When reviews really matter…

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 “Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in his Hobbit hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his Dwarves persuaded him to go. He had a very exiting (sic) time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they get to the lonely mountain; Smaug, the dragon who guards it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home — rich! This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9.” Rayner Unwin’s review of The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

In 1936 a ten year old boy was given a book by his father. This was not just any book, nor just any boy… Rayner Unwin was the son of Sir Stanley Unwin, founder of the publishing firm George Allen & Unwin. The lad was asked to write a report on the book, something he did regularly and for which he was paid the princely sum of one shilling, his father believing that the best judges of children’s books were children. Rayner wrote a reader’s review …and on the strength of that report his father published the book. A legend was born that continues to hold a place in both literature and our hearts. Without that review The Hobbit might never have been published and J.R.R. Tolkien might have remained an obscure professor.

Without the publication of that children’s book that has captured so many young minds, would we have ever known the greater story of the Lord of the Rings… and would the fantasy genre be what it is today? Who knows. But it just goes to show how important a review can be.

Reviews matter.

Books need reviews. We’re always hopeful… writers… we all would like reviews. Preferably good ones, of course… hopefully starting with something that says the reader loved the book/story/writing style/ideas… something, anything that allows us to heave a sigh of relief and know someone has seen something in the book the author had tried to put there. They make our day… or ruin our month if they aren’t so good! Either way, I doubt any writer is blasé or indifferent.

Yet many readers do not leave a review and there seem to be many reasons for that. I never did either… until I started writing and realised just how much they can mean to the author. These days I get little chance to read, but I will always leave a review when I have enjoyed a book or found it useful… even if it takes me a while.

I suppose, like many, I didn’t feel that I… a mere reader… had any right to leave a review. I wasn’t qualified to do a book review! They are, after all, things people who work for newspapers and magazines are employed to write… professional people. But then, they are critics, who can launch to stardom or consign to the wastepaper basket of literary history the blood, sweat and tears of writers. No, I realised… eventually… that no one is more qualified to write a review that a proper reader who has actually read a book because they have chosen to do so… and who has engaged with the writer’s words and imagery. It is, after all, only the imagination of the reader that transforms the words from mere ink on paper to a vivid tale.

Of course, I had always bought a lot of my books second-hand. So I couldn’t leave a review on Amazon. Except… you can. Even if you haven’t bought the book from them. And there is Goodreads too… and for bloggers and users of social media there are plenty of other options. So I had no excuse.

But how on earth do you begin to write a review? I read other reviews… got a feel for the type of things people looked for and mentioned. That was a start. Overview of the basic premise of the book, things they really liked, any things they didn’t… and how much they had enjoyed it. It seemed simple enough. I had a go and found that it really was.

On the other end of the scale, as a writer, I realise how hard it is to get reviews. People… especially on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads… do look at them and although they may not be the final factor in whether or not a book is purchased, for many they are a major influence. I also know how I feel when someone leaves even the shortest of positive reviews… especially when they come from people I really don’t know.

Bad reviews I will not leave. Stating that a book was not to your personal taste, or highlighting something that didn’t really work for you is one thing; lambasting an author is a different matter altogether. There is always something positive to say… one of the worst books I was asked to review… and which shall remain nameless… had obviously been thoroughly researched and it was obvious the writer had put heart and soul into their work. I stand with Thumper on that…

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com
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115 Responses to When reviews really matter…

  1. Susan Scott says:

    Great post Sue, thank you. Interesting about the review by the Unwin boy and The Hobbit.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Poetry by Pamela and commented:
    Reviews really do matter

    Liked by 2 people

  3. A great post Sue. Ironically when I read a bad review of a book (if it strikes me as being unfair or unduly harsh) this prompts me to read the work in question so, in certain circumstances even less than flattering reviews can prompt the reader to read the book. Kevin

    Like

  4. Ali Isaac says:

    Great post Sue! I agree with Kevin… bad publicity is still publicity, and I like to make up my own mind. A bad review is amusing to read, as they usually say far more about the reviewer than the book, so they will often inspire me to buy the book lol! I have been known on occasion to be a little contrary… ‘stubborn’, I believe is the more popular choice of word!

    Like

  5. Ali Isaac says:

    Reblogged this on aliisaacstoryteller and commented:
    Loved this post by Sue today… well, I love most of Sue’s posts, so that’s not unusual! But this one is about the power of book reviews, which as an Indie author, means quite a lot to me personally.

    Like

  6. A wonderful post – and a lovely Thumper 🙂

    Like

  7. Bojenn says:

    Thank you, I feel the same way and when on many occasions instead of writing a bad review pass up the opportunity. After all, just because I don’t enjoy the read doesn’t mean someone else won’t love it…

    Like

  8. Bojenn says:

    I am reflagging so this will be a permanent reminder to me and for all.

    Like

  9. Bojenn says:

    Re blogging! Doggone autocorrect! The writer’s worst nightmare!

