for free. I get a lot of free books as I am on a limited income and cannot afford to buy many books so I save my money for my very favorite authors (like you). Anyway, I read 5 reviews and all 5 of them were very, very disparaging of this book. The author was reportedly a best-selling author (I had not heard of him but that is not unusual. I rarely read best-sellers) and they were commenting on how poorly written the book was and how surprised they were. I decided I would not get the book if 5 people who had read him before were so disparaging of the story. I don't always go by reviews. I bought a book one time because reviewers were so praising of it, calling it a fun-filled read. I found the book so depressing I couldn't believe the difference from what I read and what they claimed to be reviewing. I feel the same way about movie reviews. If the movie/book interests me I read/watch it regardless of the reviews.

Annette said...

I like books that are character driven. The main character show show some growth from book to book in a series. That is one of the things I like about your Flower Shop series. Abby has evolved into a wonderfully complicated character. Marrying Abby and Marco was a brilliant step. It is true to life. I get bored with series where the main character is still trying to decide which man is for her between two suitors, no need to mention which series.
Setting is also important to me. I love to read books set in places I have visited or places I hope to visit someday.

Annette said...

I have noticed that the majority of one star reviews are written by people who usually pick out one negative thing about the plot, character, setting, politics etc and harp on that one thing rather than the entire book. I actually find some one star reviews comical because usually the person writing the review doesn't have a clue about the book.
I don't post a review if I did not like the book, with one exception. I gave a book #18 in a series a one star review because the main character was still trying to figure out things she dwelled on way back in the very beginning of the series. The main character was very stale by book #18.

Katreader said...

I never base what I read (or watch) on reviews. I know what I like and I don't care what anyone else says. Reviews can make me mad-especially stupid poor reviews, super especially if they're about books I like! So I tend not to read them, though I am drawn to read some of those 1 star reviews-like a crash site you just have to see.

Consequently, I have a hard time writing reviews. But I do write them, as I know how important they are to authors.

Katreader said...

Curious about your dislike of "a review is forthcoming." I totally take that comment another way. I think I've done it once. On Goodreads I give a star reading as soon as I finish a book, but I may not write my review for a few (or more than a few) days. Sometimes I'll say "Review coming soon." Usually I don't say anything and just post the review once written.

I agree that you can't rate a book you haven't read. Yikes if people are actually doing that!

Stash Empress said...

I just want to add a comment about "spoilers" that some authors put out (inadvertently) -- I was in middle of reading a first book by an author & in their newsletter was a contest that referred you to a short excerpt of the second book on their website. So I went to the site & read the excerpt.. and discovered the protagonist now had two love interests (very common, though I don't like it, too distracting from the story) -- anyway -- one of them was a character that was supposedly murdered in the first book - - which I was currently in middle of! Well now I knew that this character is obviously alive & well in book #2, so that kind of killed the rest of the first book for me! So authors PLEASE -- yes, we love excerpts -- but please choose carefully & wisely so you don't spoil anything for people who have not yet read (or finished!) all the previous books!

Kay Bennett said...

I do review books quite often. In the past I would just drop a few sentences saying I enjoyed the book and who might like it. And gave star ratings. Now I do more in depth reviews. I do not like giving away the story in the review and really do not care for them when the reviewer is telling the whole story in short form. I try to give some points that I find outstanding and information about the characters. I also have a very hard time writing a review for a book that I would give a bad rating for. I try not to give less than 3 stars and I feel badly when I do that. I mean it takes so much courage and guts and heart to write a novel. How can I degrade that. There have been books I either could not finish or just did not like. Those I have tried to find the things I liked best while still pointing out why the book was not right for ME.
I generally choose books from a series or ones that an author I love recommends.
This is a wonderful post. Thanks for talking about it!!

Kate Collins said...

Well put, Duffy!

Kate Collins said...

Tarri, what about Cozy Chicks' mysteries that cost $7.99? Does that affect your review? Just wondering.

Kate Collins said...

I'm glad you feel that way about negative reviews. I'm assuming you mean if there are just a few. If a book gets ALL negative reviews, that would be a different story, right?

Kate Collins said...

Me, too, Emilia.As a reader, I try to be fair. As a writer, if someone doesn't like my book, it helps to understand the rationale. We always hope people will explain their ratings professionally and not in a hurtful way.

Kate Collins said...

Yes! Exactly. Fair and balanced is the way to go.

Kate Collins said...

I didn't know that was being done, Dru! That's just not right.

Kate Collins said...

I share your feelings, Lynn. Well put. And thanks for being a fan, btw.

Kate Collins said...

Thank you, Annette. I like watching Abby grow and change, too, as well as Marco. It's what normal people do and I always want them to be normal and believable. I appreciate your comments about that.

