writing book reviews, as a hopeful author

I always feel squeamish about reviewing the books I read. Unless I absolutely loved it, and intend to gush about it, most of the time I’ll just commit to the whole “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” rule.

Last night I read a book that I liked even less than Twilight. (note: by the way, this unnamed book was not the *wonderful* book listed in my “right now” box there on the sidebar!) Or at least, in my opinion. Right, that’s all it is, one opinion?

The premise was canned, the plot was contrived and pushed just the way you’d expect it to go. The dialogue was atrocious. The characters were mostly stock, and the main character was wholly unlikable. Her complaints didn’t have enough grounding, her past traumas were painted thinly, and her decisions seemed to materialize out of air.

But at the same time, if you’d looked up this book, you’d find dozens upon dozens of glowing reviews from women who loved it. They say things like: it was enjoyable, and fun, and it had a good message.

So what is an opinion worth anyway, in either direction? Clearly this book was just not intended for me. I spoil myself on the best writing and storytelling in contemporary literature, so it’s no surprise that a lighter read might feel like a waste of my time. Maybe I should have known better?

But at the same time, I do enjoy “lighter” reads sometimes. And I thought this might be one of them. The premise seemed interesting, and I really thought I might love it. But I didn’t love it, at all! The execution was just badly done. It could have been a great “light” read, but it wasn’t. And as a writer of novels myself, it’s helpful for me to really pin-point *why* I didn’t like something, in real and concrete reasons.

Though at the same time, I am under no obligation to share those reasons. Maybe there should be a sort of kinship between authors? If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?

So are bad reviews helpful? Not every book is meant for everyone, and maybe my less-than-glowing review might save someone a few hours of her life. A bad review isn’t to flame the author (and I never would, not even Stephanie Meyer! lol!), but to alert readers that in some cases, if you’re spoiled on fine, well-developed literature, then there are certain kinds of books you might not want to waste your money on.

But at the same time, some day soon, my book will be getting less-than-glowing reviews from someone. Perhaps from someone who read it not knowing it wasn’t intended for them. Like this book wasn’t meant for me.

What about you? If you’re an author, hopeful or already published, do you review the books you read? Do you rate and star them? And do you put your name on it?

6 thoughts on “writing book reviews, as a hopeful author

  1. This is a question I’m thinking about right now. I’ve always been blunt and honest. But can I be blunt about something I didn’t like and still remain positive? Maybe, but if an author happened across my review would they feel okay about it? Many authors will take it in stride and admit that you’re right, not every story is designed for everyone.

    But there is the chance of offending someone, and who needs that negativity floating around your name?

    I think it was just last week, there was this hubbub on twitter about a book blogger and an author (and I think that was what prompted some of Zoe Winter’s blogs if you read that where she said authors should avoid reviews and that book bloggers wanting to become authors were a conflict of interest).

    Apparently the book blogger just didn’t like the book. She was really nice about it, listed all the reasons why she didn’t like it very succinctly. She went above the call of duty and listed reasons why she thought the story and the writer had promise. And the writer just blew up. On her own blog, she called her a hack who had never written anything more than a grocery list. Ouch! So these two seemed to sort of get into a minor blog war over this. (The book blogger then had to respond again in her blog and was still very nice about it but very firm. The author now has nothing but bad things to say about the book blogger.)

    Who needs the drama? (Oh wow, I hate that word, but that’s what it is.) I wouldn’t want to gush over everything, but if I find something I think is really awesome, I will pass it on and recommend it to as many people as possible. And if I found something I wasn’t that impressed with, I wouldn’t bother saying anything online in public, but like between me and you I’d warn you, lol.

  2. I haven’t written reviews for published books. I have only left short comments for a couple of flash fiction stories, and for a few sim story sites. As you know from the comments I left at LH, I am pretty upfront about what I think, no matter how wrong I may be, LOL.

    Even when I know I may not always be right with my opinions, I would not hold back on the hopefully ‘constructive’ criticisms. I reckon, if there is enough passion, a writer will keep writing from his/her heart despite of what I personally think or feel. At certain level of maturity, a writer would have learned how to filter out useful information from readers’ responses, positive or negative.

    I would not feel sorry for writers who gave up because writing is not more than just an avenue to prove themselves as masters of the literary craft. I believe everyone has the right to express themselves, be heard, and respected. Yet I don’t care much for narrative voices that are not authentic and genuine.

  3. Ah-ha, I think I’ve figured out why this matters! 😀

    When you’re a critic, book blogger, or author, your opinion automatically comes with authority. And we writers use this authority all the time when we’re passing on word of things we loved. We say we love something, and by our authority, most of our followers will automatically check it out, because they trust our opinion. Whether you mean it or not, your opinion means more than another no-name opinion.

    So that’s why it matters when an author posts a negative review, because their opinion comes with authority, whether they mean it to or not.

