Today an article by Peter Derk came to my attention, entitled “7 Things That Are Ruining Amateur Book Reviews.” Go read it and come back.
You’re back? Good.
I want to start off by making the point, which has been made before, that amateur book reviews – the kind that appear on social media including GoodReads, Amazon, etc., and blogs like this one, are just that – amateur. Every book blogger/amateur book reviewer has their own style of presentation. Some write eloquently, some don’t. Some include graphics and or gifs, some don’t. Some have myriad followers, some don’t.
I am not a big fan of animated GIFs. I find them very distracting and feel that they detract from the review’s content. If you are a book blogger, maybe try to express yourself in writing? Of course the web is also visual, and visual representations can be a valid form of expression. Blogs that rely heavily on GIFs are not going to be blogs I read, and I tend to just scroll by them on other social media. I DO however like to add still images to my reviews. Graphics are eye-catching and as they say…. “A picture is worth a thousand words”. I feel that if I can add a photo or graphic that pertains to the review content, or one that demonstrates how I imagined a place or event would be whilst I was reading the work, then that graphic puts MORE of how I personally feel about the work I’m reviewing.
Derk states he doesn’t like it when summaries are including in book reviews. When I’m on GoodReads I’m there for the summary. That being said I don’t feel that every review needs to include one. If I DO include a summary, it is only so that the reader of my review knows some of the context from which I based my opinions.
I feel that Derk’s point about free copies is really off the mark. I enjoy getting free ARC and/or review copies. Who wouldn’t? I don’t sugar coat my feelings about a book just because I received it in exchange for a review. I usually don’t write scathing reviews, only because I have usually chosen the title myself, thus I know going in pretty much what to expect. If I am greatly disappointed, I WILL say so. I do try to remember that the author has put in countless hours and a little bit of their soul in writing the novel, so I try to not be too mean…. Publishers hand out free copies and digital ARCs in order to create BUZZ about their titles. Most also understand that not every book is a hit with every reader, even when it comes to their biggest fans, and publicity is publicity. An honest, thoughtful less-than-stellar review will not damage a blogger’s relationship with most publishers. Oftentimes they find the feedback useful.
Some of Derk’s points I wholeheartedly agree with. I too think that pre-reviews (reviews written for books that have not even been written yet) are just plain fatuous and can distort the book’s rating when – after the book has been published, valid ratings are added into the mix. Just because you admire an author’s previous works doesn’t mean that you can give a star rating to a work as yet unfinished and that you haven’t yet read. I also disagree with how on Goodreads a person can ‘like’ a review for a title when there is, as yet, no review to like. For instance I have a few books on my Goodreads TBR that I have not read yet, thus I have not yet reviewed. Yet… still a few times I was sent an email that a person ‘liked’ my review of that title. What’s up with that?
Derk doesn’t believe in star ratings. I have mixed feelings about this. I DO utilize stars. NetGalley and Goodreads use them (though their meanings are slightly different on the two sites). I use them on my blog. My regular readers will realize that my stars are my personal opinion only. If they share my tastes in reading, my stars will be helpful. If they don’t share my tastes in reading they are free to ignore them.
I do often put “Full review at my blog” links in my Goodreads and Amazon reviews. I am constantly striving for more blog followers and that is a way of getting word of my blog ‘out there’. If someone like Peter Derk chooses to not venture onto my blog – then so be it.
Amateur reviews written by book bloggers are deeply personal. Some people write them for fun, to record their thoughts, keep track of their reading, share with friends, or for other reasons of their own. My own blog was started partly as a way of recording my reading (I’m not getting any younger and I find looking back at my old reviews is a great memory enhancer). I also enjoy the creative outlet. I used to maintain a website, but found that blogging suited me better and gave me a way to interact with other readers of like mind. Gradually, after I joined NetGalley and Edelweiss I started getting more and more free titles. After I retired from my career as a cataloger in a public library, I had more time to read, review, and blog. Blogging has kept my typing skills current and has given me a very enjoyable hobby.
