Writing Online Book Reviews

Many of you are involved in the writing community, and as part of that, you write book reviews on your own blog or other websites. But writing reviews is not always an easy task, so I thought I’d offer a few tips.

1. Primarily review books you’d recommend.

There has been some debate about whether the purpose of online reviewing is to promote books (by giving positive reviews) or to give an honest opinion, even if you hated the book. My opinion is that because you are part of the writing community, the primary purpose of reviewing books online is to help promote them, which means you should choose to review books you’d recommend to your readership. The book review sections of most major magazines and newspapers (I’m not talking about the NYTBR) do exactly this: they choose a handful of books to review and recommend. They say nothing about the hundreds of books that came across their desks but didn’t impress them. Why waste valuable space just to trash a book you wouldn’t recommend to your readership?

Of course, there will be exceptions, but overall, I think you should “just say no” to reviewing books you don’t like. There’s no sense throwing a fellow author under the bus just to be different or to have the freedom to express yourself. Your review is a valuable promotional hit for the author of any book you feature; why not reserve this gift for the authors you appreciate?

Please note: I’m NOT saying you should only say good things about the books you review. I’m saying: only review the books you can honestly say some good things about.

2. Judge the book, not the author.

Many people might disagree with me on this, but I’ll say it anyway. I’ve noticed a trend, particularly in reviews of Christian books, where the reviewer trashes the book based on a difference in theological or doctrinal beliefs. Basically, the reviewer is judging whether the author has represented Christianity appropriately – according to the reviewer’s specific brand of belief. These reviews will say something like, “The character behaved in a way that opposes the clear teaching of scripture,” to which I say, “According to whose interpretation?”

If you’re going to judge the author’s beliefs, their morality, their theology, or anything else that is personal, give it context by saying something like, “This aspect of the book made me uncomfortable because it doesn’t square with my beliefs.” You might notice in the thumbnail reviews that Publishers Weekly does every week, there is sometimes a line such as, “More conservative readers may find some of the language offensive,” thereby acknowledging that there are different preferences among readers, as opposed to saying the author was “wrong” to use such language. I recommend you keep this in mind as you write reviews. Be aware of how your own beliefs and assumptions color your response to someone’s work, and be honest about it when writing a review.

3. When reviewing fiction, don’t give away the story.

It’s not okay to say “spoiler alert” and then give it away. It’s not fair to the author, and as a writer, you should put yourself in their shoes and remember you wouldn’t want someone to do that to you.

4. Acknowledge the author’s purpose and/or intended audience.

Every book isn’t going to appeal to every person. Make a recommendation as to who would enjoy the book. For example, you may not enjoy science fiction, but you can see that the book has some positives. You can acknowledge that “readers of science fiction should find this enjoyable.”

5. Concentrate on the most important questions:

–Did the book keep you turning pages? and
–Were you satisfied at the ending?

–Or if it was non-fiction, do you think the book accomplished its purpose?

Within this framework you can talk about the characters and whether you related to them; whether the theme was well-developed; if the plot was suspenseful and interesting; your thoughts about the author’s style; whether the setting was important and how it affected your interest in the story. For non-fiction, address how well the author made their point and how the book affected you.

These are just a few ideas for writing book reviews. Anybody else have advice gained from experience?

(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  5. Rachelle on September 2, 2010 at 9:47 AM

    >Sharon, in the context here, a blurb is the same thing as an endorsement. It's a brief, positive statement about your book, regardless of where it appears.

  6. sharonbially on September 2, 2010 at 9:01 AM

    >Q4U Rachelle: by "endorsing," do you necessarily mean "blurbing?" I have a list of authors who "like" my book on my web site, but that's separate from my blurbs. I'm just trying to think through your very helpful points above as they might relate to to this particular example.

  7. Ashley Pichea on September 1, 2010 at 2:45 PM

    >I review quite a few books. I only accept books for review that interest me, so in that light, my reviews do tend to be favorable. However, I do not have a problem sharing an honest review – even if it's not a positive one. I am always careful, though, not to bash any book or author.

  8. acrisalves on August 31, 2010 at 3:54 PM

    >I could not disagree more.

    A good reviewer will give me enough insight of the book for me to judge if i will like it, even if it is a negative review. He will explain what didn't work for him, or what were the personal constraints.

    But if i visit a blog and i only see positive reviews, i will think one of two things: or the person is unable to perceive what is reading, or is uncofortable because the books were a gift by author or editor.

    (sorry for my lousy english, but i hope it is understandable)

  9. gargimehra on August 31, 2010 at 12:40 PM

    >Excellent post. I read a book recently that I didn’t like, but reviewed it anyway without trashing it.

