Monday, May 09, 2016

How to Review a Book

This may sound a bit strange, but I'd like to explain to folks how to actually review a book. Before I do that, though, I'd like to go over why you should review a book.

Ever watch a movie on cable/satellite and wonder why you didn't see it at the theater? Ever try something at a restaurant you've never tried before and wonder why you hadn't? Life is often full of little discoveries. Maybe you take a wrong turn, go down a street you've never traveled before, and find a new store you'd love to shop at--or a seedy part of town you fervently wish you could have avoided. 

Hindsight is easy, but foresight is golden. And that is why we have reviews...

Generally speaking, reviews are great for warning folks something sucks, or for spreading the word something is fantastic. We review things on a daily basis when we talk to our friends.

"I went and saw Civil War this weekend--it was frickin' awesome!"

"I tried that new chicken sandwich at [Insert Restaurant Name]--oh, my lord it was spicey! I spent hours on the crapper!"

People like to give their opinions. It's a fact. And reviews are opinions.

It's also a fact that folks tend to like to give negative reviews more than positive ones. That's why our news programs are filled with horrific events and why the rare good story is called a "feel good" piece, instead of just "news".

When you read a book, you are absolutely entitled to have an opinion on it. Not every book is for everyone. We all have different tastes. And while many a mad consumer will not hesitate to fire off an review on Amazon that a product sucks, is the wrong size, falls apart, etc., they aren't that likely to applaud good results. And that is just unfair.

Look, I'm not going to lament the lack of reviews. There's no contract between us that you have to write a review in exchange for reading something I wrote. You already paid me--that's your end of the contract. You gave me money, I gave you (hopefully) entertainment. Yes, I'd love for you to tell your friends if you liked one of my books, and I'd like it even more if you didn't tell them it sucked. But the point is, the decision to review is yours. And I'll listen to your review, good or bad, as I strive to create better products, so I can convince you to send more of your hard-earned cash my way. 

The problem is, some of you don't seem to know how to write reviews. I mean, I understand it's easier to just happily move on to the next book. I assume no review means you were content or pleased with the outcome. No news is good news, so to speak. It's those negative reviews that bother me, and here's why:

1. Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth.
If you get a book for free, keep that in mind when writing a review. Yes, I get that your time isn't free or replaceable. My effort at story telling may have just wasted some of your precious time. I get it. But keep in mind, even if you didn't like it, my work helped you pass some time. At the very minimum, that's worth 2 stars. Only books that are incomplete should get a one-star. And while it may have taken you six hours to read my freebie, it took me far longer to write it, edit it, polish it, format it, and upload it. FAR longer. So if anyone should be bitching about time spent, it's me. 

2. You Can't Review What you Don't Try...
I'm a super picky eater. There are lots of foods I simply WILL NOT EAT. Primarily anything with chlorophyll in it--I'm far more carnivore than vegan (with an exception being any bug-type critter). But not in a million years would I go to a restaurant and judge how I think a salad tastes, expressing my opinion for all to see/hear. I'd leave it with a simple "Yuck--I don't eat salad. No thank you."

Similarly, if you don't read a book, front to back, you really can't judge it. I realize this can be hard to do. I couldn't stand Frank Herbert's Dune when I tried to read it. I didn't even make it to page 100. But see, I always declare that when I talk about the book (and that I enjoyed the movie). If you're reviewing my book online, you need to make an honest effort to read it. Quitting at, oh, 5 Percent, is not making an effort. You might as well review it off the back of the book. 

3. State Why It's Badly Written, not Why You Disagree
I'll admit it, I was enraged that Heimdall was a black man in the Thor movie. Because he's supposed to be a Scandanavian-looking white guy. I love the actor, and think he did a fantastic part playing the role, but it's wrong. I'd also complain if the Black Panther was made a Hispanic, or Wasp was a dude. Adaptations should respect the work they are based on, not change or "re-envision" it.

Similarly, when you read a book, don't base your review on personal preferences. Not enough diversity in the book? Does that mean is poorly written, or isn't entertaining? No. Maybe you're a First Person Fascist, who hates Third-Person view. Tough shit. Rating it low because of this is moronic at best. That has less merit than being a grammar nazi, fretting over missing/incorrect punctuation. 

4. Look for the Silver Lining
The worse-tasting food in the world will still keep you alive. Shitty movies might still have good cinematography or wonderful performances from the actors. Everything has some merit--especially given the fact you hung in there and finished it. Books are no different. Give your negativity value by validating it with something good. Maybe you like a character. Maybe you were intrigued by the mystery. There has to be SOMETHING that got you through. 

The bottom line here, folks, is that when you slap a One Star on a book and write something trollish like "DNF @ 5% Yeah. I quit early. The head-hopping/omniscient POV told me right away that this book was a no"   you're being a complete douche. You aren't making a valid statement about the writing or the story, you're directing your inner rage at what you perceive to be a helpless victim who won't strike back. You gots problems. Seek help. 

Reviews should serve as guides to others. Reviewers should be like reporters, giving sufficient information so that others can make an informed opinion. All the example above does is tell us the reviewer is angry about something else. She doesn't like 3rd Person? Okay, cool. I hate First Person--different strokes for different folks. I wouldn't go even 5% into a first person book, unless it had a damned good hook. And the review conflicts with itself... she should have been able to tell long before the 5% mark it was a head-hopping perspective. Why the hell did she read to 5%?

Overall, with what tiny, miniscule information provided, this was a shitty review. Terrible. Not even worthy of one-fifth of a star. My kids can articulate themselves better. Please folks, remember that when you write anything for public consumption, be it novel or troll-review, you are subject to scrutiny. Give us something we can chew on and keep your anger to yourself.