Kate Collins said...

Just as in a good movie, the main character should always be moving forward, not staying stuck. Great point.

Kate Collins said...

Because many people do decide whether to buy on reviews, we are very dependent on them. I really appreciate you and others who will leave positive reviews. This is part of our modern society now. Think back 15 years. Who would've thought we'd be reading reviews on coffee, bras, toothbrushes . . .

Kate Collins said...

I'm not sure how independently published writers choose their excerpts, but the industry standard is to take the first scene of the book. You bring up an excellent point, however. I'm not sure how to change that policy.

Kate Collins said...

I like what you said about the book not being right for YOU. It may be right for someone else, so if you give your reasons, s/he can judge for him/herself. Great point.

Tarri said...

When I said cost matters, mostly I mean that if the book costs 99 cents (Nook and Kindle) or $1.99, that might make me more apt to review more favorably. At $7.99 for a paperback that only takes an evening to read, I'm afraid I have to be more selective in the series I read. My mom loves your series too, so the book gets read twice, before I donate it to the hospital guild.

Also, I don't think of $7.99 as a large expenditure. When I say "if I don't think it's worth the money I paid", I'm talking about a book or audiobook that costs $20 or more.

Tarri said...

Sometimes I finish a book, give it the stars that I think it deserves, but don't have time to immediately write a review. I try to come back and add the verbiage at a later time, because I don't pay much attention to a five star review with no review.

ceblain said...

I can see that anything that I may comment on is something already said in other comments. But I would like to add that it seems that negative reviews do not always mean that they are legitimate reviews from reading a particular book, but meant to just hurt an author's credibility for some reason or another. To me, I think it is very important to give decent praise for a book as this author spent many many hours with research and in some cases, years writing a book or a series, and developing this story and the characters, and why should I, the reviewer, tear down all this hard word that someone else has done. Not everyone agrees about everything as we all know too well, but to purposely try to make someone's efforts seem inconsequential is almost like bullying to me. Not everyone agrees and why does one reviewer think that he or she can convince everyone else that he or she is right about a book with a nasty review. I have read a lot of books in my time, and I would say maybe 1% of them were not ones that I would want to read again, not because someone had not tried hard enough, but mostly because the book was not my kind of book. There may be one book a year that I don't finish for one reason or another; I may start it, put it away for awhile, and then try it again, and if at the second time or third time reading it, and I still feel the same non interest, then I don't finish or I skim through it, and I just won't review it. It could have been my take on the book, not necessarily that it was a bad book in terms of writing technique, story or characters. So if I don't feel that a book is a four star or five star book, I give it a lot of thought about leaving anything less. Once I gave a three star rating to a writer and wrote him a letter explaining how sorry I was, but after having someone else also read the book, not knowing my feelings, I realized that I was more or less on track with a three star or less rating for many reasons. Other than that one time, I give four or five star reviews or none at all, as I do not believe in taking someone down just because of my personal preference in reading. I make up my own mind on what I read, no reviews ever sway me, unless everyone of them would happen to be a one star I suppose, which has never happened. I have re read books too to make sure that I have successfully understood what the author was trying to get across in his or her message if there was one, or to get all the facts straight as I was loving the book so much that I was rushing while reading it to find out the next exciting thing that was going to happen. I give credit where credit is due and that is quite easy to do with all the great cozy writers we have writing the wonderful books that they do.. Let's hope that the fair readers will ignore all the negative reviews and still read the book and make their own decision about it; and I bet in most cases it will be a far superior review to those who thrive on picking apart a novel for something totally unrelated to the story itself as many have mentioned. I am sure that negative reviews make the authors very upset, but just stop and think of these one star reviewers as people who most likely could never write a page of anything that could be sold never mind writing a whole book. It is a way to bully and torment just for their personal pleasure; don't let them have that chance to hurt you when you know how many other great reviews you have compared to this bad one. .

CALarmer said...

1. I must confess at first I look to see HOW MANY reviews a book gets, rather than the content of the review. As a fellow writer, I know how hard it is to get readers to stop and write a review. (That's why it is frustrating when they do write something irrelevantly mean, like one reviewer who dissed one book because a character said something harsh about dogs. It was a character's opinion, not MINE - I adore dogs, but it may have hurt sales). You take the good with the bad!

If I love an author I'll often ignore bad reviews.

2. A good review tells me what to expect - is it a fun, quick read? Long and fulfilling? Dull or gruelling? If it's part of a series, is it as good as previous ones? Better? What are the characters and plot like. If it's mystery - will I guess whodunit too quickly? That can be a bit of a turn off unless they also say, 'but it's still worth a read'!