Monday, January 16, 2012

Responsible Reviewing

What I'm reading: Of Noble Birth, by Brenda Novak (Nook); Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue, by Stephanie Laurens (bike).

Side note: Last week, all my "likes" in the sidebar disappeared. I have no clue as to why. But it looks so sad, with nobody liking my blog. If you're so inclined, a click would be much appreciated.


There was some discussion about reviews triggered by offering books for free on the new Kindle Select Program. Being able to get books for free at Amazon was one of the "selling points" for signing up with the new program, as it generates more exposure.

Note: for a myriad reasons, I did NOT opt to join this program, but that's a subject for another post, another day.

One complaint voiced in the discussion was that people were reading books out of their genre, and then giving poor reviews because they didn't like the genre. To me, this is NOT a valid reason for a poor review.

Since I joined a local book club, I've been reading books outside my genres of choice. This month's selection is totally outside my preferred reading. It's literary fiction, and I prefer my books to have an actual plot (or at least one I can follow). Where I can care about the characters. Where I want to know what happens next. Not so in this book. But although I'll give it a low score when the book club meets, because the criteria there is, "Did you like it?" I would never consider giving it a negative review on a review site. To me, a review isn't "I liked the book" as much as it is, "This is WHY I liked the book" or "These are the plusses and minuses of this book."


The book club choice is well-written, by a Big Name best-selling author. I can't find fault with it given the parameters of the genre. The fact that I don't like it really shouldn't enter into the equation when evaluating the writing. The "rules" are different in literary fiction.

Likewise, I also downloaded a free book in the romantic suspense genre. I wasn't paying a lot of attention to the blurb. If I had, I might have noticed it was labeled "inspirational" and probably would have given it a pass. Although closer to my genres of choice, I'm not big on religion in books. However, I would think it highly improper to post a review and say the Christian themes made it a bad book.

I think a reviewer owes it to the readers (and the author) to be fair and objective. If you don't like the theme of a book, say so, although again, why did you choose to read it in the first place? Be fair to those who might be using your review to decide whether they want to read a book. They may love Christian themes. Or literary fiction.

I received a less than stellar review recently, but the reviewer was honest and fair about the reasons the book didn't work for her/him, including the fact that there was too much time spent (in the reviewer's opinion) on the developing relationships between the characters. This way, someone else can look at the review and say, "But I DO like relationships in mystery books, so I'll give this a try." And, as more people (I hope) post reviews, readers will be able to compare and make their own choices.

And then I found a totally new use for reader reviews at the e-book stores. I noticed I'd received 14 reviews for one of my books at B&N. Now, I don't usually get more than 5 reviews for any of my titles, so I went to read them. For whatever reason, a group of people were using the review page to post private conversations about sick cats. (Not that there were even cats in the book in question!) Granted, they were posting 5 stars before leaving their comments, but that was a new one to me. Reviews as Instant Messaging?

Tomorrow my guest, Sue Star, will be sharing some self-defense tips. Well worth reading!


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31 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Yes, I've seen these kinds of reader reviews out there. And ones where the reader was upset with the slow delivery time of the book to their house (and gave the book a 1 star review). My favorite reviews are when the book bloggers review on the bookselling sites. They're almost always very thoughtful and fair.

Claire Hennessy said...

Wise thoughts. I know I've seen reviews which lament particular elements of a book that have made me MORE likely to buy it, because those are things that appeal. The more specific a review can be, the more helpful it is, whether it's positive or negative.

Ellis Vidler said...

Good points, Terry and Elizabeth. I've also seen bad reviews that made me wonder if we'd read the same book. I read the reviews that seem thoughtful and reasonable and take opinions into consideration, but it's the Look Inside that usually sells me--or not.

Steven J Pemberton said...

Agreed... I probably wouldn't leave a bad review for a book where I wasn't familiar with the genre. I read a steampunk romance a while ago, which I didn't like - the hero spent too much time falling in love with the heroine when he was supposed to be saving the kingdom. I gave it 2 out of 5 stars, but didn't leave a review, as I thought I probably wasn't in the target audience.

