book reviews


Occasionally in various author and writing groups, I come across posts asking whether, as a reader, I post reviews on books I do not finish or post reviews for books written by other authors. These queries come across as though the person posting were squeamish about book reviews. Inevitably, the posts gain traction from two basic camps of respondents.

To answer the first question, yes, I do post reviews on books I don’t finish. But I don’t post reviews on all the books I don’t finish. That’s an important distinction that should be considered by those folks who believe one shouldn’t review a book unless one reads the whole thing.

If I begin reading a book and it’s simply not to my taste at that time, I’ll delete it from my Kindle and take no further action. Sometimes I’m just not in a good frame of mind. Sometimes the book just isn’t what I thought I wanted to read. Regardless, I decide not to waste my time and delete it. That doesn’t mean the book is bad or poorly written or fails in some other way to meet my standards for professional quality. It’s just not what I want at that time. That is no fault of the author and no reflection on the quality of the book.

However, if the book is truly execrable, then I do leave a review. Reviews are not for authors; they’re for potential readers. If a book is just awful, then I feel it’s my duty to warn potential readers. For those who believe one shouldn’t leave a review on a book one hasn’t read entirely, I don’t need to read the entire book if the first few chapters or even the first few pages are littered with copy errors and other marks of poor quality. When it’s evident early on that the author published a first draft, then I feel no obligation to read the entire book. It doesn’t deserve my time, nor does it deserve any other reader’s time.

As for the second question, I was a reader before I became an author. Being an author doesn’t prevent me from reading or reviewing books by other authors. How restricting would it be if I only read my own work? If I’m going to read—and read widely—in my preferred genres, which all authors should do, then when I leave book reviews, those reviews must perforce be on books written by other authors. When I leave reviews, I opt for candor and try to be objective. If a book really impresses me, I’ll leave a 5-star review. If a book engaged my attention but didn’t have that “wow” factor, it will get a 4-star review. Something that is just okay gets a 3-star review. Unless I think warning potential readers is merited, I no longer leave critical reviews.

Book reviews offer a way for readers to support the authors they like and to warn potential readers away from those books they dislike. Being an avid reader, I always read the negative reviews first, if only because they tend to contain the honesty and information I’m on the lookout for. (I pay no attention to ratings alone.) For instance, if a book’s description (i.e., the cover blurb) doesn’t mention the book ends on cliffhanger and the reviews do mention that, then I won’t buy or download the book, even if it’s free.

My refusal to buy or download the book doesn’t mean it’s a terrible book; it merely means that I dislike cliffhangers. The author may have lost a sale, but won’t incur my anger, disgust, or resentment. If the book later comes packaged with its sequel(s) to complete the plot arc, then I may acquire the series later. Cliffhangers are legitimate literary devices; I just happen to dislike them.

I appreciate negative reviews warning potential readers of rampant copy errors, a protagonist who’s too stupid to live, and other characteristics that would likely ruin the story for me. I’m at that age when I don’t have to inflict upon myself literature I’m not predisposed to like. Besides, I always figure it’s better to lose a sale without harm or foul than to sell a book that annoys or insults the reader who then feels duped or angry and leaves a scathing review.

As an author, I crave reviews. Every author does. Reviews show that people are reading the book and reacting to it. Every author is a needy soul, so glowing reviews feel like validation. Negative reviews sting. I have come to the point where I absorb the sting, perhaps wallow in the pain for a bit, then shrug it off. I read every review of any of my books two or three times in an attempt to glean something useful from it. Although reviews are meant for readers, authors can get helpful information from them to apply to future books. It was negative reviews that taught me never to even slightly violate the one rule of romance: end with an HEA. Although I advocate for verisimilitude and realism in fiction, that story’s ending had better have a happily-ever-after conclusion to avoid infuriating readers. That’s a mistake I won’t make again.

Reviews give books and authors credibility. We’ve become a society reluctant to take a plunge into unknown depths. We want to know what we’re getting even before we buy it. Therefore, I and every other author begs for reader reviews. Our books depend on them.

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By hbbadmin