Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Review Survey

What I'm reading: When We Touch, by Shannon Drake; Lying With Strangers, by James Grippando

What I'm writing: Chapter 21

First -- anyone in Central Florida -- tomorrow's the panel discussion & book signing at Urban Think! Bookstore. Check my Sept. 11th post for more info.

I've been thinking about book reviews lately. This isn't about dealing with good or bad reviews, but more with the ways different review sites approach reviewing. I'm inviting everyone to share a comment and add to the discussion.

I'm curious, and full of questions. What do you look for when you read an on-line review? Do you rely on certain sites over others? Why? If a review is filled with typos and grammatical errors, does that bother you? Most of these on-line sites rely on readers, not writers, and isn't it about pleasing the reader, whether or not they can express themselves? Or should their reviews be edited for "quality" before being posted?

I've noticed that some reviewers spend 90% of the review summarizing the story with a line or two of their own feelings at the end. Others paint a more specific picture with things that they liked or where things fell apart for them. Some sites won't print anything other than favorable reviews.

But what is favorable? Many sites have a ranking system, usually in the 1-5 range. Often, however, I've read numerous reviews and could find nothing in them that indicated why the reviewer chose to give one book a "3" or "4" and another a "5". To read the review without the rank, I'd be hard-pressed to tell which the reviewer liked better, and why. These, of course are great for authors, because they can snag a positive statement for their promotion and nobody need know the overall score was less than stellar.

And what about sites that don't rank reviews at all? Is that a better system?

I'd love your opinions here.


Anita Birt said...

I cringe when I read a review when the sentence structure is bad and there are grammatical errors. I also think a great long summary (?) of the book is not particularly useful. Give me the gist of the book and the thoughts of the reviewer.

Tilly Greene said...

You know what bothers me, when the review gives it all away. I want to read the book not have it told to me before I pick it up. I'm old school - if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all :-)

Koko Brown said...

I depend more on the ranking (i.e, Fallen Angels Angel system) than anything else because like you mentioned, many reviewers simply summarize the book and I don't want that. That spoils the book for me.

I wish more book reviewers took a note from movie reviewers who really know how to trump up or bash a movie without giving a summary.

Charlee Compo said...

I am proud of every review I get in which the reviewer gives an honest, unbiased review of the book. I find out what worked and what didn't with the story.

You can always tell when the reviewer has an agenda or is looking to insult the author. That isn't a review. That's a vendetta and it shows.

I have had reviews where the reviewer gave away the entire plot of the book...including the surprise ending. That isn't a book review. That's a book report but many reviewers don't know the difference.

I like the rating system of Fallen Angels Reviews, too.

Terry said...

I agree, I think a ranking system can be helpful. However, I'm still hard-pressed at times to tell from the actual review why a book got a 4 instead of a 5, for example, when there's not a single word in the review that indicates what kept the 4 from being a 5, or what elevated the book to a 5 for the reviewer.

Allie Boniface said...

I agree with the comment about not being able to tell what keeps a 4 from a 5 and likewise. Though I know reveiws are written by readers, I also sort of take a step back if I see a review filled with grammatical errors. I probably shouldn't, but there it is. I most favor reviews that are specific and thoughtful in nature, without over-the-top exuberant praise. You know, like a million exclamation points but nothing other than "I loved it!!!!" in the review itself.

LASR Administration said...

We lost a couple of reviewers at The Long and the Short of It because we asked them to include more opinion than summary... and they were annoyed with the request. But, I absolutely agree -- if I want to read a summary, I'll read the back of the book. I want to know what a reviewer thinks about it.

Also, we do try to edit for grammar, spelling and punctuation before they're posted. I'm sure we miss some, but I agree -- poorly written reviews are a turn off as well.

I hope we're meeting the expectations of the folks who stop by!

Elizabeth Owen said...

As a first-time published author, I'm grateful to anyone who takes the time to read my book and leave a comment about it. Good or bad, I must accept that this is one person's evaluation and hopefully I can learn from the bad and relish the good.
Elizabeth Owen
Angel of Trevi
The Wild Rose Press

Charlee Compo said...

