Dos and Don’ts of Reviewing

Faith HunterFaith Hunter
Share

Misty and I had a lovely exchange yesterday on her post about ethics and  characters doing stupid things. If you missed it, take a look back. I commented to her post (which was great, BTW) about a reviewer who had been attacking me and my character Jane Yellowrock, calling her (her decisions, her religious choices, her sex life, her…everything) and me, stupid and much worse

That post and exchange made me realize how important a review is to a book and a writer, and that some simple how-to-review-a-book rules might be helpful. Also, I hope you’ll offer some more suggestions in the comment area to round out the list.

 

Do:
1.  Find something nice to say about a book.
2.  Finish any book you review. Otherwise you are not giving *your* readers a fair shake.
3.  Review the book you read, not the book you wish it was.
4.  Remember that people know who you are and how to find you if they want. We live in a small world and violence is everywhere. I am not saying don’t stand up for what you believe—you must do that. But remember that kindness never hurt anyone, but bitchiness speaks for itself and pushes people away from you. In the same way, a writer can’t respond to unkind reviewers because we are easy to find. We just have to live with cruelty.
5. Remember that others may feel differently from you and if they dispute your review, keep your head and reply only after the anger passes.
6.  If the book crosses an ethical line, be sure to say so, but in non-judgmental ways. EX: “If you are into bestiality, this is the book for you. If not, may I suggest you look elsewhere for your reading pleasure.”
7.  A review is not a critique. I can’t say what the difference is, but it’s there. Anyone have thoughts about that?

 

Don’t:
1.  To paraphrase one of my fave songs, don’t be cruel. If you can’t say anything at all nice, just say it wasn’t a good read and that you can’t recommend it to other readers. In the case of a review, less cam be more. Of course the caveat to that is number 6 above.
2.  Make the book or the review about you. It isn’t personal. Don’t make it so.
3.  Attack the writer. Never say something like, “Come on Faith Hunter. You can do better.” Or “Faith Hunter failed.” Or, “Faith Hunter disappointed me. This book is horrible.” The book isn’t about you. Nor is it about the writer. It’s about the book. The book itself.  
4.  Attack the writer about the cover or title. Midlist writers of commercially published books don’t get much input into their covers and most of us don’t get control of our titles.
5.  Say other books by other writers are better and then list them. Review this book here, and those books on those pages.
6.  Give spoilers unless you put a huge “SPOILERS!” notice on the page at the top.

 

So – what are your thoughts. What do you like and dislike about a book review? What do you suggest we add to the do and don’t list? Or do you disagree with my thoughts? Share yours.

Faith

 

Share

43 comments to Dos and Don’ts of Reviewing

  • In my opinion, a Review is how the book comes off as a Reader. A Critique is how the book comes off as another Writer or Editor.

    I have to really agree with Don’t #3: Don’t attack the writer. I’ve seen this on several occasions and not once has it ever turned out as something beneficial. Our responsibility as reviewers/critiques is ultimately to inform our audience and make the book better. When you attack the writer on a personal level, it accomplishes none of this.

  • When I review a book, which I don’t do very often, I always follow the advice momma gives: If you don’t have anything nice to say, STFU. ;)

    My formula for reviewing is to start with a little bit of what the book is about. Then I hit on the good points first, those things I liked. You can bout always find something to like, or at least something that was done well, in any book, whether pacing or plot or characters, whathaveyou. Then I focus on the things that were not quite there for me. Then I finish with another overall good point, how I liked the book myself, and who I would recommend pick it up.

    But the main thing I can say is, BE TACTFUL. Even if you didn’t like it, neutrality in all things if you’re going to review. Don’t be all, “Tihs wuz teh werst. It stinks like mouldy limburger covered in skunk farts and I hav teh book RAGE!!!” That tells a person nothing constructive. Other than possibly you need some anger management or a little therapy, perhaps. Reviews are not the proper venue for snark or to spew vitriol on someone because your car broke down or your life is crap and you just want to be vindictive randomly. Be calm. Be controlled. Be neutral. Be tactful. And above all, be helpful. Constructive, not destructive.

    I guess that’s my tuppence on it.

