Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reviews you can believe

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember and that love has translated into writing reviews on the books I read.  Criticizing someone's work shouldn't be taken lightly nor should maintaining credibility as a reviewer, which is what's been on my mind today.

Interesting question proposed on twitter today related to book reviews and offering a review to the author before posting.  Just happens that one of the more recent topics of discussions related to reviewing indie authors centered on how to deal with work that has issues, significant enough that it cannot reach a three-star threshold.  This might be the result of poor editing, poor grammar, poor sentence structure, a meandering plot or a combination of any of these kinds of issues. 

Both subjects instigated an internal look at how I approach the process of reviewing a book.  Even though I’m a new reviewer, I set off on this journey with some pretty basic objectives:

1.  I want to do my part to find and share good indie authors and stories with big market consumers while educating them on the variety and quality that exists on this side of publishing.
2.  I want to learn what I can about publishing and promote examples of best practices wherever and whenever I am able.
3.  I want to improve in my own writing.
4.  I want to enjoy the process and be affiliated with good people.

Having worked as a PR flack for over 19 years with some stints in journalism along the way, I think credibility and objectivity are paramount.  To achieve those I’ve adopted a few non-negotiable practices to keep the process honest:

1.  I don’t accept any money or gratuities for reviews beyond the copy of the book I am reviewing. 
2.  I’ll continue to read and review big-market books as I would indie authors with the same expectations and standards.
3.  I only post reviews if the work meets a three-star threshold.  If it doesn’t meet that threshold then I don’t release a review.
4.  I don’t submit a review to the author for concurrence or editorial approval because it is represented as my opinion.

I’d just point out that a lot of my guiding principles come from Jeff Bennington’s system at Kindle Book Review.  Other reviewers have similar practices but some do things differently.  Either way this is my system and it's a system that works for me.   

The real key is that I don’t get paid and I am not employed by an author or publisher so when a reader finds one of my reviews they should have every confidence that it is based on my own objective opinion.  I think it also works in the author’s best interest because a third-party objective opinion lends credibility to their own marketing effort and I make my reviews available to them for that purpose.  

I’m fortunate that in the early going I’ve had great people from Mission to Read and the Kindle Book Review guide me through the early going.  I’ve been introduced to some great authors, reviewers, and readers along the way and more than a few have offered helpful tips and shared their experiences.  Hopefully I’m able to leverage all those lessons for personal growth that I can pass on to others with an interest in reading and learning about the larger indie publishing world.

When it’s all said and done we have a common interest, to promote independent authors and publishing and help readers find great stories.  


  1. Spot on! I'm a lifetime reader and newer reviewer and I agree with you wholeheartedly!

  2. The time and effort put into a book review far outvalues the price of the book the reviewer receives, I would have thought. At the very least the books take several hours to read and write about. Book reviewing seem to be a labour of love. I would have no problem paying for a detailed review delivered promptly. I would trust the reviewer to be objective. It only seems fair to help reviewers make a living!

  3. You make a point Steph but rather than be paid by an author or publisher, good reviewers could get picked up by papers or even websites that cater to the readers. You still avoid a potential conflict of interests, maintain credibility, and make a little extra.

  4. This is a fantastic post Tom and absolutely hit the nail on the head. Thank you for posting what we are all thinking.

  5. Great post Tom and I totally agree with you. I am new at book reviews and hopefully I am learning to make a contribution.

  6. You're a great teammate Marilou - very glad we all get a chance to work with you. Thanks for stopping by the blog.

  7. I like the sound of you which is why I now write to you with criticism. Only folks I like hear my criticism. Those I don't like never hear from me at all. I disagree with you on two items. You talk of honest, objective reviews. A perfectly honest and interesting review would usually be subjective and that is good. And I disagree with your rule not to publish reviews which don't reach a certain level in your scale. I love to read scathing reviews where the reviewer tramples all over the unfortunate author. I happen to like to read reviews more more than reading the books that are reviewed and if all of them are laudatory, it would become too boring to read them. Give me a really nasty piece with Churchillian wit and let me roar with laughter. I'm going to have my man send you my latest book - out for a week now and not reviewed by anyone as yet. From a commercial standpoint, you sound like a safe bet to me.If you find it dreadful, no one will know but as a reader of reviews I seek Tabasco sauce.