The Controversy of Rating and Reviewing Novels

8 Mar

Readers and writers, please take a moment to read this anti-bullying petition that can help the reader-writer relationship as well as the book market:  Protect Amazon.com Users and Indie Publishing Authors from Bullying and Harassment by Removing Anonymity and Requiring Identity Verification for Reviewing and Forum ParticipationWe may not be able to stop all trolls, but we can and should take a stand against them. Let’s make the internet a more positive place for all.

Beyond that, I wanted to thank The Novel List for reading and reviewing Seconds Before Sunrise. “I was taken away by this new world Shannon A. Thomson created, and even when I put the book down, this world haunted my thoughts. It was addicting and ironic, haunting and mystical, hilarious and sophisticated. I cannot praise this author more for providing an unfamiliar perspective to YA fiction, and exploring new ideas that are clearly distinct and unique to her personality.” Read the full review here to find out what The Novel List never saw coming.

Last time, I wrote out a lot of tips for those readers who are starting up their own book blog. Today, I was going to discuss how to rate and review novels in the most appropriate way possible, but then I realized something: “appropriate” is very, VERY debatable. (We are not talking about the obvious ones: ex/ telling an author to go die. That is blatantly wrong. We are, instead, talking about review situations that are debatable.)

At first thought, it’s difficult to see how any controversy would come up during reviews, but here are just a few that I will be discussing:

  • Reviewing a novel one has not even read or only read a few pages of
  • Purposely reading a novel one knows they will hate
  • Judging a chronological series out of order

However, before we continue, I want to clarify that I am not encouraging reviewers to write reviews in any of these situations. I am also not discouraging them. Although I have my personal opinions about these situations, readers have the right to review novels at anytime for any reason. As a reader, I like to believe I am always respectable when I write a review. As an author, I would simply ask reviewers to clarify if these things happened during the reading process. (Ex/ stating you did not finish the book in the review.) The controversies below are not meant to hurt anyone. They are meant to remind ourselves to be positive no matter what. You do not have to respect someone’s opinion, but you should try to respect that they have the right to one.

1 STAR

1. Reviewing an unread novel

I’m starting with this one because it is the only one I will share my personal opinion on. Please, don’t. Just don’t. Even if your friend told you how horrible it was and you trust them, don’t. Even if you have seen the movie, don’t. Even if you hate things that author has previously written, don’t review their new pieces without reading it. Just don’t. I cannot even fathom a justification for reviewing a novel without picking it up at all. Other than simple hating, (like how readers did this to popular novels), I have seen this happen a lot when a novel challenges very personal issues, like politics, religion, or sex, but reviewing a novel you have not read is simply not appropriate. Finding a novel that you are willing to pick up is more important than tearing down novels you have never touched.

2. Reviewing an unfinished novel

This situation is a lot more understandable than the first one. The reader at least attempted to read the novel. In this case, a reviewer should state that they did not finish the piece, where they stopped, and/or why they shelved the novel. There are many reasons for dropping a novel, including lack of interest, annoyance with a character, or disagreeable prose. Explaining your reason will allow your review to still be helpful to potential readers. For instance, you could say, “This novel was too descriptive.” Even with a one-star, a reader who likes very descriptive prose will find this helpful.

3. Judging a chronological series out of order

I’ve seen it happen. Someone reads book three of a seven book series, realizes it, and still reviews it poorly anyway because they were confused. Of course they’re confused. They missed four books. That’s like watching the newest episode of The Walking Dead and expecting to understand everything. Some reviewers think this is okay because it will let potential readers know if the novels are stand alones, but if you’re going to review it out of order– just say you read it out of order.  (Fun fact: I accidentally read The Forest of Hands and Teeth and the Mediator series out of order, but I still loved them. However, I went back and read the beginning books before I ever wrote a review.)

two-star-rating

Beyond that, I wanted to include a shortened list of two more situations that I believe reviewers should state if their review was affected from them:

- If you hate or love a genre: picking up high fantasy when you hate everything fantasy means you know you will probably be rating a novel down. I encourage readers to try new genres, but if you know your tastes automatically affected your thoughts, just mention it. This will be helpful for readers, because it will show if that particular novel appeals to new readers of the genre.

