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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Confessions of a Book Reviewer . . . Revisited on the Other Side of Publication

Gina Holmes is the President and founder of Inspire a Fire and Novel Rocket and award-winning author of Crossing Oceans and Dry as Rain. In 1998, Gina began her career penning articles and short stories. Ten years, and a stack of rejection letters later, she held her first published novel. She holds degrees in science and nursing and currently resides with her husband and children in southern Virginia. She works too hard, laughs too loud, and longs to see others heal from their past and discover their God-given purpose. To learn more about her, visit

A few years ago, (8/25/09), before I was published, I wrote this controversial piece from the perspective of a book reviewer. Here's the piece again, with my take on it today, as an author being reviewed. Am I eating crow? Maybe a little.

I have a confession--sometimes I agree to review books and never do. Sometimes I agree to review books and leave out two dozen things I didn't like, to focus on the half dozen things I did. Sometimes I'll choose one flaw out of ten to include in my review out of fear that the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth will hurt an author's sales, shatter their ego, and leave them with a terminal case of writer's block.

In the past, I've read books that I thought were good, but had a few flaws, and I, trying to be fair and honest, said so. What did this earn me? Heckling from the author. Persistent whining until I finally took the review down and ultimately gave up reviewing all together.

I could write a hundred positive things in a review, but then mentioned it could have used a little more breathing room between action scenes, or the characters seemed to lack emotion in some places, or whatever, and guess what the author would cling to? Being an author myself, I understand that. I do.

What I don't understand is the inability to take any sort of criticism and learn from it.

Now that I'm going to be on the other side of the reviewing fence with my upcoming release with Tyndale, Crossing Oceans, I'm sure that I too will be feeling the sting of criticism. I hope that I will be able to see the truth in another's critique of my work. I hope that I will read reviews, even ones that tear me apart and cling to any truth, no matter how painful, and be a better writer for it. Becoming a truly great writer is so much more important that seeming to be.

To those authors who share the: "Any bad review is a result of sour grapes" philosophy, here are a few thoughts to consider:

1. Reviewers do not pick out flaws in a book for spite. We are not jealous of you. If you got a bad review, it is not because of sour grapes. It is because we didn't like your book. Sorry, but it happens.

Now: There are far more spiteful reviewers out there than I have ever dreamed. Of course not all writers of negative reviews are spiteful, but I have come in contact with bad reviewers who actually admitted to jealousy when explaining why their book should have had the success my books (particularly my debut, Crossing Oceans), has. Some reviewers do seem to be mean spirited. I've read reviews of my work that weren't anything but objective and balanced. I took for granted in this piece that reviewers were professional and unbiased. This is no longer true if it ever was. 

2. If we said one or two negative things about your novel, understand that there were probably at least a dozen more that we mercifully left out.

Now: I still agree with this for most reviewers. Most reviewers are kind, some too kind maybe, and will point out negative along with positive. There are many so-called reviewers who will post one line reviews saying something like, "This was the worst piece of vomit in the history of the world. There is no redeeming value in this work." I had no idea this type of "reviewer" existed. As a reviewer myself, if I absolutely hated a book, I passed on reviewing. I understood the subjectiveness of taste and believe nearly all works have some redeeming quality. But then that's how I am as a person. 

3. The kind things were likely overstated, the unpleasant, under.

This is true of most reviewers, particularly the professionals and readers of CBA fiction. It is not true of all reviewers. Many take exactly the opposite approach. 

4. We do not HAVE to find a flaw. There is no book reviewer rule that says we have to. So, if we've found one, it's really there. Really. I know this has been a misconception many authors have.

Again, true of most reviewers but certainly not all. Often a flaw is a subjective dislike of a style or where the story went that the reader didn't like. 

5. We want to see you succeed, write well, hit the NYT best-sellers list. If you actually consider there may be some truth in our reviews and improve, you might just get there.

True of professional reviewers, particularly in the CBA. Not necessarily true of all reviewers. Some, particularly nasty ones seem to hate all things that mention God. This type of "reviewer" often would like very much to see most Christian novels fail for reasons that aren't at all literary. 

