The Writer’s Well Episode 174: How do you give and take reviews?

Reviews can be polarizing on many levels. Rachael asks J. how gives and takes reviews and they discuss the differences between reviews for fiction and nonfiction.

Secret Powers of the Author Mastermind: How to Transform from Struggling Writer to Career Author – 

Co-writing a Book Mini Course with Joanna Penn –

Write Away Podcast with Crys Cain – 

Rachael’s Query Letter Service –  

J.’s Author Services –  

What’s your answer to our question? Leave one in the comments…

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Reviews can be polarizing on many levels. Rachael asks J. how gives and takes reviews and they discuss the differences between reviews for fiction and nonfiction.

Secret Powers of the Author Mastermind: How to Transform from Struggling Writer to Career Author – 

Co-writing a Book Mini Course with Joanna Penn –

Write Away Podcast with Crys Cain – 

Rachael’s Query Letter Service –  

J.’s Author Services –  

What’s your answer to our question? Leave one in the comments…

Rate & subscribe on iTunes and then share with other writers.

Support us on Patreon – 

More information here –  

36 thoughts on “The Writer’s Well Episode 174: How do you give and take reviews?”

  1. Morning guys.
    Interesting question. What is a review? Is it an opinion of a book by a disinterested person, or is it part of the “game” that is marketing?
    In the trad world reviews are gamed. Writers review rival books in the literary pages of newspapers and magazines and either bury them or praise them depending on whether the author is a bessie friend or a bitter rival. These reviews are planned and poked by the literary editor for one reason, and it has nothing to do with book sales, “guess what?” yes, to sell more newspapers or magazines. It’s a game.
    I agree with Rachel; I give 5 stars as a nod to the hard work of writing and publishing the book. If I think there is a problem I may hint at it in the words I use but still give them 5 stars.
    There was a time ten years ago when one could openly buy reviews. It still happens, although it is more discrete today.
    What is an ARC if it is not a way of “buying ” reviews? Today the price is a free book and a newsletter once in a while. Disagree? So why do authors say things like “I keep him on my ARC team because it makes the reviews seem more real?”
    Reviews are currency in the marketing game. I like the review average grade given by Amazon; if a book gets to 100+ reviews, the average may be a reasonable reflection of reality.
    As well as reviews there are opinions. I am happy to give an author an opinion of their book, to help them improve, as long as I think they can “…handle the truth…”
    So my angst at giving reviews is that I feel they should be an honest opinion of a reader’s experience, but I know this is often not the case. So like most other good people, I play the game, suspecting that one day Amazon might bin reviews.
    However there is hope on the horizon of my cynicism. The best book review is the sale of a second book by the author to a reader. And mostly that is down to a good story, which is well written.
    Good to hear you are both still well. Great show.

    1. Very thoughtful comment, Chris. Thanks! I doubt Amazon will ever remove reviews. It seems to be at the core of their model.

  2. Good morning, so nice to hear your happy voices, i do look forward to listening every week.

    I only leave 4 or 5 star reviews with a brief sentence or two about what I enjoyed.
    If I’ve seen big issues with a repeated paragraph or repeated grammar mistakes, or someone’s name changes etc I try and contact the author via email.

    Receiving reviews- I’d like the problem of ‘do I read them or not’ a I don’t have enough reviews to do that BUT so far my fiction books are collections of short stories so it may be harder to comment as the genre is mixed. I’m sure when my children’s book is published I’ll be reading them all until I get bored of the game.

    I won’t reply to people’s opinions and i never expect someone to reply to mine.

    Thanks for the conversation.

  3. So, a gajillion years ago, my BFF and I had a book review blog where we would write really in-depth reviews, in the genre we both wanted to write in eventually — I really loved doing it and learned a ton from breaking down what worked for me and what didn’t in books. But, as you can imagine, I stopped about the time I started getting serious with my first manuscript. (I still have some of those very old reviews on my Goodreads, but I didn’t carry over the rare review where I’d truly hated a book.)

    Now, generally, if I don’t like a book I just mark it as “read”; if there’s something in it that really stands out to me I’ll write a brief review (maybe one paragraph); if I love it I’ll often all-caps “I LOVE IT!!” and that’s about it. Buuuuut I still write longer reviews…in my journal. Even in books I love, I find there’s often one or two aspects that bug me or that I really want to think through why they stood out, and I feel much better doing it in private than public.

    As for reading reviews…I don’t anymore, really. When my first book came out I was glued to them (as everyone is, I think) and it only took a few that were not great for me to realize I wanted to stop. The worst ones weren’t even the bad reviews – “it’s boring” and “it’s stupid” are just opinions I disagree with. But the smart reviews that maybe even were positive but pointed out actual issues, they really got under my skin and made *me* feel stupid.

    Plus my books, uh, never really found their market. The fact that there were so few reviews was a real bummer. So yeah, I haven’t looked at them in a few years.

    But in general – I feel like reviews are for readers, not for authors; but as an author, I don’t want to be a jerk to colleagues even if I think their books suck. So I keep them short (if I write anything at all), keep complex or negative opinions to myself, and don’t look at my own.