If any outside event affected your reading mood – We get it. We’re all human. Reading a novel on an airplane compared to reading in your comfy bed at home can affect how much you enjoy what you’re reading. If you’re in the middle of finals, stress could cause you to drop the book halfway through with no hard feelings against the book. You don’t have to tell us that you lost your job. Just state that if you think your sour mood might have affected your reading state. That’s much nicer than simply rating it one star without knowing for sure that it was the book or your feelings that week.

Basically, by keeping these situations in mind, readers can remind themselves that an author – who probably worked months if not years on a novel – is not being judged unfairly. While readers have the right to review a novel whenever and however they like, practicing mutual respect is vital in keeping a healthy reading environment. 

To conclude this piece, I want to share a wonderful quote that Ky Grabowski shared on her blog: “Write about the book you read – not the book you wish the author had written.”

~SAT

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25 Responses to “The Controversy of Rating and Reviewing Novels”

  1. Susannah Ailene Martin March 8, 2014 at 12:13 am #

    Personally, I never review a book unless I either love or hate it. If it’s just blah, I won’t usually write a review. Good advice, though, Shannon.

    • Shannon A Thompson March 8, 2014 at 6:52 am #

      Thank you for reading and sharing your experiences with reviewing! I think it’s really important for reviewers to share how they review novels because it allows new authors and aspiring writers to understand what to expect in the market more.
      ~SAT

  2. The Novel List March 8, 2014 at 1:09 am #

    These are just some of my biggest pet peeves in the reviewing platform. This is the reason why I’m usually very weary when an author asks me to review a novel, because I don’t know if I’ll like it, and I’d feel bad if I can’t finish it or I dislike it but have to be honest about it, as well. But an ‘honest’ review does mean ‘honest’. It’s what they asked for so…
    Also, I’ve found that a friend of mine who I have similar reading tastes with sometimes hates the books I love, so I find it ridiculous when some reviewers simply hate on a book based on it’s reputation. I try to finish a book before writing a review, because sometimes the ending saves it. I didn’t find The Book Thief interesting for the first half, but near the end I fell in love with it! I’m a firm believer in trying to finish books, but even I’m not perfect. There are some DNF books on my shelf, and it will happen. I won’t force myself if I completely can’t get through it without rolling my eyes to the point where they fall out, or wanting to throw the book/kobo out the window ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ style.
    LOL I came here cuz you shared my review and I wanted to say thanks, but I got distracted and thoroughly annoyed at some of the things you brought up.
    Good article! (And thanks for the shout-out! :D )

    • Shannon A Thompson March 8, 2014 at 6:54 am #

      Thank you for reading and commenting ! (And, of course, reading and reviewing Seconds Before Sunrise.) These issues are very controversial when they happen in the review market. I can understand why reviewers are getting more anxiety from authors as well, since there are a lot of authors asking reviewers to review things the author’s way, instead of allowing reviewers to do it their way. My hope is that these discussions will help the relationship between writers and readers.
      I truly enjoyed reading your experiences – like your story about your friend’s reading preferences. I can relate to that! And your comment about Silver Linings Playbook cracked me up.
      ~SAT

  3. Elaine Jeremiah March 8, 2014 at 3:09 am #

    You make a good point Shannon. I have to say I never do any of the things you’re talking about here – if I really don’t like a book that much I most likely won’t write a review of it. And I rarely don’t finish a book either. If I don’t get on with it I’ll leave it but most of the books I choose to read I find enjoyable. :)

    • Shannon A Thompson March 8, 2014 at 6:55 am #

      Thank you for reading and commenting! I love it when reviewers share how they go about book reviews because I think it improves the relationship between authors and reviewers. It allows everyone to know what to expect and/or how to handle the unexpected.
      ~SAT

  4. Shannon – I can honestly say I’ve never done any of the things you are referring to in your post. It’s always been my policy to not review a book I can’t recommend. As a reader, I no longer look at how a book is rated by other readers. I’m tired of authors sending me messages asking me to ‘like’ something. If I like something, they will be the first to know. I will also promote the heck out of it. As a former book buyer for B&N I know how to promote a book and so many writers are going about it in the wrong way.

