108 Comments

Reach for the stars

Good Sunday afternoon/morning/evening to readers of Kev’s blog with my monthly editor’s post. As promised, it’s the hot topic of reviews and stars.

I started writing (professional ie paid-for) reviews on my first newspaper.

The local Am-Dram, school plays, concerts, musicals, as well as books.

The most important point, was that the review had to be interesting. Don’t retell the story, whether it was Midsummer Night’s Dream or Showboat.

Say what was good, what was poor and why you liked it/didn’t like it. Preferably with a large spoonful of tact thrown in, as every person under the sun, and their families and friends, would be reading the review.

And, I pretty much follow those principles many years later when writing book reviews.

I see no point in giving a summary of the story when there is, or should be, an adequate one on the Goodreads or Amazon or Smashwords etc page. Even on my blog reviews, I’ll just add a short sentence/par saying what the book is about.

Book reviews are not an exercise in how to précis someone’s work.

Types of reviews

  1. Although gracing them with the title ‘reviews’ is somewhat inaccurate, there are the ‘I hated/I loved this’ type of posts that we see on Amazon. Nuff said.
  2. Following on from that, we have the ones who tell us why they loved/hated it. Far, far better.
  3. Analytical reviews, that focus on writing craft.
  4. Ones that mix 2 and 3.
  5. Bought reviews, eg Kirkus, which technically aren’t allowed as a review on GR/Am, but can be added to the author’s page.

There are some cracking reviews on GR where people clearly spend some time writing a balanced and thoughtful review. Here are some suggested tips from one forum.

I review/assess for Awesome Indies, and we have a set of guidelines about what to look for. They tend to be on the objective side, so that we are assessing the writing rather than giving our personal opinion.

So, any reviews I write for AI are objective. On my blog, they are more personal. My favourite book of 2015 was a non-fiction one – Bridges of Paris. Because it was a photography book, I could make a super blog post out of it using photos from the book.

Reviews on our blogs give us the chance to be more expressive and creative, if we choose.

But the stars, those elusive stars *****

It doesn’t help that Amazon and GR have different ways of ranking the stars. Basically, if you don’t know, GR is tougher. So a four star on Am would be three on GR. Crazy given they are the same company. In case any readers of KC’s aren’t aware of what GR and Am suggest, here you go:

Amazon

    5 Stars: Amazon: ‘I love it’
    4 Stars: Amazon: ‘I like it’
    3 Stars: Amazon: ‘It’s okay’
    2 Stars: Amazon: ‘I don’t like it’
    1 Star: Amazon: ‘I hate it’

Goodreads

    5 Stars: Goodreads: ‘it was amazing’
    4 Stars: Goodreads: ‘really like it”
    3 Stars: Goodreads: ‘liked it’
    2 Stars: Goodreads: ‘it was ok’
    1 Star: Goodreads: ‘did not like it’

The big question most frequently asked is: Should a reviewer write anything less than a four or five star review. Or, horrors! A two star one – which if you look at GR means the reviewer thought the book was OK.

Nobody working in the indie industry wants to knock authors unnecessarily. But faced with an appalling cover, poor writing, miserable editing/proofreading – what does the reviewer do?

Three options

  1. Do nothing
  2. Send a polite email saying the book needs a little attention
  3. Write an honest review

I’ve done all of those.

Do nothing looks as though you are ignoring the author if it has been a review request.

The polite email resulted in replies such as ‘I’m just practising, I need to learn how to write [well, yes] and I can’t afford an editor’.

A two star review produced ‘Why do you HATE my novel?’ Um, no, it just wasn’t any good. And in my review I pointed out why.

Reviewer abuse

One of the saddest aspects of book reviewing is the abuse some people receive. If you haven’t read about some recent poor behaviour, here are two posts, one by Susan M Toy, and another by Rosie Amber.

People are writing honest opinions, for free, and receiving criticism from authors who are dissatisfied with the reviews. Unreasonable.

I’ve recently taken part in a book discussion group on GR. We’ve all given the author three stars. At no time has he been critical but has accepted the comments with grace and entered into the discussion generously and has tried to learn from the comments. How much better than endless crying and moaning about ‘I didn’t get five stars’?

And, remember that some readers will focus on the three and two star reviews rather than the gushing four star ones. They often say more.

Finally

There is no one perfect review. Just as there is no perfect reviewer. What authors and reviewers alike can do, is read around, and learn, from the different types of reviews.

