To Review or Not To Review; That is the Question

Of late, I have seen so much discussion as to whether or not to review a book. I’m referring to the book bloggers who receive Advance Review Copies, and not the leisurely lucky readers who get to read from their own libraries and could pick and choose at whim which book to read. I believe those readers review some of those titles, but not all of them. Depends on their mood and if they want to talk about the book.

I am thinking of the specific situation where the Author/Publisher/Publicist contacts you to see if you would be interested in reviewing the book and you say yes. Halfway through the book, you are beginning to worry about the author’s feelings because you know you could not rate this book higher than three stars (of a standard five).

What to do?

Do you bother finishing the book? Do you tell yourself at the halfway mark you’ve given it enough of your time and it’s time to move on? Do you contact the author/publicist?

What if you do finish the book, and decide maybe it is a 3 star book, technically meaning ‘average’ or ‘it was ok’? For some reason, the golden (hidden) rule has been this magic 3 star mark. I have been a part of a tour group that specifically said if it does not get a 3 star review, please don’t post that review. Keep that news to yourself, they ask. So what if something really was a 2.5 star for you, and you end making it 3 stars so you could actually ‘be allowed’ to post the review?

What happens to that week that I spent my time reading that book? All that time that I devoted to reading this book because I was gathering content for my blog. And if it was truly a 2.5 star book, that means I am not allowed to share my thoughts on the book. I am not talking about a rip-apart stomp down on the author, simply a critical review which explains the good things and the bad things of the dynamic of the book which I spent every minute of my spare time reading for that past week so that I could compose and thorough and honest review. Throwing all those half star points and stars out the window, what it boils down to is the question of what we should be allowed to post on our personal sites. If I want to talk about a book, in a professional manner regardless if I LIKE the book, shouldn’t we be allowed to do so?

Isn’t this where we get to the point of why Amazon has a reputation that you cannot trust, because all the reviews for such-and-such a book all were rated with high marks? You believe ALL those reviews and therefore spend your own cash on a book and turns out you picked a book that was not at all like you expected. Wouldn’t you have appreciated it if you had seen the reviews from everyone, which included the ones that didn’t gush about it?

I will say there are a few marketing/publishing companies that I have come across that specifically tell us, if you don’t like a book, that’s ok! Their first priority is to garner the buzz for the book and everything will go towards building the author’s brand.

One of the publishers I currently review for specifically states this while pitching a book to me: “And let me assure you that I have no expectation for your reviews–if you don’t like the book you received, feel free to review it negatively.” I have no qualms about reviewing for this publisher because they are not going to censor my thoughts on the titles they offer for review.

I understand the mantra if you have nothing nice to say don’t say it at all. But we are talking about reviewing books that you were asked to review. Your compensation for your time, since most book bloggers do not get any form of compensation, is the content for your blog. Many bloggers feel they review books as a service to their readers/followers/fellow bloggers. If there is something critical that needs to be pointed out about a book, why should I hold that back?

What’s the point of reviewing if we are all going to crank out positive reviews for the rest of our lives? If you come to the blog of Burton Book Review absolutely KNOWING beforehand that EVERY SINGLE book you’ll find here will get a good review, will you bother coming back? Or would you prefer a balanced review system, here and elsewhere? The point of reviewing a book is to give an honest review, not simply a positive review. Otherwise, aren’t we all robots cranking out ‘good’ reviews?

In case you are wondering, yes, there was one time where I sent a book back to the publicist since I absolutely knew without a doubt that I could not stand the book. I made it to almost a halfway mark – taking me days to get there – and quite frankly I did not want to spend another minute of my life with it. The next reviewer loved it. Case in point, we are all different. If I am asked specifically to post a review on Amazon I will do so upon request, but I do not post all of my blogged reviews there. As book bloggers, we follow other bloggers knowing what to expect from that blogger: an honest review. When I might hate a book, others will love and gush about it. I am okay with it. What I’m not okay with is being told to only post reviews of titles that would receive at least three stars from me.

Fellow book bloggers, I am curious to know your thoughts on this. Do you only post positive reviews? Do you worry about offending an author while writing a critical review? Does that somehow unconsciously effect  how that review is worded?

