Monday, March 4, 2013

What do bookshelves and reviews say about us?

Author Jody Hedlund had a discussion here about what our books say about ourselves.  In a world of Goodreads it's very easy to see what our favorite authors are reading.  Many authors have fairly diverse reading habits and it's not likely that everything they read will fit their target audience.  Should authors worry about what they post on their bookshelves?  Is it possible to offend your readers, or will they too have broad reading habits?  Does an author really want every book they read, and their impression of it, out there on the internet? 

Another question she brings up is rating books on Goodreads. As an author is it alright to leave poor reviews on books?  Is that considered unprofessional or mean?  Yet, if you only leave good reviews does that make you unreliable or misleading as a reviewer?

I know people who refuse to leave less than a three star review.  If they didn't like the book, they won't review it.  Simple, right?  Yet won't that leave false expectations on the book?  I know when I read reviews I want to read the one and two star reviews to see what they didn't like about the book.  That doesn't mean I won't read it.  Sometimes the issues people have aren't issues for me.  And sometimes they have good points and I'm warry about getting the book. 

Personally I like to have a wide range of reviews so I can get the best overall look at the book.  Yet I understand the worry about appearing mean or snarky for low reviews.  Is it enough to leave a well though out and polite, yet honest, review, or will it still give authors bad reputations?  And if so, what happens if authors only give good reviews to books?  How will that change readers perceptions? Or even authors growth, since we do rely on crits for improvement. 

As you can see I've got more questions than answers.  Has anyone thought about this at all?  What have you decided?  

36 comments:

  1. I think it's a personal preference on the ratings. Personally, I don't want to post a bad review and I just don't review books I don't like. I feel like there are enough book bloggers out there who post their reviews on Goodreads and people can read those negative reviews from them if they want.

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  2. I've left a few bad reviews, but didn't like doing it. If the write-up is good, intriguing and well written, and the book is an utter disappointment, what other choice do I have?

    To not leave a comment would be dishonest, but in the remarks I always temper good with bad.

    A bad critique is a different story, it's a learning experience.

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    1. I do believe our comments should always be polite and point out both good and bad. But I do believe we should be honest.

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  3. Every writer, even the top selling ones get bad reviews. I think what's important in a review is incorporating the positive with the negative like JL mentioned, and to give examples to back up negative comments. I'll stop reading a review if I feel the reviewer is just out to be hurtful towards the author.

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  4. I use Goodreads strictly as a place to keep track of the books I've read, my thoughts on them, and a place to practice writing (writing a concise review with objectivity is an art, I'm convinced). I don't do it for or against the author.

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    1. That's the main reason I use it too. And, yes, writing good, concise reviews is an art. One that many people haven't mastered yet. It's something I'm still working on.

      I think that's they key to writing good reviews. Staying objective. It's not about the author or the reviewer, just the work.

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  5. Oh my goodness, yes, I've thought about this plenty. I don't review on Goodreads, but, as you know, I review middle grade books on my blog. What I finally decided is to review only books I love -- because I see myself as a promoter of middle grade and I won't promote what I don't love.

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  6. I really don't have an issue leaving a less than stellar review if the book was less than stellar.

    As a writer, that's what I'd want others to do. You can't improve if you don't know what's wrong.

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    1. I feel the same way. As long as people are polite and not vindictive about it.

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  7. Such a thought-provoking post, Sara. I'm one of those people who won't give less than 3 stars (well, 4 actually). If I don't like a book, I simply stop reading it. And I don't write a review because I didn't finish the book. I often wonder whether it would make a difference to prospective readers if I posted my honest (negative) review of a book. But more often than not, someone else has already given the less-than-stellar review and said what I would have said. I've also noticed, too, that negative reviews can sometimes start "wars" with people who actually liked the book. I guess they feel the negative review is a judgement against their tastes in books.

    Again, thought-provoking post.

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  8. I've just joined Goodreads, and while I'll rate books, I don't expect to write many reviews. I don't do it much on Amazon, either.

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  9. I only rate books on GR. I don't do reviews very often. I don't look what my favorite authors read. And I tend not to rate books lower than 3 stars (mostly I give 4 and 5 stars). Anything lower than 2 stars ends up with me not finishing the book.

