A Publisher’s Thoughts on Book Reviews

As a publisher and avid reader, I read SO many book reviews – both of our books and of others. Reviews that are done by average readers such as those on Goodreads or bookstores; reviews written for professional reviewing entities like Kirkus or Booklist; and reviews that bloggers write on their blogs.

Thankfully, the vast majority are well written and thought out – expounding on the reader’s thoughts about the book, the characters, the plot, the writing, etc. Intelligently discussing what they liked and didn’t like. In the end, they apply a number or star rating which is a usually a requisite of the site which they are posting to, like Goodreads or Amazon.

However, there are those reviews that are the opposite of this, written by people who love to hate. They seem to spend a lot of time thinking up fancy words to describe how bad the book is, what a horrible person the author must be, or how they can’t believe the hype around the book because it is simply the worst piece of literary torture they’ve subjected themselves to.

Then, and even worse than the aforementioned type, there are those who quickly whip up a very negative review of the book wherein they describe aspects of the book that weren’t even there: wrong character’s names; or ideas that are misrepresented; all wrapped up in a misspelled mess of a paragraph. It makes me think that perhaps they didn’t really read the book or read it so quickly that the essence of the book didn’t really seep in.

Personally speaking, I want to read the first type. But, I don’t want to read only positive reviews, I read the negative ones too, because it helps me decide if I should buy the book for myself and in the case of our own books, it helps me and the author make better books. I honestly like reading other people’s opinions, even if they don’t agree with my own. I find these reviews so terribly helpful in so many ways and I only wish everyone would do this. It helps make the book world a better place – truly.

The last two types of reviews do nothing to help authors, other readers or publishers. All they do is show that some people are capable of spewing forth such vitriol that it makes the rest of us wonder what those people are like off-line.

In an era when we are so exposed to everyone’s thoughts, we are subjected to so much negativity and hate. It drags us all down. I am in no way suggesting that we all live in one happy bubble where everyone and everything is GREAT. Like most regular folk, I am suggesting that we remember that our online presence is just as important as how we act offline. That the words we use and the way we use them affect people – deeply. Sure, I tell our authors to grow a thick skin and just deal with the bad reviews. But personal attacks on a writer are just so unnecessary, and poorly written, hateful reviews affect writers just as much as if you had walked up to them in real life and told them that they suck.

I think it’s easy to pick on people that we perceive as untouchable: actors, artists, singers, writers, politicians, etc. All these people are doing their jobs and in most cases, trying their best. Sure, we know that doing this job means we open ourselves up to public criticism, but unless we have done something truly heinous, we are looking for praise and constructive criticism. Just like people who are doing jobs that are seemingly more mundane like working in a bank, writing marketing campaigns or building roads.

Today, I read a great Facebook post from author, Molly Ringle which actually inspired this blog post. In it she declares today to be Good Karma on Goodreads Day. Here’s the text from her post:

I’m declaring it Good Karma on Goodreads day! (Or Amazon, if you don’t have a Goodreads account.) What you must do: go to Goodreads/Amazon and click “like” on a few POSITIVE, decently written reviews. They don’t have to be for my books–though of course that’d be awesome. They can be for any books that interest you or that you’ve enjoyed.
The more “likes” a review has on Goodreads and Amazon, the higher it gets placed, so more people see it. So please, let’s boost the nice and useful things that are said out there, to counter the mean snark!
Feel free to share this post if you think your friends might like to do this too. Maybe we can make it a weekly thing. The internet needs more nice.

I would suggest that you like the reviews that you truly do like – and don’t be disingenuous (not that Molly is suggesting that either). Do what feels right and good and help spread good feelings. Because we all know what karma does when it comes around.


9 thoughts on “A Publisher’s Thoughts on Book Reviews

  1. Hayley Knighten

    Great post and very helpful for those of us who write reviews. I try with my own reviews to get the book in the hands of those who would enjoy it since I think that is more important than whether or not I personally enjoyed the book. However, I do point out areas that the target audience may struggle through as well as highlight what they are likely to love about the book. I wish more reviewers did this. Books are the product of a lot of time and love by a team of creative people. Not every book will be enjoyed by every reader, but that does not mean the book is without value.

    • Michelle

      Hi Hayley, thanks so much for commenting. I read through some of your posts and they are indeed well thought out and very professional. Thankfully, most reviewers are the same and they put amazing and careful thought into their reviews. Just goes to show you what kind of people they truly are. Oh and good luck with your writing as well!

  2. banistersmind

    When I’ve been asked to review a book, I review it based on a few key elements – story construction, plotting, character development and readability – that is to say, whether I enjoyed the book or not. I am not about going on a complete tear down of an author’s work because I know just how much work goes into writing a novel. I will endeavour to offer only constructive criticism because that is the best way to help a writer improve.

    There are good, bad reviews and there are bad, bad reviews. I think that readers are slowly switching onto this truth.

    • Michelle

      Hey Dean, I also think that readers follow the quality of reviews as well. But I do think that mean words still hurt and in some of these reviews, they’re often said flippantly without real thought behind them. That’s what’s kind of sad for me. It’s truly a form of bullying and not an expression of opinion.

  3. John Rasor (muderboy)

    I’ve had a few bad ones meself, and I find they’re not so bad if they make sense and are constructively written. I’ve also never written a bad one myself, not that I wouldn’t. I usually go by the old saying, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.” If a book is really bad and the author doesn’t know it, it’s on him or her. Some not so great stories are really well written, and some great stories aren’t well written. I read a lot of reviews from Big Al’s Books & Pals, and he is the perfect Indie writer reviewer. He tells it like it is but he and his staff are never malicious. But they do hand out the very occasional two star. If you don’t know about Big Al and his crew, tell him I sent you. He’s fair and square and a really good guy to know.

    • Michelle

      Hey John, Thanks for stopping by and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your old saying. That said, I think feedback is important. We were recently turned down for something and there was no reason given. I politely asked if they wouldn’t mind telling me why and they did. The reason wasn’t overly bad, and something that can be fixed. Now that I know what the element was that was holding us back, the author and I can move forward with change. Cheers, brother!

  4. Molly

    Hurray! Happy to have inspired such an eloquent post. And definitely glad I’ve got you at my back, Michelle. 🙂

    I always have to keep in mind that a lot of these uber-snarky reviews are seemingly and probably written by fairly young people (though indeed not always), and that I have to forgive them when they do it to me, since when I was in my 20s I was much more a sarcastic jerk in my online writing than I am now. I wrote that way largely because I thought I was being funny. Sometimes such snark *is* funny, to be honest. But I’ve come around to thinking it isn’t worth being hilarious at the expense of being kind or helpful. If you’re truly good at humor, you can find a way to still be funny while being fair.

  5. ladyelogos

    Michelle – this is an important and inspiring post, as was the Facebook post Molly offered that inspired it. You and I both know that writing isn’t ‘easy,’ something that just happens at a Starbuck’s over a latte, but hours of concentration, toil, self-doubt, and eventually, a story that may touch the lives of readers. Unfortunately, the negative reviews come with it and we just have to put that armor on and know not everyone is going to like our work. But, as Molly writes, fairness, kindness or being helpful are essential. The internet has given some people a way to show their darker sides without accountability.

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