Reviews: Do You Want the Good News or the Bad News?


by Lillian Csernica on January 22, 2015

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About 2/3 of the new books I read, I read on my Kindle. When I’m finished, Amazon asks me for a star rating, then I get an email asking me for a review.

At the moment, the book I’ve started is so bad I doubt I’ll finish it.  My sense of fairness compels me to read the whole thing just so if I do decide to review the book, I will have given it a thorough examination.  I don’t have that much reading time these days, so I really don’t want to waste it on a book that reads little better than a second draft in desperate need of a copy editor.  What slays me is there are already two sequels ready and waiting. <facepalm>

Let me throw this question out to all of you:  In this brave new world of electronic self-publishing, what purpose are reviews really meant to serve?  I know I may be coming rather late to this discussion, but this is what’s on my mind and I value your opinions.

Reviews are helpful to authors in terms of promotion.  We all want to support each other, right? As a writer, I wouldn’t want to do any damage to a fellow writer’s sales by posting a negative review.  It’s said that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I don’t know if I believe that.  If the Internet loves you, it really loves you.  If the Internet decides you should be run out of town on a rail, you’re in trouble.

Unfortunately, there are books out there with serious flaws.  If I’m going to write a review, I have to tell the truth about my reading experience.  I am a published novelist.  I’ve published lots of short stories.  I’ve been writing reviews for Tangent for a long time.  That means I am qualified to evaluate the quality of a story’s plot, characters, setting, tone, theme, and pace.  I know about magic systems and worldbuilding.  Certain historical periods are quite familiar to me.  Can’t say that I’m an expert, but I will give credit where credit is due even if I personally don’t care for the material at hand.

And yet I still feel conflicted.  As a writer and a reader, there are times when I am outraged at the half-witted slop churned out by “authors” who really think somebody out there might be willing to pay good money to read it.  I want to do all I can to support the “Caveat Emptor” school of thought when shopping for reading material online.

It does grind my gears to read reviews by people who either know nothing about the elements of good writing, or don’t know how to articulate what little knowledge they may have.  Shameless gushing in a review makes me suspicious.  Some people are not above stacking the deck in their favor.  Here’s the problem: when an inexperienced and uneducated writer recruits his or her fellow writers whose skill level is pretty much at that same level, nobody is going to do any real good by making comments because they just don’t know what it takes to write a better story.

What do you think about all this?

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20 Comments

Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, historical fiction, Horror, perspective, publication, Writing

20 responses to “Reviews: Do You Want the Good News or the Bad News?

  1. I think new writers have thin skins, and it’s hard to accept the most constructive of criticism, but there is no way forward unless you seek out that kind of criticism and learn to harvest the fruits thereof in spite of the bruises to your ego. It’s also very important for newer writers to read widely, and learn from that as well. Right now, indy publishing is far too prone to the “circle jerk” phenomenon where people try to help their friends with unearned praises and nobody has any real chance of improving their craft.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kathy Watts

    I should think the good and the bad both. Especially for reviews in places like Amazon where the whole wide world sees everything.

    I’m not the experienced reviewer or writer that you are but I have reviewed a few books for friends on Amazon. Honesty is paramount, and I made an effort to balance the good with the bad. Stark negative criticism can indeed be hard for a new writer to handle. The world can be harsh, though and we’ve all seen some incredibly scathing reviews out there. And I try to take into account that everyone is not the audience for every single book. And that it seems to me that quality of writing standards can vary from, ah, genre to genre.

    Indy publishing being what it is now, I’m amused and constantly learning how new writers are reaching out to market their work. Not just Amazon, but on GoodReads too. There are a zillion mistakes yet to be made….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reviews are not all for promotion. They are supposed to be honest opinions about the book. I would give your honest negative opinion about the BOOK while trying not to dis the author as a person. Some reviewers make it sound personal against the writer. I may have done this myself; I tend to get a bit harsh when I dislike a book, especially when the author seems to have given no thought to the basic building blocks of constructing a sentence or is too haughty to hire an editor when she/he plainly needs one–and I think we all do. One interesting test of character is to see how an author reacts to negative reviews. Some ignore them. Some learn from them. Others don’t learn from them. Some fly into a written rage and make utter fools of themselves in front of everyone, brandishing their egos like swords. No book is going to be liked by everyone. And today, it still amazes me that tons of readers don’t care a whit whether a writer knows how to write; they just go for what they consider a good story or makes a good movie. Some of us do care about the skill as well as the concept. Some of us want to read works that are obviously labors of love. What you choose to write in reviews may depend upon what kind of reader you want to speak to.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kathy Watts

    the good and the bad both, if the writer is serious about improving and continuing. We’ve all seen some outrageously scathing reviews and there’s no way that can help anyone. Getting friends to write reviews for you won’t help much either unless they’re honest. I find it fascinating to see how the indy pub world is evolving and how writers work to market their work, especially on GoodReads and Amazon.

