Review Etiquette: 10 Commandments for Authors & Readers
Reviews are a funny thing. Some readers base their shopping on reviews while others completely ignore the opinions of others. It’s the same for authors. Some are terrified to chance a glimpse while others are obsessed with how the public is receiving their work. I, personally, am on the obsessive side regardless of if I’m shopping or writing. Why? Well, there are many benefits to following reviews in my opinion. Mainly, I’m very interested in my fans’ emotions, as my goal is to link my words to their heart in an invisible thread that keeps us tied together in a happy reader-author relationship.
While I write for myself (it’s literally a compulsion I can’t deny without emotional agony), I also write for my readers.
They are the incredible people who give my work purpose. If no one read the books I spent years writing, they’d be nothing more than personal memories and door stops. The reader is always in the back of my mind, sort of like an ever-present passenger beside me as I drive a plot forward. I imagine their perception, picture them saying things like “My hearts racing so fast!”, “I sense something around the bend”, or “I want you to go this way!” Sometimes I even imagine them reading my work and saying, “I gotta get the hell out of this car…”
It’s then that I know I need to clean up a scene. But every passenger is different and THAT is the key thing to remember. What might be overwhelmingly unpleasant and terrifying to one, might be thrilling to another. And it’s insane to expect everyone to always, one hundred percent of the time, enjoy the read.
As an author of over twenty novels, I assure you, I’ve read more books than I’ll ever write. I do review the books I’ve read, so I’m on both sides of the spectrum. There are books I like and books I dislike. I can also tell you there are books of mine that I LOVE (Skin, Simple Man, Forsaking Truth, and La Vie en Rose are among my personal favorites). Then there are books I’ve written that never resonated with me on a personal level. So I understand when a fan of my work isn’t head over heels about a certain story. It happens. I love my mother’s cooking, but there have definitely been some meals over the years that I did not like (Exhibit 1: Vegan Fettuccine… Sorry, Mom. I still love you for trying!) It’s perfectly okay, or should I say human, not to knock it out of the park every single time and it’s perfectly okay, as a reader, to enjoy an author and continue enjoying them even though you disliked some of their books.
I’ve received some incredibly heartwarming reviews that praised my work beyond my comprehension. I’ve also received some scathing reviews. Some were positive one star reviews and some were negative. Did you not think a scathing one star could be positive? I assure you it can. If a reviewer offers constructive feedback and clearly defines what elements triggered their dislike there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained by the writer, as well as other readers who might share similar triggers (e.g. Stories involving explicit violence, betrayal, other women). Comparably, if a five star reviewer leaves little information, the author is clueless as far as what was especially pleasing and how they might continue to repeat that element in future stories (but we love you for your review all the same, no matter the star value).
So here are
MY 10 Commandments
for Review Etiquette
Please note these are MY rules that I write and review by. I’m sharing them only as food for thought. There are 10 I follow as an author and 10 I follow as a reader.
- Never respond to a negative review. NEVER. This is why you have girlfriends, wine, tissues, and pillows to scream into, but as a professional, I assure you, it is extremely unprofessional to respond to a negative review.
- Do not review your own work. Come on… I understand if your relative or BFF read your novel, gushed over it, and not even a heat seeking missile could dissuade them from adding their two cents on Amazon, but that’s them and honestly, they have every right. You… well, it’s tacky. So don’t do it. It’s also extremely transparent to readers.
- Say thank you! Reviews, whether you peruse them or not, do stimulate sales (even bad reviews). That means if someone rates your work they are contributing to the food on your table, the heat in your home, and the light illuminating your writing cave. Be grateful for every single review you get. And if you are lucky enough to get a review from a professional site with a large following of avid readers, send them a personal thank you and share their site in return.
- Consider what is actually being said. Remember when your editor asked you to change that scene and you loved it so much you told all your friends she was crazy… Yeah, sometimes we regret not listening (but not always). If a reader points out a specific turn off in a book, maybe it’s just them. But maybe it’s not. There are some very specific no-no’s in the romance genre and straying outside of those guidelines could wind up being the best thing you ever did or wind up biting you in the ass. (For the record, ass biting is totally okay in this genre.)