6. We're not right all of the time, but we are right most of the time.

This is often true of good reviewers, professional reviewers, unbiased reviewers, of which there are fewer and fewer. Most so-called reviewers now are simply readers who now, with Amazon and other online book stores can write anything they want without thought. I've read many reviews that the writer admits to never having read the book. I have yet to read a professional review, even unflattering ones, that didn't have some truth to them. The trouble is now everyone is a reviewer. Kind of like anyone can put out a sign and call themselves an agent. Doesn't mean they're good. Doesn't mean they know the first thing about books. 

7. We would be harsher (aka more honest) with our reviews thus making you a better writer if we weren't worried you'd attack us.

Ouch. I had a fellow novelist write the harshest review out of all I've received. Calling my book basically poorly written slop with no redeeming merit at all. I was so fascinated by another CBA author tearing up my work so publicly that I wrote her. (Bad idea)  A literary friend went on the defensive for me and well, I'm sure that reviewer considered herself attacked. 

8. Most of us do not get paid to review books. You are not doing us a favor by giving us your free book in exchange for a review. We'd rather throw out fifteen dollars and get a book we know is good than get a free book that probably won't do much for us. We are doing reviews out of the kindness of our heart. Plus, we really are hoping to find a masterpiece and help promote it.

I still agree with the above. Reviewing is very time consuming!

9. We DO realize how subjective reading taste is, therefore quite often we choose to not review a book we've been sent than to write something scathing.

This is true. Often we won't get an endorsement or review not because the reader didn't have time or forgot but because they read it and didn't like it. Many lay reviewers (anyone with a computer) will throw out their opinions without thinking them through or realizing that their is a real live author on the other end of the computer screen. 

However, most unprofessional reviewers do not understand subjectivity at all. 

10. We secretly hope each time we review a book where we point out a flaw that the author will pay attention and never do it again so that next time we can gush and call it brilliant, perfect and amazing. We really, really, really want to read amazing books.

I think most reviewers really do want to read amazing books. I no longer think this is universal. I think some people, and this often goes back to religion attackers, don't want Christian novels to succeed and will find flaws with them no matter what. It used to be that most reviewers were truly book lovers. Now everyone is a potential reviewer. Even those who can't string a sentence together themselves or have no idea what foreshadowing or symbolism is, let alone know how to recognize them. 

So, next time you get a review that gets under your skin, try not to assume the reviewer is jealous of your genius or a frustrated wannabe, or that they HAD to make up some flaw just to keep the respect of the other reviewers. Assume that maybe, just maybe, they made a point that you can learn from and by all means say thank you--even if, especially if, the review isn't one hundred percent positive. Because if it was, they probably didn't read the book you wrote, or they're not being completely honest, or they're you're mother/sister/bff.

What I have learned having hundreds of reviews myself now is that:
A. I cannot both be a literary genius AND a hack. My book is drivel to some, life-changing to others. 

B. The more successful a book, the more apt it is to draw criticism. Most of that isn't sour grapes, but there is a lot more of that than I ever dreamed. 

C. There are people who will give you negative reviews not because of literary merit but because they disagree with your faith, or the choices your character made, which would be different than theirs, or simply because they're having a bad day or hate the genre. 

From professional reviewers, I have picked up a few things to consider  when I'm writing that might make the next book a little better, but that's rare and usually I have to really read between the lines. Mostly I'm reading one subjective opinion after another. 

I've also learned that reviews do seem to directly affect sales. When I find myself getting a string of tough reviews, my sales online do seem to take a dive. 


  1. Ha, your humor shines in this piece and you state many truths as well.

    Honestly, every time I review a book I hoping to find something amazing. And you're right, there are many books I often find myself choosing not to review a book because I truly can't recommend it and feel bad for the writer.

  2. Well said, Gina. Everything you said is true of me as a reviewer. Every time I receive a review copy, I'm hoping it's going to be fabulous -- because I LOVE to read but don't have unlimited time to do so. And when I accept a review copy of a book, I make myself finish it even if I don't like it at all -- I feel like I owe it to the author. Even when I've felt a book was REALLY badly written, I work very hard to find something good to say about it.

  3. Book reviewers get a bad rap. Most of us really want to sing a book's praises. When we can't, we feel bad. I too finish review books even when I don't like them. But I won't give a scathing review. I think my job is to review the book as a reader, not as a writer. So I try to focus on the story, not the writing.

