Posted On November 22, 2010 by Print This Post

The Good and Bad of Book Reviews

Welcome to Crafting Your Career at RU! Today, I’m excited to introduce Barbara Vey of Publishers Weekly Beyond Her Book. Barbara’s here to provide a candid look at what she thinks makes a good review versus a poor one. If you have questions, please be sure to post them below. Barbara promises to stop by throughout the day.

Good morning, Barbara!

I’m probably the last one who should be talking about reviews since I never read them before I pick up a book or go see a movie since I hate spoilers.  I do read them afterward, just to see if the reviewers agree with my assessments.  That’s why I created the WW Ladies Book Club Blurbs where regular readers write about the books they read and why they liked them.  If they don’t care for the book, it’s given to another reader to enjoy.  I always like to think that there’s a reader for every book.

With that said, I do think that reviews add value, when done properly.  Reviews should be precisely that…reviews of the book.  The plot, the characters, the setting, the research, but never the author personally.  I have a big problem with that and attacking the author is never acceptable.

A lot of people look to book reviews as a guide to help them find the kinds of books they are interested in.  Sometimes when you find a reviewer that seems to like the same kinds of books you do, it can be helpful.  This can lead to the discovery of new authors and sometimes even new genres you’ve never tried before.

After reading thousands of books myself, I’ve come to believe that many things come into play when reading a book.  How you feel about the subject matter (I was horribly depressed after my divorce and didn’t like any books that dealt with that subject), what’s going on in your life (are you angry because of a fight with your spouse/boyfriend), did your boss just yell at you for something and you can’t shake the feeling?  Reviewers have to put all personal feelings aside when writing about a book.  They should be judging it on its merits.  Was it a good story?  Did it have a good plot?  Was the hero/heroine believable and likable and the villain a real creep?

It’s not an easy job, but it is possible to be objective.  Taking preconceived notions into it before you even start is easy to do, especially if you personally know the author and either like or dislike them or their previous works.  I’ve seen this in action and it doesn’t benefit anyone.

I know that I don’t like sad books, so I would probably give them a bad review.  I really hated “The Lovely Bones” and look how many people loved it.  Since I’m addicted to  historicals, it would have to be a truly bad book for me to dislike it to the point of not finishing it and even then, just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean that someone else wouldn’t enjoy it.

Authors would be wise to use reviews to their advantage by enjoying the good ones and ignoring the bad ones.  Reviews are just one person’s opinion.  Extremely subjective and because of the internet, everyone seems to be a critic.  Amazon reviews are notorious for this.  The anonymity of it allows people to say things they probably wouldn’t say out loud and if their true identities were known.  Thrillerfest does a great job of making fun of Amazon reviews by having a competition to see who has the worst review there.  They are hilarious and poke fun at the “reviewers” who most of the time can’t spell and use convoluted reasoning in their assessments of a book.  “I didn’t like your first 3 books and I’ll probably not like the next one either.”  “Your book made me throw up a little in my mouth.”

So, take the quotes from the reviews that you like and pretend that the others don’t exist.  It’s the only way to survive to write that next great book that I’ll be looking forward to reading.

* * *

Thanks, Barbara!

RU Crew, what are your thoughts on reviews? Do you read them before purchasing a book? Do you read them after your book’s release?

Join us on Wednesday when author Rhonda Grasle gives us an inside look on what it’s like to live with a larger than life man.

Barbara’s Bio:

As Contributing Editor for Publishers Weekly, Barbara Vey brings readers and writers together with her popular Beyond Her Book blog.  From her entertaining “Drive By Videos” to reader feedback on books with WW Ladies Book Club, Cub Reporters and Your Turn Friday, BHB continues to grow into a must read daily adventure.  An avid reader, Barbara consumed a book a day before taking on the glamorous life of a roving reporting.  Her love of Romance and the Happily Ever After keeps her grounded while she offers readers a place to step away from life’s daily trials to take a positive journey through the world of books.

For more details, visit http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/beyondherbook/.

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24 Responses to “The Good and Bad of Book Reviews”

  1. Hi Barbara!

    Thank you for visiting with us today!

    I’m going to do a bit a generalizing here, so please bear with me. It’s likely seasoned authors have learned how to ignore book reviews or have developed a thick skin for the bad ones.

