Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wise Words Wednesday - The Real Value of a Book Review

The Real Value of a Book Review
By Denyse Bridger

What is the real value of a book review?

For most authors a review means validation for all our hard work and hope that we’ve produced a story readers will buy and enjoy. In many cases this is the only feedback we have to consider, since readers don’t often write what was once considered fan mail. But, just how important should that much-sought-after review really be? I’ve been writing, and getting reviews, for almost seven years now. I admit I was lucky in the sense that my first pro story was universally reviewed with top ratings and raves. But, that was before bloggers became a dominant voice in the world of books and reviews.

So, which reviews DO matter to the overall marketability of your book is what becomes the real issue now. There are sites I respect and value as reviewers, well established sites with a team of reviewers who take their jobs as seriously as the authors they are reading. They take time to evaluate and consider what they have to say about a book, and to make solid and rational statements about their perceptions. Sites like Romance Junkies, The Romance Studio, Siren Reviews, Talking Two Lips Reviews, Long and the Short of It (and sister site Whipped Cream for their reviews of erotic books), Coffeetime Romance, Just Erotic Romance Reviews–to name only a few. (There are many reputable review sites, and a quick internet search will find them for you.) These sites have a policy in place that requires reviewers to submit their reviews, and they will be approved by the owners before being posted to the site. This gives a little time for clarity and review of thoughts, which can be invaluable.

Recently, with the popularity of blogging, there has been a marked surge in reviewers who operate individually from a blog they own. While it’s certainly true that ALL opinions are valid and valued, when bloggers become reviewers you have huge potential for confrontation and “bad” reviews. I can only speak from my personal experience with this new breed of reviewer, and it’s a mixed response at best. In my career of over four dozen books, I’ve only received a few questionable reviews, and they’ve been from bloggers who take it upon themselves to review books they read. In one instance the reviewer hit a book that contained one of her personal red zone issues… you know, the one thing that will kill any book for you kind of thing. Instead of admitting she couldn’t be objective about the book, which had received a number of 4 and 4.5 (out of 5) star reviews, she chose to post a review that defied reason. She ranted, quite literally–other authors went to read it, I share the bad and the good, and they were all stunned and confused, said her review was incoherent and made no sense, so how was anyone to take it seriously? This made me think a lot about whether this kind of review even has a value to potential readers. It was the second time in six months that such a review appeared on a single-person owned blog, and the second time the book wasn’t what the reviewer anticipated when buying it and choosing to review it. So, if you are wholly mistaken about what you’re about to read, or you hit a topic that sets you off–is it remotely fair to then proceed to trash author and book for the world to see, so to speak?

Some bloggers work hard to be objective and clear in their efforts to review books, and I applaud their dedication to authors and readers alike. The ones I personally object to are the ones who publish ranting, inarticulate messes and get their friends to jump in the moment someone disagrees with them. As an author, I refuse to comment on bad reviews posted to blogs. If it’s my book being shredded, the blogger gets a thank you for your input, which is all that’s required. ANY author who attempts to “justify” their work is giving the power to the person who needs to express their negative opinion mostly for the sake of gaining attention. Same rule applies to Amazon reviews, you’ll often notice there is one really poor review on many works–and if you look closer, few people see that as helpful. They recognize it for what it is, someone using the power of the rating button to simply be petty and mean. That’s not to say those who take the time to post thoughtful and honest reviews aren’t appreciated, because these are the readers themselves and they are often the best reviews we as writers can ever hope to receive.

To new authors who really want to see your book reviewed, speak with your publishers about where to send your book for review, ask other authors who they trust. And, if you are unlucky enough to get a bad review, it will hurt, certainly, but smile, say thank you, and move on. Serious book review sites will listen to the author if there is a legitimate complaint about a review–I once asked Coffeetime Romance to review one of the reviews for a book I’d written because the reviewer hadn’t read the book–it was obvious in the fact that she continually called the hero by the wrong name and his name was part of the title. They removed the review and put it back into the queue for another reviewer to select in the event they wanted to do it more fairly.

It’s always been my policy that the only correct response to give any reviewer of my books is a polite thank you, whether the review is good or bad. I still maintain that’s the only acceptable response to a review of my books. HOWEVER, and this is where I am speaking from today, as a reader, I have some very real issues with many of the reviews I’m reading on blog sites, Amazon sites, and Goodreads… which once WAS good-reads, and is now another corner stop for trashing authors with impunity.

