The review burned holes into my eyes. On my youth adventure fantasy novel, Shadows & Secrets the insanely short, 1-star review mortified me. I can’t even bring myself to go look it up again, so I’m going on memory with my best recollection of the one-line review.
“It was okay, but there was too much juicy sex for me.”
I’ll admit. I panicked. Responded to it, suggesting she was referring to some other book. Posted a wailing rant on my Facebook page. All I could imagine is some parent, after their child had read that first book that Grandma sent to the Kindle, going to buy the second one, seeing that review of the first, and thinking, “What did my child just read!!!”
Yeah. Like that would happen. Once the panic subsided, I took a deep breath, went back to Facebook, deleted my panicked post, and apologized.
And, when Amazon decided to LEAVE that unjust and frankly, abusive (even if it was accidental) review, I just turned away and left it alone. Anyone who reads any other review is going to get the idea that this is not porn for children.
I wish that was the only time I’ve dealt with that or seen others bombarded with ugliness. It’s not. There was the woman who blasted me for “stealing” another author’s book cover. She clearly didn’t understand how stock photos worked. Actually, I think that happened before my “juicy sex” book. And, I tried to educate her. Dumb mistake.
Note to authors: Don’t engage. In fact, don’t respond unless it’s to thank someone for pointing out a real problem you can do something about. It never ends well for you.
But this is for people reading and leaving reviews. So… here’s the thing. A lot of the complaints I see on various reviews (not necessarily even mine) are things that do nothing to help the author. They don’t help the next reader. So, without further ado:
Note: links may be affiliates which means I get a small commission with a purchase, but no worries! It doesn’t cost you anything extra.
How to Ruin a Great Book Review in 5 Simple Steps
Blame the author for delivery problems with your Kindle.
You bought a kindle book—the next in your favorite series or a new author you’re convinced is going to become your favorite. Excited, you open the book. And the first page of chapter one is gone. Oh, well. You read from two and figure out what you missed—or most of it. And it’s good. You love it. Until you hit chapter two and realize… it’s not there. You go to three. It’s gone. Four.
Frustrated, you zip off to Amazon and leave a one-star review of how horrible the book is because it’s missing the first page of every chapter (true story, btw).
Um… it won’t help you.
It won’t help other readers. One look at the other reviews before blasting the book might give you a hint that this isn’t a common problem.
What should you do when your book won’t download properly, pages are missing, or there is some other delivery problem? Well, talking to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or whoever your dealer—um, I mean supplier—is will work. They have the ability to fix it.
Sometimes readers let me know.
And while I can check to see if it’s a problem on my end, 99.9% of the time, it’s not. But leaving a poor review on delivery problems for your purchase is equivalent to purchasing a hardback of your favorite author’s book. Then, when it arrives, you see that the packaging is open, and the first page of every chapter has been ripped out—obviously not a problem with the book itself. The problem is with the shipping company.
You don’t (or most people don’t) give that hardbound book a 1-star review because the post office had a weird shredding issue en route to your house. It’s not that “book’s” (or the author’s) fault. Please don’t do it to an eBook, either. Talk to the “delivery company” (Amazon/BN/etc.) and ask them to fix it.
Review the content instead.
That’s the only thing that’ll help me or some other reader decide if we want to read it. Because we won’t likely have the same glitch you did.
Review the book you wanted and expected rather than what the author wrote.
This is a great way to ruin a book review.
Okay, this is a “sometimes.” If the book is listed as “Christian fiction,” don’t leave bad reviews because it talks about God all the time. And, if it’s erotica, don’t complain about all the smut in the book! When you didn’t bother to read the synopsis, don’t be ticked off that the book, “Off the Ticker” is about a stockbroker in 1929 instead of a heart surgeon like you thought.
I remember clearly offering my second Not-So-Fairy-Tales book, Everard, to a group of advance readers. One woman, a friend, came back and asked what she should do about it. She was upset, almost angry, that the book was not a continuation of Princess Paisley. She didn’t like it and wanted to know how she should review it.
I told her this (or something super close).
“Write an honest review, of course. Or don’t. If you can say you didn’t like the book because it wasn’t interesting, it was badly written, or something in the story itself failed badly, then say so. But if you didn’t like it only because you wanted what you wanted instead of what I wrote, then please don’t review. That’s not going to help anyone decide if they should buy it or not.”
And it wouldn’t have.
So, if the Nazis killed 75% of your family in WWII Germany, perhaps Liz Tolsma’s Daisies Are Forever isn’t the book for you (for the rest of you, it’s 1.99 as of the writing of this post!). It wouldn’t be fair to read that book and protest that she showed German citizens in a sympathetic light. You cannot be objective. Don’t buy it. Don’t review it.
Actually, a problem I have with that book is why I haven’t reviewed it yet. I decided to finish the first book in the series first (read ‘em out of order—didn’t know any better). I want to see if it’s her writing style, a missed opportunity, or if maybe I didn’t “get” something that I need to reread. So, my review waits until I can discover the answer.
Still, sometimes the book is billed as a clean, Christian book… and then it sears your eyes with a smutty scene ripped from the pages of erotica. You see, I don’t care if the couple is married. I wouldn’t walk into a married friend’s bedroom and watch the goings-on. And I don’t want it on my book page, either.