  • I spent some time reviewing books for the local newspaper. I pulled no punches, either. If I didn’t like a book, I made sure everyone knew it. I thought I was being helpful to other readers (okay, and maybe a bit sophisticated, too). Then I started writing with the intention of being published my own self. Suddenly I realized that I’d been pretty mean in some of those reviews, which didn’t help anyone and only made me seem petty. Nowadays I review or blurb only those books I actually like, and let the others alone.

    And I need to throw in my support for Do #2. The most disheartening review I ever got came from another author who said she only read 60 pages of the book. She has since pulled the review off Amazon, but I won’t ever forget that she didn’t give the book a fair shot.

  • What a great list of reviewing guidelines — thanks, Faith! So many people jump into reviews without giving careful thought to that very specific genre of writing! I especially liked your advice to make positive statements first and to (essentially) not say in writing things you wouldn’t say in person, since anyone can be tracked down anywhere.

    I’d add one “don’t”: Don’t summarize the plot. If necessary, use examples to illustrate your points, but don’t give us a plot point by plot point summary.

    And, personally, I wouldn’t adopt some of your don’ts. For example, I think it’s useful for a reviewer to disclose some of his/her biases up front (“As an evangelical Christian, I found Keyes’ use of a scapegoat as a plot device of questionable religious merit.”) I also think it’s all right to address an author personally in a book review (*if* the address relates to the book in question: “Klasky really missed the boat on this one; the ethics of her main character were reprehensible and MC’s choices were absurd.”) And I think it’s useful to discuss other books (“While this one didn’t resonate for me, I loved Klasky’s earlier Jane Madison series” or “Readers who like this will love Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock books.”)

    Oh – and I *loved* your point about not reviewing the title or the artwork; however, I think it can be useful to communicate dissatisfaction: “While I know that Klasky had no choice on the abysmal titles in the As You Wish series, someone at her publisher should be made aware that these titles alienate readers.”

  • Chris Branch

    Just to add another perspective: Misty, you probably _were_ being helpful to other readers with your newspaper reviews! Imagine if all the reviews we ever read were largely positive. That would make reading reviews a lot less helpful when deciding what books to read.

    The problem is that with negative reviews, we are being helpful to readers at the expense of being less than polite to the writer. When we become writers or aspiring writers ourselves, we make the decision that it’s more important to be nice to other writers than to accurately review books in the service of potential readers.

    I’ve said in the past that I feel a bit dishonest when I choose to censor my own negative comments in the interest of being nice, but it’s an acceptable trade-off. As long as we’re talking ethics we ought to be honest that we’re consciously making that trade-off. ;)

  • I think “don’t make the review about you” is really important. Most of the reviews I read on Amazon, Goodreads, etc., tend to tell me way more about the reviewer than the book. This is even true of some “professional” reviewers, who often seem to focus more on how cleverly they can criticize a book than in giving a helpful review to other potential readers.

    Not making the review about you gets tricky and I think fails so often because reviews are personal–at least, that’s how I see the difference between a review and a critique. In the end a review boils down to “did I like the book or not?” Ideally the reviewer will focus on elements of the book to explain why s/he liked or disliked it instead of just throwing their opinions out there with no explanation or reference back to the book. A critique is a more objective study of the book, a careful analysis of the book’s elements, possibly also examining the literary standards of the time, the social and ethical mores, maybe how the book fits into the author’s overall output. Whether the person writing the critique likes the book doesn’t matter at all.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    I think the #2 Do is a good one. However, I’d like to add a caveat. If you’re reading a book and something happens midway to make it just unreadable to you, you should be allowed to put the book down and write a *very* short review along the lines of, e.g., “Unfortunately, this is only a partial review. The cover and blurbs of the book made it sound like a fun, clean adventure suitable for children, but on p.60 there is an intense, steamy sex scene. Pre-reading this book for my 8-year-old, I was unable to finish past this scene.”

    That is obviously an extreme example, but as a reader with limited time for reading, I really value warning reviews. I want to be able to look over the one-star reviews and see whether the book contains a lot of rape, for example. Of course, having those sorts of issues come up several books into a series should be rarer – the non-audience readers should have already been turned away.

    But, for example, I were ever to review G.R.R.M. A.S.o.I.a.F. books it would go something like: book 1 – “Vividly imagined, amazing characters, …”, book 2 – “Intricate but edge-of-your seats plot, pretty dark, …”, book 3 – “I’m sorry, I couldn’t finish this book. I loved the earlier installments, but the violence and despair were becoming so pervasive and I was beginning to have nightmares.” True, it would be a review without having finished the book, but I feel it would be a very valid and honest review to alert people that for some of us the upped level of violence might make it unreadable.

