To Review Or Not To Review, That Is The Question

Jinx SchwartzJinx Schwartz is an award-winning author with books in print, ebook format, and audio. Her Land of Mountains, set in Haiti in the 1950’s, is a Finalist for EPIC’s 2012 Best YA (but suitable for all ages), and her Hetta Coffey Mystery Series has won the EPPIE for Best Mystery. All of her books are no available in Kindle and other ebook formats for .99.

Raised in the jungles of Haiti and Thailand, with returns to Texas in-between, Jinx followed her father’s steel-toed footsteps into the Construction and Engineering industry in hopes of building dams. Finding all the good rivers taken, she traveled the world defacing other landscapes with mega-projects in Alaska, Japan, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

Like the protagonist in her mystery series, Hetta Coffey, Jinx was a woman with a yacht—and she wasn’t afraid to use it—when she met her husband, Mad Dog Schwartz. They opted to become cash-poor cruisers rather than continue chasing the rat, sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, turned left, and headed for Mexico. They now divide their time between Arizona and Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

Jinx’s kindle books                     http://amzn.to/ro70QS
All Jinx Schwartz books           http://amzn.to/o0gXOy

Jinx’s blog                                    http://bit.ly/qpLEeY
Jinx on Facebook                    http://on.fb.me/poP20Q

Jinx’s website                                http://www.jinxschwartz.com

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When fellow authors ask you to review their books, is it a good idea?

I think so, but with reservations.

When I finally managed to get my first book in print (The Texicans), I also asked others to review it. Results were as follows:

Larry McMurtry didn’t answer my letter.

Tom Clancy didn’t answer my letter.

Danielle Steel did not answer.

Oprah Winfrey….well, you get the idea.

Now that I have seven books in print, audio and ebook formats, it is my turn to do reviews, because since that first resounding defeat, I have gotten a lot of reviews, most of them good, so it is payback time.

The question is: Oh, dear, what if the book stinks? Or maybe the story is good, but there are so many mistakes (both grammatical and punctuation) that I am distracted.

Now, I have no trouble taking a shot at the likes of John Grisham if he does something I don’t like. Matter of fact, I sent him an email reading: John, John, John, you just have to get better endings. He did not reply. Of course, I will read his next book to see if he doesn’t fizzle at the end, and if he does, so what? People will still read everything he writes.

Just DesertsThe problem arises when I review my type of writer. You know, we write, we make some sales, we write again. We are published by small idies, or are self-published, or maybe even have snagged a big name publisher, but are nowhere near the NYTimes Best Seller list.

Don’t get me wrong, I am flattered when asked for my humble opinion. After all, who am I to say what’s good or not? Reading is a very arbitrary choice.

So, I am asked to review a book. I say okay, I’ll look at it. Now what? With any luck it’s the best thing since Gone With The Wind, but chances are, it’s not.

Using the five-star Amazon review as a guideline, I take a point off a star for every typo, grammatical boo-boo, punctuation no-no (the most common being the use of a semi-colon), overuse of anything—exclamation points being the biggest offender.

Five points gone, the star is lost. However, those points can be re-earned, but not as fast as they are lost. It takes a superb plot, characters, setting, and plain old good writing (well-written narrative is of utmost importance) to overcome the sloppy stuff.

Too harsh? I don’t think so. If an author doesn’t care enough about the craft of writing to study it and turn out a good product, why should I recommend their book to others? And if I do, will readers ignore my next review because I sold them a bill of goods? Believe me folks, when you give a glowing review for a bad book, you are harming everyone involved.

I recently was asked to review a novel that came in over the transom (unsolicited), and the author spins a really good tale. Unfortunately, he needs an editor, like, right now! The book has all the makings of an international best seller, yet is so poorly crafted that I refused to do the review. What a shame. I wish I knew this person personally, because all of his friends who wrote glowing reviews on Amazon are not doing him any favors.

All that said, I doubt I’ll get a lot requests in the future 🙂

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13 thoughts on “To Review Or Not To Review, That Is The Question

  1. You are a person after my own heart. Not only do I write mysteries, but I work as a free-lance editor (for non-fiction only). I like your star-point idea. It makes a great deal of sense, and I thank you for sharing it.

    I’d love it if you’d review one of my books. I’m headed to your website now to see how to submit a request.

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  2. Thank you for this blog! I author a small review blog, Mystery & Me. I get several books, and I do read them (that is if they aren’t too far off the mark). I only review the ones I personally like because, like you said, I want my followers to continue following me. I never post a bad review – I just don’t post a review if I didn’t enjoy the book. Why risk the authors’ reputation for my personal choice? I have read glowing reviews of books I didn’t like and it makes me uncomfortable. Was I that wrong? I agree that the reviewers aren’t really doing that author a favor if the book isn’t readable.

