Stories that Matter

Do You Think About The Author?

I know many of you who review books also write them, so you probably don’t need to read this post. But I have a question for you.

As a reviewer, do you ever stop to ask yourself this, “How will my words directly impact this author?”

I don’t write a ton of reviews. I will post on GoodReads on a pretty regular basis, but that’s usually if I’ve really enjoyed a book, or (yes) if I know the author. How does that work? Well, just as I asked a bunch of people to read my book, Yesterday’s Tomorrow, when it first came out, I get similar requests from other authors. Usually I enjoy the books and have no problem finding great things to say. But I’m always conscious of how my words are going to affect that author. Yes, even those authors I don’t know personally.

I remember the days after my book released. I would sit in fear and trembling, work up the courage to hit the link for Amazon and check if any new reviews had come in. I’d already seen the ones from those wonderful people who read advanced copies and gave endorsements…so I did have a certain sense of security that I hadn’t written 375 pages of complete drivel, but you know, there’s always that little voice in the back of your head that starts those nasty rumors…I was terrified that one day I’d wake up to find several really bad reviews plastered all over the internet for the world to see.

Fortunately that hasn’t happened. Not that it could never happen. It just hasn’t. Yet. But I’ve seen posts on various writing groups from anguished authors who have been getting those bad reviews. They’re crushed. Some of these reviewers seem almost vindictive in their words. And I just shake my head and wonder, what’s that about? Why is it necessary to be so cruel? So you didn’t like the book. Big deal. Say SOMETHING nice about it or don’t review it. (We talked about this here, and there were great comments).

I’m in the process of judging several entries for a writing contest. I’ve been on the other side of this. I know what it feels like to get those low scores and not so encouraging remarks. I’m really trying hard to be encouraging in the comments I’m making, even when I can’t give a high score. I sure don’t want to be responsible for making an aspiring author throw their laptop out the window and go back to working at Wendy’s

Do you know what I’m getting at?

Just as we writers carefully craft each sentence, each scene, every bit of dialogue that goes into our manuscripts, so should you, the reviewer, carefully craft the words you say about the finished product. If you are going to take the time to write a review, be responsible. Professional. And above all, do no harm. A little melodramatic? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Some will scoff and say pish-posh, reviews don’t matter, nobody reads them anyway.

I disagree. They do matter. They matter to the author. 

A good review is validation. It’s confirmation that all the hard work, frustration, tears and sleepless nights have been worth it. When I read a great review, I think, “Yeah. They get me.” And that’s an amazing feeling. A bad review cuts deep into the soul, and even though you smile and shrug it off, you know you’re not going to forget those words in a hurry.

Maybe you are one of those sensitive reviewers who do think about us authors before you start hitting keys and sending your thoughts into cyber-space.If so, I applaud you and thank you for a job well done. Maybe you haven’t really looked at it this way before. May I encourage you to do so? Your authors would really appreciate it. And you’ll make a lot of friends in the process. And who doesn’t need friends?

How about you? Do you think about the author before you send out that review?

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26 Comments

  1. Shawn Kuhn aka MrSuzyQ on November 21, 2011 at 9:13 am

    We should be careful when we review a book. A reviewer can in a matter of minutes trash up to years of hard work.

    What if are you asked to review a book that is poorly edited, or has a predictable plot, or has shallow or unbelievable characters? How do you handle it?

    Also do you trust a book that ONLY gets good reviews? Almost every book, no matter how widely acclaimed gets a bad review.

  2. Cathy West on November 21, 2011 at 9:28 am

    “Also do you trust a book that ONLY gets good reviews?” An interesting question, Shawn! You’re right, I think every book out there will receive its share of ‘bad’ reviews at some point. I’m just lucky not have been on the receiving end of one yet. NO that is not me saying go write me one!! HA. I did get a sort of bad review on GoodReads, so maybe I’ll count that. The reviewer still liked the story, she just complained that the characters weren’t “Christian” enough in her estimation. If I read a book that I really can’t even finish, I won’t review it. But then again, I am not a professional reviewer. If I HAD to write a review on something I really didn’t like, I would try very hard to be tactful and honest.

  3. Anne Payne on November 21, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Absolutely thinking about the author should be taken into consideration. Their work is a part of them! We shouldn’t go around slamming the book but be gracious if we don’t like it. Not everyone likes the same thing. I tend to think it’s subjective and try to be gracious.

    I actually agonize sometimes for hours over the right words so I won’t sound offensive but I really haven’t read many books that I couldn’t give a fairly good review for. I’m very choosy about the books I pick for review, too, so that might make a difference. If I think I won’t be able to give a good review, I don’t choose the book.