    • Shannon A Thompson March 8, 2014 at 6:51 am #

      That is wonderful that you never have! I hope this post doesn’t come across as all reviewers are doing this. In fact, most aren’t. These are just controversial reviews I’ve seen people talking about. The post is meant to discuss why those reviews come across as controversial and how to handle it if reviewers find themselves in that situation.
      Thank you for sharing your experiences with everyone. :] I agree with you that many writers are going about reviews the wrong way, which is a big part of the problem. I also don’t review novels unless I found it enjoyable.
      ~SAT

  5. Charles Yallowitz March 8, 2014 at 7:06 am #

    I get hit by #2 a lot because of my present tense writing style. At least most of the people have admitted to not reading the entire book. They tend to give up around page 20 too, which is odd. An occupational hazard, I guess.
    With the ‘picking a book you hate’ scenario, I’ve actually seen that one in action. They call it ‘hate reading’ and some people do it on purpose when they’re in a bad mood. It’s disturbing that they take a book they know they’ll hate and read it anyway with the intention of destroying it in a review.

    • Shannon A Thompson March 8, 2014 at 7:10 am #

      Yep! I’ve seen these happen a lot more than I wish to say. At least the reviewers admit where they stop reading or that they didn’t finish at all. I’ve had an author friend or two tell me about scenarios where people don’t finish and don’t clarify, so their reviews come across as confusing and factually wrong. Ex/ stating that the hero never meets the heroine (because they stopped reading before they ever met.)

      I actually wrote about hate-reading in “Readers Hating Other Readers” (http://shannonathompson.com/2014/02/09/the-era-of-hating-and-how-it-affects-readers/)

      Hopefully, one day “hating” and “trolling” won’t be the “in” thing to do anymore.

      ~SAT

      • Charles Yallowitz March 8, 2014 at 7:14 am #

        I actually commented on that one and practically said the same thing. Shows what happens when I blog first thing in the morning.

        I use prologues, so the people who stop don’t make it out of there. I had one person send me an email to complain that the main character was a terrified wimp. The MC shows up in Chapter 1. The character in question was a messenger who is running from an undead wizard and is the catalyst for the MC getting into the adventure. You’d think the guy not having a name would have been a clue. Anyway, people can be odd and silly when it comes to reviews.

        It does look like the hating and trolling are getting pummeled right now.

      • Shannon A Thompson March 8, 2014 at 7:20 am #

        Thank you for sharing your experiences with this as an author! I believe talking about these things helps discourage the unhealthy internet environment many are falling victims of. (The petition at the top helps, too!)
        I knew you commented on that lol That’s what I get for responding so early in the morning. We have that in common.
        ~SAT

  6. Harliqueen March 8, 2014 at 7:42 am #

    Great post, thanks for sharing. Reviewing a book can be a bit difficult, but I know I’d love people to review my books when I publish and any criticism they have I’d take on board. The only way to improve is to listen to what others say. Now, I don’t believe in being horrible to authors, and if I ever reviewed something that was quite bad, I’d not write a review or try and contact the author personally just with some advice :) Reviewing is a tough thing to do nowadays.

    • Shannon A Thompson March 8, 2014 at 7:48 am #

      You are right. It is a very slippery slope in many situations! Thank you for reading and commenting.
      ~SAT

  7. Author Unpublished March 8, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    I’ll admit, the first paragraph into your article, I was scared for my life. Reviewing is a terrifying experience because it’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we’re writing our opinions in a vacuum. We don’t see the people who are reading them typically, and so it’s easy to be very blunt with what we say. I know I certainly fall into that trap more often than not. When you start to realize that not only other readers, but writers as well are going to read your opinion and take it to heart–well, let’s just say that your heart skips a beat.