How do you feel about being told what you can or cannot post?

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41 Comments

Filed under Review Policy

41 responses to “To Review or Not To Review; That is the Question

  1. I am not a blogger, but I do read incessantly! I try to review all the books I read, now that I know how important it is to the author to know what people think of their book. I have received books specifically to review, and fortunately have enjoyed most of them. Some authors have sent a note with the review, asking that I be very honest, and let them know if I don't care for the book. They can only work on things that readers don't like, if we are honest!However, I certainly understand the sentiment – if you have nothing good to say, say nothing! I guess that really does not help an author, though, does it!?!

  2. While I don't have my own personal blog, I do review for a few blogs as well as Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Lucky for me I tend to at least like most of the books I select to read and typically find they garner the 3 stars or higher. Every once in a while I won't like it very much and it might get lower then that or my review will point out the negatives and why I personally did not enjoy it. I always want to be honest and work hard to put both the good and the bad in any review. Why else would I write the review? I always try to be an honest person in everything I do and that includes in my book reviews. I would never flat out lie about how I felt about a book. I also try to tailor the review towards what sort of reader might enjoy it, i.e. if you are a huge lover of historical fiction you would enjoy the book while a person not interested in history might feel bogged down by the book. I wouldn't personally want to do it any other way and I wouldn't continue to read a blog or a person reviewing books that seemed to only gush on every book they reviewed. But that is just me :)!

  3. Yes I tend to enjoy most of my titles that I accept for review. Before accepting a book, I seriously consider that author's track record and I do a mini marathon google session if I have not read the author before. My time is precious, and I do not want to read books that don't sound like something I would totally enjoy.But my question is what about being told what to post?

  4. Good questions, Marie. When I first started reviewing books on my blog, I was so new I didn't know what to expect, and I only had access to a few blogger programs for book reviews, so I requested and signed up for just about everything I could, regardless of quality. I've become much pickier over the years, though, because frankly, I want to read good books! So, generally, most of what I review is positive because I'm selecting books I like and reviewing for authors I like. But I've had a few that I didn't care for, and I wrote about them. I guess I like to think of my reviews as a resource for good books. But maybe I should find something I hate just to throw off my readers. 🙂 I have no qualms about posting on goodreads or amazon if I didn't care for the book. That happened once for a self-published book. It was AWFUL, and it got like all five stars on Amazon. So, I added my one star review to it because I thought it needed to be there. OK, I've rambled a bit. Great post!

  5. Kudos to you for your bravery on that 1 star review! I am so glad that there is someone else out there who feels that honesty is the best policy, regardless of the outcome.

  6. I always post my true thoughts no matter what. I just make it a point to mention the positives along with the negatives. Now if I'm not liking a book and I'm 50-100 pages in, I just stop reading. I decided a long time ago that I'm not going to waste my time on a book that I'm hating. Luckily, that has only happened to me a couple of times since I've been blogging. That being said, I rarely give a book less than three stars (I only use stars on Goodreads, not on my blog). If it's less than three stars, chances are it was one of those 'did not finish' books so there is no review anyway. I'll tell you one thing…I don't like the idea of being told not to review the book if the rating is not going to be three stars or higher. That just…sucks, in my opinion.

  7. Yes, I left that group after doing one review for them. Thanks for your thoughts, Michelle. What do you do with that book that you DNF? Do you contact the author/publicist?

  8. So interesting! I get emails and offers from publishers and a few book tours. I'm accepting less often just because I want more freedom but I've never been told to not review a book if I don't like it or anything like that. I don't think I'd work with those people if that were the case. Only once did I not finish and I posted the review that stated that. The author commented very politely and said she understood but I should try and finish. I'm still debating doing that since she was very nice and the book was well written, just not grabbing my attention.

  9. If you know you are disliking a book (& you have other things to do) I fully understand that frustration! Pick it back up when you're in the mood to, and not any sooner, otherwise we know what the outcome will be.