    I did get slammed by another reviewer for one line at the end of a review I wrote, and I had given the book 4 stars! My review was reviewed negatively 🙂

    • Cathy West on November 21, 2011 at 12:12 pm

      Slammed by another reviewer? Gracious!! What is this, some kind of sport? LOL! Oh dear. I suppose the bottom line is we can never make everybody happy! I just don’t ever want to be rude, or be the subject of rudeness. That’s another matter entirely.

  4. Tammy Doherty on November 21, 2011 at 10:48 am

    I never wrote reviews before being published so I came into this “biased.” I did get a “bad” review – and it’s bad in every sense. You talk about judging and giving encouraging remarks. I think if you feel so strongly about a book being “yuck” that you just HAVE to post a review, you owe it to both the author and the readers of the review to explain rationally why you did not like the book. To point out where the author could improve next time. My bad review starts off with something like “a friend lent me this book”…yet the title of the review is “a waste of money.” Hmm, how can it have wasted this person’s $ if they didn’t buy it? It goes on to say “I don’t usually read this kind of book” and then complains about it being an example of this genre. Frankly, this person’s review is a waste of my time and emotion, a waste of any other reader’s time, and a waste of space on Amazon!

    I’m considering writing a negative review for a nonfiction book. But I don’t want to slam the authors. I simply want to say what the book is and what it isn’t (it’s more about the author’s qualifications to write on the subject rather than about the subject itself). That way, perspective new readers/buyers will have a clearer picture of the book without having to buy it first. I would never post a review saying a book was drivel or that I simply hated it. I have read books that I hated – one I finished and hated the end, one I couldn’t even get more than 1/3 of the way through. One book I judged in a contest and still wonder how it got published, but I won’t post a bad review of it or tell people who the author is (except a close friend who reads that genre – told her to avoid that book but added that others by that author may be better).

    On the flipside, Cathy, I haven’t read YESTERDAY’S TOMORROW specifically because it’s about the Vietnam Era. I grew up watching coffins come off airplanes every night during supper. Leaves a bitter taste – I’m sure you know what I mean. Everyone has one genre or time period they just can’t read or watch (movie/TV). This is mine. I tell people about your wonderful reviews. I recommend the novel to friends and online. Maybe I can’t get past my phobic stigma but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a wonderful novel. And maybe one day I will get over it and read the book – and then I’ll post a glowing review (with the only slam being against me for not reading it sooner!).

    • Cathy West on November 21, 2011 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Tammy! Ugh. I think you got ‘attacked’ by one of those people who seem to make a habit of writing the same kind of review for anyone who writes for the Christian market. I don’t get it, but I’ve read so many of them now that I can only assume it gives them some kind of satisfaction to believe they are ‘slamming’ faith-based fiction. I hate seeing them and always feel badly for the author even though I know they will just try to shrug it off. 🙂
      I appreciate your thoughts on my book. I know you’re not alone feeling that way. It’s good to see younger people reading it though, and hearing that they didn’t know much about the era or the war and that now they are aware of what went on. I knew there were going to be people who wouldn’t want to read it, but it’s really a love story and a book about hope, healing and restoration. I have had some say they didn’t want to read it, but did, and felt it was a step toward their own reconciliation of that time, so there you go. But no worries if you can’t bring yourself to read it!! 🙂

      • Tammy Doherty on November 21, 2011 at 2:26 pm

        One day I will read it 🙂 In the meantime, I’m so glad you got it published. Younger people need to know more about that time – if we don’t learn history we are destined to repeat it. Having presented in the format of a love story with a message of hope is a positive presentation. It then has the ability to inspire the reader to learn more.

        Just yesterday my husband was watching “We Were Soldiers” – I cry every time at the Western Union telegram scenes. I was just a kid back then – impressionable but not old enough to really understand. I choke up at the end of “Saving Private Ryan” too, but I still watch WWII movies & read books set in that era. So there’s hope one day I will be able to read your novel!

        Keep up the good work – I hear 2nd novels are tougher because you have to be a writer and a marketing genius!

  5. Linda on November 21, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Yes, I do think about the authors, as it’s their work that I am reviewing. If I have a negative, I couch it with positives as much as possible. But I do want to be honest in my review. In fact, I currently have a book with so many errors. But I plan to write the person who sent me the book to see if it is an ARC. The book had a lot of great action and suspense and character development I don’t want to ruin her career with words of bad grammar,especially if it is an ARC.

    • Cathy West on November 21, 2011 at 12:11 pm

      Linda, that is very thoughtful. I’m happy to say that so far my experience with reviewers has only been positive and I’m glad to know people like you who do take great care with your words!