I did leave a bad review recently on a book whose genre I do know - a self-published one where the author should've used an editor but didn't.

I wonder if the people talking about sick cats were spammers trying to build up a positive reputation - post lots of non-spam comments so that the system thinks they're good guys, and then start posting reviews like "This is good, but this other book [which happens to be mine, except I'm using another name] is better." Or maybe they're the Illuminati, and "sick cats" is their code for Greece and Spain...

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - excellent points to think about when reviewing a book. Thoughtful and Fair.

Claire - they do say that 1 and 2 star reviews do help sell books (although as the author, they're still going to sting!)

Ellis - I agree. And I've seen reviews where it's clear the reviewer hadn't read the book given all the factual errors in the review.

Steve - I'm always torn about leaving bad reviews, but a 2 star review with no explanation doesn't help anyone. However, pointing out the book is poorly crafted, either from a story or technical perspective can help other readers decide. As for the sick cats ... who knows?

Jennifer Jakes said...

Terry-
This is so timely (for me at least). I stumbled on the same kind of thing - 2 women, friends obviously, didn't like my book b/c it has too much sex. (Well,- It's EROTIC! so yeah, it has lots of sex) Anyway, they went on instant messaging to visit and talk about everyday things. There were 40+ "comments" to that review which was them catching up on their lives!!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Reviews seem to be terribly subjective even with major reviewers. One of our Five Star/Gale authors received a starred review from one of the influential review pubs, a total attack on her novel from another. So it's not just ordinary readers who write bad reviews for the wrong reasons.

Ruby Johnson said...

As a buyer, I do value the reviews, although one reviewer gives every author 5 stars and I immediately discount what is said by her because every book gets high marks. However, the same goes for loads of 2 ratings complaining about the costs of the e-book through kindle or nook. On the other hand, a reader learns not to purchase a certain author's books, because they may have been burned one to many times.

Terry Odell said...

Jennifer, I wonder why the book sites don't have someone to take down that kind of thing. B&N has a check box, but it doesn't seem to do any good.

Jacqueline - opinions will vary. As long as a reviewer justifies theirs, so readers can make their own decisions, that's fine. My post wasn't restricted to reader reviews. Even some of the "pro" sites often give book reports, not reviews.

Ruby - I think other readers catch on to that "all five stars" kind of reviewer. There are those who don't like to post negative reviews, but you can be constructive without being hurtful, and giving your reasons for whatever ranking you give helps everyone.

C.C. Harrison said...

LOL! Regarding those private conversations on review sites - I hear you!! I saw a private conversation between onsite posters that personally trashed the REVIEWER of the good review, not the book.

Robert L Pace said...

As a book reviewer I rarely review anything that scored less than four stars for me for these reasons: 1. It's hard enough to find an audience as a writer without me flaming their work. 2. If I wasn't enthusiastic about the book I find it difficult to be jazzed about reviewing same. 3. My blog readers tell me they are looking for what I think is good, not a laundry list of losers.
I read across lots of genres and will say this-irrespective of my personal likes and dislikes-I can still appreciate good writing while recognizing junk (in any form) when it comes my way.

Terry Odell said...

CC - you'd think people would grow up, wouldn't you?

Robert you bring up the reason why I don't review books. As an author, I don't need opening that can of worms--people who will judge MY books by the reviews I give others. Or who will feel slighted if I can't get to theirs. And I agree, there's never a reason to flame anyone's work.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Right, Terry, reviewing a book can sometimes be an opening volley in a reviewing skirmish - even if that wasn't what you intended. I almost always look for reviewers other reviews to see how their bias runs. If this is the only book they've reviewed (whether they gave it five stars or one), I disregard it completely.

Robert L Pace said...

