I love your book, I hate your book

This post is about book reviews, from those on Amazon.com to those in Publishers Weekly.  I’ve always wanted to talk about reviews–bad ones–but in order to do that I’d have to tell people that I’ve gotten ones.  And nobody wants to advertise they’ve gotten a bad review.

People are really funny about bad reviews, especially author friends.  Nobody mentions them.  It’s as though they never happened. I got a bad review in an Atlanta paper on my second book (yes, I remember it), and nobody in my writing group mentioned it.  Now I know they’d read it because the book reviewer had visited our RWA chapter meeting and agreed to review romance novels.  It’s like when you know you’re having a “bad hair day” but nobody comments on it, not even to joke.  That’s when you know how seriously we writers take these reviews.

PW has reviewed a couple of my books.  Back in the day, it was hard for a romance novel to get a review, and one without a back-handed insult was hard to find.  But we writers learned to deal with PW. Let’s say the PW reviewer writes that “the author butchered this book and destroyed what could have been wonderful characters.”  Well, the creative author turns lemons into lemonade.  The next thing you know, the author has a quote from PW on her web site or the cover of her book and it says “. . .wonderful characters. -PW”  Just lose a few words and a bad review becomes a good review.

In all fairness, I don’t think we do that anymore.  It’s pretty clear it’s not an honest representation of how PW felt about the book.  Just goes to show the lengths we’ll go to get a good review.

Amazon reviews are another matter.  I don’t really look at the ratings.  Okay, sometimes I do.  I get a good laugh off some of those 1- and 2-star reviews, unless of course, they’re on one of my books, and then I tear-up everytime I think about it.

Anyway, a bad Amazon review won’t stop me from buying a book and a good one won’t make me buy it.   A lot of good reviews look suspicious.  Why?  Because I wonder if the author has asked all his/her friends to post a review.  How can everybody who read the book think it’s great?  I look more for the number of reviews.  If a book has a lot of reviews, I think a lot of people read it.  Doesn’t really matter to me if they liked it.

It stings when somebody writes something like, “this is the most boring book I’ve ever read,” but it hurts when they write “this book is not about Christians. It’s about a bunch of hypocrites in church.”  Now that hurts.

I love to read and I love talking about books.  I tear them apart and put them back together again.  But I could never do that publicly because I know how hard it is to write a book.  You know, there are some authors who are reviewers.  I can’t do it.  I can’t blog about what I disliked about somebody’s book.  I just can’t do it.

i also don’t discuss other authors’ work with readers, unless I have good things to say. I could never bad-mouth another author’s book to a reader or potential reader.  You’ll remember a while back I critiqued Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne.” That’s the most critical (and I didn’t speak badly about the show) I’ve ever been (or ever will be) on this blog, or in any public forum.  You’ll never know how many times I thought about deleting that post.  I left it up because I convinced myself that it was more positive than negative.

The best reviews come directly from readers.  Now I figure if you plunk your money down to buy a book and take the time to read it, you’re free to talk about it.  My best letter was from a reader who told me she loved the book “until it got to the end and then I threw it across the room.”  The good news is that she told me she’d give me another chance.  What more can I writer ask for?  All I need is another chance; I’m sure I’ll win her over.

I do have one kind of review that drives me crazy–the review that gives away a major plot point.  That drives me crazy.  About as crazy as it drives my brother when I tell him the major plot point of a movie.  Why do I do this with movies but not with books?  I’m not sure.

I’ve never written a letter to an author about a book, but I’ve been tempted on two occassions.  The first was Julie Garwood’s “For the Roses.”  That was a wonderful book, not for the romance, but for the way she portrayed the relationship between a runaway slave, Adam, and his white adopted brothers and sister.  I loved reading that book.  The second was Sharon Foster’s “Passing by Samaria.”  What a great book!  If you haven’t read it, you must read it TODAY.

So tell me about you and reviews.  Do you read them?  Where do you read them?  Do you make buying decisions based on them?  Do you write them?  If so, what guidelines do you use?  Have you ever written an author to tell him/her you didn’t like her book?  If so, what kind of response did you get?

Enjoy the rest of your week!

