Story Excerpts

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Oh, the Agony of Being Honest!

A quick note on the blogging schedule: Tuesdays will be my whatever day -- life, faith, research, writing, get-to-know-you stuff... you know, whatever.  I'm reserving Thursdays for book reviews, book promotions, or the opportunity to share my thoughts on what I'm currently reading.  On Saturdays, I will continue to offer a brief snapshot of my work. *Deep breath*  Posting three times a week looks a little bit daunting, but I do want to start reserving a particular day for books.  Besides, if I'll stop wasting so much time with email, facebook, etc., I think I can manage. ;-)

Getting that out of the way...honesty has been on my mind.  Honesty in book reviews.  (Couldn't resist a picture of Abe Lincoln.  Have you seen that Geico commerical???  Awesomeness.)

Photo by Gage Grove 91

Honest book reviews are so valuable to the book browser.  As our world keeps changing with new technology, book reviews are starting to play a big part in a reader's decision to purchase.  Even I allow book reviews to influence me.  And while I follow a lot of book reviewers, the only ones I pay any attention to are the ones who aren't afraid to be critical in love.  Why?  Because I value honesty.

When I read reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, I skip the five star ones, and start with the four and three star reviews.  Four and three stars don't scare me away from purchasing a book.  Instead, they show me what I may or may not have an issue with.  Why do I skip the five star ratings?  Because I'm a bit skeptical, and tend to believe that most five star reviews are overly generous.  But I do pay attention to how many five star reviews a book has been given.

I got to thinking the other day.  Why do people gush about books that aren't the five-star, favorite-worthy masterpieces they say they are?  Maybe you know what I'm talking about.  You buy a copy of Book "A" based on all the rave reviews.  Alas, it doesn't meet your high expectations, and makes you feel like you just wasted twelve dollars.  You think about those book reviewers and wonder what they were thinking.  You wonder if they were friends and relatives of the author.  And you vow to never trust those book reviewers again.

Back to why people gush about a less than stellar product.  I think the root is fear.  We don't want to hurt the author's feelings.  We don't want to affect their sales negatively.  We want them to return the favor when its our turn, so we leave things off of our reviews.  But is that really helping the author?  Some would argue "yes".  Me?  I'm not sure.  Maybe its my "unpublished" mind-set, but lately I've been thinking that if criticism is left to those who buy the book and are disappointed with it -- not only will the bad reviews on Amazon increase -- the author will lose potential customers for life.  Am I wrong?

I know what you're thinking -- she's one to talk!  She posts nothing but five and four star reviews on her blog!  Guilty as charged.  Last November, I wrote a blog post about my hesitancy to post critical book reviews.  You can read it here.  Since then, I've become braver and concluded that my honesty --spoken in love, of course -- can only help an author, and build trust with those who read my blog.  I'm still thinking I'll refrain from reviewing books that I can only give one or two stars.  Those kind of reviews won't be helpful to anyone, unless it's an awful book that you want to warn your friends away from.

If your curious about how I rate the books I read, I'll tell you.  Five stars means I found nothing wrong with it, and really enjoyed it.  Even if the book isn't a favorite I would re-read over and over, I'll still give it five stars.  Four stars mean it's an excellent book, I enjoyed it overall, but something bothered me.  Something that took a bit of the enjoyment away from it.  Three stars mean there were several things that bothered me.  Maybe I was off and on about reading it, but interested enough to see what happened at the end.  Two stars mean I was very bored.  I usually don't even finish these books.  I have a hard time giving a one star rating.  Perhaps if the author has already entered eternity, and it was, well, just an awful book in every since of the word.

While I was still debating on actually posting this article, God led me to this verse.

"It is an honor to receive an honest reply." Proverbs 24:26

An honor.  So when it's appropriate to give a book four stars instead of five -- according to the Word of God -- you are honoring that author.  Wow.  What a different way to look at it!

Here's another thought.  An honest review is a customer magnet.  I know, because I'm one of those attracted to honest reviews.  By being honest about even one thing we didn't like about a book -- and nine times out of ten we will find something we didn't like -- we are sharing our opinion and inviting a potential customer to come to their own conclusion about it.


Loree Huebner said...

This is an excellent post, Gwendolyn. I'm glad you posted it.

I'm in total agreement with you here - and I'm also guilty of the 5 and 4 star review, but I believe that an honest review is a customer magnet.

I think people want to read an honest review instead of "5 stars and it's the best book I've ever read" routine.

Hear Hear!

Helen W said...

Oooh ... great post Gwen! It is such a struggle to post reviews that are less than stellar. I face it often! You've inspired me to post more reviews ... to include those I don't totally love.

Michelle Griep said...

Another thing I take into consideration is to look at all the reviews of a particular reviewer. For some, 3 stars is the highest they go so technically it'd be a 5. Or others, 4 is the lowest they go, so that might mean a stinker from their perspective. The bottom line is that readers should always remember that book reviews are subjective, honest or not.

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Thanks Loree! Don't feel guilty about your four and five star reviews. I think we've all been guilty of taking our real book rating and adding one more star in certain cases. Especially as writers -- its hard to be honest with people we're trying to network with and befriend. I think if we pray about each review we post, and allow the Lord to lead us in what we say, then we can only help them.