But should you ever challenge a review? Well clearly one author challenged mine (you HATED it). Others have said they worried when I read their books. And were pleased with my four, or, occasionally, five star reviews.

Indie publishing needs to move on and become more professional. And that means accepting all types of reviews.

Thanks for reading, any comments welcome, regarding your thoughts about reviews.

(I have done some links above to other sites but they may not be clear.)

Next month’s post will be about basic editing.

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About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and getting on with life. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog had his own blog, but most of you knew that anyway. Pippadogblog etc

108 comments on “Reach for the stars

  1. Thoughtful and well-done, Kev!

    Like

  2. I’ve never understood why some writers get so wound up if a reviewer gives them less than a glowing 5 stars. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. If a writer puts their book out in the public domain, they have to accept that some people at least will not like it. Now, I have read some absolutely brainless reviews too, it has to be said. But in general, good or bad, they are a useful source of feedback. Not ego-boosters. We all get a bad one now and again… the best thing to do is suck it up and move on. Thanks for an interesting post. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a very fair, reasoned, and balanced comment Ali. Thanks for that. I do think authors should read their reviews with some degree of discrimination. Neither Jane Austen or JK Rowling are going to get wound up about receiving less than stellar reviews from me. Just as Stephanie Meyer won’t be whooping it up that I gave Twilight books 1–3 four stars (book 4 got one!).

      I’ll be honest in that I do spend time on my reviews of indie authors as I respect their achievements. There are some cracking indie books out there, often far better than trad ones. But occasionally I read a poor one, either poor writing, lousy editing, or both. And that is a two star, without a doubt. I tend to lean towards an objective review because I think that’s more helpful, so that means I can say a book is good even if it’s not my taste.

      I think the question of who the review is for is interesting. In theory for readers. Years ago, when I read weekend newspapers I would scour the book review section to decide what to buy. Me, as a reader, used those reviews to inform myself. Now we are told that our criticism should be valid, that less than five stars should be accounted for, because the author needs to know that. Really?

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  3. The idea of reviews make my stomach churn, but they are so necessary. While I’m terrified after pouring my soul into a piece, I understand that they can be wonderful platforms from which to learn. And to be a writer, reviews necessarily have to be part of the process. Still, that doesn’t help the idea that they are a little scary. 🙂 And you’re right: indie publishing needs to be professional to be recognized as acceptable in its own right.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dang it…not “church” but “churn” – haha.

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    • Just as the internet has changed everything in writing and publishing, it has also changed reviewing. Whereas authors used to have to go through trad publishing and reviews were written in newspapers and magazines, now all the world’s a writer, and all the world’s a reviewer. As with anything, there is good and bad in it.

      Disregard the ridiculous ‘reviews’ eg 1* ‘It was so bad I didn’t finish it’ or ‘I didn’t like it’ as they are neither use nor ornament. Doubt anyone else would bother with them either. But a thoughtful critical review can be worth taking account of, maybe something to learn from. Just as the positive ones highlight strengths.

      I do see some increasingly professional books out there. But it costs: editing, cover design, formatting, depending on the author’s skills, time and budget. And that’s before we even begin to talk about selling the books!

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  4. This was a really interesting post, and a nice insight into the review process. And yes, part of being a professional writer (or artist, or musician), is accepting that not everyone is going to like what you create, and that can be for a variety of reasons. Learn from it and move on to the next thing. I write because I love to do so, and a poor review won’t stop me from continuing (once I’ve dried my tears, of course ;-D)

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    • Thanks Helen. I think the ‘we can’t please everyone and move on’ is a great, well, pragmatic, mentality.

      Once I’d got over criticism about newspaper stories and press office comments, I was heart of stone. I joke not.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. I mean it hurts, of course it does, but I can’t have a problem with someone not liking my book because it ‘wasn’t for them.’ That is the nature of art, after all. And if I received loads of reviews saying the same thing, that there was an issue with the book, then I’d have to take that on board as valuable feedback.
        And haha, ‘heart of stone.’ It is how we have to be in this game at times, I think 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think ‘not for them’ isn’t so much of an issue as criticising the writing. Now that, to me, is far worse. I think there is an issue about confidence too. Once I realised I was good as or a better writer than most, I had a different attitude. At one point, I was known as ‘the organisation’s writer’. Ironically it annoyed me because people earning more money than me would throw tosh on my desk and loftily say ‘sort it out’. They might as well have added ‘little girl’.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Fantastic breakdown of the review process. I’ll join on the bandwagon here and say that retelling the story in the book is not a review. Thanks for this great post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Picking up on your last couple of comments with Kev….