  10. Teresa on August 31, 2010 at 7:25 AM

    >I review books for our library's blog, and I used to review everything I read, whether I liked it or not. Then one day, a librarian who also writes for the blog, told me she didn't waste time on books she didn't like. She didn't finish reading them, nor would she review them.

    Her rationale? There are just too many good books out there to waste time reading and writing about bad ones.

    I've made it my own philosophy now.

    I love this post, Rachelle.

  11. Jim Thomsen on August 31, 2010 at 2:42 AM

    >I also think the idea that "there's no sense throwing a fellow author under the bus" is a disingenuous one. It somehow supports the insupportable idea that authors should develop the thickest skin possible all the way up to purchase and then publication, accepting that their work will go through a series of editorial torture tests … but that once they're published, they have earned the right to be frail artistes of shaky self-esteem whose feelings are irreparably bruised by the slightest less-than-laudatory mention of their book. Many's the author who went on to write a better book after learning from the flaws of the current one, and reviews often help that process along. Again, there's a constructive purpose to criticizing work that can't be changed (although, I expect, soon electronic versions of books will be continually changed to reflect new information, better ideas and yes, valid criticisms).

    I also think it's a false construct to say "why would I finish a book if I don't think it's very good"? That again wrongly supposes that all books up for review are either overwhelmingly good or overwhelmingly bad, and I just don't believe that's the case. Case in point: Not long ago, I reviewed a new thriller by a debut author that had gotten a pretty big promo push from its author. For about 80 percent of the way, it was one of the best suspense reads I'd picked up in years. Then … pffffft. The author just ran out of creative gas. He'd taken a brilliant premise, run with it … and hit a wall. The ending was a limp, ineffectual cop-out. I posted it on Goodreads. The next day, I heard from the author, who wanted to discuss it. We did, but I didn't really see anything to change my mind. He accepted that graciously, and the correspondence ended. Then I looked up other reviews, and say that Publisher's Weekly and Booklist had also pointed out the same problem. I had the strong feeling the author as going to take the consistency of those reviews to heart … and make sure that his second novel didn't suffer from the same problem. How is that a bad thing?

    "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

    I've long thought this to be among the least useful aphorisms of all time. Who does this help, really? Doesn't this just turn us into a bunch of dishonest enablers? Everybody needs help of some kind … and sometimes they need to see through us what they can't or won't see for themselves. A world in which politeness is the highest virtue is a deeply frightening one, in my opinion.

  12. Jim Thomsen on August 31, 2010 at 2:40 AM

    >Put me in the "disagree" camp with argument #1. Because I disagree with the premise of #1.

    You, and many of your like-minded commenters, are painting the argument as existing only in two extremes — love and hate, praise and trash, promote authors or profoundly damage them. I think you must know this to be false, because you must know that most reviews neither gush without hesitation nor damn without mitigation. Most sit somewhere in the middle. Whether the reviewer ultimately recommends for or against a book, he or she usually tempers praise with constructive criticism, and leavens criticism with praise.

    The kind of review I see most often is the one that is more positive than not but feels obligated to point out flaws that may or not spoil the book for readers (a fizzled-out third act, a one-dimensional protagonist or antagonist, a poor sense of setting, illogical plotting, etc.). Those are flaws that are not only worth mentioning but are necessary to mention. Because the purpose of reviews shouldn't be promotion, in my opinion …. it should be consumer advocacy. People have less disposable income, generally speaking, and can always use sage advice on how to best spend it when they want to spend what they have on books. They often seek that wisdom out, too. If they didn't, sites like Goodreads, Kindleboards and LibraryThing wouldn't exist, let alone the thriving review communities that exist on Amazon. Yes, the quality is often poor, but the point is that people love to read, be uplifted by, and be outraged by, reviews. The more a reviewer is an honest broker, calling out bad books and building up good ones with fairness, perspective and constructive purpose, the more likely the reviews are likely to be sought out, debated and commented upon.

  13. Jan Markley on August 30, 2010 at 9:02 PM

    >Good post. I agree that as members of a writing community, if you are reviewing a fellow writer's book then highlight the positives. We need to support each other in the community.

  14. Jess on August 30, 2010 at 7:24 PM

    >When I sign up to review a book or participate in blog tours, I expect to love the book. After all, I'm choosing the title I want to review. If I'm going to spend my time reading it, then I'm going to tell the truth. I can't in good faith encourage readers to spent $13+ on a book that has problems. I do stress that my comments are just my opinion. This is why I've backed off participating in blog tours, etc. It's painful to write negative comments about a book that someone has spent months and months writing. I've only given one really bad review and I still feel the pain from doing it. BUT, I tried to be kind; I didn't say half of what I wanted to say. As a reader, I was disappointed and I felt cheated. The book shouldn't have been published until it had gone through a critique group, been totally rewritten, fleshed out and thoroughly edited. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

  15. Amanda G on August 30, 2010 at 6:53 PM

    >This is why I don't use my real name on my Amazon review profile. 😉 As a member of the Vine program (review free books = keep getting more free books), I frequently have to review books that I would never recommend (a lot of them are debut novels). And I have received comments thanking me for the time I took to craft an explanation as to *why* I am giving the book only one or two stars.

