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Truths and Myths About Reviews



While I’m a seriously prolific reader and I do review books, I’m going to tackle this from the point of view of an author. Here are a few myths and truths about reviewing books. (Feel free to add others in the comments.)

1. Myth: This book already has reviews so my review won’t matter.

First of all, reviews will always matter. Perhaps if a book has one thousand reviews, yours might get a little lost in the shuffle and not bump those stars up and down, but nobody has the same opinion you do so your review will always matter. Secondly, authors live and die by reviews. One positive review can sell scads of books. We can’t even qualify for some promotion sites if we don’t have X number of reviews. We depend heavily on word of mouth. On sites such as Goodreads, when your review posts, your friends will see it…and maybe they’ll be interested. There’s a reason why the despicable practice of buying reviews exists–reviews are valuable. In the publishing world, reviews are nearly currency.

2.  Myth: I’m planning on giving their book less than four stars so the author doesn’t want my review.

One, two, and three star reviews lend legitimacy to all the reviews. Honestly, as an author, you really don’t want nothing but five star reviews. It looks fake. Not that any of us are all gung-ho about one star reviews, but if you support your stance, we can appreciate those and they actually sell books too. Plus, they count toward the requisite number of reviews we need to advertise on some locations. But I’ve seen reviews with lower ratings really sell a story. For example, earlier today I saw a reviewer give a three star rating but qualify it with: I’m rating lower because I don’t like the amount of sex in this book, but I did like…and she went on to explain. One of the comments said that they liked what she liked AND liked more steamy books so she bought it. I’ve also seen books where a one star review said things like, “I didn’t realize this book was about vampires! I hate vampires!” and that sold books.

3. Myth: I was given a free ebook in exchange for an honest review. I don’t feel like reading it, but it’s okay because I wouldn’t have bought the book anyway and it’s an ebook, so the author isn’t out any money.

Authors and publishers have expectations of how many books they’ll give away for review. Sometimes, it’s an actual number and sometimes it’s just a general estimate. With this latest released anthology, we used a site that provides free books for review…and I don’t think any of the authors involved will use that site again. We haven’t seen any reviews despite the number we gave out. If people who’d legitimately planned to review had taken those books, we might be seeing sales from their reviews and it’s plausible that they’ve limited the amount of books we’ll give out next time. If you take a book that you don’t ever plan to review, you’ve taken it from someone else who might have–in that way, you’ve cost the author money. Having said that, life happens, things get in the way, that review may be a long time coming–that’s fine. You, your family, and your life come first, but accepting a free book in exchange for a review is a casual contractual obligation. If it takes six months or six years, precluding any exceptionally good reasons, you should really review it. **Note: if you are sent an unsolicited book from an author, you are under no obligation to read, review, or accept it. Your time is valuable too.**

4. Myth: I bought an anthology for one author’s work and I don’t plan to read any others so I can’t review the anthology.

Was it worth the money you paid for a single author’s work? It was? Review it and state that. Other people may find it worth it also. They might have been interested in a different author’s work in the anthology and now you’ve motivated them to read another story too. Go you! If you DNF stories in an anthology, your review can reflect that too. Nobody says you have to read all of a book or every bit of an anthology in order to review it.

5. Myth: I’ve developed an arbitrary system of rating that excludes ever giving five stars, but I state that in my review so it’s cool.

Okay, this might be drawing flames from readers, but arbitrary systems of rating are for your personal blogs or sites or whatever, in my opinion. If you want to rate books using chickens, or hearts, or buckets on a scale of 1 to 3, more power to you…on your site. Convert on other sites. I’m sorry, but the Borg recommend assimilation. Not everyone will read your explanation and, even if they do, you’ve dragged down the overall rating. If you’re scrolling through Amazon–window-shopping online, do you buy a book that has a three star rating overall? You don’t? Don’t use a three star rating to recommend a book to others. Goodreads has a different rating system as far as what constitutes a “meh” rating. Check out the hovertext on each site and then examine your soul to establish what type of rating equals a buy in your mind. Put your mouth where your money is.