  4. Great job. I do enjoy your humor, really.

    It's hard to review other peoples books. Especially when the book just didn't do it for ya...

    Thanks for this.

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I am a writer, not a reviewer, and with my debut book coming out next June, I am thickening my skin as we speak. *grin*

    I don't read many reviews, but when I do, I get tired of the ones that only talk about how great the book is. That type of reviewer loses credibility with me. As a reader, I want an honest appraisal to know if I should spend my money on a book. If you always gush, how can I determine the difference between and okay book and a fabulous one?

    Espeically in the realm of Christian fiction, the line between influencer and reviewer can be blurred because we all want to be encouragers. However, those are two different roles with different responsibilities. I expect to read glowing priase on Amazon or CBD, but if you are reivewing the book for a public audience, you are there more for the potential reader than for the author's promotion, and the review should reflect that.

    Of course, we authors truly hope you love our books so much that you gush about it and it becomes a promotion. *grin* But a few lines of honest critique should not incite us to riot.

  6. I'm trying to learn to review. Thanks for this.

  7. Sheila, did you read the excellent article Dee Stewart wrote on becoming a book reviewer? If not, just put her name in our search box. It should come up. It's very helpful.

  8. I'm in there with Laura and Patricia--finishing those books I'd like to chuck. If I signed on for a review, it's gonna happen. When I really don't like a novel, I say something to the effect that I'm definitely not the target audience, and I commend the writer for pressing on to get it published. Then I tell a potential reader why I didn't like it. I conclude with the subjectivity of the whole writing gig.
    I did a review of one of those novels I really didn't like for several reasons. I didn't get a comment from the author, but I got two "gentle" reprimands from other authors who reminded me how small the publishing world can be and how they decided not to comment on the negatives of a book. To each his own. I'm going to tell the truth cushioned in love.

  9. I don't endorse everyone I read for endorsement, so I suppose it's the same sort of thing. I'm learning to say no a lot more, concentrating on really truly praising amazing books. If I don't like a book, I simply don't review it.

  10. Good for you Nicole. We need more truth tellers. We shouldn't be hurt someone said our books could be better. We should be far more afraid that no one will ever tell us.

  11. I have been on both sides of the fence - I reviewed books for Rose & Thorn, and I was always honest, but respectful...Fortunately, I never received any bad remarks from writers and only one tried to explain to me how I didn't understand, but she wasn't rude about it.

    But, since Tender Graces was published this past spring, I quit reviewing - I just can't do it anymore. I suppose partly because now I know the weight they carry that I didn't understand and it is something I didn't expect to feel - and partly because I don't have time - and partly because I just don't want to read books for reviews any longer - I want to read books for pleasure, and when you review, it's difficult to do this.

    I've been very lucky with my reviews, even when a couple of reviewers pointed out a few little things, like one man, bless him he wrote a beautiful review, but he thought a part of TG was a little too "sweet" and there was too much food in the second half (I laughed about that one!) ...and I never felt huffy about those things - my publishers have told me, though, to quit reading reviews unless someone sends them to me, and concentrate on Book2-I admit I was relieved, since I worried every morning I'd finally stumble on that "bad' review! :)

    Maybe I don't get my panties in a bunch over a few little comments because I understand the process, having written reviews, or maybe I've just been lucky to have had great reviews, but I would never argue or leave snippy comments to a reviewer - ever, even if they told me I sucked rotten eggs! *laugh*

    Whew, didn't meant to go into all that!

    Good luck with your book - Enjoy all the moments.

  12. Thanks for a good article. I do write reviews, and when I like something, I am very generous with my praise. However, I do include negative things if I think they are important enough to affect the reader's experience. Reviews are for the reader, not the author (a "review" for an author is called a "blurb," ha ha). I agree with you that a wise author will learn from reviewer's comments. But the point of a review is to give a prospective reader another reader's views of the comparative merits of the book so he/she can make a decision whether to read the book. I think if reviewers gloss over important problems (and I'm not saying a reviewer should nitpick a book to death), then they are cheating the readers. I try to be honest and fair, to the writer, to the reader, and to myself. Not always easy.

  13. Good luck with your book. I hope one day someone will say that to me but first I have to do something with it.

    I tend to do weird book reviews but since everyone isn't going to love the same books some books just don't appeal. There was one book I tried reading but I just couldn't finish it and I'd heard about it from other blogs. Most of the books I blog about are from the library so I don't even get sent books to read. But it is tricky when you get sent one and find yourself struggling to read it.