11 thoughts on “I love your book, I hate your book

  1. I write book reviews but I don’t read them. LOL! Because I’ve never allowed someone else’s opinion to influence me away from something I’m interested in, and if I’m already interested, I don’t need encouragement.

    I don’t write negative reviews. If I can’t find anything positive to say (and it’s happened), I won’t write the review. If I disliked it but there were some good points, I try to play those points up but honestly yet politely try to leave the reader with a sense of how I felt overall. I don’t think I need to pick apart a plot or the characters or tell the author everything she did wrong. I hope to be in a position to be reviewed one day and I wouldn’t want anyone to do that to me. Also, I think some bad books are more bad structurally than in plot or characters. I think the editors are as much to blame for that as the author because they chose to publish it in that fashion.

    I’ve never written an author to say I didn’t like a book. If I don’t like it, I just move on. I have, however, contacted authors of books that I absolutely loved. I think they deserve to know if their book truly entertained or encouraged or lifted me in some way.

  2. I do read reviews, but they don’t always persuade me. I’ve learned that books I find entertaining and well-written may not move a reviewer the same way; especially if I’ve read a review after I’ve already read the book.

    Still, if an author or another person that I respect makes a comment about a particular book, then that does hold a bit more weight for me. I’d never heard of Walter Mosley until I read somewhere that he was former Pres. Clinton’s favorite mystery author. When I started reading Mosley’s books, I was hooked too!

    I have plenty of friends and relatives who are serious book worms so if they recommend a book, I’ll check it out. A lot of the Christian authors I know about today, including you Angela, I learned about through one of my online writing groups. So I’d say word of mouth goes a long way.

    God bless and keep you,


  3. I do read reviews, all the time. I’m particularly interested in PW and Booklist because they carry so much weight for library purchases. I just kind of like to get a feel for what they like. But it’s all unpredictable. I have to say reviews strongly influence what I buy, as far as non-fiction books go. For example, if I’m looking for a book about marketing and all the reviewers say it’s for the novice or it was extremely complicated, then usually that infomration weighs heavily into whether or not I purchase it. As for fiction, I buy authors I like so nobody can deter me from their books.

  4. Something funny is that you said you don’t really write to authors. Part of the reason I started seriously writing is because I wrote (actually emailed) you, Francis Ray and Beverly Jenkins after reading some of your books and you all emailed me back. That changed my life and got me thinking that I could do this, bad reviews and all.

    Reviews, good or bad, don’t matter to me. I think that is in part because I also know how hard the process of writing a book can be.

  5. I both read and occasionally write reviews. I read all reviews with a grain of sand. I have actively disliked books that received the highest praise and vice versa. I write reviews only if I have enjoyed a book and can pinpoint why I did. Even then, I write I don’t review books unless I think I can help the author through a review. The only time I might write a somewhat negative review is when I’m doing the “first look” kind of review for a proof that I’ve won, but even then I try to find as many positive things to say as I can.

    A case in point is the book ” The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul” by Mario Beauregard & Denyse O’Leary. This is a VERY scholarly and scientific book, for me anyway. It uses a lot of acronyms and abbreviations that you need to have a more constant guide for or previous familiarity with. It took me about an hour to read 10 pages of a 295 page book, not counting another 70-odd pages for footnotes, bibliography, glossary, and index. Since I’m interested in the subject and have done reading in it, I thought I had some background in it. However, it was an exercise in frustration for me, maybe in part because I was reading it at a difficult time for me. The most frustrating thing was that their actual study was not described until the end of their book, and then in just one or two chapters. All the rest of the book that I was able to plow through, and I read no more than 100 pages, was about the theories that did not allow for a soul.

    My conclusion was that it was not destined for the general population, only for those who were already intimately acquainted with the subject.

    I also read and reviewed “Krakatoa” by Simon Winchester about the eruption of the volcano in Indonesia in 1883. When I bought this book, I assumed it was purely a story of what happened and how the eruption affected the world for many years, as it in fact has been blamed for changing the climate of the world for several years after. However, Winchester did not stop there: he also wrote about the geology of the event, the effect it had on the study of geology and the knowledge that was gained from it for the theory of plate tectonics.

