January 20, 2012

Honest and Respecful Reviews

I'm passionate about books and writing. I love all aspects of creating a story, from the initial idea spark to capturing the words and finally editing them. I'm accepting of wandering muses and sentences that take weeks to get right. I don't know which came first, my love of reading or writing. They are so intertwined.

One of the many things I gained through publishing my own novel was an immense appreciation for writers. It's not easy to stay with that creative spark and see it all the way to a published novel. I have great admiration and respect for the hard work and determination required to see a book through to the end.

All of that being said, some books are not successful. There are many reasons: the story is weak or ill paced, the characters are one-dimensional and lack rooting value, there's such an extreme need for editing I can't get to the meat of the story, etc.

As a reader, I also take responsibility. Sometimes a book just doesn't speak to me. Is it my frame of mind? Would I like it if I put it aside and read it years later? Did it come with such a high set of expectations (thanks to other critics or friend recommendations) that it couldn't possibly deliver?

I review books here and on my Mom in Love with Fiction blog. I pride myself on finding the positive in most every book. I truly believe every book teaches us something, even if it's just teaching us what we do NOT like.

I recently joined WoMen's Literary Cafe Review team. As an independently published author myself, I want to give back to my writing community and review independent and small press books. Plus, there are some great gems to be mined in these books.

Unfortunately, one of the books I just read for them underwhelmed me. I am struggling with writing a review that will point out the positive while also being honest and forthright with readers. I want to honor the author's efforts while also providing input that might help them succeed with future efforts.

Ultimately, I want readers to respect my reviews and know I will be honest and fair. Not all books are four and five star efforts.

To be fair, there are many books (and movies) I end up loving that were panned by critics. I hope all readers will remember that reviews are opinions. Reviewers can be wrong, and I'm more than happy to be wrong when I give a one or two star review. I hope there are readers out there that will appreciate something in the piece that I missed.

How much does a review sway your decision to buy a book?

When I review, I like to err on the side of positive feedback. I give many more five star reviews than one star reviews. But, I don't pad it. If a book really deserves a more critical review, I feel responsible to be honest. If I read a review blog that only gives high ratings, I don't trust them as much.

Nobody loves all books equally. I try to save my five stars for the truly stellar books. I like to average in the three to four range.

Which do you respect more, a reviewer who gives more five or one star reviews?


J.L. Campbell said...

For me, it's all in the reviews. When I look at a one star review, I can usually tell if the writer is being reasonable or just plain snarky.

This is one of the reasons why I read the books that I think I will most likely enjoy.

I understand that my writing is like a baby I've bled and sweated into being, but if reviewers point out the weak parts, there's no way I can fault them for that. Unfortunately, not everybody can deal with a less-than-glowing review.

Jess said...

I have to say... when I write reviews, I tend to give out four or five stars. But this is mostly because if I can't rate a book 4 or 5 stars by the middle, I have to stop reading it.

I respect reviewers who mostly give out 1 or 2 stars. Because that means when a book gets 3-5 stars, it's a really awesome book.

K.T. Hanna said...

I have to admit, if I've not had a book recommended to me, but somehow find myself on its page - I always look at the one and two star reviews first. Usually they're not gushy - omg I lurved this reviews. Most of them (but definitely not all of them) give a good look into the book that isn't couched in high amazing praise.

Sometimes I agree with those reviews, but many times it's enough for me to pick up the book because I think, despite these one and two star reviews - there will be something I like.

Other times I don't both with reviews at all. If the blurb is well written and grabs me and the cover feels like effort has been put into the book, I'll generally download the sample chapter.

A lot of book stop there for me. A. Lot.

I sometimes think I'm far too picky for my own good lol

Tia Bach said...

J.L., I think we writers sympathize naturally with the difficulty in the process.

Jess, I almost always see a book through to the end, but maybe that's not a good thing. I have only put three books down in my life. I'm always looking for the author to change my mind. ;-)

K.T., You make excellent points. I need to trust my review but no others can still form their own opinions.

Thanks for helping!

Jaleh D said...

I try to look at why the reviewer gave the star rating, what reasons they gave. When doing mine, I try to state my reasons when I can formulate them. Unfortunately there aren't dual sets of stars: one for technicality and one for aesthetic. When I don't enjoy the aesthetic, I try to make a point to note my personal reasons, while giving enough information for someone who has different tastes to make a decision of their own. Technicality is harder to point out on occasion, but sometimes aesthetic will still trump technical to give a decent overall rating.

Tia Bach said...

Jaleh, Great points. It's hard to judge all books on the same 5-star system. Sometimes a book is a good read and well-done, but in a lighter genre, and it doesn't seem as fair to give it a 5-star as a gritty, charting new terrority read that's excellent. Hmmmmm.

Thanks for making me think!