On Book Reviews and The Coffin Hop Day 4

Posted: October 26, 2012 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Book reviews. Ever heard of them? Sure you have. It’s really a dumb question, right?

[[Herbie: No question is a dumb question, A.J., or have you forgotten?]]

Okay, maybe it wasn’t a dumb question, but it feels like a dumb one. If you are a reader, I’m sure you have heard of book reviewing.

Let me ask you a question: When you read a book, do you review it?

Do you?

If we go by what some pundits say (and we’ll stick to e-book numbers for this little exercise), then only about 1-3% of the reading population actually do reviews. Let’s put it another way. If someone sells 100 books, then that means only 1 to 3 people will review it. Of course that is just a guess and I’m pretty much basing it off of numbers that I have seen from my own books. That and a bit of research over the last few months to go along with a few analytical types’ assessments.

Let’s just say 7-10% of the e-book reading population leaves a review, and I think I’m being pretty generous here, that that still leaves 83 to 90 (out of every 100) people who have read the book who did not leave a review. That’s a ton of folks who could say whether they liked or hated a book.

Do you talk about your favorite television shows? Do you tell your friends about them? How many of you tuned into The Walking Dead season premiere and then shared your thoughts with friends around the office or on Facebook or Twitter?

That’s what a book review is: sharing your thoughts with your friends, telling those friends about the wonderful, awful or average book you just finished reading. But not only are you sharing your thoughts with friends, you are sharing them with strangers who want to hear what you have to say about those books that you’ve read. You are helping them decide if a book is a good fit for them.

But wait, do you just tell your friends that you liked a television show? No. Of course you don’t. You tell them why you like that show. Come on, we all know that when something strikes us in a show or movie or a sporting event, we tell the why and the what, and we are either passionate about it or angry about it or indifferent. You just don’t say ‘I hated that’ and leave it alone. You tell why you hated it. And if you don’t, one of your friends will ask you ‘So, why did you hate it so much?’ They will ask such an open-ended question that it will require you to say something besides a yes or a no. You don’t just say ‘that was a great movie,’ you tell your friends why it was so great.

Why?

WHY?

WHY????

There is a method of madness when it comes to book reviews, but first, let me give you a glimpse of a few real book reviews that I pulled from that big e-book publishing machine on the Interweb (these are direct quotes, not altered at all by myself):

This was an ok short story not to exciting but worth the quick read! was hoping for a little more thrill.

I enjoyed this short story.

If you seen the movie Little Shop of Horrors Growing up this is that movie in writing. Movie is better, but teens would enjoy this.

Clever story about unwanted and unexpected house guests of the psychopathic kind. Very disturbing short story, well written and very twisted.

Ms. XXXXXXX’s collection of short stories brings us a look into some dark topics but they were well written and certainly draw a reader in. Each one will bring you different emotions and from different views. This title is certainly worth a read but it isn’t for the faint of heart.

I truly enjoyed this quick little read, it’s mildly creepy but not too much. I could see these stories being read on a stormy winter day, by a fireplace.
Just a little compilation of a few short stories, of true life happenings the author has experienced.

Predictable, Boring, etc. The reviews must come from friends.

I love short horror stories. However, this book lacked what I was looking for. The stories unfortunately left a lot to be desired. While it was not terrible it was not one of the better books I have read recently.

Now, before continuing on, some of these could be considered a good review, and not by the standard of stars, but by the standard of what the reader said. But go back and look at them a little closer. Honestly, ‘I enjoyed this short story,’ is not a review of the book/story. Sure, it’s nice that the reader said that, and as a writer, I like when readers say, ‘hey, A.J., I enjoyed your story.’

However, as a writer, I want to know why someone liked or disliked something I—or any other writer, for that matter—wrote. I want to know if the writing was good or bad, if the stories held your attention or you skimmed over sections, if you liked or disliked the characters, if I made you laugh, cry or want to punch me in the face. If the story is bad, I want to know what was so bad about it. If the story was great, don’t just say it was great, but tell me why it was great.

Writers constantly hear ‘show, don’t tell.’ We are constantly told readers want us to show how a person feels, not just say he is sick or in love or hurt or angry or dying. No, saying he had an angry look on his face doesn’t really show anything, does it? However, saying, ‘his brows were arched, the edges pointing down toward the nose, and his lips were pulled down into a sneer,’ gives us the actual angry look.

Reviews should be similar, but not in that ‘show, don’t tell’ philosophy. It should be something like, oh I don’t know, ‘don’t just tell, but tell why.’ I don’t expect every reader out there to do a review like a writer would, but give the readers and authors more of an understanding behind your thought processes.

‘This book sucked, don’t waste your money,’ tells the reader absolutely nothing and that one star that is given with the review is not really validated, but it still hurts a writer’s overall numbers. It also hurts their sells. If you’re going to write something like that, then please, tell us why the book sucked.

And before you go thinking that all reviews have to be long to be good, that just isn’t true. Not everyone has the time or the desire to write long, in depth reviews. However, a little information about the book and the reasoning to why you love or hate it goes a long way with both the readers and the writers.

Okay, for those who like The Walking Dead, let me give you an example (oh and there could be some spoilers in this).

I love The Walking Dead.

Why?