    Of course, a caveat to that caveat: If another reviewer has already clearly and find-ably articulated your argument, there is no reason to add another 1-star review to the pile.

  • TwilightHero

    Haven’t reviewed a lot of books, alas – though I could…if I had time :P But I’m with Mark and SiSi on the review/critique distinction. A review has always struck me as more of a person’s opinion on a book – what they liked and didn’t like, what they felt worked and didn’t. A critique is more analytical, dealing with the actual nuts and bolts of the story. Whether the plot unfolds in a logical manner, whether the research/background/magic system/etc holds up under scrutiny, and so on. Critiques aren’t primarily negative – that’s criticism.

    I actually used this distinction – critique, not criticism – in my first WIP. One character says something about another’s achievement which is negative, but true. I wanted to emphasize that the first character was not attacking the second or being intentionally unkind, but simply noting a flaw in their work.

  • TwilightHero

    Also, @Daniel: skunk farts? I lol’d :)

  • Mark, that makes sense. Thanks. And I agree, it is the use of the author’s name followed by vitriol that comes across as a personal attack.

    Daniel, I’ll add this to my list: Be calm. Be controlled. Be neutral. Be tactful. And above all, be helpful. Constructive, not destructive. And I agree with Twilight, I got a good giggle.

    Thanks Misty. I read a lot of your reviews. You were never petty, but it’s easy to come across that way. It’s hard to be a book reviewer.

    Mindy, I think that’s a great way to write it >>“As an evangelical Christian, I found Keyes’ use of a scapegoat as a plot device of questionable religious merit.”<< I'll add that to my list.
    But I'll still disagree with use of the writer's name in a complaint. Just my opinion, (and I know that's worth nothing!) but it adds little and it can easily come across as bullying, patronizing, or insulting. Perhaps an easier way might be to say, “As an evangelical Christian, I found the authors’ use of a scapegoat as a plot device of questionable religious merit." To me, that comes across cool and smooth and reasoned, and misses any hint of patronizing. Again, just my opinion and I know it comes from being the brunt of bullies in school. Odd how that never goes away, no matter how old we get.

  • I think a review focuses on the reader’s impression of the book, while a critique focuses on how the author could have fixed it. The review might say, “It would have been nice to have this subplotline resolved” while the critique would say “This story needed more conflict between the two lead characters, and would have been better without the robot-monkey-ninja love triangle.” IMHO. I could be wrong.

    I’m kind of with Misty. I don’t review much. When I do, it’s the books I like. Okay, this partly has to do with the fact that my stuff isn’t out there yet, but when it is, I don’t want a mean-spirited reputation to precede me.

  • Chris, I’ve heard of a few negative reviewers who became writers and found that getting blurbs from the writers that they had reamed was hard. Go figure. That said, I’m *not* saying don’t give negative reviews. I’m not saying give only positive reviews. Frankly I read all my negative reviews and I’ve been known (often) to take notes and change the next books based on the review. Seriously. I’m saying that there are good and bad (kind and unkind) ways of phrasing a review so it doesn’t come across as an attack, but as a fair review of the book.

    I got some great things to use in my WIP from the negative reviews on my last book. There was a time when I could NOT read them, but that time as has passed.

    Sisi, I will definitely add this to my list. >>A critique is a more objective study of the book, a careful analysis of the book’s elements, possibly also examining the literary standards of the time, the social and ethical mores, maybe how the book fits into the author’s overall output. Whether the person writing the critique likes the book doesn’t matter at all.>>

  • Hep, that is great point, I think I’ll amend my list with something like, “If a book deviates off genre, be firm and pointed about that.” And also add, “If you can’t finish a book, make a note that you didn’t finish and that you can only give a partial review.”

    Good point Twilight. There is surely a distinction.

    Laura, that mean-spirited rep can make a difference. Writers talk. Writers can have long memories.

