Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Reviews--How Honest Are You?

I know I usually do a book review on Tuesdays, but I didn't really like the book I read this week. It was an interesting premise, and I liked the main characters in the first part of the book, but near the middle it all sort of broke down and I got to the point where I wanted to poke my eyes out with a spork rather than keep reading. (Although I resisted the urge and did finish the book).

You see, every time some really great conflict or action would start, the author would go into flashbacks and it drove me crazy. Not only did it slow down the story, but a lot of it was unnecessary. It just seemed like the author thought of something to add to the story that had made her characters behave in a certain way, so she wanted to explain it to the audience in a flashback.

It just didn’t work for me.

So, today, I want to ask you some questions about books that you review.

How honest are you in your reviews?

Have you ever given a one or two star review on Goodreads?

Would it affect your review if you knew the author would see it?

Would it affect your review if you were friends with the author?

If you thought your review could possibly offer a critique or what could be improved about the author's writing style, would you consider that helpful to the author and something that should be said?

Put on your honesty hat, and tell me true. What do you do? How honest are you?

14 comments:

Jordan McCollum said...

How honest are you in your reviews?
Fairly—but for the most part I only write reviews on books I liked. Makes it easier ;) .

Have you ever given a one or two star review on Goodreads?
Yes, twice that I can think of off the top of my head. One of which I later deleted.

Would it affect your review if you knew the author would see it?
I guess so. That's part of the reason why I deleted one of my reviews (I removed the book from my books so I wouldn't have to pretend like I'd liked it).

Would it affect your review if you were friends with the author?
Yes, but mostly because it affects my opinion of the book. I'm not giving a critique here. I want to like what my friends write, and I feel guilty if I don't, even if I don't share that publicly.

If you thought your review could possibly offer a critique or what could be improved about the author's writing style, would you consider that helpful to the author and something that should be said?
Yeah, probably. I've done that several times in reviews on my blog: offering advice on what didn't work for me. But sometimes I don't, especially when I get the sense that the author has 0 interest in improving.

Anna Buttimore said...

How honest are you in your reviews?
Relatively honest. If I really hate it I don't review it. But even if I don't like it I try to pick a feature or two that I did like, and/or recognise that people have different tastes and others may love the thing I hated.

Have you ever given a one or two star review on Goodreads?
No, but only because I don't use Goodreads. I should. I will.

Would it affect your review if you knew the author would see it?
Yes, and I think the authors do see my reviews, which is why I try to focus on good parts. One book I really didn't like for example, because it was depressing, slow and the characters didn't work for me, but I recognised that it was a hard-hitting work about a serious and difficult subject, so I made my review about that because the author is one of my best friends. The book is a bestseller so obviously I was wrong.

Would it affect your review if you were friends with the author?
See above!

If you thought your review could possibly offer a critique or what could be improved about the author's writing style, would you consider that helpful to the author and something that should be said?
Yes, and I do. I recently reviewed a book by Jennie Hansen (who is a lovely person and an experienced writer) which was a great book, but the dialogue was really wooden and unconvincing. I said so in my review, and later discovered that another reviewer had said the same thing. So maybe Jennie, or her editor (who I suspect had a hand in this) might work on that with the next book. I'd like to be told where my books can be improved, so I think it doesn't help to gloss over things which need attention.

Anonymous said...

How honest are you in your reviews?

I am extremely honest. It is my ethical obligation as a book reviewer not to sugarcoat a bad book. My review might influence someone's purchasing decision, and in lean economic times like these, I would be doing the reader a great disservice if I wasn't honest. Most of us don't have money to burn on bad books.

Have you ever given a one or two star review on Goodreads?

Many times. I owe it to my Goodreads followers to give a star rating reflective of my reading experience. The decision to read or not to read is theirs, and they may form a different opinion. But at least I've done my job by raising the red flags. What is the point of having one- and two-star rating options if you're discouraged from using them? They're there to help prevent other readers from wasting time and money on a weak story.

Would it affect your review if you knew the author would see it?

No. I can be blunt in my reviews, but I am always fair (and never personal). I'm doing the author no favors if I gloss over flaws in the book. Without constructive criticism, writers become sad, static creatures.

Would it affect your review if you were friends with the author?

It is my practice never to write reviews for authors I know. I've seen a lot of book reviews on Amazon for self-published titles, and the reviews are all from the author's mother, spouse, grandmother, best friend, etc. How can readers trust reviews from biased sources? I review a book only when I know I can be impartial. How can authors ever grow if they have a literary claque spamming their Amazon and Goodreads pages with impartial reviews?

If you thought your review could possibly offer a critique or what could be improved about the author's writing style, would you consider that helpful to the author and something that should be said?

Yes, and you're not much of a reviewer if you don't. What is the point of a review if it's essentially a fan letter to the author? Reviews should involve critical analysis.

