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 writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. 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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23 Responses to When reviews really matter…

  1. So what do you do when someone sends you a book for a review and it is badly written, full of errors and a weak plot? Send them a nice email saying it’s not really three stars or more? I tend to agree with Dylan that if we are reviewing we should review responsibly. I don’t have any qualms about writing low starred reviews of big sellers or criticising them, but I do try to be careful with Indies. However, it’s a tough industry and if someone asks me for a review they should accept two stars if that’s what I think it merits. And that was generous. Because continual five star ratings for mediocre/poor books makes a mockery of reviewing.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      Were I to ask for a review, I would hope the reviewer would be honest…and I hope I could learn from their opinion once I had finished eiher celebrating or wondering which method of self-immolation to use 🙂 Where I do have a problem is with those who verbally trash the whole of a book because it does not appeal to their taste, which is entirely subjective. Personally, I do not accept books for review. If I leave a review, it is because I feel I want to.


  2. I think readers sometimes don’t leave reviews because they think they have to sit down and write paragraphs. As authors, we love those long in-depth reviews, but they might set a standard that discourages readers who don’t have the time or energy to follow suit. I’m happy with a single sentence review. Even two words “Great Read” works for me. 🙂 🙂


    • Sue Vincent says:

      I’d settle for a simplesmiley 🙂 But you are right, Diana. A lot of people say they don’t feel qualified to leave a review… it doesn’t have to be complicated. ‘Great read’ works for me too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I also will not leave a really negative review. Even if I hated the book, I’d prefer to say nothing at that point. Books are authors’ babies and all our babies are beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. funny how I so easily leave a negative review of a purchased product, but find it impossible to do that to an author

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jennie says:

    What a great story and post. Of course children are the best judges of children’s books. I loved this!


  6. I did receive a 1 star for my novel and it hurt tremendously, though, I tried to not feel the burn of it. I suppose if I had received a 2 then I’d known she was generous but a 1 just feels like a lost battle.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      We are never going to please everyone and as long as reviews are written with honesty (and by someone who has actually read the book!) we just have to accept and move on. Personally, if I couldn’t find something positive to say, I would not leave a review… even if the book was not to my taste.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. dgkaye says:

    A worthy reblog! 🙂


  8. PHS says:

    Reblogged this on Archer's Aim and commented:
    Good thoughts on reviews. I need to leave a few myself! I better get going…


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