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Having Fun With a Negative Review

Sometimes you just gotta have some fun with negative reviews (even if they are from 2011).

Review for Darlington Woods:

Cartoonish characters set in improbable situations. I could not identify or symphathize with the heroes nor fear the unrealistic villains. I struggled to complete this poorly written book. I rate it as the worst Christian novel I ever read, and I have read hundreds of them.
My reply comment:
Thank you for your honest review. I always wanted to be number one at something. Thanks for giving my book the distinction of the worst Christian novel you ever read . . . wow.
I hope the reviewer receives my reply in the spirit it was written . . . all in good cartoonish fun. No hard feelings 🙂

6 Suggestions for Better Book Reviews

Grains of salt

Grains of salt (Photo credit: kevin dooley)

Most authors learn pretty quickly to take reviews of their books with a grain of salt. And most authors can tell which reviews are serious and genuine and which ones are fluff (and I would imagine most readers can too). Personally, I enjoy reading reviews of my books, both the positive and negative, but there are some (both positive and negative) that just cause me to roll my eyes.

Reviews are powerful things, though, that carry the weight to sway a potential reader to either go ahead and make the purchase or not to and to give the author useful information that she can use to improve her writing. Therefore, when writing a review, care should be taken to do it properly and in the right spirit.

Here are 6 suggestions, in my estimation as an author, for writing fair, accurate reviews that will help a reader decide whether the book is right for him or her and will help the author become a better writer.

  • First and foremost, actually read the book you’re reviewing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a review of one of my books and scratched my head, wondering if the reviewer even read it. It was so full of erroneous information.
  • Be honest but be fair. As I’ve stated at other times, flattery does no one any good, but harsh criticism doesn’t either. If you enjoyed the book, say so, if you hated it, say so, but be tactful about it. And be polite. My wife and I are currently watching back episodes of BBC’s Lark Rise to Candleford about two towns in late 19th-century England. I’m always amazed at how politely the folks then could disagree and even insult each other. Somewhere along the line we’ve lost that art. A book review is a good place to find it again. Know that others will be reading your review and that it is a reflection of you.
  • Save the vitriol. There is no place for hatred in a book review if it is to be taken seriously. If, of course, you have no intention of being taken seriously, well, that’s another matter. A review is not the place to level insults, to mock, to embarrass, or to tear down. If you truly feel the need to confront an author, take the time to track down a personal email and do it in private. Be careful not to the let the anonymity of the internet empower you into doing something brash and harmful.
  • Remember that writing is an art and the interpretation of it is therefore subjective. What you hate, another may love. Your review is your opinion. Keep that in mind and remember your place in all of this.
  • A review is not the place to show off your intricate knowledge of English grammar. Authors make mistakes, editors sometimes miss those mistakes. It happens. Avoid nitpicking in your review. I’m sorry, but I doubt many readers really care if the author has a tendency to leave participles dangling. Realize that there is a difference between a critique and a review. If you’re a professional and you’ve been asked to provide a professional critique, that’s another story and a different topic entirely.
  • Lastly, keep the review to the story itself. There’s no need to mention that the shipping and handling was too expensive or the shipping delayed or that the book came damaged in the mail. None of that is the author’s fault. And unless the editing is especially atrocious or the cover especially amateur there is no need to mention those things either. For the most part, both are out of the author’s control.

The bottom line here is to be honest, be fair, be civil, and give other readers and the author something useful to read.

Do you have an other suggestions for what makes a good book review? Things you like to see in a review? Things you think have no place in a review?

(If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to join me on my other blog as well:

A Bad Review–This One Hurts

I usually don’t draw attention to negative reviews unless they are unwarranted and silly like the “Christian propaganda” reviews or the “I got duped into buying a Christian book” reviews.

This is for a couple reasons. One, honestly, it’s just a bad idea. Why would I shine the spotlight on someone’s disappointment with my work? And two, I don’t like to dwell on bad reviews. Sure they sting temporarily, but I’ve grown pretty thick skin and can easily brush the negative away.

But sometimes it just hurts.

I share this review with you for no other reason than to give you a glimpse into the heart of a writer. Most negative reviews I read, I frown, and I move on. Oh well. Not life-altering stuff. But every now and then I’ll get one that stabs at my heart and sticks with me. I can’t seem to shake it.

This was one of them. It showed up on Amazon and it has been haunting me since I read it.

I don’t know what kind of copyright laws Amazon has so you can go to the site and read the review here. (It’ll open in a new window).

It pains me that I was the one chance this guy gave Christian fiction and he was so disheartened and disappointed he vowed to read no more. Ugh.