I’ll close this post with my new mantra:
I liked this book from starting to end. A should read for anyone thinking about this genre. Fantastic! I likewise suggest to read http://bit.ly/2Lgumy0 Julia Sydney . P.S: I like this website. Thank you
Oops, accidentally pasted into that comment! Ignore all of that that besides the first and last paragraph!
The link in this blog, along with your blog itself, were very helpful. I started my blog two days ago, thinking I would do book reviews and summaries. Thanks to you and derk, I am going to change my home page from “Book Reviews and Summaries” to “Book Reviews”
I wrote an entire column about this once, so I won’t get too preachy about it. But damn, there’s a summary of the book right above the spot where your review shows up. Not to mention the fact that most other reviews are summary-heavy, so why do we need yours? We have plenty of outlets for summary, and the thing is, summary isn’t as helpful as you might think when it comes to reviewing a book.
Let me make a comparison. I live in Colorado, home of the craft beer. Which is awesome, except sometimes you just want to drink a goddamn beer and not hear the entire story of a beer.
When you mosey into a taproom and ask “What’s Beer X like?” you’ll hear two different kinds of answers.
The Good Kind: It’s light, refreshing. A hint of citrus. Maybe a little like a Blue Moon, if you’ve had that.
The Bad Kind: The story of this beer starts with the water. Fresh Rocky Mountain springs sluice through the natural world all around us. Meanwhile, on a nearby farm, hops are growing with the perfect mixture of sun and shade, creating an ideal plant structure for extracting the beautiful flavors for this beer…
If it’s not too much to ask, could you look at my last book review? I’m just starting blogging, and I would really appreciate it if you reviewed my review. Any advice is awesome because I want to do the best job that I can.
I’m with you on the gifs. I’m not a huge fan of it when posting a review. I too find it distracting. Same goes for memes. However, I don’t mind it on social media feeds. I feel like that’s the best place to use them if anyone decides to post one.
I loved this. Thanks for posting it 🙂
I’ve been sitting on the fence about using gifs in my reviews for three years. I think it’s a no from me.
Pingback: The Sunday Post : Get your Bookish News 28.08.2016 - Day Trips
Pingback: Saturday Miscellany – 8/27/16 | The Irresponsible Reader
I actually really enjoyed reading Derks post, (he did make some valid points and I found it quite amusing in spots), your thoughts on his post (you also made some very good points that I totally agree with), and your followers comments. But most of all, I love your new mantra quote by Bertrand Russell and the adorable cat graphic to support it (as do all of the still graphics you add to your reviews which I as a reader of your blog highly appreciate). Since this is a book blog, perhaps one could alter the mantra to say…Time Well Read is time well wasted ;^)
I would also disagree about free copies for review. Maybe some will pick it up after hearing so many amateurs writing/talking about. Personally I read other people blog posts and booktube not some ”professionals”
The blog for me also is a way to think about the book a bit more after I finish it. I have been a reader since I was six years old (now 22) but before the blog 2 years ago I wasn’t a BIG reader like only few books a month, I have discovered a wonderful world of graphic novels and audio books which I didn’t read at all then. Now for the second year in row my Goodreads goal is 150+ books a year
Thank you for sharing this! I didn’t realize that if I didn’t write for Kirkus I was an amateur reviewer. Yay me! LOL I mostly write for myself as my memory is faulty and it’s a great writing exercise. It helps me to really “think” about what I read and draw conclusions here or find patterns there.
What you said is SO true. I find I’m getting more out of my reading now because if I know I’m reading with the knowledge that I will be writing a review afterwards, I DO get more out of it. I disseminate the information differently and analyse it more deeply. Reviewing has been rewarding for me on so many different levels.
LikeLiked by 1 person
He’s very upset about it all isn’t he? I realise that some want everything tightly controlled and standardised, but these are reader reviews and, good or bad, can’t be controlled. His points are things we have all thought on and formed opinions about.
