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BOOK REVIEWS (FROM A WRITER’S PERSPECTIVE)

Steller Review, but what does it MEAN!?

Happy New Year, All!

I have a stack of books to review, not because my reviews are that big of a deal, but because I like to do deep-dives, and a lot of poets and authors find the effort a refreshing contrast to no review or worse, (sometimes), the lazy-stellar aka “star-review” only.

Let’s talk about that.

SHOOTING THE STAR-MESSENGER

I had a writer friend reach out to me recently, worried about my lack of timely review of her particularly important book I’d promised her I’d review. I felt terrible I hadn’t got to it, so I gave her some initial feedback, telling her I’d finish it and give her the review when I got on top of some other things I’m working on.

In her reply, she sheepishly apologized for bothering me about it. She’d gotten her first one-star review on Amazon, and she was feeling a bit shaken. My advice to her?

Have someone else read your reviews and only send you the good ones.

Once the book is published, there’s no way to control how your words will be interpreted and trying to monitor all that is a terrible waste of energy. I also told her that her friends and editors will tell her the truth, not crap reviewers, who typically have nothing useful or constructive to say that would help her in the future anyway.

Of course, that’s not always true. I’m an exception to that rule. But few people are like me when it comes to reviews. That’s okay. Reading is so important to me, I wish all books had a reviewer like me to give me the lowdown—the subjective lowdown.

Each of my reviews begins with a caveat. My experience, only. Not a personal comment on the author, whether I know them or not.

I wouldn’t ever begin a review with “This book sucks ninny-goats, and you shouldn’t read it because it’s DUMB!”


I realize it’s hard to believe someone might have different reading expectations and experiences than us, but they can. It explains most of the NYT Best Seller List, doesn’t it? It does.

The point? Reviews shouldn’t be personal. They should be personalized and professional—or as professional as one can be when one invests a lot of time and energy, not to mention the financial investment, only to have the book womp-womp-womp when the final page is turned, despite famous ‘blurbers,’ typically big-name authors you respect, tout its ‘awesome’ as well as the current arbiters of taste singing its praises.

Then… well, then I think it’s okay to get subjective and you know, let ’em have it just a teeny bit.

ONE STAR TO RULE THEM OUT

So…why bother leaving anything if you’ve read a book and can’t manage more than stars? It’s just confusing.

Oh, this person thinks it deserves 3 stars, but… what does that mean?

Hmmm…they like this book and that book, but my experience with those books was the total opposite so…why the 5-stellar review on this one? Why only a one-star (i.e. shite) review of that one?


I always wonder, when I read reviews of books I’m looking read, about the one-star withholder.

What do four stars mean? Why not five? Was that solitary star withheld for strategic ‘fairness’ purposes? A moral code that includes withholding any sort of ‘gush’ re: a book via the cunning use of star-language?

But a simple review would clear things up.

“The book was presented as an action/ thriller, but it ended up being a KISSING book!”

Look, if you’re going to read a book by a living author, your review matters to them. It really does.

Especially on Amazon and Goodreads.

NEENER-NEENER and DIDN’T-BOTHER REVIEWS

Granted, someone leaving a four or five-star review of one of my books without the actual review doesn’t hurt my feelings too much. But it does a disservice to other readers, seeking a book to read. That’s the interesting underpinning on Goodreads. It’s a place where readers and authors… well, sort of assemble if you will.

I have a couple of reviews on some of my books that irritate me. Not because they’re negative—because I have some of those, and those readers were kind enough—nay, conscientious enough—to write out why they didn’t enjoy the book.

What irritates me is when negative reviews are based on a personal grudge or ignorance. Ignorance, not because they ‘didn’t get it,’ but because they didn’t read the book. How do I know? Trust me, an author knows.

How about this for a review of Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code?

John Doh’s review of The DaVinci Code:

This book was a giant speech given by some academic and it was stupid and boring. So, if you want to read a book about the morning ablutions and wardrobe of a stuffy, boring professor of symbology, then I guess you’d like this book.

If you haven’t read the DaVinci Code, here’s a hint: It’s not about that, above.

However, and no joke, this review is a pretty darn close simulacrum of a review someone left of one of my books.

And as the author, you can’t argue. You can’t say, “But-but-but…that’s NOT what it’s about, I mean, it’s like you didn’t read past the title, the first scene or chapter, or you’d know….”

