Monday, 13 January 2014

Book Reviews: The Christian Writer’s Dilemma

by Narelle Atkins

Have you ever wondered why the majority of Christian fiction reviews are positive and tend to have 4 or 5 stars on review sites like Amazon or Goodreads? At first glance you might assume that all Christian fiction books must be excellent reads. Or, Christian reviewers are too ‘nice’ to write negative comments in their reviews. 

I think the real story is more complicated and obedience to God’s word plays an important role. I’m writing this post from the perspective of a writer and author. Iola Goulton is posting a series on book reviews starting next Monday, and she will cover the issues and challenges facing readers who write reviews. 


The Bible teaches that we need to love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:31) and that we need to edify our brothers and sisters in Christ to build up the body of Christ. 


1 Thessalonians 5:11 says (NIV) ‘Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.’ And in Ephesians 4:29, the apostle Paul says ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’ 


If an author writes negative comments in a book review, are they acting in a manner contrary to the teachings in the Bible by saying something that may potentially hurt their brother or sister in Christ? 


Publishing is a tough business and you need to write an excellent book to capture the attention of an editor at a publishing house. Traditionally published books are vetted by industry professionals. They put their time, energy and dollars behind a book because they believe there is an audience for the book and they can generate a profit by selling the book. The publishing world is small, and the team of industry professionals who work on the books we review could potentially become our future work colleagues. 


If we write a negative book review, are we dissuading someone who could potentially like the book from buying it? And are we working against building up the kingdom of God and potentially placing an obstacle in someone’s spiritual journey if they could have benefited spiritually by reading the book? 


Where does this leave readers, who may read reviews to help them with their book purchasing decisions? Do readers deserve to hear all the positive and negative opinions on a particular book, since they’re handing over their hard earned dollars to buy a book they want to enjoy? 


And Paul also says in Ephesians 4: 14-16 (NIV): ‘Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.’ 


How does speaking the truth in love work in the world of Christian book reviews? Or is the concept of truth in this instance less relevant, due to a like or dislike for a book being primarily based on an individual’s personal taste? 


This is the dilemma Christian reviewer’s face – how to balance the need for readers to hear honest reviews without unnecessarily hurting authors because the book is, in their opinion, either flawed or not to the reviewer’s taste. And personal tastes vary. It’s true that there are some books that we’re just not going to like, including books written by bestselling authors. 


I've posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and they are all positive reviews. Would a reader question my credibility as a reviewer because I’ve only posted positive reviews that are 4 or 5 stars? On the few occasions I’ve volunteered to be an influencer for a book, I’ve been blessed by receiving fabulous books that I can happily review and promote as excellent reads for those who like books in the same genre. 


An influencer, by definition, is obligated to only post reviews that will help influence readers to buy the book. What if I had disliked one of the books I had agreed to influence? What is the best way to handle this situation? If you’re a writer, is it better to only review books you love? 


Authors are recognising the value of having a large number of reviews for their books on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. They encourage their fans to post reviews, sometimes offering incentives if their loyal readers post 5 star reviews. Amazon now has strict guidelines in place regarding authors soliciting reviews, in response to accusations that authors were buying reviews. 


Do reviews lose integrity and value if you know the author has offered big incentives to readers to post 5 star reviews? 


Where is the line in the sand regarding soliciting reviews? How far can authors go in offering incentives to readers for posting reviews? 


Is an extra entry in a book giveaway okay because there is no guaranteed monetary reward that could be viewed as a payment for the review? Is a giveaway that is purely rewarding 5 star reviews crossing the line, because a reviewer is guaranteed to receive a monetary gain from posting a review? 


I’d love to hear your thoughts.




NARELLE ATKINS writes contemporary inspirational romance and lives in Canberra, Australia. She sold her debut novel, set in Australia, to Harlequin's Love Inspired Heartsong Presents line in a 6-book contract. Her first book, Falling for the Farmer, will be a February 2014 release, followed by The Nurse's Perfect Match in May 2014 and The Doctor's Return in August 2014. 