GIFs, I don’t like them either, but the kids do, there are some really high traffic blogs containing reviews like “lurved it, ****ing like excellent” plus GIFs of course. Oh well, at least they are reading.
Summaries? I just copy and paste the publishers, they do it so much better than I do.
Stars? I think he was objecting to the use of half stars, not the 5 star system. As for ARCs, I rate as they deserve, same with hard copy books. I dislike book promoting blog tours because they won’t accept a review of less than 4 stars.
I dislike the “full review at my site” business, in my opinion that’s short changing the author, people like me who don’t follow those links don’t get to see the full review.
I believe readers will return to those bloggers who suit their taste, that’s just how it should be, I mean, if people continue to read reviews that they dislike and get angry about its hardly the fault of the blogger or reviewer.
Oh, and I don’t think being called “amateur” is derogatory, being called amateurish if you are a paid professional, well, different matter.
Thanks for your insightful comments. I am curious about your comment regarding ‘self promoting blog tours’ accepting no less than four stars. I have participated in several blog tours and I have given the books a varying range of stars depending on their merit. I have given three 3* reviews for blog tours and one 2* review for a blog tour: https://fictionophile.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/ruthless-by-john-rector/
Loved your thoughts; and I have very mixed feeling about Derk’s points of view. First of all, I dislike his use of the word, ‘amateur.’ I find the context he uses to be denigrating. I belong to several book blogs. and have learned to discern which books and authors appeal to me and which don’t. Secondly, I believe all reviews should be honest, and if it doesn’t earn a five or even a four, that doesn’t necessarily discredit the book. What can be incredibly dishonest is to give a five out of debt ( the writer sent me a free copy, and now I feel indebted to raise the ranks). My feelings on his are as follows; I receive most of my books from the author; I am always honest and if can’t give it at least a 3, I won’t post a review. I put a lot of time and energy into reading each book. I am not getting paid for my time or effort. I never receive acknowledgment from a writer if I give three starts of four stars. BTW, I dislike the star system, and I am cognizant that these reviews should be written by the general audience ( no matter how generic or pedestrian that sounds).
I also dislike LONG summaries or precise as they give away too much to the reader. I want a review to contain a personal point of view and a personal description.
I have also come across reviewers who try hard to compete with other reviewers. This then becomes a fool hardy game and truly we are all part of the plan for advertising. Free advertising, by the way.
A very interesting thread with excellent comments.
Brilliant post, I completely agree with you! At the end of the day most of us do it for fun, because we love it and don’t receive a penny. I’m the same as you, I try not to be too harsh, I realise the time an author has put into it and appreciate that but I’m not scared to say when I have issues. If you’re not honest then what’s the point? I’ve had very few really bad books but if I don’t finish one I won’t review it as I don’t think it’s fair to the author if I haven’t read the whole book!
Derk seems to be following the en-vogue trend of slating bloggers and amateur reviewers. If everyone was that interested in the single focused views of book critics and people paid to review then there wouldn’t be a market for amateur reviewers.
Fact is bookworms like to read what other bookworms have to say about books, regardless of whether it is summary-heavy, GIF-heavy or deeply personal. Publishers understand this, which is why they do reach out to amateur bloggers/reviewers. They also understand that bookworm will often buy based on something they have read on a blog, or one of the many bookworm sites, on social media and through simple word of mouth.
Derk’s way of thinking is out of touch at the very least and very condescending.
A very interesting post. I have to say I went to read Peter Derks article prepared to disagree with him but, sadly, found myself agreeing with several of his points. First of all, I do indeed hate GIFS. Frankly, I feel (and this is purely my opinion) that reviewers who use them too liberally devalue their review – plus i tend to scroll hastily past them anyway. I’m afraid I do not go to people’s websites; I use Goodreads and Amazon plus subscribe to several blogs and really have no time for anything else.
Where star systems are concerned, my own inclination is always to pay attention to the 3-stars. Five stars are all too often paid for reviews or from friends or (I’m so sorry) from readers of free copies. One star is often a pointless one word ‘review’, reaction against the over enthusiastic 5 stars or even people who wish to downgrade the author (for whatever reason). Three stars, to me, represent the middle ground where you will find balanced reviews from people who have NO axe to grind.