    I thought the book was very clear in stating facts to explain everything in very simple terms. Yet when, for the fun of it, I read a review at the Chapters.Indigo.ca site, I was amazed to read that the book was inscrutable and that after the reader read the book twice, he could still not understand it. Admittedly, I took my required university science course in geology and the subject has always interested me, but I think somebody would have to be pretty dense to not understand what was written there, or be in denial of the facts. I didn’t mention the other review but made clear my opinion of the book: it was a well-written, very interesting and very understandable book.

    Frankly, I’m more hesitant about reviewing fiction because I know that I might like a book but be unable to explain why I do or don’t. I can only talk about the story, not about the way the book is written since I have hardly a creative bone in my body. I can write essays on all sorts of things except for literature. That was borne out by my marks in my literature vs. history/political science classes at university. But I have written a few reviews of novels and just gone with what I get out of a book rather than with how the book is constructed or “how” the author gets the meaning across.

    And I will never write a review for a book that I feel deserves only 1 or 2 stars out of 5, though I was tempted to do so for a book by a well-known author that I read recently: the “logistics” of the story were absurd; some sentences were so garbled that they didn’t make sense; the characters acted in ways that were definitely strange and the woman’s character was almost diametrically opposed to the one she had “shown” in a previous book which I read, or was it truly “reread” as my records showed, after I had finished this “sequel.” Either the author, whose books I’d previously enjoyed is getting very sloppy, or senile or…, or she has always been heavily edited and proofread previously and this was a slap-dab job on the part of the publisher as well. Some reader-reviewers complained about having spent the money for a hardcover copy of this book, yet it got just over half its 23 ratings as five or four stars at Amazon. I guess some readers just read for the very basic plot elements. Unfortunately, I read word for word and am easily struck by incorrect usages such as “I could care less” which does “not” mean “it doesn’t matter to me at all.” There is certainly a lack of logic in some writing.

    As for that “hypocrites in church” review, Angela, just consider it a review by an ignorant person, someone who does not believe as we do. Who, as a non-believer, thinks that all churches are either full of hypocrites, or who, as a Christian, cannot abide the fact that, yes, even so-called Christians can and do sin. Of course we all do sin even if we have been saved, because God’s work can not be perfected in us on this earth, lest we really become hypocrites by boasting about how good and saintly we are.

    And it’s only natural for criticism to hurt us. I just went through a “dark night of the soul” after being criticized directly as well as indirectly by a very opinionated family member, who is always right and who just might apologize to her husband after she lambastes him when she realizes that the direction he was going in the car, actually was right. I’ve never heard her apologize to anybody else. I’m glad she apologizes to him at least once in a while: she certainly gets mad at him for no reason at least twice an hour. Please, pray for me that I will continue to love her though I need to stay away from her as much as possible. Her husband really lives up to his name, which means “wants peace.” Hm, I wonder what her name means? How much really is there in a name? “True, righteous?” She chose this name herself. Her given name “pure”? Oh, well. I think nobody would think those names appropriate to her. We can’t all live up to our names. Whew, wipe brow. I don’t have a name with that kind of meaning. I try to live up to my second name which means “friend.”

  6. I guess I shouldn’t throw the proverbial stones and then write garbage while I’m doing it. It’s been a tough weekend, but that’s no excuse. I even proofread everything but I guess I didn’t make my changes properly. The sentence in the first paragraph starting “Even then…” is supposed to mean that I write reviews only to help an author by tipping an unfair bias. Also, I certainly do not read a lot of reviews. Mostly I read them after I’ve read a book to see if other readers had the same opinion I did.

    Please also pray for the two family members mentioned, her especially. She is not a Christian and has had a rough life. He is not a practising Christian. I’m very thankful that she has someone to truly love her, but sometimes it must be hard for her husband. She has two children who are subject to the same treatment. Her occasional generosity might be in the way of an apology but I, at least, would prefer to have an occasional kind word.

  7. Pat, Veronica, Rhonda, you know, my big thing is that I’m afraid to be honest because I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, and because I know people have very different tastes in books. That’s why I can’t be a reviewer. It’s kinda like telling somebody their baby is ugly. Okay, I know it’s not the same but you can see how paranoid I am about it.