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  10. My approach so far is to avoid doing reviews altogether--although I've broken my "policy" twice, once to fulfill a promise and once because I was totally blown away by a book written by an author I didn't know from Adam (at the time). Although doing so is not a conflict of interest now, it will be (hopefully) in the future. But then, that's just me.

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    1. Enjoyed this comment, sets the reader up immediately into the protagonist's frame of mind and quickly adds a little intrigue to hook us in and want to know more. I rate it 4 stars. ;)

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  11. I've only just joined Goodreads as well and haven't really done much with it until now. To be honest I don't rate books very often and, other than word of mouth, can't recall having ever left a bad review. But what a great question. Ideally, I'd like to think that everyone, author or not, could leave honest feedback without worrying about backlash due to their condition in the community. However, as I know that's not the case I can see how being cautious with reviews can be the best step for certain people.

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    1. If everyone would be polite and non vindictive the review system would work much better but there are some snarky people out there.

      Mostly I use goodreads to keep track of books I've read and books I want to read, but I do rate the books I've read and so I've been wondering about much of this.

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  12. I don't think there's any harm in writing a negative review as (hopefully) there will always be someone who writes a positive one about the same book. It's a good way of sparking discussion about a book and, from the writer's point of view, that's got to be a good thing - as long as people aren't mean about it. :-)

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    1. Discussion about a book, as long as it's polite and respectful, is always good. I think negative reviews have their place, as long as they're done respectfully and objectively.

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  13. I'm pretty thick-skinned, so I (hope!!) think I won't have a problem to see one or two stars... once time goes by, it's a different story :)

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  14. I'll slam something like 'The Avengers' if I don't care for it. When you're reeling in billions, you damn well better be earning it. But I wouldn't dream of writing a poor review for a small-time artist. The motivation required to stay in the game is too all-important. I wouldn't do anything to even come close to harming that.

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    1. Very true that feelings may change with who is presenting the material.

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  15. For the most part, I try to adhere to Thumper's rule: "If ya can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all."

    Most of my reviews on Amazon have been four-star, with a handful of fives, and two threes. But the whole star rating system is pretty much meaningless, as far as I'm concerned. What matters more is the actual review itself. And I try to be as honest as I can with those, and as gentle as I can be with any criticism. I know what it takes to write a book, and I don't want any part of trashing somebody else's efforts. (With the exception of one book, published posthumously, which was allegedly begun by one of my favorite writers prior to his death, and merely "finished" by another writer. Very disappointing. But it was more a trashing of the publisher for pushing that sub-par drivel to cash in on the author's name.)

    What gets more problematic is reviewing a book by a fellow blogger. I recently completed a book that has gotten great reviews on Amazon, but I found some of the writing to be stiff, and the spelling and grammar less than stellar. The story itself is fine, but there is no doubt the work should have been edited before it was published. But everybody else loves it! Or do they? Maybe, like me, they just really like the guy who wrote it...?

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    1. The rating system isn't perfect, but until we find, and implement, something else it's all we've got. I don't think we should trash at all, kindness is definitely in order. There's always something nice to say.

      And that's why I worry about leaving reviews. I can't, and don't want to be dishonest or misleading, but I can't leave a poor review to blogger friends, but would I insult them by not reviewing their books since I know how important those reviews are?

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  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  17. I'm re-commenting due to too many dumb typos.

    Very thought-provoking post, Karen. Lately I haven't had a chance to read good books, but when I do, I rely on reviews. Time is of the essence and I don't want to waste it on a book where I can't get past the first few pages. I have my tastes, and while they may not meet with everybody else's, and apparently they don't, (I'll explain another day), I know what I like as well as I know what I don't like. Reviews can shorten the search.

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  18. Hi, Sara,

    Interesting post. I totally understand why you'd like to have the one and two star ratings. I personally would never leave under a 3 and if I didn't like the book then I wouldn't leave anything. BUT I have to admit that is for my blogger friends, which at this point are mostly their books I read. If I didn't know the author I most likely would leave a lower rating. It's a tough situation because WE, as writers. know how hard it is to finish a novel, no matter how bad the story or writing.