  10. If I was told by a tour company/publicist that I could not post a less than 3 star review if I felt the book merited it, then I would not accept that book for review. I think we should be able to post what we want as long as it is well thought out and constructive and not an author/book bash fest. Fortunately there are very few books I have run across that have been less than 3 stars/average. I think this is partly because I know what I like and I'm very careful about what I accept and also because I'm more of a review it on whether the story was good rather than the get hung up on the mechanics type reviewer. I'm super busy being a kitty crusader as of late and time is too much of a precious commodity to be wasting it on books I probably won't like.To the publicist/author we owe professionalism. To our readers we owe them our honesty. Now I will admit that while I may be thinking "Holy plot hole Batman! How could they not see that this whole problem could be wrapped up in 2 seconds if they just did this?" :::insert forehead slap and eye roll here::: I will word my concerns in a way that doesn't make me sound like a pompous high horse sitting arse who has a drawer full of English and creative writing degrees I'm just waiting to wave in someones face 🙂 I try not to sweat it because while I appreciate getting review copies I also recognize that since I am not Oprah I won't be ruining anyone's career with a less than favorable review especially since I've had readers say "I can see how that would be annoying but that kind of thing doesn't bother me so I think I'll try this book anyway.."Now that I've written an entire book on the subject, here is the synopsis: I like your style lady! Keep doing what you're doing! A pox on anyone trying to tell you what to post.

  11. I would not take a book for review if there were a standard on it. I've posted 2 star reviews. I've posted – could not finish this book it was so awful – reviews. But this is MY opinion. Other people have loved books I have hated.If I agree to review a book, I am going to review the book. Now, if I am SENT a book without my knowledge I feel no obligation whatsoever to read or review the book. If it strikes my fancy I might fit it into my schedule but if it does not I ignore it.

  12. Exactly my point of view, Patty. Thanks for validating my thoughts =)

  13. LOVE it, Holly!! I wish there were more of us out there who would feel comfortable sharing our thoughts on the ARCs we receive. And the whole pox thing, yup, I wish they'd see the light so they could save themselves! lolYou go girl, mighty kitty crusader!

  14. If I've agreed to review a book, then I will finish it and review it honestly – I would never agree to accept a book for review if I was basically being told what to write (only positive or not less than 3 stars etc). The first time I am contacted by a publicist or an author, I tell them up front that I will give my honest opinion and that my include a negative one and if that is not acceptable, then they don't need to send me a copy. I've had a few say "no thanks". That's fine – there are plenty of other books!

  15. The couple of times it happened, I did post a 'sort of' review. Here is a link to a mini-review post which includes the 'review' for that DNF book. It's the third one down. http://thetruebookaddict.blogspot.com/2011/03/novel-glimpses-3-last-queen-across-veil.htmlNow this was a few years ago so I'm not sure if I would handle it the same way. Probably. But it would also depend on the publisher, i.e. if they had specific wishes. Although I do try to steer clear of those obligatory situations.

  16. Okay, I'm going to answer first as an author: a well-balanced, thoughtful review that points out the highs and lows is more help to me than twenty reviews that say, "Love this!"I am probably the minority, toughened up by years of writer's workshops at BA and MFA level, though. And by the review class I took as an undergrad, which stressed that a review should point out the good and the bad.Now, as someone who is going to expand her editorial service into promotions, by demand of my clients, let me say that it's unconscionable to ask a reviewer to not post a negative reviewer. It does a disservice to you, to the author, and to the reader. Personally, I wouldn't work with that tour company again. And as a reader? I want to know I can trust you. If you fudge enough reviews and I find out, I'd be let down, especially by you, babe. I think very highly of you.Don't compromise your integrity. Bottom line. Don't do it. You can come do promo with me.

  17. (blushes) Thank you, Susan. That's my point: After over four years of blogging here, my peeps like you know what to expect. I am not going to STOP sharing my thoughts -good or bad- because of someone's company policy. I am sorry if the author feels bad and I wish everything in the world can be perfect – but it's not. I am not going to be one of those folks who only posts positive reviews. IF I dislike a book, I am going to be honest with it. And I am going to be careful when or I accept books in the future, to be sure that they would be comfortable with a critical review.I just wish OTHERS WOULD DO THE SAME.Promote honesty. Promote critical thinking. Do not sugar coat your reviews. This post – and all the responses – makes me feel better. Now I know there are a just a few folks out there with the misconception that only positive reviews are positive.