    Like

  10. Bojenn says:

    Reblogged this on Boondoggling with Bojenn and commented:
    Just a reminder

    Like

  11. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    If, in 1936, a 10 year old boy had not given his review of a book he’d just read – THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY MAY NEVER HAVE BECOME AVAILABLE TO THE WORLD…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Jack Eason says:

    Like you and literally millions of other avid readers Sue, the thought of writing a review never occured to me. Until, that is, I became a full time writer, which is when I realised the absolute importance of the humble review, whether good, bad, or as sometimes happens – the often dismissive kind. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Our Sue on reviews 🙂

    Like

  14. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Even seasoned authors with thousands of sales still cherish a review of their books. We assume that they are too popular and that our opinion does not matter.. however it does. So do think about how you can make someone’s day.. and to if you cannot think of something constructive and positive to say then best not say anything at all… great piece by Sue Vincent.

    Like

  15. tjtherien says:

    As an author I have a pet peeve with reviews. That is being expected to ask, or beg for the review itself. I really don’t think as the author I should be asking people to review my works. Either they should because the writing compels them to, or they shouldn’t because the writing was ineffective with them. Also with the practice of selling reviews (which I see as predatory by both reviewer and author) is shading the review in an unsavory light and the review itself is starting to be treated with skepticism. That said, I appreciate each review I have received. Even the one less favorable review is one I welcome.

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I agree with you on the subject of paying for reviews. Most of the books we have out there will appeal to a particular niche. I’d rather the reviews came from those who chose to read and were, in some way, moved to say something in response. Good or bad, as long as it is what they really felt.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. sandradan1 says:

    Totally agree, and love the review of ‘The Hobbit’! I must add though that when I review books I jealously guard my 5* – too lightly bestowed I think these days, diluting the relevance of the stars. For me, 3* is a good read, enjoyable, well-written, may-read-again. 4* and 5* are something very special and in that territory lurk award shortlists and the bestseller lists. SD

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I love the five star reviews ( what writer wouldn’t, if they are honest? ) but I agree they can be rather freely sprinkled… often with the best and most supportive of intentions. It would be good to see those stars more precisely defined in the terms you have stated here.

      Like

  17. Excellent post. Though the kid forgot to put a spoiler warning on his review. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Reviews are so important and this was an excellent post, Sue. Thanks. (my review of the post)

    Like

  19. JunkChuck says:

    Fascinating info about The Hobbit, and great insight about reviews–I always try to review newer stuff I read, but shirk more often on classics and established authors. Now i feel that I’ll have to do better.

    Like

  20. Great post, Sue. Though I’ve always been an avid reader, I’d never left an Amazon review before I began writing. I never looked at reviews either. I don’t think reviews are important to the average reader, but they sure are important to authors. It helps to have feedback about what works and what doesn’t. I try to keep my reviews upbeat and constructive. I never bash an author or suggest they stick with their day job. If I truly dislike a book, I usually stop reading very early on, and I won’t review a book I don’t finish. Thanks for this post!

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I tend to give a book at least three chapters… I can’t forget how much I disliked the Covenant series by Donaldson for the first two chapters… and I class them amongst my all time favourites.

      Like

  21. A bad review will interest me as well as a good one. I believe all reviews, though some readers may be plain mean, are good advertising in getting the title and author into the public’s eye.
    Great points and fabulous post.

    Like

  22. Eliza Waters says:

    I wrote my first book review on Amazon just recently, prompted by one of your earlier posts about reviews (at least I think it was you, maybe it was Jools?). I think it is good to raise awareness that anyone can do it. And getting to know writers like you, makes one see just how hard they work and it is nice to give them a boost. 🙂

    Like

  23. Reblogged this on Seumas Gallacher and commented:
    …priceless piece from Sue Vincent on a matter dear to the hearts of ALL quill-scrapers … reviews…

    Like

  24. Tim Baker says:

    Reblogged this on blindoggbooks and commented:
    An excellent post from Sue Vincent about the difference one book review can make…

    Like

  25. Georgia Rose says:

    Terrific post Sue and very much like you I didn’t review before I started writing but made a vow to review everything I read once I’d started and now that I know what it means to other readers and the authors.

    Like

  26. Fabulous post and I never knew that about The Hobbit! Imagine if he had not liked it. *shudders* Anyway, I started noticing book reviews when I first started in the industry as a book seller back in the 90’s. I read and review the new releases and the whole staff read them. I printed off a Word document and we even handed them out to customers. Times have changed but I still review honestly about the books I read. Readers, I think, feel like they aren’t supposed to or their little review doesn’t matter. As an author, I know just how valuable all reviews are. I agree that any review, good or bad, is good for a book, even if it is only two sentences. I read somewhere that a reader won’t pick up a book if it only has 5 star reviews. Reading is subjective.

    Thanks Sue for the insight and I hope you have a lovely weekend! 🙂

    Like

  27. olganm says:

    I agree. But didn’t know the story about the Hobbit. Great way to choose children’s books. If only…I’m also of the school of contrary. I like to read reviews for their content so if it’s full of praises or just hatred but doesn’t say anything, it doesn’t do anything for me.

