If all bloggers are writers, and many writers are bloggers, how many of us are reviewers? I started reviewing 30 years ago and got paid for it. Just to add a little context.
Reviews are a thorny topic in the blogging authoring world.
I’ve been prowling around reading different views about reviews. And it’s not just authors. Book tour organisers have differing policies too.
It’s easy to see what an author wants. A great review, and if it’s star-rated, all five of them.
Good reviews, in theory, should sell books.
Let’s return to this later.
What does a reviewer want?
A free book? In return for a review? There is no obligation on anyone who buys a book to write a review. Nor, is there an obligation on someone who takes a free book on a promotional offer to write one, although courtesy would suggest it would be polite to do so.
From a reader’s perspective, I’ll write a review of say, a library book if I think it merits one, whether that is a good or bad review. A bad review is interesting to write because it needs far more thought.
On this post I wrote a bad review for an Ellen Schreiber book. Plus a few other reviews. In the early comments, Cotton Boll and I discuss ‘bad’ reviews (good ones too).
And with my journalist hat on, if you are asking for reviews, especially to coincide with publication or a promotion, it is standard practice to provide a free copy. In olden days, this meant a paperback or hardback sent to the office and shared out at random. And if the editor didn’t want a review, you got to keep the book anyway. I’ve still got a few freebies kicking around.
At least ebooks/PDF mean that authors aren’t incurring the same costs when they send out Internet review copies.
What does a reviewer do?
If I say I’ll review your book, I will. No timescale guaranteed because I’m not getting paid. If you do have a particular date in mind for publication, I’ll try and meet it.
I try and be sympathetic to indie/self-pub/new authors. I admire them, it takes a lot to write a book and self-publish, plus there is one hell of a lot of competition out there.
However please do not expect five stars. I dish those out very, very, rarely. Dostoyevsky, Anne and Emily Bronte, and Oscar Wilde, for example get five stars on my goodreads page. If you think your work is as good as them please challenge my ratings, but four stars is normally as good as it gets. Think yourself lucky you don’t get one star like J K Rowling. Jane Austen doesn’t do well either.
The other issue though, is taking into account different genres. So if you write fantasy, you need to be on a par with Tolkien or Pullman to get five stars. Although clearly it doesn’t take much for you to beat Rowling. If you write satire, please consider whether you are more witty than Oscar Wilde.
But it’s impossible to compare a young adult book with a fantasy book with a romance novel with an espionage thriller with a mystery story with an absolute classic with… etc
So if you get four stars within your genre, count your four lucky stars.
I’ll normally review on my blog and then post a tidy version to goodreads. This does take time. So I’m reading a free book, which may or may not be good, and then taking the time to review it and post elsewhere. It’s a fair exchange. Maybe.
I do find books that end with ‘if you have enjoyed this book please write a review…’ slightly annoying though. It sounds whiney and almost desperate.
A selection of books I’ve featured on this blog (captions included)
Good reviews and bad reviews
Here is the contentious part.
1) What if I genuinely don’t like a book? Badly written, poor plot, weak characters. Lousy style. Am I genuinely expected to write a wonderful review? Because I won’t.
2) Badly proofed/edited books are a nightmare. Simple as that. Does lack of editing deserve a down-grading, or at the least a mention in a review?
I have a professional issue at stake here. If I recommended a book that is badly written, poorly constructed, and unedited, it doesn’t exactly enhance my reputation or credibility.
Many authors, unsurprisingly, think errors shouldn’t detract from the review. If the plot is basically good, and it is well written, who cares about spelling mistakes, missing/incorrect punctuation, inconsistencies and faulty facts?
Well me, quite frankly. That does not for a good book make. It is not a good read if something jars every few pages.
So, I have two options. I write a review and point out the errors in public. Or I don’t write a review, and send an email. If I’ve received a free review copy I’ll usually take that road.
In terms of reviews, as a journalist I was being paid not just for book reviews, but concerts, plays, musicals, am-drams, anything. So we were expected to be honest. And, as with anything we wrote, we always had the chief reporter/news editor, subs, assistant ed/editor perusing our work and invariably criticising it. We weren’t just writing what we thought, we had to make sure our review was interesting enough for people to read.
I’m not changing my spots in gratitude for a free book. Nor am I prepared to write a one liner that says, ‘great book, really enjoyed this’. Where is the value in that? Seriously that is not a review.
You want an honest review or just promotional blurb? That’s called advertising.