  18. Got it… I like the idea of mini reviews too, but I don't think I could "save" them up type of thing, since I don't read as fast as any longer.

  19. Thought provoking post Marie!..if I have a book that I just can not get into after 100 pages I stop, I do not feel guilty anymore for not finishing a book. If it is a tour book, I let them know that I just could not finish it. I do not do a mini review but I do a spotlight of the book and author. I do this because I feel that it messes up the tour stops if I don't post something. This just happened to me and I think the publicists are happy if you tell them that the book was not for you. When I first started blogging I accepted most books, but I have become pickier. Like you Marie, unless it is a book I recognize I do research to see what the reviewers have said, not only the 5 stars but the 1 stars. I even go as far as looking at the reviewer that gave the book 1 star to see if this is a pattern for that reviewer, and sometimes it is. Fortunately for me I have received pretty good books.

  20. First off, I am shocked that you have been asked to refrain from reviewing a book if you feel that it deserves less than two stars! If that happened to me I would decline to review the book. That's just absurd. If they want my opinion, then my opinion I shall give. That being said, it does weigh on my mind when I'm not too keen about a book from an author I know and have worked with in the past. I'll feel bad that I have to give my honest opinion and risk hurting them, but I know that my usefulness as a reviewer depends upon such honesty. When writing a review I always try to give as much good feedback as the bad, and I try to comment on all the reasons someone might enjoy the book despite it's flaws. I constantly critique my own reviews because I don't want to become more lenient or sugar coat things. If I am able to honestly give a 1 or 2 star review (which I have), then it makes my 5 star review even more credible. It's not fun to point out the flaws you find, especially when so many others thought it was the best book ever, but it's better than being a boring and repetitive reviewer. Don't let those pesky people get to you, Marie, you're doing a great job, hence the reason I always come to your site when curious about a book!

  21. This is very thought-provoking post, and a topic that many of us bloggers struggle with at times. I too prefer to work with publishers who just ask for an honest review. And there have been times (although blessedly few) when I just cannot finish a book. If the author/publisher asks, I am honest, but kind. It is just not for me.If the author is already famous and writes a book that I feel is just capitalizing on their name, I have called them out on it. That really annoys me.In my reviews, I write what I liked, what I didn't like and to whom I think the book will appeal. I think that gives the best rounded review, and hope that people take it for what it is- my opinion.

  22. My review policy clearly states that my reviews will be honest. If I am asked to review a book I'm assuming they have read my policy. I always try to state positive things about the book even if I did not like it. The exception is when a book's content is offensive to me. I will then not finish reading it and not review it and let the publicist/author/publisher/tour company know.

  23. I'm simply a reader but I do post reviews for each book I read. I just finished The Forbidden Queen and while everyone else was giving it 5 stars, it was a 3 star book for me. I love O'Brien's writing and this was actually a shock to me. This is bound to happen occasionally with every author and I would hope that honest reviews are what people want. Your honest reviews are why your blog still comes in my email. 🙂

  24. I agree with others in that I would not accept a book for review that came attached with a stipulation that my rating be at least 3 stars or higher. Thankfully I've not encountered this before. I blog for fellow readers so my reviews always share my honest thoughts because that is what I expect from the reviews of other bloggers. I've not had to write too many negative reviews, but I won't shy away from them if I find a book to be less than stellar. Like others, when I do write a negative review I try to include one or two positive things to say about the book and, if my thoughts differ from those of most other readers, I encourage people to check out other reviews before deciding if a book is or is not for them. I think it's important to always post your honest thoughts because the way I look at it is that I'm not just a book blogger — I'm also a book consumer (I assume many other book bloggers feel the same way). Negative reviews are often the first ones I read when determining whether or not to purchase a particular book. I'm not interested so much in why a reader likes a book. I'm more interested in knowing why a reader dislikes a certain book. If the things they don't like are the types of things I normally don't like in a book I'll know it's not for me.

