As I get back into reviewing books on a regular basis, I wanted to give an overview of what I endeavor to do with book reviews and my general philosophy toward them.
Honesty with Grace
As both an author and reader, I believe that being honest is the most helpful thing you can do as a reviewer. I will never pad a review to say I thought a book was good when it wasn’t. However, I will do my best to find the positives I can and highlight those as well. I do my best to remain honest about both sides of a book, and to write my reviews in full as graciously as I’m able. Authors put a lot of themselves into their work—their time, energy, and heart—and I try to respect that in my reviews even when I didn’t like a book or its execution.
I believe there is a line to be walked in being honest without being cruel, and I do my best to write along that line in negative reviews.
I try not to inflate my positive reviews, either, but to point out a book’s strengths—and weaknesses—with clarity for readers.
My Star System
Since stars can mean different things to different people, here’s a quick overview of how I use the 5-star system.
- 5 – Loved it; it’s a new favorite
- 4 – I really liked it, but it was missing something
- 3 – It was fine, but it had significant problems or just wasn’t my thing
- 2 – The problems overshadowed its strengths, but it had great strengths
- 1 – I made it all the way through by sheer willpower
The Use of Negative Reviews
Before I launch into more on negative reviews, allow me to clarify that I don’t try to lean toward negative reviews or skew my reviews toward negatives; my focus on them in this post is a result of positive reviews needing no clarification, while negative reviews get more push-back and misunderstanding.
That aside, I think that negative reviews serve a purpose for both authors and readers. From an author’s standpoint, of course there’s the element of (ideally) constructive criticism, which—while helpful—can sometimes still be frustrating on a book that has already been published. But there is also the element of credibility that negative reviews provide. Readers have different tastes, and not everyone will like your book even if it is good. Having a handful of negative reviews on your book tells readers that the reviews aren’t all biased feedback from your friends and family (even if your positive reviews aren’t all biased feedback from your friends and family). It helps people trust that both sets of feedback are real and provides greater trust in your book, leading (ideally) to more sales.
Beyond the help for authors, negative reviews help readers, as well. There is, again, the factor of credibility. But reviews are informative for readers, and negative reviews provide additional information to help readers decide whether or not to read your book. While this information might dissuade readers from picking up your book, it can also encourage purchases if one person’s dislikes fit with what another reader likes to read. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” can be applied to the reading experience.
Reviews are a Double-Edged Sword
Positive and negative reviews can each have either positive or negative effects on your sales and audience. A positive review praising a book for its mature scenes is going to turn me away from a book as surely as a negative review criticizing a book’s weak writing. A negative review critiquing a book’s over-emphasis on its worldbuilding might draw me in just as much as a positive review that highlights strong family relationships.
This is another reason for honesty. When you review a book, you are giving a reader information to help them decide whether or not to read a book, you’re granting the author exposure and credibility, and you’re reflecting on yourself as a reviewer. So be honest, and be kind.
What do you think? What is your philosophy on book reviews, as either a reader or author?
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