  6. Carrie Chwierut (@CarriesSocial) on November 21, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    I love this Cathy. And really, the old saying “If you don’t have anything nice to say…” should apply to EVERYTHING in life.

  7. Sharon A Lavy on November 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    I do think about the author. And I know that what we like as readers is subjective. So I don’t review every book I read. It is as simple as that.

  8. Koala Bear Writer on November 21, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    I do think about the author, especially if I know them. Even if I don’t know them, I find it hard to give a negative review, because I know how much work went into the book (or have a taste of it, at least, as a writer). At the same time, I feel that I have a duty to my readers to be honest about my opinion of the book… Maybe it’s best to take the approach that we take in writing classes at UVic: things we like first, then things we didn’t like. It needs to be balanced. And, of course, other readers may completely disagree with my review – what appeals to one reader may not appeal to another reader.

    • Tammy Doherty on November 21, 2011 at 2:01 pm

      I’ve also heard something like for every negative comment give 2 or 3 positive comments. I think that was for judging, but it seems like a great idea for reviews as well. I like your suggestion of things we like first – that’s what will hit the reader of a review with most impact.

  9. Anne Payne on November 21, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I think a lot of times people forget that they can express an opinion without being rude or hateful. Maybe because they aren’t addressing the person face to face, and they don’t really “know” them, they feel like they can say what they want.

    Off topic: Personally, I don’t like the star system, and I don’t use it on my blog anymore. It would be okay at retail sites and places like Goodreads IF they all had the exact same system. But they don’t.

  10. Ada Brownell on November 21, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    I think about the author and the reader, and mostly write reviews now as an influencer. But I wrote book reviews in the 1980s for The Denver Post’s Religion News Weekly and was instructed to only review books for which I could say something positive.
    I discovered unless I completely disagree with something major–such as false doctrine or blantant unpunished sin, I can find something positive to say about most of the books I read. But I also choose the types of books I like. Some novels have great description or a writing voice that makes me take notice. Others have so much suspense I’m reading into the night. I love and sympathize with many of the outstanding characters and it seems I’ve met new friends.
    Even editors and publishers disgree about what makes a great book. That’s why some of the best selling and most well-written books were rejected dozens of time only to make the editors wish they’d taken a second look.
    Reviews are always subjective. They are one person’s opinion.

    • Cathy West on November 21, 2011 at 10:33 pm

      This is so true, Ada. Even with The Hunger Games series, which I am reading now – despite all the raves over these books, I personally have issues with the moral premise of the stories. However, if I write a review, I can’t say they are bad books. They’re not. The writing is excellent and you definitely want to keep turning pages. It’s just not a particularly appealing premise, for me anyway.

  11. Casey on November 21, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    I recently was asked to give a check list of what I thought made the best book reviews and one of the first things I said, is to be kind to the author. I have been so surprised time and time again when an author emails me to thank me for the kind review on Amazon. They also see the bad reviews!

    I try to make it my policy to not mention the authors in 97% of the reviews I write. Because once the author and book enter the marketplace, one should NOT depend on the other. Yes, the author did or didn’t do a good job on the book, but I won’t say how much they needed to learn how to write better or how I would be happier if the author did XYZ. I just choose to leave them out of it. Yes, it’s about their book, but not about them.

    That’s my take and it breaks my heart when I have to write a critical review. But it does happen and such is life.

    You write thought provocking posts, Cathy!

    • Cathy West on November 21, 2011 at 10:35 pm

      Thanks Casey, I am glad you chimed in because I know you do a lot of reviews. Sometimes you just have to be honest, even when you know it’s gonna smart some. 🙂

  12. Yvonne Pat Wright on November 22, 2011 at 7:06 am

    When all is said and done, a good reviewer is able to be honest, tactful and helpful to both the author and the reader. There are a hundred and one ways to make a point and it boils down to the reviewer’s ethos. If the person is inclined to be kind and thoughtful then they will say what they have to in that way. But if they are inclined to be rude, harsh, very critical, this will come out even in they are writing positive comments. Conclusion, reviewers get an opportunity to display their own writing to the world and are themselves judged accordingly.

  13. Tammy Doherty on November 22, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Good point, Yvonne! I especially like what you say about the reviewers themselves being judged accordingly. There are just nasty people out there looking to slam anything Christian and the reviews they write come off as exactly that – irrational rants against God with nothing to do with the book they are supposedly reviewing.