Narelle blogs regularly with International Christian Fiction Writers. http://internationalchristianfictionwriters.blogspot.com/ 


She is also a co-founder of the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance (ACRBA). http://acrba.blogspot.com 


Website: http://www.narelleatkins.com 
Blog: http://narelleatkins.wordpress.com 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NarelleAtkinsAuthor 
Twitter: @NarelleAtkins https://twitter.com/NarelleAtkins

46 comments:

  1. Great article, Narelle! I've struggled with this very thing--the desire to be honest in my book reviews, and still build up and support Christian authors. I've tried to be both loving and honest by balancing criticism and praise for the story elements I enjoyed. I've burned some bridges in my efforts, but also gained readers who appreciate my honesty. It's a tough battle, but one that honors God, the authors, and readers.

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    1. I need to learn this skill too, Gwendolyn. Perhaps I'll read some of your reviews!

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    2. Hi Gwendolyn, thanks for sharing your struggle to find the balance with reviews. I agree, readers deserve honesty. A thoughtful review that includes both positives and negatives can often be more valuable for a reader than an 'I loved this book' style of review with no critical elements. You also bring up an important point about honouring God, authors and readers with our reviews.

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    3. Hi Cat, a great idea! We can learn a lot by reading reviews written by those who find this balance and gain a loyal readership who trust their reviews.

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    4. I think we need to be careful to realise not to treat any one's book as if it is all-but-equal to the Gospel. There will be positives and negatives in any book and a review is a view - a personal viewpoint on a book, not an "absolute truth". If we never post negative reviews, that is as dishonest in my opinion as only posting glowing ones. We fail to give people tools by which they can learn discernment.

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    5. Hi Annie, in a global sense I agree that there is a need and role for both positive and negative reviews. Iola will explore this more in future posts.

      But, from an author perspective, I think authors and aspiring writers need to consider the consequences of posting reviews that are potentially criticising our future employers and writing friends.

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  2. I heard an interview yesterday by a well known Christian author saying how 1 star reviews really hurt an author and that as Christians we should be supporting other Christians. She was ok with 3 star reviews but one stars can really tear down an author. She would rather have the person email her to say they didn't like the book and why than put up a nasty review. I my self would not be reading a book that I would be giving a one or two star review as if I don't like a book I don't continue it. How can you review a book you haven't finished and if you hate a book why would you continue reading it?

    On authors buying reviews I see this as wrong. I don't think as Christians this is ethical. To get a entry in a draw for an honest review is different especially if the author hasn't said you must give a 5 star review. I know one who gives entries for reviews but she does not state they must be 5 star.

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    1. HI Jenny, I agree with this author. A private email or message is always preferable to public humiliation. I hope that reviewers who find themselves in this situation weigh up the pros and cons of putting this type of review in the public domain.

      Authors have feelings and a harsh or undeserving 1 star review has the potential to devastate an author's confidence in their writing ability. That said, authors also have the option of not reading their reviews. Reviews are primarily written for the pleasure of readers not authors.

      I don't read past the first chapter of a book I don't like, and I wouldn't post a review on a book I didn't finish reading.

      A giveaway for honest reviews is fair because the reviewer is not obligated to post a glowing review that may not fully reflect their true opinion of the book.

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    2. I actually disagree with the author who says 1-star reviews are hurtful. One of my closest friends came about through thanking the person for a negative review. That happened for one of my earliest books and I realised from that experience that thanking a person for a review, whatever the stars, is very freeing.

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    3. part of the reason this author was hurt was the review didn't finish the book and was someone she had contact with. I think she would have accepted it much better if the reviewer had actually read the book.

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    4. I also think, if we're honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that criticism of our art hurts. The magnitude of the hurt depends on the circumstances and the situation. In the situation Jenny has mentioned, I can understand why the author was hurt. We pour our creative energy into writing our books and, although we know intellectually that our books are a product and not our children, we wouldn't be human if we didn't feel something when our work is criticised. This is one reason why I'm not reading my reviews, except under certain circumstances.

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  3. So many good questions, Narelle--but I don't really have any answers! Personally, I couldn't bring myself to write a review that criticised another author's work too much. After having seven books published, I know what it feels like to receive a widely differing range of reviews, even on the one book. It all depends so much on personal taste, as you mentioned, plus how much you are prepared to overlook various writing 'foibles' in the interests of just enjoying a book. One reviewer will notice and comment on serious style and content issues that spoil the book for him or her (and really should be attended to), while other reviewers ignore or don't even see them at all and just rave over the book!

