This week I’m going to address something I’ve thought about for a while. I have never written about it, however, the time seems right.
A Twitterstorm hit last week after author Matt Haig hit out at all the positive reviews out there in Internetland. As is the usual way of things he was congratulated, ranted at and possibly threatened with a wet haddock or similar. These days you can’t have an opinion without the trolls coming out to play.
But what is so terrible about his opinion? He’s right. Well, in my opinion he’s right.
I occasionally fall into the trap of just saying how wonderful a book is… if I genuinely love it. Sometimes a book really has nothing bad you can say about it. Well done, five stars (actually I hate the star system, but that’s a topic for another day). And I hold my hands up to being selective and sometimes not reviewing the books I buy and don’t like, or just find OK. I really shouldn’t do it, but sometimes I feel life is too short to spend ages reviewing a book I hate. It also goes without saying that I will never, ever review a book I’ve worked on.
However, if I get given a book to review I will review it honestly. Whether gifted by the publisher as a review copy, or given by the author as an advance look, I will be honest in my appraisal. I feel it’s the right thing to do.
Too many five-star reviews can actually do the publishers a disservice. Whether books are sent out for review, or whether readers review for themselves, the publishers deserve an honest appraisal of their work. If everyone constantly gushes praise for a book, whether it’s good or not, how are the publishers to know if the book is actually doing its job? If they think everyone loves the book they may commission more of the same, and false praise, somewhere down the line, will result in disinterested readers or worse, ridicule.
A lot of work goes into creating a book (and if it doesn’t you’re doing it wrong), so don’t the people who work on the book deserve your honesty? Authors give up a sizeable chunk of themselves with every book they write; despite what people may think, writing is not an easy option. It’s hard, damn hard. But how will they grow as artists without honesty? I’m sure most would be happy with honest feedback rather than sycophantic drivel. Just because you may get your book for free doesn’t mean you have to lie.
Really, think about it… how many books are perfectly perfect? When you review your books, be constructive. It may be difficult to dissect the text when you are carried away by the plot, or the facts are compelling in a non-fiction book, but afterwards think carefully about what you read.
Below are a few thoughts on how to create a really useful book review. I’m sure someone, somewhere has written a better guide, but here you are…
So there you go, a few reasons why honest reviews are better reviews, and a few tips on how to write a good one.
How do you feel when you review a book? Do you feel that if a publisher gives you a book for free you have to say it’s good? Do you have problems being honest without feeling bad? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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© Sara-Jayne Donaldson, 2013-2021.