On the more sensitive issue of reviews for free copies (and i am a member of Netgalley) – yes, the disclaimer is always there in the review so people can make their own minds up whether it is an unbiased review or not. But I do not remember ever seeing a review with that disclaimer that was really poor and I have been on sites composed of perfectly lovely, honest people who are quite open about the fact that if they don’t like a book they simply won’t review it and they will inform Netgalley of this quite happily. Now this is not exactly dishonest – but it certainly doesn’t adjust a well balanced system.
Sorry this is so long – and it is all purely my personal opinion which I hope does not cause offence to anyone
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks Christine. I agree with much of what you said – with an exception or two. If I give a book 5 stars it is not because I got the copy for free. It is because I LOVED the book. Either the story itself, the writing style, or, the writing quality led me to the conclusion that it was a stellar read. Those titles that I have given 3 stars are books that, for the most part, I did not personally care for, but had merit in that they were still good reads, just not to my personal taste. I have no axe to grind regardless of the stars I use to rate a book. I have found that publishers for the most part are happy to see your review, regardless of the rating you’ve given the title. As to saying you don’t care for a book AND citing a disclaimer… See my reviews: https://fictionophile.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/family-inheritance-by-terri-ann-leidich/ AND https://fictionophile.wordpress.com/2016/05/30/the-postbox-murders-by-edmund-glasby/ These are some of the lowest ratings I’ve ever given to a book on my blog. Integrity is everything.
“Integrity is everything” is definitely the key to the disclaimer argument. I’m currently reading a book for review which I received for free, although I’m really not enjoying it and am constantly debating how to state this without giving a scathing review, but also not to be disingenuous with the review.
I think that you can be honest without being scathing. Try to temper negative comments with a few positive ones. If this is impossible, then just state in your review that the book wasn’t to your taste.
Some good points here which are mostly what not to do. I’ve learned along the way. I pay attention to the reviews that get a lot of views and comments and try to use the same technique the next time. Many people enjoy receiving and reviewing free copies and although I have occasionally done this, I much prefer to choose what I want to read based on what I see out there on blogs, either through the library or a good deal. And I agree, please no GIFs!
I have not been reviewing books for that long a time (my book blog is just a few months old). But I have to say – I give honest reviews only! I’m not mean about it. I try to express my thoughts as tactfully as possible, because, as you said, the author has spent countless hours in the creative process. They have put their best effort into those pages. But if I don’t like certain elements of the book or don’t like the book in general, I will say so, with reasons to back it up, of course.
I’m sure there are people who write positive reviews in the hopes that this will garner more free books, but I would hope that a great many more would write honest reviews, regardless of whether this will impact their chances to receive future books. Integrity matters. I think it also does a disservice to publishers to say that they’re only after positive reviews – I’d like to think that they use the use the feedback in a constructive way.
Great blog post!
Totally agree with you on the mantra bit, nothing you enjoy doing is wasting your time if you enjoy it, surely that’s the whole point of it as you wouldn’t generally do it if you didn’t enjoy it! 🙂
I perused Derk’s article to, he has some valid points but I totally disagree with him about ARC’s, if the publisher didn’t want valid reviews then they wouldn’t have book bloggers who are on mailing lists and receive ARC’s. And, yes, who doesn’t like getting free things, agree to, ARC’s are no exception. 🙂
Also, I usually include my whole review on Amazon and Goodreads, though I always state that the review can also be found at my blog at the beginning, why not self promote after you have put time into both the review and your blog.
Great post, I enjoyed reading it. 🙂
I love receiving ARCS to review. Authors are just happy to get a review!!
LikeLiked by 1 person
When ever I enter a book on Goodreads as “to read” and someone likes my review of it…..I’m like “huh” hahaha!! Why not wait until I read and review it first??
Yes, Sandy; same thing happens with me, too and I wonder why.