    Again personally, Narelle, I wouldn't question your credibility as a reviewer because you've only posted positive reviews that are 4 or 5 stars on Amazon or Goodreads. All that tells me is that if I see a review from you on any book, I can trust it, as it must be good if you have bothered to put a review there!

    One area that does bother me a little though is that of authors posting reviews about another author's work in the same genre as theirs--particularly negative ones! We might FEEL we are being honest and fair, but sometimes I suspect we don't really know the depths of our own motives. And again, it is a matter of personal taste. No answers there though--just more food for thought! And I sure hope I haven't trodden on anyone's toes with this comment!

    And finally (thought I could say a lot more), I wonder if we take that phrase 'speaking the truth in love' from Ephesians too literally or out of context at times. I understood from my preparation when speaking on that passage a while back that the 'truth' mentioned there is more likely to refer to the truth of the gospel ie the truth as opposed to false teaching, which was rife in Ephesus. So it may refer more to sharing or teaching the truth of the gospel in love. Sometimes I think we can fall back on that verse as an excuse for criticising others by telling them the 'plain truth' about their writing (or about anything) and seeing that as a kind of service for their benefit. Hmm ... end of sermon!

    I look forward to Iola's articles about the dilemmas of writing reviews. Maybe she will shed light on some of the questions you (and I) have raised.

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    1. Hi Jo-Anne, I agree, we each need to find our comfort zone as reviewers, and I'd add not judge others who have chosen a different comfort zone. Thanks for your vote of confidence in my reviews :)

      It's very dangerous territory to write negative reviews of books in your genre. I think Amazon has a policy that prohibits authors from posting reviews on books from their publisher and also books within the same genre. You haven't trodden on my toes with your thoughts, lol.

      I had wondered if someone might pick up on the theological thread of 'speaking the truth with love.' It's always good to explore these issues from a Biblical prespective.

      Iola is tackling a number of big issues relating to book reviews over the coming weeks. The author perspective on writing book reviews is different to the reader-reviewer perspective for a number of reasons.

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    2. Thanks for the in-depth meaning on that scripture Jo, I didn't know that.

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  4. Reviews can be a two edged sword. I try and write and honest review highlighting what is good and explaining gently I would hope what didn't gel with me and why. However if I cannot find anything positive to say about a book I have received from a publisher I prefer to tell them that and opt out of reviewing it. Yes, I have done it a couple of times.

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    1. Hi Dale, thanks for sharing your thoughts and wise advice. Opting out of reviewing can be a good solution in those situations.

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    2. I agree with Dale. If I have something negative to say, I always try to sandwich it between two positives. And in the incredibly rare case where I dislike a book intensely and still feel obliged to review it, I don't put any rating at all, just some comments.

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  5. Very interesting!
    I personally have given very few reviews and only positive ones. The reason for this is that I have yet to feel confident enough to accurately express my dislike of certain books, without creating damage to the author's sales. I read a book I really didn't like and that was terribly flawed in terms of the guidelines for good fiction - but a friend borrowed it and she really enjoyed it. The themes in the book brought healing to her. Who am I to prevent someone else from finding healing?
    In total contradiction to this, I as a reader enjoy reading the negative reviews when purchasing! I can quickly see who is just being nasty, and who is analysing the writing/adherence to genre guidelines etc.
    There is a time and place to speak truth to one another. Right back when I was first learning to write, an industry professional said my dialogue was torturous! I was so upset - then I got over my hurt and grew as a writer.
    I personally see nothing wrong with a writer doing a small give away in exchange for reviews, so long the reader may post any star rating they see fit. Otherwise its bribery really isn't it?

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    1. Hi Cat, I understand your conundrum. I don't want to dissuade someone who could benefit from a book that isn't to my taste. If I love a book and get absorbed in the story world, I often don't see the flaws in the writing that others have mentioned in reviews.

      You've raised an important point. Readers are smart and can discern nasty reviews vs. honest and critical reviews.

