Writing reviews has got to be tough. Personally, I’ve never written one, though I expect that now that I’m published, I will get asked at some point. I want to give good reviews. I know how difficult it is to not only write a novel but to get it published too. It’s very, very hard to do. I want to be able to support other author’s efforts. Authors look forward to good reviews. It’s a nice confidence boost even if they don’t do much for sales. We dread the bad ones. We want everyone to like our work, even though we know that’s an impossibility. Some will hopefully love our stories, some will feel very ‘meh’ about it, while others, hopefully very few, won’t like it at all. We hope those folks don’t end up writing a review.
So, what is a good review? When I say this, I don’t mean good in the sense of only writing good things about the book. I mean good in the sense that the review accomplishes the goal of expressing the reader’s opinion in a succinct and tactful manner. Overly effusive reviews, lauding the work as the greatest writing to ever be printed on the page can be just as harmful as spewing forth venom about how the book should be burned and the author being an incompetent idiot. While an author may love the effusive praise, readers know when a reviewer is not being genuine. You wonder if the reviewer was being paid to write it. These reviews do nothing to help the author in my opinion. If anything, they may make readers more likely to find fault with a book, just to prove the reviewer wrong. The same goes for reviews that trash an author. Readers will think the reviewer spiteful, mean-spirited, or perhaps out to get the author. This does not mean you can’t be honest in your opinions, whether good or bad.
The point of the review really has nothing to do with the author. It’s for the reader. You review a book because you wish to express your opinion about the story and either encourage or discourage readers about picking it up to read. So, what’s the point of lauding or trashing the author? None. It serves no purpose with regard to the review, unless of course you want to discount yourself as a reviewer. Personally, I put absolutely no credence in reviews that focus on the author in either good or bad ways.
Okay then, what do you want to focus on? The story. What works? What doesn’t? Why would you recommend the book or not? Was the plot riveting or inconsistent? Did the characters jump off the page or were they flat? In a way, as a reviewer, your acting like a editor, breaking down the story into the elements that work and don’t. Then, it’s your job to express that in succinct, tactful language. Don’t bad mouth the author for writing something you don’t like. Don’t spew forth purple prose saying it’s the greatest book evah! Tell us readers why we should read or not read the book, A-B-C. This doesn’t mean you can’t praise the author for doing something well. By all means do so, but if you really just don’t like a book, hate it even, avoid the trash-talking. Explain why you don’t like the book in factual, plain terms, and let others decide what to make of it.
And a note to authors, and obviously I can’t speak from experience here since my debut isn’t out until April, take reviews with a grain of salt. Appreciate the good reviews and ignore the bad. It’s just people expressing an opinion, and the bad ones (99.99% of the time) have zero effect on the sales of your book. It’s just one subjective opinion, and readers have a right to express it.
Note: check out the previous post if you’ve read any new UF/PNR releases (past two months) and feel like posting a review for a shot at getting signed cover flats or a copy of Deadworld (when I get my early copies in March). Happy reading!