  • sagablessed

    Faith, I so sorry to hear of personal attacks against you and Jane. I do not understand the mindset. Well, one would assume such rules as you stated would be understood. One would be wrong.
    Daniel, are you a writer? cuz you should consider comedy. :)
    Mindy’s advice is awesome.
    Incivility irks me no end. And I admit to said sin from time to time, but never concerning the written word.
    I do a combo of review and critique. But never in such a mean spirit. To assault a work like that is tacky and classless. You have shown a much higher level of classiness than the reviewer.
    As to the reviewer who attacjed you personally, Faith: A friend gives you a shoulder to lean on (I’m here). A good friend skips down the road carrying the shovel singing “sombody gonna get it/somebody gonna get it”. I haz several shovels. (Just kidding.)
    In short: make a review something a writer could potentialy use to improve the work, or spot what makes the work full of teh awesome, with the same level of discourse you would want. It’s called courtesy. Something sadly lacking in today’s society.

  • sagablessed

    Well, I admit to two times I have had nothing good to say about the written word: Twilight and 50 shades. I shall heed the rules (even on those books) from here on out by saying: I just don’t like them.
    We shall try to remember Our own views on propriety and civilized discourse.

  • Megan B.

    Too often people confuse “It’s not to my taste” with “It’s bad.” It’s okay not to like something, of course, but it would be nice if all reviewers were aware of the distinction. :)

    As for commenting on the cover and title… Some people write reviews of the book as a package, and to them it is totally valid to include things like cover art in their commentary. It sucks for the writer, but from a reader’s perspective the whole book is the product. I think it is unfair to let something like that affect how many stars your give the book, though. And people absolutely need to understand what is and is not in the author’s control.

  • Saga, I wouldn’t review a book in a genre I didn’t read. And, um, I got shovels. LOL
    Thanks for the grin and the shoulder, but really, I am not angry or upset about the attacks. I feel the person has emotional and mental and historical issues (her history not the world’s) And I just feel sorry for her.

    Megan, you have a point. I know a lot of people (myself included) buy a book by its cover sometimes. Hmmm. Yes, the cover is important. I’ll amend the final include that!

  • mudepoz

    In my little world, if I really don’t like a book, but there isn’t a reason I can put my finger on, I won’t finish it and I remove it from my Goodreads list. If a book hangs there too long, it becomes obvious I didn’t like it. That isn’t good if a friend wrote it:) If it’s a series and I enjoyed all but one, I’ll review, but I’ll be honest why I didn’t enjoy the one. However, after being trained to give ‘feedback’, I will comment to the things that kept me reading.

    As someone who did a review that attracted a whack job, one that I did last year, I might add, I won’t engage in negative comments. No matter how much I want to. Choke the living snot out of her.

    On the positive side, that review did garner some 50 positives and is the top review for helpfulness. Not what I planned when I wrote it, though :)

  • mudepoz

    Oh, the negative comments were made recently, the review last year. Go figure what will set off the whack jobs. There were plenty of other reviewers to spout inanities to.

  • Faith – Ah, yes, the bullying lasts forever… (And I was just reading a scientific study that said as much, if our personal feelings didn’t inform us of the same.) In the context of reviews, I personally feel so wrapped up in my books that the cut feels the same, if they say “Mindy” or they say “Glasswrights”. But I certainly understand your feeling otherwise.

    When I was in library school, almost 20 years ago, the rule of thumb was that approximately 80% of published reviews were positive. Certainly those numbers have changed now — public review sites like Amazon and Goodreads have a far higher occurrence of negative reviews. (But “official” review sites, like the New York Times and Wash Post have much closer to 100% positive reviews — so that a scathing review is actually noteworthy there.)

  • Ken

    Let me add my support here too, Faith, I’m sorry to hear that you were treated so badly. You’ve given so much back to those of us still hashing it out in the trenches that any kind of personal attack against you or your writing is foolish beyond measure. Thank you for sharing your experience and insight with us here and, personally, for sharing Jane (and Beast…can’t forget Beast :)) with me in spite of the occasional imbecile.

    If I can’t give a book more than two stars, then I don’t bother with a review, because I know my tastes differ from other folks and that my mileage concerning a particular book will almost certainly vary from someone else’s. If I really liked a book (and if I’ve got time) I’ll shout it from the rooftops.

