World, Writing, Wealth discussion

27 views
All Things Writing & Publishing > Reviewing/Critiquing

Comments Showing 1-29 of 29 (29 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Leonie (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments Since it appears quite topical at the moment, I thought it might be interesting to discuss how we each review books (assuming we choose to review, that is) and why we do it the way we do.

As a reader, I review intermittently. I usually review if I particularly love a book, or if for some reason I particularly disliked it. I also review (quite deliberately) if it's a book I've picked for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which I try to participate in each year. It's a review program to encourage people to read Australian Women Writers.

My personal opinion, as both a reader and a writer, is that reviews serve several purposes. They allow someone to share their love of a story, and they also allow someone to explain why a story didn't work for them, or even why they feel ambivalent about one. All in all, most books will have a variety of reviews, both good and bad.

As a writer, I cringe at receiving a poor review, but at the same time, I have to appreciate that just as I don't always enjoy reading a book, some people won't like mine - for a variety of reasons. Generally, as a writer, I don't read many of my reviews - mainly because I think I could become overly focused on them. Having said that, if the only review I received were negative, I'd probably be stupid to ignore that.

As a reader, I've been stung by books with only good reviews - now I view them with suspicion and tend to avoid them. It just isn't realistic to expect that all reviews of a book will be positive. I always try to review honestly, explaining what did and didn't work for me. Some of my reviews are more detailed than others, depending on how I felt at the time.

So, to kick the discussion off, I've linked to a few of my own reviews below, so feel free to comment!

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

https://www.amazon.com/gp/review/R1UA...


message 2: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 13089 comments Really thorough reviews, Leonie, and a topical theme indeed!

I rarely write reviews and I just have a couple here on GR:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Placing the 2-nd one, if Matt would want to have a look and revert with feedback -:)
I write pretty contentious stuff, gritty and unembellished, so I pretty much expect opinions to split sharply. Not a fine art by any definition. I find negative reviews very helpful, especially if something is recurrent to see what works and what doesn't.


message 3: by Leonie (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments Wow, also some thorough reviewing - particularly the second one!

I think it's really healthy that you expect your own stuff to have some sharp review splits - it's an awareness that contentious and gritty writing will provoke diverse responses. Mind you, sometimes contentious writing is what's required in some genres/situations.


message 4: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 13089 comments Leonie wrote: "Mind you, sometimes contentious writing is what's required in some genres/situations...."

I sure hope so and I'd rather my books excite the readers -:)


message 5: by Roughseasinthemed (last edited May 28, 2017 07:00AM) (new)

Roughseasinthemed | 129 comments My reviews depend on where or for whom I'm writing them. So,
1) I write objectively when I'm being paid – not by the author for a promo — but by review groups. That means plot, pacing, tension, structure, characters etc the usual. Plus excessive errors.
2) When I write on GR I follow the same outline but with more of a personal touch thrown in. More of what I liked/didn't like.
3) Writing on my blog, I try and make it much more interesting for my readers, as I think dry dusty book reviews are boring as hell. And it's my blog so I can do what I want. :)

GR:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

and a blog review:

https://roughseasinthemed.wordpress.c...

@Nik I found your review of the Putin book interesting. Partly because of your personal perspective. Seems like you only review Russian books?!


message 6: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 13089 comments Roughseasinthemed wrote: "@Nik I found your review of the Putin book interesting. Partly because of your personal perspective. Seems like you only review Russian books?! .."

Thanks, RS. That's the thing - I don't review much -:) I haven't even added most of the books to GR and I add them now when I something that I'd read gets into my sight accidentally. I'm thinking to myself what can I possibly add to thousands of reviews of Dan Brown's, Rowling's or Alex Dumas' books, for example?
Both books, reviewed here, are of American authors. One is a true story of a young American girl meeting KGB defector, another - a thorough research of an American academic about Putin.
Excellent reviews and impressive blog, btw!


message 7: by Roughseasinthemed (last edited May 28, 2017 01:47PM) (new)

Roughseasinthemed | 129 comments I added a star rating to Rowling's – well the one book I read – because I thought it was poor writing :) But Jane Austen doesn't do well by me either.