    Debut authors, on the other hand, might be biting at the bit to see what the “world” thinks of her first book.

    Do you have any advice for new authors on what to do if they get a hold of a bad review?

    Thanks again for chatting with us today!
    Tracey

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | November 22, 2010, 6:22 am
  2. There’s no denying that a bad review will make someone feel bad, but so does a rejection letter. I guess I would tell a debut author to think about those rejection letters and how they fought through those feelings. My mom would always say, “Consider the source.” If it’s an anonymous review, there’s nothing one can do but consider that the person didn’t even have the courage to write their real name. If the review sounds logical to you (not mean spirited), maybe there’s something good you can take from it.

    I know it’s just my opinion, but I tend to focus on the positive. Nothing good seems to come out of being negative.

    When author Brad Meltzer received horrible reviews for his book, The Book of Lies, he made a video of different people saying the bad quotes. It’s a delightful video and he sold a ton of books. Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaDdj42HdPo

    Posted by Barbara Vey | November 22, 2010, 9:05 am
    • LOL – thanks for sharing Brad’s video.

      I remember Lori Foster mentioning once on an RWA panel about how she gets bad reviews all the time. She said they just don’t matter. And since she’s been pretty steadily on the NY Times list, I suppose she’s right. :)

      Posted by TraceyDevlyn | November 22, 2010, 3:00 pm
  3. I can name many bestsellers that I couldn’t finish (including The Lovely Bones), and I know how subjective tastes can be. I enjoy the WW Blurbs for that very reason–a quick summary and then how the reviewer felt about it. Perfect. The only problem is that I see too many books that I must read–and I don’t have that much time!

    Now I have to watch the Brad Meltzer video.

    Posted by Edie Ramer | November 22, 2010, 9:33 am
  4. Edie, thanks for being such a supporter of Beyond Her Books. And what a bad problem to have…too many book to read. :)

    Posted by Barbara Vey | November 22, 2010, 9:37 am
  5. Hi Barbara. The video is a riot. Loved his grandmother. I tend not to read reviews before I purchase a book. I think people’s tastes vary too much and a book they hate, I may love. I’ve seen that just by entering writing contests!

    If I do happen to see a good review in a magazine, I will generally buy the book if the subject matter interests me.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | November 22, 2010, 9:42 am
  6. Adrienne, I thought his grandma was adorable and so were the little kids.

    Posted by Barbara Vey | November 22, 2010, 10:24 am
  7. Good morning, Barbara. Welcome to RU!

    Even when I was “just a reader,” I rarely used reviews to make decisions about which books I would buy. I simply preferred to be reading books, rather than spending time wading through reviews.

    As for non-fiction, I do use reviews to help me make a decision, because I want to know if the author covered the topics I need in my research or want to study. But in my fiction, many of my purchasing decisions are now made in support of our Romance University Visiting Professors (for example, I have Edie’s book on my iPod right now and can’t wait to have time to read it!).

    Thanks so much for your perspective on reviews, Barbara!
    Kelsey

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | November 22, 2010, 10:26 am
  8. I know there are reviewers I don’t read if they’ve reviewed my books. Then there are the reviews that just annoy like when a reviewer says they loved my story but are giving it a 4 star instead of a 5 simply because it was a novella and too short. I wish reviewers would judge the content of the story instead of the length they think it should be. But then there are reviews that I adore because the reviewer “got” the theme of the story, etc. Reviews are a “love to hate” business. One thing to remember is never take it personally :-)

    Posted by Sandi Sookoo | November 22, 2010, 10:33 am
  9. Morning Barbara!!

    Boy you nailed the Amazon reviews right on the noggin. A few years ago, I ventured out to write a review of a book I’d read, and was horrified at how nasty people were in their reviews! If I ever…I mean WHEN I get published, I know I’d have a hard time staying away from reading the reviews, but that’s one place I don’t think I’d look.

    I too support the Romance University’s VP’s, and just finished reading Angie Fox’s book that I decided to buy after reading her interview on here. =) Meeting an author on a blog or after she’s taught a class will also inspire me to read her book, even if it’s in a genre I don’t generally read.

    Thanks for chatting with us today Barbara!

