Monday, July 07, 2014

How to make novelists love you

I have just read a newish novel by a respected author and although I thought the central premise of the novel was good, and the narrative drive was strong, and there was other good stuff going on, I could only give it three stars out of five, because I thought the writing had serious shortcomings. I didn’t post a review on Amazon: knowing how hard to is to write a successful novel, as well as how subjective is a reader’s reaction to it, I am squeamish these days about criticising other novelists’ babies.

Do you ever read reviews of novels on Amazon?

Do you know how powerful the reviews and the overall average rating is in persuading other readers to buy a book, or not to buy a book?

And did you know that some people rate the service from Amazon, and not the book?

I just read a two star review of a modern classic that says

“actual second hand book description did not come up to expectations
TATTY would be my description of this book, dog eared and yellowing pages
I will not be buying used again.”

Some people actually do give their opinion of the book itself in a two star review, but along the lines of

“I know this author is well-respected, but I just couldn't continue with this book. It was all the swearing which put me off, not that I never swear, it just didn't seem right that squaddies would use such language in front of their officers in 1914.”

And here is a one star review of another book

“I found the characters and narrative of this book highly irritating and at points I struggled to read on. Aspects of the book were also ridiculously unrealistic. A big dissapoinment [sic] after such amazing reviews!!”

All three of the above “reviews” pertain to intelligent novels – two of which were listed for major literary prizes. The other is a modern classic.

I am not suggesting that the reactions of the last two readers are not valid, but I am saying that they are not helpful. But isn’t it also the case that sometimes, one is just not in the right mood to enjoy a particular book? Sometimes, I have picked up a book, and then put it down unread, thinking it dull or unrewarding, only to pick it up at another time, and ravish it.

These days, I follow the advice from Thumper in Bambi - “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

I would translate this into Amazon book review protocol as never giving anything lower than a three star rating. and if I can’t do that, I don’t post a review.


Because one’s reaction to a book is so personal and subjective, it is a shame to damn a book (and its author) on a forum so public that it will alter the ratings of that book and possibly put other readers off who might enjoy the book – and thus damage sales for the author. When a book is a runaway bestseller, a couple of dodgy “reviews” will be neither here nor there. But when a book is by a new or a little known author, and only five people have rated it on Amazon, a single one star review can bring the average rating down in a powerful and heartsinking way.

So next time you want to blast a book on Amazon – please, think on.


lyn said...

I agree with you, Sue. I only leave reviews for books I've enjoyed & I only review books I enjoy on my blog. If I'm not enjoying a book, I don't finish it & then it would be unfair to review it. I think Amazon reviews are less trustworthy after the scandals recently with authors being targeted by their rivals but it is unfair that a few bad reviews - for whatever reason - can skew the ratings of a book so badly. Lovely to see you writing here again!

Sue Hepworth said...

Thanks for your comments, Lyn, and thank you for the warm welcome back!