Friday, August 17, 2012

How To Write a Bad Review

It just so happens that reviews are a very touchy subject lately. Duh, there are indie vs. reviewer wars, author's giving fake good reviews to friends, and glib smack talk akin to what you'd find in high school. Then, there's also that 5 star system that just makes me want to gag.

It's about time I address what I feel needs to be in a review that is written by a regular book reviewer or a writer. For those part time readers who just do the, "Hey, this was good," you can probably ignore this post.

I've seen some very long winded reviews and some very short reviews. Abe Lincoln said it best, and I agree... you cannot please all of the people all of the time. But, here's some tips worth noting.

1. Define your Taste Profile
  • I prefer happy endings, so I don't like martyr scenarios. I just don't. That's my preference. I'm likely to knock off a star for that. 
  • How about the pace? I can read a slow book. For example, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. The book was pretty slow. It was too slow for one of my favorite reviewers, Kara Malinczak. She couldn't even finish it! I, however, loved the book. I felt it was something to be savored.
Most reviewers feel their audience knows what they like, but I still think it's important to point out that something might not have been suited for your tastes. I will always point out if a book lost a star due to my personal preference and not because of the author's skill level.

2. Don't Be Rude
Francois Rude (He's seriously Mr. Rude)
  • You can absolutely be snarky without being disrespectful. There are certain adjectives that reviewers should not use. You know what they are. I don't need to list them. Try to stay away from negative hyperboles, metaphors, and analogies.
3. Find Some Nice to Say
  •  I can already hear the naysayers on this tip. But, I stand firmly behind it. Sometimes the only nice thing you can say is that it did not suit your taste.  I once read a book that had obviously not been edited. I was only out $0.99 so I wasn't too bummed. In the review, I stated the fact that it had obviously not been edited (and seriously it hadn't and it was obvious). Then, I went on to give the book compliments. The story itself was really cool, and I ended up giving it 3 stars just because of the plotline and dialogue. The grammar and some of the pacing should have made it 1 star.
4. Stick to the facts
  • You'd think this was a no brainer. If you want to write a good review, stick to the facts. There are things that different reviewers look for. Plotline, character development, pacing, and general quality of writing. Some people are just in it for the romance or how romantic a certain character is. That's fine. Stick to that.
5. Try and Be Polite... for the Author
  • Okay, while I realize this is not the job of any reviewer, I think it should still be said. If you have never written something for the public before, you have no idea how devastating it can be to get a bad review. While authors are taught to try and take it in stride (some have obviously missed this lesson), this is still their creation you are talking about. Be respectful of the time and effort they have put into it. If you are an author who thinks that other authors should develop the thick skin you have, get off your high horse. Some people are more sensitive. I'm not expecting coddling here, just some level of respect.

See the "Polite Literature" part? Ha, it does exist.
With all this being said, no one is perfect. And lately, I've been a pretty bad offender myself... especially when it comes to my rants about the poor prose of Fifty Shades of Grey.

So, after reading this blog and Indie Authors: Your Sales Are Your Fault, you probably think I'm taking the reviewers' side. I'm not. I'm a writer and an editor. I'm taking the writers' side. I expect good quality to come from writers... after all, in a way, we all represent each other.


  1. What? No posting pictures of the of the reviewer's book after you've shot it and saying "my wife shot it first" a la Richard Ford?

    1. For some reason, I'm kind of okay with that with authors that I know have sold enough to never have to pick up a pen ever again. And sometimes, that's exactly what I hope happens.

  2. Good advice! I too have read some books lately, self-pub and trad-pub and there were some serious editing issues. I usually don't leave a review so I don't hurt a fellow writers feelings, but now see that I need to just be tactful! Thanks!

    1. This has not always been my stance, but with the onslaught of the angry or unprepared indie, I feel it's a necessity. Honesty and tact. Yep, yep.

  3. Because of some of the reasons you've listed, including poor behaviour, I rarely review indie books. I've copped some flack for that, for 'highlighting' the distinction between traditional and indie authors I don't even believe should be made - the fact is I don't believe it should be made, but I'm also not the one who made it. Indie authors themselves stacked up that wall, proud to declare themselves indie, and I'm entitled to make the decision generally not to review indie books because I don't wish to place myself in the firing line. Occasionally I will write a good review of an indie book that really impressed me.

    I do review traditional books, and while I may well point out the things I don't like, or where the book fell down, I try to do so in a polite way, while still noting the good points.

    1. It's really sad that it has come to that. I really hope we can find a way to resolve this fear of the indie community's outrage. It has gotten so out of hand, and so many great writers are taking a hit because of it.