Sunday, November 3, 2013

Writing Honest Reviews

Mar Preston

Quite a number of book review sites have sprung up on Facebook, offering authors an opportunity to post a request for reviews. Most often the moderators of the sites request that the book in question be offered to the reviewer for free. And no reviewer is paid.

You see the book cover, a blurb about the contents of the book, and get a sense of its style and genre. Most authors ask that you post the review on Amazon. Some also ask that you post on Goodreads as well.

A few tips about accepting an offer to swap reviews:

It’s really best if you limit your reviews to works in your own genre. I write police procedurals. I don’t read young adult fantasy. I feel I shouldn’t review it.
Check out what former reviewers have said about the book. We all know that the first reviewers will be your sister, your best friend, and people in your writing group. Look at the 1, 2, and 3-star reviews as well. Often they may be more honest. Let them guide you before you jump in and agree to review an 800-page novel.
Decide what points or stars you will deduct for poor editing, proofreading, and grammar. Or not.
If you save 5-star reviews for the next Tolstoy-Evski, how do you rate a book that was better than anything you’d read lately, but it’s definitely not a first-rate classic.
How do you rate a book that you liked a lot, but which had some bad flaws?
How do you rate a book that you just couldn’t finish because the book was so bad that reading it caused you pain?
Now looking at all those points above, how do you make all those calculation on a book from a stranger against one from an author you know, one whom you’re likely to run into at conferences and book fairs? Or worse a friend?

I want to be honest and fair. Some books I’ve agreed to review are just dreadful. The best writing the author did was the blurb and the Facebook posting.

It is terribly difficult, for me at least, to post a review that is less than a 3-star. I would prefer to write to the author by email and say that I would like to be helpful, yet kind, and perhaps the author would like to see the review first, and make a choice on whether or not the author would like to see the review posted. 

I am putting my name on this review and I want my opinion to be worth something. If I give everything 5-stars, my opinion is worthless. 

Reviewing books from authors I’m friendly with creates a dilemma? How do you deal with this issue?


Patricia Gligor said...

I really enjoyed this post. I think this is something that all of us struggle with. I've decided that what my father taught me is the best advice: "Honesty is the best policy." So, if I read (or start to read) a novel that I absolutely cannot get into, I do NOT review it. And, I never "trade" reviews because that puts the other author and me in a "difficult" situation. What if I like their book but they don't like mine? Or vice versa.

Mar Preston said...

Believe me, I'm getting a lot more choosy about exchanging reviews. I usually check out the book on Amazon and read the pages they offer as a sample.

C.M. Albrecht said...

I've had some great reviews from some very kind people I respect. Frankly I'm afraid to exchange reviews because I'm too chicken to tell it like it is unless the work is really good. A lot of reviewers are mentioned on the Internet but I've found that most of them are already overwhelmed with books and/or simply don't respond. One kind reviewer charged me a recipe which I was happy to pay.
My next epic, "The Morgenstern Murders" is in the final quarter and my publisher, Arline Chase at Cambridge Books has promised to give it prompt attention, so unless she thinks it's horrible, I think it should appear possibly before the end of the year. Good reading and writing!

Jean Henry Mead said...
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Jean Henry Mead said...
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Mar Preston said...

I'm so curious what the author above decided NOT to say. Perhaps it's just a technical glitch rather than second thoughts.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I review a lot of books, what I do is tell what I did like, seldom what I didn't. Mainly because I've seen books that didn't move me a all bet rave reviews, so who knows the next guy might love what I didn't.

Mar Preston said...

I would imagine though, Marilyn, that what you spotted and didn't like were flaws in the book.