    The few times I’ve made critical comments on people’s books, it’s turned out badly. It’s difficult for me to even give feedback to new writers. Why? Because I can’t buy the book so I don’t know if anyone will buy it. I know what I think would make a book stronger, but that doesn’t mean some editor might read it and think it’s already strong.

    G.Tibbs, even though I don’t write to authors, I love to get mail from readers. How contradictory is that?

    Sigrun, i think i’d be more comfortable reviewing nonfiction, too. Not sure why. About loving the people in your life, I think we could all do with prayer in that area. I think God brings some people in our lives just to show us how unloveable we can be at times, and yet He continues to love us. We have to love those folks drive us crazy, becasue there are times we work his nerves (well, not really, but you get my point.)


  8. Angela,
    While many (dare I say I most?) authors keep mum on the subject of negative reviews, I’m one who doesn’t. I don’t feel that I have to prove anything to anyone, and I’m also a realist. I’ve always felt it silly for any author to expect universal adulation from readers. (I’ve also been open about being dropped by one of my publishers). In fact, I have an essay coming up on APOOO.org as part of their Black History Month observation on February 7th on the topic of bad reviews, so please check it out!

    As for my buying decisions, I make them on my own. I wouldn’t buy a book based on the reviews any more than I would buy a product endorsed by a celebrity I respect.

  9. Bettye, I agree with you that it’s unrealistic to expect universal adulation from readers for a particular book. I tell myself that if everybody who reads my books loves it then I’m not getting good distribution. When you check Amazon for the bestselling novels they have a range of reviews, ranging from awful to excellent. That, to me, says the book is getting good distribution. In other words, in order to find all the people that will appreciate my stories, I have to touch some who don’t. Does this make sense to anyone other than me?

    I’ll be sure to check out your article on apoo.org. I’m doing one, too, but I haven’t settled on a topic with Yasmin.

    Congrats on your recent sale! I saw you Publishers Lunch, I think. One door closes, another opens.

  10. So tell me about you and reviews. Do you read them? YEP! I love critical reviews…esp. the ones that tell me more than ‘don’t waste your money on this book.’ I want to know why!

    Where do you read them?–amazon.com and APOOO Books (www.apooo.org).

    Do you make buying decisions based on them?–Only if it’s a review from a friend who has similar taste…but if its by an author that I like…rather than buy the book…and I buy 90% of my books…this will be an exception…I WILL BORROW IT. Why waste money on something that I already know might be a dud. LOL.

    Do you write them? –Sure Do!

    If so, what guidelines do you use?–I always try not to give away the plot. If I say something critical it’s about the book and not the author. I try and give negative feedback in a positive fashion…my goal is to uplift rather than to tear down.

    Have you ever written an author to tell him/her you didn’t like her book?
    No but I have had authors to write me and tell me that they didn’t appreciate that I rated their book a 3 or a 4 on amazon!

    If so, what kind of response did you get?
    The response I gave was it’s just ‘one black woman’s opinion. Write another book and I might like that one better.’ LOL. On a serious note, I read a lot of GOOD books every year but given that I read on average 150 books a year…it’s hard for me to find a book that is a 5.

  11. Hey Angela,

    Looks like your New Year is going well. Yes, I read reviews because I had two book clubs at one time and needed a way to decide what to recommend to the group.

    As an author I think most are like you. They are reluctant to give reviews especially if they don’t like the book. Recently, someone read “Pinksta & The Polka Dotted Pinstriped Pants Wearing Princess” and really disliked it even though she was an adult and I’d explained that it is a really silly book for elementary children and the purpose for all the “P’s” but she just didn’t like it at all. However, when she read my first children’s book, “The Tale of the Old Maypop Tree: A Southern Folktale” she loved it!! She is writing a book (folktale) as well. So I just think it is what the reader prefers most of the time whien it comes to reviews.

    (By the way— I am no longer doing book clubs). I just couldn’t keep up. I have new material to submit for contests and preparing to do a summer reading event in Atlanta for children. This is what I want to spend my time doing. I have really been sold out for giving more to our community after reading Tavis’s Covenant With Black America I after my book club read it. It really made me look at my priorities and make some decisions about what is important—by the way this is not a review!!! However I guess I should write one huh?


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