In Which I Review the Amateur Book Reviewer  

Posted by Heidi in

Like all authors who have slaved over a book with hopes of publication and has—hooray!--succeeded, I am grateful for book reviewers, both professional and not. After all, they have taken the time to read my book and say something about it. That is a gift!
However, to my dismay, I have concluded that some amateur online book reviewers, whether it be on Goodreads, Amazon, or their own book review blog, could benefit from hearing the perspective of the average author, something with which I am willing, nay, eager, to provide. (I will endeavor to be kind in my review of the amateur reviewer’s nasty habits.) (Really.) (Especially since I have a book coming out in a couple of months.) (In spite of the alleged pitfalls and weaknesses of the book that was published last time.) (Yes, really!) (And it's a SEQUEL!)

1. Be accurate. For example, it would be inaccurate to say how annoying it is that every character in the book has a name that starts with the letter V when, in fact, there are only three of twelve who do. Those readers who despise when an author shows just such a lack of originality might turn their nose up at a book that is actually quite original in the area of character naming, and thereby, a potential reader is lost to its hard-working creator. In addition, anyone who has read the book will know it is not true, most particularly the author, someone who, ahem, has been paid for what she/he writes, and you will simply look, ahem, foolish.

2. Educate yourself. If you have written a glowing review that the professional reviewers hated or if you have criticized a book that the professional reviewers loved, this is something you probably ought to know before you hit the publish button. When you claim a book is, for example, “predictable” and “forgettable”, yet, the professionals who are paid to read and review books for professional publications from which professional buyers make their professional book buying purchases claim the book to be “refreshing” and “unique”, even, "elevated above the genre's usual fare", in reviews that can be read online by anybody, (including your readers), you run the risk of looking ignorant.

3. Resist reviewing the author in the midst of your book review. No one is perfect, everyone has their own set of personal strengths and weaknesses, even people who write books, so keep the review to the merits of the printed page, not the character who wrote it. If you have a beef with the author, perhaps you are not the right person to do a review on his/her books. When you start to spout off with conjectures in the midst of a book review about the author, whether you know the author or, especially, if you do not, you simply come across as petty.

4. Remember that the author is a real person. With feelings, (and insecurities) (and possibly paranoia) and hopes for a successful career. If a book is truly awful, a reviewer has every right to say so—even if it isn’t. However, unless the author is so successful that your pithy little review (does that sound bitter?) is of no interest OR/AND, he/she doesn’t have time to read them all, the chances that the author is going to read your one or two star review filled with cutting remarks is highly likely. And when that review is nestled amongst plenty of four and five star reviews, you just sound cruel.

5. Keep your ego out of it. Most reviewers do a good job but once in a while there will be one who makes it his/her mission to write something witty and snarky in order to make themselves look, er, well, witty and snarky. Though this might be entertaining for your friends and readers, it really is a form of bullying; i.e. cutting someone down in order to elevate one’s self. In the end, this comes off as plain old jealousy.

6. Be respectful. After all, the author has published a book. This is no small achievement. In fact, most would say it is a big deal. A person has to be somewhat intelligent to get a work of writing between covers, as few books by stupid people make it into print. You don't have to like every book you read, or even pretend to, but do you really think you know better than a smart author, a professional editor and professional book reviewers? When you couch your negative remarks in condescending terms, you just might come across as arrogant.

7. Remember that books are a personal experience. How one responds to a book involves many factors. Try to be open-minded in your review approach. Of course, your review is your opinion and that is what reviews are all about. However, damning statements might turn away a reader who has different tastes than you and who might have enjoyed the book if read. You owe some amount of partiality (and accuracy and respect and all the rest) to those who read your reviews. If not, you simply come across as someone who shouldn’t be reviewing books.

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 7, 2010 at Thursday, October 07, 2010 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

17 wise, witty and wonderful comments

Great review of the reviewer. It puts me in mind of Hugh Nibley's How to Write an Anti-Moromon Book. :)

October 7, 2010 at 1:04 PM

If you don't have something nice to say, don't say nothin at all.

Or at least don't say something purposefully mean because you are small and petty. Right?

October 7, 2010 at 3:19 PM

This is exactly why I never review books I do not like. I never want to hurt the author's feelings and it may simply be my own reaction--others may like it.

Thanks for this post--it needed to be said.

