Above all, be professional

As I’ve started on this journey of writing and reviewing I have connected with several authors on Facebook. Some are long-time, successful, traditionally published authors; some are successful, independently published authors; and some are just starting out.

It’s interesting to see what approach different authors take to get the word out about their book and how they interact with their fans and, more importantly, their critics.

Books, like any other form of art (and I truly believe storytelling is an art), are subjective. What genre a reader prefers, what draws them in, and what they enjoy is completely individual and personal. Some readers are willing to give any author and/or genre a fair chance, knowing they may find a new favorite. Some readers prefer to stick with specific authors or specific genres because they know that’s what they like and they’re happy with it.

Here’s where reviewing books, and posting those reviews in public forums, can get tricky. As a reviewer, it’s important to be as objective as possible while taking part in a past-time (reading) that is completely subjective. I try to go into every story with an open mind. I don’t review books that I don’t think I will enjoy or that I know I will not be able to give an impartial review of because of my preferences (I recently declined to review a book because I knew I was not a good fit and it wouldn’t be fair to the author).

As an author, it’s important to be able to read reviews just as objectively. Most reviewers are not out to bash the author or the story. They are simply expressing their opinion of a story. News flash: not everyone is going to love your book. Even die-hard fans may not love every single book an author publishes. Yes, there are people out there that, for whatever school-yard bully reason they have, are going to give you a bad review just because they can. I don’t understand those people and I would encourage authors (especially new authors) to pay no attention to those people. But if the review contains valid points – poor formatting, bad grammar (not colloquialisms of dialect your characters may have), frequently misspelled words, gaping plot holes, etc. – then the author should make note of that feedback (because that is what it is) and try to fix it the next time around. Especially if that feedback is given in a polite and constructive manner.

I recently unfriended an author because of her lack of professionalism and mean spiritedness toward someone who left an unfavorable review on Goodreads. The reader/reviewer had issues with the grammar and spelling of the book she had purchased. Notice I said purchased, as in she paid for it, she didn’t receive an ARC of the book. The author taunted the reviewer asking her if she was an author, saying she would love to read one of her books because they must be perfect (emphasis is my own). Not only was the author’s behavior and response unprofessional, but then the author’s fans jumped on board and started bullying the reviewer as well. I was disgusted by not only the author’s behavior, but that she would encourage her fans to do the same.

Here’s the thing, if you are publishing a book that you expect someone to pay money for, it had better be perfect, or damn near to it. That means hiring a professional editor if you know grammar and formatting are not your strong suit. That also means being a professional. That means if you don’t agree with a review you ignore it, OR you contact the reviewer in private and ask them if they would like to discuss what they didn’t like. Maybe their opinion is representative of a larger body of readers who just don’t bother to leave feedback. Maybe their feedback is more honest than the friends and family who are leaving you five-star reviews but are secretly talking about how much they didn’t like your book. (I’m speculating here, I don’t know the author or her friends/family in real life.)

I have personally contacted a couple of authors whose books I really enjoyed, but the formatting was off or there were several contextual mistakes and let them know. I try not include those issues in my feedback, especially if I received an ARC because those kinds of mistakes are typically corrected prior to the book’s release. If the book was already published and/or I purchased the book I will absolutely point those errors out in my review, especially if they were so bad they distracted me from enjoying the book.

I am not a published author. I hope to be one day and you can bet I’m taking notes. I’m watching what successful authors, with a large fan base, are doing and how they are doing it. I’m making a list of editors, graphic designers, critique groups, and any/and all recommendations or advice they have to give. Because one day, I hope to be in their shoes. And I hope, when I receive bad reviews (because I will) I have the wherewithal to either ignore it, or make note of it and, if it’s something I can fix, make sure I don’t make the same mistake again.

I hope to remember that what I write will not appeal to everyone and above all, remain professional.

Why I Don’t Use Star Ratings

I post my reviews on several websites in addition to my blog.  I also review for a couple of publications that use star-ratings. One uses the standard 5-star system  (but allows half stars as well) and the other uses a 4-star system.  I don’t like the 4-star system, it completely takes away the ambiguity of a 3-star rating.

While I will obviously give a star rating for reviews on websites, I won’t be using them on my blog.

For one, I don’t want anyone to see a star rating and make assumptions on the book based on how many stars I gave it. Ratings and reviews are extremely subjective. What I like someone else may hate.  What I hate, someone else might rave about. My 3 may be someone else’s 5. I want people to read the review, what I liked or didn’t like, and then decide if they want to give the book a try.

For another, I try not to judge a book by its star ratings.  I’ve picked books because they had four or five stars and ended up thinking, “Did I just read the same book?”

Here is what my star ratings would mean, if I did give them:

5★ I’m going to start this book over from the very beginning as soon as I finish the last page and I’m going to tell everyone I know about this book.

4★ This is a good book. I’ll probably read it again at some point down the road. I’ll tell people I know who I think will like this book.

3★ It was okay. Entertaining. I didn’t hate it, but I don’t know if I’ll ever read it again.

2★ Um, no. Either because of the story or because it’s a published book full of errors.

1★ This book just sucked.  I probably did not finish (DNF). It’s a rare situation where I put a book down. I will always try to push through a book. If I DNF a book, it is really, really bad.

I’m very judicious with my star ratings.   If I give a book  5-stars, it means I’m going to read it again – not next year, not next month, not even next week…I’m going to reread passages as soon as I read the last word. I’m going to obsess over it.  I want to meet the characters in real life. I want them to be my friends. I want to get drunk & party with them.  It means I laughed out loud (and if it was in public, I probably snorted trying not to be the crazy person laughing out loud in public); it means I cried (or put the book down if I was in public so I wasn’t the crazy person crying in public); it means I started from the beginning as soon as I read the last word of the last page.

So if you see a post that starts off with a 5-star rating, get that book as soon as you can!

And we’re off

I recently started reviewing books for a professional book review company.  To be perfectly honest, it was mostly about the free books.  I also wanted to get out of my reading rut and open myself up to new authors, especially indy authors who are struggling to get their work out there to a larger audience.  I’ve started posting reviews to Goodreads and to another website, Online Book Club.  Most people have probably heard of Goodreads, but probably not Online Book Club. I highly recommend the latter if you want to find new books and authors.  In line with all that, I decided to start a blog dedicated to reviews of the books I’ve read.  I may add more topics later, but we’ll see how that goes.