    1. @AllReb (Becky)

      Love that you write down your complex reviews for yourself even if that is not what makes it into the world! There is so much to learn from reading others’ works. Never thought to capture the complexity of those thoughts just for myself in a journal!

    2. “But the smart reviews that maybe even were positive but pointed out actual issues, they really got under my skin and made *me* feel stupid.” – THIS. I can ignore all the others, but when I see a smart review that tells me where I missed the mark – I already KNOW that, and I don’t need it rubbed in. 🙂

  4. Hi folks,
    I am SO happy to be able to leave comments at this site, as I never could before. First, I still listen to the show religiously; I use it as a reward at the end of a writing cycle 🙂
    Thanks for this discussion about reviews, so helpful. Now, that I am published and know so many more local and national authors, I have felt weird about writing reviews. I was even advised by a local writer to be careful with reviews, as other local authors might get offended given the small networks.

    On one hand, I wish I could be as bold as Roxanne Gay who routinely publishes and tweets her reviews. They definitely toggle between opinion and literary criticism. They are funny, smart and well-written.
    I typically will leave a review for a 4 and 5 star book. I also often take more license with my review (positive or not so) when the author is a big name and/or well-established (e,g. Amy Tan), because I figure that being a very public author should give one a thicker skin. But, really, aren’t all writers tender-hearted and tender-skinned when it comes to our work?

    I often feel like I have a professional duty to honestly review books that may get ignored, lost or even misread by unsympathetic readers (e.g. books by POC authors and/ or from marginalized communities).
    I generally try to thread the needle with reviews by authors I know. Rachael’s policy is helpful–marking books read, but only leaving reviews with 5 stars. Ultimately, like she said, we want to cheer other authors on.
    As for getting reviews, I have found it helpful to scan reviews (for my fiction) to jot down words and phrases that repeat over and over. I feel it gives me a window into what readers enjoyed about voice, style or character. That info both can sink into the hind brain but also can be used consciously as a source of inspiration.

  5. Great new website!!!!! Well done, J.

    In terms of leaving reviews. Because of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, I end up reviewing a book (and sometimes two) a week. However, from the beginning of that show, Will and I decided we’d only talk about books that we love. For me, that means 4- and 5-star books. In most cases, at least in the past six months or so, the review ends up in written form on the podcast website too. On Goodreads, where I keep track of what I read and do the yearly challenge, I’ll leave a 4- or 5-star review. Less than that and I’ll merely mark it as read. I leave the same stars on Amazon if I’m presented with the “before you go” on the Kindle or if Alexa asks for it (which she sometimes does now). Sometimes I might leave the written review from the podcast on Goodreads or Amazon, but it’s rare. I simply forget to usually. I simply don’t discuss books I don’t like–it’s so very subjective what I might not like in a book and I don’t find that particularly helpful to leave in either stars or written form.

    As for reading reviews of my books, I usually keep an eye on Goodreads and Amazon for the first month of a release. I look at the average star ratings to see how the book landed overall and I look at the reviews to see what’s being said for my own awareness as well as looking for quotes to use for marketing (example, for my most recent release, someone compared it, in a favorable way, to a Hallmark movie and that made me crazy happy and I’m definitely using that quote). Once that month has passed, I might look see how it’s doing over time, but I likely won’t go back to look at the individual reviews again.

  6. Yay new website! I like that you now have the oldest comments first.

    Reviews are so tricky to me. They really are just opinions, but I love opinions and I love talking about just about any kind of art, what moves people and interests them, and what draws them to a thing or makes them dislike it. But people are constantly trying to turn reviews of art into some kind of empirical value of good or bad (Rotten Tomatoes percentages or Goodreads stars) which I really don’t like.

    I’m doing a movie diary thing on Instagram where I talk about movies I watched, I do them for myself (I don’t have a readership or anything), but I do think a lot about why I’m doing it and how I don’t want it to just be “I hated this” or “I loved this.” That’s so boring.

    As for Goodreads, Rachael you made me rethink it a little. My current mode has been to give things 3-5 stars (under that and I don’t finish them anyway) which has been more of a way of personally noting to myself how much I like a book than how “good” I think it is. Maybe I’ll skip to just doing 5 stars. I really just want to support authors.

    And yeah, utterly terrified of ever reading any reviews of my own stuff because I know I’d take it personally when I shouldn’t. I used to work retail and I wish the yelp reviews never got to me, but they did (my favorite were the “never shopping there again!” people who you’d see show up the next day with smiles on their faces).

    1. “never shopping there again” = the reviewers who read all my books and give them 1-3 stars – “I can’t stand this author! Why doesn’t she write faster?” 🙂 🙂
      And you have support now when you DO get those reviews. Come to 90D slack and leave them and we’ll pummel the authors of bad reviews for you in our chat. And we’ll celebrate the good ones. <3

  7. My take on giving reviews is I believe it’s unfair to only leave a review at one store. For this reason I only review books on Goodreads at least as long as it remains store agnostic.

    Where I do leave a review I give a line or two about how the book made me feel rather than some synopsis of what the book is about.

    I do rate all books I finish which means I will never give less than 3 stars and am most likely to give 4 or 5.