      I also don't think reviewers should be treated as beta-readers. A published book should be the final product and the author's best work. One reason authors don't read negative reviews is because the book is done and it's too late to make any changes. A published book isn't a work-in-progress and readers should be paying for a good quality finished product.

      Giveaways for 5 star reviews are effectively the same as paid reviews but without a guaranteed payment for the reviewer.

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    2. How interesting you should say that Narelle! My post on Wednesday is about the importance of Beta readers, and choosing the right person for the job. A published book in my opinion should have been through this step.
      It will be interesting to see what thoughts come through with that

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    3. Cat, a published book should be well past the stage of needing beta-readers. I'm looking forward to reading your post on Wednesday :)

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  6. I try to write only the type of reviews which I wouldn't mind reading about my books. I think that if the tone is basically kind and positive, a few misgivings about some aspects, if expressed well, may not cause harm. It may even do the opposite, and intrigue readers into wanting to read the book, to see if they agree. And when people mention these sorts of things honestly in reviews of my books, I take them as food for thought, when it comes to future writing. I guess there's a skill in making something sound constructive, rather than negative. There may even be a good challenge for the reviewer, in making the book come across sounding like a good read in spite of mentioning these things.

    I've never been in the position of agreeing to be an influencer for a book I've hated, so I'll be interested in seeing other responses to that. I enjoyed reading this post and the comments so far, and I'm also looking forward to Iola's articles.

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    1. Hi Paula, I've purchased books after reading low star reviews because the negative aspect in the reviewer's eyes was a positive aspect for me. Criticism of writing craft in reviews will always turn me off buying the book. That said, I can usually see the writing problems for myself by reading the first few pages.

      If the book isn't a new release and I see a string of 5 star reviews with no low star reviews, and I find big writing issues on the opening pages, I will avoid all books by that author and not trust those reviewers.

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  7. This is a very tough topic, Narelle, and thank you for bringing it up. I have tried to write reviews over the years but have to confess been pretty slack about doing so. In fact, in some cases, perhaps I could be accused of being a coward for not writing one at all for books I did not enjoy at all. Please, fellow writers - DON'T think because I haven't done one for yours I didn't like it! Time and priorities when I am on the computer have often simply prevented me.
    And as a writer, what do I think about negative reviews? Well, they do certainly hurt and if "unfair" when accused of doing something in a book that I cannot see I've done at all, certainly can make me cross and sometimes even sad for the reader who "doesn't get" some Christian principle. I actually received one several days ago by a reviewer who admitted only read the first few pages and the last couple and I believe criticised strongly what I had gone to all kinds of efforts NOT to do throughout the book. Fortunately another reviewer immediately under that negative one was very positive. I am thankful am more mature now and this one simply saddened me for that reviewer's own thoughts about the Lord.

    Getting upset was very true back when my first few books came out. Before the days of the internet I received reader survey forms from the publisher. Over and over when one would be very negative, it seemed this devastated writer would pick up the next survey and it would be one from another reader who "absolutely loved this and wanted more by Mary Hawkins" kind of review. The Lord taught me very early in my career that readers tastes are allowed to differ. (Well, my own reader tastes certainly do too!) These upsetting occasions happened more than once and I firmly believe God was reminding me HE is in control. As in all of my writing life, HE still lifts me up when I am down, encourages me so I have to keep obeying Him and just keep improving my writing so He can use my efforts where and when and to whom HE wants.
    I really believe that writers can learn too from honest reviews that point out problems that I need to address in my next book. If we are not told, how can we improve?
    Am looking forward very much to Iola's posts here. She is one reviewer I really honour for her honesty and generosity in reviewing our books so well.

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    1. Hi Mary, thanks for sharing your wisdom from your years of experience as an author. I think there can be traps for authors reading and obsessing over both the positive and negative reviews. The glowing reviews could inflate our egos in a way that isn't helpful and becomes prideful, and the negative reviews could destroy our confidence because the whole world has been told about the flaws in our stories. The challenge for authors, myself included, is to find a healthy balance and remember we write for God's glory, not our own.

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    2. I wasn't going to comment, but would like to say thank you to Mary for her comments.

