Mediocre Reads and You

I recently signed up with Goodreads at the invitation of a friend. Yeah, I’m a bit behind the curve – again. (For those of you that use Goodreads, my author profile is online here.) Feel free to add me as a friend and, as a newb, any advice on how to best use the site would be much appreciated!

The new account got me thinking about a sometimes sticky subject with writers – reviews.

As a Goodreads reader, do I review books? As an author, do I? What about books I don’t like, do I tell people?

I’ve heard a lot of views, read blogs, had discussion all centered on this topic. The conventional wisdom says this – as an author, you either don’t review books or you don’t post negative reviews of books you’ve read.

I’ve given that a lot of thought and I’m not so sure it’s fair for anyone involved.

I’m a reader. I read books. It’s why I write.

As long as I am giving a solid review, without attacking anyone and clearly stating a well-reasoned opinion, I’m not sure why I shouldn’t post my thoughts. Because I write, I shouldn’t have an opinion? I should fear what? Authors seeking revenge?

Here’s my biggest problem with most crowd-sourced reviews on most sites – mainly only people that like the books will bother to review them. Further, if it is an established author, they will develop a fanbase that permanently skews the reviews and often attacks even reasonable critique.

Also, the systems are so skewed by these dynamics that the reviews rarely offer any -overall- insight for comparison to other books; only comparison to itself or maybe to those in a series. Jim Butcher for example has books that out rate Huckleberry Finn. I love Jim Butcher. I’ve read more of his books than I’ve read Twain’s. But Mark Twain he ain’t.

What might help this you ask? People writing thoughtful, balanced reviews regardless any sage advice to do otherwise.

Just saying.

Also, I hear quite often that readers should read an entire book before having the gall to review a book. Frankly, I think that’s bullshit as well. By analogy, I don’t think as a requirement to review a restaurant I’d need to finish my meal if they delivered a maggot ridden hunk of bread to my table.

Especially with the phenomenon of self publishing, authors that are leapfrogging the gatekeepers really ought to be thankful for negative reviews because they more often than not are pointing out things that a still developing process might have missed. Sure, sometimes people are simply trolling but often readers are smart enough to figure that out. Further, if it really is overall a good book, the positive voices should be drowning out the trolls (see the above problem of generally only people that like a book will bother to review it).

What are your thoughts on this? As writers and/or readers?

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7 replies

  1. You bring up a really good question, I think. Most of the time, when I “review” a book, I’m actually just writing a response, writing something that’s a little part memoir about how the book affected me personally. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t bother writing it at all. I think it’s important to give balanced reviews, but if I read a bunch of reader reviews of a book that are all glowing, I’m going to wonder a little bit whether some of them are plants. I won’t assume it, mind you, but I will wonder. It probably won’t keep me from picking the pick up if it sounds interesting and the writing on the first two pages is good at the sentence- and paragraph-levels.

  2. I also think that if one is going to review a book without finishing it, that reviewer should at least indicate how far along he/she got in the book. To continue your analogy, if I were writing a restaurant review and got served maggoty bread as soon as I sat down, I probably would say that. To paraphrase Pulp Fiction, their pumpkin pie might be awesome, but I will never know. If I only read the first half of the book because it was a one-trick pony that wasn’t going anywhere, then I’m going to say that’s how far I got and it’s why I stopped reading. Frankly, if one wanted to leave a negative review, being clear that one could not finish the book is damning in itself.

    • Point well taken – I think indicating how far you got is an excellent idea. I posted a review today of a book I actually liked and have yet to finish and I mentioned where I stopped – mainly because the last several chapters turn into a legal courtroom scene with nothing but monologues from counsel and the rest of the book had been so spot on, it was disconcerting.

      • Right. Sometimes books change their character partway through, and it’s important to be up-front about how much of an “authority” one is about a given subject — for example, I can say with great confidence that the first half of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is amusing but not particularly deep or wholly innovative, and that its best features are the illustrations and the book group questions. I have no idea whether the novel redeems itself in the second half. A Confederacy of Dunces, however, is absolutely dreadful until you get to the halfway point, and then it becomes comic genius with a beautifully tied-up ending.

  3. The traditional concern with negative reviews is that you’ll give a negative review to an author and then lose them as a potential contact / partner / resource / etc. While I think that idea holds merit, I’d say that anyone who’s annoyed enough by a negative review to shut you down isn’t serious. If all we’re supposed to do is say “I liked it” then there should only be an “I liked it” button and not a 5-star rating system or anything else.

    I guess it comes down once again to accepting critique – if my craftsmanship sucks, I want to know, and I want to know why. If I want nothing but positive feedback, I can go to a mirror, or my parents.

    • That’s something I didn’t consider and you’re right. If anything a writer should be extremely open to critique. You’d think a well-reasoned crit, negative or not, would build contacts, not break them. I want to know the person that can tell me how to make my writing better.

  4. Then there are the individuals of the opposite mind – those that choose to ignore the negative (er – constructive) critiques and keep going down the same terrible path, again and again and again…

    I truly believe it is not fair to all parties involved (readers and authors alike) to not be open and honest. As stated above, sincere authors want to improve because it is their craft, and unsuspecting readers should not be subjected to something without feedback that includes both good and bad opinions. I, personally depend on the good and the bad reviews, as I am the type of person that will read a few reviews from all rating groups before I make a decision.

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