“Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible, and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
The past few months have been hectic for me as an author, and as I've interacted with a list of Christian reviewers and book blogs featuring three of my novels in summer promotions, my appreciation for bloggers and reviewers has reached a new level! I agree with some authors about how mean and unhelpful too many reviewers are, and I've seen reviews on Christian fiction books that made me cringe to see readers behaving badly. BUT, I also see readers who are trying to help others determine what they might like, or not, about a novel. Busy people reach out to others by reading, reviewing, and blogging about books. This is a way to keep a booklover's shelves full of books by authors hoping for reviews, but there is a sacrifice of love in helping like-minded readers find good recommendations - and in helping authors by sharing how their stories touched them (and how they can improve their craft). Bloggers and reviewers are a blessing because they support and encourage authors while helping fellow readers find their next adventure in a story!
I reached out to some bloggers and reviewers to see what motivates them to share and what guidelines they use when reviewing books. On a Facebook Group I belong to, The Bookshelf - Christian Readers and Writers, members said they truly, deeply love books! The best way they've found to respond to that joy in their lives is to share. Some books speak to their hearts with a message at just the right time. They want authors to feel rewarded, to know their hard work is appreciated - but they also believe honesty will help other readers determine if a book might be a fit for them. A book is, after all, a product on the market. Some readers became reviewers after participating in new release launch teams, where they discovered how vital reviews are for authors.
In an interview with Amada Chavez of ASC Book Reviews, I asked how she discovers the books she wants to read and review. "I follow a lot of publishing companies and author's newsletters," she answered. "Within the reading and review community I have found reviewers that have the same reading tastes as I do, so I keep an eye on what they are reading. And I search Goodreads and follow the recommendations from them as well." I asked Amada what motivates her to post and maintain a book blog online, and she said, "I LOVE to read, and when I find a story that touched my heart or takes my breath away I love to share about it! I also truly want to help authors, editors, and publishing companies craft better books, and don't see how they can know what I did and didn't like about a book unless I put it out there!"
Amada has no set guides or outline of questions she asks herself for writing reviews, and she has no limit on how many stars she will give. She lists what she liked and didn't like, without giving any spoilers. Some authors aren't happy about getting low reviews, but she strives to be kind and honest. She points out that some things she says she didn't like are things other readers DO like, so they might still be led to read the story. If she doesn't finish a book, she still leaves a rating but clearly states that she did not finish. Posting personal opinions online is a courageous act on the part of book bloggers, and sometimes authors or other readers lash out. Amada is sympathetic when she must be honest about a book she didn't like, but it is helpful for authors to know what readers are thinking so they can become better writers. She believes Christian readers and reviewers should pray about their responses to books before writing them for the public to see.
My friend Marlene, a prolific reader/reviewer on Goodreads, says she was motivated to begin leaving book reviews when she found herself spending too much time reading through pages of reviews to see if any mentioned whether the stories were clean and chaste. "The cover is not enough to determine that, unfortunately, and when I was unable to locate a review that was specific enough, I was occasionally unpleasantly surprised!" She helps Christian readers by posting reviews that mention the topics she is looking for.
Marlene discovers new books to read in two ways. If she's reading a book she likes, she looks for more by the author. Also, she searches her friends on Goodreads to find reviews on what they have enjoyed.
"I rarely give anything below three stars, but my rule of thumb is that I need to finish - or nearly finish - a book if I'm going to give a star rating," Marlene says. Here are some things she considers when composing her reviews: Whether a book is chaste; whether it has objectionable language; whether it has violence; whether a book is contemporary or historical (more specifically, what the setting is); who the main characters are and a bit about them; what she likes or doesn't like about a book; favorite quotes; whether the writing is period appropriate; whether the grammar, etc. seems robust; whether it's Christian fiction, and if not, how the values of the book line up with those of Christians. Marlene tries to balance what she wants to communicate in her reviews for readers with her taste in books and what will help an author if there were things she was critical of. She believes reviewers should consider how they would talk about the book if they were face to face with the author.
How about you? Are you a book lover, and do you use reviews to find the books you like most? Have you left thoughtful reviews that were honest but respectful, and that mention the things you'd like readers with your taste in books to know? If you would like to begin leaving book reviews,
might be a place to start.
When reading, evaluating, or writing a book, 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 we will reap what we sow.
In closing, I wanted to leave you with a memorable example of a GREAT review, by a bookstore owner to a young boy dealing with trouble. Enjoy this clip from The Neverending Story (1984):
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