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20 August 2012

What do you look for in a review?


I'm excited to be taking part in the Reading Romances 'blog hop'.  The subject under discussion today is 'What do you look for in a review?'

I can only speak personally.  I've been fortunate in receiving some wonderful reviews, both from fellow writers and from professional sites.  Of course it's great to receive a glowing review and to know someone really loved my book, but I'm also keen to find out if the reviewer felt there was room for improvement, if the book was too long, too short, and, most important, if they liked my characters.

As a writer, I open a new  review with a mixture of anticipation and dread.  Will it be a good one?  Did the reviewer enjoy reading the book I've worked on so hard, or will they dismiss it with a paltry one or two stars and advise the reader to move on to something else, making me want to hide in a corner and cry - after virtually tearing the reviewer's hair out and demanding they read it properly?

Of course that is not the best way to react to a poor review -and thankfully I've only received two of those -  both were for Starquest the 'book of my heart'(to use a clich√© which would probably never get past a decent reviewer!) The first was posted on 'Amazon' by one of those readers who seems to enjoy ripping a book to shreds on-line, and probably feels important by criticising every aspect of the book without giving it a single redeeming factor.  That one I dismissed after the pain of my initial shock and frustration. The second one was not so easy to dismiss, it was from a professional review site, and although I really respect that particular site and its reviewers, I found this particular review very hard to take - for the following reasons:

1.  The book was edited and published by a respected publisher, so it wasn't the writing itself that caused such a damning report, the reviewer really disliked the story.  Fair enough, not everyone is going to love it, and I can take constructive criticism, really I can (just ask my crit partners) but this reviewer  gave away every important turning point in the book, so that if anyone had still been tempted to read it after this  review, they would feel they knew exactly what was going to happen, so it would make purchasing the story a bit pointless.

2.  While criticising the story line, the reviewer certainly made it clear she  didn't like the book, but there was absolutely nothing constructive about her criticism, or any indication of what would have improved the book for her.

3.  The reviewer accused me of fabricating a twist ending.  Now the ending is something of a twist, but it wasn't contrived, and wasn't even originally intended to be so. However, when I finished the book I realised that it was not logical for it to end as I'd originally intended, and everyone I've asked has agreed, without exception, that this was the only way the book could have ended satisfactorily. I didn't mind being accused of contriving a twist ending as much as the fact she then proceeded to give away the so called 'twist', thus ruining any element of surprise. As with the 'non-professional'  review, the reviewer did not find one single good thing to say. If it was not for the fact that I'd already  had many positive 4 and 5 star professional reviews for this book I might have been so upset and discouraged that I would have given up writing there and then. However I decided that if the majority of reviewers had enjoyed it, then there must surely be something worth reading in my story!

Oh, and just a word about reaction.  Tempted though I was to defend my work, I refrained from doing so and just posted a brief 'thank you for your review.' After all, it takes time and effort to write a review, however unflattering it may be to the writer, I think it's polite to thank a reviewer but very unprofessional to argue with them. Having read some of the drawn out and heated  'discussions' over a review that have gone viral, the conclusion is that it does the author no good at all in the long run,

Okay, I've purposely started with the negative, because I think a review should always end up with something positive, however slight, so here are my feelings about what I personally feel a 'constructive' review should do for both the reader and the author.

Firstly,  a brief summary of the story can be very helpful, so that the reader gets an idea of what to expect if they buy the book - but not if it gives  whole plot away. If the reviewer still insists on spoilers, they should at least warn that this is the case, and if the story has a twist ending, even if they didn't  like the twist, they should never go into detail about what happens in the end.  Sufficient  to say they didn't like the ending or thought it was not logical, but without revealing too much and destroying any incentive or the reader to find out themselves. 

Secondly, a good reviewer should not just criticise everything about the book without giving a few examples of what they thought made it so bad, and  perhaps giving some suggestions about how they felt it might have been improved. 

