Should authors review? If yes, how?

The answer for me is yes. Of course, why shouldn’t authors review? After all, we are writers. Yet before every review I write, I agonize: what if I don’t like the book I’m to review? Because there really isn’t a problem if I like a book, but if I don’t, then I’m in trouble.

Many of the review sites and reviewers I know won’t review books they don’t like. They may read the book, but will abstain from publishing a review. Some even revert to the authors with their comments of why they didn’t like it.

The latter is already borderline to me, because if you don’t like a book, fine. That’s for you to decide, but if you don’t publish your thoughts, you might as well keep them to yourself. Thing is, most authors I know are scared shitless of reviews, some don’t even read them, and it is really difficult to take even the most constructive feedback, because a) it’s too late for this book and b) it may not apply to the next.’

So here’s my rule #1 for reviews:

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, shut up.”

HansHirschi_JonathansHope_533x800

No book of mine has been reviewed as much as this, and I’ve had my fair share of net trolls trash it, but many reviews is important. It increases your visibility and your chances of being sold.

It’s quite simple, really. Now I don’t mind if professional reviewers (and with that I mean non-authors) trash and slash books left-right-and-center. If they have good reasons to do so. But as authors, I feel that we need a different set of rules. Why? Because if we criticize other, what’s to say there won’t be a backlash? What’s to keep the author affected to write a bad review on something we’ve written?

Let’s be honest, we usually think highly of ourselves, and so we must. It’s a human bias. And thus, we expect all reviews we receive to be the 5-star quality we attribute to our own work. Naturally, that is not how others see it, and there are many ways to go about reviewing, from finding plot holes to bad grammar and typos, but also to point out boring stories, incredible or unbelievable ones or even implausible ones.

I’ve reviewed the work of lots of fellow authors, some are even friends, which makes the whole thing even more complex. I’ve reviewed (I was begged to do so more than once) books on book tours, and even though I don’t make money off of those tours, I’ve invested a lot of time and energy to first read the book and then review it.

So here’s rule #2 for reviews:

“Never, ever, leave a bad review on a book tour.”

Whatever you think about book tours, authors pay a lot of money for them, and they invest even more time in them. Trust me, I’ve done a couple, and I’ve literally spent hundreds of hours writing blog posts, answering questions, putting together play lists and god knows what else people have asked me to do. I want the readers of my tours to have as good an experience as possible. Authors pay someone to organize the tour and to put together a team of people to make this a great experience, for the author and the readers on the tour. To leave a bad review on a tour is nasty. It’s rude and it will get you kicked of a tour and you’ll be blacklisted. This is not to say that you have to like a book. You can’t, not always, maybe not ever, simply because you’re sometimes asked to review a book from a genre you don’t like or you may simply not like it (who ever likes everything?) In that case, tell the organizer that you’ll review a couple months after the tour (if you really want to) and only do a generic post, normally provided by the tour host. Maybe an excerpt or something. But don’t write a bad review. It’s like a brochure for a new car highlighting the bad stuff. Total no-no!

Rule #3 for reviews:

“Don’t avenge a bad review, ever…”

I’ve been at the receiving end of this, despite having written a good and positive review. Let me only say this: it’s hurtful, and I wouldn’t do it. Besides, why? Why would anyone who’s been at the receiving end of hurt and pain, subject hirself to more pain by reading the work of someone they already hate so much that they feel they need to take out a revenge in the shape of a bad review? I mean, come one, are you a masochist? So no, if you don’t like a review, simply move on. Forget about the person who wrote it… Don’t get into a fight of wits…

Rule #4 for reviews:

You’re not the editor, you’re not the proof reader

Due to my mom's death, this book never stood a chance. I had no time to get reviews in and it's been selling badly, which is a shame, as I really love this story and the message it carries. Reviews are critical for a book's success!

Due to my mom’s death, this book never stood a chance. I had no time to get reviews in and it’s been selling badly, which is a shame, as I really love this story and the message it carries. Reviews are critical for a book’s success!

Now this is a tricky one, and I’ve read books that clearly were NOT edited and that could’ve used a decent proof-reader or two. But alas, that’s not your job, at least not as an author. Which may come across as dishonest. Because frankly, if I were a professional reviewer (and I’d stop writing), I’d naturally feel inclined to inform the readers about lousy grammar, lack of editing and what not.

So why NOT point it out? Well, I’m an author myself, and even though I know that I’ve used and editor (or often two), and even though I know the book’s been through rounds of proofing, I’ve also worked as a publisher, and I know that no book is ever perfect. Editing is a form of art, language is never a one-answer multiple choice question, but quite the contrary, flexible, particularly the English language with its plethora of words and choices of expressing yourself. Cambridge, Oxford, Chicago style, etc. So no, there is no definitive answer, just choices made, and in the work between author and editor, decisions are made, and they are the right ones for the work, for this particular book. It is no my job as another author, to point out that “my” preference is the better one or critizice an editor for theirs.

Let independent reviewers do that, because if I do it, as an author, I open up my flank for similar criticism, and I’m not particularly partial to others telling me what’s right or wrong in a world where there is no such thing.

This is particularly tricky when you read books from people who have NOT used the help of editors or proof readers. In today’s indy and self-publishing world, this happens all too frequently. To me, as an author, this still doesn’t mean it’s open season, but what I do is, I point out the need for editing (not a different editing or what type of editing, not unless I’m specifically asked to) or proof reader to the author, in a separate message. My review hoewver, will be specific to what I’ve said above, in rule #1. I focus on the good things to say.