Terry, to your point, reviewing books sort of happened by accident. I also review restaurants, post some of my micro-short stories and ponder the issues of the day. One thing I never do is 'promise' someone I will review their book. I buy most of the books I consider, and disclose when I receive a gratis copy for review (usually from a publisher). I do post my reviews on Amazon and BN, but a good review can be pulled down for no apparent reason, as recently happened on BN when they took down my review of a book for 'inappropriate content'. It was a ridiculous decision, most likely made by an algorithm. Posting reviews still seems to have some element of the wild west on the web.

Terry Odell said...

Carolyn, I also check other reviews by the reviewer.

Robert - I have no clue how those sites decide what's appropriate and what isn't. I'm glad that B&N finally deleted the sick cat thread, even though it leaves me with few reviews. But at least the 2 that are there are about the book!

J.L. Murphey said...

I recently received a review that was based on a corrupted download. It wasn't even bargain basement. I agree with you. And using a review page as a chat session??? Wowie.

Gloria said...

Terry, I recently read a review on Amazon when putting up a [rare] five star review for the same book. The only other review was one star, and if one clicked on the link and read the review, it was given one star because it was of a book previously published under another title, and Amazon did not indicate that on its link for the book. But if one didn't actually read the 'review,' and only saw that the book had garnered a single review, with one star, would have been dismayed and possibly not have checked it out any further than that.

At least that would have been my reaction - and it was [needless to say as we gave it five stars] a great book!

Fairday Morrow said...

What an interesting post. I think that it is hard to review a book that is out of our comfort zone. People tend to give the book bad marks because they don't like the genre. I like to read books that I wouldn't normally pick- but I may not always write a review about them.

~Jess
http://thesecretdmsfilesoffairdaymorrow.blogspot.com/

Diane Williams Shaw said...

I agree completely. To add, one thing that has recently really bothered me about reviews is the ability of the reviewer to write coherently. I "friended" a review site recently and read one review from one person I agreed with. Then, the next few reviews have been written so poorly, I couldn't get to the meat of the review because the writing made me want to shield my eyes. The spelling was bad, the grammar wrong, and the review didnt seem to make sense. I wondered if she was just reading anything she was asked to, and reviewing them all semi positively just to get her own webpage out there?
I understand, its a private person, on her own personal webpage, doing her own thing...but cant she have a friend read her work before she posts it? And please dont review something you havent read, or comment positively about something you didnt actually enjoy. I dont like it when people are unnecessarily mean or rude, but I want the reviews to be realistic and thoughtful and meaningful as well. Short and simple is fine, if it is honest!

LRHunter said...

I don't review as many books as I feel that I should. Authors beg for reviews, and I'd love to oblige them. Especially today, when so many are self-publishing, self-editing, and everything.

I almost always post 4 or 5 star reviews, and just don't review books that were bad. Only if a book is both bad and in some way reprehensible will I post a bad review. The worst review I've ever given was for a book that was not only poorly written but that was angrily hateful toward a particular religious group. That book--and that author--deserved all the lead I could throw. Sad to say, that bit of hate mongering hit the best-seller list, and that author is selling like hotcakes (or hate cakes) to this day, despite her shortcomings in the plot and characterization departments.

And unless I'm mad about a book, I don't post reviews of books written by friends. An honest 4 or 5 star review, yes, I'll do that. But I couldn't give a great review to a bad book, even for a friend.

Wish me luck posting this comment. It's been a frustrating day, blog-hopping-wise.

carl brookins said...

Hmm. Terry, Im of two, or maybe three,minds about this blog and the appended comments. Some of my concern relates to the language you and others use. Nobody I know who is responsible, posts negative reviews. Critical, balanced reviews are another matter. A good review should tell what the plot is, who the main characters are, briefly describe the setting and the context and the take-away. (What do you, reviewer) believe readers should take from the book. Quality of writing should be mentioned. Finally, I think an overall advisory which can be highly personal is often useful, as long as it is labeled as such.

Terry Odell said...

JL - yes, those aren't reviews. They shouldn't be considered by other readers, but those 'stars' still get averaged into the overall "value" of the book.