    I don't want to throw any writers, especially new ones, under the bus. But I want readers who share my tastes to be warned if a particular book is going to waste their time. I gave a book two stars once because the story had no stakes, nothing at risk, nothing in peril–internal or external. The meager plot never rose from the lulls of everyday life, and I took at least a month to finish the book, because there was simply nothing in those pages to bring me back. When someone commented on my review that they LOVED the book, and it wasn't intended to "run on conflict," I told them I was glad they loved it, but I personally am bored by novels without conflict.

    Yes, this was an Amazon Vine review, so I had to review the book. But even if this had been a library pick, I would have wanted to review it, so that readers like me would be aware that this book is not going to keep their interest. Had my exact review been posted by someone else when I went to select that book, I would have chosen something else and been glad of the warning. I give more credence to one well written, detailed, non-attacking negative review than a dozen "this was the best book I ever read!!!!" reviews.

    I'm not disagreeing entirely with you, though, Rachelle, because I have read some truly cruel reviews on Amazon. And it seems that any CBA title that dares to portray less-than-sugary characters ends up with at least one review lambasting both the characters and the author for failing to emulate Christ perfectly. And I'm with you–those reviews just make me *want* to read that book. 🙂

  16. Beth on August 30, 2010 at 4:10 PM

    >Great tips! I review children's books for Examiner.com, and maybe I'm just chicken, but I can't bring myself to review books that I either strongly dislike or am very concerned about the content of. So far I've only run into two that I decided not to review for this reason. I'd rather not talk about them at all than give them an unfavorable review, since there are so many great books out there to talk about, and since readers' tastes vary so much. Somewhere out there are readers who love those books!

    What I do add to my own reviews is a parent alert in case I come across content which may be objectionable. In these cases, I suggest parents read the book before they hand it off to their children, just in case what I've found bothers them.

  17. Crystal Laine Miller on August 30, 2010 at 3:59 PM

    >Rachelle, as a long time published book reviewer for magazines, I am on the same page with you.(Yay, rah, sis boom bah!) Terrific list.

    And I, too, am automatically suspicious of the intent of any reviewer who trashes a book and usually, the author,too, because of a disagreement with the theological/doctrinal slant of a book. Consider the intended audience, please!

    Pointing out such differences can be done to help the reader decide whether a book is for him or not without being uncivil. But unless a negative comment is helpful for the reader, then what's the point? Join an anger management class. Spit out the gristle and move on.

    I've also come to distrust those who insist on tearing apart a book instead of passing on it, because it smacks of superiority to the judgment of the editors/publishers of such books, too. ("I HAVE to tell the truth!" La-de-dah.) It's dangerously close to condescension.

    Guess I'm getting cynical in my old age. 🙂 I loved this post. Excellent on every point you made.

  18. Terri Coop on August 30, 2010 at 3:50 PM

    >Yes, I can spell, just not always the first time!

    I've just started doing reviews on my blog and still haven't quite decided how I'm going to handle books I didn't care for.

    Another addition or two to your list.

    1. If your reviews are set up so people can comment, do NOT get into flame wars with them if they disagree with your reviews. Ignore those comments and only delete them if they are vile or obscene.

    2. Avoid Amazon review flame wars. It is a dark and scary place in there. I did a positive review on a book. I was about number 10 to like this book. Someone swooped in, bombed the book and claimed that all the positive reviews were sockpuppets. I made the mistake and left a follow up comment that I was not related to the author and genuinely liked the book. I was then visciously attacked by the reviewer who went on and on about how stupid I was because my comment had a typo in it. Moral of the story, you can't win that type of encounter, so ignore it!

    Awesome post Rachelle, thanks!

  19. Reena Jacobs on August 30, 2010 at 3:06 PM

    >I imagine it's heartbreaking for an author to receive a poor review on a book. After all, the author probably poured his/her heart and soul into writing the book.

    Some say it's a waste of time to review a not entirely enjoyable book. Not so. If I took the time to finish a book, I want to add a little more value to my reading experience by offering a review. On the other hand, if the book didn't hold my attention enough for me to finish it, I wouldn't bother with a review.

    I hate that a poor book review may affect author sells. But those feelings have more to do with sympathy than practicality. Some reviewers take the stance "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." And that's fine. However, some readers might like a little more than just rosy reviews and appreciate reviewers who are willing to give an honest opinion, even if it's not stellar.

