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Friday Feature: To Review Or Not To Review

By Claire Buss

Like most writers, I adore reading and I love getting books as presents. I love it when people recommend books to me and I belong to three book clubs, which means I always have a huge TBR (to be read) pile and I’m never short of something to read.

I also love the Goodreads website, because I have a terrible memory. So, every time someone suggests a book for me to read, I add it to one of my virtual shelves. I have lots. Come be my friend and check them out.

I have read lots of articles on how to maximise Goodreads as both a writer and a reader and I think I do a fairly good job. I’m not as active as I’d like in groups because I have so little time these days, time I try to spend reading.

One of the suggestions I came across a few years ago was to set up a ‘dnf’ or did-not-finish shelf, so that the book is not counted in your read shelf because you couldn’t finish it and also so you don’t have to write a negative review. Like a good little shelfer I created it. And over the years I added a couple of books and I didn’t think anything of it, until recently.

The other day, I started reading an indie-author book and, unfortunately, it was, for me, unreadable. I chucked it on my ‘dnf’ shelf. But then I thought, hang on a minute, I’m an indie-author. And I check my Goodreads stats regularly. How would I feel if someone put my book on a ‘dnf’ shelf? Not great, that’s for sure.

So I have axed my ‘dnf’ shelf. I will still give books 50 pages to snag me because there are too many books and not enough time to read them all but if I don’t get on with the book I shall just remove it from my shelves and pick up the next story. I will not write a negative review.

There will always be a book one person loves and another person cannot read – that’s just life – but we can be kind about it and  put that book back for someone else to try.

This whole experience brings me round to the initial quandary of reviewing a book I didn’t enjoy. We can look at it from a couple of different perspectives. If I’m 100% honest on what I think about everything I read then I get points for being truthful, right? Hmmm, I’m not so sure. As a creative myself, I know how much blood, sweat and tears go into my books and if I’m honest, I’m not sure I want to know how much a reader disliked my book baby. So why would I do that to someone else?

From a logistics point of view, one bad review can have a huge impact on your review ranking, bringing a very respectable 4.5 down to a 3 and a lot of readers do look at reviews when deciding what to read next. I know I do.

Let’s consider a fan of my books checking out my ‘books read’ shelf and reading my reviews to get a sense of what I like to read. What would they think if there were lots of negative reviews? I feel that negativity would reflect badly on me as a person and my book fan might decide not to rush and buy my next release.

I’m certainly not advocating false reviews, I’m just wondering whether reviewing a book you thought was awful is a particularly good idea; especially if it has good reviews from other readers. It brings us back to how we want to be perceived as an author and a reader.

On the flip side, apart from buying the book in the first place, the absolute best thing you can do, for any aspiring writer, is to write a review of their book.  Obviously, you need to read the book as well – that goes without saying – but you would be surprised. Should you write a review regardless, or whether you liked it or not?

I often get told by readers that they don’t feel confident enough to write a review. I think it might bring back memories of having to write book reports in school. This is not what anyone is expecting; trust me. A few lines to say what you liked, and why, is all you need to do. These days, it’s possible to rank a book with a star rating without even saying anything. It takes seconds and means so much to the author.

If however, you are worried about upsetting the author if you say you didn’t like parts of the book then let’s just think about that for a moment. If my friend tried a dress on that looked horrendous and asked me what I thought, I would say I didn’t think it was quite her and could we maybe try a different colour? Translate that to book review writing and consider whether you want to deliberately hurt someone’s feelings or not.

As I mentioned previously, the book gets 50 pages to hook me (100 if I feel like I really ought to read it) and if I’m not invested by then I move on. The book is removed from my Goodreads shelf with a minimum of fuss and usually returned to the library. If I enjoyed the book, then these are the ratings I use:

  • 5 stars means it was the best thing you’ve ever read, you couldn’t put it down, you were desperate to know what happened next, you really enjoyed it and you’d definitely read that author’s next book.
  • 4 stars means you enjoyed reading it but there were just one or two things that niggled at you. You could put it down but you also really wanted to know what happened and you would read the next one.
  • 3 stars means it was all right.  You finished it, so it wasn’t awful but you took your time, so it wasn’t great, either.  Maybe there was a character you didn’t like very much or you felt the author spent too long drumming a particular point home.  Basically, there was some degree of disappointment.

I never review below 3 stars and if I’m reading a book for a requested review )maybe I got an early release copy) and I just can’t read it, then I get in touch with the organiser/publisher and politely explain the book is not for me and I’d rather not leave a negative review.

By remaining consistent with your reviews you begin to be seen as a trusted figure, someone whose opinion other readers can rely on.

If you went to a supermarket and bought something from their new range of desserts and it was so delicious, you’d tell all your friends, wouldn’t you? This is the same thing. Indie authors can’t grow beyond their circle of friends and family without reviews and even if you just write Loved it, you could find yourself honoured as a character in the next book.  We’re very grateful.


Read the latest issue of Write On! magazine online.

By remaining consistent with your reviews you begin to be seen as a trusted figure, someone whose opinion other readers can rely on.