17 February, 2016

Opinionated Book Reviews

We've all read at least one review (possibly about our own novel) that manages to not only upset but also give the impression that said reviewer would write something awful regardless of content or execution.

It's a tough call, especially when it isn't the author's job to cast judgment on a reader in the same way a reader can and will do to any and all authors.

We've probably read at least one blog post or online magazine article that recommends authors 'ignore' bad reviews, and I know a few authors who never read their book's reviews at all: good OR bad.

Yet there are authors who like to brag-post a glowing review -- which probably has more to do with attempting to boost sales than it does a need to feed their ego -- but again, it's hard to tell sometimes.

Lately, we read and discuss the issue of 5-Star reviews and their possible draw-backs.

There are countless blog post and online magazine articles that offer some form of advice about reviews -- good or bad -- that make the topic even more difficult to tackle as an author because like good and bad reviews, the review itself is a double-edged sword.

They SHOULD help authors comprehend their audience's view of the work, or as a way to learn from their mistakes. At the very least, as a way to gauge a potential fan-base.

What the reader liked and didn't about constructive things within the story are (to me) good reviews regardless of the star rating that reviewer gave.

The issue itself isn't going to disappear like magic, and none of the 'advice' helps if it doesn't offer a definitive answer.

There is stating the obvious, though: that it's entirely up to the individual author how they handle reviews of their work.

But for today, I'm going to give MY opinion about the unhelpful advice  from reviewers.

Namely, this one (and a host of others like it)

found in the reviews of a popular Historical Romance written by an up-and-coming author.

That's right, I said HISTORICAL ROMANCE.

When I read this, the first thing that entered my mind was, this reviewer obviously never read anything published before 2000.

Then, I had to wonder what this reviewer would say about the novels written by the queens of Historical Romance, like Johanna Lindsey, Victoria Holt, or Julie Garwood, to name a few.

Sad thing is, this type of a review (2-stars, I might add) isn't rare.

And brings to mind another review topic that is rampant in the advice columnist's world: whether or not the author should respond to bad reviews.

There is nothing wrong with an author choosing to reply to any/all reviews provided she does it in a professional manner and without injecting more OPINION meant to heat things up and make it worse.

Since this particular remark is pure OPINION and not an actual, helpful review, I would have to say no, don't respond to something along these lines.

To me, the real issue here is why a reader would limit themselves to such an extent.

Without getting into a colossal dissertation on human nature, I'll stick with the main topic of this reviewer's complaint.

Even in Contemporary romance, I've read and even write my own love stories where the male lead has flings after the initial contact between him and the female lead.

In Love Over Time, Kaisa and Perry informally meet in a hospital setting, where she's recovering from a plane crash and he's the guy who helped her. She doesn't know him and he doesn't know her, but he had seen her at another airport and thought she was cute.

After Perry sees that Kaisa is okay and has no life-threatening issues or even a broken bone to worry him, he leaves and continues with his life.

Why would  a reader assume that Perry would think there's any chance at all of his ever seeing Kaisa again?

Perry leaves the hospital, goes back to his apartment, and gets ready for a pre-arranged date with another woman. If I were to follow the above reviewer's suggestion, this would be a big no-no in her estimation.

If what the above reviewer states is true, then Perry needs to remain delusional and never look at or contemplate sex with another woman (for as long as he lives).

Now let's examine the same issue in my first novel, Sing to Me.

The two leads met in HIGH SCHOOL, and Neal is instantly attracted to Liv. So much so that he kisses her on impulse. Liv has seen Neal in the halls and thinks he's good-looking but too popular to want to run in her tight-knit, unpopular circle.

Still, the attraction was there and Neal acted on it, which means the two leads made a connection, right?

So, what this reviewer expects from at least Neal is that he remained celibate in all that time -- because he met Liv EIGHT YEARS earlier and felt something then. Even making initial contact.

Eight years.

I'm sorry, dear reviewer, but if ANY man -- real or imaginary -- told me (or his leading lady) that he never dated or even looked at another woman in all that time, I'd laugh. I'd have my heroine laugh! Heck, I'd make her wonder about his sexuality, or his ability to commit at any level, and even about how awkward and unromantic it would be to have to school a grown man in the ways of love.

And, speaking of being and thinking unrealistically, what does the reviewer's preference have to do with the author or her work?

But, more to the point, why did the reviewer choose to read an HISTORICAL romance if this is how she truly feels?

It just doesn't make any sense, does it?

So, let's come full circle here and return to the reviewer at large.

Authors of Romance, listen up!

Write your stories and write them as flawlessly as you are able, with a great plot, some suspenseful twists, a hunky hero and a steadfast heroine in them.

Just write it as you see fit and don't make any attempts to adjust your line of thinking to meet the various and sundry demands of the public.

Especially if some of those demands are far-fetched, illogical, and incongruous with your idea of a great story.

As Indie authors, we've inadvertently made a mess of things and brought a lot of these damaging issues down on our own heads, haven't we?

Amazon's convoluted and exclusive ratings system isn't helping matters any, either.

So, until the system gets fixed (which is like saying until Government gets fixed) let's just keep pushing forward with a positive attitude, terrific story ideas, and as much individuality and hope as we can muster.

Without letting reviewers with rigid notions get to us and make us all think we're spinning our wheels on a hapless crowd who don't know historical from non-fiction.

. . . or a good story when they read one.


  1. I hear you loud and clear. I had a beta stop reading my book because the hero - who was a young hockey player was sleeping with other women - even when the heroine said - that no she and the hero were not dating. The beta lit into me how this was unacceptable and blah blah blah. She was so angry she basically cut off all communication with me. Kind of left me dumbfounded.

    By the way - any post with a photo of DiCaprio is a great post ;-)

    1. Thank you, Victoria, for the read and vote of confidence (sometimes, I worry I may be alone in my opinions). I feel YOU on the BETA antagonism that leads to nowhere :( It's called life, I think, and we all do the best we can with what we're given.