A while ago, I read such a book. It wasn’t edited at all. And there were some small plot holes and the grammar was shaky. I did ask the author, a friend of mine, how xe’d worked and I’ve been able to guide hir to a publisher who is now re-publishing this book, properly edited and proof-read. The story itself was good enough for publishing. My review focused on that.

Rule #5 for my reviews:

“Focus on what you believe the reader expects from the book!”

I don’t read a lot of romance novels. I find the concept of Happily Ever After a bit too simplistic and boring, I don’t read dark and miserable stories, because I like a bit of hope in the end, and I don’t like paranormal, vampires, monsters and were wolves etc. Why? I’ve never been partial to things that don’t exist. Yet if you look at my reviews, you’ll see there are plenty of books I’ve read in those genres: from dystopian sci-fi not long ago, to M/M romance to stories about werecats (!) and recently (and again tomorrow) a trilogy about angels and demons. Heck, I’ve even reviewed children’s books.

My point here is, and they have all received good reviews (see rule #1!), is that I try to imagine what someone who likes this stuff, who reads this stuff, expects and wants. That is what I think a review should do. If I were to say I hate Sci-Fi, hence this is a crap book, I’d not only be shooting myself in the foot, I’d also not do my job in the eyes of those who love sci-fi. So, as much as I’d never pick up a book about gays turning into cats (had it not been for my friend who writes such stories), I read it, and I imagine what a person who likes this sort of stories might feel. It’s information for prospective readers.

Every now and then, and the werecat stories are one such example, I get stuck, and I read more. I’ve even bought these books, because they are good enough, even in a genre I normally don’t even glance at, that I enjoy them. You’ll see that reflected in my review.

Back to the non-edited book I mentioned earlier, this means that I look at the story, is this what a typical reader of M/M would enjoy? My answer was yes. It is a very sweet story of love and it ends as pink as pink can be, a sweet HEA. Exactly the kind of storybook M/M Romance book that so many readers devour every day. Hence my positive review. I took the rest offline.

Rule #6 of reviews:

“You’re a reviewer, not an editor, let any author offline feedback reflect that.”

I was afraid to use a "model" on the cover, simply because I was scared that people wouldn't see Willem in my model's face. Instead I got trashed for the way the hair color appears on the cover... #facepalm

I was afraid to use a “model” on the cover, simply because I was scared that people wouldn’t see Willem in my model’s face. Instead I got trashed for the way the hair color appears on the cover… #facepalm

I’ve received feedback that not only declared my editors idiots, but basically provided me with a new edit of the book. That is not a reviewer’s job. My editors may be entitled to tell me that this or that doesn’t work, but a reviewer isn’t. There is a difference between “I don’t like this” or “this isn’t correct”, and that distinction is important. To argue the opposite is rude and inappropriate and opens a potential can of worms that could quite frankly get nasty (see rule #3) And as with rule #4, my opinion is mine alone, it does not reflect an objective truth or a higher insight. It is merely a point of view. I may not like a story told from a single point of view, but it’s not up to me to trash an author for using it. Because it’s their right. I may not like the fact that the Mona Lisa was painted wearing dark clothing or a dress, but to tell Leonardo he should’ve used light colors or jeans is simply rude. Why? It would no longer be the same work of art. Art is about making choices, decisions. If you don’t like it, fine. But don’t pretend that your opinion is worth more than someone else’s. Simply tell the author that there are questions, places where you’re not certain. Ask why they leave the house in a red Audi but come back later in a black Mercedes. There might be a good reason, or it could be a plot hole. It is okay to point out these things, politely, as questions. I’ve had feedback that was excellent, and it allowed me to respond to it, and it’s deepened the understanding of the book for the person who’d sent me the feedback. But I’ve also had feedback that was so completely “out of this world” that I didn’t even bother to read it all.

Rule #7 of reviews:

“Your opinion is your opinion is your opinion! Not the law of the land, unless you’re the King Salman or Kim Jong-Un…”

As I’ve said above. Reviewers are human beings, and writing is a form of art. In art, there is NEVER a right or a wrong (not even for spelling ketchup. Catsup anyone?) So feel free to state your opinion, but declare it as such, don’t make statements of facts that aren’t any. You may not like what it says, how it is said or who it is being said by, but others might, lots of others might… So remember that.

Reviewing as an author is always challenging, yet we rely on the assitance of each other in our work. I scratch your back, you scratch mine. It’s a dirty game, I’m sure many feel that way, but since so many algorithms on book stores are based on the number of reviews a book receives, it’s a vicious cycle. It’s either enlisting the help of people whom you can offer the same favor in return or enlisting the services of “paid reviews”, and that is something that I personally don’t like. I know the big publishers can afford to do so and I know some authors enlist the help of paid reviewers, but that is crossing a line I do not wish to cross. I’d much rather “pay” for my reviews by helping other authors with a review on their work. By following these simple rules above, and declaring openly how I work, I get to stay honest and have a clear conscience.

How do you feel about reviewing other people’s work? What rules do you abide by? Have you trashed a fellow author’s work? Have you had your work trashed by a troll? Let me hear more in the comment section!

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Have a wonderful day!

Hans

PS: Please accept my apologies for the “tardiness” of this post and the re-use of old imagery. My own laptop broke down yesterday and I’m currenly working on a loan with no access to my image files. Plus my son is home from daycare and the only time to work I get is when he naps, which is literally now.

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