Miscellaneous Monday – Book Reviewing, Is There a Happy Medium for Readers, Writers, & Bloggers

Miscellaneous Monday – Book Reviewing, Is There a Happy Medium for Readers, Writers, & Bloggers

          Book reviews are an essential marketing tool for writers and publishers, and they also serve as a medium for readers to share thoughts and feelings that were inspired by the book. We’ve all heard those stories of both overly critical reviews that border on outright disrespect, and of authors who don’t take review criticisms well. Is this just the inevitability of the behavior of reviewers and authors on the fringe? Is something else going on?

          As a reviewer and reader, I didn’t like the drama and wanted to drill down further to figure out what the best practices should be for readers, reviewers and authors. So, I pose these questions: Is there a happy medium? Is there any advice out there for authors and reviewers? And what do readers look for in reviews? I surveyed readers, writers, and Bloggers about 15 from each group, and here is what I came up with.

          The importance of reviews for a reader looking to decide to either, purchase or just read a book is subjective and arbitrary. Readers are generally looking for as much information as possible without having the book spoiled. For instance, readers want to know about the characters; are they strong, weak, do they lack substance. Is the story original, is the plot good, does the book start slow, does the story make sense?

Readers who hold reviews in high regard say they also look for unfavorable reviews. They state overly critical reviews with no substance fall short for them. They want the reviewer to elaborate on why they did not like the book. Was the book just not their usual read, were they triggered by something in particular that made the book un-enjoyable for them, they want details. Most readers state they will not put much stock in a review from someone who is seen as a complainer. Some readers and authors will even go as far as checking out other reviews by the individual to determine if they make a habit of writing overly critical reviews.

So what do authors say about reviews? All of the authors I surveyed are appreciative of reviews. Some are more sensitive than others to critical reviews, as is in human nature. All authors read reviews on varying scales of intensity. Some authors want to be tagged on social media, and some don’t; no secret there really. So what about negative reviews?

There seems to be a pretty even split between authors that read the negative reviews and those that don’t. Based on my survey, the three major attitudes regarding negative reviews are as follows:

A. The book is already written, too late to change it now.

B. I just don’t want to read bad reviews.

C. I use reviews as a tool to check the pulse of my audience. Did I, as an author, accomplish what I was trying to do, and did the reader understand it, and if they did not, why?

Everyone handles things differently, but I have to say, answer C was my favorite. To elaborate on that, the surveyed authors all shared an attitude that reviews in addition to being a marketing tool also helped them hone their craft. Not by catering to readers, but by helping them determine if something worked or didn’t.

These authors expressed how incredible the feeling is when the reviews demonstrate that readers “get it.” While also stating that it helped to know when something they were trying to pull off didn’t work. Maybe a particular character came off as a jerk because of a specific chain of events; it may be that this was not the perception of the role the author intended to project.

Also, most authors understand that their books aren’t for everyone. And believe a happy medium can be achieved when a reviewer doesn’t make their negative review personal. Keep the review unbiased. Elaborate on why you did not like the book. Here it seems readers and authors are on the same page. If you didn’t like the book, they want to know why? And if there were good things about the book, even though you did not like it, they ask that you say so. For instance, what if the characters sucked but the world-building was fantastic, it should be mentioned in the review.

Sometimes readers catch little nuances that the editor may have missed, or reaffirms something the editor may have pointed out, that the author may have pushed back against initially. Some authors have said they check the person’s other reviews and sometimes notice their book is a far cry from the reviewer’s preferred genre. Every story isn’t for everybody.

      My favorite response to the issue of bad reviews was this:

Being a writer is a job; as with any job, if your work is not up to snuff, you get called into the office to talk about your performance. It isn’t personal. Yes, you pour your heart and soul into your books, but writing is still a job that requires professionalism.

So, what elements of a review do authors find most valuable? A few authors are fans of fiction reviews based on the elements of fiction, which is not at all a bad idea. I am still deciding whether or not to structure my own reviews. But, the majority of authors surveyed just want an honest review, which clearly states if you like the book, and why or why not. Most authors look for reviews to demonstrate the overall enjoyment of the book, how the reader feels about the characters, and whether or not the plot makes sense.