    That said, it would be nice if Amazon and B&N (and others) included some of the tips mentioned in these comments in their “how to write a review” blurbs. I could be wrong, especially since it’s been a long time since I looked at any of those how-to’s, but they only give word length suggestions. Goodreads asks you to indicate if you are including spoilers, which is nice, but do they have a help article about writing review? Not that any of those nasty people will read the help or follow the guidelines even if they did. However, some very nice, well-meaning people say mean things without intending to do so. Or don’t put the praise first so their review looks negative.

    • Cathy West on November 22, 2011 at 1:47 pm

      Tammy I think you’re right, if somebody wants to be mean, they’re just going to go ahead and do it. I found a rather nasty review of my book on Amazon UK of all places. This person obviously did not like the story AT ALL and felt they had wasted their money. I think for us authors, this is where it gets tricky. Obviously, as we have all agreed, not everyone has the same tastes. I have no problem with someone disliking my book. I do have a problem when that person chooses to go on and on about it in a public forum. What purpose does this serve? If a book has a ton of five and four star reviews, and one or two people bash it, who will you most likely listen to? Not the bashers. To me, this is just mean-spirited. I wish there was a way for us to remove these reviews, but I don’t think there is. And I’ve been told the worst thing you can do is respond, that’s what they want. So, smile, it’s just one person’s opinion!

      • Tammy Doherty on November 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm

        Yeah, smile…it drives them crazy!

        I don’t usually read reviews before buying a book. And I only listen when friends recommend a book, then I weigh what I “know” they like against what I like. I have friends that love racey romance. I don’t. So when they recommend a book, I just say thank you. Reviews are only useful to the extent you trust the reviewer. That said, these “ranting” type negative reviews are clearly untrustworthy and readers probably don’t pay much attention to them. Good news for authors!

        I do think if you really, really don’t like a book for a valid reason – if it’s in a genre you typically like – it’s okay to post a review stating your dislike. But in a nice way. As it’s been pointed out on this blog. Say, “I didn’t like this book because___” and give a concrete reason, then go on to say, “but that doesn’t mean others won’t like it.” Of course, say what’s good about the book first.

        The negative review I’m thinking of posting would go something like, “This is a book about why the authors are qualified to write on this subject (ghosts). It’s good if you want to know about the how and why of paranormal investigation. If you are looking for a book chock full of ghost stories, this isn’t for you.” I’m saying I didn’t like the book but I’m also pointing out the strengths of the book. This is the kind of review that I feel would be helpful. And, yes, I’m posting this example in hopes you all will tell me if it comes out sounding mean 🙂

  14. ausjenny on November 24, 2011 at 8:52 am

    I think of the author when writing a review. I dont put negetive reviews partly cos if I couldn’t get into the book I dont finish reading it so dont review. The one time I didn’t finish a book for a blog tour it was the because of some language in the book which is fine for Americans but slang or cussing here in Australia because of this I could not read the book although I had really wanted to read it. I felt I needed to alert my Aussie readers of my blog about the language explaining to the other readers that it wouldn’t offend americans etc. But I didn’t post anything bad about the author.
    When I review I try to stick to nothing in the book that happens past the first chapter or so. Like one book I read had a slavery issue but it wasn’t mentioned on the blurb or the first chapters but it became an important gem in the book both for the content and the parallels with the hero. But It was a gem the author put in the book for readers to discover so although it really impacted me I didnt mention it at all. I just made comments on some issues that were covered etc. I personally hate reviews that give to much away or give some of these special gems an author puts in a book that are unexpected. I know I read a book once after seeing the reviews and one issue was wanting a child. The review indicated by the end they got there wish so I was waiting for this to happen and it didn’t happen.

  15. ausjenny on November 24, 2011 at 9:00 am

    On the negative reviews especially on amazon it seems alot are for books they got for free and they complain cos its a Christian book and not there cup of tea or they just complain. I wonder why someone would continue to read a book they so obviously disliked, especially when they didn’t pay for it. If I was reading a book that I would be giving a 1 star rating I wouldn’t get past the first chapter or two before stopping it. Even with free books I mostly choose books I would read. for example I dont read heavy suspense so I wont download a free book of that genre. I think some people just want to complain and take pride in tearing others down. I think it also shows there insecurity that they feel they need to belittle or attack another person.

  16. careann on November 30, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    I don’t base my own reading choices on reviews. In fact, I rarely read reviews. Too many of them have either praised or criticized excessively and left me feeling distrustful. And because I know how personal reading choices can be, I don’t very often review a book I’ve read. I just don’t think I’m cut out to be a review! LOL!

  17. careann on November 30, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    Oops … that would be “cut out to be a reviewER.”

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