  25. I submitted to a book blogger in UK once. She sent me the review prior to posting and said, "I'll post this when you have approved it."I replied that I had no right to approve her review and she should just post it where she wanted.Unfortunately, there are a lot of self-publishing authors and their fanz who can get a bit excited about a bad review. I admire folks who reject the "say something good" silliness. Mom was right – but she wasn't talking about book reviews.

  26. Thank you so much for your comment, Pete. And I echo your sentiments, thank you for supporting bloggers/reviewers!

  27. As a reader and as an author I want honest reviews regardless of the final rating.

  28. As a reader and an author I want honest reviews. That being said, I do a number of reviews for author tours. Before committing to do a review I do try to learn as much about the book as possible, including reading the first chapter (if available). I do not want to spend my time slogging through a novel that I know the writing will make me hate it. Because of that pre-planning, there has only been once I could not give a 3 star or better review.I also write a number of reviews for Goodreads, often after finishing a book I've purchased. Those are also whatever I honestly think. Again, however, I'm pretty picky before I purchase a book too. I think that accounts for not having 1 and 2 star reviews from me. Another thing to consider is that there is no consistent measure that a 3 star review from me equals a 3 star review from someone else. In both my 3 and 4 star reviews I also talk about what I didn't like or what didn't work for me because I know that my tastes or writing concerns are not the same as other readers. As a reader, I don't care as much about the rating as I do about the review itself. If someone simply says 5 stars, "This book was amazing!" I ignore it. That tells me nothing. But if they talk about the characters, the plot, the tension, the themes then I can judge whether the book is a good fit for me or not.

  29. I struggle with this all the time. The heart of the problem, I believe, is the "star" rating system. What does 5 stars mean? 2 stars? Particularly on amazon, it means something different to each reviewer and reader. (At least GoodReads gives you some idea what the star should mean.)At my website ScienceThrillers.com, I define my own star rating system on a curve. 3 stars is a good book (average). Anything I give 4 stars is better than that. And 5 star reviews are rare (fewer than 20% of the books I review).My other "innovation" is I do not give star ratings at all for independently/self published books. I write extensive comments to describe the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Based on their own preferences, let the readers decide how those balance out in overall "quality."

  30. Hey there Book Buddy:) Well…You know my views on this (and my policy!) Simply put, if I don't like it, I stop reading- end of that story! so if I stop reading I don't review. I have absolutely no time left to spare on reading it through and then more time to write about something I didn't like to begin with! I decide!When I'm on a tour though- I actually contact the tour person and let them know that I just can't read a particular book. Sometimes they then ask me to just post the Giveaway (and I've also refused that too!) I've done that OFTEN. It's also happened for HNS that I refused a book that was just way too graphic for me. Basically I read and blog for my own pleasure. I like sharing and talking about what I enjoy:) My blog is about what I want it to be- I got no room for stuff I don't want in it. But, Marie, you knew all this about me already!

  31. To be honest, I don't read blogs that only post positive reviews. What's the point? Great discussion, Marie.

  32. I review for a book site where they ask reviewers not to post anything less than a four on personal book sites, but that a 3 is OK on their site. Anything less than 3, they ask the reviewer to contact them and give reasons why the book is unreadable/badly written. Sometimes this is unavoidable. I personally hate trashing someone else's work. I always put myself in their shoes. I occasionally have given a 3, and the last one was for a leading author whom I felt had just lost the grip he once had on his genre. If it's a poor review, I feel one should put down exactly the reasons, without being spiteful or vituperative. I always try to finish a book. Sometimes this is not always possible. Maybe the book didn't 'click' with me, but someone else will love it.

  33. I definitely have had publishers tell me be honest, and then, after I have posted a negative review, I never hear from them again. But you know what? I say, good riddance!