Dan Brown varies, some mediocre eg Da Vinci, but angels and demons was better. Don't think I've read Dumas, but I'm good on Russian authors :) To some extent I agree, why add a review when there are already hundreds? But, when there is nothing, or it's a new publication, even a short one may help. One way, or another. Although many authors aren't as resilient and gracious as you in terms of accepting review comments …

Thanks. Like Leonie, I was trying to give a range of reviews.


message 8: by Leonie (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments I'm thinking to myself what can I possibly add to thousands of reviews of Dan Brown's, Rowling's or Alex Dumas' books, for example?

I think it's an interesting question. But then I thought about it a bit more, and realised that when I'm trying to decide whether I want to read a book by an author I've never tried, as well as the 'look inside' function on Amazon, I tend to gravitate towards the two to four star reviews.

The reason being that the one and five star ones often tell me nothing except that someone liked or hated a book.

After I've read a book, I sometimes read reviews just to see if I'm the only one who felt 'that way' about it,

Interestingly, my review of The Narrow Road to the Deep North that I've linked above has had the most reaction of any of my reviews on Goodreads, which I find fascinating, as the book won the Man Booker Prize.


message 9: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 9228 comments I write quite a few reviews, and mainly for indie authors, on the basis they need reviews more than the big guys, and also in the vain hope others might return the favour (big disillusion there :-( ). My aim is to tell the reader what they can expect: what sort of plot, what the writing is like, what the pacing is like, what the author does well, what the author does not do so well, and what made an impression on me. As a general rule, I do not comment on typos unless the work is riddled with them, but I do comment on structural aspects, e.g. head hopping, scenes that don't connect, etc. I also try to avoid the issue of whether I like it, although in fairness, it is hard for that not to show through. The important thing for me is since I have to give star grades, I try to explain WHY I give the grade


message 10: by Alex (new)

Alex (asato) I consider: 1) originality; 2) writing; 3) characterization; 4) story/plot (including complexity, pacing, plot holes). Depending on the genre, each component is weighted differently for each genre. For example, I weight originality in sci-fi/fantasy more than for other genres. Characterization and plot usually rate high in all genres. For Thriller, plot--pacing, in particular--carries a fairly significant weight.

Technothriller is one of the most challenging categories. For this subgenere, I heighten the weighting in all criteria. Probably the average reader, even in this subgenre, might be a little more forgiving than me. However, I still think that my criteria for this category isn't too far off the mark.

Talking about ratings, my ratings tend to skew high, probably a bell curve with its apex somewhere around 3.5 (my GR average is 3.82). If an author really cared about their book--and most do--a 3 rating is usually well-deserved. I reserve 1s and 2s for the truly sloppy or offensive books. A 5 rating for a book is quite exceptional in that book's subgenre. Having said all that, there's a lot of variability in my 4 range.

My reviews are brief and meant for the reader--not the writer.

Isn't it kind of interesting that before the advent of blogging and then Amazon, and book sites like GR, we were all dependent on the big media sites for book reviews (besides what was on the bookshelves at the bookstore or what we heard from our friends)? ^_^


message 11: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 7085 comments @Alex, great point above.

Reviews have become a far more community based peer-to-peer structure which to my mind is a fundamental advance over concentrating opinion formation into a small cartel of media and publishing organizations.


message 12: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan | 7085 comments When I review a book I primarily write about my experience of reading it.

I write reviews for readers, not the author.

I focus on plot, character, pacing and impact.


message 13: by Alex (last edited May 28, 2017 08:19PM) (new)

Alex (asato) Graeme Rodaughan wrote: "@Alex, great point above.

Reviews have become a far more community based peer-to-peer structure which to my mind is a fundamental advance over concentrating opinion formation into a small cartel o..."


agreed. just to add some detail: it enables a broarder concensus and direct engagement between the reader and the author.


message 14: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin Does anyone still believe in or are influenced by these one-liner blurbs by newspapers' book critics you often see at the back of book jackets? I find those so misleading and dishonest.


message 15: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 13089 comments Michel wrote: "Does anyone still believe in or are influenced by these one-liner blurbs by newspapers' book critics you often see at the back of book jackets? I find those so misleading and dishonest."

Probably many do and publishers place them for a reason hunting and distilling those one-liners. Sure, it might reflect a little shallow and superficial approach, but then readers search for instant verification, so a bunch of those phrases create an air of a 'book with credentials' for whatever that means..


message 16: by Leonie (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments Michel wrote: "Does anyone still believe in or are influenced by these one-liner blurbs by newspapers' book critics you often see at the back of book jackets? I find those so misleading and dishonest."