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  19. If I can't say something positive about a book, I don't review that book. Great insightful post and comments.

    Nas

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  20. Hard not to think about it, it's been brought up a lot lately. There's a lot of sensitive authors who complain when their book receives a negative review. I say learn from it if you can, respect the reader's different opinion and get over it. Authors have no right to intimidate readers into leaving only good reviews. Leaving a good review for a book does not entitle you to a good review in return. Act always with honesty.

    Now, I don't slam books just because they're not my taste. I will always try to be thorough and explain what I did or didn't like about the story and who it might appeal to. There's no need to be mean - and yet I defend the reviewers' right to leave a mean review if they want. I've also heard complaints of people leaving star rankings on Goodreads without reviewing. You know what? They don't have to.

    Anyhow that's my two bob's worth :)

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  21. Wow, really great post here. Interesting probing questions of which I don't have the answers to but I will add my two cents. I'm a writer, not published YET! But I've decided not to give a bad review (ie: saying something: this book was terrible or I hated this book). I would like the professional courtesy to have good reviews even if someone doesn't necessarily like my book. There's a point where you can be cruel and nice with how you present you review. Anyway, it's tough. I do put a rating system on my reviews so that people will know what they are getting into.
    shrugs

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  22. I wouldn't leave less than a three star review. If I can't find any redeeming features in a book, I won't say anything (and, like others, these days I don't finish a book I don't like). I understand the problem with authors not wanting to undermine their peers, but there are many people who aren't bothered about leaving a bad review - it would just be nice if they were as fair and constructive as possible!

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  23. Great questions for us to think about from both angles - as writers and as reviewers.
    My opinion is that there's no need to be downright nasty and attack somebody's work. Every writer has strengths and weaknesses. However, I think it's important to be as honest as possible, yet tactful at the same time.

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  24. Hello from "Blogging from A to Z April Challenge!" Following all fellow writers. I believe I'd learn a lot from them. Have a great day!

    Sonnia J. Kemmer

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  25. Gosh, you make some great points. Personally, I'd never leave a bad review, not even a polite one. I don't think people pay much attention to how many good reviews we write, but the bad ones would definitely stand out. Then we run the risk of readers scanning our works under a microscope. They'd be like, "Well, let's see what kind of a writer Miss Critic is." LOL, maybe they wouldn't use those words, but you get what I'm saying. I'll leave the harsh reviews to the less sensitive people. Lord knows there's plenty out there. :)

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  26. Ooo. I hadn't thought about authors' likes and shelves on GR. That's a good question.

    As for reviews, I did those before I became a writer, so I stick to my original standards for those who follow my 'real me' reviews. (I write with a pen name, which keeps that alter ego separate.)

    I wasn't going to review as my author persona, but I finally figured out that plan wasn't going to fly. Problem is, now I'm in the position to want to support my fellow authors, and, though the writing community is supportive, it's also political.

    I'm selective about the books I choose for my 'author me' reviews, and I'll probably not give less than 3 or 4 stars. If it's a 1- or 2-star work, I won't post a review.

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    1. I should add that just because I don't review a book doesn't mean I read it and didn't like it. We authors are busy. As much as we'd like, there's not enough time to read every book we hear about. Often, if I don't review one, it's because I couldn't get time to read it.

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  27. Very good questions! I try not to be on Goodreads much because I'm still mad that I can't sync all my LibraryThing accounts to Goodreads, so I feel like my Goodreads account doesn't accurately represent all the books I have in my library.
    As for reviews... I'm one of those that feels badly, so I don't write overly negative reviews. I find it easier to say one nice thing and then move on. So I don't star rate very many books, because I think it's both too objective and too subjective at the same time; everyone has a different idea of what a five-start book is. Yet shouldn't five stars be only for the classics or for The Lord of the Rings or something? It's difficult to say.
    Oddly enough, I don't find it hard to star-rate songs or albums! Maybe because I can easily see how some (okay, a few) new albums match the best albums of all time in quality, yet many many new books don't...

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