  14. During the process of composing my novels, I estimate that I write more than 300 negative reviews of my own early drafts along the way.

    So typically, by the time I read a review in print or online, the reviewer's negative comments seem anemic and puny by comparison.

    (Not that anyone's ever said anything negative about one of MY books, mind you!)


  15. Karen Schravemade11:52 PM, August 25, 2009

    Mike, that's hilarious. I don't know if I should try it. Not sure what that would do for my level of motivation... :)

  16. Gina, thanks for the courage to say these things. I'm a writer. My first novel, The Unfinished Gift, is going to reviewed here at the end of September. Let me have it. Seriously.

    I know whoever does it will say kind things, but I also think we should be able, as writers, to hear things that could have been done better.

    I've read quite a few reviews in recent months, particularly Christian fiction. I've hardly read a single negative remark, let alone a harsh one. If all our books are that good, they should be flying off the shelves. When it's all good, you wonder if any of it is. On the other hand, if someone shares, tactfully mind you, the areas of concern, it makes the moments of praise more credible and satisfying.

    Of course, I'm saying this now before I read the review. I might read it and quit writing for good.

    PS if my name says, "Dan Walsh, Author," sorry for sounding snooty. I can't seem to delete the author tag.

  17. What a great post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I especially like "3. The kind things were likely overstated, the unpleasant, under."

    I've reviewed for a well known site, and a well known print publication for several years now under a pen name.

    I've recently stopped reviewing books partially because of author criticism.

    What some authors don't seem to understand is that we don't get paid for the review. And depending on the group/company/site we review for, if the book is awful we still have to finish reading the book and then compose an articulate review, which sometimes takes an hour to do, or even longer. Some sites/publications have minimum/maximum word counts and often all that we wanted to say was unable to be expressed in the review.

    Even if a book makes it to the NYT list for an entire year, there's still going to be someone out there who despises the book...and rightly so. Reviews are subjective.

    What some authors fail to realize is that if a review is great, it makes for great promo. But the review itself is not written for the writer, but for fellow readers.

    I have never snarked in a review. If I don't like a story, I'll mention why: the protagonist seemed shallow, the worldbuilding didn't suspend disbelief, gaping holes in the plot, etc. I try to be a nice as possible without being dishonest. I've seen WAY too many reviewers do that and I've lost respect for them, unable to trust if what they have written is a fair assessment or not. One of the best compliments I've ever received is from a fellow reviewer (and incidentally an author) who said that if I say a book is good, chances are she'll buy it, because she knows that I'm (almost) brutally honest.

    Lately, however, it's become almost tedious to review. I almost feel like I can't find a decent book to read! And when I do get the chance to read for pleasure, it's not the pleasure it used to be because I'm too busy judging the book as if I'm reviewing.

    I've opted to take a couple months off to refresh my love of reading, and find that masterpiece again.

    Thanks again,


  18. Great points guys. Particularly that the review isn't for the writer but the reader. We all want our reviews to say, "I love this book! Go out and buy it." but we need to write that kind of book, not expect reviewers to say what simply isn't true.

    Please, reviewers, keep speaking the truth. Someone needs to.

  19. Appreciate your thoughts, Gina :)

  20. Great post, Gina. And so true. It's hard to know what to do when we read a book that doesn't hit us, but we've said we'd review. I agonize over those books.

  21. Forgive me for wandering over to the other side just a little bit...(S) I reviewed books for eight years. Three years for a major newspaper, and yes, I was paid for them. Believe it or not, I didn't write negative reviews. If I couldn't find something good to say about a book - I passed on it. Did I ever mention something I think could have been improved? Occasionally. However, I didn't overdo it. Why? Because readers' views are SUBJECTIVE. This means that just because YOU don't like something about a book, it doesn't make you right. It's just your opinion. To say that a reviewer is almost always right...well, no. The truth is, there is no "right" or "wrong." One person may love a book. Another may hate it. I think it's important to remember that as a reviewer, your opinion is your opinion - and that's all it is. I would like to see more reviewers remember this important point, and in fact, mention it from time to time. Also, I like to read a review that tells me if "I" would like the book. In other words, tell me what's in it. Is it heavy romance? Light romance? Suspenseful? I'm more interested in the "kind" of book it is than your subjective opinion - which you should give, don't get me wrong. But you could mention that you don't like pirates if you're reviewing a book with pirates. Or that you don't like heavy romance if you're reviewing a romantic title. That kind of honesty would go a long way.