I love zombies and I think the make up is fantastic and the way they are portrayed in TWD as relentless, flesh eating monsters makes them come alive.

What else?

It is character driven. You either love or hate the show because of the characters. I loved Dale, and when he got killed I was mad, because I wanted him to live. He was endearing and a voice of reason in a world gone mad. I wanted them to kill off Lori—my goodness she is annoying, and why doesn’t she know where her son is at all times?

And Shane was awesome before he went all jealous and angry at Rick, who has morphed into the Ricktator, which is a good thing.

Anything else?

Yeah, the suspense. You never know what is around the corner or who is going to get offed next.

So, is there anything you don’t like about it?

Umm… yeah.

What?

The zombies seem pretty nimble on their feet for a bunch of shambling, mindless corpses. I mean, how in the world is a zombie going to walk down an embankment and not fall down, and a living man stumbles, then rolls down that same embankment? And how can zombies climb fences or on top of tanks or drop down to the ground and slide beneath cars then get right back up as if their bodies are agile and not rotting away?

What else?

Lori. I can’t stand her. She’s stupid and I don’t understand how she hasn’t been killed yet and other, more adept people have died.

Anything else?

Have I said I don’t like Lori? I have? Okay, well, I don’t get why they don’t just kill all the zombies at the prison fence. You have them right there, why not go ahead and drive something into their skulls before they can break down the gates? They’re just asking for them to bust down the fence and kill them all.

And I don’t like Lori.

Interesting. So, you love the show, right?

Absolutely.

Why?

Well, let me summarize it for you: It may have its flaws, but the action and suspense and characters make it edge of the seat good. I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves zombies or horror movies or even something that is character driven. It’s a gritty show with twist and turns in every episode, and there are just some scenes that leave you breathless and stunned.

I know that may be a little extreme and it is about a television show, and not necessarily the graphic novels the show is based on. However, this is what I do when I review a book. I ask myself those questions. Then I form my book reviews based on the answers. I give the good and the bad as I see it. I always try to end a review/critique on a positive note.

Sometimes a review has all positives, but that is rare. I try to be completely honest in my book reviews.

Here’s the thing: writers put themselves on the line every time they submit something to a publication or when they self-pub a book on their website or Amazon or Nook or anywhere for that matter. They are putting their hard work on the line for both praise and criticism.

More often than not, it is the criticism that is heard by other readers, not the praise. Stick with me for a little while longer here. How many times have you seen a ‘this book sucks’ review and thought, ‘maybe I shouldn’t get this book?’ However, what about when you read something like ‘I enjoyed this book,’ and that is the entire review? I’m willing to guess that most of the time readers think, ‘oh, that reviewer is just a friend of the writer.’

You see, the door doesn’t swing both ways evenly. The critical review is often taken with more weight, while what comes across as a superficial praise review is viewed less, and possibly even done by friends to help bolster the writer’s numbers. This is why I urge reviewers to give fair, honest reviews. If they have something negative to say, give us the justification for that. On the flip side, if you have something positive to say, tell us why.

I know. I know. ‘But I’m not good at giving reviews, A.J.’

You don’t have to be. I’ve been fortunate to have learned in workshops how to give critiques and I’ve had quite a few friends help me along the way with this educating of the mind. I’ve boiled them down to the three essentials:

The Positive, The Negative and The Summary.

Sounds like a Clint Eastwood movie.

Ask yourself what are the positives about this book? Then ask yourself what are the negatives about this book? Then summarize why you like or dislike the book. Even with those three essentials, The Why is the most important thing about a review. By having the positives and the negatives in mind, you can tell us The Why. It is what readers and writers alike are looking for.

You might disagree with me, and I’m okay with that. This is my opinion, based on what I have observed in the writing world.

How much weight does a single review carry? I don’t know. What I do know is that many readers do look at them before purchasing a book.

In closing, do you review? Are you one of the anywhere between 1 and 10% who actually review books? If so, thank you, not only from me, but from all of the writers out there. If not, then I urge you to consider reviewing the books you read, and don’t just say the book is good or bad, but tell us why you feel it is so.

Before I go, I would like to remind the masses that The Coffin Hop is under way and it is now Day 4. Visit this link to hop to any of the blogs of those participating. Leave comments and likes and all that good stuff. We greatly appreciate you stopping by.

Now, I must go for a while. I have some hopping and some sleeping and, hopefully some writing to do.

Until we meet again, my friends…

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Comments
  1. Great post AJ! So glad the Coffin Hop let me find your blog 🙂

  2. Anne Michaud says:

    Dearest AJ,

    I do review, and your book is next on my list ♥

    Happy #CoffinHop 🙂

  3. Reviews rock, man — I’m grateful for every single one. Happy hopping!

  4. I enjoyed your post. (And I’ll tell you why.) I was interested to learn the percentages of readers who actually give reviews. Also, I can empathize with your stated desire to learn why readers did or didn’t like your stories. I’ve always found that particularly frustrating with submission rejections that are form letter-style, that don’t tell you why they didn’t accept the story. I realize that many magazines/publishers get scores of submissions, and can’t go into detail on every rejection, but I sure appreciate the ones that find time to explain in detail. And, I haven’t ever left a review, but reading your entry has helped motivate me to do so in the future.

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