To Read or Not To Read

To Read or Not To Read? That is the question.

 We had some requests for specific authors’ posts during a recent Words of Wisdom discussion, so I have searched the archives and found three posts from those authors, on the same subject – reviews and feedback, and how to handle them. I hope you enjoy the discussion, add your own comments, and even respond to others’ comments. The livelier the better.

I’ve invited the original authors of the posts to join us. We hope they will stop by.

Don’t Read Reviews

I know this is going to sound counter-intuitive, and for many authors, nearly impossible, but here’s my advice: don’t read your reviews, ever. Turn off that Google alert. Skip the Amazon reviews section. Ignore your Good Reads’ ratings. And if you must know what a blogger or traditional media reviewer is saying about your book, enlist someone you trust to skim the contents and give you the highlights.

This applies not only to negative reviews, but positive ones. Because here’s the thing. As we all know, a reader’s opinion of a book is enormously subjective. The way they approach a story can vary at different points in their lives, or even their day. They read things into it that you might never have intended–and they’re all going to have vastly different opinions about what worked and what didn’t. I’m always startled when I get feedback from beta readers–everyone always manages to come up with different favorite sections, and least favorites. So, when taking their advice, I usually try to find the commonalities, the issues everyone zeroed in on. In the end, much of what they say is taken with a serious grain of salt. – Michelle Gagnon (1/31/2013)


Writing Obstacles

4.) Listening to Naysayers – Everyone has advice on a topic they have no experience with. It’s rare that people who say “I’ve always wanted to write a novel” have actually even started one, much less finished one. Yet that doesn’t stop them from shelling out advice. Some advice I got was: write what you know, write a shorter story because it’s easier, write for a house that lists what they’re looking for in great detail (i.e., category romance) so you don’t have to think too hard. Surround yourself with positive people and those who support your writing endeavors.

5.) Putting Too Much into Writing Contest Feedback – Generally I found contests to be a good experience. They got me noticed and looked good on my writer resume, but you have to take them with a grain of salt.

As I studied the craft of writing, I entered various national writing competitions to see how my work stacked up. These were mainly through the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and their many opportunities to compete. There was a rush when I received word that my entries were named a finalist. Even my first entry had some success and the first time I entered the Golden Heart contest for aspiring authors in the RWA, I was a finalist. These things can go to your head and you have to stay focused on your objectives. Good feedback and negative feedback can have an effect on you, just as good or negative reviews can. Keep things in perspective.

In contests you get lots of judges’ comments and editor/agent comments when you final, but you have to take whatever works for you and disregard the rest. You must develop a sense of your voice as a writer and not chase every suggestion, otherwise you will lose your instincts by constantly needing reassurance you’re on the right track. – Jordan Dane (2/4/2016)


Writing Reviews

But I’m thinking I should change my ways. According to an article in the Economist, it’s the sheer volume of reviews–not whether they’re good or bad–that sells books.  People are much more likely to “click through” and buy a book if it has received lots of reviews, research indicates. Even when that volume includes a healthy slice of unfavorable reviews, the book still sells better. In fact, it’s better to have some negatives–readers mistrust books that have only favorable reviews.

In her MySpace blog, author Deb Baker discussed the importance of her reviews, and issued an appeal for more of them. She’s right on the money. When it comes to reviews in today’s online marketplace, volume counts.

So, I’m thinking we should join together and become an army of critics. We could post reviews of all the books we’ve read to get the numbers up. Or we could find a midlist writer who has, say, only 9 reviews, and bump him into the double digits (the threshold for boosting sales).  It doesn’t matter if you liked the book or not. Just post your review.  It would be our own version of crowdsource marketing.

Do you like to post reviews, and do you think writers should post reviews about other books online? Have online reviews played a role in your book’s success? – Kathryn Lilley Cheng (2/23/2010)


  1. How do you handle reviews and feedback?
  2. How do you think you should handle reviews and feedback?
  3. Any other comments on reviews and feedback?
  4. What do you think about Kathryn’s “army of critics” – “crowdsource marketing?” I’m ready to join. How about you?

27 thoughts on “To Read or Not To Read

  1. Good morning, Steve. Interesting post, and relevant in today’s book-buying climate.

    Because I don’t look at reviews for books when considering my own purchases, it’s surprising to me that they apparently have such an impact on buyers. I’ve never written a review, but if it would help writers I knew and trusted, like the ones here, I would be happy to. The army of critics and crowdsource marketing sound like great ideas in that case.

    My first published book was before online anything, and the only “reviews” it got were from the people who wrote to me or told me in person that they liked it. I didn’t get anything negative until I was looking for an agent. Crazy as it sounds now, that effectively took all confidence I had and I haven’t submitted anything else. Ridiculous. Yes, my mind knows to ignore this and become determined to push on. But, yikes!

    • Thanks for responding, Becky.

