Review Smarter, Not Harder

I am an author and a book reviewer. Here are some of my views from both sides.

As an author, I try not to read my own reviews too often. I’ll glance over them and see if someone pointed out something I need to be aware of, but most of the time, it doesn’t lead to anything good. Since everyone is entitled to their opinion–even if it’s to hate my books–I just leave them be. Sometimes, this is really hard.

Like one review that got after me about the romance in my book “not cutting it” for a paranormal romance…when NOWHERE in ANYTHING do I class my book as a romance or belonging in the genre. It is paranormal suspense. I don’t list it in the romance category, or put romance in the keywords, don’t mention it in the book summary, or advertise it as such.

There is a touch of romance in the story, but it is, indeed, minor. Because I wasn’t writing a romance. Yet I got yelled at for not putting enough romance in my not-romance story.

I held my tongue and moved on. I considered writing a post like this, but procrastinated about it. Until I got an email from a friend the other day, who is also a writer.

She was upset about a review that pulled two big elements out of her story and said she didn’t know anything about them and needed to research more. The one that stuck out the most was how she was accused of not writing the effects of cancer on a terminal patient correctly. My friend is also a nurse, who has treated patients with cancer. She knows what she’s talking about.

Between this and the other, this reviewer was obviously what I’m going to call an armchair quarterback who didn’t have the wealth of personal experience that my friend did yet felt they had the right to decide she was writing it wrong, even though she wasn’t. (Thirty seconds to read an author bio would have told this reviewer that this author is also a practicing nurse.)

This struck close to home for my friend and she almost stopped publishing, but happily she was persuaded otherwise. Even so, I understand the feeling.

This isn’t going to be a diatribe against reviewers who “author bash” because there’s been enough of those. This won’t be a rallying cry for authors to go out against reviewers, because I know that’s a bad idea and won’t tell someone to do it. No, this is about my recommendation to those out there who decide to write reviews.

The internet gives you a big box to stand on and a microphone. So consider what you’re about to say before you start talking.

Am I saying to not write negative reviews? Not at all. I will review any book I choose to, even if what I say isn’t positive. Some reviewers won’t post a review under three stars because they don’t want to hurt an author’s feelings or prefer to focus on the positive. I get that. I respect it. But that’s not my philosophy. I think the author may need to know the issues, and readers need to know what they’re getting into.

But I try to review smart. I never bash the author personally. And I make sure I know what I’m talking about, like I won’t criticize a horror author for not having enough sci-fi. Or a YA author for not having enough adult scenes. If my only knowledge of something is having read some fictional books on it, then I won’t pretend I know about it. If I think an author is off-track on something but I don’t have that real knowledge of it, I’ll say that I was uncertain. Or that something didn’t work for me.

I’m not saying don’t review. I’m not saying don’t write negative reviews. If a book has problems, you are in your right to point it out. I’m saying that reviewers wield power and yes, with great power comes great responsibility. Don’t treat the internet like a shield. Think before you write: be sure of the ground you’re on and knowledge you’re wielding. Because reviewers need to put as much effort into their reviews as authors into their books.

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