Thirdly - I've read some pretty bad books as well as some excellent ones myself, but no book is so bad that there isn't something good to be said about it. If it's badly written with poor spelling and/or grammar, but the story itself is interesting and original, the reviewer should mention this.  If the book bored the reviewer to tears, perhaps the use of words or grammar was good, or there were one or two beautifully written passages. There should still be something positive they could find to say. If there are obvious faults or flaws in the story, the review owes it to potential readers to be honest and say so,  but support your comments with  logical reasons for your criticism.

Finally, reviewer, please don't praise the story up to the hilt and then only give two or three stars.  This just does not make sense. If you did honestly enjoy the book but felt there were aspects that made you unable to award a higher rating, then say so, and gently point them out, this will help both the reader and the author.

We writers are, on the whole, a sensitive breed.  Please don't  destroy our confidence completely, there are ways stating criticism without it seeming like a slap in the face.  If you really hate the book,or it's not your preferred genre, perhaps you could pass it on to another reviewer who would find it more to their taste. After all, everyone is different and what one reader will throw at the wall, another may love. Reviewers should be able to give a fair and truthful account of a book, without ripping the writer's heart out in the process.

A really good review, I feel, is one that gives the reader a fair idea of the book's worth, without revealing too much of the story, and which the author finds helpful too, and sees where they can improve. It should point out the weaker aspects of the book as well as the best ones, and should never be an attack on the writer, any more than it should be full of insincere flattery or merciless criticism. There must be a balance.

To sum up, I do write the occasional review myself, but I try to be honest and  I won't agree to review anything I'm not pretty sure I'm  going to enjoy, so I tend to give high' four and five star ' level reviews, although I don't actually use a star rating on my blog..  This doesn't mean I automatically give everything I read a good review - if I hate it, I won't review it, but if I do review the book, then I have genuinely enjoyed it and while it may have the odd fault, for me, it was well worth reading and I can thoroughly recommend it to readers with a similar taste to myself.  It does not necessarily mean everyone will enjoy it though, as a reader you have to form your own opinion as to whether a book will be worth reading. We're all different - what do you think? Do you rely on reviews to help you make a decision whether to purchase a title, or do you prefer to judge for yourself by reading the blurb and perhaps flicking through a few pages?

And as a postscript - I'd like to thank those wonderful readers who take the time and trouble to post a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or just send an email to the author. For writers, readers are the most important part of the persuasion, and to receive a few lines saying that they really enjoyed reading one's book is the greatest compliment a writer can receive.

Please visit the other stops on this tour and read their opinions too.

1. HOST: Reading Romances  24. Naomi Bellina  
2. Marika Weber  25. JL Oiler  
3. Marika Weber  26. Gillian@TattooedBookReview  
4. Brunette Librarian  27. Kriss @ Cabin Goddess  
5. Marie Rose Dufour  28. Brandi Salazar  
6. Susan Griscom  29. Bea @ Bea's Book Nook  
7. Lynn A. Reynolds  30. cupcake  
8. Ravishing Romances  31. Alicia @ Mortality Bites  
9. Tigris Eden  32. Stories of my life  
10. JW Ashley  33. Jessica Scott  
11. Proud Book Nerd  34. Burgandy Ice @ Colorimetry  
12. Christine@ RCJR eZine  35. Valerie Ormond  
13. Keeping Up With The Rheinlander's  36. Cathryn Cade  
14. tmycann  37. Nette's Bookshelf Reviews  
15. Adria @ Breath of Life Reviews  38. Marla Madison  
16. Livia @ Butterfly-o-Meter Books  39. Sarah @ Lace and Lavender  
17. Kristabel Reed  40. Moises  
18. Kathy @ That's What She Read  41. Kristian Alva  
19. DDS @ b00k r3vi3ws  42. J.P. Grider  
20. Jes Young  43. Hywelalyn (Romance That's 'Out Of This World')  
21. Sara Farinha  44. Margie Church  
22. Diva Jefferson  45. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dave  
23. Elizabeth Burton  

'STARQUEST'    'CHILDREN OF THE MIST'  (The sequel to Starquest)  Dancing With Fate      'Freeread':'A BARGAIN WITH DEATH '

                  Also available on Kindle