      I think most writers would appreciate a review, if you read their book and liked it. Like Kathryn mentioned in her post above, the number of reviews can make a difference. And I love her idea for an “army of critics” and “crowd source marketing.”

      If you leave a review for another writer, I bet they’re more likely to review your book. (I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.) And you just might build a network of friends that can be very helpful when you’re ready to publish that next book.

      And, don’t forget, you can become an Indie publisher and won’t need an agent.

      • Steve, yes I can be an indie publisher, but I signed a never-expiring contract with the publisher of my first book that I must submit any works I write to them for first right of refusal. In one way, this is an amazing opportunity for which I am deeply grateful. On the other hand, it’s terrifying. Deep breath. Buck up, Beck! It’s not the end of the world.

  2. I review all the books I enjoy. I cannot leave a bad review for a fellow author, though. I won’t lie, either. If I DNF or didn’t enjoy the book, I simply don’t review. It’s a numbers game, for sure, but I know how much work goes into writing a book. Just because I may not have enjoyed it doesn’t mean another reader won’t love it.

    As for reading reviews, I do when a book first releases. Then it’s rare for me to check. And I never, ever, read Goodreads reviews unless a reader specifically tells me they reviewed there, I stay as far away as possible. Too many trolls.

    Btw, Steve. Thank you so much for reviewing HALOED! I appreciate your kind words. 🙂

    • Thanks, Sue. You’re approach to leaving reviews is an excellent approach. One of the problems I have with writing for teens is that Amazon requires a reviewer to have used a credit card and purchased $50 or more in the past 12 months. Many teens don’t yet have credit cards.

      Your book, Haloed, was fantastic, Sue. The adrenalin and panic is still trying to settle.

      Hope your weekend is a good one!

  3. “…enlist someone you trust to skim the contents and give you the highlights.” I remember reading this here at TKZ & thought it was a great idea. Especially if you’re new to publishing books.

    That ties in very nicely to what Jordan brings up about feedback “You must develop a sense of your voice as a writer and not chase every suggestion, otherwise you will lose your instincts by constantly needing reassurance you’re on the right track.” I know I can fall prey to this, so this is very wise advice.

    I do agree that often just having many reviews, good or bad, makes a difference in sales, or appears to. If I am searching Amazon for novels, I pay attention to volume of reviews. It’s not my only deciding factor by any means, but I do consider it.

    What I always wonder is what it’s like for the reviewer. Say someone you know approaches you & asks you for a review. You read it. Let’s say you don’t hate it, but you find it mediocre. Then what do you do? You don’t want to lie in your review. But you don’t want to be mean either. Do you simply abstain from writing the review? What do you do when presented with this scenario?

    • Good questions, BK. I agree with you that Michelle, Jordan, and Kathryn have some great advice. I started out just looking for a post from each of them (because of requests by TKZ readers), and stumbled into a common theme. The posts may be a few years old, but are still great advice – Words of Wisdom.

      I’m going to pass on the overall question of your last paragraph. Hopefully we’ll get a lot of answers to that question in the comments today.

      Thanks for your comments and questions.

      • When I’m asked to review something that I think is only mediocre, I let the author know and ask if they want the review posted publicly, or whether they would prefer to get a longer private critique. If they go for the critique, I follow the bun-burger-bun approach where I applaud their hard work, point out the places I saw room for improvement, and close with more praise and encouragement.

  4. Good morning, Steve! And good morning, Sue! I agree with you both. I think an author appreciates a review if the reviewer reads it and likes it. There is also little point in my mind in writing a review of a book one doesn’t like. Why waste energy?

    Since I have my soapbox out, I have noticed a recent reviewing trend. A reviewer will go to great lengths to describe what they like about a book (or visual project) but only devote a few general sentences to discuss the plot. No. A review in my mind must discuss what happens in the book, at least to the extent of what gets things rolling. Oh, and do not include spoilers. If you have to write “spoilers ahead” at the beginning of your review then edit it heavily or start over. The creator put portions of their life on hold for a substantial period of time in order to create a beginning and middle leading to what is hopefully a bang-up ending. Don’t destroy all that work by telling your reviewing audience that the butler did it.

    That’s me. Have a great weekend!

    • Good morning, Joe. Great comments on the anatomy of a review. I am embarrassed to realize, this morning, that I should have asked you to monitor and respond to the comments on this blog. After all, you have been a professional reviewer. And I would still invite you, at this late date, to check in often and comment on any or all comments where you can shed some light.

      So, leave that soapbox out. You might want to use it multiple times today. And, I promise to make certain it has no spiders on it.

      Have a great weekend!!!

    • As a reader looking at reviews so I can determine whether I want to buy, the last thing I want is a review of the plot beyond saying it is clever and twisty or not. The book blurb (if well written), introduces the main character and gets me to the first turning point so I have some idea about what goes on.