    Hope you don't mind another viewpoint. And please know that I'm taking names. If any of you ever write a negative review of one of my books...(VBG)

  22. Great post! As a writer in the query stage (and sometimes wondering how in the world some books got published) I am glad to see you speaking out for honesty. Reviews/critiques will mean nothing without honesty.

  23. It IS difficult to know how to handle a review of a book you weren't crazy about. Like many of you, I choose to decline reviewing rather than say something that, as an author myself, I know WILL be hurtful. Speaking as an author: A review may take 2-3 days, between reading the book and writing the review, but the author has spent the better part of a year pouring him/herself into the novel, often becoming vulnerable about very personal issues in order to write the book with honesty. And even if a review contains constructive criticism, it will be another year before we can "redeem" ourselves from a bad review.

    Another thing to consider: when a book receives a negative review, it's not only the author who feels that pain, but the agent who pitched the book, the editor who acquired it (put his/her job on the line to convince the pub board that this book was worthy of publication), the editorial team who did line and copy edits, and the other authors who endorsed the book. In a sense, a bad review calls the judgment of each of them into question. Maybe that's what those authors meant about publishing being a small world?

    I'm all for reviews that show both positive and negative aspects of the book, but I do think reviewers should always be mindful of how very subjective reading tastes are. What one reader sees as "too sweet" or "having too much food" (smile) may be exactly what the majority of that author's readers adore about her books.

    IMHO, there is no excuse for reviews that are just plain mean, or written merely for the sake of showing off the reviewer's wit. But neither should Christian authors be exempt from bad or mediocre reviews. We must develop thick skins and learn to glean what we can from a bad review, and not take too seriously the glowing praise.

  24. Loved your comments. I've had some people permanently snub me if my reviews of their books weren't uber-positive. The mature authors talk to me anyway. I've had a few critical comments of my first book here and there (surprisingly only by a few people so either people are lying or the uber-critics haven't read them yet), but I still talk to the authors of those reviews because they are good reviewers and I can't please everyone. I haven't had anyone personally attack me...yet. Those reviews bug me when I read them because saying a book is crap is not helpful to anyone. Saying why is. I have to admit that because I have so many to read I've had people screen some for me (people who read twice as much as I do and who are not authors, just avid readers). If they said it was okay I usually don't bother to open it up. A reviewer has gotta do what a reviewer has gotta do to even remotely keep up with the demand.

  25. I just save negative comments for crit group, not the whole known world. : ) If I can't give a good review, I just don't review it. (And sometimes other books jump ahead in the line and I just haven't gotten to the book yet.)The only time I've said anything negative--with two books--was because I thought they presented theological problems that could lead readers, especially non-believers, astray. Our standards as mature Christians (as if I were one) must be higher than that. Otherwise, again, I just can't say something negative about plot or style in front of the whole world. Just in crit group. Over dark chocolate.

  26. All very valid comments. I think it's a great idea to remind readers about the subjectivity. It's not something I've always thought to do. However, I've never written a scathing review but really appreciate the honesty in good reviews. Thanks all. This dialogue is just what we need to keep the balance.

  27. Good stuff here, in the article and in these comments. When I reviewed I asked the magazine's editor not to send me books by certain authors because I found it difficult to write an unbiased review.

    There are some authors who have large fan bases, and their writing makes me gag or fell like tossing the book across the room, or both. For me, those reviews strain my brain the most in an effort to write an honest, unbiased review.

    I've been on hiatus for a couple of years, but I'm getting an itch to let the editor know I'm available to review again. '

    Thank you!

