Back before I was published, the professionals were saying the same things about platform as they are today. So, in an effort to build a platform, I started writing book reviews on www.NovelTeen.com. I figured this not only gave me good reason to read my competition, I’d be forced to write on a regular basis and I’d be helping other authors as well. It seemed like the perfect idea.
Between today and July of 2008, I've written over 470 reviews, and most of them were very nice.
But back when I first started writing reviews, I was not yet a published author. That didn’t mean I couldn’t write a good review. But, unfortunately, it did mean that I was discouraged. I held my own unpublished books up against those I read. I compared. And despaired.
How could it be possible that this book had gotten published when I continued to receive rejections? What was I doing wrong? My book was better than this!
The more I fed that despair, the worse my bitterness became. I started to believe that the publishers were making bad decisions. And my frustrations slipped over into my book reviews. This book had no plot. This one had boring characters. This one was filled with telling! I gave my opinion as nicely as I could. And I did try to mention positives along with my negatives. But I was so stuck on those mysterious writing rules that were being broken that I had a lot of negative things to say. I was following the writing rules and these other authors were not. I felt like I deserved to be published more than some of the authors I was reading.
I really had no idea what I was talking about. I was naive and full of my own entitlement, and I just didn’t have the experience to realize it yet.
Then it happened. I wrote a negative review, and the author left a comment. It was a kind, humble comment. Friendly. Apologetic, even. Something like, “I’m so sorry you didn’t enjoy the book. Thanks for giving it a try, Jill!”
The author had read that? Oh dear. I was instantly shamed and embarrassed.
Actually, I was a class A jerk face, is what I was.
It occurred to me then that my oh-so-honest reviews weren’t helping anyone. Me, especially. Here I was trying to build a platform, but all I was doing was offending people and sounding like a snob. And if I intended to have a career in the publishing industry, I’d best take care what types of book reviews I wrote because I might someday find myself sitting at a dinner table with an author whose book I slammed. Or asking them a favor.
So I made a new policy. I decided to follow the golden rule. If I couldn’t say anything nice about a book, I would say nothing at all. If I hated a book, I would not review it. And I was careful not to read books I suspected I’d hate. Sure, I became a rah rah reviewer. I only posted reviews of books I liked. But I wasn’t reviewing books to become a professional book reviewer. I had no desire to go to work for the New York Times or Publisher’s Weekly. I wanted to be an author. And my platform needed to respect that.
That didn’t mean I never wrote anything negative about a book. And sometimes this was more difficult that other times. If something bothered me, I pointed it out. But I tried to cushion the negative around positives, and I always tried to be kind and respectful to the author.
But I will never write a one-star book review. Here’s why:
-People have given me one-star reviews and it’s hurtful. I often fall into depression over one mean comment in a review, which is why I don’t read them anymore. Or I get my husband to read them first.
-I now understand that there are a lot of things that are outside the author's control when a book is published. There are deadlines, and authors are sometimes forced to rush their story. Typos sometimes happen in the typesetting stage. And the editor always gets the final say.
-No book deserves one star unless it is filled with misspellings and mistakes and the pages are falling out (in my opinion).
-A bad review not only insults the author, it insults the publishing house as well. And that editor just might read your review and remember your name. And when your proposal comes along … uh oh!
-The internet feels impersonal. And it might feel like those screen names or the author's name on a book is just a name. But these are real, flesh and blood people with lives filled with families and illnesses and bills to pay. Don’t say something online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.
This works both ways. Too many glowing, multiple-exclamation-point, 5-star reviews can hurt an author too. Books with only 5-stars look like no one but the author’s friends have read them. Buyers don’t believe that kind of track record. In my opinion, four-star reviews can be the best because they say why the reader liked the book, but they don’t claim the book is perfect. Four-star reviews just feel more honest.
If you ever want to give me a three or four-start review, do it! I will still love you, so long as you are kind and respectful.
This is all my experience and my opinion. You are welcome to write whatever kind of book review you want. And please don’t swear off writing book reviews altogether because authors need people who understand the power of a book review and are willing to write one. Book reviews sell books. They give life to a book and keep it from dying. No one should understand that better than another author.
So here are some dos and don’ts about writing book reviews.
DO use the sandwich method of reviewing. Share what you liked about the book, then share what you didn’t like in a kind and fair way, then follow that up with another thing you liked. Sandwich that negativity between two positives. It works great.
DON’T say in a book review that you normally don’t read this genre, then rip the book to shreds. If you aren’t an expert, don’t try to behave like one.
DO be honest, yet kind and humble.
DON’T get angry or emotional in your review. If a book upset you, wait a few days to write the review until you’ve calmed down enough to be fair. We are never fair when we’re angry. And if you can’t be fair, don’t write the review.
DO give a reason for anything less than a 5-star review. It’s frustrating to read an overly positive 3-star review and wonder why it’s so positive when it’s rated three stars.
DON’T hang the author for their difference of opinion. My first books were published in the Christian specialty market. And I have many 1-star reviews from people with different beliefs who rated my books 1-star for that reason alone. That’s cruel and unfair. They’re judging my beliefs in the review, not my competence as an author. If you come upon this kind of situation, simply say: Liberal audiences might not appreciate the Christian themes in this story. Or vice versa. Christian audiences might not appreciate the liberal themes in this story.
DO click “yes” or “no” on reviews that were helpful or not. The more “yes” votes a review receives, the higher it is listed on the page. And that helps the author.
What have you noticed about book reviews? The good, the bad, and the ugly? Share in the comments.