~T~ said...

This is something I've been considering lately. I recently won a book, and the author has asked me to post a review. Considering my stats, the author is probably the only one who will read it. I've only read the first chapter so far, but the book clearly lacks professional editing. Of course, I have no publishing credentials. Would honesty make me sound pretentious?

I should probably quit worrying and read the book.

Melanie Goldmund said...

I've reviewed a few books, and lots and lots of fanfic (but that's a different story.) How honest am I? I try to review only books that I really, really like, so it's pretty easy to be honest. There was one time, however, when I had received a copy of a book in exchange for a review, and I had to tell the author that I wasn't liking it as much as I'd hoped. That was hard.

I haven't moved over to Goodreads, yet, I'm still stuck on Shelfari, but yes, I've given a two-star review to an award-winning book. To this day, I still can't understand how it got the award, never mind all the five-star reviews! (It was a mainstream book, not an LDS one.)

Would it affect my review if I were friends with the author? Um, yes, probably. That comes from my fanfic days of not wanting to say anything that could discourage a potential writer, and scrabbling hard to find something that I could honestly praise, or at least mention. I'd like to think that I would tell my author-friend privately about any part of the book that could be improved, but I wouldn't put it in a public review.

Which probably answers the next question, too, at least for authors that I "know." Although come to think of it, I'd still be a bit wary of critiquing authors that I didn't know, and then it would be a question of "I'm not published yet, and I don't know if I could do this better, so what right do I have to mention this to somebody who could theoretically come back and bite me in the behind when I finally do get published?"

So, yeah, I'm way too nice. Or insecure. Or both.

Debra Erfert said...

I know several women who will only write a review on a book if they like it, and they will forewarn authors of this requirement who ask for a review of their books. So . . . what does this say to the author after she or he sends the free book snail mail or gives the reviewer an e-copy and the review never appears on their blog? Yeah! It's as painful as a slap in the face.

I haven't started doing book reviews, as of yet, so if for some reason I felt the irrepressible urge to start now, (and so far I can only equate it to writing a book report--ugh!) I guess I'd only review a book that I genuinely loved. That way I could gush all over the place and make the author feel like the queen (king) of the writing world, irrespectively if they were a friend or not.

But what if someone should ask me to review their book? (Like that might actually happen someday! lol) I read in a blog just this past year that you start out with something praiseworthy, (surely there had to be something?) then if it had a deficit of some kind this would be the time to say it, and then wrap it up with more loving praise, like a delicious book review sandwich. That way the criticism would be hugged in love and kindness. Is this really possible? I don’t know. I’ve never had anything reviewed, so I don’t know it this technique would soften the blow of a “bad” review. I know I couldn’t be as cold-hearted as anonymous. I tend to back away from conflict, and writing a bad review is just that. Even saying “cold-hearted” made my fingers twitch. (Sorry, anon!)

This I do know, I’ve read books that were so poorly written that I couldn’t get into them. I recently started reading a book, from an experience author, where the premise was so impossible to believe that I couldn’t get passed it and onto the rest of the story. The mystery/love story might be totally great, but if it begins on such a weak foundation, the rest of the story crumbles away before I can get to it.

I guess reviewing books is the part of writing I’m not looking forward to.

Gina said...

How honest are you in your reviews?
Totally and completely honest. I get mad when I read books based on good reviews, only to find out they are lame and the reviewers were "padding" their review. If I give a book five stars, it deserved it. (the last two reviews I wrote were both five star, so I'm not even all that stingy with the stars, despite my "all honesty" policy)

Have you ever given a one or two star review on Goodreads?
Yes. And a book has to be really bad to earn them. As in, I-cannot-believe-I-wasted-time-on-this-book bad.

Would it affect your review if you knew the author would see it?
I doubt they will read my reviews, but I know there is ALWAYS a chance they will see it. I don't attack authors, but I will point out major problems that affected me as a reader. That's the whole point, right?

Would it affect your review if you were friends with the author?
Maybe. I might give an extra star, and be more vague, but I wouldn't give a terrible book five stars, regardless of how good of friends I am with the writer. So far all my twitter/blogging friends that I've read books from have had outstanding books, so this has been easy!

If you thought your review could possibly offer a critique or what could be improved about the author's writing style, would you consider that helpful to the author and something that should be said?
Yes. I put myself in their shoes for this one: If I had written a book, and there were glaring errors or problems with it that somehow made it past my editing team, I would want to know how the public sees them. That's how we improve. We have to know what's wrong in order to get better.

I also know, again, that there is little chance of an author reading MY review and caring what I say, so I have no delusions that anything I write is going to have any affect on anybody other than my small circle of friends.

KarenG said...