  28. Most of my author friends don't read the reviews unless they're PW, RT, or (in my case) Miss Edgy Michele just because I like her attitude either way. I don't read reviews because I don't need the flattery to swell my head or the negativity to send me to the refrigerator. :) Most reviewers eventually become authors and then they get it. I reviewed before I published.
    Every negative review isn't a bar-raising, writer-improving piece of poetry. Mostly it's just the honest (and often unnecessarily snarky) opinion of a reviewer who didn't like the book. Big deal. Reviewers are people too. They can like or not like my book. I could give a flip. I don't like half what I write either. Until recently and I am fully expecting to be reamed on Thirsty because it's a freaking Vampire novel. LOL It's gonna happen. I think so comparatively, very few readers even read reviews, so I try not to sweat it too much. :) Great blog topic Gina!

  29. Well said!

    I came to a conclusion about myself as a reviewer a while back.....I make a better OBJECTIVE READER (of a draft) than REVIEWER (of a published work) because I prefer to work with writers while they are still at the stage of trying to improve the work.

  30. Me too, Marilyn. Tracey, loved your honesty. I'm not sure if most readers don't read reviews. I think that used to be true, but now with amazon dominating sales, many folks will read the reviews. However, word of mouth (as in in-person, friend to friend) still matters more.

    Nothing like sending your baby out to the world and asking people to judge it. Except that it's not really a baby. It's just our best atttempt at art, truth and entertainment. Sometimes we nail it and isn't it nice when people say so? And sometimes we miss the mark and hope no one will notice. That's fine so long as we do.

    Great discussion all.

  31. I enjoyed reading this piece -- as a writer, it's nice to catch a glimpse of what it's like to review books.

    The only point I question is #6 ("Reviewers are right most of the time.") The thing is, reviewers contradict each other wildly. My first book came out a couple months ago, and I've been extremely fortunate so far in that the overwhelming majority of my reviews have been great. But no book appeals to every reviewer, and there've been a couple of bad ones mixed in there. The mental gymnastics involved in assuming that all those reviewers were right gives me a bit of a headache: depending on who you listen to, my book is either brilliant or awful, gripping or tedious; my characters are either complex and well-developed or they're inscrutable paperdolls; the tale is either frictionless or filled with tension. I guess I'm not sure what "right" really means in the context of something as subjective as a novel.

    Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful and interesting post. I like your blog.

  32. I am so grateful for this eye-opening post. Writing can be emotional suicide; we put our hearts out there, and BAM! a bad review. It's like someone smacking my kid. But SOMEONE has to do book reviews, so thanks. And best wishes on your new book!

  33. Thanks for the thoughts. When I read reviews, and the reviewer picks out a flaw, almost always I say to myself, "Yeah, I can see that." even when I absolutely loved the book. I usually go down the line and see what other reviewers have written after I've written my own so they don't influence what my thoughts are and I usually, not always, but usually find merit and truth in most of what they say.

    I've found that to be true for myself. Of course, I don't read everything or even a small percentage of the reviews out there, so I admit, that might be off in the grand scheme. I guess instead of "We're not right all of the time, but we are right most of the time." I should have said, I'm not right all of the time, just most... ha. Kidding... sort of... not really. :-)

  34. Gina, as you begin publishing, you'll have to answer the question: will I read my reviews? There's a reason many authors do not.
    Reviews are opinions. Opinions can be honest, but they can never be truth. For a writer, they can be deadly. Opinions from outsiders poison the wellspring in your artistic heart. Glowing reviews tempt you to doubt yourself, because you know there were more flaws than they mentioned. Bad reviews tempt you to doubt yourself, because authors are masses of self-doubt anyway.
    Either way, reviews can be poison to any artist who wants a clear, true voice.

    All my best as you enter this new world. Keep us posted throughout the next year as you begin to experience having your heart in the public domain.

  35. Ginger, I don't know if I will or won't. If I find they have the ability to either bloat my ego or send me into despair, I'll have to stop.

    I realize I'm in for pain if I read them. I've been in critique groups for years and have clung to the toughest ones because they weren't afraid to tell the truth.

    Hopefully, my skin has thickened enough to withstand the bad reviews. I guess I'll find out. I think I've also developed the ability to pick up and hold pieces of truth and drop things that I don't agree with.

    Also, having been in the public eye for years now with NJ and getting plenty of emails telling me sugar-coatedly off for my opinions, I understand that aspect too.

    Writers should by nature be truth seekers. We should be the ones to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

    I desperately want to be a truth teller and a truth accepter.

    I realize that putting this article out there may just earn me tough reviews by people who think (rightly so), hey, you said you wanted the truth: here it is... let's see how tough your skin really is, Gina "tell the truth" Holmes.

