Linda G. Hill over at Life In Progress opened an important discussion on Bad Book Reviews and since I happen to be patiently waiting for feedback myself, I thought I’d share my thoughts.
First, let me just say that Linda’s dilemma is a very difficult position to be in and as such I think she handled it well. I’m going to try and respond from both perspectives since I too review books and I am also an Indie Author.
As an author, though there are tons of authors asking for reviews, this is a decision I take very seriously and I think others should too. When I ask people to “read my book free in exchange for an honest review” to me this means I am asking for their honest opinion. An opinion I think is much more valuable than the money they would otherwise pay to just read the book on their own time. When I ask for an “honest review” it means I want them to be respectful about it, but I also want them to be real. That said, I include in my correspondence emails that if the review is negative, for the reviewer to email me their criticisms personally. This is so I have the opportunity to see where I falter before the world does. If my book is that horrible, I want the chance to correct myself. This, I feel, is only natural. Even when you have an issue with someone in everyday life, you have a responsibility to alert that person first before anyone else. You don’t tell Sally, Laura, and John and you do not inadvertently third person Facebook, Twitter, or blog post them. No, you tell them. People aren’t stupid. They will know if your post is about them. So that is why I’d want the opportunity to know where I falter before being put on front street. Now, let’s flip the script.
From a personal perspective, I do not care to write reviews on books I would rate at below a 3 (for Indie Authors) because I know how important of a consideration people take Book Reviews when deciding to purchase the book. I also know how damaging low ratings can be specifically for Indie Authors. I prefer instead to message the author privately.
As a reviewer, I email my below 3 thoughts to the author personally (just as I’d want done to me) and I give them the opportunity to decide if they want me to continue on with the review and to publish it. Since I am providing an honest review, I refuse to rate and or post a good review for a not so good book. For this reason, I think personal outreach is the best option. Not only is it professional and respectful, but it is also what I would want someone to do for me.
How Bad is a Bad Review?
It really depends on how bad the review is and the buying habits of the reader. Not everyone will buy a book based on its reviews. I am a prime example of this. I paid no attention to reviews before I became an author. Prior to this, I read the descriptions of books and decided for myself if it was for me. You can say that I’m old school. If the book was bad it was just money burned but it wasn’t a grand deal. I suppose back then every book was a gamble: win some, lose some.
Today, I pay more attention to reviews (obviously) but I still do not always buy books this way. Meaning I am more likely to purchase a book from Amazon based on its description and preview (first few chapters) more so than the reviews. Why? Because in the end they are still others opinions and while everyone is entitled to their opinions my thought process may not be the same. Just because you disliked a book does not mean that I won’t love it. On the other hand, there’s Amazon.
Every good writer will get a low rating at some point, but too many low ratings and reviews can damage an Authors overall Amazon rating. While I do think Indie Authors need thick skin in this industry, as a reviewer I would consider the stigmas already imposed on Self-Publishing, my own thoughts as an Indie, and how ratings influence an authors account. As a result, I publish nothing lower than what I see as average, like a C which is a 3. Before, I wouldn’t even publish three’s but have recently decided to do so.
So How Important is a Book Review?
Book reviews are essential to Self-Publishing, specifically, because its the conversation about the book and the discussion it fosters that makes the review of such value. Traditional Publishing already has a head start. It is backed by big publishing houses with large teams. Indie Authors on the other hand have to garner attention and discussion about the book on his or her own–which can be done in many ways– but is largely done by way of the book review. Good or Bad. For me personally, there is a greater purpose the book review serves. While book reviews can increase sales, they can also be used in other ways.
Good book reviews for instance can be printed on promotional items or used to spark important conversations. Bad reviews on the other hand can help the author to grow in the areas where his writing is weak. Who else is going to inform a Self-Published author (who has no large team of professionals) that they should tighten up than the compassionate book reviewer?
Bad reviews suck but as an Indie Author I prepare myself for them because I am, after all, asking people for their honest opinion. While I am not so naive to think all negative feedback is warranted (some people are just not going to be interested in the story), criticism is part of growth and even best selling Traditional Authors whose work we know is top quality, even they receive negative feedback sometimes.
If you’re really serious about your writing, you will expect the good and the bad. Think of it this way: For most successful Traditionally Published authors, there is not the privilege of someone successfully reaching out to them personally and getting anything but their agent or whoever else checks their emails. For this reason, these authors get bad review publicity all the time. Sistah Souljah’s “A Deeper Love Inside” (sequel to “The Coldest Winter Ever”) has so many bad reviews I would just cry. The moral of the story is: don’t expect everyone to love you. No author has this privilege. Understand also that while valuable, book reviews is just one way people decide to buy books so one bad review doesn’t necessarily mean your career is over.
As reviewers, I think its important to highlight where we think the author has done well and then give constructive feedback to the author on that personal level and let them decide if they want it made public (just in case they want to take your advice and change something). Speaking of advice, I also think its important for reviewers to give feedback that will benefit the author. Don’t just say the book is bad (different ways to say this) but be sure to tell the author why. Be thorough in your analysis of someone’s work so that they can follow through and improve.
“The thing about a book (even yours) is that not everyone will love it. If you don’t believe me, look up your all-time favorite book on Goodreads or Amazon and check out the 1-star reviews. Those people hated the book you love.
When you get your first bad review, you will want to defend yourself and your work. Don’t. And don’t let Aunt Freda defend you, either. This will be hard, because it will seem like some of the reviewers either didn’t read—or skimmed—your book.
Remember why you write. Is it for praise? No, it’s because you love telling stories. So, tell them. If praise comes as a result, smile and strut around for a while. If not, consider whether there’s anything valuable in the critical reviews and then get back to your work-in-progress.”
– Julie Doherty