You can’t do it. So, you have to deal with asshats leaving stars that bring down the overall “star score” of your book’s worthiness, and yeah, it sucks. Which is why it’s a huge deal when someone leaves an honest review, and especially if they love your work.

Or hey, you don’t like a book, put it down and write, “I didn’t want to continue reading it because it didn’t grab my attention.”

I realize writing without ‘snark’ sounds like going to school without your clothes on, but try it out, see how being direct and honest feels inside your tummy place./snark #NoIronyNotLostOnMe

ET, TU REVIEWER, ET, TU?

I won’t say why or who, but I’ll bet my cat’s left nut this person didn’t read my novel. They left the review after we had a falling out, so… yeah.

That said, I see you, wannabe saboteur of my book! And as a self-proclaimed book lover, the sheer number of reviews this individual’s posted thus-far pretty much spells it out.

My point? Reviews are subjective and shouldn’t be used to f*ck with someone’s career and hard work. If I leave a one-star rating, you bet I’m gonna explain.

This is especially true if the person writing the review is another writer. Not a pretend one, a real one who has taken the time, energy, effort to write their own work, have it edited, go through the rigors of publication, and had the balls to put themselves out there as readily and totally as you.

The thing is, when I went to look this review up, (above, still there after 3 years) Goodreads was ready, giving me a ‘there-there, it’s okay, J.A. Bad reviews happen.’

And that’s a genuinely nice thing for Goodreads to do for authors, especially baby authors[1] who read every review, and one whiff of rejection burns like the nonday sun on their burgeoning writer-soul.

Carefully culled from Goodreads (I heart U!)

As a reader, I appreciate the time and energy people put into reading my books. I’m not looking for a deconstruction, here. Not everyone is good at reviews. I feel like Goodreads ought to help some of those folks along with a brief, hand-holding survey:

Did you enjoy the book?

Why or why not? (Drop down menu):

  •               It wasn’t my type of book/story
  •               I thought it was something else
  •               It was poorly written
  •               The characters were repulsive and/or boring
  •               It didn’t hold my attention
  •               Other

Would you recommend this book to others? (A straightforward thing, here):

  • Yes
  • No
  • Maybe
  • I don’t know

(Because some people are just too skittish for that kind of commitment, so hey, give them an out: “I don’t really know… because I don’t leave my house and I don’t talk books with anyone…so…no idea, really.”)

It’s okay, right?

Aren’t we all trying to radically accept our inability (or lack of desire) to do stuff now?

I tell ya, this is a sociocultural pendulum swing that’ll keep on giving! That’s my prediction, anyway. Ahem.

Bottom line, Goodreads also gives you shelves to augment your reviews. Shelves you name that give the reader, or potential reader, your own spin on how you feel about the book.

DENOUEMENT!

Here’s the thing.

I’d love to find someone who reads a lot of books, and leaves thoughtful, brief—doesn’t need to be novel-length—reviews of the books they read. Reviews that do what mine hopefully do, which is  give a subjective glimpse into the book, through the reader’s eyes, so I can decide if I’m going to invest my time and energy in the book. Oh, and the time and energy to review it. And while Dan Brown doesn’t need my review, maybe he did, once upon a time.

Bottom line, here’s my review of Dan’s book, in a nutshell:

J.A. Carter-Winward’s review of The DaVinci Code:

Shelves: Fun, easy-read, entertainment

DaVinci Code lives up to the hype. If you’re looking for a chin-rubbing, soul-fodder read, or a work of linguistic, literary genius, then this book might not fill that need. But it’s a great book for a plane ride, post-op recovery, guilty-pleasure, or escape because it’s fast-paced and entertaining.

That’s 49 words, kids.

Can we make 2022 the Year of Decent Goddamn Book Reviews? We sure can. Radically accept that.

Je te vois, and as always,

Peace out~

JA

[1] Baby Author: new, young, or inexperienced writers who only have one or two books out and haven’t quite cultivated the tough hides necessary to understand that sometimes people are ruthless and will say whatever they want about their ‘children,’ (i.e. ‘books’) without a second thought.

[1] Baby Author: new, young, or inexperienced writers who only have one or two books out and haven’t quite cultivated the tough hides necessary to understand that sometimes people are ruthless and will say whatever they want about their ‘children,’ (i.e. ‘books’) without a second thought.

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