    Just because the review isn't what the author/agent/publisher preferred, doesn't mean the review isn't worth being written. After all, the author has the freedom to write his/her book regardless of if the reviewer will enjoy it or not? Shouldn't reviewers have the same freedom?

    Sorry feelings are hurt in the process, but most writers receive enough rejections just in the query process they should know by the time their book is published not everyone is going to like their writing. Suck it up and move on. Write an even better novel!

    One thing I've seen reviewers do for books they didn't like is end the post with something like: I didn't enjoy this book, but here are links to other reviewers who did.

  20. Rachel Hauck on August 30, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    >Great post, Rachelle! Here, here!


  21. Susan S on August 30, 2010 at 1:51 PM

    >I completely agree with the idea of only reviewing books you would recommend. Doing otherwise is a waste of time (writing real reviews takes significant effort) and space, and books are subjective when it comes to "like" or "not like." In addition, every published book was liked by enough people to get it published – which means something. I may disagree with all of those people, but they are still professionals who have a right to their opinions.

    I've read six novels in the past two weeks (yeah, I'm addicted). Enjoyed five, would recommend two of those – and those are the ones that will get reviewed when my webmaster gets my website up and running again next week. The others get silence.

  22. Erika Robuck on August 30, 2010 at 1:44 PM

    >"There's no sense throwing a fellow author under the bus just to be different or to have the freedom to express yourself."

    I couldn't agree more.

    I've had a long-standing policy that I only review books I enjoy, and would recommend, and I clearly state that policy in my blog.

    I have no interest in tearing down other writers. Even the worst piece of smutty junk took a lot of effort to write, and some people like smutty junk.

    Whenever I see eggplant parmesan on a menu, I nearly gag and wonder who could like such a thing? But I know many people do like it. It's even some people's favorite food in the world, so I wouldn't blast the chef or the diner for something not in my taste.

    Yes, there are poorly written books, but I have no need to criticize them because poorly written books will never get legs and become huge successes.

    When my friends ask me about books, they don't say, "What have you read lately that you hate?", they ask what I love. That is how I run my blog.

  23. Anonymous on August 30, 2010 at 1:37 PM

    >Seems many of these negative reviews come from the wrong place: These "critics" want to exert their power and feed their own egos rather than help their readers find interesting and worthy books. Keep in mind that many authors have spent years working on their art and have done the best they can, often under deadline pressure.

    Also don't forget many "mistakes" a reviewer points out may well be done by the editor or printer (typos) during the editing stage and not by the author. Let's give the writer the benefit of the doubt in most cases–and call out sloppiness or lazy/weak writing as needed. No reason to bury any hatchets in the writers' backs!

  24. Gina on August 30, 2010 at 1:32 PM

    >I agree with R. S. Bohn and Phoenix. On occasion I've passed up the opportunity to review a book because I couldn't think of anything good to say. But that's mostly in my official capacity, dealing with books that the authors want me to promote.

    Especially as a freelancer, if there's a book out there with bad stuff in it *coughTWILIGHTcough* and I think people need to know that, I'll say so.

    (Rachelle, have you ever read any of Dorothy Parker's reviews? They're works of art, even the negative ones. Maybe they'd make a nice palate cleanser from all those poorly written ones you've been reading. 🙂 )

  25. Ruth Seeley on August 30, 2010 at 1:21 PM

    >I didn't get the impression that Rachelle was saying, 'only review books you like' but rather that she meant, 'don't go out of your way to look for books to review that you're unlikely to appreciate.' I, for instance, read an Ann Brashares book – hated it – reviewed it because I truly felt it had been overhyped both in its marketing and by reviewers (I'd bought a copy myself, hadn't got it from the publisher) and gave it a negative review. I would never agree to review anything of hers again – and I certainly won't be going out of my way to read anything of hers again either. I think what Rachelle was saying was, 'don't be a spiteful reviewer just because you can be.'

  26. Jeanne Veillette Bowerman on August 30, 2010 at 1:21 PM

    >I just let out a huge sigh of relief. My first online book review went live this morning, and when I saw your post, I was terrified I might have done it all wrong. I actually got it right. Phew! Thanks again, Rachelle, for your continued great advice to writers.

  27. Vickie Motter on August 30, 2010 at 12:49 PM

    >As always, your advice is very timely! I was just thinking about beginning to review books on my blog, and you gave great advice on it. Thank you!

  28. Kristal Lee on August 30, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    >Thanks for your tips, Rachelle. I've recently joined a book review site and some of the things you mentioned, like the "spoiler alerts", are issues that I've wondered how I would handle. Personally, I don't like spoiler alerts and I hope that I can avoid them. When I read them, I feel that the reviewer is re-telling the story rather than telling me if it was a good read. I've also seen reviews on websites that aren't very nice, usually ending with a statement that the genre or the author's style wasn't their cup of tea. Makes me wonder why they chose to review it rather than passing it on to someone who could be more objective. In my "day" job, I give performance reviews. I've learned to start and end with something positive. The not so positive stuff gets filtered in between with explanations of why an expectation wasn't met and ideas for improvement. I hope to use this technique in my book reviews. My intent is to help a reader determine if the book is right for them, no matter if it is or isn't for me.