- Recognize when a review is malicious or inaccurate/useless. Unfortunately, these types of reviews do exist. I’ve seen reviews posted for the wrong book. It’s a bit disorienting, but there you have it. Sometimes it’s a simple mistake. Other times the reviewer will say something like I skimmed this book and here is my review… (but there are HUGE gaps in their information, because they didn’t actually READ the book). Then there are those who really missed the entire moral and theme of the story. They can’t be helped and there really is no point it getting upset over one person’s opinion. But then there are those who want to see you fail. I honestly can’t rationalize this because I simply don’t get it, but I’ve see people down rate other’s work just to be mean. It’s very sad when that happens and we authors have no defense against it. My advice…just walk away.
- One editor shall not justify twenty. Yes, there are grammar Nazi’s out there, but they, too, are justified in downrating work if they keep tripping over typos and mistakes. The goal is to write fluently. Typos interrupt fluency. It doesn’t matter how many editors you had, maybe you need another one or a new one altogether. I have dyslexia, so I depend heavily on my editors and betas, but sometimes a mistake slips past all of us. If a reader comments on the amount of typos, take their review under serious consideration. You might benefit from it. I’ve had readers send me the typos they found after publication and I was so grateful. I made a few changes and the problem was solved. It happens, no matter who the author or publisher is. All you can do is learn from your mistakes. I also keep a list on my office wall of words I frequently misuse (e.g. intension/intention).
- Be generous! Every time I have a new release, I gift 5 Advance Copies to readers in exchange for an HONEST review. I usually pick from those who actively follow me on social networks, share my posts, or frequently review. Does this guarantee a five star? Hell no! As a matter of fact, (and she knows who she is LOL) I once gave a copy of a book to a reviewer that raved about my work on reader forums. This wonderful
reader introduced so many people to the name Lydia Michaels, I was blown away by her reach. Well, the book I gave her…she deeply disliked the hero. But her review, though low, was honest and very telling. I found it very useful. It also didn’t deter others from reading the story, and many took the polar opposite position on the book and adored the hero. Readers that engage in book talk, good or bad, really make the book community a community and deserve to be recognized in my opinion. That’s why I love having an advance copy to offer. It doesn’t matter what their review ranks, only that they know they’re appreciated.
- Respect boundaries! I’m not sure what’s going on out there, but I recently heard a bad review led to the exploitation of a reviewer’s personal information (name, address, phone number, etc.) WHAT??? Okay, let’s regroup. Reviewers are people. They deserve the same courtesy as everyone else in this world. They are moms, daughters, wives, fathers and so on. While writing may be our livelihood and reviewing might only be a hobby to some, there is no justification in outing a person for their opinion. None. I can’t imagine the personal stress this must have cause the reviewer that suffered such retaliation and if these rumors are true, I’m truly sorry someone treated you that way–whoever you are. It’s a shame, because we authors depend on reviews and I imagine such nastiness had a negative impact on the practice of reviewing as a whole.
- Recognize you are not perfect. I don’t care who you are, you’re not finished learning. If you can’t hear that there might be room for improvement in your work, I’m afraid you picked the wrong career.
- Don’t waste time being bitter, spend time getting better. There’s this woman, maybe you heard of her: EL James. Well, one day the stars aligned and her life changed. Sometimes someone really is in the right place at the right time. I’m not going to debate the quality of her work, but I will say there are certain publicity tools that are incredibly beneficial to an author and extremely hard to come by as a newbie. She had/has all of them. Remember, with books it isn’t so much about the sales as it is about the discoverability. I understand EL is not the first author to write a billionaire or touch on BDSM. Publishing a book takes time, sometimes it takes years. Writing a book is only the first 10% of the journey. It amazes me how many readers compare my Surrender Trilogy to FSOG, when in reality, I wrote FALLING IN years before Christian Grey existed. However, my trilogy was published after EL’s, so people assume one hero was inspired by the other. Sorry, no. The Surrender Trilogy was already through final edits and published when I got around to finally reading FSOG. My point is, do not compare your success to others’ or let their fortune diminish the value of your work. It’s not a race. All you have to do is worry about the author you are and try to be a better author tomorrow than the one you are today. Do that, and one day your stars will align too. There’s too much work to be done to spare a second on envy.
- Be respectful. It breaks my heart when I see a reviewer call a book garbage or worthless. Every book was worth something. At one point an author took time away from family and reorganized their priorities in order to write it. You can give anything a one star, but to verbally degrade or bash a book is not an effective way to review in my opinion. There is a very simple way to critique a book without insulting the work/creator.