    What I would enjoy reading would be your takes on three massively popular novels of this current generation.
    For example:
    Harry Potter
    Fifty Shades of grey
    Da Vinci Code.

    How about it?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Long, detail reviews spoil the story for me. After I read three, or even two, why does anyone need to buy the book? I agree with likes, dislikes, distractions and/or weaknesses are not a bad way to go. These interest readers and encourage writers to sometimes, take another look.
    Great post. Not enough explanation has been made about reviews. This one takes the cake. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Absolutely. As soon as I start reading a review that tells the story, I click off. Don’t these people realise they aren’t doing the author any favours? Sure, talk about the story in general terms in relation to the review, but don’t rewrite it. Craziness. Especially adding spoilers. I read a book recently, went back to read the reviews, and one person had given away the ending without even adding a spoiler tag! If I had read that before reading the book it would have ruined the story for me.

      And, thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post! I write reviews on both Amazon (top 10% reviewer) and Goodreads and didn’t realize the rating system was different. I go by Amazon’s system for both. I prefer not to write 1 & 2 star reviews. I let authors know if I can’t give them at least three stars for a review. Some appreciate this, others don’t. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Best wishes!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much. I am useless at posting to Amazon. I’m conscientious on GR but I just don’t spend time on Amazon and I should.

      I tend to conflate the two but like Kev and others, I basically have my own rating which I explained on my blog. Seems to work ok. It seems stupid to give three stars on Am and two on GR, the inconsistency drives me nuts. And how many people actually know about it?

      I confess to being more sympathetic to Indie authors. For example, I don’t like Harry Potter, but I don’t feel the need to email JK Rowling to explain my two star rating!

      Liked by 2 people

      • In between writing I read extensively, hence the high number of reviews I do. I promise everyone a review. Reviews are what keep indie authors writing. It is amazing how what one person likes to read, another hates. That’s what makes us eclectic and interesting. Blessings to you. 😃

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        • I used to be able to read more published books. But as a lot of my reading is now betas or edits, they don’t see the light of day on Am or GR. I do follow through on reviews though. Timing comes after paid work because that takes priority.

          If reviews keep indie authors going, what about acknowledging the review? I’ve read differing povs on that one. Not a response, merely an acknowledgement.

          Liked by 1 person

          • When I see a review of one of my books, I do thank the reader. It’s like Christmas to me when I receive a review. I get so excited that I have to say something to the reviewer to show my appreciation! LOL!

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            • I really appreciate that as a reviewer. I emailed someone recently. Hey yes, great review, but did they like it? (No.) How would I know they had even read it? I don’t expect grovels, but there’s nothing wrong with a simple like or whatever so we know the author has read it. It racks me off because authors are always are asking for reviews so what’s wrong with a simple thank you?

              Liked by 1 person

  9. A really useful post, and I’m looking forward to the next, on editing.
    I review books on my blog as often as I can (though I don’t take requests except from authors I’ve reviewed before), and I’m happy to post 3, 4 and 5 star reviews, generally because if I find a book worthy of less, then I probably haven’t finished reading it!
    I do wonder if this makes my reviews look a little unbalanced, as there are no lower star ratings, but quite honestly I would be a little concerned about the idea of posting lower ratings in case an author decided to attack my own books in revenge – I’ve heard of this happening, and so I play safe.
    I like to think this is sensible rather than cowardly, but that’s only my opinion.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Deborah. Any queries about editing, or just generally interested?

      I’ve stopped taking open requests too, but will accept books from people who recommend to me, or authors I’ve read before. All the open ones seemed to be tacky romances.

      The only book to date that I haven’t finished is Grapes of Wrath. Really must try again! There are books that I finish for the sake of it, and those are the 2.5/2 star ones, so I agree with you there.

      I’ve read about the attacking too. Nasty isn’t it? There are so many supportive people in the indie community and then a few spoil it. Sensible? Cowardly? Pragmatic I would say.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Nothing specific, thanks, I just like to keep learning. I like to think my books are pretty ‘clean’, and my reviews seem to back that up (I’ve also worked with an industry editor on my two trad published non-fiction books), but there’s always something new to learn, isn’t there?