  29. GunDiva on August 30, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    >I love these tips. As my blog gets more notice, I've been getting asked more frequently to do book reviews. So far, there's only been one book I did not like, thought I tried to point out the good parts of it. The style of writing just didn't "do" it for me, though I'm sure there are plenty of readers who loved the book.

    I do appreciate these tips and will keep them in mind next time I'm asked to do a review.

  30. Elizabeth on August 30, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    >Thanks for the great tips…I found it very useful since I am quite new to writing book reviews…

  31. D.J. Hughes on August 30, 2010 at 11:31 AM

    >I've been thinking along these same lines recently, so I am glad to read your post. I think you speak with wisdom. Our reviews should too.

    DJ Hughes

  32. Anonymous on August 30, 2010 at 11:11 AM

    >I just want to clarify that my reviews were gentle yet critical, not mean-spirited or cruel. There are nice ways to give constructive criticism and provide basic plot points without questioning or attacking the author and/or their motivations…If I didn't like the book or thought it was silly, I'd say, "This will appeal to fans of slapstick"…etc. Above all, I tried to give fair and honest reviews for a broad range of tastes (it was a major city newspaper with a large, diverse readership), not just my own narrow likes and dislikes.

  33. Anonymous on August 30, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    >I just want to clarify that my reviews were gentle yet critical, not mean-spirited or cruel. There are nice ways to give constructive criticism and provide basic plot points without questioning or attacking the author and/or their motivations…If I didn't like the book or thought it was silly, I'd say, "This will appeal to fans of slapstick"…etc. Above all, I tried to give fair and honest reviews for a broad range of tastes (it was a major city newspaper with a large, diverse readership), not just my own narrow likes and dislikes.

  34. Lynne Connolly on August 30, 2010 at 10:47 AM

    >But if you only review books you like, readers won't trust you in the longer term.

    As long as you make it clear in your review that you're reviewing the book, not the author and you're clear about the aspects you didn't like, then I think it's all good. You can't assess a reviewer's taste, and if it coincides with yours if all she says is "this book is brilliant" all the time. For instance, I dislike books where children take a prominent part, but some readers adore them.

    I do review for two big sites, as well as write, and both sites are clear that they want honest reviews, but they don't want hurtful comments. The readers get to know what you like and then they can judge if your taste and theirs coincide.

    The thing to remember is that you're not doing this for the writer, you're doing it for the reader, and you owe them honesty. They are spending their hard-earned on these books, and they deserve some respect for that.

    When I'm looking for a book to read, I avoid the sites with no bad reviews, because, frankly, I don't trust the reviewers. I also avoid the sites that constantly trash stuff. Same reason.

    I never review books by personal friends, or those put out by publishers I'm with, to try to avoid conflict.

  35. Angela Ackerman on August 30, 2010 at 10:32 AM

    >I think when it gets hard is if a friend or writing aquaintance asks for a review. It's tough to know how honest to be, especially if there are aspects of the book that were a turn off. When my name is tied to something, even a review, I want to always feel that I was above board and honest.

  36. Kathy K on August 30, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    >What perfect timing for this post. I just posted a review on my blog for a book I was requested to review by the author. The author had either: not read my previous book reviews or didn't connect with the fact that my viewpoints on his subject matter would be quite different.
    At first I hesitated on accepting the assignment when I read the description on Amazon but decided to give it a whirl anyways.
    It was a book with a new age philosophy, so even the terminology was difficult for me. In the end, I believe I was able to give a fair review that focused on the book and its ability to convey the message inspite of my bias on the subject matter.

    I don't believe I would take on such an assignment again unless, as in this case, I felt the Lord had a reason for me to do so.

    Finally, I'm backing you up on the interpretation of scripture. All writing is interpreted by the reader, scripture or not. Statements relating a book to scripture should always be referenced with a minimum of 'what I understand as the traditional meaning of this scripture'.

    Great stuff!

  37. Cinette on August 30, 2010 at 10:06 AM

    >Such a timely post for me! I'm in the middle of my very first book review, and certainly don't want to get off on the wrong foot. Thanks for your expert opinion.

  38. Anonymous on August 30, 2010 at 10:06 AM

    >What a great post–thanks! I used to review books the old-fashioned way for a big-city newspaper. Since I was working on my first novel, I knew how hard it was to write a book and empathized with the authors, even if I personally didn't like their books. But I tried very hard not to trash any book just cuz it didn't ring my bells: Instead of slow-paced, I'd say leisurely…etc. Who was I to critique these authors when I hadn't even published a novel?

