Friday, April 4, 2008

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Reviews--either a writer's dream come true, or your worst nightmare. Some writers consider reviews a necessary evil of writing. Of course, your viewpoint depends upon whether the review is 'good' or 'bad'.

What constitutes a 'good' review? Most of us think a good review offers undending praise for our work, recommends it as a 'must read' and gives fifteen stars out of the ten available. Of course we love those reviews.

Then there are the 'bad' reviews--the ones that, while reading, you can see the reviewer sneer, shrug and make an 'oh, well' gesture. And, of course, you may encounter the nightmare review--the one that says, in essence, 'this book is a piece of meaningless garbage and not worth the time or money you'll spend standing in line at the cashier.' I don't personally believe this kind of review is necessary, no matter how poor the reviewer considers the manuscript to be.

Here is the challenge posed to us writers. When we request a review and it's less than positive, do we include the review in our promotional material, post it to our web site or post the link to the reviewer's site? Do we thank the reviewer for his/her time, even though we're not thrilled with the review?

What is the proper etiquette here?

In discussions among authors, I've heard opinions fall on both sides of the fence--gracefully accept the review, thank the reviewer and move on, or ignore the review and the reviewer (and make a note to never request a review from that person again). Some post a scathing retort to the reviewer.

Writing is a business, albeit a very personal business. Not all reviewers seem to keep that in mind, to remember that an author's words hold more than letters from the alphabet, set into a particular arrangement to tell a story. Our writing holds our hearts and souls, along with hours of blood, sweat and tears. It behooves reviewers, I believe, to be both honest and kind.

I don't post every review I receive on my web pages. After all common sense and good marketing practices would dictate otherwise if a review does not paint a positive picture of a book. It is, in the end, about attracting readers and selling books. Is this dishonest? No. I do, however, thank the reviewer for their time and for their honest review. They've done their job, even if we don't agree with the outcome.

I have read of authors who received scathing reviews that slammed their work and their skills. And they've taken the review site or the individual reviewer to task, gotten the review pulled from the web and received an apology.

Tact. Some people lack it. As writers and reviewers, we have to strike a balance between honesty and tact. I've reviewed work for several authors. Have I thoroughly enjoyed each and every book equally? No. Have I ever told an author they should hang it up and go back to their day job? No. Cruelty and personal affronts are not warranted.

If, as a reviewer, I encountered a book upon which I could find nothing positive to comment, I would return the manuscript to the author with a note about my reasons for declining the review.

For whom are reviews written? For the reader. Yep. Reviews are not intended to provide the author with marketing and PR material. Although they can serve as a barometer for our writing. They are intended to give the reader either an enticement or a warning. But--every review is one person's opinion. We need to remember this, both as writers and as readers. Some of the best movies I've seen were panned by the critics.

My advice?

Writers--employ good judgment about how you use reviews of your work. Respond professionally to your reviewers.
Readers--consider reviews, but trust your own instincts. Look at the book, read the blurb, visit the writer's web site and read an excerpt.
Reviewers--maintain professional integrity, but also remember that there's a person on the other end of that novel.



Infogypsy said...

Reviews are such a touchy subject. I'm torn between the various positions you've given in your blog. I have received about ten good reviews, a few stunningly good, and then one review so bad I refused to read it and never returned to that site.

I'd have to say the good reviews I got were probably helpful in getting readers interested but not particularly truthful. I feel the writing in my 1st and 2nd books certainly didn't merit the sterling reviews I got, although the stories were good and perhaps they were focusing on that. Most review sites seem to me to be too much about being nice to the authors. On the other hand, I sure wouldn't want another review like the painful bad one I got two years ago, so it's probably a moot point.

I think new authors should try and get reviews, but perhaps it's better to go to people who have credentials but aren't a regular review site. I had a friend who was on the board of a library in Michigan review my 2nd book and it probably was as useful to readers as a review from a regular review site.

So, this long post is probably too ambivalent for any useful information for most writers. As usual, we all have to find our own direction and take what works for us -
Lynn romaine -

Anonymous said...


You're right that we all have to find what works for us. I like the idea of getting reviews from readers who are not affiliated with established review sites. These folks represent the general reading public. I try to mix mine up a bit, when possible, with reviews from review sites and other from fellow writers.


Anonymous said...

When we request a review and it's less than positive, do we include the review in our promotional material, post it to our web site or post the link to the reviewer's site?

No way, Jose. While reviews allow us to see how others are impacted by our work, they are, in the final analysis, subjective opinions which may be influenced by factors other than the story and writing skills... PMS and bad hair days come to mind.

To give publicity to bad reviews and run the risk of turning off prospective readers who may truly enjoy the entertainment is simply ludicrous and unfair to both parties. Besides by the time reviews come out the story is usually printed and changes cannot be made.

Do we thank the reviewer for his/her time, even though we're not thrilled with the review?

I have done so many times, even when they've given my plot away in the review, or expressed themselves so poorly I cringed in embarrassment for them. Carol McPhee

Karen, author of "My Funny Dad, Harry" said...

I always thank people who have written reviews on my book, even if they were disappointing to me. I love getting good reviews but only repost hand-picked ones which I consider to be the best. I certainly would not repost a bad review.

When writing reviews on Amazon, I try to be honest but yet sensitive to the authors. One time an author contacted me about a review she didn't appreciate so I apologized and deleted it. I wasn't trying to be mean, but that's how it came across. It's not always easy to be both honest and tactful.

Karen Zemek (