Friday, January 6, 2017

Book Reviews in a Very Large Nutshell

Ah yes, today I will be tackling the treacherous subject of book reviews. While the posts on book reviews abound, I still want to compose one myself.

To start, I am many things in life. One of those things is an author, but before that I was a reader. I've been a reader forever. My mom described me as having a burning desire to read everything. I'm not supposed to say it, but if I had to choose between reading and writing, I'd pick reading without skipping a beat.

Reviewing, though, is a new concept to me. My method of searching for books to read used to be as simple as combing library shelves and their database. And since you don't open a book and see a review, it just wasn't part of my world.

About three years ago, I started writing seriously. This involved running in new circles and learning new things. Next thing you know, I discover Goodreads, that people actually read Amazon book reviews, and that reviews are very important to authors.

I HAD to be part of this. I mean I LOVE reading and to try and analyze a book and have a written record of my thoughts, not to mention a count of how many books I've read, I was like YES YES YES!!!

And so I began my reviewing journey. It was new, it was difficult, it had bumps and moments where I was like, "Why do I do this to myself?!"

Then I became an author and I was on the other end of things waiting for reviews.

I treasure those suckers, hoarding them like precious gems. I dance like a crazy person in the rain every time I get one. And then pace nervously waiting for the next one. I see someone reading my book and it is like the review's dangling just out of reach, so tantalizing. No, no, act cool. Don't act desperate. *rubs hands together* Will they leave one?

DANG IT!! Lost control for a moment!

Okay, so I've never actually lost it and went all Bilbo on someone at the possibility of receiving a review. No please, don't back away. I swear. 

Over the years I've seen authors wish for reviews, talk about ways to get more, celebrate over the good ones, and moan about the bad ones. I've read blog posts and heard opinions of all sorts on what is good or bad.

So finally, here it is, my thoughts on book reviews for both readers and authors.

Number One: A review is an opinion! There may be facts layered in  such as "X happened. There were a few typos, etc." but a review  at its heart is a reader's take on what they liked or didn't like. That is subjective, it is not right or wrong, it is an opinion. 

Readers - Yes, we sometimes see someone hating on a book that we loved. That's okay. They're entitled to do so. The world is full of unique individuals who like and dislike different things. Even the most popular books have people who hated them. It's not an affront to you if someone read your favorite book ever and said they didn't like it.

Authors - Does it hurt when someone dislikes your book? Um, yes! It's your baby, you slaved forever over it, poured your heart and soul into those pages. But it's still an opinion and you're selling a product. 

Imagine you're shopping for a new pan and all the reviews are glowing, so you buy it only to find out that everything sticks to it no matter what you do. WHY DIDN'T ANYONE SAY SO!? 

Because . . . feelings. Someone created that pan and put a lot of work into it. No one wanted to be the evil witch who said hey, here's an issue I had.

Is there such a thing as bad review? And I don't mean as in negative, low starred reviews. Yes, I believe there is. I've heard the stories. Someone leaves a review that is clearly NOT for your book. If it's a positive review, you can at least laugh it off, but when you're getting a bad review for someone else's book, that sucks.

There's any other number of crazy things a review can entail. "I don't like this genre." (Then why did you read it?) "This book was full of sex." (What? The Foot Book has no sex in it!)

Here's the great news, in most cases the people who read the review will be like "Ooookay then." And move on. Trust readers. We're smart enough to know when someone's review is a little wonky.

Number 2: Everyone is qualified to leave a review. You are a person, she is a person, he is a person. People have opinions and regardless of their education level, intelligence, life experiences, or how well they can articulate their thoughts, their opinions are valid.

Some people's opinions may be more helpful than others. But here's something to remember: Readers, we can skip a review that's not helpful to us and read a different one, no harm done. Authors, if a review seems like it won't help people, then don't worry about it! People will skip it if they don't think it's useful to them.

Number 3: All reviews can be helpful. Yep, I said that. 

Authors -  We so badly want those precious reviews. We wish more readers left them and we know we need them for marketing. A negative review CAN turn a reader away, but consider this. If you are shopping for that perfect pan again and this time you see negative reviews on it and go "gosh, I hate it when my pan sticks" you can move on. The seller of that pan no longer has to pack up that pan, pay to ship it to you, deal with a possible return(pay to ship it back, talk to the buyer), and then have another negative review.

If a negative review lists anything such as "I didn't like this" and a reader sees it and goes "Oh, I hate those kind of characters, or that kind of material, or those kind of plot twists" and decides not to read it, chances are they weren't your target audience. You don't really want to deal with refunds and more negative reviews!

And we all know that marketing sites often require x amount of reviews to even apply for promotion. As long as your star rating is over the amount given(if one is given), then those negative reviews are adding to your total amount of reviews and could in fact help you get accepted. 

Readers -  It's scary to review at times, isn't it? You've heard the stories, seen the public complaints about negative reviews. You want to be honest, but what if you don't like a book!?! Will you be slaughtered at the next author barbecue? Believe it or not, it's worse for authors who read! Who knows when you'll upset someone who goes off the deep end and revenge reviews your book and gets all their friends to join in!