Nope. But I do note the ones written by authors I already like.


message 17: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 9228 comments What one must realize is the one-liners are usually culled from much larger reviews. Quite often, they may not even represent the main message but might be some sort of sop to show "balance", or to find something good to say.


message 18: by Neil (new)

Neil Carstairs | 53 comments As others have said, book reviews are for readers, not authors. That's why Amazon calls them product reviews because the book is a product being sold to other consumers. I'll be honest and say unless it's for one of my books I don't read reviews that are longer than three paragraphs, I haven't got the time. For me, once a book has enough of them, it comes down to average ratings. Ten ratings average 4 and above, should be ok. Ten ratings average 2.5 and below, move on.

As for one liner extracted from full reviews, there is an old tale (probably urban myth) of a review of a comedy play that a reviewer panned and one line said "The only thing that had me rolling in the aisles was when the curtain stuck at the start of act two" and the quote on the poster for the play read "...had me rolling in the aisles..."


message 19: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 9228 comments Neil wrote: "As others have said, book reviews are for readers, not authors. That's why Amazon calls them product reviews because the book is a product being sold to other consumers. I'll be honest and say unle..."

Excellent cropping in the example :-)


message 20: by Alex (last edited May 30, 2017 07:43PM) (new)

Alex (asato) i don't, but like it or not many do and many pay for it. it's part and parcel of the story publishing ecosystem just like reviews that are gut-wrenching thrashings or gushing nonsense.
"Political plotting, plenty of snark, puzzle-solving, and a healthy dose of action...Scalzi continues to be almost insufferably good at his brand of fun but think-y sci-fi adventure." ―Kirkus Reviews on The Collapsing Empire"
(https://www.amazon.com/Collapsing-Emp...)



message 21: by Alex (last edited Jun 07, 2017 09:53PM) (new)

Alex (asato) Although this article has more to do with feedback in a critique group, I thought that a few points applied to writing reviews.

"How to Spot Toxic Feedback: 7 Signs That the Writing Advice You’re Getting May Do More Harm Than Good"

A few on-the-spot quotes:
The bestselling fantasy author Neil Gaiman once said, “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
...
A literary writer unfamiliar with the conventions of genre will advocate for geeky details to be cut. A reader who enjoys thrillers will encourage the author to play up a cloak-and-dagger angle, when what that author intended was something more along the lines of existential dread.

This is not to say you should only share your work with people who share your tastes—only that you should not share your work with people who are unaware of their own biases.
https://janefriedman.com/how-to-spot-...

Thoughts?


message 22: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 9228 comments I think the Neil Gaiman quote is probably the most useful. People who see problems indicate that something went wrong somewhere, or was not clear, or something else. But an emphatic lecture on how to fix it almost always means he/she is just trying to impose his/her ideas.


message 23: by Denise (new)

Denise Baer I can’t say I review as a reader because my writer side tends to poke its head out. I’ll provide reviews for books I really loved or disliked and if I want to share with others. If I spent money, and the book is poorly written, I’ll definitely share my frustration with others.

My reviews usually provide examples to support my like and/or dislike of the book. As a writer, I would like to see such reviews for my books, but people have their own thoughts and styles. Some people don’t want to go over to Amazon and write something. Goodreads makes it easy to simply rate. Unfortunately, a 5-star or 1-star rating doesn’t tell me much about their experience other than they loved it or hated it.

Reviews are important to authors, especially self-published/Indie authors. That said, I won’t hesitate to provide a poor rating and/or review for those that slapped something together and published, or even those who I believe have poor writing. I expect honest reviews, so I give honest reviews.

Below are a few examples of my reviews:

The Girl on the Train

The Symmetry of Snowflakes

All The Light We Cannot See (link to blog for full review)

Last Christmas


message 24: by Tim (last edited Jun 08, 2017 06:43AM) (new)

Tim Rees | 732 comments I'm only really interested in reviews from genuine readers whom I have no association with. They are invariably from readers who have immersed themselves in the book and made an emotional investment. Often readers private message me or email me and some have text me and I do wish they would leave a review on Amazon as well, but I never ask. I did request a review here on GR once and regretted it because the resulting review was just one big spoiler.

