Recently, I joined a book review club and here’s the reason why: I love to read. I love to write and I thought combing my two favorite things would be fun and exciting!
One of my first review experiences came when a FB acquaintance, another member of the review club, sent me a message asking me to read and review her book. She told me she’d read some of my work, on other venues, and admired my style. She felt, she said, that a review from me would do wonders toward the sale of her book. (In other words, she buttered me up real good!)
Imagine my disappointment when I discovered her book was awful! I mean awful with a capitol YUCK! The only positive thing I could say about this story was its cover was red and I like the color red.
I knew, from the moment I finished the first chapter, I would have to write a negative review. I did not want to do that, however, for two reasons:
(1) I did not want to hurt her feelings. She was so proud of her book!
(2) I didn’t want to damage her “star” rating on Amazon.com by giving her anything less than a 4-star review. Yet, I knew I would never be able to give her book more than a 1-star rating. I thought about trying to “fake” a good one…but, that’s dishonest and wouldn’t do either of us any good.
So, I opted instead to send her a private message on FB explaining my dilemma. My thinking was that she would appreciate my honesty and use my thoughts to maybe polish her story a little more. At the very least, I thought she might appreciate the fact that I wasn’t willing to publish a bad review–for her sake (!).
Let me tell you, she didn’t appreciate ANYTHING I had to say!
Her response was filled with expletives, ugly name calling and childish threats. I apologized from the bottom of my heart for hurting her feelings and tried very hard to explain to her where I was coming from…that just made things worse. By the end of the emailed conversation I had fallen to her level calling her a crackpot and asking her (aggressively) to never contact me again for any reason.
NOT a good experience.
So, why did I continue to review?
Because, reading the work of others and writing reviews (good or bad) is helpful to me, a writer. My writing skill improves with every piece I write. Even writing this article sharpens my ability like a stone hones iron. With each review I write, I become just a little better at what I do.
I also write reviews for the authors and other readers. More on that a little later…
For You, the Writer: Seeing Things from Both Sides
Reading another author’s work and writing a review for it is, for me, an exercise in empathy. Here’s what I mean:
(1) Reviewing helps the author of the book I’ve just read know how the public perceives their story. This helps me as much as it does them.
a. As writers, we know what we want to say; we know how we want the reader to understand the story…. but do they really? If I, the writer, intend for my work to be funny, do my readers find it funny? If I intend it to be sad, do they cry? If they don’t see my work the way I need them to, I need to know so I can change, re-work and polish the story in such a way that the reader can empathize with what I’ve written. Reviews help authors see their stories from a reader’s point of view.
(2) As a reader, reading the work of others gives me an idea of what I like—what I find funny or sad or exciting. Knowing that information gives me a foundation upon which I can write my own work.
a. I’ll also start to pick up on patterns, writing styles and errors in writing that I don’t enjoy. This will help me to avoid them in my own writing. For example: I personally don’t like cliffhanger endings—even if the book I’m reading is part of a series. I see the cliffhanger as a sort of extortion from the author, “Either read my next book or you’ll never find out if little Timmy escapes from the well.”
I would rather read a book—in a series or not—that wraps everything up at the end. If the story is well written and the characters are well rounded and lovable, then I, the reader, will want to continue with the next book just to see what happens next.
Why Review If You’re Not a Writer?
If none of the information above pertains to you because you’re not a writer and don’t need to hone your writing skills, why should you review?
Because, reviews are like food to writers and you wouldn’t want your favorites to starve would you?
When we writers create, we do so with every fiber of our being. What we create is as much a part of us as are our children. Our kids have our eyes, our coloring and our mannerisms. Our written works have pieces of our heart, our imagination and all of our soul. We share what we’ve created with pride, with the hope that others will love it as much as we do.
Reviews give us the much need validation.
You don’t have to be a writer with fancy poetic style to review. All the author needs from you is the truth…. did you like the story? If so, why? If not, …why not.
Consider it a favor to the author to be genuine and candid. If you have suggestions as to what you would have done differently (if you had been the author), include them in your review. If the author thinks your suggestions would truly help his/her work, they may take those suggestions to heart and make the changes you suggest. Even if they don’t, your opinions may influence their next work and help to make it better.
Reviewing your books will take a few moments of your time. However, as a writer I can tell you it’s well worth the effort. Not only does it help the author (and you if you’re a writer) but, it also helps other readers.
I know that I personally look for titles with lots of reviews when I’m choosing my next book to read. I want to know who’s read it and what they thought about it. Did they like it? Hate it? Do they want to read more of the author’s work?
I often make my decision as to whether or not to buy a particular book based on the reviews it’s gotten from other readers. That’s the very reason I review every book I’ve read. Someone may be counting on me to tell them if they book they’re looking at is worth the read.
Tell me what you think…Do you review the books you’ve read? Why or why not?