Fortunately those scary people are few and far between, but it does give many reviewers pause. I've talked to a lot of reviewers who have personal guidelines they follow to try and keep themselves out of hot water(no negative reviews, only post negative reviews on old books, etc.)

Don't be afraid. You don't have to be verbose and have reviews that are like long essays that hit all the do's and none of the don'ts of reviewing(TM). It is OKAY to say "I liked this!" or "I didn't like this."

It's okay to just have a two sentence review because it does bring up an author's review total, it helps authors gauge how their book is being received, and not everyone is going to like to post the epic long reviews that some of us *cough* do.

I'm going to wrap up with a few rapid-fire points.

1, Reviewers should strive to keep reviews about the book. Attacking an author, their mother, and their cat is personal and has nothing to do with the story.

    2. Authors should try not to take reviews personally. Your product is being reviewed by an individual with an opinion. It's not about you. If you have to read your reviews then try and see them from a perspective of "is there a point to this and if there is, how can I use this to improve future writing?" And if there's not a point, then move on. Just as I'm sure you appreciate restaurant reviews, clothing reviews, store reviews, movie reviews, and any other number of product reviews(in person or online), please respect that books are no different.

    3. Don't let reviews get you down. I'm sure most readers aren't trying to ruin your day or your life. Pick yourself, remind yourself that there are people that love your work and that NO book is universally loved.

    4. Don't publicly moan about your reviews. Yes, it's sad. Find a close friend/family member and wail to them. Vent! Rant! Let loose your frustrations! But public moaning reflects badly on you and there are a lot of people watching who may take note. Unless you are laughing/wailing about one of the "silly" reviews people leave, you may frighten people off from reviewing your book because "if I don't like it, I may be mentioned."

    5. Don't assume that every negative reviewer is a troll, or an idiot, or unable to discern quality, or unqualified, or someone who just wants to see the world burn. MOST reviewers are just honest, everyday, ordinary people who for whatever reason may not have liked your book and just want to say their piece in a place that is meant for such things and go about their lives.

    In conclusion. Yes, reviewers can learn to improve(mark spoilers, not personally insult). Authors can learn to not take things so personally and where it's appropriate(and when) to cry about a bad review.

    Feelings are valid. It will hurt, and that's okay. It's okay to talk about it, just don't forget that in a public setting anyone can be watching and it is impossible to tell who is listening/reading and hey, they could actually know the reviewer in question. 

    Readers, your opinions are so important to us. Especially Indie authors like myself who really need your support. We need reviews to get the word out and you don't have to be that well-connected individual who everyone goes to for book thoughts, or interested in writing a 10 page paper on a book.

    "I enjoyed this book. The characters were my favorite part. I thought they were hilarious and easy to connect to." is a perfectly acceptable review.(or anything that's brief like that)

    Support your favorite authors! A three minute review means the world!


    1. yesssssssssssssssssssss.
      Authors: we want reviews!
      Gets a review.
      Authors: Well, not THAT review ...


        I imagine readers sitting in a corner sobbing, "What do you want from me!"

        Sometimes we get negative reviews, sometimes we get 1 line reviews, sometimes we get a review with horrid SPaG, and sometimes it makes no sense and the person clearly didn't read the book, but it'll be okay!!

    2. This was very helpful to me as I consider posting my first review!

      1. I'm glad you found it helpful. :) The first review is so hard, and sometimes so are the next 10! It takes time to find your style and relax. I've found that I really do enjoy reviewing and once I stopped stressing about it that it became easier.

    3. Every reviewer and author should read this. Reviewers so they know that their opinion is their own, and it doesn't matter if it's positive, negative, or in-between. Authors so they know not to take reviews personally and to accept that people are individual and not everyone will like their work. It's all part of the reading (and reviewing) process. :)

    4. Thanks Kristen! Reviews are so important! It's great to see so many fine points made here.

    5. I love all the memes! I do think you may want to hit harder that a review is an opinion, not a book report proving you read it, and there by spoiling any plot twists. Sometimes those are worse than negative reviews.

      1. Yes, it is great when big spoilers are covered with a spoiler warning. Some sites are awesome by actually giving formatting to hide spoilers.

        But definitely at least prefacing a review or spoiler section with a warning is a great courtesy to other readers.

        I know sometimes it's hard to properly express what was good/bad for you without some spoilers and it takes time to know when to slap that label on.

    6. Well said! I leave more reviews than before my own books came out and I greatly with others would do the same. And periodically I feel overwhelmed by all the negative review talk--Amazon taking them down, not taking them down, the bullying, etc. I know it's real, but I appreciate the reminder that they're still the minority. Thanks!

      1. And I don't want to undermine the hurt of negative reviews. They sting! I've stopped reading any reviews for my novel to keep myself in a good head space.

        We all have our coping mechanism. I'm glad this encouraged you! It's always nice to remember that everything has dissenters and yet on average more people will like your book than dislike it.