- Consider the circumstances. Sometimes we just aren’t in the mood for a certain plot. If you don’t want to put the book aside until your mood shifts, that’s fine, but admit to the readers that your mood might have influenced your opinions.
- Give feedback. Whether your comments be written in the form of “a good beach read”, “a lot of angst”, or “too much swearing” they’re full of good feedback, because while the amount of cursing in a book might lower one reader’s rating to a two star, it might not bother another reader at all. It’s helpful to know what is actually influencing the rating. To simply say, “not good” or “phenomenal” doesn’t explain how you came to those conclusions. I like little clues without too much plot given away when I’m shopping for my next read.
- Don’t be a spoiler! If you give spoilers, that’s fine, but please make it perfectly clear a spoiler is coming! Give the reader space so they can decide before their eyes jump ahead. And keep in mind the majority of readers looking at your review have not read the book yet. Most reviewers are VERY considerate of this.
- Give the Gif of love. I don’t know how reviewers do it, but when I see a review full of GIFs I get so excited! This isn’t really a commandment, as it’s not expected, but just so you know, we authors LOVE the GIFs and pics! And when I’m shopping as a reader, they always grab my attention.
- Share! As stated above, reviews are beneficial to readers AND authors. As a reader, I’m always interested in what my friends like in the book market. As an author, I’m extremely grateful for any feedback. To date, Amazon has roughly 6,000,000 books available. That our book is being selected out of a market that size is amazing! That someone is taking the time to reflect on our work and put their thoughts into words is even more incredible! If you leave a review, THANK YOU! Truly. And if you are one of those reviewers that post your thoughts on multiple sites like B&N, Goodreads, and Amazon then go on to Tweet and share your review on networks like Facebook … well, you are just so thoughtful I want to hug you! Your sharing makes such an impression, there really aren’t enough words to describe how meaningful it is. Thank you.
- Ask and ye shall receive. I can’t speak for all authors, but (as stated above) I offer 5 ARCs per release to readers. Many of my dedicated fans know this and know if they shoot me an email and I have ARCs left, I’ll happily send them one in exchange for an honest review. So don’t be shy (Lydia(at)LydiaMichaelsBooks.com). Now, if you run a blog and post reviews regularly and have a following…well, your ARC comes from a different pool–a limitless one. If you host your own review site and would like to be on my mailing list to receive future ARCs, please contact my assistant EliseHepner(at)LydiaMichaelsBooks.com and she will review your site and add you to our mailing list for new releases. Be sure to mention this article in your email. Though not all authors practice this, many do. So don’t be afraid to ask.
- Be honest. Even a negative review can be kind, but no review should ever be dishonest, not even a raving one. It’s perfectly okay to say, “For me…this didn’t work” or “IMO this was such a rush!” No one expects every reader to leave with the same impression. The honest reviews, both good and bad, are the ones I take to heart and remember.
- Never attack the author. Similar to the #1 Reviewer Commandment (be respectful) and the #8 Author Commandment (respect boundaries), it’s important to remember that it’s one thing to critique a fictional character, but it’s something else entirely to attack the character of a another person. We’re all people here and we all have feelings. To say that an author is talentless or label them in a derogative way is never acceptable. NEVER. It is cruel and hurtful. And, I assure you, people are only walking away thinking less of the reviewer, not the author. There is simply no justification for this behavior, and while I’ve never been personally attacked in a review, I’ve read reviews that attacked other authors. Writers cry real tears and their pain hurts just as bad as everyone else’s. So while it’s perfectly acceptable to say you disliked a character, please remember the creator is a real person and shouldn’t be the focus of your review.
- Practice what you preach. This one’s simple. If you’re going to criticize someone else’s grammar and spelling, you better proof your own posts with extra care.
In closing, I want to extend my thanks to all the reviewers out there. I make a point to let my readers know that I read every single review they write, be it good, bad, or ugly. I do my best to learn from your reflections and evolve as a writer so that we always stay connected. Though I’ve given a lot of information in this article, I understand there are exceptions. There are times you want to review, but only have time for a quick rating. Your time is appreciated no matter what. I also want to point out that nothing in my life stimulated this post. I simply choose from a list of topics and this one seemed interesting. Take with you what you like and toss the rest out he window. Either way, thank you for reading!