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  5. It’s a thorny problem. But I, for one, do appreciate reviews by people whose judgement I trust. I’ve read good self-published books; I’ve also read some really awful crap. I think that due to the nature of self-publishing – the fact that you do not need to convince anyone else that your work is salable, that it doesn’t need more editing or polishing – you can just do the amount of work you want, and then out it goes, leaves a lot of the quality control aspects out, and by doing so, you end up with a far higher crap-to-good-stuff ratio. In these cases, honest reviews are very, very important. If it hurts the sale of the book, or the future sales of the author’s other works, sure, that’s an issue for the author, but if it helps me to avoid paying for something I’m not going to enjoy, I don’t see a downside. The author can always find help/do a rewrite/take classes – but the reader cannot get that time or money back.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I tell you, the newbies don’t understand the importance of the gatekeepers. The readers do!

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      • I think you’re right there, Lillian. I hear a lot of self-published authors speak against the gatekeepers and praising the freedom self-publishing has brought about.
        Well, there’s a lot to appreciate in this freedom, unfortunally it also means what The Ogre says above: many authors don’t shoot for the highest possible result, they just content themselves with what they are willing to put in, which often means the reader also has to content themselves. And what’s worst, often authors don’t even know what they are missing out.

        This is why I hope the ‘gatekeepers’ will stay. They created the job, they are the best suited to teach it. And we authors would best listen 😉

        I’ll confess I’m going to be a self-published author soon, but the work I’m doing on my story was sparked by my confrontation with the traditional publishing world. I’ve been rejected a few times (not with the story I will publish) and that spurred me to go deeper into my writing and the reasons why it didn’t work for those agents.
        And I’m very happy I did because I’m learning new things and becoming a better writer. It’s a good thing 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Way to go! You are a role model for folks entering the world of self-publishing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Now don’t make me blush, Lillian!!!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hey, I write romance. It’s my job. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s a free-for-all out there in the world of self-publishing. Gatekeepers can get a lot wrong, and they can have biases, but they do winnow out some kinds of things. Naturally people will try to get their friends’ support, because how else will anyone stand out in the grand sea of everybody? I have to say, though, that I have not spent enough time with the self-publishing world to really understand how really good books rise out of the larger mass. I do think the ease of self-publishing and the difficulty of taking criticism combine to mean a lot of people skip critical steps that would make their books a lot better.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Deep question! Considering some of the review ‘scandals’ I’ve read about in the past year, whether it be people selling 5 star reviews to new authors or the trolls that don’t like a person ganging up to give him/her a bunch of one stars to be mean (neither the sellers nor the trolls having read the book in question), I’m not sure how useful reviews will remain as a tool for market research.

    For my own review reading habits, when I look at something, I’ll read one or two reviews from each star rating to see if they consistently praise or raze the same qualities or if it’s just a personal taste issue. I also look for the exact same wordage that would indicate someone copying and pasting canned paragraphs under different user accounts.

    On the reviewing side, I will absolutely review products and books that I really enjoy, though I’ve been more careful with Amazon recently based on an article I read that said an author can get in trouble if their Facebook friends post reviews. That makes no sense to me, since if I love an author, and its no longer the day of having to write a fan letter to the author’s publishing house and hope they see it, I will find them on Facebook and follow or send a friend request. But, if those are the rules now, I don’t want to cause a headache for an author I love that might delay future stories I’m dying to read.

    If I don’t like it, I won’t review it unless it could cause phyisical injury to someone. But that’s just me… 🙂

    Whoa…that got a bit long-winded…Thanks for your patience, and thanks for posing such a thoughtful topic…it really gets the brain cells working.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is a great topic. I’m not a writer, though I’ve always thought myself capable. I’ve rarely concerned myself with telling the truth in a review, as most of the time I don’t actually know the author. For poorly written verse, I am likely to take the “cause no harm” tactic of saying something like “I can’t read this story because I don’t care for the writing style,” and I may or may not get more specific. I have specified at least once that I whatever I was reviewing was a great story but poorly written.

    Now that I think about it, I have a friend who self published an autobiography. It was so intense in content that I was drawn to read it, though I do recall a vastly different grammatical style which would, under ordinary circumstances, inspire me to leave the book unread. In that case, I think the creation of said book was therapeutic for the author, whose purpose was not to become an author so much as to get the story out of their head, and/or out in the open. I’ve not been in touch with that friend for a while, but if they were considering publishing in a bigger pond, perhaps pushing to have her autobiography published as a non-electronic, actual bound book, I would feel some obligation to point out the need for a copy editor or proofreader. I guess I feel differently about free and low-cost, self-published e-books than actual books. I don’t keep books that are poorly written on my shelves, but I have more leniency for friends who publish ebooks because they’re not really taking up so much space.

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    • Now there’s a point of view worthy of consideration. Not all writers are in it for the money. Some people do avail themselves of the accessibility of publishing to tell a story they feel needs to be told. Can one hold them to the same standards expected of professional writers? If they’re asking money for their books, I say yes. If not, then the “your mileage may vary” idea applies and the review could be written accordingly. Thank you, Sara!

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  9. Pingback: Reviews: Good News vs Bad News Part Two | Hopes and Dreams: My Writing and My Sons

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