The Search For Honest Reviews

Okay, you’ve written a book. You’ve gone through all the struggle of re-writes, edits, beta readers, workshops and the final pain of self-publishing, formatting and you finally push The Button to publish. There it is on Amazon or Nook or other e-book sites. Now what? It sits on the site for several weeks and you go back and check it. The book is now ranked #5,972,671 in Amazon Books. Not good.

Time to do some marketing. Any author will tell you marketing is akin to having a root canal but worse because it lasts until you quit. The first thing you need are reviews. From personal experience I will attest to a simple fact: the hardest thing an author can accomplish is to get reviews. Good, bad, or indifferent, it’s almost impossible to get a reader to put a few words on paper and post a review on Amazon or Goodreads. It takes time, and if they didn’t like the book, or were lukewarm about it, or if they’re a good person, they don’t want to hurt the author’s feelings.

I’m a retired attorney and business person who has spent the last ten years studying how to write creatively. Not easy to take those professions out of your words. In the course of this endeavor, I’ve attended many writers groups, conferences and workshops. I’ve run workshops on writing, both read and critique style, and free writing with prompts to expand creativity. Understanding how difficult it is to write any book has provided me with the utmost respect for those who take their craft very seriously and want to create a very good book.

Let’s consider the purpose of a review. It’s not to blow smoke up the author’s skirt. The object from the author’s point of view is to encourage people to read their book. But in fact, the true object is to advise the prospective reader of your opinion of the book.

Like all writers, I’ve been faced with this dilemma time and again and have evolved a few guidelines I now use for writing reviews.

To begin with, if the book rambles, is sloppy with bad grammar, misspelling, and punctuation in the first few pages, I don’t go further and won’t review. That said, if it is supposed to be written in a certain vernacular, I’ll go with it, if it is well done.

First I look at the actual pages, how dense the writing is, the amount of white space on the page. When I begin to read, I consider all of the following: story arc, pacing, word use, reader involvement, sentence structure, originality of concept, target audience, the writer’s command of grammar, spelling, sentence structure, word use, pacing and rhythm.

Next, am I drawn into the story? Are the characters well-constructed and do I care about them. Do they change and grow during the course of the book. Are they easily relatable? The response can be positive or negative as long as the characters are compelling

There are many excellent storytellers who may not be wordsmiths but draw the reader in and keep them going along for the story. On the other side of the page, some wordsmiths are so in love with their words the story is unimportant and gets lost in the description and word flow. My preference is a balance between the two, but if I only can have one, I go for story.

In the middle of all this is something I think of simply as ‘care’. Did the writer care enough about what they were writing to do it over and over again so it is as perfect as they can make it, or did they just slap it on the page as ‘good to go’? The mentality of ‘I wrote it so every word is perfect’, does not pass muster with me. Sorry, arrogance is reserved to the reviewer, not the writer.

The last thing I look for is polish. This is where grammar, repetition, sentence structure, punctuation, continuity, word choice, style consistency, and rhythm in both the actual reading experience and the storyline come into play.

When I receive reviews, my prime concern is if the reader enjoyed the book. Were they drawn in? Did they relate to the characters? In all my books, even though they have been edited, gone over time and time again, work-shopped, had beta readers, I pick them up once they are in print, and damned if I don’t find a typo or two. Pick up most of today’s best sellers and they are not perfect either. The day of the perfect edition is gone even in the big publishing houses. But I hope my reader feels I have done my utmost to provide the best reading experience.

If someone rates my books I am thrilled they have taken the time to do so. I do not get upset with a less than five-star rating. Some of my most honest ratings I’ve received have been three-star and I appreciated them for the reviewer taking the time to comment.

When I do my rating, I try to balance all of this with the final element: Is this book worthy of being read? Does it say something? Will it give the reader pleasure, is it enticing, exciting, romantic, humorous, informative, is it well written with care, does it follow a specific genre? Do I want viewers who take my words seriously enough to consider purchasing this book? When I write a review, my aim is to emphasize what appealed to me, why I thought the book was worthy. Seldom do I dwell on the shortfalls. Hopefully, the author will get what they are by the number of stars or lack thereof.

As a reviewer, I must feel I’m being honest. I can forgive some elements if, when finally putting down a book, I think to myself, ‘that was a good read!’