Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Business of Writing: The Reading and Writing of Helpful Reviews

Reviews are important for every book to meet with success. Good or bad, having a number of reviews helps to create buzz about a book. Every author hopes for glowing reviews. Good reviews not only affirm us as writers, they tell the world to read our books.

Not all reviews are positive of course. In fact, some can be downright negative. 

But here is the key: As much as you may want positive reviews, if you take your writing seriously, you need helpful reviews. Look for reviews that are honest and specific.

Writing Reviews: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Maybe. At least that’s advice my mother handed down to me.

There is some truth in those words when writing a review, but that doesn’t mean you have to be flowery and complimentary about a book you really didn’t like. Be specific. State exactly why you didn’t like the book. The reasons you offer may be the very reason someone else will want to read it. Here is an example: If someone said they didn’t like my book because they like books filled with explicit sex and my was a clean read, people who like clean reads will want my book and people looking for sexually explicit material won’t waste their time.

As a rule of thumb, if I can’t give a book at least three stars I don’t leave a review. If the book is poorly edited or had defects the author could fix, I will message the author with my concerns. That is the professional approach.

Reading Reviews: Don’t look only at the “stars.” Read and re-read those specific reviews.

One reviewer for Breathing on Her Own said the book was well written and had a good story but stated she could only give it three stars. She said the main character was infuriating! The reader lost her patience with Molly and referred to her as “smother mother.” Was that a bad review? Not in my book. If I can evoke that kind of emotion with words, I’ll take it.

Writing Reviews: If you didn’t finish the novel, don’t write a review.

My husband was probably the most honest man I have ever known.  He was so brutally honest he could embarrass me in social situations. (“Sorry, I can’t eat that. It looks like bait!” followed by a very loud, “Becky, why are you kicking me under the table?”)

He shocked me one day when told me about a time when he wasn’t honest with his teacher.

Tom’s fifth grade teacher required a certain number of book reports from each student. She randomly selected students to deliver oral book reports to the class.  One day, Tom was called on to report on a book. He hadn’t finished the book. He had barely started it, choosing to ride his horse and play outside instead of doing his homework.

Instead of owning up to his unpreparedness, Tom stood in front of the class. He recited the title and author of the book. He named a couple of the characters and told something they did. Then he lied. He spoke briefly about an adventure the characters faced (taken straight from the book jacket) then told his fifth grade audience, “I won’t ruin it for you. If you want to find out what happened, you’ll have to read it yourself!”  At least that was a somewhat positive review.

I’ve read a few books that developed slowly, but in the end everything tied together nicely and I was glad I finished the book. That said, I’ve a couple of troubling negative reviews for Breathing on Her Own where the reader didn’t finish the book.

Reading Reviews: I don’t mind a negative review if it helps me grow as a writer, but a review that states, “This wasn’t my kind of story. I kept reading hoping for me, but gave up after 20%.” Really? I understand picking up a book and later discovering it isn’t your cup of tea. I’ve done that myself. But if I didn’t finish the book because it wasn’t my kind of story…I wouldn’t leave a review at all.

Now if the reader had said,  “The back cover copy made me think it was going to be a sci-fi thriller” or something totally goofy like that, I would at least know to go back to the description of the book and see what made the reader think along those lines. That sort of review would be helpful.

Writing Reviews: Check your facts. Remember I said you should be specific? Make sure your facts are correct before you post the review. You don’t want to mislead other readers and you want it to be evident you read the book.

Reading Reviews: “With a grain of salt.” You may receive a review that is negative with no real foundation. Read it and move on. One review I had suggested the main characters tried to hide everything Laney owned to keep it away from another family suing them. Since that wasn’t true, I read it and moved on. [Actually, in light of the fact Laney was likely to lose everything, her parents gave up their retirement fund to make sure she and her family would have a home.]

A few ideas about book reviews for you to mull over. Remember as you publish, reviews are desired. They are powerful. And, if well written, they can be helpful to both readers and writers.

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