    Like

  28. Now I feel guilty for not leaving reviews for all the books I have read, a lot free gratis, so will try to do better in the future. My problem is that I am old and by the time Amazon asks for a review I have read several more books and the title and author have faded a little, I was going to suggest that they include the original review that is on the site when you purchase so some of us golden oldies can get a clue.

    Like

  29. noelleg44 says:

    I never knew this about The Hobbit, so thanks, Sue, for bringing it to my attention. Great story! I’m with Thumper, but there are ways of reviewing even if the book is not all that strong. I concentrate on what I liked. Of course if I didn’t like anything, I probably put it down after a chapter or two.

    Like

  30. Deborah Jay says:

    Reblogged this on deborahjay and commented:
    I wish I’d written this post myself…

    Like

  31. Wonderful! I’m with you and Thumper… 🙂

    Like

  32. Reblogged this on The Linden Chronicles: The Wolf's Moon by Patrick Jones and commented:
    Excellent information about book reviews from Author Sue Vincent!!

    Like

  33. macjam47 says:

    Sue, this is a wonderful post, and I agree with you 100%.

    Like

  34. Agreed! I feel guilty these days when I just rate a book and don’t have the time to sit down and write a review. Especially as a new author and really dependent on those reviews!!
    Great post! I love the bit about the review on the Hobbit!

    Like

  35. Kate Loveton says:

    We could all learn a lot from Thumper, couldn’t we? Liked this post, and will take it to heart.

    Like

  36. Thanks Bojenn!! Great post! There are a few writers here on wordpress that I have read and will leave a review!!

    Like

  37. I do usually get around to a review, but mostly on my blog. I find the star system on Amazon and goodreads pressurising, and I have a built-in honesty button. I feel mean putting anything less than 5 stars and this makes it difficult to review books by fellow writers unless I truly loved them.

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I agree with youabout the stars… their imposed definitions are not well defined. Three stars should really equate to a good read, but most writers would be gutted if that was all they got!

      Like

  38. marjma2014 says:

    Reblogged this on kyrosmagica and commented:
    Absolutely believe that reviews matter. Don’t you? Reblog of When reviews really matter from Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.

    Like

  39. KL Caley says:

    So true Sue, well said! The last few years I have been creating lists of all books I have read and when I get time upload the reviews. I think it is useful for myself as well as others as often I will read a series of books and although I may only enjoy the first, I may then love the second (or vice versa) and I think that feedback is useful for authors too.

    Like

  40. D.G.Kaye says:

    Fabulous post!

    Like

  41. bibliobeth says:

    Really enjoyed reading this, thank you! I love reviewing books and even if I haven’t enjoyed a novel that much I will try and find something positive to say about it. Also if I’ve had to give up on a book I won’t review it at all as I don’t think it’s fair to the author to comment on a book that I haven’t managed to finish, who knows how it may have turned out? 🙂

    Like

  42. Janice Wald says:

    Hello,
    I enjoyed your post. The face of journalism is changing, and for the better. You are right. We are now living in an age where readers such as ourselves can leave book reviews. I agree we are qualified.
    Thank you for visiting my site Reflections today and liking my post “9 Ways to Avoid Gambling…”. I appreciate your interest. Nice to meet you.
    Janice

    Like

  43. Reblogged this on daydreaming in words and commented:
    A good reminder to all of us. I really must get around to writing some Amazon and Goodreads reviews. I know how disheartening it is to have no reviews.

    Like

  44. Reblogged this on BRIDGET WHELAN writer and commented:
    A review from a 10 year old boy in 1936 helped an obscure academic publish a fantasy book for children…and the rest is history.

    Like

  45. philipparees says:

    An enviable wealth of responses to an excellent post on the critical importance of a review- not unlike that now apocryphal story of a secretary spotting Harry Potter on the ‘post back with polite rejection’ pile! I agree that five stars have been devalued possibly because indie authors need more help than traditionally published and those who review know it. As an author I review books that truly gripped or compelled, and therefore my 5* are given for that reason, reserved mainly for books unlike others that break new ground ( even some containing the occasional spelling mistake). But I never agree to review or accept free copies precisely so that I can gift a review. If I can’t I have at least bought the book. What I think needs more emphasis is the honour done to an author by every reader and the collaborative relationship which is expressed in even a short review.

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I would absolutely agree with you on that last point, Philippa… without the reader the story remains asleep… no more than a possibility. The engagement of the reader gives it life… and a review makes the reader part of the life of the book itself.

      Like

  46. theowllady says:

    This is an amazing story! Reviews do matter! @v@ ❤

    Like

  47. Pingback: On reviews and reviewing | Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

  48. Reblogged this on Juliet Aharoni and commented:
    I’ve just started blogging. Quite an interesting journey!

    Liked by 1 person

  49. John Maberry says:

    Great post! Yes, do the reviews. I’m behind on my reading so I’m behind on my reviews too. Then there’s the ones I read so long ago that I need to revisit them. Like you, it wasn’t until I began writing that I realized the value of reviews. Loaded up a whole lot of books onto Goodreads but for all those read decades ago the reviews are lacking–not that they need them as much now. But if the author is alive, they may still get a royalty for a new sale to current readers.

    Like

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