Review Etiquette, my point… of view.


I recently joined a reciprocal book review group because I thought it would be fun – and when you’re an aspiring writer you need reviews. And I suppose I should probably be talking about this on my professional profile blog as a result… but this is going to be a post about something very important to the marketing process in eBook publishing. Which means it belongs more here. Don’t you love me for it?

Reciprocal reviews. Some people feel an indie author should never stoop to “creating a buzz”, I mean after all the more successful traditionally published authors don’t. It’s false representation, that’s what it is. How fake. How deplorable. How cheap and low down, dirty.

Others, usually those down and dirty indies, point out that those more successful published authors not only have buzzes created for them… some of those buzzes are paid for. Some of those famous reviewers make a living doing just that. And what exactly is the difference between paying a high sum for a specific magazine to review a book vs going to some place like Fiverr.com and paying $5 for a review?

Honesty, they’re told. Those $5 reviews are ALL LIES. … And those other fake reviews are more honest how? is the reply. It goes on like that.

Well, I can say from small experience that a buzz is important to an author’s career. So are reviews – things that let other potential readers know that so-and-so unknown has been read at least once. I value an honest review, even if I paid for it. And if I’m going to give a review, I’m going to be very honest.

Because a review is more than creating a buzz. It’s an honest opinion. Which is WHY it’s called a review and not propaganda.

So to get back to my story, I had to tell the group a little about myself, say what I would and would not read, and what I liked to write. One of the things I told them I didn’t want to read was erotica (thanks but I have a love life), and that any review I gave would be brutally honest. Each of us in the reading group were set with another, we traded books with one another, and I set to reading.

My personal rules of etiquette were immediately called into question on this one. I could NOT honestly give this book a five star review, not without breaking my personal rules of etiquette. People’s reactions to the review I gave got me to thinking… do people even understand that there’s an etiquette to giving and receiving book reviews the same as with so many different things?  So let’s go through my five personal etiquette rules for book reviews one at a time, using not only this incident as an example but some reviews that have happened to me.

1. Authors: know what your reviewer likes.

Strike one with this book – and it was the biggest strike – is that despite me stating I did not like erotica I was given a story full of not only sex, but sexual situations due to coercion and manipulation. Before the tenth paragraph I was disgusted with the book and wanted to call it quits. If it weren’t for:

2. Readers: if you can do it, finish the book. You may be glad you did:

I probably would have put the stupid thing down forever. Think about it: would you solicit your fantasy book to a technical manual publisher? How about “I Will Love Hitler Forever” to a Jewish company? You want your book to be received well by whomever is reading it, for whatever reason they’re reading it. Giving them material they’re going to dislike is sure to go the other way.

3. Authors: For the love of the unholy, spellcheck and make sure of your grammar. Yes, we all make mistakes in our written word. Piers Anthony is dyslexic, and many another writers have had the help of ghost writers unsung and unknown. With liberal access to spell checking features in word processors, dictionary.com, and other places there is no excuse for people who want to come off as professional writers to not to make sure their work is of a professional quality.

When I got to the very glaring grammatical errors in this book, I had to reread sentences to understand what was going on. Prepositional phrases started off with the wrong word. The action jumped. It completely threw me out of the story – which is something you never want your reader to do even if they’re only reading a sample copy. You want your reader to remain immersed in that green world you have created. Nothing should make them lose their slender grip on that reality.

4. Readers: be honest.  You’re being asked to give an opinion, and although every author wants you to give them five stars and a cookie they also want, if they’re serious about their craft, to be good authors. So mothers, daughters, brothers, uncles: when you’re asked to look at your granddaughter’s, nephews, etc book you want to tell them honestly how you feel. Put it as gently as you like, but if that book is WRITTEN terribly you should say so.

How you’re honest is up to you and the importance of that honesty will be spelled out in the next rule. On the rare occasions I read a book for review, if I feel I should give that book I’m given 3 stars or less I would rather not say anything at all. If I feel like the author will handle the comments like a professional, I will tell them why. But I dislike certain confrontations. I guess I’m lucky I haven’t had to do that yet.

If I were just reviewing something arbitrarily on the Apocalypse Blog and had to give it less than 4 stars, I’d be brutally honest: no one has given me any favors expecting me to be bribed into propaganda in that situation.

5. Authors you want that honesty more than you want the propaganda. Listen to the criticism, then decide what you can learn from it with grace. My OEL manga, Heavenly Bride, has been getting some good reviews lately – because of some bad reviews several years ago. I can’t remember the wording exactly, but the gist was that the story built up too slowly, the conversion from webcomic to eBook form was horrible, and that it overall just plain sucked. At first when I found those reviews my feelings were hurt – and then I started to think. And research. And learn. And finally had to admit they were right. I rewrote the beginning and the last bad review I got wasn’t so bad. You can’t please everybody, and most people you can’t please at all. I know I did a good job. I move on.

On the other hand, there was an intelligent woman I knew – a genius in fact – who wrote a book. To get opinions and readers, she put up a blog and asked people to read it. One by one, people stopped reading. Me included. Because it was horrible. But we didn’t have the heart to tell her. You couldn’t. She was too defensive about it, too quick to jump your case for saying anything.  The last time I tried to tell her, she said angrily, “I don’t want to be a Stephen King.” And to this day, years and years later, she’s not published to my knowledge.

Well.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine having written something and like some ghost stuck in it’s own past being unable to evolve to write better.

And I guess it’s because when I was going to school all instructors, not just ones teaching English, were still allowed to take points off for grammar that I care so much about professional writers writing well.

I’m glad I know the thrill of an honest five star review – it’s almost as good as reading a book that deserves one.

Okay, no you don’t want to be Stephen King. You want to be Mr. or Mrs. Better Than Stephen King. The way to do that is to write better than Stephen King – and if that means listening to someone tell you why you’re not better than, then stop acting like you’re being bullied in the playground and listen to what they have to say. And to reiterate, it means polishing your spelling, your grammar, watching the pitch of your action, sending the right copy to the right reviewer, and being willing to write again. And again. And to always be on the lookout for improvement.

And reviewers, if you stop to be honest with why a book is bad or even why a book is GOOD you might learn something yourself. It’s all in the art of self integrity – and of why we do what we do in the first place.

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