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Let's Talk About Reviews

So you’ve just finished your latest read. Your brain is swimming in thoughts and emotions. Maybe the book surprised you, challenged you, or made some other kind of impact. Perhaps it was disappointing either in story or quality. It goes without saying that you’re going to have opinions about what you just read. That’s where book reviews come in.

I’ve heard it argued that reviews are solely for the readers, not the author, and that reviews are sacred ground that authors should not tread upon. Ehh… I only partially agree, and I’ll explain what I mean. Just bear with me for a couple minutes.

I know many readers are reluctant to leave book reviews because they find the mere idea intimidating, but I promise you that it doesn’t have to be. The review process is as simple or complex as you, the reviewer, make it. One constant across all book retail and review sites is the rating system. Readers rate their latest read on a scale of one to five stars, with five being a perfect rating. Some sites will even let you leave it at that. Some want you to at least sum up your experience in a few words. There’s no need to write a novel. That’s my job, after all. Just be honest. That’s all we ask.

Reviews serve a dual purpose. The first is the most obvious, to help advise readers before they purchase a book, as well as elevate a book’s standing with retailers. But reviews also serve a second, very important role for the author.

As I stated, you undoubtedly have opinions about the book. Well, this is the perfect opportunity to let the author know exactly how you feel about their work, for good or ill. I understand that being critical can be intimidating, but reviews aren’t just for the reader. Reviews help authors grow by pointing out areas where they can improve their craft. I’d be lying if I said I don’t sometimes take negative criticism to heart, but that’s just an occupational hazard. It takes tough skin to be an artist.

Hit me. I’m a big boy. I can take it.

Earlier, I said that some consider book reviews to be some kind of holy ground, and again, I partially agree. You may have heard a story recently about a young author who received a negative, bigoted review that attacked not the book but the author herself. The author posted a screenshot of the review on Twitter and the Internet responded as you’d expect: Some rallied to the young lady’s aid and bought her book to show solidarity, while others were skeptical and claimed the entire incident was a hoax orchestrated to build clout and drive sales. I won’t speculate on the incident’s legitimacy here. What concerns me is hundreds of outraged readers took to the review section on both Amazon and Goodreads to both berate the reviewer and praise the author… many admittedly without having actually read the book at the center of the entire debacle.

Have you ever seen the movie Highlander? In the movie, ancient, sword-wielding immortals do battle across the centuries until only one remains. Well, the immortals have a sacred rule, and that is that they must never do battle on holy ground. In my opinion, the same rule applies to book reviews. The review section is holy ground, and no matter how hot tempers run, we do not do battle there. Reviews are for the art and never the person. Whether you are a reader or an author, personal attacks have no place in the reviews. Offensive, abusive reviews can and should be reported through proper channels. There are always going to be bad apples on both sides of the process, but we can’t let them spoil the entire bunch.

It’s widely believed that it’s never appropriate for an author to respond to a review, and again, I mostly agree. I would propose that the only appropriate response to any book review is “Thank you.” Otherwise, let it go.

Thank you for your time.

One more thing before I go! Today just happens to be my birthday! In case you’re thinking of giving me a gift (and have read any of my works), reviews are always appreciated, of course.

Stay well, friends!

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