Reviews are subjective but you can list me among those who have a hard time distinquishing between a 4 and a 5 rating. What really gets me, though, is a 4/5 rating. What the heck is that? Is it a four out of five or a 4.5? At one review website it is one and at another it's the other.

Give me a whole number, please. Them halfways don't really say much.

anny cook said...

I don't read reviews. I read the ones for my book and send off a thank you note to the reviewer, but I don't read others unless I'm specifically interested in that book for a particular reason. The reviews very seldom come close to matching my own thoughts about the book--any book. I DO appreciate the reviewer taking time to read my books, though.

K. Z. Snow said...

I've discussed and blogged about this, too. As an author, I'm always enormously grateful for any recognition...especially if it's favorable. :-) (Well, duh!) But as a reader looking for some guidance, I've found that most reviews aren't terribly informative.

It seems only a handful of sites go into thoughtful, critical detail--e.g., Smart Bitches, Mrs. Giggles, AAR, Dear Author, and a couple more. However, they don't generally tackle e-books, and they clearly have their prejudices.

I'm in agreement with the rest of you about things like shoddy language skills (makes me cringe, too, Anita--hugely!), too much summary, overly generalized praise that's spread around way too often and without sufficient basis, and a seeming gravitation toward favorite authors.

I used to be an English teacher, so I know from experience that not every person's output is worthy of an A or B (or 5/4). Were e-book reviewers more discriminating as well as literate, their opinions would have more validity.

A review site that gives "high marks" across the board, or reviewers who don't give clear explanations of the rationale behind their ratings, just can't be trusted to steer readers in any kind of direction.

Heather Hiestand said...

I have a difficult time reading a review when there aren't complete sentences and such. In defense of the mostly summary review, if a reviewer is trying to be nice it can be hard to say much about a book they didn't enjoy, and also, many e-books come to a reviewer without a summary so you don't know what the back cover copy even is when you write the review.

jswriter@earthlink.net said...

vtmdI kinda like the idea of reviews that tell you enough about the plot to get you interested, but not too much to spoil it. Ratings systems depend so much on the mood of the reviewer that maybe just a general opinion would serve. Lots of pros and cons to this provocative question. Jean

Liddy Midnight said...

I have a very different perspective on reviews than most. Back when I reviewed for Compuserve, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was doing and why.

Every book has some merit. Some editor somewhere thought it had enough merit to contract and publish it. (I'll leave self-published works aside. They are another animal entirely.)

Every book has its audience, no matter how small.

The reviewer's job, IMHO, is to help that audience find that book.

Ratings? Pfft. Of no use to me as a reader.

Sometimes as readers we want a good action yarn. Sometimes we want a tear-jerker. Sometimes we want a nice piece of mental chewing gum.

I don't want a reviewer to scorn my choices by tearing a lovely piece of mental chewing gum apart. I just want her to let me know, in the nicest and least judgmental way possible, a book is a piece of mental chewing gum. I'll reserve it for when I'm in that mood.

Writing this kind of review is an art. It's also hard work. Striking a balance between being rude about something you don't personally like yet getting enough of the tone/topic/quality into the review that readers without an interest will steer clear but those who appreciate it will look closer is nothing to be sneezed at.

I don't care a fig about the reviewer's opinion. I don't care if she thought the hero was too beta. I don't care if she thought the plot resolution was lame.

I want to know if the hero is beta, or alpha, or even omega. I want to know if the breathless action plot takes twists and turns. Hell, I want to know if there even is an action plot. LOL

The one thing I do want to know is if the book is written competently. Typos and grammar glitches pull me right out of the page. Even mental chewing gum should be easy to read. (Hmm...perhaps I should say MCG especially should be easy to read. When I'm in the mood for mental chewing gum, I don't want to have to work at it.) However, usually I can discern that from an excerpt or leafing through the book in the store.

And you're absolutely right about the review itself being well-written. If this person can't manage to string articles, verbs, adjectives and nouns into the right order to form a proper sentence, why should I give them the time of day? Aren't review sites supposed to have editors, too? I see no reason to waste my time with any site that can't or won't weed them out.

Teri Thackston said...

I appreciate anyone who takes the time to write a comment on my book, even an unfavorable one, but I do wish there was more "comment" than "book summary". I also like the ranking system, but wish it was explained better by each site.