Musings on reader reviews

Now and then, writers’ groups will discuss reader reviews, the sort posted on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads and other places. Negative reader reviews can cause angst, especially among new authors.

Although I once hoped to learn from reviews, I’ve found that is tricky unless there are enough reviews to show trends. Looking at individual reviews, one reader will love exactly the aspects of a story that another hates. I don’t think readers should be expected to be objective, not when professional reviewers often disagree. Objectivity isn’t the point, I think. Customer reviews are about voicing opinions and when possible, discussing them. In my opinion, that’s a good thing.

I don’t often post reviews myself, because it takes time away from writing and reviewing fellow authors could lead to all sorts of awkwardness. I do make an exception for books I love, especially if I feel they haven’t gotten the attention they deserve.

Would I make any rules for customer reviews? I’m not sure.

I recently heard that on some sites, there are customer reviews posted before the book is released or even before advance review copies (ARCs) are available. This one is pretty easy. I really don’t think anyone should review a book without having read it!

But does one have to finish? Personally, I wouldn’t review a book (or score it in a contest) without reading all of it. But a few years ago, I decided that I don’t have to finish a book I’m reading for pleasure if it isn’t delivering. I’ll always read at least a few chapters; there are books on my keeper shelf that I thought started slow. But if I’m not enjoying a book by about a third of the way in, I don’t force myself to read the rest. So by my rules, I’d never give a book less than a 3. But maybe it’s OK for readers in general to say “I couldn’t finish” (and the why of it would be helpful).

As for virulently angry reviews, authors benefit by being philosophical about them. Everyone gets savaged once in a while. There was a reviewer who said my first book gave her a headache; it hurt, being an early review, but I felt better when I found out she’d also given 1’s to books by Mary Balogh, Mary Jo Putney and a number of other favorite authors. It’s all in the free expression of opinion.

Anyway, I wouldn’t make any rules other than those usually in place (don’t change the facts, no personal attacks). You can hate the book, but don’t hate the author.

So readers, if one of my books ever starts to give you a headache, I give you permission to stop reading, right away. Then write a scathing review if it will help, but a nice, hot cup of tea might help, too. 🙂

How about you? Do you have any personal rules for reviewing, or rules you think others should follow?


Photo by Laurel Fan

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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