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    3. I think Mary's point is very valid. That one review should balance out another. In a large number of reviews, we should expect to see everything from 1 to 5 stars. That's simply because people have different tastes and, if authors are hurt by that, they have a lot of pride still to deal with. Sorry to say that, but personally I think that the missing aspect of this debate is that only five-star reviews can build pride in an author.

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    4. Annie, I agree and we aren't seeing the bell curve that we'd expect from a large sample of reviews. Pride is a factor, and the belief by many authors that a disproportionately large number of 5 star reviews will increase their book sales. As a result, they may perceive a negative review as lowering their book sales.

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  8. In my Good Reads account, I've probably reviewed more secular books than by Christian writers (though I've reviewed quite a few of those too) and I've always striven to be both as constructive and as honest as I can.

    If I've enjoyed a book but noted significant problems with the book (at least from my perspective) I have with as much sensitivity as I can, noted this, always erring on the side of caution. If we take the premise only review a book if you can't say anything negative about it - the whole purpose of reviews becomes mute and a reader might as well read the publisher's blurb (which also will always be positive) and done with it.

    Perhaps the phrase 'speaking the truth in love" can be misused as a cloak for being vindictive but as Christians often we err on the other side of "love" thinly disguised as "not wanting to rock the boat" or to actually deal with difficult issues. Perhaps as Beth-Ann says the Ephesian passage "speaking the truth in love" refers to speaking the truth of the gospel. Yet, one cannot read the whole Bible without appreciating that honesty is important to God - and Paul certainly was prepared to tell the unpleasant truth at times (read the Corinthian correspondence if you doubt this). To me it comes down to context, attitude and motive. On the other hand, "speaking in love" is always paramount. I say what I like about the book and be as positive as I can. I want to be fair and remember that this is my perspective and may not be someone else's. I appreciate (as an aspiring author) how painful low-rated or less than positive reviews would be to an author but also know that I've learnt the most as a writer from honest - sometimes brutal (which I'm not advocating) and other times constructive - criticism. I also appreciate that reviews can affect sales - though on the other hand, I've heard that some readers don't trust books which only have 4 & 5 stars because they then assume that the reviews are by friends and family and not an true reflection of the quality of the book. I've also seen readers say they learn more from the 2 and 3 star reviews & that they don't necessarily stop them from buying the book. Most readers are, after all, discerning.

    As for author's buying positive reviews - this seems a clear rort to me. I think its okay to encourage readers to review your book with free downloads or giveaways but as soon as the prize is conditional on a five-star review it again seems wrong to me.

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    1. Hi Jeanette, I agree, reviews are a pointless exercise if nothing negative is ever said. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on speaking the truth with love, and exploring both sides of the discussion. Honesty is important to God and Paul is an example of fearlessly speaking the truth when the situation warranted it.

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  9. I think of books the same way I think of food. Just because I love broccoli, doesn't mean everyone else will.

    So I have decided for myself, I will only review books I care for. I am not motivated to say anything for books which don't move me. The author doesn't need that from me. What if my less than favourable review pushed away a potential reader who might LOVE a story I found lacking? Each to their own.

    Maybe I'm in the minority, but reviews don't influence me much when I'm looking for fiction. I will admit to being one of those readers who will judge by looking at a cover. It tells me the genre at first glance. And then the blurb. If another reader hasn't liked it, I figure they may also not like broccoli, either. Doesn't mean the book won't be to my taste.

    And as a reader, I find it odd my reading preferences, (as particular as my food preferences), would be judged by a writer. Am I not allowed to 'dislike and walk away?' I've heard authors disparage the reader for not enjoying their work. Lump them in a 'low' category. I think that's rude and author-suicide.

    One of the first things I learned as a writer from ACFW is to remember the reader is SMART. They are dear to us authors and willingly put coins in our pocket in exchange for our stories. Let's stop insisting they need to 'elevate' themselves to wherever we think they belong. Let's find our tribe, write our stories and learn to be gracious toward the wider reading audience.

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    1. Excellent thought, Dorothy, you have put the following so well and so true:-
      "The author doesn't need that from me. What if my less than favourable review pushed away a potential reader who might LOVE a story I found lacking? Each to their own."

