Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Reviews--Love 'Em or Leave 'Em?

I'm playing sad schmoopy music this morning because I killed off a beloved character.  *sniffle*  I haven't written The End yet, but I like where I'm at with this.

Hey, you want to see something really cool?  Remember last week when I compared unicycles to writing?  Here's a video of my son and his friend doing street unicycling.  Seriously, some of their tricks make me hold my breath!

Anyway, the topic at hand these days seems to be book reviews.  Do they really matter and should I do them?  I think they do matter, but that's because I actually read a lot of reviews and do put stock in some trusted reviewers.

As you all know I review books on this blog and I honestly state my opinion.  I put what bugged me in there and I put what I liked about the book.  I don't do it in a mean way (I hope) and I always try to find at least one or two good things to say about the book (the feedback sandwich--one good, one negative, then one more good.)  But some reviewers like to say they're honest reviewers and for them that means being mean I think.  I recently read a review that not only slammed the book but slammed the writer's ability to write in the first place.  For me, I don't think those sorts of reviews are needed.  As a writer, if that had been my book and my skills being reviewed I would have been in tears.  It makes me wonder if these reviewers know that the writers do read their reviews and we are only human.  Thick skin or not, personal attacks are hard to take.

But then that leads to the question, since I'm a writer, should I do reviews at all?  Some say no because I know the craft and look at things differently than just a normal reader would.  And the writing community is small, so I know most of the writers.  For me, reading is just as important to me as writing and I love to share great books I've found.  I don't think knowing the writer makes much difference.  My reviews are always meant to be my opinion and as I said, I try to keep them constructive.  But that point did make me think.  I mean, when I'm reading I don't think I'm judging it on writing merit alone.  For me, it's all about the reading experience.

Of course there are always some reviewers that just give five stars to everything and their reviews always seem to consist of loved the book, loved the cover, loved everything and then the back copy.  I don't know if those are particularly helpful.  When I read a review, I want some inkling as to what they thought of certain elements (plot, character) what set it apart maybe, so that I can make an informed decision on whether to buy it or not.  And yes, sometimes I even read the Goodreads reviews or look at stars.  If they have a healthy spectrum of stars, then I know it stirred emotions in people and I'll look closer at it.  I always rely on word of mouth and if you are an author I've read and liked before, I will most likely buy your new book.

What about you?

Do you rely on reviews?

Do you think writers should do reviews?

When you read a review, what are you mostly looking for?


Melanie Goldmund said...

I don't have a big book budget, so when I buy a book, I want to make sure I'm getting something I will like. Therefore, I rely on reviews to help me choose how to spend my money wisely. Whenever possible, I also like to read a sample of the author's work. But whenever I hear about a book that sounds intriguing, I always go straight to amazon to read the reviews there.

What am I looking for? Mostly details where the readers say what they liked about the book, and what they didn't like. I usually tend to look at the one-star reviews first, to see what people didn't like. If it's mostly just opinion without examples to back it up, such as saying, "this book is horrible," then I discount it and move on. (I also do that with the five-star reviews that say simply "this book is wonderful!") I want something more concrete, something that will really show me why this book is bad or good or mediocre or whatever. That rule of writing also works for writing reviews, I guess, to show and not tell.

Do I think writers should do reviews? Yes ... but that's not to say that only writers can write reviews. Just plain readers can also give good opinions, too. I don't think I really care who does the reviewing, as long as the review helps me know what to expect.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Melanie, I agree, just plain readers can give great reviews! I'm with you, though, as long as the review is helpful, I don't care who does it.

Gina said...

I blogged about this, and I just can't keep my opinions n this subject brief:

Debra Erfert said...

I know your taste, Julie, and I trust you, therefore I trust your reviews. You haven't steered me wrong yet.

I have to say, though, non-writer readers do read books from a different angle and, if they chose to give a review, do so from that angle. They don't know about the proper way to build a story, but doesn't everyone know if they like a book they've read or not? Writers tend to be more critical, I think, but we can soften the blow of a bad review, whereas a non-writer may be extraordinarily blunt.

Debra Erfert said...

Oh, your son has extremely good balance. I do fear for his safety, though. I hope he wears a cup. *Ouch*

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Thanks for the link, Gina, I agreed with a lot of your thoughts. (And commented, then noticed I had a grammar mistake in my comment. Ugh. That's what I get for typing with two kids on my lap. LOL Forgive me.

Debra I think you're right about non-writers. They look at things from a different perspective for sure, and one that is needed I think. And yeah, I worry for his safety as well. He's had some good bumps and bruises from this sport! :)

Jon Spell said...

Fun video! (Good thing they wear helmets!) Have they tried it on a trampoline yet?

I would prefer doing the review before the book is published* so that what I say can maybe provide some constructive criticism that makes it into a better story. A review I might write after it's published doesn't really help the writer all that much, but might help other readers decide whether to read it or not.

(* as a test reader)

Debra Erfert said...

My youngest son used to skateboard, and was quite good at it, too. He'd do tricks at the skate park, and go down into the "bowl" where he could pick up speed. Scare me to death, but he had good balance. One day it dawned on me he hadn't gone for a while. He came clean and said that he fell and hurt his knee bad enough he had to have a friend help him stand up and get out of that stupid bowl. He was 17 at the time, and figured if he messed up his knee permanently, then his career in law enforcement would be jeopardized, and he might not even be able to go on a mission. He was 17!!! At first I was mad he didn't call me, or even tell me he was in pain, then a weird sense of pride came over me that this young man could see beyond what most teenagers did. His knee was only tweaked and quickly healed. He was blessed.

Jordan McCollum said...

I look for honest reviews, too. I don't always agree with them, but I like to know what people thought, not just a regurgitation of the plot. And like Melanie said, samples are invaluable, too!