The elation that my books are being read at all often renders me speechless. Book reviews are the kindness that rises above. It is a generously-offered gift, and I think I owe equal decorum and kindness to readers who write book reviews.
And, of course, write book reviews for other independent authors like me.
Independent Author in Review
For me, book reviews are agonizing to write. Why?
- My written review reflects on two authors: the novelist and me. I am a fiction writer by trade, so every piece of prose I put out is a mini-interview with potential readers.
- If I can’t five-star a book, then I don’t want to write the review. I never want to hurt an author’s overall book rating with my opinion, and I definitely don’t want to be part of another #HaleNo.
On the Difficulty of Writing Book Reviews
I believe I have solved the first problem by finding a review framework which works for me. From there, I can excerpt my own book reviews and use them as customer reviews on books I have purchased. My reviews follow a basic template based from a wonderful online article: “Tips for Writing Book Reviews” by Luisa Playa for booktrust.org.uk (Twitter). I have played with it a bit, but I still hold to the essential steps:
- Introduction — Book title, author, genre, and a summary of what to expect.
- Description — A bit about the story based from the writer’s own story blurb and a bit of a teaser to interest readers of the genre.
- The Good — My opinion of the book’s positive qualities. I love writing this part.
- The Bad — My opinion of the book’s negative qualities. I loathe writing this part.
- Overall Impression — My opinion of whether others should read it and who would enjoy it.
- Rating and Where to Buy the Book — I rate on the one-to-five-star scale, and I want to make it easy for readers to access the book.
For customer book reviews, I can snip out sentences to create a short, balanced review which explains my rating. I don’t do that often yet need to. My reviews are posted here, on my web journal, and I will post on Goodreads, as well.
On the Reluctance to Write Book Reviews
The second problem is not so simple to solve, because it comes from a dual desire not to harm and not to be harmed. I’m an author, so my books are out there for review. I have been fortunate so far. My reviewers have been kind so far, though I would love to see more written book reviews instead of just star ratings.
I know my writing is imperfect, and others’ book reviews help me evolve as a writer. I can really use that critique on what elements did not work: Is it that the book’s genre is unappealing? Is it that the proofreading was poor for that book? Is the book’s overall premise boring to the reader? Where did I miss the reader-engagement factor? Can I improve the reading experience in the next book, or is this just one of those unsolvable author dilemmas?
To write book reviews is to publish as an independent author of short non-fiction. That review is open to the same critique as the book being reviewed. However, the #HaleNo issue was not a one-time event. A substantial blogger blackout of book reviews resulted from #HaleNo, but it doesn’t have to be a massive movement that can kneecap an author’s ability to get reviews. A reviewer friend of mine had some trouble with an author who didn’t take kindly to a critique about her book. Needless to say, that author will never see another book read or reviewed by my friend. Kind or unkind to say, if I was maligned or stalked by an author over one of my book reviews? Then I would blacklist that author’s titles from both reading and review. #HaleNo, indeed.
As an indie author, I know the frustration of the complete silence. This ain’t Cheers: Not everybody knows my name.
However, I must be bold. I believe in my book review template. I believe that my opinion, as written, is only my personal experience as a reader. When I craft a review, it’s not to get readers to avoid the book. I acknowledge that readers will have opinions which differ from mine; they might find the book a five-star read for the reasons I do not. So, onward and upward, which brings me to the other side of the equation: Author Etiquette.
Be the Author You Want to See in the World
Independent publishing has its vocal supporters and its equally-vocal detractors. We face powerful stereotypes about us and our work. We face powerful myths about writing being a sure-fire path to riches or how traditional publishing is the best and only way to go. We are the desperate victims of vanity press–an outdated insult meaning that we have to buy our way onto the book scene. What all authors need is to be is well-informed, and that takes research. All authors must find what fits them, and all authors must enter the fray with eyes wide open. We all should respect each other and especially respect our readers, no matter how our books enter the market.
Indie authors must be ready to act as writer, editor, layout designer, cover illustrator, proofreader, publisher, publicist, marketing department, and more. If we cannot act in one or more of those capacities, then we should hire individuals and businesses. Indie authors need to produce a product which rises to or above the level of what traditional publishers put out. We need to dispel the myth that indie means inferior. As wretched as this is to say to hopeful authors, this is the easy part of being an indie author.
Indie authors also have a reputation for being outliers and rebels: the bad boys and girls of the book industry. We need to dispel this myth by displaying author etiquette which would make Emily Post proud. Let’s cultivate fine manners toward each other and toward our readers and especially our book reviewers.
Even if we don’t like a review, we need to appreciate it for what it is–an opportunity to improve our skill sets.
Especially if we don’t like a review, we need to remember that the opinion of a book reviewer can bring readers who will become lifelong fans of our writing.
When we read others’ work, those authors help us evolve our own storycraft and our own voice. Other authors give us the gifts of a stronger vocabulary to vary our prose, of the grammar to express ourselves, of story devices to enrich our narrative. Book reviews are a great way to thank other authors.
I have not written many reviews, but I have written some. More are forthcoming. I made a mistake and assumed I could get back to the review after a while. I have several books to reread and review just afterward. Luckily, these books were delightful journeys into the minds of some truly amazing independent authors.
I want to write these book reviews for them. I want the world to know that even with an imperfection here and there, these books should be read. I want the readers of those books to be able to look at my review and tell me that what I thought was a drawback made their reading experience better.
I want to break the frustrating silence.
Book Reviews I’ve Written So Far (Click the image to read the review):