Book Reviews, the Subject We Cannot Discuss

Book reviews.  Seems like a simple subject, right?  You read a book, you tell friends you liked it or didn’t, and in this day of social media, you do it online so lots of people can read your opinion. If you’re the author of the book in question you read the review and you. . .


Okay, maybe not. Lately novelists everywhere have discovered that responding to negative book reviews is a path to self-destruction. Trying to set the record straight? Responding to inaccuracies or obvious rants? Let the flame wars begin. And they have, all over the Internet. The logic seems to go like this: Novelists have had their say between the covers of their book. Now readers and reviewers want to have theirs without interference. If the authors try to defend themselves, they’re fair game, not just their novels.

I understand. Up to a point. Of course I draw the line at mean-spirited reviews by people who have clearly not read the novel in question. (I’m not referring to ANY of my reviews, by the way, which have been for the most part fair and kind.) But we novelists are learning to let all reviews silently roll over us. Many of my friends refuse to read theirs, even those vetted by loved ones. When it comes right down to it, if we’ve turned in the best book we’re capable of, then we’ve done our job. Some people will love our books and some will not. In the immortal words of Ricky Nelson (quoted at Southern Exposure far too often): “. . . you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”

I’ve actually learned a thing or two from critical reviews. Some I can slough off, knowing that reader just needs another novelist to enjoy, because our tastes will never mesh. Some I can nod with and agree that yes, I could have done that better, and so I take the criticism to heart. Some are clearly written by a reader in a bad mood who is anxious to unload. I can relate to that, as well.

Recently, though, novelists have learned that if we want positive reviews and lots of them, glowing reviews are as close as our bank account. We can buy them. And lest you think that’s just silly, trust me.  A number of positive reviews will grab attention at places like Think I’m kidding? Yesterday’s New York Times business section explained how it’s done. Get out the checkbook and you, too, can have positive reviews. As many as you can pay for. By people who have never picked up your book.

Of course most authors, this one included, would prefer no reviews to purchased ones. However, thoughtful reviews by thoughtful readers are much desired.

If you’re wondering what a helpful review looks like to an author?  Here are a few things to consider:

  1. First, read the book in its entirety.
  2. Remember those movie trailers you hate, the ones that show every important scene so that you no longer feel a need to actually buy a ticket when the movie makes its way to theaters? Let the author reveal the important plot points. Just hint. Hints are great.
  3. Remember that your review will matter to other book lovers, to the author, to the novel’s publisher.
  4. Most important? If you love a book, take the time to put up a review. If you want more, more, more, let Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, and any other review site know. Blog about it. Mention it on Twitter or Facebook. If you didn’t love a book?

Delete this post.


  1. Debbie Haupt on September 4, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Emilie, wow, what a great article. I hope every reviewer out there reads it too.
    For those who don’t know I review (for pay and without) for several publications and for B& and my personal blog.
    First of all there is nothing you can do for a negative review from someone who obviously didn’t read the book, you’d get more reaction yelling at your wall, or in my case my husband 🙂
    when I first started reviewing my mentor told me that there is no such thing in her book as a negative review, first of all unless the novel blatantly full of errors a review is no more than one person’s opinion of it, there are many ways to tell a review that is not stellar without being mean. It’s sort of like what your mother told you when you were little, if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all.

    • Emilie Richards on September 4, 2012 at 11:44 am

      Love having some comments from a reviewer, and a good one, too. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Becky on September 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    I too am a reviewer and I agree with what Debbie says. Reading is so personal and just because a book doesn’t suit my taste I think about other readers and what they might like and find the positives in the book.

    I also have gotten pickier about the books I review. I tend to try to stick with genres or authors I know I like. It’s fine to try something on your own but if you know you hate historical fiction you probably shouldn’t be reviewing that type of book because chances are you won’t like it.

    That being said the Shenandoah Album series (which I read for pleasure) with the use of historical flashbacks exposed me to the various time frames and now have reviewed and loved other books in the historical fiction vein, but I still prefer contemporary stories.

  3. […] If you’ve read The House Guests, you can add your own review. Look for the book’s page on any of the online booksellers–they’re all listed right here on my website. You can also review on social media, or in your favorite book group. Trust me, all reviews make a difference, especially to the author. Need review tips? Here you go. […]

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