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Hi Helen! I'm glad this blessed you. I've left off so many three star reviews out of fear of offending an author, and lately I've been thinking -- how many one star reviews have authors been given because I wouldn't post that three star review?

Gwendolyn Gage said...

That's a great point, Michelle. You're right, ratings are subjective, because some people are more generous than others. I try to be well-balanced in my reviews, but some could argue I'm generous or harsh, depending on that person's particular bent.

I do try to consider the subjectivity of ratings when I shop for books. I've bought books that had mostly five star reviews and found them deserving of only four or three stars. I've also bought books that had a lot of four and three star reviews and loved them. You're right, it's all very subjective. :-)

Rissi said...

That is an excellent idea about "three or four" star reviews, Gwendolyn - never thought of that before but it is good logic. =)

When I rate something 5-stars, I really mean it but that does not mean I am saying that everyone else will or should like it, and I hope that a potential viewer/reader knows that.

Gwendolyn Gage said...

I'm glad you liked my idea about three and four stars, Rissi! I'm the same way with five stars -- my rating is my opinion, and is only meant to reflect my appreciation of a book. :-)

Amy said...

Thanks for the post. I've just started writing book reviews for a small paper. Something to think about.


Marie Burton said...

I understand your point totally. I am always honest in my book reviews; however, you will find that most of them are 4 star and 4.5 star reads on my blog.

I realize I am more positive in my reviews, because, quite frankly, I only accept books that I feel like are RIGHT up my ally. Why accept a review book knowing that it may not be something that knocks my socks off?
(Most of the review books are ones that I have begged for from publishers, and not ones that they have asked me to review in the first place.)

AFter three years of blogging about books, I can now pick and choose what books to review. My desire is not to pick apart someone's work, but to share the love of books. I don't rate books on Amazon the place of haters unless the author begs me to, and the only place besides my blog that I rate books is on Goodreads.

It is through my site & Goodreads that people have come to 'know me', and know my tastes, my reading style, and what would garner a 5 star book review.
If a book is something that I stayed up late to finish, and loved every minute of it forward and back, it gets a 5 star review.

I have no qualms about giving it the extra shiny star because it is my opinion only, and not based on what others would like. I am the one reviewing the book, not everyone else.

Then again.. if it is a 5 star review I still might say that the book is only for such-and-such type of readers...

You made me look, and I have about 25 Five Starred titles out of 178 Reviews.

Sorry for the large comment, but wanted to make sure people weren't skipping my reviews just because I have an ability to really enjoy many of them!

Marie Burton said...

(we were commenting on the same time on each other's blogs!)

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Hi Amy! What a great opportunity. I'm so pleased that this is timely food for thought. Blessing to you.

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Hi Marie! LOL - yes, we are commenting at the same time. :-) Yes, ratings are very subjective because every one thinks differently and appreciates different things about a book. Some people are harder in their reviews, other people are more lenient. The important thing is that we are being honest in our estimations.

I didn't mean to make you think that your five star reviews go unnoticed! Not everybody reads reviews the way I do. And a lot of times, I do browse the five star reviews after glancing at the four and three star ones.

I agree that we should be sharing our love of books instead of nit-picking, but I also believe that a review should be well-rounded, showing the good and not-so-good aspects of a book. I'm not in love with Amazon either, but I do post reviews there to support authors. :-)

Brandi said...

I agree with you about writing honest reviews. I think it's harder as Christians because we don't want to say something unkind. However, constructive criticism doesn't have to be negative.

I'm just starting to write reviews on my blog, but I think I'm going to dispense with ratings. People have a tendency to look at the number of stars and not really read the review. I'm hoping this helps give a fair assessment of a book.

Great post!

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Hi Brandi, I like the way you think. Leaving the stars off a blog review will really make people read what you have to say! Of course, when posting to Goodreads, Amazon, etc., you have to give a star rating, but when you don't have to... :-)

Leah said...

I agree with you. As a reviewer I make an effort to only give a five-star rarely. Most of mine are three or four. I have noticed with some writers a large number of five star reviews up front seems to upset other readers and then a surge of vicious ones and twos show up.
A four star seems to carry more weight. It says, "I know it's not perfect, but it is definitely worth your time."

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Hi Leah, that's true -- when a new book comes out and collects mostly five star reviews, its inevitable that some who buy it will be disappointed and jump at the chance to mar it with a low rating.

I like your thinking about a four star review. Really, this IS where most good books fall. I tend to be more generous and lenient when I have absolutely no complaints about a book (even if its not one I'd re-read), but that's me. :-)

Jenn said...

Excellent post! I loved that verse you shared, I'll have to remember that. :)

I must admit I have to really LOVE a book to give it 5 stars. I'm more of a 4 star reviewer. Occasionally I'll give half stars--I have several 3 1/2 and 4 1/2 stars. But I reserve the 5 stars for books that blew me away so that my readers know it did. :)

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Thanks, Jenn! I can understand why you would reserve the five stars for a particularly excellent book. I try to do that as well, but I steer myself more toward the generous side since I tend to be critical. Hopefully it gives my book reviews a good balance. :-)