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        • Absolutely. The big one for me is watching the changes in word usage especially compund words. E-mails are now largely emails. Words such as ‘phones and ‘flu no longer carry apostrophes. Double spaced gaps are now wrong. Small points but they all matter. Even though I like apostrophes and double spacing!

          Liked by 1 person

    • Gosh, I hear you on the review requests and have just recently stopped taking them myself, and I feel pretty much the same way about lower star reviews, but sometimes (rarely) I feel the need to stick my neck out.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I’m late but wanted to chime in! An excellent post with some balanced tips.
    I do write three star reviews for books I’ve read and will point out the good as well as those things that didn’t work so wonderfully (POV hops, poor editing, etc). I don’t consider a 3-star review a bad review. At least I never write them that way.

    I won’t review a book if it’s a 1 or 2 star, but that’s just me. I have tried sending a few authors polite emails on what could have been improved (usually related to things an editor would flag), but they are rarely received in the spirit intended. As a result, I pretty much stopped doing that too.

    And then of course we all have varying opinions. I picked up a book recently that looked appealing. A reviewer I respect gave it an exceptional rating, but I couldn’t get past the 4th chapter I was so bored. It’s rare a book is a DNF for me, but clearly the story worked for someone else.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hardly late! I’ve not replied to comments on my own blog from a few weeks ago so a day is pretty prompt 🙂

      Thanks. Not so much tips as just an overall view, I suppose the only tips would be don’t retell the story and say why you liked/disliked something because that helps both the author and potential readers.

      Editing is such a vague term. To some it means correcting spelling and punctuation. To others it means looking out for POV hops, overuse of language, comma splices, too many adverbs blah blah. Although people do mention poor (and good) editing in reviews, I read one study that said what really switches people off is poor writing. I think that’s valid, but if the basics aren’t there I rarely get as far as assessing the writing, I am two (! for example) busy grinding my teeth.

      You’re right about sending the emails too. I have sent them to three and four star authors though, saying if they reproofed it I would add another star and that usually goes down ok. Whether they do get it reproofed is another matter.

      I like to pick and mix my reads. I’ll read just about anything apart from graphic gratuitous violence, especially against girls/women and animals. Freaks me right out. One author sends me recommends but she’s smartly assessed what I like and so far her recommends have been 100%.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Reblogged this on Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing and commented:

    An excellent post on reviews and reviewing written by roughseasinthemed for the KC Books and Music Blog (Kevin Cooper).

    Liked by 2 people

  12. It’s great to have an “authority” (because I do consider you to be one, roughseas) explaining the ins and outs of reviewing. Thanks for including my link in your post. Personally, I believe authors should learn to chill more and enjoy the process of writing. Then, if they do attract attention and good reviews from reviewers such as yourself, it’s pure icing on an already delicious cake! Looking forward to reading more posts from you in this series!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Most excellent post, Kate. I remember receiving an, ‘I’m sorry you didn’t like my book…’ for a work I’d given three stars. Hence the review and amendment to my ‘review’ policy explaining that three stars is a good review. However, I still firmly believed a lot of authors simply do not get it! I mean, what is there NOT to get about three stars being average and average being good, meaning it’s as good as any other book in its genre… Idk. I despair sometimes, honestly. Thanks for clearing that up about goodreads vs amazon. I give the same star rating on both to be honest, simply because I stick to my own rating policy.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Great post kev. Review should be kind and honest.

    Like

  15. Thanks for the shout out.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. The first tough reviews are hard, I’ll admit. After a few years of releasing books and collecting reviews, it becomes pretty clear that it’s just part of the process. Some of it comes down to taste – what one reviewer thinks is a breakneck pace, another will think is plodding. Then there are critical reviews that have motivated me to make changes. It’s all a learning experience. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I agree with you…the reviews which talk about ‘writing craft’ are more interesting. I avoid the reviews before reading a book as many of them are spoilers especially those, which dwell more on the story than characterisation, vocabulary or style of the author.
    Reviews can always be challenged as people have their own perspective yet it is better if the difference of opinion is conveyed in a positive manner. No writer wants to write a bad book and readers have their likes and dislikes. It is better to drop the book than be harsh in reviewing it.
    Thanks for sharing this lovely post.

    Liked by 1 person

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