    As for getting reviews, that’s a dream for some future break out period.

      1. Goodreads can be used by people who are not customers of Amazon. Unless the rules have changed, I can’t leave an Amazon review due to the fact I don’t buy from them and can’t meet the $50 threshold.

  8. I read 4-500 books a year and I lose track, so I keep a massive Scrivener file of my reviews that I post to Goodreads ONLY. I don’t review anything on Amazon. GR does an auto tweet that I uncheck if I give it less than 4 stars. As Rachael says, the author does not need that in their face.
    I did have one bad experience where I was reading a book where the cover promised a genre the book did not deliver, and once I get to critically reading it’s hard to get out of that editing headspace. [that’s often how I can tell a book has lost me, if I start to notice typos etc] The book needed a lot of work, and I sledged it in the review and gave it 1 star.
    And then this ‘friend’ of the author popped up in my feed – it was clearly the author – and demanded that I delete it. When I refused, minutes later several sock puppet accounts gave all my works 1 stars. Clearly someone who should NOT have been reading his own reviews.
    He ended up deleting the book, and I think about that a lot. Did I do the wrong thing? I KNOW he did.
    I heard some advice somewhere if you are feeling anxious about reviews of your work to go and read the Amazon 1 star reviews of your favourite novel, and it is hilarious to see what people HATED about it. Funnily enough, it is often the thing that made you love it.

      1. oh my gosh – I went to look at the review (just to remind me) and then later Pinterest pulled up some art – the AI noticed I liked art work by Fabian Perez. Wait… that’s the book cover.
        I feel vindicated, now… lol

  9. Giving reviews – I make the distinction that I only do “recommendations.” I read what I want to read, and if I loved it, I recommend it. I have a regular feature on my blog called Book Chat where I go over my recently finished reads and recommend them. I re-post those recommendations on Bookbub without a star rating. If I didn’t like a book or didn’t finish it, NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW. I don’t use Goodreads (hate that place) and I don’t post reviews on Amazon as a policy. I write down each book as I finish in a private Evernote note to keep track, but publicly, recommendations go to the blog and Bookbub.

    Taking reviews – I don’t look anymore. Sometimes a friend will see my reviews and tell me my books are doing well. Otherwise, I don’t look. I don’t care. I only hope that I get ANY reviews, and that’s it.

    1. I have a friend who every once in a while emailed to say, “Don’t worry about that hater.” I finally had to say PLEASE STOP. Then she started telling me about the good reviews, which made me think the good reviews were rare. Also STOP PLEASE. 🙂

  10. Getting reviews thus far has been all “one-stars” in that the pieces have been rejected by whomever I submitted them to (poems and short fiction). Starting out, it felt crushing but last year I wrote a short story that I really like (odd for me) and when that was rejected a couple times it was a pin-prick of pain and then a shrug because it didn’t make me feel like a bad writer, it just made me sad that no one else would read it and there would never be those few readers out there, that would get the feels I get with it. My hope is to feel that much love for the full-length fiction I am working on now, but it may take a few (hundred) novels until I get there.

    Giving reviews is tough because I feel like anyone who actually completes a novel and sends it to the world gets five stars just for that – and yet I am a critical reader (I wish I was not) so a lot of books would not get 5 stars if enjoyment was the criteria. Recently I bought a bunch of E-Books of authors in my RWA chapter to be supportive and then realized that I was pretty terrified that one of them would ask me what I thought. I am a TERRIBLE liar (good poker face but if I have to speak the gig is up) and would hate saying anything not 100% positive because big picture who the heck case what I as one reader thinks. So I still buy and read local folks but I do not rate at all lest they ask me a follow-up questions if they see a review.

    Have a wonderful week you two – and the wonderful community you have built.

    1. Oh, I feel this. Here’s a tip – have a few phrases that you can rattle off without thinking, “Oh, man, your book is inching its way up my TBR pile SO slowly – I can’t WAIT until I finally get to start it.” Deploy that warmly enough and everyone will believe you read and love their books. There isn’t time to read everything by friends, not when friends are sometimes not our favorite authors.

  11. When I first started self-publishing, I offered free book reviews on my blog as a way to connect with other independent authors. As you can imagine, I received a LOT of poor-quality books. However, I also found some of my best and most enduring author friendships that way. However, I quit doing it after about a year, as it was simply too much work and not a valuable use of my time.

    As for books I read for enjoyment, I’m similar to everyone else. I only leave 3-5 stars, and I try to keep my reviews relatively short and kind. If I don’t like a book, I either don’t finish or don’t rate. I post all my reviews on Goodreads (which is more for myself, as I like to keep track of what I’ve read), but I will post 4- or 5-star reviews of independently published books on Amazon. I figure the trad pubs don’t need my help there!

    For reviews I receive, I try not to read them and NEVER respond. Often, my husband will read them for me and communicate any important information (e.g. “a lot of people like X” or “these readers both pointed out X critique”). That way, I still learn from my readers but don’t have my ego inflated or crushed.

    1. Yes! For my second book, I asked my sister to do the same. She also watched the Google alerts for my name so I could turn that off. It was really important to my mental health to do that.

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