          One author wanted to express how detrimental the wrong words in a review can be to an author’s career. A reviewer should try not to use the words, “I’ll never read a book by this author again.” Those words can end a career.  If you don’t feel a book is for you, simply express that and the reason why.

Personally, I’ve read books by my favorite authors that I didn’t like. Some of them have written complete series I didn’t like, but they have also written series that are among my favorites. You never know what you’ll like. Try not to flippantly make a statement that can change someone’s fate.

          Many bloggers I know write good reviews. They usually state clearly why they don’t like a book and whether they think others will. Some reviewers follow a structure, and others, like myself, just write them organically. Most reviewers surveyed just want to honestly express their enjoyment of a book. No one is perfect; but, there can be bad apples in any bunch – like I said at the beginning bad players along the fringes.

          Book reviews are essential to both authors and readers. Everyone wants to know whether you enjoyed the book and why, if you disliked the book, and why. Was the quality of the writing, plot, and characterization good, and if not, why. Were the characters strong, or weak? Express what you did or did not like about them. Don’t feel bad about writing an unfavorable review. Reviews help readers determine if a book is for them, and give an author a better idea of what their readers do or do not like about their work.

For example, an unfavorable review could read as follows:

         I grabbed this book because the blurb and cover were both awesome. The book was well written; the world-building was extensive but not overdone. The characters were multifaceted and original. But the story just wasn’t for me. I’m usually into mysteries, but I just couldn’t connect with this book. The plot was a bit thin and too easy to figure out, which made the book too predictable. I figured out who the killer was in chapter three, so it was no surprise when I got to the end of the book.

 

     If you have to DNF (Did Not Finish) a book and decide to write a review, it is helpful to say what it was that drew you to the book in the first place and to constructively explain why you could not finish. Both authors and readers have expressed that both unfavorable and DNF reviews are not helpful if they do not detail why the reviewer did not like the book or was unable to finish. So be honest, but be wary of your review becoming a personal attack, it is possible to dislike a well-written book.

          Some authors have even expressed that they have reached out to writers of unfavorable reviews, to thank them for taking the time to read the book; And to ask the reviewer if there was anything they believe would’ve made the experience of reading their book better. Personally, I think this is ok and doesn’t fall under the taboo of criticizing or attacking reviewers. These are the ones we don’t hear about. But the taboo ones always go viral.

I think more authors should consider reading their bad reviews, as humans, we can learn until the day we meet our maker, and a great book can always be greater. Yes, the book has already been written, but the next one may benefit from the reader’s feedback.

Am I saying writers should change books to suit readers’ wants? No, everyone’s process is different; a writer should never do anything that may hurt their craft.

So who the hell am I, to just jump in the fray as though I’m an expert? I’m a book lover—a concerned reader. I love books, and I enjoy reading, so that means I love authors. I wrote this because I used to question myself if I had to review a book I did not like. I wrote this because I’d feel for authors who were outright savagely bashed about a work they poured their heart and soul into.  I wrote this for reviewers who have been attacked by authors who suffer from inflated egos and lack of professionalism.

I’m no expert, I didn’t survey enough people for a peer review, I didn’t even survey as many as I would’ve liked, but I did what I could with the resources I had, hoping that the conclusions I was able to draw would be helpful to someone. I used to compare writing an unfavorable review to the sound of nails screeching on a chalkboard. I hated to write them, but I couldn’t lie about how I felt about the book; being dishonest felt even more wrong.

I know I’m not the first person to say just be honest in your review, but I want to validate the feelings of readers, writers, and authors. If you understand how vital reviews can be to making authors work better or to helping the book reach the target audience, you might be more confident in writing them.

Put the shoe on the other foot before writing a review, be wary of the tone your words project, some authors may save themselves from bad publicity by exercising similar restraint. Nothing will make a reviewer write the dreaded career-killing words faster than being attacked over an honestly written review based on their own opinion.

Growing up, everyone has heard the saying, “sticks and stone may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”. Children know this is a lie. I mean, who is more savage with their words than a child who has yet to learn tact or restraint? The pen is mightier than the sword. Words can build someone up or tear them apart.