My complaint or in some cases my bitch with amateur reviews is a complex yet simple thing. Firstly, let’s address those pesky snarks about grammar and typos. Well yes, everybody makes typing mistakes, and sometimes the proofreaders for publishing houses DO miss the occasional typo. This is a helluva lot different than self-published books, which sometimes have many uncorrected and obvious spelling errors because the author didn’t employ a proofreader. What I’ve noticed and this is what annoys the crap out of me honestly, is the vast number of reviewers who think it’s their job not to review and assess the story they’ve read, but the editorial decisions made about it. AND while they’re complaining about bad grammar and spelling errors, they reveal their own lack of skill in constructing a grammatically correct and properly spelled sentence. So, before you continue to demerit stars in your rating for what you consider poor grammar, look at your own. It’s difficult to take seriously a review in which the reviewer can’t use a contraction, doesn’t understand the different between your and you’re, or they’re and there/their. Ask any author how annoying that is?

Then there’s the reviewer who down-rates your book because it’s not what she/he expected. I’ve seen opening remarks that are laughable–I picked up this book expecting it to be ______________ (fill in the genre) and I was so disappointed to discover it was ________________(fill in the blank). Then the next comment is, so I’m giving it X-stars because it wasn’t what I wanted. And this is the author’s fault why? YOU didn’t read the blurb, or the back cover, so the author is at fault for your disappointment? I even had one reviewer rewrite my blurb to what she thought it should have been, and trust me, it made very little sense given what the book was about.

How many authors have been subjected to the endless rant review? Where one point in a novel length story touches a nerve and it becomes all the “reviewer” (yes we are now using quotes for this one), sees and talks about–nothing else exists once you hit this nerve and it makes the reviewer crazy because of their highly personal response to it. A professional reviewer would decline to review, but in some bloggers this is a call to battle and they begin… reams and reams of emotionally charged verbal carnage that doesn’t even make sense, never mind read in a coherent, grammatically correct fashion. Then they solicit their friends to jump in and add their venom to the mix. How seriously is this supposed to be taken? Really? I’ve seen it, and it stuns me.

Reviews are supposed to be balanced and thoughtful observations that help potential readers choose books that will suit their tastes and appeal to them. How can ranting insanity help anyone decide more than the reviewer has clearly gone bat crazy? Goodreads was once a good place to get balanced reviews, now it’s Amazon’s little sister in the poison war… Get your nose out of joint and you can login and start rating an author’s works with one star, without ever reading a word–to pay them back for some real or imagined slight. How valid is that? It has nothing to do with books, and everything to do with petty and malicious trolling.

At the end of the day, the fact remains, over half the people reviewing books have no clue how to do it properly and with any kind of constructive observation to help readers choose whether or not to read the book in question. Many use their reviews as a way to be mean, self-important, and just plain shit-ignorant. If you want balanced and thoughtful reviews to help you decide on a new author or title, your best bet is still to visit wonderful and respected sites like these:
Coffeetime Romance and More, Long and the Short Reviews, The Romance Studio, Romance Junkies, Romantic Times Review,s Affaire de Coure, Siren Book Reviews, Fallen Angel Reviews

That’s only a few I use and trust, there are many other well-respected sites, so take the time to find them. And all you amateur reviewers, take a moment and think before you put your poison pen to the page… if you can’t be fair, maybe you need to ask yourself why you’re going to trash someone you don’t even know. And while you’re thinking on that, remember if you’re going to crap all over someone for incorrect grammar and spelling, make sure you check your own.

My final word to all authors, but especially new authors on this touchy subject is this–reviewers are avid readers who love books, and they do this job because of that love. They are busy people with busy lives, just like authors, and they volunteer this service to support the writers they love so much. If you submit a book for review and it doesn’t get picked up, don’t hound the site owner or bitch on your Facebook about it–just keep sending the book for review, and accept what comes back to you with grace and professionalism. Most of all, just keep writing…the reviews are only a tiny part of the process, and at the end of the day, readers will read what they want to read. Reviews are bragging rights, they are not likely to make your book a best-seller or a flop, your writing skill is what does that, so keep learning your craft and improving with every new book!

Now that I’ve made myself really popular, the floor is open for comments… fire away, but remember–spelling and good grammar counts!! *lol*

Peace and love to all…
Denysé Romance and Fantasy for the discerning reader...

The Gates of Infinity
By Denyse Bridger
A Novella
Genre: Erotic Pirate Fantasy

The Gates of Infinity lead to a different world where passion and deception may yet destroy two universes about to collide. Will time continue to turn upon itself, or will the mirror of our world open the gate and return stranded pirates and their sorcerous consorts to familiar shores?


