Book Reviews: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

When I had my first book published five years ago, I wanted to read all the reviews. Most of them were great, glowing even, and it really gave me a boost. I’m a confident person, independent, so I didn’t seek out reviews so that I’d feel better about my writing. But I did think at the time that there might be some hints about what works well in my books so that I could learn and develop my craft. What did readers enjoy most about the story and the characters? What made them laugh and cry?  I looked to reviewers for their interpretation of the answer.

Of course, as time went on, ten or so more books later, my understanding of reviews and reviewers has changed. I read other writers’ reviews too, and I recognise a pattern. I write a few reviews of others’ books too, although I only write good ones. If I don’t like a novel, I don’t want to spoil it for someone else who might love it by writing something negative. I don’t want to put readers off. I don’t have that right.

Let’s just talk about how a book comes into existence for a moment. Someone spends weeks, months writing it, putting time and love and sleepless nights into the work; someone else has invested more time and belief in the author by financing the book to be published. There are tireless and wonderful agents, editors, talented cover designers, voice actors, publicists, committed marketing teams, all working hard. The book must be of a reasonable quality to pass through all these stages.

Reviewers are so important to authors. Since I’ve started writing novels, I’ve been fortunate to connect with some of the loveliest and most incredible professional reviewers who are perceptive and intelligent, with fine minds and wise opinions. I value these people so much; they write lucidly about out books and guide readers to make decisions about which to choose. Books aren’t cheap, not much is is nowadays, although a 99p Kindle copy is a gift of a read.

Then there are reviewers who belong to the public, people who read our books loyally, review them from the kindness of their hearts because they feel moved to. They are encouraging, fair, profuse in their praise. Those people enable writers to build up a catalogue of reviews, which increases our visibility and whose comments I always read with interest.

The reason for this blog post is as follows. Last week an author colleague of mine received a ridiculous bad review. The book hasn’t been published yet! I was fortunate to read an ARC and I gave it five stars. It was a joyful novel. The reviewer slated it because of one mistake that was so small, no-one would normally notice it. I offered support – it was a small hiccup in a feast of a book. But I’m sure that bad review will hurt the writer a lot more than it ought to, despite the thousands of glowing reviews that are bound to follow.

Some of my writer friends respond to negative comments by taking the harsh or inaccurate reviewer on, and I admire them for that. Why should they let it go? I usually reel with the punches. Someone suggested in less polite terms that The Witch’s Tree was far too long. I hope they don’t try War and Peace. Someone else – and this really hurt given how hard I work – unkindly said I ‘churned books out far too frequently’. Churned!!

One of my worst reviews was someone who simply wrote, ‘meh.’ That did make me smile though. I assumed the reviewer’s vocabulary didn’t extend much beyond the one syllable, so I wasn’t going to take it seriously. I concluded then that reviews are often as good or bad, not as the author’s opus, but as the person who writes them. None of the reviewers I admire would put deliberately hurtful comments out there.

We live in a world where people are abused and bullied on social media all the time, sadly. That kind of harsh, sweeping review sits in the same category for me. And I won’t even mention the trolls we all encounter who just leave a single one star rating they day after the book is published and don’t even add a comment. They probably haven’t read the book. And as for the copy-and-pasters who write the same remarks for every author… why, I wonder?

Positive reviews, however, have an incredible effect on authors. They encourage, they enable, they let writers know what elements of the story appeal to readers and how the journey of the book has worked for them. It makes authors want to write more, to be adventurous, take chances, make our stories that bit more exciting. Positivity is a real gift.

To conclude, the world is full of the loveliest people, and I don’t normally grumble. I’m a happy soul and I’m so delighted with my reviews. 99.9% of the ones I’ve read range from really nice, subjective but fair to sublimely lovely, and I appreciate every word. But the .1% should perhaps stick with whatever day job they do and not bother reviewing – one nasty piece of disapproval hurts like a bruise for days and no matter how often writers read the other glowing remarks, the cutting one still stings.

But, like many victims, we grow stronger and we stop listening to the moans and filter them out. There are so many other people more deserving of our attention. The problem is, though, that all writers – like everyone – have difficult moments in their lives, health concerns, anxieties, bereavements, life-changing events and, in the world of the one-star reviews and the mehs, it doesn’t take much to send someone to a really dark place, however smiley we may look on the outside.