If I know the author I tread very carefully. Since there are very few perfect books out there, I see no reason to point out the flaws in a book I am reviewing by request, like on a blog tour or whatever. Instead I focus on what's good in the book. I don't think it's a reviewer's job to give "constructive criticism" at all. The purpose of a review is to share things about the reading experience that will help other potential readers determine if they would be interested. It's all very subjective. I have gotten 5 star glowing reviews on my novel, and a couple 1 star reviews. So does that mean my novel is really good or really awful? Totally depends on the reader/reviewer! No reviewer should be so arrogant to think they are the final word on the quality of a work.

Sariah S. Wilson said...

How honest are you in your reviews?

I'm always honest. Sometimes that can be a problem. :)

Have you ever given a one or two star review on Goodreads?

Yep.

Would it affect your review if you knew the author would see it?

Depends on the author.

Would it affect your review if you were friends with the author?

Absolutely.

I have no problem letting people know what I think when it comes to "mainstream" authors. But when it comes to indie or LDS authors, how can you leave them a review that's not positive?

I've seen far too many authors completely obsess over negative reviews. Even if they have 20 five star reviews on Amazon, they will go on and on and on about that one one-star review.

So if the author you're reading is a friend or colleague, how are you supposed to leave a negative review? I suppose you could couch it in more positive terms, but I would guess that it would absolutely change the way the author looks at you as their friend/fellow author, and in the way they treat you - heck, they might even be vindictive and go after you and post negative reviews on your books or something.

So when it comes to that category of people I know online, if I didn't like their book, I just don't say anything. Plus, just because *I* don't like it doesn't always mean other people won't either.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

I have been following everyone's comments with interest all day. I am sort of surprised at all the varying degrees of how people approach their book reviews. (And after all this, I know who I want to review Ribbon of Darkness for me! haha just kidding)

I'm not sure where I draw the line myself. I don't want to hurt the feelings of authors that I know, but I also want to help them improve if I can. But is that my job? Or should I just do the stars and not say what didn't work for me? Should I do as anon does and not review friends' books? It's just a very fine line and maybe I have to take it on a case by case basis.

But I have really appreciated everyone's perspective and point of view. It's given me a lot to think about.

Roseanne's Spot said...

I received flak for giving Hunger Games a one-star rating. I don't care if everyone else liked the book. I didn't. Even though I own the other two books in the series, I haven't been able to force myself to read them. I've also handed out one star ratings for other books that are considered classics. On the other end of the scale, I've handed out 5 star reviews for books I really like (I loved Emily Loring - I will 5 star all of her books) that will probably never make it on any classics list. In the end, all reviews are based on the reader's opinion. I might hate something you love or vice versa, but I'm giving my opinion. If you choose to agree or not, it's up to you, but at least you know where I stand.

Stephanie Black said...

I've become very skittish about doing reviews. I'm so acutely conscious of what it feels like to get a bad review that I just can't bring myself to do that to a writer friend, no matter how much I disliked the book. So if I disliked it, I usually just say nothing. And yes, I have been known to warn an author asking for a review that if I didn't like the book, I wouldn't review it (thankfully, I loved the book in that case). I just don't want to end up in the situation where I've agreed to review a book, then I really dislike it (and yes, that's happened to me).

Primarymary said...

How honest are you in your reviews?
I usually don't finish books I don't like, but if I happen to get through one I usually won't review it. I do try to be as honest as possible when I review a book.

Have you ever given a one or two star review on Goodreads?
I am a member of Goodreads, but until last week I hadn't logged in for 2 or 3 years, so I have never really rated any of the books I have listed there.

Would it affect your review if you knew the author would see it?
No it doesn't affect my review if I know the author will see it, except maybe I am more aware of how I say things, and my grammar etc.

Would it affect your review if you were friends with the author?
I have this exact situation coming up next month. I agreed to read it before the author even had a contract to get her book published, because she is a friend of the family. I plan to be every bit as honest as I would with any other author, and I know she expects that of me.

If you thought your review could possibly offer a critique or what could be improved about the author's writing style, would you consider that helpful to the author and something that should be said?
I usually don't do that, the last time I did, I got shredded by the author's friend, and I've been reluctant ever since. I guess, if I thought the author would take the critique well, I might say something.

Heather B. Moore said...

Great questions. As an author, if I'm getting a 1 or 2 star review, I'd like some critical feedback so that I can improve on the next book (since I can't change what's already been published). I think all authors realize that his/her book isn't for everyone.

As an occasional reviewer, I am probably more biased toward my friends. So should I say I won't review people I know? That would exclude over a hundred writers.

Regardless, if I'm giving lower stars, then I try to mention what I would have liked to see different/better.

Overall, when a review is well thought out and professional, it goes a long way to strengthening the author's next work-in-progress.