  • I know I’ve mentioned this a few times on here, but there was an instance where negative reviews actually had me picking up a book/trilogy that I loved. Then again, I only read the reviews that actually gave rational and coherent reasons, avoiding those comments that began with “this book wuz teh suxxorz.” Or, “This was the biggest piece of crap since that time I thought I saw the Ouroboros in my bowl.” The ones I focused on were those that said, “this just wasn’t the style I like” and then went on to say why. Many of those reviews detailed the fact that what they thought might be harder sci-fi ended up being closer to space opera, my favorite (and seemingly harder to come by genre lately if you’re looking for something other than extended universe stuff). So, if done well, without bias, even a negative review can be helpful to those looking for the exact thing you didn’t dig.

  • I like reviews that tell me about the style of writing. I started reading ‘Children of Amarid’ because of a review that said the author really knew how to tell a story (or something to that effect). I was in the mood for something fun and engaging, and some reviews helped me to find something that matched my mood without spoiling anything.

  • Susan

    I tend to go along with Daniel, if I didn’t like the book, I tend not to say anything about it unless there is something truly egregious about the book. Everyone’s mileage varies. Personally, I don’t like to have thinly veiled religious preaching rammed down my throat. OTOH, my mother-in-law loves it. (I use this as a barometer – if she loves a book, I expect to hate it. :) )

    Only other reason for me to break the rule is if – for example – the book is billed as Young Adult but has sex scenes or other quasi-adult topics. Then, I might write something just for the wholly clueless that might pick up the book and hand it to their (very) Young Adult without reading it first. I’m rather protective of children and not all children have the best of “parental supervision”.

  • Mud, I pretty much do the same on GoodReads with regard to books too long un-starred. And yes, long running squabbles on Amazon can actually help sales.

    Mindy, I actually laughed when someone said Jane did something stupid. Umm. Fiction, much? Oddly, in my case that didn’t hurt at all. But I’d still say, name-calling is pointless.

    Ken, I think it’s those *shouting it from the rooftops* reviews that grab me, especially when the writer can say why the loved a book. I picked one up recently for just that reason.

  • Daniel, I miss the space opera. There used to be some really good ones out there. Now it’s all magic and fluff. Wait. I write magic and fluff… :)

    Deep, that’s a good one. I’ll add that in too. Style is important. So is voice but much harder to quantify.

    Susan, I’m a Christian, but I too hate to read books where the author’s version of Christianity is shoved down my throat. It should say on the front, “Religious fiction” if that is what it is. That said, I also don’t like to read work where *any* religion is put down. Faith needs to be left alone. Ah — faith, not Faith. (rolls eyes)

  • Susan

    Faith, faith like politics is best not discussed. (Hmmm…. That’s NOT a confusing statement. *laugh*) It’s such a personal thing. I’m of the belief that there’s no wrong belief just wrong minded practitioners. YMMV. Hence, like you, I don’t want to read anyone putting down any religion.

    I also believe that even if you have something negative to say, there’s always a way to say it without being mean or hurtful. Constructive criticism can be a good thing but it must be constructive. When writing a review, especially a negative one, write it, put it aside, read it the next day and if still says what you think you want to say, publish it then. Also, project the criticism on yourself using “my opinion”, “my feelings”, “my take on this”, etc. and never say something in writing you wouldn’t say to the person’s face. In other words, use all those skills that one learned in negotiating classes, one’s therapist, mother, or all of the above.

    I once was gently chastising someone who was on one of my mailing lists (doing it off list) years ago about their totally obnoxious and rude behaviour on list. The person just really didn’t get it. Finally I told them don’t do or say anything you wouldn’t do or say in your mother’s living room during a social gathering of her friends. I think this applies here also. Digital/print media has a way of distancing us from people such that it’s way too easy to remember there is a flesh and blood person with feelings (gasp!) on the other side and letting us become ciber bullies instead.

  • Great list, Faith, but I have to say, I do review books I didn’t finish, or didn’t like. I figure if someone has the same reading taste I do, they’ll want to know why I didn’t like or didn’t finish a book. I never make it about the author personally, but I will point out what didn’t work for me. And I follow it up by asking my readers to comment or link if they disagree.

    I will confess I can be nit-picky, but it’ll be about the story, the details, or the characters. For example, one book I didn’t finish was because I got annoyed at the same thing being stated nine times in 50 pages. I don’t really need that one fact hammered into my head, thank you very much, I got it the first time you said it. Twice is fine. Nine is bludgeoning, and now I have a headache. Not the author’s fault (maybe? lol) but still annoying. And I don’t have enough time in a day to be annoyed while I’m reading.