    Luckily, I don’t think I’ve broken too many of your common sense rules up there (or at least I hope not!) but I’ll admit to #2 and dabbling in rating novels I know I’m not going to like. My policy is to always be honest and unapologetic, and I think as long as you stick with that, you can circumnavigate the sticky situations a little easier. Yes, I rate novels I haven’t finished, but as you suggested, I always say I didn’t finish and explain why I think that was. As for reading things I know I won’t like: it’s always stated clearly, but I tend to find myself in this situation often because I pick books at random and I tend to not investigate what I’m picking up too thoroughly. That said, I always state my bias and why my bias exists: (such as the fact that I don’t like novellas because they tend to seem rushed to me 8/10 times.) Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised–sometimes I’m not–but I keep doing it in the hopes that someday I’ll run across a book that completely breaks my bias.

    • Shannon A Thompson March 8, 2014 at 8:58 am #

      Thank you for reading and sharing your review experiences with everyone! It sounds like you always clarify your reviews with helpful comments, so – as an author – thank you for sharing that information when writing reviews. I believe those types of reviews that explain things like a bias are the helpful ones.
      ~SAT

    • Shannon A Thompson March 8, 2014 at 8:58 am #

      P.S. Sorry for the scare in the first paragraph. lol
      ~SAT

      • Author Unpublished March 8, 2014 at 9:02 am #

        hahaha no worries, that’s entirely my fault. went you tend to rate a lot of books bluntly and sometimes negatively, you start to fear for your own well being when lists of “don’t do this it’s mean!” come up. I guess that’s my conscience’s reminder to be more positive in the way I rate books. So thank you for prodding me into remembering my goal.

  8. Jeff March 8, 2014 at 10:22 am #

    Good advice, there, Shannon. I would never dream of reviewing something that I have never seen or read. There haven’t been very many books that I left unfinished. I’m stubborn that way. :-D

  9. debyfredericks March 8, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    I like all your points, and I especially agree about reviews on a book you haven’t read. It undermines the purpose of a review, which is to discuss something you read. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  10. jncahill March 8, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

    One problem with the entire “cyberbulling” and “reviews” is some authors (I won’t name names) try to justify legit reviews as being bullying when readers simply didn’t enjoy them. I always point out why I did not enjoy a book, I don’t go out of my way to read genres I absolutely hate, and force myself to finish books that I hate (which may make my feelings toward it even worse, but also gives them a chance to redeem themselves in my eyes). However, after doing all of these things some authors have tried to “report” my reviews because they were not favorable and I don’t think that’s right.

    I do agree with not rating a book you’ve read and no one, readers OR authors, should bully anyone. Because readers are not the only ones who have made sock puppet accounts and bullied people. Again, not naming names.

    While I agree with not being able to make multiple accounts, what will “verifying one’s identity” do exactly?

    • Shannon A Thompson March 8, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

      I definitely agree with you. : Mutual respect is key. Thank you for sharing your experiences with everyone! Sorry to hear you have had some issues arise in the market. Verifying the I.D. is going allow Amazon to block bullies from participating in forums or writing more reviews if they continue to harass people.
      ~ SAT

  11. Joe Hinojosa March 9, 2014 at 11:57 pm #

    I love your post. I try to be respectful when I write a review, keeping in mind that for the writer, that book was very much a labor of love. It’s difficult to be fair and open-minded, and I work hard to be honest and upfront with my readers about what I’ve read, what I liked, and what I didn’t. It isn’t easy, but when I put my name on something, I put my integrity on the line, and it’s not something I do lightly.

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  1. March Ketchup | Shannon A Thompson - March 30, 2014

    […] The Controversy of Rating and Reviewing Novels: there’s a lot of argument going on between readers and writers. I discussed a few of the most common ones. […]

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