6. Myth: I don’t have a lot to say about this book so I probably shouldn’t review it.

Reviews can be short and to the point. They can be a couple sentences and be enough. You are not going to be graded on your review. If you don’t feel up to coming up with a longer review, include your favorite line from the book to pad your review.

7. Truth: Many authors read reviews.

You should absolutely NOT write reviews to please or punish an author–that’s not what I’m saying. You don’t have to pull your punches. Reviews are not “how to write your next novel” guidelines for an author. Reviews are for other readers, not authors. Boom. Done. End of story. On the other hand, authors read reviews. If you attack an author themselves in a review or trash their book, there’s a very real possibility that a human being will be reading that and we all have varying thicknesses on skin. It’s a truth. This is an overall internet truth, in fact. Don’t allow the disconnect of the monitor to excuse cruelty. We are real people. We bleed. We hurt. We cry. Review fairly and humanly and never, ever take aim at an author’s family or threaten them. Keep Misery fictional.

8. Truth: Reviews provide an opportunity for your favorite author to write more books. 

I’ve basically established this above, but reviews are like giving money to an author. Reviews are like tipping your waitstaff for the service they’ve provided. Reviews are the standing ovation at the end of a play. Reviews keep authors writing. Writing can be an extremely lonely profession. Sometimes you never quite find that validation that you should keep writing books. Help authors write more books.

9. Truth: There are craptastic people out there writing reviews based on blurbs or titles or hype or their mood of the moment.

I’ve seen one star reviews because a book had a cat on the cover and there was no promised cat in the book. I’ve seen one star reviews because a reader scanned the blurb and hates books about angels. I’ve seen reviews on books I’ve read that I recognize immediately that they haven’t read the book at all. If you loved a book, write a review to cancel out the craptastic weirdos out there.

10. Truth: Authors appreciate reviewers.

Authors need readers. We do. Too often the relationship between authors and readers becomes inflammatory on social media or on review sites, but I think it’s because both sides have a hard time separating the art from the artist. Also, it’s very difficult at times to check your pride at the door and admit you were wrong. But authors desperately need reviewers and we do appreciate reviews, both good and bad.

11. Truth: Very few buyers and borrowers of books will read them, let alone review them.

If you review books you read, you are a rebel, a maverick, and outlier. You deserve to have petals strewn about your feet as you walk through the library while trumpets blare. The percentage of people who review books they acquire is so minuscule. It’s tiny. Your reviews are like gold, especially on retail sites. Be a rebel. Review those bad boys!

Having said all the above, I’m way behind on reviews. Super-duper behind. I owe an outrageous amount of reviews to friends and other authors I love–because I want to review them, not because I’ve snagged free books. I only review a small percentage of the books I read, but I do review when I can squeeze in the time, and I really owe big-time on reviews.

Anyway, other truths or myths involved in reviewing?

5 Responses so far.

  1. Katharina says:

    I try to write reviews, but I can’t always manage to actually do it.
    With some books, it’s easy, because I know what I liked or what I disliked. Especially if I didn’t like something and gave the book a low rating or put it on my ‘did-not-finish’-pile, I try to note down, what bothered me, because I actually prefer to read bad ratings, just to check whether I can live with the things that bothered other people about this book.
    But often I can’t say what exactly I (dis)liked about a book, just that I (dis)liked it as a whole and that’s when I only give a rating and put the review on the backlog.

    About the 5.Myth – I only rate/review on goodreads and I’m never sure whether it’s unfair towards the author to rate in accordance to the things the stars actually stand for.
    When I read reviews or just look at ratings, many people seem to see 3 stars as a bad rating… it just means ‘I liked it’ and often that’s something I think about a book: ‘I liked it, but it wasn’t very deep and I’ve read better ones, ones that I really liked or found amazing’. How should I differentiate between these three types of books if I give all of them 5 stars?
    What’s your stance as an author on this? Better to give in to the inflation or to rate in a way that fits the description of the rating system? (And I’m not talking about a selfmade rating system but the ‘official’ one)

    I’ve got another question for you – do you rate books differently since you’ve became an author? And do you see other authors as colleagues or as competitors?

