Monday, May 7, 2012

Writing Reviews - Ultimate Catch-22

Any budding or independent author encourages, even relishes, a glowing review. Multiple steps are taken to gather the desired reviews. Following the searchlight of major online book retailers, booksellers open up digital space for customers to post reviews. For writers this is both a positive and a negative.

The negative is that if you tick off any individual they can go online and anonymously cue a review that has no words, only the lowest star rating possible. Is this a review that is helpful? For the writer, no. For a potential reader, more than likely it has an impact, especially to the casual online site visitor who reads only the summary star rating. Thus, any vindictive review lowers dramatically the star score of any book with limited reviews. In fact, this technique has been encouraged by those with a chip on their shoulder wishing to damage a writer in any way possible and, going after their work, is the greatest personal insult.

The positive is that savy online book buyers respond only to well written reviews and discount blank reviews as well as other blatantly scandalous and obviously vindictive verbiage.

What about the community of writers?

While generalizations are hard and can be misleading, personal experience offers several insights.

Writers use Twitter, for example, to request reviews. Often if you ask for a copy of the work, reserving the right not to promise a positive review, you won't receive the work to be reviewed. Then again, if you receive the work, read it completely, and send it back to the author with a less than raving review, even with notation of spelling errors, gaps in logic, and dangling syntax, the review recipient will brand you a (put in the vile words you imagine) and disassociate from you in every way possible. They wish to retaliate by stabbing the reviewer with all negativity they can, if its merely one less follower, on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace, iTunes, or whatever links are out there in cyberspace.

It also works in reverse. If you're an author asking for reviews you either get ignored or have to expend hours summarizing your novel with faint hope that the person asking has ever desired to spend the time to do a creditable job.

Yes, there are exceptions. And this is not a reference to the writer who gets a review and creates a push-quote that completely undercuts the true meaning of the honest initial review. Example: original review sentence says, "This was an interesting novel if one can live with no discernible plot." The push-quote says, "This was an interesting novel." And the example doesn't go so far as some review notations that say: "Interesting" "Unparalleled" "Amazing." Ever read movie ads lately?

What can be the answer? Really? It's simple. If a writer, ask for reviews and assume the reviewer represents your potential readers. You'd treat any reader with respect. Treat the reviewer with like respect. If a great review, good. If not, it's your chance to improve your writing. Isn't that better than an aging manuscript with digital computer cobwebs that in a decade will be cyber junk?

If a reviewer, give honest grades with detailed reasons for how you compiled your end opinion.

If an author, have you ever considered that a reviewer has family and friends who buy books or may later recommend an author who impressed by initially exhibiting honesty and common courtesy. Moreover, any successful author writes more than one novel.

In the end, for readers and writers, reviews are not an open door to flim-flam.

A Body To Bones, First Skeleton Series Mystery

Author Donan Berg has written novel reviews without charge to the author. He also reviews manuscripts for a minimal fee. Four of his novels are available at and other major online retailers.


  1. An excellent pro/con tug-of-war on giving and receiving reviews. As a writer, I am sensitive to the effects of my review to its recipient. It can help sell books or it can be a death blow to sales. For this reason, I tell the author I will email the review to him first. If he does not want me to post the review, so be it. But, I reserve the right to post it on my blog, where there is obviously much less readership than Amazon or B & N. I haven't had anyone, to date, decline the review. They are rarely one or two lines -- rather 500-600 words, on the average. I spend anywhere from one to five hours creating it, which I admit is mostly out of vanity, since I don't want "slop" attached in any way to my name. But more than vanity, I feel it to be an insult to the author to dash off a few sentences for a novel that took him months, probably years to write.

    So, that's my take on it. I have a series on reviewing on my blog, SeptuagenarianJourney, entitled, "How This Critter Crits." It covers reviewing (or "critting") from a slightly different angle. I wish I'd have added a little of your perspective to it.

    Thanks for your blog and the forum you offer here for creativity.

    I subscribed, of course.


  2. Thank you Jay for the uplift. The road forward in life gathers momentum from multiple perspectives. Sharing is the torchlight to prevent the stumble in the darkness.