      What I want to know is whether the characters are likeable, whether the book moves quickly or drags on, whether the text is clean or there are a million typos, how dark or graphic the violence may be, whether suspension of disbelief is possible or the characters are way too dumb to live. Sure, not all reviewers will agree, but if I’m seeing a bunch of reviews listing the same characteristics or issues that I most care about, I get a much better sense of whether this is the book for me.

      • Good points, KS. I’m guessing that readers have many different preferences of what they want in a review. Your thoughts are excellent.

        If I see that a review is long and goes into the story in too much detail, I tend to skip it. I prefer broad brush strokes of problems or strengths.

        Thanks for your comments.

  5. Nah, I never read reviews of my own works. The reviewing reader’s opinion is only one opinion, plus it’s none of my business and has no bearing on my writing. Of course, I hope every reader who picks up one of my novels or stories enjoys it, but I’m never upset or annoyed with those who don’t.

    • Thanks for your comment, Harvey. I’m impressed with your ability to let go of what we cannot control (the reviewer’s opinion) and focus on what we can control (writing more books).

      Allow me to throw in a brief review of your Punctuation for Writers: Excellent, handy, concise guide to keep on your writer’s table.

      Thanks for sharing your take on the subject.

    • I’m going to print this and post it above my desk. Good attitude! Maybe if I read it every day, it will sink in.

  6. I don’t know what people write in reviews, but I do know a person’s opinion is entirely subjective. If I wanted to write one for a book that was simply okay, I would try to find things about it I could highlight, while giving my honest opinion.

    Good story and plot, but be aware that there is very explicit sexual content.

    Tight, suspenseful writing that kept me awake long after I closed the book last night.

    Nice, simple plot that doesn’t take much energy to read, so great for someone looking for an easy distraction.

    Not a genre I usually read, but the story is perfect for young readers.

  7. Good morning, Steve. You’ve assembled a great group of excerpts from the KZB archives.

    Michelle’s advice on not reading reviews has a lot of merit. It’s one I’ve honored in the breach. As an author who leans extrovert, and wants that connection with the reader, reviews are one way you hear what a reader thinks. However, in my experience, only a small fraction of readers leave reviews, and thus represent the tip of the iceberg of your readership. She raises another important point, positive reviews can be at odds with how you see your book. My late friend, author Jay Lake, used to say that once an author has finished a work of fiction and sent it out into the world, it now. belongs to the reader. He granted them their reactions and takes but didn’t let those influence what he’s writing.

    Jordan’s words are indeed wise: don’t listen to naysayers. Many want to write a novel, or even “just” a short story, but few do, and fewer still finish one and send it out into the world. My current writers group, the Hucksters, is a brainstorming and writing support group, not a critique group. Surrounding yourself with positive people who support you and who you can support can make a huge difference.

    Kathryn’s post about not having a left a review, and feeling that she should but hadn’t, and wondering about a campaign of authors leaving reviews struck a chord with me. I don’t review novels by other authors–I do leave reviews of non-fiction writing and publishing books that I found worthwhile.

    The way I share mini-reviews of novels I enjoyed is with my newsletter subscribers, my mystery reader group. I only mention books that I enjoyed, not ones I didn’t or that I did not finish.

    Thanks for very thought-provoking TKZ words of wisdom this morning. Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

    • Great thoughts, Dale. And well said. I would only add this: I enjoy reviewing books that I enjoyed, and want to add some positive feedback for the benefit of the author. Writing can be a lonely task, and we all need some encouragement. This is just my opinion. You’re fortunate to have a writing support group.

      Thanks for your comments. Have a wonderful weekend!

  8. As an author, I really appreciate reviews b/c it means someone took extra time to write it. Some negative reviews, if thoughtfully written, point out problem areas so I can improve. I kist ignore slash-and-burn trolls.

    As a reader, when appropriate, I write positive reviews and generally skip books I dislike or think are poorly done.

    An ironic side note: a certain large online seller prides itself on unbiased reviews. When my books come out, I always buy an e-copy to check for quality issues that a customer might find. After I read my own book, a prompt pops up, asking me to review it. Hmmm.

    • Thanks for your comments, Debbie. My views on reviews pretty much line up with yours. I’m still trying to visualize how you “kist” slash-and-burn trolls. I can imagine printing out the troll, wadding it into a ball, and setting it ablaze. Or even better, printing, wadding, and inserting a Wolf Pack firecracker (loudest since the M-80s have been banned). Or, I suppose you could print and use for target practice. You invented a new word. First used right her on TKZ.

      Oops! I Googled kist. I like the archeological use – a burial chamber made from stone or a hollow tree. Doesn’t look like it’s been used as a verb…yet, but isn’t that what we do in the English language, turn every noun into a verb as well. You could still set fire or add a firecracker to that hollow tree.

      Have a kist-free weekend!

Comments are closed.