Book Reviews Are a Doubled-Edged Sword

By Judy Weir

Authors seek reviews of their novel with the intention of:

1. assisting readers to make informed choices about their reading selections
2. increasing their visibility in the book market
3. increasing their book sales record
4. establishing their reputation as an accomplished writer
5. improving their writing skills

Book reviews are a double-edged sword. On one side of this marketing sword, the strong positive reviews may help catapult their novel to top of the book sale charts. However, on the other side of that sword is a sharp blade that can cut deep into the author's reputation and morale, sending their novel to the basement in Amazon ratings.

Type of Reviewers:

I've found there are two basic types of reviews. One type is primarily objective. It's based on the construction of the story, assessment of the writer's talent in developing characters and plot, theme, flow, dialogue, accuracy of details, completeness of the editing. It is an objective critique of how well the story was written. These reviewers will provide more information related to cause and effect. For example: "The point of view shifted quickly between three characters making it difficult to follow the action." This type of review is generally provided by a professional who is trained and experienced in writing.

I've received dozens of reviews, most of which are very positive. Any worthy negative comments are from professional reviewers I respected. Their feedback provided insights on how I can improve my writing. As a result, I benefit from their expertise.

The second type of review is primarily subjective. The reviewer provides an assessment on how they reacted to the story, how much they liked or didn't like the characters, plot, climax, and sometimes the ending. Their report is based primarily on their feelings, rather than on the construction of the story. These reviewers may be someone who regularly reviews books for authors, or a customer who read the book and has no reviewer reporting experience.

Both review types serve a purpose. The objective review will point toward the author's writing talent; the subjective will focus on the reader's enjoyment of the story. A story can be well written but may appeal to only certain type of reader, or may be loved by a wide range of people. However, a novel that is poorly constructed will likely fail to impress any reader, regardless of the genre.

Let's look at the world of reviewers. An author will have to do research to find the kind of reviewer that will suit his/her novel. Research will include looking for reviewers who specialize in a particular genre. It is important to read the reviewer's previous reviews to determine if their focus is on an author's writing knowledge and skill, or if they focus on how exciting the characters and plot are. Many receive more requests for reviews than they are able to accept.

There is no standard on how a review should be written. Reviewers are not paid for their assessment and posted reviews. This reduces the chance of a person being paid to fabricate a positive review.

Anyone can to claim to be an authority on how a novel should be constructed. Some reviewers have built a reputation for being the 'go to' people for honest, unbiased, and professional reviews. Others are new to the industry, but show great enthusiasm of becoming the authority on what books you should consider buying.

One of the challenges in being an author is that many times, if not most of the time, you do not get to choose who posts a subjective review of your book. Anyone who reads it can post a review, which is wonderful. The problem is that a subjective review can be misleading, and sometimes malicious.

Writing a review is challenging. The reviewer wants to report their findings/issues/feelings without disclosing key elements of the story. Unfortunately, there are occasions when subjective reviewers post details about the story's plot, all the twists, and even reveal the ending. This is unprofessional and disrespectful to the author.

If you're hunting for reviewers, select ones who:

• exhibit knowledge of writing standards
• able to articulate their observations clearly in their written reviews
• have high standard of professional ethics
• offers constructive criticism which is respectful of the author
• identifies strengths, what was enjoyable, unique

I believe a subjective review is secondary to the assessment of the (a) writer's talent in development of characters, (b) brilliant construction and execution of the plot to its conclusion; (c) depth of scenes and dialogue, and (d) if the editing was thorough.

Subjective reviews are very personal. Every author loves to hear from a reader, especially if the reader loved their book. For the readers who are less enthusiastic, authors welcome those comments as well - so long as the communication is respectful. If an unsatisfied reader comments, it is beneficial to explain why their feedback is negative (not their kind of book, didn't like the characters, too little action, etc.).

How much emphasis should there be on reviews and ratings? From what I'm learning, readers more often select their reading material from a variety of sources. Reviews, it appears, is a relatively minor source compared to the book's synopsis. Some readers have reported they don't trust the reviews and ratings, especially the ones reporting a 5/5. They suspect friends and family might have been the source of those ratings.

If the synopsis appeals to them, they often read a few randomly selected pages. In short, readers will wisely do their own review.

The book publishing industry is being challenged by new technology. Now anyone who has written a manuscript can self-publish with greater ease than before. It may be a masterpiece, or the author may have poor writing skills and skipped the editing. Note: many self-published authors write first class books. Whether a book is published through traditional or other avenues, the book industry and authors need be conscious of risks to writing standards. Reviewers play an important role to maintain (or improve) the quality of books available.

Thank you to all the reviewers who burn the midnight oil reading, care about the world of the written word, and honor authors with your time and wisdom.

About the Author

Feather Stone (Judy Weir) is the author of The Guardian's Wildchild, published in 2011 by Omnific Publishing. Over a course of ten years, the manuscript underwent several rewrites until Feather was certain that the reader would not just enjoy the read, but also experience the love and hatred, fear and anticipation as though it was real. Read more about The Guardian's Wildchild at:

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