    Luckily I did like most of the novels and the review of one novel I didn't personally enjoy didn't get published. To my delight, many quotes from my reviews ended up on the covers of their later books! I like to think I helped promote their novels as well as their careers. If/when I ever get a novel published, I hope critics will be gentle with me and other debut authors…

  39. Katrina L. Burchett on August 30, 2010 at 10:02 AM

    >I really have to respond to Timothy Fish's comment… Amen!! 🙂

  40. Malia Sutton on August 30, 2010 at 9:47 AM

    >When it comes to bad reviews…the really snarky opinionated reviews…these people feel a sense of entitlement that comes from a socialized thought process they've learned all their lives. They believe that when they buy a book it's a lot like buying a toaster in WalMart and they review it with that same idiotic thought process: "I spent good money, I'm the customer, and I'm always right. I demand to be heard!"

    You can go to goodreads, amazon, and all other online book retailers and read terrible reviews about some of the best authors in the world. I've learned to not take any online reviews seriously and I judge the book I'm going to buy from the sell copy and information given by the author and publisher. (So important, authors, to get this right)

    And then there's always sabotage. It happens all the time, where authors or their friends go after another author with a bad review just to hurt book sales. Most didn't even read the books. And it's not just with books, it's with all products on the internet. I had granite counters installed and the owner of the shop told me to write a good review for him because his competitor is writing bad reviews just to turn people away. Same happens with books!!

    I just hope people don't take ANY reviews they read online seriously. You simply can't trust them, good or bad, unless they are written by someone who is open and honest enough to leave their real name and their contact info out in the open.

  41. Teenage Bride on August 30, 2010 at 9:30 AM

    >Excellent advice. I personally love reading book reviews, but there are certain rules that should be followed.

  42. T. Anne on August 30, 2010 at 9:21 AM

    >Isn't that funny Rachelle, that a negative book review might entice you to read a book even more? I found myself thinking the same thing on a few occasions. However, if I read a novel and really dislike it I have been known to hop over to Amazon and read reviews after the fact to see if others felt the same way. I'm always relieved when the majority shares a similar opinion.

    After investing in all three of Suzanne Collins novels (The Hunger Games trilogy) I was sorely disappointed (OK hated) the ending of MockinJay. I did venture to the Amazon reviews to see if I was alone in this opinion. I was a bit satisfied to find out the masses were in my favor. **As a writer I recommend everyone read that trilogy because it is a prime example of what never to do to your readers. JMHO.

  43. Philangelus on August 30, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    >I have stopped doing reviews through the two companies I had signed up with as a blog reviewer because three books in a row were just awful. The last one I never finished even though it was on a topic that ordinarily would have had me devouring the pages.

    But the agreement with them is that before I can request another book, I need to review the one I already received. Since I can't in good conscience say anything other than "This is a three hundred page magazine article," I'm just not saying it.

    I don't want to trash books that may help someone, though.

    Ultimately what I realized was that I didn't feel like wasting my time struggling through flaccid books to find something nice to say, so nowadays, I only read the books I want, and when I review, it's only to recommend books I found worth the time to read.

  44. Echelon on August 30, 2010 at 9:17 AM

    >This is invaluable insight. I happened upon your blog by a referral Tweet from Tyora Moody.

  45. ~Brenda on August 30, 2010 at 9:01 AM

    >Book reviewers for large, Christian publishing companies do not have a choice as to whether they review or not. It's not like we can read the book, and think, "I don't like that book, so I'm not going to do a reveiw." We were given the book to do a review. We owe it to the publishing company (or we'd be stealing the book, in my opinion). So to say that we should simply not post a review if we don't like the book isn't a valid option.

    I agree with Timothy Fish. There are clear teachings of Scripture. For me to poo poo those clear teachings is to be unfaithful. If the world sees that as tacky, amateur, or intolerant … so be it.

  46. D.J. Morel on August 30, 2010 at 8:46 AM

    >I used to review books for "The Seattle Times" and agree on all counts. The most important thing a book reviewer does is select the books deserving of a review. I often would pass on a book that I intended to review once I started reading it. Why not instead focus on a book/author where I saw tremendous talent? Plus, why should I finish a book that I hate?

    I think the key word in your post that may be getting overlooked is "primarily." There were also some books that have such standing that they're impossible to ignore. Some of those I did give poor reviews, but always with an eye to what the book was trying to accomplish. You can't review Dan Brown and focus on his prose, paying no attention to his plot and pacing.

    The best thing a book review can do is give the reader an impression of what the experience of reading the book is like. That's why readers read reviews. They want to know: Is this a good book for me? Just about every book out there has an ideal reader, and readers read book reviews not for a vote on if a book is good or bad in some overarching sense, but to get a feel for the book. Plus no spoilers, absolutely!