Here are a couple of good reviews, not written by me, I hastily add.
Which brings me onto these. A blogger signs up to take part in a book tour. This is a marketing/publicity tool where bloggers agree to review a book and publish on a certain day. Or they interview the author. Or give the author a guest post. Or participate in giveaways. Or something.
The author pays the company for the tour. Bloggers may or may not get a token reward, not cash, after they have written a certain number of posts, but they basically provide free publicity to an author for which someone else gets paid for doing a few emails. Neat huh?
I looked at one. It didn’t allow negative reviews. Now from the perspective of promotion and PR I can understand that. But it griped me, so I opted for one that allows honest reviews. At least that is vaguely ethical.
The question is why do authors pay for book tours, when you can get reviews and interviews for free? Different market? Or maybe no-one will review your book? Or they take it and don’t review it. In which case, an author might ask, why haven’t people reviewed my book?
What does an author want?
Back to square one. Good reviews and sales.
What an author doesn’t want is a poor review. So if you don’t like their book, and say so, some authors get most cantankerous. I’m sure I would.
But there are valid negative reviews. If someone thinks the plot is poor, style is dull, they struggled to get past page 50 or 100, what is wrong with saying that? Authors seem to think the reader should plough through pages of dull mediocrity, because there is suddenly a riveting twist on page 252. I don’t think so.
I read one recently. I was bored with the banality, trivia, and generally poor execution. I wasn’t sure how much further I would go. I don’t see any advantage to an author in saying that.
So authors need to decide. Instead of moaning at buyers, or even worse, people who take advantage of cheap or free offers, for not posting reviews, do they really want a review at all costs?
I read a lot of books. I also don’t need to download free books that quite frankly, might be sheer garbage, when I have a perfectly good library across the road. But, as with anyone working in any field, it’s important to keep up with developments. And indie publishing – good and bad – is here to stay. All the world’s an author.
Let me give an example of an honest review for the above book.
I found X’s first novel appalling. To describe it as a novel is misleading. Even Woman’s Own or True Romance would have rejected it.
Firstly, do not ever publish something littered with so many grammatical errors. Punctuation was abysmal. In fact, it became more interesting looking for the next mistake rather than concentrating on the storyline.
Secondly, top tip, it is not a good idea to get the names of the main characters mixed up. Or to repeat phrases within consecutive paragraphs. Or to get timelines skewed. Or to use American words in a British novel because you have watched too much CSI. Or to include factual errors regarding criminal justice procedures
Thirdly, when even I can anticipate the plot, it is a no-win situation. I am slower on the uptake than a snail.
Some editors, me included, will not accept every commission. This isn’t about being precious. I would have agreed to proof this writing. But it didn’t just need editing, or even developmental editing, it needed a total re-write. Think ‘The cat sat on the mat’ in terms of literary style the whole way through. And plot as transparent as cling film.
The good thing about reading a very badly-written book, from my point of view, is that it provides a useful comparator for other books. So, because this was free, and I am a really nice person, I will probably send an email. This person does not read my blog, I add quickly, and my email will not reflect the above.
Seriously, do any authors out there really want a review like the example I have posted? I think not. But if you do, I’m sure I can manage one for you.
I will try and find good things to say about any book. However, when the negative outweighs the positive, or the lack of proofing/editing makes reading a chore, then I don’t post a review. And when I use a poor book as an example on here, I won’t name and shame. There’s no need.
So should punctuation/spelling/inconsistencies/factual errors affect a review?
After all, those little errors aren’t part of the plot and the style, and don’t affect the story. Sorry authors. If you were submitting such poorly finished work in school, well in my school at least, you would get 0/10, 2 or 3/10 if you were very lucky. And if you churned out such inadequately checked crap on a newspaper you would get the sack.
Like it or not, your manuscript full of errors is half-finished, half-baked, however you wish to describe it. When you get to The End, it is not The End by any stretch of the imagination. And if you think it is, you may end up with no reviews, poor reviews that mention errors, and few, if any sales.
I want lots of good reviews!
Why? Do you really think people plough through 361 five star reviews all saying the same thing before they decide to buy your book? Or is it because you want to get listed on BookBub?
A load of five star reviews just makes me think you have one very large family.
Or that you, your editor, and your publisher have a lot of mates.
One author recently complained that despite a load of great reviews, sales were poor. See, good reviews don’t always mean sales, sadly.
It’s a tough world. There is more to being an author than writing. That’s just the start. And probably the easiest part.