March 11, 2014

They didn’t read the book!…And other common reactions to unflattering reviews

By BlueInk Review Staff

Here at BlueInk Review, we have been blessed with many great books and, uh, some that probably would have benefited from the attention of a very patient editor.  As a result, we send out reviews that are complimentary and some that are, well, not so much. It’s probably not surprising that, on occasion, we receive missives (some that could rival War and Peace in length) detailing why our reviewers weren’t being fair.

Often, it makes us wonder if we’re all on the same page, so to speak, about what this writing game is all about.

Here are a few eye-catching comments we have received — and our response.

1. I didn’t realize my book would be judged on punctuation, spelling and grammar. Geez. I’m not an English teacher.

We have to admit that this complaint tends to make our heads feel like they might explode.  How can you expect good results if you don’t know the tools of the trade? To us, attempting to write a book without knowledge of spelling, punctuation and grammar is akin to someone walking into a surgical unit for the first time, picking up a scalpel and making a mess of the patient, then saying “Hey, I didn’t graduate from med school – how could you expect me to know how to use that thing!”

Correct spelling, punctuation and grammar are essential to conveying your ideas in the manner you intended.  (Famous example: “I just ate, Grandma” or “I just ate Grandma.”) If you haven’t mastered them, then you aren’t ready to write a book– or even an email, for that matter. In fact, you have killed your chances of your book’s survival as surely as if you were cutting its very veins and arteries with that aforementioned scalpel.

2. The reviewer didn’t focus on the car accident on page 190, second paragraph, but instead spent most of the review talking about the affair between the driver and his mistress. It’s clear to me from that fact that the reviewer didn’t read the whole book.

No matter the complaint, authors want to believe that the reviewer didn’t read the whole book. It’s an understandable reaction, as no one wants to hear negative feedback, and it’s far easier to leap to the conclusion that the reviewer didn’t really read the book than to admit to yourself that they did read it and failed to love your baby as much as you do.

When it comes to what the reviewer mentions and what he/she does not, let’s do some math. A book can be as long as 300 pages. Our reviews are 300 words, maximum. If we were to mention everything that happened in a book, we would have to recreate those entire 300 pages.

Reviewers pick and choose the events in the book that seem critical to conveying the plot, while also not giving anything away. This is a subjective endeavor. While the author might think that car accident on page 190 was critical, if the reviewer doesn’t see it the same way, he/she may not include it in the review.

And here’s another possibility:  Perhaps that car accident passage wasn’t written in a manner that made it stand out to readers the way the author felt it did. After all, we are all biased when it comes to our own babies. Only readers coming fresh to the material are in a position to judge the book’s highlights.

3.  The reviewer said that there wasn’t enough information about how my mother coped with her terrible disease and too much information about my mother’s backyard. I wrote it that way because I didn’t want people to get depressed and also, because my mother has a very lovely backyard.

We often receive exceedingly long explanations from authors about why they wrote the book the way they did when reviewers take issue with certain elements of the book.  We appreciate the background information. But think of writing as you would serving a meal to a stranger at a restaurant: If the meal tastes awful, does the diner really care why you over-seasoned the meat and then left everything on the grill too long? No. They only care that the dish was burnt and that they won’t be coming back for more.

You can’t send an explanation of your intentions with every book you sell. The art of writing is the art of making those intentions clear through your characters, their actions, your prose.  If readers don’t understand what you are up to, you haven’t done your job.

4. The reviewer said that I didn’t develop my character well enough. That’s not fair because I’m saving that part for the next book.

It’s all well and good to save things for the sequel, but let’s face it: If you don’t hook readers on the first book, no one is following you to the sequel. Books need to stand on their own –complete with full character development, compelling plot twists and satisfying endings. Back to the meal metaphor: No one wants to sit down to what they think is a full meal, only to find that they are being served a few measly dumplings and that the main course will be on the menu next year.

5. The reviewer was way too harsh. Give me a break; this is just my first book.

How can we say this gently? Your book is going out into the world to compete with books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, books produced by major publishing houses, books written by seasoned authors. It’s not going out with a sticker on the front that says “First-time author. Be kind.”

Readers want a good book. They don’t care if it’s your first try or your 21st. Reviewers are tasked with telling it like it is. If it has flaws, it’s their job to note it.  And that’s true whether it’s your first book or your 21st.

Just for the record, we also receive many letters of thanks, such as:

“The BlueInk experience was by far the most rewarding in the entire publication process… (The review attracted) the attention of a major movie producer, who after reviewing the book said that it was intriguing but unfortunately turned it down. Nonetheless, if I ever publish another novel — chances are I will — I am certain that  your review will assist in uncovering new opportunities. Again, thanks for giving me a much needed boost of confidence in  the tedious jungle of self-publishing.”Roland P. Joseph, Carnival Queen

Keep these letters and cards coming!

BlueInk Review offers credible and unbiased reviews of self-published books exclusively. We also offer blogs that discuss common writing gaffes and other useful information for indie authors. If you would like to receive these blogs in your inbox, sign up here. We invite you to visit us at www.blueinkreview.com.

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2 thoughts on “They didn’t read the book!…And other common reactions to unflattering reviews

  1. Patti Thorn says:

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  2. I want the blogs, please…

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