  34. Saw this one twitter, great post :)I will try to make it short.Negative reviews rock! Why? Well I would never buy a book that had only pos reviews, that would be silly. That would be like saying everyone in the entire worlds loves the same things, and we sure do not. I need neg reviews to make my mind up, they can make me buy the book, and they can make me realize that the book is so not for me. Only positive reviews? Psawh, then I know the blogger is hiding all those books she did not like from me.I once had this author who told me to change the 4 on Amazon to a 5 and he pestered me relentlessly. In the end I told him that either the 4 stands or the review goes away. I mean it was still a 4!

  35. No one should tell you whether or not you can post a review. I wouldn't trust any tour company that states please don't post review if less than 3 stars. They have no credibility that way. Same as some bloggers who are very prolific but all their reviews are 4 or 5 stars. I know they can pick and choose what they get sent but still, even great authors can bomb. If a blogger doesn't like a book they should still post a review even if they don't finish because it sucks. I think the loyalty is to a blogger's readers, not the authors. As for Amazon reviews, you can tell by reading a review whether or not it is honest. I usually read the 3 and 4 star reviews and check reviewers past reviews if I am unsure. If an author pestered my to change my review, I would put that in my review! But I'm a bad-ass, lol. A two star review doesn't mean a book is bad, just that this is what this reader thought. But maybe the reason you didn't like it, might be something I look for. Plus, people are more likely to trust your recommendations. There are a few high profile bloggers that have tons of connections, get blurbed etc. But all their reviews are positive so I don't trust them. They are pandering to the publishing houses.

  36. I specifically state in my review guidelines "I will offer a completely honest review of the book. Completely honest. I'm not going to lie to sugar coat a truly bad reading experience if I have one. If you are uncomfortable with this, please don't contact me."If you've read any of my reviews you know I'm not a "everything's a five star read" kind of person. If a book is bad then I'll rate it as such. I've done two star reviews, quite a few of them. And a few one star reviews. A one star would be that I simply could not finish the book it was so bad. A two star is that it wasn't great but it had some redeeming qualities.In any case, I have no fear of saying exactly what I think about a book. No one is going to tell me that I can't post a review on my own site because they don't like it.I actually did have an author ask me to remove a negative review – I didn't. I think the world needs honest reviews, no matter what the publisher or publicist would prefer. I am frankly sick of seeing blogs that rate every single book as five stars.

  37. I am honest in all my reviews and if I don't like a book, I either don't finish it and say why, or do finish it and explain why i don't like it in a courteous manner. Not just "Ack I hate this trash!"I have really cut down a lot on review copies, and only accept them from a chosen few. It's worked out for me. I guess I'm lucky :)oh and no I have never been told what to post. If someone tried, I would tell them to shove it 🙂 Politely of course.

  38. One of the publishers who I get ARCs from (I choose what I'm interested in) always states explicitly that they are okay with a negative review, which I like. However, knowing the work that goes into a book, I try to analyse why I don't like it. What is it? Is it me? What made me want to stop reading? What was good that I kept reading to that point?Like Jenny Girl, I'm trying to be more selective and it's working. I'm finding some fantastic books. I haven't been told what to post either – only a preferred date range for a post. If I couldn't put my own thoughts on something, I wouldn't review the book!I work for me in my own spare time, so I call the shots!

  39. I'm part of a new publishing company and we not only expect 100% honest reviews, but also have our author contracts include a clause that they are not allowed to respond to negative reviews. Reviewers are doing us a favour by reading the books in the first place. If they don't like the books we put out, either we did poorly in matching a book to a reviewer's tastes, or we failed in our editorial process. All we ask is that the reviewer explain why they didn't like the book in a constructive manner. We really do appreciate all of the hard work that goes into reviewing a book.

  40. As a (new) author of full length historical fiction I have realised a) that reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are important and b) that for an unknown they are hard to get. Having just read some of the awful things that are going on re slating reviewers / not wanting them to be honest etc I can see why.I do want reviews, I don't want ones were reviewers don't say what they really think. I want to know if folk like my book and also if there are things that they find not to their taste. I don't expect my book to suit every reader – how unrealistic would that be? I do hope that it suits those I expect to be my core readership – Histprical fiction fans – if I haven't succeeded with them, I need to think again in my next book.

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