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Book reviews

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Your opinion counts!

The best way to support an author – Book Reviews

If you are a fan of an author the very best way to support them is to buy their new book and then – leave them a review. If you can, on more than one site and not just the first in a series.   

Don’t make it all superlatives.  Say exactly and honestly what you like about it.  Your job as a reviewer is to help like-minded people to find the book and discourage non like-minded people from buying it by mistake.  And let’s face it … no fiction book is to the taste of absolutely everybody. 

What should I put in a book review?

So you should take your job seriously.  What made it special for you?  What did you find particularly unique in this book?  Was it the dialogue, the action, the settings?  Try to help the author find his or her audience by highlighting what you believe makes that book special.  Is it upbeat?  Or is it terrifying?  That is what people would want to know.  Can it be read by the whole family or is it full of scenes you really wouldn’t want your fourteen-year-old to read?

Why are authors always begging for reviews? I hate it when they do that.

Frankly, it makes me cringe, too.  My attempts to ask people for unbiased reviews have been fraught with disaster and humiliation!  And then … without asking … suddenly they begin to appear, usually when they aren’t going to make that much difference.  It is the writer’s variation of Sod’s law, I guess.

But reviews are critical to a writer.  And it isn’t really all about five stars either.  Too many five starred reviews might make a book seem shady.   The five major selling points of a book are quality, price point, cover, blurb and reviews.  The author is in control of four of those, but the fifth is the one they cower before.  It is where their audience, like at the spectacle of the gladiators in a coliseum, can put their thumbs up or down.  Will they be fed to the animals or will they be spared?  Is it any wonder that they quake at the thought?

Should I give a book five stars? Amazon says three stars is good.

Three stars is damning with faint praise.  It is all right if you are a literary editor making the distinction between a children’s stocking filler and an all-time classic, but not if you are an ordinary fan.  If you are a fan of a struggling independent author, I would encourage you to say so by giving him or her five big, fat, shiny impressive stars.  If you feel this is not accurate try four stars.  Either is fine, but five is better!  However, you should never lie about your impressions of the book.  Was it merely ‘good’?  If so, then just give it the three stars.  This whole business is to be as honest as possible in order to be of help for future readers.

Can I give a terrible book one star?

Of course you can.  You have the power!  However, with power comes responsibility and you should think carefully before giving a book such a low rating.  One star ratings are not for books that simply aren’t ‘your thing’.  If you prefer romance and find a book on ethics boring, that may not really be the right criteria for a one star review.  

Of course our own likes and dislikes must form part of our opinions, and it has to be like that, but it is a fine line.  Should a one star review say less about you or your tastes and more about the technical skill of the writer in question?   Do you think it would be unfair to rate a cookbook on meat as one star because you might be a vegetarian, but fine if it were unreadable, five pages long and cost ten dollars?

Can we separate our tastes from our reviews?

It is not an easy question to consider.  There is one book by a very well-known Science Fiction writer that I simply cannot get into.  I have tried many times and can’t get past the scene where his main character shows himself to have little or no integrity.  This is a good, well-respected author who writes competently.  Am I justified in giving his book one star because I simply can’t get past page twenty?  Is this more about me than him?  Is the fact that I can’t identify with his hero his fault or mine?

In the end I didn’t rate this book.  I wasn’t sure what the right rating would be.  Because of course my taste must come into the equation.  I certainly couldn’t have given him three stars.  And one star seems pretty nasty considering he is a very good author.  I suppose I would have opted for two, though in the end, I decided to say nothing.  This is the summary of his reviews on Amazon:

Details of reviews for a scifi book

Looking into the 6% and 7% in the lowest two categories, almost all the reviewers comment about the unlikeability of the protagonist of the book.

Just to compare, we could take the reviews of JK Rowling on the first Harry Potter book, which are currently looking like this on Amazon:

Details of Amazon reviews for one of the Harry Potter books

It is interesting to dive again into the 2% of people who disliked the book.  Only one is actually reviewing the book as something he/she disliked, the rest are cross with Amazon because they ordered it by mistake or haven’t had a timely refund.  Of course, J K Rowling probably doesn’t care two hoots about such reviews, but they would be devastating to an author who is just starting out.  Such reviews could bring them instantly below that four star filter and put them in the ‘you don’t ever want to read this book’ category.

In conclusion

To sum up, it is not absolutely obvious just how much objectivity we should have when giving our opinions about books.  It is easy if you buy an appliance.  Such things are judged and judgeable on whether they work, whether they last, whether they can actually be used as promised in the hype.  Books are not like that.  Too much of the reader is put into the interpretation of the book, and it seems inevitable that this will reflect in the number of stars given.

Perhaps the conclusion is that a book is actually the synthesis of writer and reader – a sort of symbiosis?