Lately, the internet has been swirling with stories about negative reviews. The issue is not readers that simply did not like the book (there is nothing wrong with that), but with readers leaving reviews that are either unhelpful or unnecessarily rude. Some take it a step further and move into the realm of cyber bullying. For reviewers that fall into this last category, I can only offer you one piece of advice: STOP. It’s not okay, and you could be in a heap of trouble if the writer decides to press the matter.
For those who are writing either unhelpful or rude reviews, I think I can help you. If you took the time to read the entire book, and you’re deciding to take further time to leave a review, why not ensure that it’s useful and helps the author improve? I’m not going to inundate you with sob stories about how long it takes the author to write the book, and how their soul is transferred to the pages, because you already KNOW that. But a review is one of the only opportunities for that writer to get feedback from their audience about what is and isn’t working. It may seem like a small thing to you, but a writer digests every single review they receive.
Before we go any further, I do want to get something out of the way: This post was not driven by some butt-hurt experience I’ve had with reviews. In fact, I don’t have that many reviews at all (yet) so I can’t relate to a lot of the experiences my fellow authors have had with bad reviews. But I do know the difference between a helpful review and an unhelpful one. There are far better ways to say “it sucks.”
So, I will say it again. It’s okay if you did not like a book! Reading is a matter of great subjectivity anyway. There are books that are revered as “classics” that many people can’t get past the first chapter of. And then there are poorly written books that are loved by masses. In the end, the review isn’t about whether the book is good or bad, it’s about the reader’s experience with that book.
As a reviewer, your review should be focused on YOUR experience- positive or negative- with that book. More importantly, your review should be used to explain why.
3 Basic Tips Before Writing the Review
Read the Whole Book. This might seem obvious, but many people review books without having finished them. I understand that a reader’s inability to finish a book may be in and of itself a reason for a negative endorsement, but if you’re unable to review an entire product then you shouldn’t review it. Some people may disagree with me on this, but a better place for this is through word-of-mouth discussions.
Read the Book, Period. No, this is not the same as the first one. There is a growing trend of reviews being posted by people who haven’t picked up the book at all. The comments are of the nature of “hate the cover,” or “sounds awful.” A review should be something you complete as a result of using the product as intended. Literally judging a book by its cover, and nothing else, should be reserved for side discussions.
Be Consistent with Star Rating. Read the guidelines for what each of the “stars” means on the site you are posting the review. Amazon has a different set of definitions than, say, Goodreads. Additionally, the star rating in your head might be another thing. Having a rating that follows a standard will make your review more useful to others.
Writing the Review
#1 Rule of Writing Reviews: Be Constructive. This seems to be the area where people struggle the most. When you finish a book that you absolutely hated, there’s a natural, emotional reaction. You feel like you wasted your time! That book never should have been written! The writer doesn’t know a dangling participle from a hole in the wall! The characters were so flat you could walk on them! To allow this writer to continue writing would be a crime! /Nerdrage.
Here are some examples of unhelpful, helpful, and very helpful review notes. As a general rule, your feedback should strive to be helpful, and if you feel like going the extra mile, aim for very helpful.
Unhelpful: The characters SUCKED!
Helpful: The characters were flat and I felt their actions were inconsistent.
Very Helpful: Jon’s behavior was inconsistent throughout the story. He was described as being a jerk, but was always going out of his way to help people. His actions never matched the story the author was selling. Also, choosing Charlotte made no sense. They’re not only opposites, but there was no development along the way that showed why he might warm up to her. It felt like one minute he didn’t like her and the next he was head over heels in love with her. Disappointing.
Unhelpful: UGH, this story was so boring!
Helpful: The pacing was way too slow at times, and way too quick at others. It felt like a rollercoaster, but not in a good way.
Very Helpful: Early in the book there was a lot of exposition. Too much. All that backstory was not only unnecessary but I found myself reading past most of it just to get to the action. And then later when interesting things actually started happening, it moved way too fast. It felt like if you blinked you missed it.
Unhelpful: OMG THE WRITING WAS SOOOO BAD.
Helpful: I did not enjoy the writer’s writing style at all. The use of too many dialogue tags, and repetitive words, made it distracting.
Very Helpful: The author’s writing style really distracted me from the story. There were quite a few repetitive words, and the author insisted on varying up the dialogue tags so much that I was more focused on what word they were going to try to force in next than I was on what I was supposed to be reading. The dialogue itself was also weird; the characters are supposed to be in modern times, but they talked like they were in 18th century London society. I also found a number of spelling and grammar errors that should have been caught by an editor. All of these things took me out of the story.
As you can see, all of the examples basically say the same thing- that the reader did not enjoy the story, for whatever reason- but they do so in a way that is useful for authors and helpful for other people looking to pick up the book.
One final reflection: The words you use in a review reflect more on you, the reviewer, than they do on the author. They are part and parcel of the reputation you build for yourself. Do you want to be seen as a helpful member of the community, or as an internet troll with limited communication capabilities?
“Your rank in life doesn’t depend on what you learn , it’s about what you give to those who want to learn”
― Shamekh Al-Suwi