    Thanks for the wisdom of someone who's been there. I'll try to do a follow up to this article once I've gotten a good taste from the other side.

    You all are awesome to put so much thought into your comments. Thanks for that.

  36. I came back to this great post to check out the other comments. After reading them all, I had a quick follow up.

    For those who say that the review is subjective, first of all you're correct. But don't you think the readers know that as well? If you read a bad review about a movie, do you simply stop right there, without reading other reviews and make that one review your decision to see it or not?

    I'm not talking about snarky. I'm just talking about anything that's less than glowing.

    For those of you who said you'd rather pass on a book rather than review it unfavorably... I don't know who you review for but one publication I review for does not allow us to pass. Because we often receive the book 2 weeks before we have to turn in the review for publication, passing is not an option.

    Great comments; you've given me some edification for my own reviewing.

  37. I find it interesting to read what people's opinions are for what a book review is. So I searched out the meanings and here's what I found:

    According to WordWeb:

    Book Review: A critical review of a book (usually a recently published book)

    Critical Review: An essay or article that gives a critical evaluation (as of a book or play)

    Critical: Characterized by careful evaluation and judgment

    I believe the sole purpose of book reviews are for the readers and to tell them whether or not they should purchase the book. But even more important, book reviews are also for book distributors and book stores so they can determine whether they should risk their money by stocking a particular book.

    Good reviews have traditionally equaled being stocked. Good reviews usually helps get word of mouth started. Good reviews can be used by publicists to get more publicity for the book.

    Which leads us back to this discussion, what to do when the book disappointed its reviewer and how we as writers should look at reviews.

    There's no denying it, we all want to write a book that sells and is favorably received. When our book falls short, I think as writers we need to seriously look at what they're saying, which I would say is the main point of Gina's article.

    In Stein on Writing, Uncle Sol talked about the agony of sitting before a live audience on the opening night of his plays. At that point there was no going back. He would know very quickly whether his play failed or succeeded. When it failed, it made him a better writer. He did not quit. He did not allow defeat to make him withdrawal—though I'm sure he felt like it many times.

    He also said that he used to sit and listen to someone read his work in a deadpan voice—so that every word had to stand for itself. He saw his mistakes and became a better writer.

    In one sense, this post should be asking you, what is it you want to do as a writer? Do you want to write a masterpiece? In which case, though it will hurt, you should ready yourself to shift through the differing opinions and find where you can improve.

    When you ask for a book review, it should be because you want the truth. If you review a book, you have an obligation to tell your honest opinion. Are we getting Book Influencers confused with Book Reviewers?

  38. Denise, I mainly review when someone sends me a book as an "influencer," so I have a choice. Sometimes, I'll enjoy a book so much, I'll just write a good review on Amazon.

    I guess I was damaged as a child, LOL but I was impressed years ago by the thoughts of the over-the-top comedian and humanitarian Jerry Lewis. I had loved his goofy Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis movies when I was little.

    He had been hurt by critics of his style and he questioned in strong terms the need for critics, period.

    He said let people see for themselves and make up their own minds. He said critics are out for the attention, themselves.

    They pick on things most people will not.

    In general, I agree with his first premise, let people make up their own minds. Because it is often just subjective opinion.

    Again, my only negative comments have been over theology that could have a negative impact on readers.

    I'll be thorough in a crit group, but after that, it's too late to change anything to make the book better.

    So, if I really like a book, I'll say so. Otherwise, not.

    I don't want to damage people's numbers and therefore, their careers over just a personal opinion.

  39. Denise, you're my kind of reviewer. Thanks Jess, Margo and everyone else as well for having the courage and thoughtfulness to share your opinions, popular or not.

  40. This was very interesting to read, because I totally get the "before" parts that you wrote. Having had the privilege to hang out with some of you authors, I've had a glimpse of the "revised" parts, as well, and I hurt for you when you get the mean-spirited, tacky, reviews.

    As one who reviews on my blog, I have tried very hard to write honest reviews without making it personal. I have had both readers and authors tell me they appreciate my reviews because I don't give everything a glowing review. However, I do try very hard to distinguish in my review when I think it's a matter of subjective taste and when I think it's truly a poor book, and most of the time when I make negative comments about a book it tends to be if I think it is unsound theologically. There have been times I have declined to review a book after I've read it or if I'm part of a blog tour, just posted the standard blurb provided with no comments.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  41. Linda, you're definitely in the professional column. I don't define that by necessarily being paid but acting like a pro.