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    2. Hi Dotti, I love your food analogy :) I agree that authors shouldn't be judging readers and criticising their reading preferences. Instead, authors are better off expending their energy on marketing their books to the tribe of readers who like their stories. And if authors can't find their tribe, they may need to reconsider the content of their books and whether a market actually exists for their books.

      Author-bashing by readers who post nasty reviews, and reader-bashing by authors for ANY reason are unacceptable and unprofessional options. Both authors and readers deserve respect and professional courtesy. Any posts or comments on this blog that are disrespectful to readers, authors or industry professionals will be removed by me.

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    3. Dotti, I don't read reviews to decided to buy a book either Its cover, blurb, author or maybe from a bloggers site like Relz Reviewz or even one where they have interviewed an author but not many of the Amazon ones when buying cos I know so many get bought or are fake. I will often read one star reviews just to see what they say. Often its things like couldn't read this book (so why review) or this has christian content (which it says clearly on the blurb). I will read reviews often for non fiction books. Firstly the 3 star then the others.

      Love the veggie analogy. I dont like broccoli but love Beetroot.

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    4. Thank you Dotti! I love that analogy and that describes me too. I have tried to write reviews where I haven't truly loved the book and it all comes out wrong. Reviewing is a skill - one at this stage I have not mastered. I'm sticking with 'dislike and walk away' at this point. Aside from the fact I hardly ever find time to review!

      Very good point on being respectful, too.

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  10. I remember the first time I wrote a review. I knew little of the system and when trying to decide how many stars to give, I gave it three. I decided I would give five stars to any book was a fantastic, can't put the book down, type of read. My plan was to award very few of these, so when I found a great book I could reward it well.
    The minute I posted that review, it bounced up on Amazon as the most critical review. I was horrified. I hadn't written a critical review. I quickly changed it to four stars, embarrassed because of my ignorance. Not long after that experience I was approached on fb by an author asking why I didn't give her book five stars? But my reviewing efforts (not very many) have been colored by these experiences.
    As an author, I was pleased to receive one star. Any thinking person could see by the comments that the review was based on a limited understanding. I felt that ranking made the others more valuable.
    Critical reviews can be very helpful after we get past our bruised ego.
    I appreciate reading all the comments here today. It will help me as I start to do more reviews which I want to do this year.

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    1. Jo I think its is very disrespectful of the author to contact you and ask why you didn't give 5 stars.
      I know it happens and it happens in open forums but I think it just shows readers how disrespectful some authors are. I have had a couple contact me explaining something about the book where I thought it was a different genre than it was and I respected that but if an author publicly or even privately asked why I didn't give five stars it would really turn me of that author and see them as a bit of a diva who doesn't respect readers.

      As a reader we normally review for other readers and often ourselves. If we feel authors are going to put pressure on us we will stop reviewing. The same on Goodreads its more as a record of what I have read and for other readers. We dont want input from authors as that is not why we review.

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    2. Hi Jo, thanks for sharing your experiences as a new reviewer. If reviewers are following the scales and guidelines set by Amazon and Goodreads, you'd expect the majority of reviews to be 3 or 4 star on Amazon and 2 or 3 star on Goodreads. In reality, this isn't usually the case on either site.

      Jo and Jenny, I agree that it's disrespectful for an author to question a review rating, either privately or publicly. The author etiquette for reviewing is obviously being ignored in these situations.

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    3. Couldn't agree more, Jo. The one-star reviews give credibility. They make me think about how to do better next time.

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  11. I'm not a writer, but I am a reader. I have done a few reviews on my blog - most have been positive, but I have been honest if I don't like a part of a book. If I write something negative I make a point to to 'attack' the author, rather nicely put forward my point of view. There have been a couple of books that I have opted not to review or even post about on my blog because in all honesty I did not feel comfortable promoting a book.
    Putting a star rating is hard. It is entirely a subjective opinion and the ratings mean different things to different people.

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  12. Hi Beth, thanks for sharing your thoughts from a reader perspective. I think the large majority of authors understand that reviewers may find it hard to post critical comments or low star reviews. Reviewers are rating books to inform readers, and those star ratings are subjective and represent one opinion.