  47. Rachelle on August 30, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    >Reading your comments makes me realize that I don't normally have a problem with book reviews that are professionally written and seem fair, yet do not positively recommend a book. I guess I've been reading too many negative ones that were poorly written and frankly, didn't help me as a prospective reader decide whether I wanted to read the book. They sounded more like a rant. They almost made me want to read the book even more!

    Rachel, I appreciate the way you handle your book review blog. And Phoenix, I understand that you do yours differently and for some, that works well. Sounds like you have an audience who trusts you.

    Incidentally, I hope I made it clear in my post that I absolutely agree with the statement, "No one is owed a positive review." I simply take it a step further: No one is owed a review at all. I'll recommend a book if I like it. If I don't, I won't.

  48. Rachel on August 30, 2010 at 8:02 AM

    >Phoenix, I don't do blog tours for this reason. My review policy is strictly that I read what I want, when I want. I never say I liked a book that I didn't like, but I will quit reading one in two shakes of a lamb's tail if it is uninteresting to me (unless it is an award-winning book, and I suspect the reason I'm not enjoying it is due to some defect in me. haha).

  49. Phoenix on August 30, 2010 at 7:55 AM

    >I'll respectfully disagree, Rachelle.

    Knowing that another reader whose taste I find compatible with mine didn't enjoy a book is quite valuable, IMO. A workaround, perhaps, would be for the reviewer to list books they've read but give a pass on reviewing so it's clear they didn't feel the book would otherwise receive a positive review. Elsewise, to me, it smacks a bit of lying by omission.

    No one is owed a positive review. If I as a reviewer spent the time to read a comp copy, I can't imagine not commenting on it. That feels like a cheat. A book is a product, and the bad reviews on product sites like Wal-Mart or Best Buy or Amazon help influence me as a consumer as to whether I invest not only my money but my time. A single negative or positive review isn't enough to influence, but a trend will. I think I'd stop reading reviews altogether if they only spotlighted the positive.

    Reviews and promotion are inextricably linked, but to my mind they are entirely different beasts — and should stay that way.

    I'm also uncomfortable for a reviewer who doesn't read in a certain genre to generalize that those readers would find a book enjoyable. If the reviewer doesn't know the conventions and the competition for a genre, how would they know that a plot device is stale or an MC is a stereotype? If someone who typically eats out reviews the merits of a cheap, teflon-coated fry pan, should they be so brash as to say gourmet cooks will really like it?

  50. Rachel on August 30, 2010 at 7:48 AM

    >I run a large book review blog, and I agree that it is a good idea to devote most of my time to promoting good books. Over the past year, I've received countless emails from authors who have stumbled upon my reviews of their work through Google alerts (Athol Dickson, Dave Cullen, Elizabeth Strout, to name a few of my faves). I'm always surprised how genuinely thankful they are for thoughtful, appreciative reviews of their work (even if they've won every award there is to win!). Their emails remind me that even multi-published or highly celebrated authors are real people who care about what their readers think. If I truly don't like a book, I don't finish reading it. Life's too short to read books I don't love or spend time trashing them.

  51. Rachelle on August 30, 2010 at 7:46 AM

    >Anon 4:47: I've been planning this post for weeks, and was inspired by several online reviews I've read lately, so it wasn't aimed at any single person.

    R.S. Bohn: I can accept that position. I knew many would disagree with my stance here, and that's okay. It seems like you're an experienced and well-respected book reviewer, which might make a difference. I've read negative book reviews from writers, particularly those who are still unpublished, that don't come across as professional but either too personal (judging the author, not the book) or like sour grapes. I simply think amateur book reviewers need to use great care with their words. I've read more than one book review that made me think, "If this writer ever comes to me for representation, I will decline," because their words made them seem like unnecessarily harsh people, very judgmental. I'd be constantly worried they'd judge me not a "good enough Christian" and I just don't need that.

    Timothy: Of course I respect your stance on this as well. However, in my very wide reading in Christian literature from centuries past up to today, I've come to the personal conclusion that many sincere, devoted Christ-followers interpret scripture differently, and it doesn't make them any less "Christian." (Hence the wide variety of Protestant denominations.) I may not share the same doctrinal beliefs as all of them, but I respect their path and wouldn't dare to question whether they're "good enough Christians" in an online book review (which is what I've seen numerous times).

  52. Susan Bourgeois on August 30, 2010 at 7:44 AM

    >Your recommendations remind me of a saying that I've heard repeated throughout my life: If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

    My children have heard me repeat that message throughout their lives.

    There's enough negativity in everday life; it's best to highlight the positive.