  • There’s so much that’s right and useful on here I’ll just add my “yes, second that!” to most of it. I think if I was writing professional reviews I would have to finish a book even if I found parts of it dreadful. A full review of a book you haven’t read isn’t quite honest. However, on a Goodreads review or Amazon critique, I think it’s okay to say “I didn’t finish because…” both because 1) it shows where my biases and weakness as a reader are and 2) because if an author writes something I find morally repugnant or un-swallowable, it’s okay to say so. Of course, it’s possible to say so in a reasonable, professional manner to say so cruelly and foolishly. For example, if I write “Author X is a sadistic, woman hating creep and his book makes me nauseous,” I’m not actually telling the readers anything useful. I’m venting my anger, but I’m not proving my argument and I’m attacking a person I’ve never met because I’m assuming evil things about him. OTOH, if I write, “Unfortunately, the multiple scenes of gang rape in this book were extremely off putting. I found them personally disturbing enough that I had trouble finishing the book, even though it has many other strengths. [Give legitimate examples of strengths.] Readers may want to consider these factors in deciding whether or not to read the book,” then I’ve given the reader concrete information about the book that they can use however they want.

    Plus, as a teacher I have to add that comments like “Come on, Faith you can do better!” or “I’m disappointed in you” are never the encouragements to excellence that people think they are. This is the sort of thing amateur critiquers and inexperienced teachers write on student papers and then wonder why students won’t talk to them and refuse to revise the paper. (It’s because now they feel ashamed and worthless every time they look at the thing.) In review of a published book, comments like that are worse than useless. They are personal attacks, even if the reviewer didn’t think that’s what they were. Faith, I’m very sorry if anyone said that to you. I’ve gotten feedback like that (from dissertation advisors who thought they were upholding good standards instead of being raving jerks) and it gutted me. I hope you can get your confidence and writing joy back quickly.

  • Susan I think I’ll that one about Mom’s living room to the list. Yes, it is all about being polite. If one is polite one is also kind. Well, maybe no. How about this — one can be polite and still say negative things and still not make it personal. Maybe I’ll edit that one a bit.

    Thanks Sarah. My confidence actually isn’t shaken. I’ve lived with reviews and reviewers like this for years. Like any other bully, verbal bullies need to put someone down in order to feel important. And yes, they are venting anger because they know that no one will call them on it, and if someone does call them on it, they can either attack the person responding, or pull the review and hide behind the media. I will admit that this particular attacker was especially vicious, but once my reflexive anger cooled, I had a good laugh.

  • In simplest terms, the difference between a review and a critique is the audience. A review is written for Readers. A critique is written for Writers (or students in Comp 101). Neither should be an attack against – or a love fest toward – the author. Just like there are few things as painful as a personal attack disguised as a review, there is nothing as useless (and ultimately painful) as a critique filled fan-boy squeeing and no substance.

    Faith – I sympathize that you were targeted in a poorly conceived review. I’m assuming from context that this review was from someone who could be considered more than just a Reader-Consumer, and if that’s the case, double-hugs atcha.

    I think we all need to remember, though, that true Readers – those people out there that we have never met and may never meet, but to whom we pour our souls onto paper, don’t necessarily understand (or care about) our side of the business and may never hear of or understand the etiquette of reviewing.

  • Lyn, you so right. I am really, really fine. I was not broken by the review (which has oddly disappeared) nor by the comments she made on other reviews. And that is what this post of for, to get all the ideas about proper reviewing in one place for me. And for others, should anyone chose to read it. I consider today’s post a forum for sharing the dos and don’ts and reaching conclusions, if not complete consensus.

    But I have to say, the occasional love fest of fan-squeeing does make my day. :)

  • Razziecat

    I’d like to add “If you are reviewing something from a genre that you rarely, or never, read because you really don’t like that genre, say this up front.” There is nothing more irritating to me in reviews than a person who hates fantasy, for ex., giving what they feel is a fair review, when it’s clear that they don’t understand the genre. “The hero used magic to get out of trouble. Too unrealistic!” Don’t review the book just because you happened to purchase & read it; review it if you have something substantial to say besides “I hate unicorns.”

