• Pamela Poole

What Does Your Review Say About You?

Recently, I needed to comb through many popular Christian and clean romance authors on Amazon for a project, and I couldn't help but notice the wide range of reviews they received on any given book. All of the books were in the category of light, fictional romance, so the material within the covers was for entertainment, not literary criticism. Why, then, were there so many quick strikes and venom in the reviews? For several days, I mulled over what drives a reader to leave a review and whether the review said more about the reader than the book or the author. I jotted down notes of my thoughts about what a brief review should look like. While there are many good resources online for students about how to write a great book report or review for a grade, I couldn't seem to find a helpful guide written for a typical customer in rating a product, like a book or movie. Yet reviews are helpful to many consumers in their purchasing decisions, and indeed, lack of them keeps a product from even showing up in online searches. Reviews affect the livelihood and families of full-time authors.

Most readers are not writers, and to be fair, they have no idea how difficult it is to craft a book, blog, or an article. They simply review a product based on their experience and emotions, after investing time and money. It's easy to lose objectivity.

I've created a guide for myself to help me think about my reviews before posting them, and decided to share it in case it will help others. Here are my humble suggestions, from the perspective of an author and reader.

Points to Ponder When Writing a Reader Review of Fiction

* If a book doesn't deserve at least a 2 or 3 star rating, reviewers should consider if it's really worth going to the effort. * What is the goal of this review? It's fine to leave a high rating and a few words of affirmation that recommend the book. But if a review is meant to knock an author down for not meeting expectations, how is that helpful to other readers? Can objective points be made that can back up your conclusion about the work, and can the points help the author write a better book next time? * Use complete sentences in a review and edit for errors. To be taken seriously, a reviewer should appear qualified to judge what good writing consists of. * Begin with something positive about the book. Mention any redeeming qualities. Readers with good experiences with the novel should mention the overall best reason why they want to share it with others, avoiding spoilers, of course. Those with a negative experience should note once again that to be considered a good source, a reader can't just give the book a one star rating and say something demeaning like, "don't waste your time" or "this is the worst book I ever read." That is mean-spirited and turns other readers off. Such a review says more about the reviewer's heart than about the author's product. * After offering something positive, a reviewer can move on to what disappointed them. BE FAIR. How does the content of this book compare to the others in its genre on the market? Were the characters flat? Mention it, respectfully. If the book left a lot of loose ends that were never resolved, say so. Does it use coarse language that would offend some readers? Mention it, because it bothers readers like me. But a review is not the place to attack an author for writing from a certain perspective about an issue. The author is entitled to their viewpoints, just as a reader is. A reviewer could recommend that readers with an opposing view should choose another book, etc.

* When wrapping up the review, a reader can express emotional discontent and opinions, but not by way of a personal attack on the author. Again, to be taken seriously, these positions should be qualified. Offer criteria for the positive or negative experience with the book, and when it simply comes down to personal opinion, this is the place to say so. A professional, objective closing to a review would be to acknowledge that many readers have left glowing reviews for the same product and have varied tastes, and try to recommend the book to a certain audience. What would you say about the book if you were face to face with the author? Authors can't possibly please everyone. They write for many different reasons, and publishing places them out in the marketplace where anyone can express an opinion about their work. People have a broad range of interests, strengths, and weaknesses. We are all at different points on our journey through life, and it's a good practice to follow the Golden Rule in interacting with others, for life has a way of causing us to reap what we sow. Do you have any suggestions for readers about writing helpful reviews? Please post them in the comments!

In closing, I wanted to leave you with a memorable example of a great review, by a book store owner to a young boy dealing with trouble. Enjoy this clip from The Neverending Story (1984):

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