The Delicate Etiquette of Book Reviewing

Reading used to be a lonely activity. Once upon a time, when you finished a good book and were itching to talk about it, you’d have to seek out a real life person who happened to have read it too and knew what you were talking about.

And if you wanted a book recommendation, you’d have to rely on your mom’s questionable reading tastes or pick the book that looked the most well-read at the library (mystery book germs – eew).

Not so in the age of the Internet. Today, huge online communities of readers (like the one at Books Rock My World!) are just a mouse-click away. As for recommendations, with rating systems like those on Amazon and Goodreads, your next great read is never hard to find.

It’s never been easier to connect with other readers… or more complicated. Because just like real life, reading communities are plagued by users who don’t know how to play well with others. The etiquette that should govern interactions on social platforms is hazy, and this is particularly true when it comes to rating and review systems.

I was forcibly reminded of this recently when one of the authors I worked with a couple of years ago received a bogus one-star review for one of her novels. Now, Jo Watson is not someone who gets hysterical over bad reviews.

In fact, she’s by far one of the most pragmatic authors I’ve dealt with – she was always open to (constructive!) criticism and didn’t get precious about things that just weren’t working in her narrative.

But even Jo got frustrated by this review for Burning Moon on the UK Amazon store:

Absolutely a load of rubbish. From the first chapter, I rosa.ised [sic] this book wasn’t for my age bracket. I thought it would be fun to read something nice and light hearted. So sadly mistaken. Just couldn’t get past the first chapter.”

This wasn’t the first time Jo has been afflicted with a review in this vein. A while back, she received the following one-star review for the same novel (which, incidentally, has received dozens of five-star ratings), this time on the US store:

“The premise of the story sounded interesting but this is so not my type of book. The “New Adult” subtitle, that I didn’t notice until after the Kindle book purchase, should have been my first clue.”

Okay, so imagine this scenario: I hate haggis. One night, I decide to have dinner at a new restaurant in my area, and for some inexplicable reason, I decide to order haggis. It is revolting. I can’t eat more than one bite. I go home that night, fire up TripAdvisor, and give the restaurant a one-star rating. “I’m sure it’s perfectly fine haggis,” I write, “but haggis just really isn’t my thing so I wasn’t able to eat it.”

That’s not the restaurant’s fault now, is it?

The same goes for giving one-star reviews for books that you haven’t read because they weren’t to your taste. If you find yourself, by some strange accident, reading a book that just isn’t for you, put it down and move on. But don’t trash the book’s ratings just because you don’t like the genre.

And on that note, here are some more “do’s and don’ts” for book ratings and reviews that will help make the internet a friendlier place:

#1: Share your views when you’ve read a book – whether you liked it or not!

We’ve all discovered an amazing book through someone else’s recommendation, whether that someone was a “real life” person or an anonymous fellow reader online. Help build great reading communities and steer other readers to books you’ve loved (or away from the ones that were awful) by conscientiously rating and reviewing everything you’ve read.

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#2: Don’t be a meanie

Authors are people, too! Stay conscious of the fact that a lot of authors are tapped in to reading communities (especially on platforms like Goodreads) and will read your review. There’s no need to be petty or nasty in your review if you didn’t enjoy the book: keep criticism constructive, and in good faith.

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#3: Support Indie and self-publishing authors

It’s incredibly difficult to get your novel noticed these days, especially if you’re a self-published or Indie author without the backing of a big publishing house.

Don’t limit yourself to books that have garnered the most reviews, and actively seek out self-published novels that may not have gotten a lot of attention yet – and when you’ve finished reading them, give them a boost by making sure that you leave a rating and review!

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#4: Don’t review a book if you didn’t finish it

See my long-winded rant above. If you haven’t finished a book because it wasn’t to your taste, don’t review it. It’s as simple as that. (Of course, if the poor quality of a book that you may otherwise have enjoyed actually prevented you from reaching the end, a review may be justified, but be upfront about the fact that you didn’t finish it.)

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#5: Make sure your review is coherent before posting it

One quick read-through to correct any errors is all it takes. After all, would you trust a book recommendation from someone who seems barely literate? (No judgies – typos happen to everyone!)

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#6: Don’t give a one-star rating unless it’s deserved

And the same goes for a five-star rating. There’s a whole spectrum of stars in between one and five to choose from: a one-star rating is the absolute pits and should be reserved for books that are totally, irretrievably bad.

On the flip side of that, five stars should be doled out only to those books that totally blew your mind and couldn’t possibly be improved upon.

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#7: Give feedback on technical glitches, but don’t let that drag down your rating…

… unless the fault was so bad that it seriously impacted on your reading experience. Self-publishing authors, in particular, often find that they receive a lot of negative ratings because they haven’t had their book properly edited or professionally converted into an e-pub.

It’s frustrating, as a reader, to invest your time and money in a book that is riddled with grammatical errors or technical faults, and this will inevitably color your experience of the novel. Be reasonable when you adjust your rating for these faults, however, and don’t automatically revert to a one-star rating because the author said “they’re” instead of “their” (ugh).

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Happy reviewing, everyone!

With thanks to Jo Watson for allowing me to use her as my guinea pig for this article! Please show Jo some love and visit her at: http://www.jowatsonwrites.com/

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7 thoughts on “The Delicate Etiquette of Book Reviewing

  1. The gifs! Perfection. Those were all good points too. Self-published authors throw their heart and soul into their book. The least we can do is give them constructive feedback.

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  2. This is a very inspiring post. I am just starting out in the book blogging world and I appreciate the pointers here. I whole heartedly agree with all your points, especially the one about the 1 star reviews. I don’t think I have ever given a 1 star review because, even if I really hated a book, the author had the guts to write it and share it with the world and someone decided it was worth reading.

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  3. Reblogged this on Writing Radiation and commented:
    I’ve been laying low for the past month or so, taking care of my Dad. However, I’m hoping I’ll be back to re-blogging & writing soon enough (when he gets his driving privileges back)!

    Not to mention, the political climate has me a bit down. 😥

    Still – these are great tips for all my reading fanatic friends out there.

    Like

  4. Good post!

    A few bloggers push their strange opinions onto the reading and reviewing community–making commands like, “Never leave a review less than three stars on anyone’s work!”–but every honest review helps the community. Review sites exist for readers to find books they’ll enjoy and figure out which won’t suit them; they’re not all about marketing authors. (Anyway, one-star reviews can help with marketing, despite how much they sting. For example, they might warn people outside of the target audience that the book’s blurb doesn’t accurately reflect the genre.)

    Balanced advice like what you have here is much needed to counter the harmful commandments out there. Thanks for sharing this post.

    Like

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