Gloria - I agree. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on how many stars, not the reviews themselves.

Fairday - I would try (assuming I absolutely HAD to review a book that wasn't my genre) to eliminate the parts that didn't match my tastes, and evaluate the overall story and writing, with a clear disclaimer. I judge a lot of contests, and I always make it clear that I didn't mark down things that didn't work for me as a reader, but had nothing to do with the quality of the work.

LR - they do say that authors shouldn't object to flaming reviews simply because they're often a trigger for sales. (But I still don't like them!)

Carl - I think that was supposed to be the point of this blog. That reviewers owe it to the authors of the books and to the readers who will judge a book based on the review, to be responsible. I know your reviews are always fair, but if you browse sites like Amazon and B&N, you'll see that a lot of people aren't (and let's not go into the sick cat conversations!)

jenny milchman said...

I think there's a difference between a reader review, a reader opinion...and a reader rant.

Thanks for the post, Terry.

Jemi Fraser said...

That is weird! I don't do many reviews - and I only do reviews on books I've enjoyed. Even then, I focus on what I liked, not what didn't work for me. The world has enough negative in it without me adding to it :)

Terry Odell said...

Jenny - very true. Although since anyone can post their opinions on Amazon & B&N, you get quite a "mix" of what people consider to be a review.

Jemi - I agree. Another reason I don't do reviews -- after so many years with my CPs, we are at the point where we stress the negative so that we can fix things; we assume everything else is good

Anne R. Allen said...

This is a very timely post. There's an awful lot of unpleasant activity going on at Amazon. Some people game the system by paying for 5-star reviews and/or 1-star reviews for rivals. (One site I saw only charges $5 a piece for a good/bad review, so this gives unscrupulous authors a good ROI, because getting into the Amazon top 100 lists is so important.)

There's also some nasty cyberbullying going on. Recently I saw one author had 9 almost identical 1-star reviews that attacked the author, not the book.

What responsible readers can do is click the helpful/not helpful buttons. If a 1-star has 9 out of 100 people finding it helpful, people will be more likely to disregard it. Also, you can hit "report abuse" when you see obvious bullying or gaming of the system going on.

And I agree that the kind of review that gives a book one star because "I hate mysteries" or "the book took 3 weeks to arrive" or "I'm having a bad hair day" are pointless and mean. Unfortunately, Amazon pays attention to those stars when choosing "also boughts" and top 100s, so those dim-bulb reviews can actually harm an author.

Terry Odell said...

Anne - it's SO frustrating that people will play fast and loose with a system that can ultimately harm someone's career, and so little can be done about it. As a matter of fact, this discussion has proved so interesting that I think I'll do a followup post on Thursday.

Maryann Miller said...

Sorry I didn't get to read this on Monday, but now I got to read all the great comments. To me a review that does not address the strengths and weaknesses - if any - in the writing and the plotting and the characterization, is not really a review. It is a commentary of what kind of stories that reader likes. I spent many years reviewing books and theatre for newspapers, and a real review is so much more than many you see on Amazon.

Karen C said...

I don't usually read reviews and I don't use a review as a basis for purchasing or not purchasing a book. I've always felt a bit insecure in writing reviews and after reading this post and comments, I'm going to give some serious consideration to even writing reviews at all. Thank you for the food for thought.

Sandy Nathan said...

Interesting comments about reviews, Terry, but I really loved the bit about literary fiction. I belong to a book group and several women seem to prefer it. I recall one recent Pulitzer Prize-winning book where ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAPPENED. At about the 50% point, it seemed like something might happen, but it didn't. Beautiful language and highly refined perceptions, though. I decided that for me to finish a book, SOMETHING has to happen by the 50% point. Any ol' thing.

Terry Odell said...

Sandy - in workshops about writing 'commercial' fiction, one author likened the plot to a 'fever chart' with ups and downs but an overall upward slope. Literary fiction ... flat line. :-)

Thanks for stopping by.