  1. Great post, Denyse. Finding a reviewer is difficult these days, but finding a good one is even harder.

    1. Very true, Darlene. In the end, Amazon reviews and Goodreads, etc., are not the author's business anyway... So, the best thing to do is ignore them all and keep doing what you love. Anything else, and someone will find a way to use your words, however innocuous they may be, and turn them into something ugly to be used against you. What's sad is how true that is... Thanks for having me on the blog today, too - Cheers, D

  2. Great post Denyse. I never worried about reviews until I put one of my books on sale for $0.99. I found out very quickly that the sites with the large numbers of followers want good Amazon reviews. It varies from site to site, but if you don't have any reviews they won't list your books.
    I've discovered the best way to get reviews to to scroll through Amazon looking for books in a similar genre, and with a similar length to yours.
    Then look for positive reviews.
    Click on the reviewers name, some list their email address.
    You can email the reviewer, offering a free copy and requesting a review.
    I've only recently started this and it has been a rewarding experience. I've received five positive reviews in two weeks and have a number of reviewers lined up to read my next book. Why do I care? Because Amazon's algorithms are linked to reviews, especially with a new release.
    Like you I don't pay much attention to Goodreads.
    I used to try the blogger websites, but I don't find that it's a very effective way to do business.
    I have occasionally posted reviews of my fellow authors on my blog, but really, if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all. If I can't post a positive review I simply don't post anything. That way my opinion doesn't damage anyone's sales and I personally think it's the classy thing to do.
    Reading is subjective. I don't get why people like vampires, but my logical brain tells me there must be some wonderful Vampire books out there, it's just not my thing.
    Good luck and thanks for the post.

    1. I'm glad you've had some success with gaining reviews via direct contact, but you have to bear in mind that can backfire as easily as it works - and Amazon often removes reviews that they have no purchase records for, so there's that potential problem. Sites like BookBub and others very often will post books with few and sometimes zero reviews, depending on whatever criterion they have.

      Amazon's site is one of many retailers and while we pay more attention to it than most others, it's an easy system to manipulate, unfortunately - it's been proven over and over than creating an Amazon best-seller with virtually no sales is very possible, and has been done - views to the book from social media promotion can raise a book's ranking in hours, etc. I've been reading industry news recently, too, that indicates Amazon is beginning to see the negative impact and effects of that magical 99 cents price point, it's costing a boatload of money to maintain so many books at that price, and no one is making money at 99 cents, so it once again comes down to the bottom line - profits. A change is slowly taking place, and I think readers are going to see quality books demanding proper prices - otherwise the entire industry will slowly become devalued.

      It's been my experience over the years that bloggers are good reviewers about one in ten times, to be honest. Mostly it's a way for readers to get free books direct from authors. Publishers are overwhelmed much of the time with requests from new review sites that are bloggers looking for reading material. I place more value on a respected review site than blogs or Amazon. Goodreads is a war zone if you inadvertently step the wrong way, and I never go there...

      Much success to you, Marlow.

  3. Just entering the fray again and searching for reviewers almost seems like a full-time job ... I understand the importance of it, but my heaven's it is just one more 'job' that takes us away from the passion of writing!

    1. It is, Lori - and ultimately, your book will speak for itself to the readers who want it. Every source you can name will state the best sales point you'll ever have is word of mouth. If anyone doubts that, take a look at the success of EL James and her 50 Shades. The buzz started with word of mouth... if she'd relied on reviews, she'd have been torpedoed out of existence before she ever sold a book... There is no easy answer when it comes to this issue, but at the end of the day, your accessibility to readers is often a greater source of likely sales than any review will ever be. Cheers.

  4. Dear Denyse: I so appreciated this informative and supportive post. I too have had a few rant-reviews, and boy it hurts. I especially liked your advice on just saying "thank you for the review" and moving on. That's what I do, but it's very difficult not to respond in kind, and good to have your thoughts on the matter. I rarely look at Goodreads anymore. Will definitely try the sites you listed. Still Moments Magazine is another place for thoughtful and honest reviews.

    1. Hi, Gini. This is a hard topic for all writers, and in particular those who are relatively new to the business. I think you have to decide early on to ignore reviews, and make it a point to take them all, good and bad, with a grain of salt. We all look for different things in our reading choices, so no two people ever read the same book. Rants tend to leave me shaking my head wondering "why" for about two minutes... then I go back to my job, which is writing more books for someone to rant about. *lol*