    • So, I’ve mostly given in to inflation, to be honest, in my actual rating. In my review, I’ll state “3.5 stars” and “4.5 stars” but then I round up. I really, really wish that sites would allow half stars.

      I rate based on whether I’d recommend because three stars will not encourage others to buy on retail sites these days. So, if I’d recommend, it’s either four stars–I really liked it, but I have a few caveats, or five stars–I liked it and I don’t have to give caveats. Four stars: I will recommend if I see you asking for recommendations. Five stars: I will recommend without you asking. I will actively promote and recommend five star reads, based on the books’ merit alone. If I give three stars, it means that it was “meh” and I’m willing to acknowledge other people might like it, but I won’t recommend it. So, that’s how I work it out in my mind.

      Goodreads is a tougher crowd for authors. Three stars on Goodreads is closer to a four star on retail sites. The hovertext says as much. But, also, readers are more likely to scan through review text on Goodreads in my experience. On retail sites, they often impulse buy based on ratings alone. Goodreads’ reviews are often meant to start a conversation–one giant book club. Retail sites’ reviews are meant to sell or discourage sales of books. Three stars on Goodreads with a review roll off me and are often positive. Three stars on Amazon make my shoulders bunch up and I sigh.

      I see other authors as colleagues, definitely…and I don’t post anything less than four star reviews on retail sites or anything less than a very rare two star review on Goodreads. And I’m sure I do rate books differently since becoming an author, but I didn’t do online reviews prior to becoming an author. I know I have to be a lot more careful about reviews due to being an author because other authors are my colleagues and I want to be published by houses they publish for. It’s very, very difficult to be an author who posts critical reviews so I’m grateful to readers who take that hit because their livelihood doesn’t rely on them not rocking the boat.

      Did this answer your questions?

  2. beckymmoe says:

    LOL–I work in a library, *and* I review books online, so now I’ll be waiting for those petals and trumpets every day 😉

    Your star rationale sounds pretty close to mine–3 for me is really an “eh, it was okay…” rating even though I’ve seen some people give 3 stars and then leave a really positive review. I too wish we could do half stars, because the solid 1-5 just doesn’t allow for enough nuance. When I’m posting on a site, I’ll always round up on the actual star rating, though in my review I give the “real” one–I don’t know if people read through or just look at the stars, but I feel I’m at least doing my part this way.

    As for less positive reviews–I review the majority of the books I read on Goodreads, regardless of the rating. I figure if I took the time to read it (or try to read it), I should review it there at least. Plus, GR is basically my record of what I’ve read, and I use it to keep track of what I liked/didn’t like and why. If I really didn’t like a book (1-2 stars), I’m less likely to review it elsewhere–sometimes I’ll still review it on B&N and Amazon, but a lot of the time I don’t because of that whole “If you can’t say something nice” mentality.

    Though should I finish that thought with “come and sit by me” instead and put those less than glowing reviews up on the retail sites too? Do they really make that much of a difference, even when I’m saying that I couldn’t make it past the 50% mark because the heroine was TSTL or the conflict was laughable?

  3. DNFs are more complicated, aren’t they? I don’t usually rate DNFs and I’m not sure I’d post a review on a retail site saying, “I quit at 50% because etc. etc.” BUT, as a reader, I’m very grateful for people who do. I have a few hard and fast deal breakers that will cause me to DNF. I just read a review today in fact that said there was a love triangle in a book with an already married couple as well as some behavior skirting adultery. I’m not buying that book, even though it’s part of a series. So, I’m sure authors don’t always appreciate reviews like that, but other readers appreciate them and you might save people from being disappointed in a book that others might like.

    And TSTL heroines drive me nuts. Reading is a way to escape for me and TSTL heroines ruin that. Sometimes I have to read a good book to purge a TSTL heroine from my brain.

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