I applaud this reader for giving it a try. I’m sorry he spent his hard-earned money and in the end was not satisfied with the product. Please, don’t post any negative comments on his review. He was honest and respectful and I appreciate that. I’m just sorry the story never really reached him.

One of the worst things about these kind of reviews is that the author never gets a chance to talk to the reader. I wish I could sit down with this gentleman and discuss the issues he had with the story. I’d like to ask him not to let me be the sole representative for Christian fiction. Try it again; there’s some really good stuff out there that doesn’t have supernatural elements, stuff I know he would enjoy.

My Skin is Thick

Disappointingly predictable and uninteresting plot, completely unbelievable or cliched scenarios….. this book is full of them.

Q: How do you deal with negative reviews?

A: Negative reviews are something no writer wants to deal with and every writer has to deal with. I believe this is one of the main reasons so many people want to be a writer but so few actually become writers. Only the brave will put their work out there for others to read and comment on. And sooner or later someone will read your book, find it worse than a malodorous pile of horse manure, and feel the need to go on and tell the world about it.

Here’s the long and short of it: writers must have thick skin. If not, their days as a writer will be few.

But I haven’t answered the question yet. How do I deal with negative reviews?

The first thing I do with a negative review (and I’ve gotten a few) is categorize it. As I see it, there are three types and they go something like this:

Category 1: “This book was okay—bleh—but just not for me.”

Category 2: “This author shows a lot of potential but the characters were shallow and made of cardboard, the plot had holes in it, and the climax was just unbelievable.”

Category 3: “This book was just awful. I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than read anything by this hack again. If he knew what was good for him and the paying public he’d take a sledge hammer to his computer, break all his fingers, and go live in the middle of the Sahara.”

Okay, reviews in categories 1 and 2 don’t bother me. In fact, I can learn from them. The reviewer is being honest and critical without taking any cheap shots or looking to inflict psychological harm. Category 3 reviews (and believe me, they’re out there) deserve nothing more than to be ignored. Those are the ones that bounce off an author’s thick skin. The reviewer is obviously hacked off that he put down $14 for a book he didn’t enjoy and now wants to take it out on the author. And all he does is wind up sounding like some blowhard with a chip on his shoulder. Poo-poo on him.

The bottom line is that I’m going to write the story that is in my head and on my heart and not worry about what reviewers say. Like in life, you’ll never satisfy all the people all the time. You do your best and get a good night’s sleep.

And let people say what they’ll say.

Christian Propaganda! 1-Star!

Here’s something that’s been bothering me for some time and I have to get it off my chest. In advance, sorry for the venting that’s about to take place.

From time to time I check in on my books on Amazon to see how they’re doing sales-wise and see if there’s been any new reviews posted. This always leads me to browsing other authors’ book pages as well and checking in on their reviews.

I’ve noticed something disturbing and upsetting, though I should be neither disturbed nor upset because it should come as no surprise to me: 1- and 2-star reviews based solely on the fact that the book is a Christian book.

The comments usually go something like this . . .

“I didn’t know this was a CHRISTIAN book!” 1 star!

“I was looking for a thriller and wound up with a CHRISTIAN thriller!” 1 star!

“This would have been a great story if not for all the CHRISTIAN propaganda.” 1 star!

Are you serious? In this glorious world of tolerance and acceptance someone would dare give a book a lowly 1-star rating only because it’s a Christian book. And we Christians are lit up for being the “intolerant” ones? Folks, I have to honest here, every time I read a poor review because someone was caught off guard and didn’t know he or she purchased a CHRISTIAN book (in these negative reviews, Christian is often in all caps as if to serve as a flashing warning sign) I have to loosen my proverbial collar.

Look, I’ve started plenty of books (well-written books, mind you) and never finished them because of excessive language or violence or sex. But I don’t go right to Amazon, blast away, and leave a 1-star rating. I wouldn’t do that.

Note to Amazon buyers: Do a little more research on a book before you buy it. If a book is really full of CHRISTIAN propoganda it’s not going to be hard to find that out before you lay down good money for it. And if, by chance, you do purchase a book and unexpectedly find yourself reading a bunch of CHRISTIAN propaganda, how about reviewing it based on the quality of the story and writing.

Now, all that being said, this leads to some interesting insight into how we market Christian books, who our target audience is, and how we reach them without catching them off guard or leading them to feel like they’ve been duped. I understand no one likes to feel duped or back-doored. I don’t either. So how do we get our books with Christian messages into the hands of non-believers without them feeling like they’ve been carpet-bombed with CHRISTIAN propaganda?

On a side note, and totally unrelated. I recently did an interview with Jeff Gerke and You can read the interview and get a sneak peek at the prologue for Darlington Woods here.

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