When I buy Christian fiction, I assume certain things. I won’t see “on-screen” sex and I won’t have my eyes polluted with language I don’t care to hear. Faith will be more than noting that the character went to church once (otherwise, it’s just a clean read). So, yes. I do have some expectations that I don’t think are unreasonable. But those aren’t just my preconceived notions. These are what most Christian fiction readers expect. And that’s the difference.
Nitpick every point of punctuation and grammar.
There’s nothing like reading a book review that says, “I found typos” to make any author’s heart sink.
Look, People have called me a “Grammar Nazi.” Fitzwilliam Darcy, in Pride and Prejudice, said, “I was given excellent principles but left to follow them in pride and conceit.” That’s kind of how I feel about my grammar education. I was taught excellent grammar skills but wielded them with intolerance and arrogance.
I remember one book by a major Christian publisher about ten years ago. Eleven errors on a two-page spread… and only two of those could have been considered a stylistic choice. I’d read books with “red” instead of “read” or “to instead of too” and thought, “Don’t they know the difference?”
And let’s face it. When it seems like every page of a book has half a dozen errors screaming at you, reading enjoyment explodes in a ball of fire that regrows like a Phoenix called annoyance. It’s just HARD to read a book where the superfluity of errors reach off the page and slap you upside the head.
But most books don’t have THAT many errors. In fact, if a book is 99.9% error-free, and the book has 100,000 words (most of mine have around 90,000) that’s 100 errors. That’s approximately one on every four pages. For 99.9% accuracy!
And I had a zero-tolerance policy for any errors at all (okay, unless they were funny).
Then I became an author.
Humility sometimes comes shrouded in black feathers and served between flaky crusts. Just sayin’.
I learned that you can mean to type “read,” but if you don’t hit the A key hard enough, it doesn’t show up. Word doesn’t catch it as misspelled because “red” is a word. The same goes for “too.” Ahem. You can know it and still create a typo without realizing it. And even a good editor and a dozen proofreaders can miss it. Not that this ever happened to me. On every book I’ve ever published. Or anything.
Publishing taught me grace.
It taught me that no matter how many people go over a manuscript, no matter how much you pay for a wonderful editor, no matter how many revisions you do, someone, six months down the road will discover that random end quote, that you called one male character by the other male character’s name, or that the word “to” got left out of a sentence.
And then the review arrives—the hard, unjust review that insists the book hasn’t been touched by an editor.
I don’t want to say that it’s “ridiculous” to expect a well-edited book when you fork over 5.99 for an ebook or 14.99 for a paperback. I don’t believe that. But it is “ridiculous” to drop a 1 or 2-star review and claim a book has not been edited because you found half a dozen “errors” in it.
Oh, and I use quotes because while I am grateful for the emails I get that show me where I and my team have missed something, I will say that at least thirty to fifty percent of those emails cite an “error” that actually isn’t one. And it’s interesting to note: the ones with the harshest, most demanding language in pointing out my “errors” are usually the ones that are wrong. Just sayin’.
Demand authors use your country’s spelling, dictionary, and punctuation guides if you really want to ruin a review.
If the book was published in England, Australia, or Canada, the English will have different spellings from books published in America. So, where Americans write “favor,” those countries will have “favour.” In fact, most of the words ending in “or” will be “our” as far as I can tell. Words ending in -ize for Americans will likely be -ise from those countries. And then words like jewelry will have an extra L, and you’ll see the E in center shifted to the end.
And that’s okay. It’s the proper spelling for the country of publication. So, if you see one, it might jar you a bit. I get that. If you see two or three and it still jumps out at you, before you shred the author for her horrible spelling errors, perhaps you should check the country of publication. If it’s ANY country other than your own, please realize that most other countries use British spelling and punctuation for English (they’ve got different punctuation things in some instances, too) rather than the American standard.
Definitions vary by country.
An author didn’t use the wrong word if she wrote “pants” for trousers or “pants” for underwear. It depends on the country of origin.
Leaving a bad review for “spelling and punctuation errors” in a case like that both hurts the author and makes you look ridiculous.
If it jarred you from the story, say so… “For those who are bothered by British spelling, definition, and punctuation practices, you should know that this was published in London and the content reflects that.”
Just don’t dock a star or three because an author is from another country—something that usually shows in the book product page or the author’s bio. That is just unkind and unhelpful for other readers.
Make your pet peeves more important than what someone did right.
Bam! Review potentially rendered worthless (if you have an unusual pet peeve–such as the lack of pets in a book, perhaps!).
One of my pet peeves is anachronistic issues in historical fiction. So it’s kind of embarrassing to admit I’ve found word choices in my own that I’ve had to change etc. It can happen. And it’s why the only reason I’d ever shift from “I liked it” (4-star) to “It was okay” (3-star) is if I saw so many anachronisms that they impeded the enjoyment of the story. Either way, I’d state what it is and why.
Usually, I just say something like, “You’ll find the use of wristwatches in this book, but they weren’t in common use for another twenty years” and tell you if I loved, liked, or just thought it was okay otherwise. Because killing a star because I don’t care for an element that others may not mind doesn’t help the next person wanting to buy the book.
Leave your reviews. Keep them honest (don’t pretend to like what you didn’t! That helps no one). But think about whether you are just jumping on a soapbox and venting your spleen or if your insights will really help the next person decide if they want to purchase the book.
And whatever you do, make sure you are reviewing the right book.
Because I guarantee you, there is no “juicy sex” in ANY of my books—much less my youth fiction.
Now that I’ve given my .02, I’m curious. What kinds of things have you seen in reviews that did nothing to help you decide if you’d be interested in reading the book?