    Also, I must respectfully disagree with Mindy as to people who make comments similar to Mindy’s example that begins “As an evangelical Christian…”, etc. Unless the book is written by a person with the same religious beliefs as the reviewer, or the MC’s POV is the same, that sort of comment has no place in a review. It shows that the reviewer missed the point of the character/plot/etc. and imposed their own viewpoint. In that example, why does a scapegoat have to have any religious merit at all, questionable or otherwise? I’m not sure I’m making my point clear (it’s been a long day and I’m sure my eyes are crossing…) Great post, though!

  • But that’s the thing, Faith. I’m avoiding reviewing pretty much because I don’t want to rub someone the wrong way. Is that an okay choice? Or is not reviewing anything just as bad?

  • Razzie, that is a great disclaimer to post. Hmmm. But don’t you think if a person’s religious believes are going go to be put down, they need to be warned? Something like, “Evangelical Christians may be offended.” Or “Muslims may be offended.” What do you think?

    Laura, I VERY rarely review. Like, almost never. And frankly, I see no reason to change your personality or personal habits just to review or a book or not. So no. It isn’t bad.

  • To everyone, I’ll put up a revised list on my next posting day and you can have at it for any kind (even nitpicky) editing.

  • Late to the party . . . Great stuff, Faith. I would add to the “Don’t” list that reviewers should not assume more than they can know from their reading of the book. Some of the negative reviews on my Winds of the Forelands and Blood of the Southlands series stated that “obviously the author read George R.R. Martin and tried to recreate GRRM’s world.” Well, no. Actually I started the first book in the Ice and Fire series and stopped reading after 100 pages because I could tell it was too similar to what I was working on, and I didn’t want to let his work influence mine. I had people say “Clearly the author was told by his publisher to lengthen his series and drag out what was supposed to be a trilogy into something longer, so that they could sell more books.” Again, not true. It comes down to “do #3″ Review the book that’s in front of you, and don’t assume that you know more about the process or the author’s mindset than you actually do.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    But David, one can get so much amusement from reviews that say things like: “Lord of the Rings” is *such* a rip-off of “Harry Potter”. :-D

  • Razziecat

    Hi, Faith! Yeah, I really didn’t make my point very clear. The criticism doesn’t have to be religious in nature. I just feel that some people look for things that the author never intended to put into the story, and are offended that it isn’t there. Certainly if a reviewer feels a story element is offensive to their faith, political beliefs, etc, they might want to mention that in their review. But they shouldn’t go off on a tangent that’s completely unrelated to the story. Let’s say the hero at some point mentions that his birthday is May 11th. Then reviewer posts this: “As an astrologist, I have to ask what the significance was of having the hero born under the sign of Taurus.” If there’s no reference to astrology at all in the story, why look for zodiacal significance at all?

  • I review for myself on Goodreads. I’ve got a terrible memory for books, so I like to make notes about what I like or not. Which brings me to one thing I really disagree with you on: a book review is personal. Specifically, it’s all about that reader’s experience, and it’s important to remember yours may a very idiosyncratic review and just because it isn’t something you like, that doesn’t mean others won’t. So on that level, it’s very personal. I like to remember that because when I review, even when I don’t like something, I point out that mileage may vary. Because I hate Twilight, and there are a million readers out there who think I’m absolutely wrong. I’m not of course :D I also don’t like The Grapes of Wrath or Hemingway in general. However I love me some Faulkner.

  • David, yes, exactly. We need to review the book in front of us, not review another book or presume something about the writer. Review only the book.

    Razzie, I understand and I do totally agree. Thank you.

    Di, I will have to adjust that number. Of course you are right. All experience is personal, including the reading and reviewing of a book. What I was trying to convey is that the reviewer should not rant and rave (and do what David’s reviewer did) and claim to know more than they do about the writer or the writing process or the relationship between editor and writer. They are reviewing the book not things they have no access to nor knowledge of. It is easy to be personally insulted by a book but unless the book is a biography and tells lies about the reviewer, well, the book wasn’t about the reviewer, and a certain amount of reserve and distance should be offered in the review. Not always easy, but it should be attempted. I’ll revise that one in the final!

  • Di – I’m right there with ya on Twilight, but we might have to agree to disagree on The Grapes of Wrath! :-)