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  13. This blogpost really stirred up my passion and I had a sleepless night, as my brain was over-active after reading all these comments. There are several aspects I think are missing in this debate: first and foremost, that all reviews are a blessing. I don't care if it's one star or five stars: it's a blessing. There is nothing worse than seeing a great book with no ratings and no reviews.

    If there is one single reason I would step away from Omega Writers and helping others through the CALEB Prize, it's because I am grieved and heart-sick at the number of authors who never review the books of others. As I post reviews for other authors, I am constantly amazed that they have never blessed anyone back ever. I spend 'reviewing' weeks in constant prayer to forgive others who take but do not give. I've been wounded by reviews but far far far more wounded by no reviews. And by people who go onto lists and vote only for their own books! I've actually burst into tears several times recently because I've realised that in five years of thumping the theme 'lift up each other', many authors are as self-centred as ever. It might be an offensive statement but I've realised just in the last week that maybe that's the only way to get through: to call pride and self-centredness as exactly that.

    One thing that calms me down is the knowledge that they do not understand the Scripture that God commands a blessing when we mutually bless each other (and by implication withholds a blessing, if we do not.)

    The second thing that I feel is missing here is that some people's attitude is: it's ok to be less than truthful - or to be silent - for the sake of the Gospel. The moment we sacrifice our integrity for the sake of the Gospel we've lost the plot.

    Lastly, there is a subtle aspect of bullying in much of this. On several occasions I've had authors request a review be removed from the Omega website. The reviewers had been extraordinarily generous (I know because in more than one case, different reviewers wrote two reviews - one for publication and one to get it off their chest). In one particular instance, the reviewer wrote amongst a welter of positives: 'This novel is so moving and thought-provoking it transcends a lack of thorough editing.' The writer refused to accept this - and is stymied in her efforts to find a traditional publisher because of this failure to see the need to improve.

    I once had to interview an author whose trilogy I had reviewed about 2 years previously. I was a bit cautious but decided he had so many that was unlikely to know about the negatives I'd expressed. So I'd just keep quiet as to what I'd disliked in his books. However, I found he had followed his reviews and he knew exactly who I was and what I'd said. He also mentioned that, in all of his reviews (and there were close to 100), I was the only person who actually sensed the heart of what he'd attempted and knew that he'd failed. He knew already that was the case but I was the only person who had ever fingered just why he had. He said he'd learned more from my review than all the rest put together and one of the reasons he'd agreed to the interview was because he felt I was one of the few people who actually got his work.

    From this, I figure that - to genuinely bless others as we would like to be blessed - we have to risk the truth in reviews.

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  14. I love to encourage. That's what I do in my reviews. I'm also honest BUT if there are too many aspects of a book I don't like, I would prefer not to review at all. I'm a peacemaker and sometimes just plain chicken. I'm still a newbie at this, and I'm up next for our Thursday book review ... eek! So much to learn and it can be daunting. Still wouldn't swap my passion for reading and writing for anything though. God is good :)

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    1. Hi Andrea, I agree, reviews are one way authors can encourage and support other authors. I label the reviews on my blog as book recommendations because I only review books that I can recommend to others as a good read.

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  15. I’ve never considered giving a review until joining Omega Writers. I have attempted a few now and there will be a few more to come. Like Jo Wanmer said, I would have thought 5 stars was reserved for the exceptional book that stopped your world for the duration, and that 3-4 stars was a fair and just review. As a newcomer to this craft, I would be keen to learn some guidelines for generating reviews. This discussion has been a start.

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  16. In Scripture the Bible says "the Lord chastens those whom he loves..." (can't remember the exact Scripture). So it's hard for a reviewer to say negative, however, if he or she has the like mind of Christ; it would be hipocritical for that reviewer not to speak truth. As you said in your article: it would be bad for both reader and author. If the author doesn't know the truth about his or her work, he wont be able to make improvements thus stunting his or her growth. The reader would be wasting good money on a book believed to be based on a review he/she feels is true and unbiased. Reviewers should have the strength to review without compromise and encourage the writer to improve in specific areas. This is called "constructive criticism."

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