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  • Writer's pictureKristina Elyse Butke

On Reviews: A Little Manifesto

A fluorescent sign of a thumbs up and ok sign on a black background - on reviews: a little manifesto
Photo by Pablo Zuchero on Unsplash

I'm a little late to post this, but Twitter has been abuzz with authors behaving badly. Namely, they have been complaining about 1-star reviews, going after readers for their reviews, reporting reviews they don't like, and doing harassment campaigns filled with personal attacks. There have also been some bizarre takes on Tik Tok that found their way to Twitter. For the safety of the reviewers and to not start drama, I'm not naming names or linking to the controversies mentioned, but I will address some of the stuff I've seen coming up.

Authors Need to Stay Silent

Authors, I don't want to tell you not to read your reviews because I don't think it's my place to (I have a feeling I will be looking at my own because I have no willpower). But the kicker is that authors should not respond to them, even if it's a polite "thank you for reading my work." The review space (like Goodreads or Amazon) should be a safe space for readers, who are not being compensated for taking the time to review your book. If authors want criticism of their work, they need to seek out critique partners, beta readers, and sensitivity readers...when their product is still in their hands. Once your book is out in the world, it no longer belongs to you. It belongs to the readers, and it's their world. You don't belong there. Do not respond to reviewers.

Rating a DNF is Perfectly Acceptable

There are a lot of people out there who say that you should not rate a book that you didn't finish. I disagree. To borrow Reads with Rachel's food analogy that she sometimes uses, if you are at a restaurant and order a meal and find that it's made with strange ingredients, is dangerously undercooked, and tastes terrible and you don't finish your food, you can still say that the food was awful because you tried it. You got enough of it to make the judgement that it is awful. You do not need to finish the meal to know that it is a terrible meal.

I think it's the same way with books. Readers are savvy and authors are pretty consistent with their writing. If there are problems early on in the work, the problems will likely still be there for the rest of the book. Readers can get a taste of a book and decide quickly enough if it's awful, and they can rate accordingly.

Reviews are For Readers; What About Authors Reviewing?

This one is kind of tricky. I do see authors rating each other's works on Goodreads (especially if they are 5-star reviews). But it's been brought up that authors could be boosting each other's works for less than innocent reasons, especially if they're the same circle of people posting and posting again. Then there's the bigger issue: what happens when authors find a book they don't like? Should they post a negative review? (Here are some articles you might want to look at about this: Chuck Wendig's opinion, and Greer Macallister's opinion.)

I was convinced on Twitter a while back that it wasn't a good idea to slam other authors' works because you don't want to "shit where you eat." The writing and publishing world is small; people know each other and remember what is said; and the internet is forever.

I don't want to mess with that world, even though I am a reader. So my personal rules are this:

  • Rate books, but don't review them

  • Don't share ratings for books less than 3 stars

  • Don't share the titles of books that were bad or were DNF'd (talking about the problems are fair game, but the author and book are kept anonymous)

I kind of learned my lesson about this back in graduate school. Authors find reviews. I left a positive one for Douglas Clegg's Neverland and he found it (and linked back to it, telling people it blew him away)...but what about the really negative review I left for a book by a groundbreaking SFF and horror author? I decimated that book. I was incredibly snarky. If Clegg found his review, who's to say the author of the book I slammed wouldn't find my harsh review? And if I was in his shoes, how would I feel to read something like that? My review was funny but hurtful. So...I decided not to review books anymore and to stick with ratings 3 or above.

I don't know what other authors should do. I sort of don't trust when authors leave each other 5 stars and glowing reviews, but I don't think it's the best idea for authors to slam each other, either. I think this is something every author has to decide for themselves. I hope you understand why I've made the choices I've made when it comes to reviewing.

I guess I should mention this one little thing: I do animation reviews on my site, and I mention whether a series worked for me, and mention its low points as well as its high points. I do not work in animation, so I think it's fair game for me to review it. Whereas I work in the book world, so I think I should lay off. Does that make sense?

You're Not Qualified to Review Books Unless You've Written One--WHAT?!

This is one of the more bonkers takes I've ever seen. I don't even know how this got to be a thing, but it is! Once again using the food analogy (thanks Rachel!), you do not have to be a trained chef in order to determine whether or not the meal is bad. You have taste buds and self awareness. That's enough.

Should Authors Get Leeway Because They Worked Hard on Their Book?

The short answer is "no." Authors are not owed reviews, and they are not owed good reviews. The author created a product to be consumed, and all that matters to the consumer is that the product is finished. No one cares about the process. Of course people know that writing is hard and have heard the stories of writers laboring for years over a work; but the thing is, you created something for consumption and it's out of your hands once it's published! People are not meant to see what's behind the curtain, and most people aren't interested.

I'm Going to Leave You With a Video

There are a lot more weird takes I could talk about (I've seen a lot on social media lately). But, I'd rather end it here with a video by one of my favorite reviewers, Reads with Rachel. She entered into an open dialogue with her commenters about reader spaces and the roles of reviews, and presented these responses in a very thoughtful video that I highly recommend you watch. I hope it gets you thinking about your own stance on reviews!

Friends, do you have any thoughts on reviews? Have you seen some weird takes out there? Let me know in the comments!

2 Σχόλια

30 Ιαν 2023

An author recently commented on a review that I left on GoodReads and I was irritated. I’ve never had that happen before. It wasn’t a kind review and they were a bit demeaning towards me in their comment. And patronizing. I ended up deleting the review so that their comment would come down (it was only a two or three sentence review that I jotted down out of frustration with lazy writing), but it never should have come to that.

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Kristina Elyse Butke
Kristina Elyse Butke
31 Ιαν 2023
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I'm sorry that happened to you! That's completely unprofessional of the author and they should never demean their readers, who have *willingly* and *without compensation* read their book!

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