Everyone has gotten that text message in which the tone can be left to their own interpretation. I remember seeing a Facebook post that asked how do ya’ll read a text? My immediate answer was with attitude, lol. It sounds petty, but we are all human. We react to things with varying degrees of emotion, and words can be misinterpreted in an instant.

So what is my goal here? I just hope my rambling helps someone, anyone. When I first started writing reviews, there was so much I didn’t know, and there still is. But I’ve learned that if you’re a writer, then you love readers, and if you’re a reader, you love writers. I don’t want a reader or Blogger to feel discouraged or unsure when writing a review, and I don’t ever want a review to be the reason a writer gives up.

I want to thank everyone who participated in the survey; your answers were instrumental in the construction of this article. With a special thanks to the exceptional people who proofread my words, and helped this article become what I envisioned it to be. If you’ve taken the time to read my article, I’d like to hear your thoughts, did you find this article helpful, did I miss the mark? Would you like to see more content like this on the Blog? Please leave a comment, and thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

          

A Beautiful Reminder, Re-reading Octavia E. Butlers Xenogenesis Trilogy

A Beautiful Reminder, Re-reading Octavia E. Butlers Xenogenesis Trilogy

When I was in the fifth grade, my English teacher assigned Dawn by Octavia E. Butler as assigned reading material for our class. Dawn was the first science fiction book I had ever read. The first book by an African American author I had ever read, and I was completely enamored with the book. I ended up getting the additional books and reading the entire series.

That was more than 20 years ago. Since then, I  have read everything written by Butler that I could get my hands on and have NEVER, EVER been disappointed. Needless to say, after over twenty years, I had no real memory of the contents of the book; for the most part, I’m not much of a re-reader. There are too many books to read and not enough time.

Recently I decided to get the series on audio. I was feeling nostalgic and disappointed that my memory of the books had faded so thoroughly. I listened to the audiobook and wondered how my ten-year-old mind was able to comprehend what I was reading all those years ago. I concluded that there was no way I had. I’m sure most things went over my head; however, my memory of loving the series has never gone away, so I was obviously able to enjoy the series even with my limited understanding of the social, psychological nuances.

The series as a whole consists of three books, and together they are called the Xenogenesis series. The books are also sold as a compilation known as Lilith’s Brood. The series is Science Fiction, but can also be categorized as dystopian in my opinion. So what is Xenogenesis? Xeno can mean other, strange, or different, and genesis, as we all know, is the beginning. Xenogenesis = Different Beginning.

The series starts with:

  1. Dawn (the beginning of a phenomenon or period of time)
  2. Adulthood Rites (a ritual or ceremony signifying a transition from adolescence to adulthood
  3. Imago, (unconscious idealized mental image of someone, especially a parent, which influences a person’s behavior)

I’ve defined the titles because they were well thought out and have significant meaning to each story in the trilogy. Even the name of the protagonist of book one has meaning. Lilith, according to Jewish mythology, was a demon as well as the first wife of Adam.

It is amazing how much just these three books tell me about the author, she either researched or studied religion, mythology, and psychology either in college or as a prelude to writing these books. She seemed concerned about humanity’s inherent hierarchical nature. The Human “flaw”, the need for humans to subvert others, to be above one another. Which often leads to division, violence, slavery, war, and other destructive atrocities.

Butler has a practical matter of fact style of writing. Her world-building technique is magnificently stealthy. The first book Dawn begins with the protagonist Lilith Iyapo, awakened after a long sleep, rescued from the dying earth confined, scared, alone, ignorant of her situation. Butler builds the world for the reader as she creates it for Lilith, a steady, consistent flow of new stimuli and information experienced for the first time through our protagonist.

In the second and third books, the world is already clearly defined. We are instead introduced to the new characters at the beginning of the story and learn to see the world as they view it; we are privy to their thoughts and feelings as they arise. Books two and three follow Lilith’s children, one from infancy to adulthood and the other from adolescence to adulthood. They experience some very trying times.

As I listened, I felt as they felt. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried when it was confirmed that Akin would have to mature without his paired sibling. Butler writes stories that you get invested in. As I listened, I was utterly engrossed in each book, and I was bereft when the third book ended. For me, this was a highly successful re-read, as it was a beautiful reminder of why I fell in love with Butlers books all those years ago.