We are a good community, authors and reviewers, editors and agents and publishers. We stick together and there is power in numbers. And we have some very famous and fabulous members in our group of writers who’ve experienced that awful one-star review, so we’re in good company. Check these out below, just copied and pasted….

Jane Austen …. . tedious, repetitive, boring and worse than watching paint dry.

James Joyce…. Oh my goodness, this book…. I HATE this book.

Bernadine Evaristo…. It was boring and indulgent!

Richard Osman… This book did not inspire me to get to the second chapter, now on a book shelf collecting dust.

Emily Bronte…(Wuthering Heights) Vile people are meant for each other. The end.

As I said, a review reveals so much about the reviewer. Thank goodness most of them are angels. ’Nuff said.

Happy reading to you all. x


9 thoughts on “Book Reviews: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

  1. This is so well stated, Judy! There is a false sense of power that comes with dishing out unfair criticism, a feeling that the critic is somehow better than the person they are shredding without any need to create anything of merit themselves. The world would be a better place if those who wish well of others sought to support them with praise where merited and friendly advice where it would be helpful, and those others who believe their own interests are best served by hurting people left their keyboards and went for an improving walk instead!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mik

    Hello Judy,
    I’m not a writer (at l ast I don’t consider myself one) and I’m not a blogger. I’m one of the readers.
    You described your view and feelings, as an author, in relation to good, bad and ugly reviews. Opening up like that takes a strong person, who is willing to make oneself vulnerable in nowadays of blogging, twitting, trolling and much more technological warfare.
    Writing the first book is a risk not many are willing to take. Having no control over the reviews, can be unbearable.
    Those who survive and keep writing, have strong self-esteem and eventually grow a thick skin.

    Hiding behind rating with 1 star or making monosyllable expression about someone’s creative work, is equivalent to intellectual ameba; it is incapable of doing much more.
    However, choosing to write well organized critique, while painful to he author, should be accepted like a bitter medicine. If it helpful, use it to get better at your craft. . If it’s just useless words, pass it by and keep going with your head held high.
    You chose either write good review or allow the readers to form their own conclusions. But you are a writer.
    Not every reader is a writer. Also, I’ve seen writers rate books with 1-3 stars without explanation. That’s either coward’s way out or patronizing way of putting down others, who may not have reached the same level of success, but are trying very hard.
    There is another angle. There are authors, who reach the status of international bestseller and have loyal followers, who read their books from the early years on. The loyal readers notice the distinct pattern of high frequency of new books on the market, but each new book no longer has the creative signature, the passion, the style of the author, instead, it sounds like it’s written by ghost writer,who tries to keep close to the theme, writing manner and language style. I am not talking about the writers, who passed away. There are multiple cases where the family of deceased writer makes an agreement with younger author to continue writing in similar pattern, manner and creating sequels to some books or continue the series).
    Can you blame the readers for feeling of being let down or duped? If you were not the writer yourself, would you still stick to the silent code of honor instead of stating your thoughts and perceptions after reading what feels like a “ ghost written book”?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love your response! What an intelligent and valid reply! It’s all about honesty and sharing and enabling readers to have the best fit with a book while being nice about it. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts…


      1. Joyce Williams

        Of you can’t say anything nice…..don’t say anything at all!!
        My daughter is an author and has had the occasional negative and nasty comments among hundreds of great ones but she has learnt in time not to let them upset her too much.
        I can’t understand why people can take a delight in doing this.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. You’re absolutely right. We learn and grow stronger but you say it so well. Nasty reviews tell us more about the person who wrote them than the book. Sending best wishes to you and your daughter- may her books soar!🌻

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Judy, what a great post! Definitely not meh! 😉 My favourite 1-star review has the title ‘Pish’ and the comment is ‘I didn’t think it was possible to publish something this bad’. Ouch! If the reader had gone on to explain why they thought it was so bad, I might actually have picked up something helpful as I love a bit of constructive feedback but they didn’t. I do find myself feeling sorry for the individuals who write really scathing – often personal – reviews and wonder what has happened in their life to make them want to release such venom on a stranger, especially when, as you say, we’re all just people potentially facing our own struggles. Thank goodness for a wonderful support network xx

    Liked by 1 person

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