    =)

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | November 22, 2010, 10:36 am
  10. Kelsey, I agree with you. Sometimes reviews give away too much of the story…just like movie previews. I prefer to be surprised.

    Posted by Barbara Vey | November 22, 2010, 10:54 am
  11. Great post, Barbara!
    One of my biggest fears as a writer is getting a terrible review. I’ve seen some horrific ones. From time to time I’ve reviewed a book or three on my blog, but only when I absolutely loved it and had to share with my followers. I just visited your blog for the first time and added you to my list of places I must visit regularly…like RU!

    Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | November 22, 2010, 12:21 pm
    • Wendy,

      Reviews are done by people who have good days and bad ones. They have certain likes and dislikes. It would be a truly boring world if we all liked the same things. Reviews have their place and are appreciated by many. But we readers also have a choice. I think it’s great that you share the books you love on your blog. That’s a great way to let others know about them.

      Posted by Barbara Vey | November 22, 2010, 8:29 pm
  12. Hello Barbara!

    Like movie and restaurant reviews, I don’t generally let book reviews decide whether I’m going to buy a book. If I write a review on Amazon, it’s because I enjoyed the book. I don’t see the point in wasting my time to write a negative review. I especially don’t care for book reviews that gleefully bash the book and the author. To me, it’s more of a platform to promote the reviewer’s agenda as opposed to providing a constructive review of the book. Given the anonymity of the Internet, everyone’s an expert!

    Posted by jennifer tanner | November 22, 2010, 5:42 pm
  13. I read reviews when I’m considering seeing a movie or buying a book. I absolutely disregard reviews that are excessively snarky. How can I trust a reviewer’s judgment when they don’t know when to temper their own commentary. Just tell me a little about the plot, what you liked or didn’t like and WHY. That way I can decide if your reasoning applies to my preferences or not.

    Posted by Debbie Kaufman | November 22, 2010, 6:10 pm
  14. Hi Barbara,

    Writing requires a thick skin. Reviews shouldn’t spoil an author’s resolve. Getting published is winning the war. Don’t let a few battle scars ruin the fun.

    Mary Jo Burke

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | November 22, 2010, 7:15 pm
  15. Mary Jo, the first thing my son told me when I started writing the blog was to get a thick skin. I applaud all the authors who can dismiss the personal attacks and keep writing books that are read and appreciated by many.

    Posted by Barbara Vey | November 22, 2010, 8:35 pm
  16. Some mysterious glitch with ATT knocked me off the internet for twelve long hours today. So I am late responding.

    I have a particular distaste for film critiques and I suppose I also do with certian book “reviews.” It is a fact that genre fiction sells more books than any and all other non-fiction or literary fiction combined, yet though hundreds of these books appear yearly on the NY Times BSL, not once have the more “popular” of these appeared in their conservative Book Review section. That and no popular book ever has been nominated for the National Book Award.

    All that being said, those of us who had a traditional education and read only literature as selected by academia, when we turned teens or pre-teens turned to other venues for pure joy and entertainment. Not that I could ever forget the absolute wonder of the Bronte sisters, or the modern classics, but the hours and hours of pleasure we have reading popular romance, mystery and the wonderful trend (happily for my grandchildren) of the YA novel, can never be underestimated. They do, unhappily, go unappreciated in most “literary” circles.

    I might read a review, but I am influenced more by something on the cover or the first page, a friend, a selection from my book club or just curiousity about a new genre. It was this curiosity that brought me not to Meyers, but to Charlaine Harris and Sookie.

    I am an audio/visual person and love, love movies, British TV and junk TV. But I can always find more room in my head for a new writer (meet them by the dozens in my new RWA-WF group) and will always look for more.

    Posted by Florence | November 22, 2010, 9:06 pm
  17. Florence,

    I’m a British TV junkie too. Love their comedies, Dr. Who, Torchwood and MI-5. I love it when friends recommend something they think I will like. It’s nice to know how much they really know me.

    Posted by Barbara Vey | November 22, 2010, 9:11 pm
  18. Barbara and everyone,

    Thanks for the great conversation on book reviews! Everyone had such interesting perspectives.

    Tracey

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | November 23, 2010, 10:46 pm

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