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Saturday, July 28, 2018

To Review or Not Review, by Kait Carson


Last week I read a blog that discussed the pros and cons of reviewing books. A non-controversial topic at first glance. Not too many variations on the theme. One either reviews or one doesn’t. Right? Wrong. The blog quickly became a hotly debated topic with representation from both readers and writers who surprisingly, or maybe not, look at reviews from different points of view.
Speaking as a writer, it is fair to say we love reviewers and reviews. Positive five-star reviews more than negative one-star reviews, but even one-star reviews, if honest, are opportunities for writers to learn and improve. In addition to bringing the book to a wider audience, reviews count for writers. Amazon uses them to determine placement perks, publishers use them to determine marketing perks, some advertisers use them to determine if they will accept an author’s money and allow them to purchase an ad.  Readers, of course, use reviews to decide if they want to buy the book. If you were scanning the Amazon pages and you noticed two similar books, one with ten five-star reviews and one with 300 reviews and an overall rating of 4.5, which would you buy?
And that brings me to the second bone of contention brought up in the blog last week. Oftentimes (I’m waving my hand here) if I’m reading on my Kindle and I finish a book, I’ll give a starred review and move on. I won’t go back to leave a narrative review unless the book had exceptional characteristics. A remarkable or unique storyline, made me rethink my everyday world or worldview, or something else in the story that deserves comment. My standard exception to this is the first in a series, or if I have been asked to review. Then I will review the book with a brief synopsis, and will discuss what I liked best, and what worked for me (no spoilers) about the book. Many of the writers suggested that their process was similar.
It was interesting that this was the biggest difference between a reader review and a writer review. Readers wanted more. They wanted to know plot strengths and plot deficiencies, if the characterizations were believable, if the reviewer found the story satisfying. Far more in depth than your average Amazon or Goodreads review.
Each reader (and writers are readers, too) has to find their own reviewer comfort level. There is no right or wrong way, provided the review is honest.
Do you review? Are your reviews stars, narratives, or both?

14 comments:

Liz Milliron said...

I read the same blog, Kait. I always leave stars, I sometimes leave a narrative. But it got me thinking. We bought a new car in June and the sales guy said, "You're going to get a survey. Please rate me a 10. Anything else is a failure." And I thought, "Then why offer 1-10 as a choice? Why not just yes and no?"

I started thinking maybe stars are the same. If numbers of stars mean different things to different people, maybe it should just be "I liked it" or "I didn't like it." Although I do think if you hover over Amazon (and maybe Goodreads) stars they have a meaning.

And now I'm conflicted again!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Amazon won't accept my reviews, but on Goodreads, I do evaluate with stars and a mention of what I liked about the book, and maybe a line about something that frustrated me.

I'm writing monthly WWK blogs on new Ohio authors: Steve Goble, Kristen Lepionka, and Jessica Strawser.

Kait said...

I know, Liz - it is hard. Most of my reading is on a Kindle Paperwhite and at the end of each book they offer the ability to post stars on Goodreads, it would be great if they expanded the option to at least add a few words in the spirit of clarity.

Kait said...

The ways of Amazon are mysterious indeed! I'll be looking forward to your blogs, Margaret. Reviews, above all else, are a wonderful introduction to new writers.

Warren Bull said...

I leave stars and comments. On Amazon I often do not understand the number of stars given compared to the comments.

Kait said...

I'm with you there, Warren. And I wonder about the need for a headline, too!

Keenan Powell said...

If it's a new book and doesn't have very many reviews, I leave detailed comments. But if it's someone who already has 1,900 reviews, no one is scrolling down to mine so I just leave stars.

KM Rockwood said...

If I like a book, I'll usually leave both stars & a review. But if I don't like it, I often skip reviewing. The exception to that is if a book I really dislike has a number of glowing reviews that it really doesn't seem to deserve.

Gloria Alden said...

I buy most of my books on Amazon and when they send a page for me to review the books I bought, I give the amount of stars I think the book is worth. Books I read that I got at the library I don't review.

Jim Jackson said...

I write reviews for books from mid-list and lower authors on the theory the best-selling authors already have tons of reviews; why wast my time?

Kait said...

@Keenan - that's a good plan, Keenan!

Kait said...

@KM - Do you usually read on an e-reader or on paper? I'm asking because of the difference in time commitment to leave a narrative review - although connected e-readers may allow for both stars and narratives, I don't know.

Kait said...

@Gloria, Why the difference? Have you had Amazon refuse the reviews because you weren't a verified purchaser?

Kait said...

@Jim - I agree if someone has a ton of reviews I generally won't bother on Amazon, although if the book had something unique, I might on Goodreads which is more of a book club to me than a retail house.