Bad Book Reviews
Can you take criticism of your writing?
When I am not writing on here, I am reading. When I have finished reading, I write a review of what I've read and publish it. I do this for all books I read and I do it for ARCs through Reedsy Discovery and Book Sirens. I then share my reviews through Amazon, BookBub, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads and my own blog at scuffedgranny.com. From my blog, links to these reviews then subsequently get shared to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr.
I am a pretty active book reviewer and most of the time the books that I read are rather good. I read because I love to and I have eclectic taste: I read fiction and non fiction, stories and travel books, memoirs and poems, historical and contemporary, science fiction and fantasy. Of late, I have become more selective in the ones that I pick, and now carefully read the first chapter that is provided although this, in itself, is not always a clear indicator of whether a book is good or bad. I don't know about you but being stuck in a story that is uninteresting or badly written is no fun, no fun at all.
The websites that I write for are clear that I do not have to write a good review, in that, I do not have to give four or five stars to all books out of kindness. However, they do state that it needs to be fair, in that, you are constructive in what you are saying about it and you need to frame your less than favourable opinions in a way that is considerate.
I try to do this and to be frank, I do feel that I am fair in my assessment. I don't write gratuitous comments to wound and some reviewers do. I read one particularly acerbic review where one star was given. It was funny for me to read as the reviewer let rip in a witty direct way that I could appreciate, but the author must have been destroyed by it. For me, it was unnecessary.
I do criticise and point out what I think was lacking or what could have been improved but I am gracious in the relaying of my assessment. Or at least, I think I am.
But lately, on Reedsy Discovery, I have been receiving comments from the authors about my reviews which show that they have been viewed less than favourably by them.
I don't always get negative comments. Some authors are only too keen to tell me how pleased they were with my review of their book and sometimes they even tip, which I never get tired of as it is a validation that they appreciate the time it has taken me to read their book and write a review. Sometimes they seek me out outside of the websites to thank me, which is rather nice. It feels more personal somehow.
However, there are some writers who are disgruntled by my less than ecstatic reviews and these are the ones who usually tackle me, in open forum, about my words.
I get it. It's not nice to have your work criticised. I know that because I am a writer too. Nobody writes because they want a lukewarm response. You want to share your vision with the world and you want that to be applauded with something close to rapture, especially your fiction because it is a labour of love. It is something which you have created and it contains the very essence of you, like a literary baby. You have invested time in it. You have searched your imagination for characters and plot to surprise and delight and when someone reads it and doesn't find it to be the next bestseller, it can hurt.
I get it.
For some, the publication of their book is an event and when you release your words into the public forum, there is no doubt that you want it to be well received. The thing is, is that you are taking a risk in doing this. You may have read and re-read your work and think that it is amazing. You may have had an editor involved who has tweaked and pruned your work to perfection in your eyes like a topiary figure, to be admired and appreciated. You may have sent that work out to your nearest and dearest and they may have praised it and applauded it and shared it with many others and you may feel that your ambition to be a writer has been validated by the public. It is ready to launch!
But these views of your work are not a reflection of the general populace by whom your work will be devoured. These people have got your back. These people are a microcosm of society compared to the millions to whom your work will be potentially exposed if you self publish on Amazon or if you use a platform like Reedsy Discovery as a springboard from which to jettison your novel into the world.
Because once it's out there, anyone can read it. And, they won't all like it. You have to be prepared for this. You have to realise that subjective opinion is something to which you will be exposed. If you are sensitive to that, then it may be better for you not to put your work out there but keep it secreted away, safe and secure, for your eyes only. Or alternatively, accept that there is a chance that it won't be liked.
This applies to me as a reviewer too. I don't mind being tackled about my reviews at all and I have taken these conflicts on the chin, addressing them, not ignoring them. You see, I reflect very carefully all the way through as to what star rating I feel a book deserves. Sometimes they start with a lower star rating - some great books that I have read have been slow to start but then grip you with the ferocity and strength of a wolf's jaw. Sometimes the opposite is true - they begin well and I love the momentum and the character development but, for whatever reason, they lose the power they had over me and I become distracted and driven to finish them rather than enthralled. This can also be caused by badly proofread manuscripts where my training as a teacher takes over and I feel compelled to "mark" them. This is not good. It takes you completely out of the story. I would liken it to having a car that has the potential to drive well but stutters occasionally and without warning, causing you to stall or be concerned about how the journey will continue. I have read a few of these and they are a chore.
So, if I am questioned, I am able to back up my view of the book because I am always involved in the process, even those books that don't always thrill. I evaluate and reflect constantly and when I get to the end, I think before I write my review about where I would place it on the star rating. I am confident in my reading of it and my evaluation and accept that I may be challenged about it. I am fair in my assessment. Or at least, I think I am.