October 7, 2010 at 3:25 PM

There's a balance between honesty and ripping something apart. It's one thing to say you didn't enjoy something and another to bash something to death. I think we have to be careful to be honest and retain our integrity, not just let loose. Besides, once it's on the internet, it's there forever.

October 7, 2010 at 3:25 PM

Well said!!

I could never review books - I would be so afraid of hurting someones feelings. If I don't like a book, I just figure it wasn't my cup of tea (or Coke!).

I think books are so subjective.- I was going to participate in a book group online last week and the host absolutely LOVED the book, had read it numerous times and I could not get past the 3rd chapter. To each his own...which sucks when their reviewing your book!!

October 7, 2010 at 4:31 PM

I like that you talked about the author being a person deserving of respect. And #3 is good too. Keep the review about the story, and not about possible weaknesses of the author as a person.

I am looking forward to the new book!


October 7, 2010 at 4:53 PM

Reviews would be tough indeed...cause it is MERELY AN OPINION of what someone likes.
I never..hardly ever...make my decision on reviews of movies or books.
I like what I like and I don't care what people say.

ONE persons NOT the opion of ALL

October 7, 2010 at 6:24 PM

It takes courage to do what you did. Job well done. <3 ya! PS-The book was good reading as well. =)

October 7, 2010 at 6:31 PM

I love it. You had me laughing!! (And shaking my head about some people who write such things.)

October 7, 2010 at 7:55 PM

In complete agreement... even though I am one of these amateur book reviewers.

One of the hardest things I do is to review books I didn't like... and I try very hard to find positives in them. Often I will highly recommend them to other people (even though it's not my type of book) or excuse my dislike by admitting that I have a personal issue with X event or something else in the book...

and now I'm hoping I haven't offended the author of the book I just reviewed... hmmmm... because truly - it was offensive. (on my book blog... not my regular one...)

YOURS though??? You know I loved yours - completely a different genre than I'm apt to pick up, but a refreshing and humorous read! Really :)

October 7, 2010 at 9:32 PM

I agree, this is so well said. I hope there aren't people out there reviewing books who attack the author and not the book, but I wouldn't be surprised. Great post Heidi, I hope all newbie reviewers take a look at it. =)

October 8, 2010 at 6:01 AM

What a great idea--to review the reviewer. And you make so many good points. It makes me itchy when reviews are mean-spirited. What's the point of that? Just saying.

October 8, 2010 at 6:46 AM

You're a queen. The internet makes it very easy to forget that we are talking about human beings. Well said.

October 8, 2010 at 9:50 AM

I would add a #8 - don't review a book based on your personal viewpoints only. That doesn't make it a review, it makes it your opinion. For example, I read A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I absolutely 100% hated the book - but also knew it was well written, and two people whom I know, and respect their literary opinion, love the book. Now, I didn't review the book, but I've read plenty of personal reviews that eviscerate a book, merely because they didn't like it. A review isn't supposed to be a rant - it's a critical look at a text to help authors and readers know what to expect from a text and to highlight the good, difficulties, and occasionally the ugly.

On this note, I also hate reviews that go, "I really, really love this book. It's a great book. Anyone who doesn't like this book is mean and vindictive, and are YOU a published author? No - so you have to love this book or be stupid." It's the same problem as above, but opposite. Not that people can't really, really love a book. But that doesn't make it a review - it makes it a recommendation. Which is okay as well - just not a review.

Utimately, I like the end of Ratatouille where the reviewer says, "In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so." I think this is always good to keep in mind - particularly by the reviewer themself.

(And so exciting your sequel is coming out soon! I can't wait to read it -I love that I've 'talked' to, over the Internet, a published author. It makes me feel intellectually svelte and almost famous.

October 8, 2010 at 3:02 PM

I especially love number five. So well said. Great post, Heidi!

October 8, 2010 at 9:09 PM

Out of all of the points you made, I think #7 is too often overlooked. Where the reader is currently coming from at the point of reading a book strongly effects their reaction.

I've found that a book (Umm, Ok, I'll tell you the title: Pride & Prejudice) turned me off for years, decades almost. I was 15 when I picked it up & found I couldn't slog through even a chapter. I was umm, 32 or so when I picked it up again and found I was smitten. Smitten!!!!!

Strange how life, love & books are, huh? (myself included in that mix!)

October 12, 2010 at 4:04 PM

Here, here! I completely agree!

October 27, 2010 at 1:48 AM

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