  53. CFD Trade on August 30, 2010 at 7:41 AM

    >But still there are those nasty comments in Amazon that really break a writer's heart. They need to read this post…

  54. Sue Harrison on August 30, 2010 at 7:37 AM

    >Thank you so much, Rachelle. A few months ago I was given the opportunity to review novels for a small Christian magazine. I've truly enjoyed doing that, but wasn't exactly sure of my parameters. Now I'm more comfortable with my choices and have a better grasp on the options open to me.

  55. Timothy Fish on August 30, 2010 at 6:59 AM

    >These reviews will say something like, "The character behaved in a way that opposes the clear teaching of scripture," to which I say, "According to whose interpretation?"

    I'll admit to saying a few things like that. While I see your point and I doubt using wording like that will accomplish the desired result, there is such a thing as "the clear teaching of scripture." There are a number of things that aren't as clear as we might like, but where it is clear we have a responsibility to accept it as written, not interpret it to suit ourselves. As for "According to whose interpretation?" it ought to be God's interpretation. The Bible tells us that there is no private interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20).

    But I should point out that when I use phrasing like "opposes the clear teaching of scripture," I am not as interested in reviewing the book as I am in using my words to teach the truth. I want people to sit up and take notice that I'm taking a firm stand on something. I don't want anyone to think that I'm saying that I "believe" one way, they "believe" another way and that's okay. I want people to realize that when I say I believe something I really believe it.

  56. R.S. Bohn on August 30, 2010 at 6:44 AM

    >I may have to disagree. I not only review books, but I read the blogs and journals of many others who do as well. Of those whose reviews I read and trust, I will buy or skip a book based on their review, and many of them say they do the same based on my reviews.

    This means that I have saved money by not buying a book that looked appealing, but according to someone whose opinion I trust, was not very good for xx reasons. I'm happy to know that. Much as there are some books I've reviewed that are quite popular that I really disliked, and I have recommended that they not be bought by those readers with tastes similar to mine.

    Those who don't review but just read mine have often said that they trust my opinion, and yes, they will buy or not buy a book based on that. I don't find there is anything wrong with that.

    Should I go only by the Golden Rule in this case? How would I feel if someone wrote a terrible review of my work? As it happens, in my previous internet incarnation, before I came to blogger and began using my real name, I've had the distinct honor (LOL) of having people tell me how awful my writing is, for a variety of reasons.

    And you know what? You learn to suck it up. Get a thick skin, write better next time, and go on. Was it frustrating, did it make me angry on occasion? Sure. But that's life. And I survived.

    In my reviews, I do strive to present as fairly as I can a balanced look at the book I've read. This means pointing out good and bad. I do the same for products I review, movies, etc. And I'll continue to do so. That means that if I feel strongly that a product/book/etc was horrific and not worth your money, I'll say so.

    I've never said anything about an author, just the book itself.

  57. Anonymous on August 30, 2010 at 5:47 AM

    >I only would prefer to review books I like but sometimes I have to review books I didn't like based on an agreement with a publisher that sent me the book for free to review.

    I read the review you talked about a few posts back and it didn't seem like the reviewer trashed the book. But it almost seems like this post is aimed toward that reviewer? I hope not…
    Great tips in this post. Thank you.

  58. Anonymous on August 30, 2010 at 3:06 AM

    >Timely post, Rachelle. I received a self-published book to review and I was excited about reading and reviewing it, but once I started to read it, I lost all interest in the story and characters a few pages in. I feel really bad about that. It's hard to review a book that I don't like and I don't think it's fair to lie to readers. Heck, I don't even think I can finish the book.

  59. Nicole MacDonald on August 30, 2010 at 2:32 AM

    >I agree with the theological point. As a reviewer you should be able to step back from your own beliefs to give an unbiased review 🙂


  60. Kathi Lipp on August 30, 2010 at 2:25 AM

    >One more tip – if you've signed up to do a review,do a review. I can't tell you the number of people that my publisher or I have sent requested books to, never to be heard from again. If you don't want to post a review (you think I am a terrible writer or think I give bad advice, or you are going thru a divorce and no longer want to review a marriage book,) totally understandable – just let me or my publisher know.
    (Oh, and thanks to the many reviewers – many of whom I found through this blog – who did a great, honest job reviewing my book. You will be the first to receive the next release!)

  61. miss ali on August 30, 2010 at 2:13 AM

    >fantastic tips- thank you! i personally like the premise of reviewing a book that you can comment positively on, and i am not a fan of the spoiler either. some spoilers make the book what it is and to give it away in a review would be heartbreaking for the writer. great post!

  62. Marja on August 30, 2010 at 1:55 AM

    >Well, you gave us a pretty comprehensive list Rachelle! I will always try to bring an enthusiasm about the book across that is contagious. As in everything… I always ask my self the question: how do I want others to review my books..