It would appear that authors think otherwise.
I'm not sure what the writers' expectations are with regard to their reviews. I know that you have to pay to launch your book on Reedsy Discovery but I don't get paid at all. I receive the ARC (Advance Review Copy) and have a window in which to read it and write my review. As mentioned, if the writer wants to proffer a tip, they can. If not, then my time has been reciprocated by the joy I have received from reading a book I didn't purchase and, I suppose, being at the forefront of independent book publishing.
And I have to say that generally this is quite rewarding. Some of my three star reviews have been well received and one poet even sent me a hard copy of their book with a personal message which I will keep forever and treasure. This was in response to what I wrote in my review because I got it. I understood what she was trying to relate through her poems and this was shown in what I wrote about her words. She was not hung up on the star rating - she appreciated the fact that I had read her work, got something from it and was able to relay that to anyone reading my review.
That was not particular to her book. I do that in all of them.
As more and more authors challenge me though, I am starting to wonder if there is an expectation that their review will be a good one, no matter what. I have tried to explain that the books get put into a pool so that anyone can select it and choose it to review. This means that if that one reader is less than inspired by your book, they may leave a less than glowing review. There is an element of chance in this process although Reedsy Discovery do offer the means for you to choose your reviewer. But it could be that the person who selects your book may just give you an average review.
One of the books I read had already received five star reviews from other websites and the author was quite effusive in their condemnation of my three star rating. I stood by it when challenged in open forum and thought about it some more after I had been called out on it. I felt like my review was fair. I sought out the other reviews to see what had been written and we said much the same things, only they had given a higher rating.
More recently, I was accused of not helping an author with the launch of their book with my review. I gave it three stars and I liked it but I could not give it more than that based on my reading of it. I addressed all the points of the writer's criticism of me but did feel that I was being targeted because my review had not provided something of which they were expecting and that that must have been high praise and the lauded heights of a five star review.
Are we becoming more sensitive to criticism or has it always been this way? With the advent of the ease of self-publishing, is there a rise of writers who perceive themselves to be good but are, in fact, just average? Is a star rating system overshadowing the actual written essence of the review?
This leads me to question myself too.
Am I a harsh reviewer compared to others? Are my standards different to others? I don't know about this although there is a good chance that both of these statements are true. But I do know that I know what I like and can articulate this clearly, backing it up with evidence from the text if need be.
I like reviewing, I do. I will continue to do it because I enjoy the process of evaluating why I liked a book. Sometimes, this is easier to do with some rather than others. Sometimes, I have to scramble for something to say that will fill my 300 word quota but I feel I owe it to the writer to do this in as thorough a way as possible. Those reviews take the longest to write as I consider what I can say, especially if the book is average, as finding the words to enthuse or reflect are hard to dredge up.
I understand that their work is important to them. After all, I write fiction too as well as blogs about my travels and opinion pieces, like this one. But I can only write about my view of the book. It will be subjective as it is my view. I can't skew it to what someone wants to hear. The day that that happens is the day that I am no longer a reviewer but an acolyte.
And we should be able to take criticism. Criticism does not have to be a negative thing. How can we get better if we don't know what's wrong? If there is one thing that I have learnt about life, it's that nothing is perfect and that mistakes get made. This can apply to writing too. I know that the more I write, the better it will get because like everything, it takes practice. It is also about finding your voice and what you are comfortable writing about.
I understand that people are defensive when they are criticised but you should be open to it and enquire about it. Find out exactly what your readers didn't like. Reflect on it. Return to your work and identify it if you can. If it's something that you think is valid, improve on it. Take it on board. But be discerning. Not everyone is going to be offering criticism that you can examine and use. That is a fact of life. Some people take joy at putting others down and you have to be able to see past that for what it is.
It's hard, and even I, for all my advice here, feel the sting of less than complimentary words. And this is why I try to be as gentle as I can when reviewing because I know that at the other end is someone who cares about what I write; who wants their work to be validated; who doesn't want to be torn apart.
But, I have to remain true to myself as well and that is why all of my reviews will continue to be honest. And my star ratings will also mirror my opinion of the book.
So, don't get disheartened by bad book reviews. Bad book reviews do not mean your book is bad but they may mean that your book could be better and this may be good advice to channel into the next one.
About the author
Mum, blogger, crafter, reviewer, writer, traveller: I love to write and I am not limited by form. Here, you will find stories, articles, opinion pieces, poems, all of which reflect me: who I am, what I love, what I feel, how I view things.
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