I only review if I like a book and this is because if I didn't like it I wouldn't have finished it. And what I like and don't like is purely subjective and of zero importance anyway...

The only opinion that matters to me is that of genuine readers who've picked out my novel because of the blurb. If they liked the story, it's great to hear from them, if not then I don't expect to hear from them because I don't expect them to have finished the book.

WTF is slightly different because I expect a strong reaction to the novel and, I'm sure I'll get some personal abuse over it... :D


message 25: by Marie Silk (last edited Jun 08, 2017 04:24PM) (new)

Marie Silk | 1020 comments I review books the same way I review other products: by writing what I think other customers would want to know, or what I would want to know in their shoes. If an ebook "ends" at 50% and the rest of the pages advertise the author's other works, I explain so. Usually people want to know if it ends on a cliffhanger. If a non-fic book promises to turn me into a master of finance and it's 20 pages long, I will likely express disappointment in the content. I don't know that I've ever commented on technical writing aspects unless the spelling/punctuation is really bad. I tend to skim over critiquing-type info in other reviews as it does not really interest me. That only applies to books, though. If a reviewer says that the stitching came undone on a backpack after wearing it one time, that's the sort of thing I want to know before I buy :).


message 26: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 9228 comments I agree more or less with Marie. My reviews try to tell the reader what sort of book it is, and what sort of things in might either make some readers to like it, or other readers to dislike it. I try to avoid letting whether i liked it show through, although sometimes I can't help it. The objective for me is to give enough about the book, without spoiling, so a reader should get some idea whether it is worth a try.


message 27: by Leonie (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments I only review if I like a book and this is because if I didn't like it I wouldn't have finished it. And what I like and don't like is purely subjective and of zero importance anyway...

This is something I'm not sure I'd agree with - at least personally.

In my original post, I mentioned the books with only good reviews that I've subsequently purchased, and that are actually poorly written, or poorly plotted, or contain stuff that doesn't bother some people but might bother others.

Others here have mentioned that they review primarily as readers reviewing for other readers - and I think that's the key for me.

Clearly I like to share that I loved a book, but equally, I also feel that it's important to share that Book X is riddled with tense errors/spelling mistakes/weird formatting/paedophilia/purple dragons etc.

This review https://www.amazon.com/gp/review/R1UA... that I posted above is one of those for me.


message 28: by Tim (last edited Jun 08, 2017 04:11PM) (new)

Tim Rees | 732 comments Hi Leonie,

To take up your points: "that are actually poorly written..." In whose opinion? "poorly plotted..." In whose opinion? "contain stuff that doesn't bother some people but might bother others." So you now want to censor other writer's material?

The problem with all your points is that they are subjective and suggest you feel the author should write according to your values and perceptions of good grammar.

I used to work in film and TV and in that industry there is a "professional" acceptance of the term artistic licence. In film making everyone is a critic, even the crew a director, producer and writer work with. The use of the term artistic licence is used tongue in cheek, because under that term creator's can get away with murder. And the reason the term is tongue in cheek is that "professionals" accept the director, producer and writer have to be permitted a licence to take risks - to experiment and test ideas. It is the duty of an artist to challenge rules and stretch stuff like script structure and editorial norms as it is for writers to stretch and test grammar and structure without concerning themselves with what others think. That takes confidence and self belief and that is why the term "artistic licence" is tongue in cheek. Simply put it allows the creator to smile when critics take themselves too seriously. The problem with focussed groups like we have on GR is that they all take themselves and their opinions too seriously...


message 29: by Leonie (last edited Jun 08, 2017 10:57PM) (new)

Leonie (leonierogers) | 1579 comments In response, I'd suggest that there's a difference between 'stretching and testing' deliberately (which implies some competence with existing grammatical/structural parameters) and not being able to write a story that is understandable, engaging and understandable because of a lack in the basic skills. The second thing isn't deliberate, just accidental and - yes, in my opinion - not a good thing.

Having said that, only a few will appreciate deliberate 'stretching and testing.'

Certainly some things are subjective, but others really aren't.

Perhaps some people enjoy stories written without due regard to spelling.

As an example, this discussion would be completely ridiculous if you and I were adhering to our own senses of structure, spelling and grammar. And perhaps neither of us would understand the other - nor might outside observers.

Story telling is really all about communication in the end. (Or at least it is my subjective opinion.)


back to top