    Let’s take Stephen King, for example. If he read your book and didn’t like it, and posted about it on his website, that negative opinion would have a lot more authority than if he’d just gone over to Amazon, posted the very same opinion and signed it “Steve”. Not “Stephen King, the author” but just “Steve”, one of a million Steves in the world. Then his opinion has no authority anymore, and the review is taken on the merit of the point he’s making alone.

    So that’s why people who are authors shouldn’t post critical reviews, because using that authority in a negative light isn’t fair. (You could also question whether using that authority in a positive light is fair, because that’s something we all do all the time… but that’s for another debate 😉 ) Because the point is, we are not book bloggers or critics, we are authors, and demeaning another author’s book while wearing your own “author hat” is not fair, and is a conflict of interests.

    Lunar, yes, I did see that drama-fest, lol! There’s a whole other discussion, about how authors should and shouldn’t behave in light of a critical review!

    That said, I agree with the point she made, that once a book-blogger decides to try to become an author seriously, maybe they should stop writing book reviews.

    Lepifera, I’ve wondered about this too. Constructive criticism is a helpful part of the process while the work is still in progress, but once it’s published, the book is what it is, and there’s no going back to fix any wrongs it contains. The best a writer can take from criticism at that point is to just do better next time.

    That’s valid too though. It’s a hazard of putting your work out there in the world. You have to be prepared to have it be seen for everything it is and isn’t.

  4. Laura, do you think you’d feel differently about writing negative reviews if the author was already very popular and successful? Or if there were already a lot of other bad reviews out there about the book?

    Writing a negative review in either of those situations feels different to me than writing one for an unknown author, or for a book with lots of positive reviews (or with no reviews at all). It’s not something I need to think about, seeing I don’t ever plan on being an author but I feel like if my opinion wasn’t standing alone, or if I thought the author had enough credibility already that my negative review wasn’t going to be too damaging, I don’t think I’d be as reluctant to share my views. I’m just curious whether you’d feel the same.

  5. Nope, I don’t rate or review books. On my blog, in the Top Ten Tuesday lists, I’ll use books that I enjoyed, but I never give a real rating of how much I enjoyed the book and I never mention books that I didn’t like. In talking one on one with friends, I’ll go into more detail about what I did or didn’t like about certain books but I don’t feel comfortable reviewing books online since becoming a published author. The main reason is that now I know exactly what the author went through to get their book published and I know what they go through when they see reviews, and so I feel terrible if I give a book anything less than five stars. But also there’s the authority factor behind it, like you said. Just because something about a book didn’t work for me doesn’t mean that someone else won’t love it and I’d never want to turn my own readers off from someone else’s book just because I didn’t like the way that author writes dialogue or a certain character.

    For me, it’s a bit of conflict of interest for someone in my position to rate and review other books.

    I don’t think that writing negative reviews is necessarily bad. Everyone has the right to their own opinion. But there is a line that can be crossed. Becca Fitzpatrick, bestselling author of Hush, Hush, on the impact that writing harsh reviews before being published could have on you later. http://bec-fitzpatrick.livejournal.com/78708.html

  6. Carla, well I clearly have no problem ragging on Stephanie Meyer, lol! I’m mostly joking with that though. She’s clearly not hurting from my snark, and well, I’ve even found worse authors and books than hers too. (You know it’s mostly just because we’re all envious of her success, lol!)

    You’re right, reviewing badly in the case of a small author or where there are less negative reviews definitely does have a bigger impact. If we’re talking about a different product though – let’s say, kids toys – if I felt strongly about it, and I’d evaluated carefully that it wasn’t just a subjective thing, but that the product was actually bad, I think I still would post the review. Because I do think it’s fair that creators of (books/toys/whatever) are held accountable for trying to sell a *verifiably* bad product.

    But not if the review was just – “Meh, I didn’t like it, it sucked!” No, that’s not productive, or specific, or going to help anybody.

    Shana, OMG, this totally reminds me of a blog post I have in the works that I totally need to finish, especially since now we’re on the topic of reviews. because I totally DID have a very brief stint as a reviewer, back in college, when I was like 22, lol! I don’t think I reviewed any books very badly, though I did review one book positively, which the author then pimped all over the damned place, and if you Google my name now you’ll find my review for that book. I don’t mind, really – it was a good book. But maybe I should call him up when I get my book finished and see if he’ll give me a blurb, lol!

    But I do feel bad for one album review I wrote :\ More on that in a bit though.

    How about good reviews? Would you feel comfortable posting a positive review?

    I do review children’s books and toys at Amazon under my pseudonym, but I don’t really feel like that’s a conflict of interests since that genre is so far removed from my own – and I see it more a functional thing, since I have a kid and I am a consumer of children’s books, rather than being part of that production circle. I haven’t reviewed any children’s books badly though, only good so far. (I can’t really imagine I’ve ever read a children’s book that would be truly deserving of a terrible review, lol!)

    And on Goodreads, for books, what I’ve been doing is either 4 or 5 stars, or nothing at all. You know, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all kind of thing. I would like to get around to posting some actual good reviews for books I really loved though. Especially as I’ll be doing this myself soon, I know good reviews can mean a lot, especially for new and small-time authors.

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