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  3. I do a lot of reviews, which sometimes has me straddling a line between what I’d really like to say and what my venue wants. The solution I’ve found is to, most of the time, give a synopsis of the story and leave it there. Very often I make mention of the author’s need of an editor. Kind of a cop-out, I know.

    Excellent post, Jinx.

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  4. I always appreciate it when someone takes the time to read a book of mine and post a review online. Occasionally the observations in the review baffle me, but I appreciate it anyway. 🙂 However… I’ve been criticized for saying this elsewhere, but I strongly believe that a writer should think twice about taking swipes at another writer’s work in public. Allene’s policy is a wise one: If you hate the book, don’t review it. Don’t believe that you’re doing the author a “favor” by pointing out all her writing flaws on the internet. Don’t believe for a second that the author will read your comments, take them to heart, and immediately change the way she writes to conform to your idea of good writing. What will happen is this: You’ll make an enemy, and someday you’ll come face to face with the author at a conference or other event, and she’ll remember what you said about the book she spent a year of her life writing. We all have the right to free speech. That doesn’t mean we *must* exercise it at all costs.

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  5. Thanks for all of your comments. Like I say, dissing a fellow author is not something I do lightly, but if asked to review a book, I don’t feel right giving out un-earned stars; it is not fair to readers who might rely on my review for choosing their next read. (I doubt it, but hope springs eternal!)
    I do not believe that reveiws are for authors, but for readers.
    Also, what happened to the good old days where a bad review was better than no review at all? 🙂

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  6. Jinx – Great article. You’re right on. I also agree with Sandy about not reviewing poorly written works because it’s easy to make enemies if you’re honest, and writers can’t afford that.

    I wrote reviews for Midwest Book Review for many years, and after a few missteps, I learned NOT to review any books that I didn’t actually enjoy immensely. I write in a small niche (gay and lesbian genre fiction) and I found that I loved being able to praise good works, but you are so right that poorly written books, no matter how great the story is, only cause problems if a reviewer recommends them. Pretty soon nobody trusts your reviews.

    As an author myself, I didn’t want to slam my fellow g/l colleagues — they get enough of that from homophobes. Still…those who need editors DO need to learn that information. I think sometimes they get the “news” about that from the marketplace. After a while, if a book is written badly enough, sales plummet. But like Sandy says, putting that all over the Internet only reflects badly on the author/reviewer.

    I like your system for adding/subtracting points. Very clever!
    😉 Lori

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  7. Note to Fran: I am doing reveiws of books sent to me by Buried Under Books, but occasionally do a review on my own (which I post on DorothyL, Amazon and Goodreads).If you have a kindle version you want me to review, I will put it on my TBR&R’d list. Thanks jinx

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  8. When you talk about books that haven’t been edited, I assume you mean self-published books. Maybe you would help the authors by urging them to have their books professionally edited. Traditionally published books from established presses *are* edited. Mine certainly are — by my editor and then by the copy editor. They don’t go to the printer until they’ve been edited, and that’s the case with books from any reputable traditional press.

    Writing styles are a matter of taste, and if a writer’s books are selling, we can assume that the little things a particular reviewer dislikes are not important to the masses of readers — or to the writer and his/her editor. I find James Patterson’s writing utterly graceless, but he can tell a story and keep the pages turning better than any other writer on the market, so I don’t think I’ll inform him that he needs an editor. 🙂

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  9. Jinx, thank you for bringing up the sticky wicket that all reviewers face, even more so in these days of widespread self-publishing. I did do one slasher review but it was my (still) favorite author, a huge name and he deserved every word of it.

    Other than that one, I will express some mild criticism but I only do a review in the first place if there’s at least something I like about it. If I mention something that has to do with a personal preference, I’ll plainly say so. Generally, what will yank my chain is either a poor command of language (grammar, spelling, punctuation) or major story inconsistencies.

    Woe betide the author who fails at both—he or she will probably never hear from me again 😉

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  10. I have decided not to do negative reviews. Exceptions would be some of the totally meretricious trash certain “think tanks” put out, anything by Ann Coulter.

    In terms of mysteries some of what I would be tempted to complain about the big guys have been guilty of.

    Grammar errors may have been put in (inadvertently) by the publisher so I hate to see remarks on that now that I am aware of that problem.

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  11. Yes, the book I referred to that needed an editor (STAT!) was self-published. Having self-pubbed my first book in hardback, I try not to judge a book before it is read just because it is self-pubbed. Luckily for me, that first book got picked up by Books-in-Motion for audio, and then by a small publisher for paperback. And now I’ve dumped the publisher and re-pubbed it as an e-book. Let me tell you, that book is edited unto death! 🙂

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