  42. There is a fine line of responsibility upon which professional reviewers must find balance. The responsibility is both to the author and reader.

    I see myself as a cheerleader for authors. I genuinely love authors because as a writer (with an unfinished work) myself, I know what goes into writing a book. On the other side, I have stood in the fiction department of a bookstore holding multiple books in my hands and only $15.00 in my budget.

    After agonizing over the review of several sub-par books, I decided to follow the old adage "If you don't have something good to say, don't say anything at all." If I can't give a book at least 3 stars (with a carefully worded encouraging review), then I pass on the review. Most of the books I review are 4-5 stars.

    I feel it is my job to encourage the reader to buy a book, not discourage them from buying one.

    One thing that has thrown a wrench into my intentions is the "blog tour." I have found myself locked into a spot on a tour, and then after receiving and reading the book wishing I hadn't signed up to be a part of the tour. I haven't figured out how to handle this, but hope to come up with a personal solution soon. I may just have to stop participating in this form of review.

    Gina you are one of the latest true gems to come along in the world of christian fiction, and I can't imagine ever struggling to review a book you have written--although I think to be fair, Crossing Oceans should come with it's own box of tissues. :)

  43. Jesus was the first Author and remains a best seller. Still, His writings get panned and banned. Can't please everyone or even most, so learn all you can and improve each day. That's 'bout all any of us an do.

  44. Thanks so much for that, Kristen. Very kind of you to say. True, Eddie. Hey everyone, Eddie Jones just signed a contract with Zonderkids for a mystery series. He's an awesome writer, so be looking for it!

  45. Gina, Well said. I'm careful in choosing the books I review on my blog (and I do it very rarely, mainly for some of these reasons). As a published author, I sort of have the feeling that I have to say something good, but sometimes it's hard. Thanks for sharing.

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  47. Thanks for sharing both sides of the track, so to speak, as a reviewer and a writer. Both at Fiction Addict and on my site,I decided some time back to review only what I could recommend. Thanks also for acknowledging the subjective nature of book reviews.

  48. I think being honest is great. A little slow in the middle but great characters and theme is wonderful. A one star review with "worst book I've ever read" i the subject line and then something like I never really romances but I had nothing else free to choose from. I scanned through the book, reading everything out of context and found it unbelievable. I wouldn't have hated it so bad until she mentioned God. Utter nonsense. ... those are the reviews popping up all over. Mostly from those who felt duped into buying a Christian book. A few others, I can't help but suspect some personal rivals in days of yore might resurface giving someone an anonymous way to remind me they don't like me through this route. That could be paranoia but I have heard of some authors getting caught and slapped for doing the same for competing authors. That's about as low as you can get.

  49. It took me more years than it should have to learn the difference between "good" and "what I like". It may have been the book Dune that was the first time I enjoyed reading a book because it was well written while hating the story.

  50. A very important difference. I think it's important for lay reviewers to understand that "I didn't enjoy this" is more appropriate, and probably accurate than "this was the worst book ever".

  51. Coming to the discussion late but thoughtful. I don't understand people (professing Christian or not) who post reviews that make themselves look worse than the book they intend to revile. I've long had a personal conviction against posting negative reviews, but the five-star system of most seller sites frustrates me. I can enjoy and recommend a book without thinking it's stupendous.

    I've almost decided to adopt a mutual friend's policy of avoiding posts on any bookseller sites. Still, those reviews seem to make a difference. I prefer to speak the truth in love but am not sure I've found my way.

  52. The whole thing used to give me a headache. I don't mind an unflattering review as long as it's objective. PW gave me a glowing review of Crossing Oceans but not so much on Dry as Rain. Even though it hurt my sales, I thought the review was fair. I don't review a book if I can't give it four stars, which ends up meaning I don't review a lot of books. The thing is, it really is subjective. I never realized that as much as when Ane Mulligan and I would review the same book. She would think it was genius and I disliked it and vice versa. I think it was then that my eyes opened that my opinion wasn't necessarily fact. Too many lay reviewers don't realize that.


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