Skating On Review Ice

09 Jan

Books from the bookstore are great, but so are the ebooks by my friends.

Reviews and ratings are a tricksy thing. As writers, what do we expect from our friends in the public eye when we put our work out for the world to consume? Ego stroking? Reassurances? Love it or else? Honesty? Flattery? We want people to like our stories, but the truth is, not everyone will. I knew this before I gave my beta readers Family Ties. I knew there was a possibility that someone would tell me they hated it. While they stroked my ego with the praise in their notes, they were honest with what needed work and what they wanted to see. Did I use every piece of feedback? No, but I used the majority of it to make my story richer, which is what feedback is supposed to help writers do.

My initial experience with Goodreads when I started using it a year ago, was to rate books usually with a four or five star. Then I started reading books where the phrases were wrong, plots were thin, characters weren’t developed, and nothing was believable. I stopped and reassessed what I was doing because when all is said and done, if I’m rating/reviewing something high when the writer’s skill in that particular piece of work really isn’t that high then it reflects back on me. I consider the technical writing with plot, character development, continuity, and realistic behavior/situations when rating/reviewing. My emotional response factors in there, but not as much. I recently rated a novel by a well-known sci-fi author with three stars because it wasn’t his best.

When I see reviews (because I do all I can to avoid reading them) on Amazon or Goodreads that are four or five stars when the book is riddled with plot holes, inconsistencies, unrealistic behavior/situations, and/or typos it makes me wonder what everyone is thinking when they’re reading the same thing I’m reading. Reviews are completely subjective and we are all drawn into a story in different ways. But there are storytelling basics to be followed and if they aren’t, I question the ratings and reviews. Even before discovering Goodreads, I didn’t put much stock in book reviews as a reader. I never choose what book I’m going to buy/borrow based on reviews.

I tend to be honest and blunt because I don’t believe in sugar coating things, and working with teenage boys for a decade honed that tendency. It wasn’t helpful to them to be anything but forthright after all they had been through before I worked with them. We want people to be kind to our “baby” when we publish it. We want people to like it. We want our friends and family to support us because it’s invaluable, especially coming from our most trusted loved ones. But does that support include a review/rating that isn’t entirely truthful? Just like with the boys, it’s not helpful. It’s not true validation and it’s misleading to potential readers/fans who do read reviews before purchasing a book.

I want genuine feedback about my writing, especially from my friends. I want to know what I missed so I make sure to make it present in my next novel. I want to continually hone my skills and I can’t do that if reviews only pile on the praise.


Posted by on January 9, 2015 in Uncategorized


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4 responses to “Skating On Review Ice

  1. gdwest123

    January 9, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    Hello Debi, yes of course that’s all true. But it always strikes me that if I hate a book and others love it (assuming there aren’t typos etc which of course smacks of laziness) then I’d be the wrong person to review it, so I take the view that I only review a book if I like it. Of course a professional reviewer isn’t able to do this, so it must be tough to say harsh things about someone’s pride and joy.

    • Debi Smith

      January 19, 2015 at 5:30 pm

      I don’t think that just because you don’t like a book doesn’t mean you’re not the one to review it. On the flip side, if I do review something I’m not fond of I assess whether it’s something I SHOULD like. If I should like it, meaning it’s a genre I read regularly, then I look at what in particular didn’t I like? Was it unrealistic? Was the character development not there? Or did I simply not like the writing style/voice. That latter, I leave it alone. That just means the author isn’t someone I should be reading period. It’s the story telling fundamentals or lack thereof that I think should be addressed.

  2. thhernandez

    January 9, 2015 at 11:44 pm

    Well said, Deb. I believe all authors want honest reviews, even if the reviews are brutally honest. Because sugar coating the truth helps no one. Not the author, nor potential readers who rely on reviews to help them decide where to spend their money.

    I decided awhile ago to not rate a book below three stars. Why? Because if I can’t give it three stars, I’m not even going to finish it. Life is too short to read awful books. And if I don’t finish a book, I don’t feel like I can honestly review it.

    • Debi Smith

      January 19, 2015 at 5:32 pm

      You know what’s sad? The last year I’ve ditched more books before finishing and read more books I dislike than I have my entire life up until last year.


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