Holistic Reviews

Hello S.E. readers, Gwen with you today to discuss a familiar topic — book reviews. If you’ll journey with me, I hope to spark a smile or two.

Earlier this week, I was reminded of a chat session on writing reviews. The leader focused on a particular book and by the time she finished her presentation, it laid lifeless before us. I went to Amazon, found the book, read this presenter’s 2-star review, and then turned to the author’s bio. The young writer’s personal story greatly moved me, so much so that I purchased the book. Within a couple of days, I posted a 4-star review.

I learned a lot through this process, about me, about you, about anyone who bares their soul. Writing doesn’t solve our problems, sometimes it creates more. What it does do, however, is give us a way to say hello. We hope our stories make a difference, perhaps warm someone’s heart, but in reality hellos are a two-way street.

Some of us might approach Amazon fearful of finding a rejection slip. But if we understand that reviews reflect the reviewer as much as the writer, it softens the angst. On a whim, I decided to read the reviews of a few well-known authors, and what I discovered was enlightening. Let’s take a gander.

One of my favorite writers is Dan Brown. For this post, I re-visited The Da Vinci Code, went through some of his 8835 reviews, and noticed some one-star comments. How could that be, afterall, he’s one of my favorites? The mystery reviewer below offered an answer:   

1.0 out of 5 stars boring car chases: Desperately wanted some entertainment with a little cortical activity, but couldn’t overlook the shallow characters, boring car chases, and general lack of quality. When it comes to the Big Reveals, this makes Joseph Campbell look intellectually respectable (which he isn’t). A grotesque mashup of historical, religious, and artistic quarter-truths and downright falsehoods which make it impossible to suspend belief enough to enjoy the simple (very simple) story. Yes, the female principle has been downgraded and suppressed in patriarchal religions. Big surprise. That’s about the ONLY thing that’s accurate, and it ain’t news to anyone with a high-school education.

To be very honest, I don’t recall the car chases, so she might be on target. This possibility led me to visit her Amazon review page. I discovered that Ms. Anonymous likes Biggelow Tea, a Redecker Clothes Brush, Fossil Shark Tooth Sterling Silver Earrings, but from what I saw, she doesn’t like books. With that insight, I read a few more of her book reviews.

Here’s her assessment of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (9,837 reviews):

1.0 out of 5 stars Nonsense: Even more ridiculous than I remembered it from high school. This ideology is bad enough in discursive form; dramatized into a novel, it’s just bizarrely unrealistic.

Again, the reviewer might be correct, but it’s been so long since I’ve read the book, that I’m not comfortable challenging her. I’m curious, though, and now wonder about the book’s relevance today.

Let’s look at one more review. This one is for the thriller, The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle (20,503 reviews):

 1.0 out of 5 stars Badly written, sexist ****: Derivative plot, zero character development, predictable, to the point of skipping over action sections because they are so dull. And some of the most flamboyantly unabashed sexism since Ian Fleming. The women are virgins or whores, and if the author/narrator called them “girls” one more time I would have screamed.

I confess, I haven’t read this book, so I don’t have a comment one way or another. But after reading the above three reviews, I’m left with a suggestion and a few questions. First, the suggestion. If you’re feeling down in the dumps for getting reviews of less than 3- or 4- or 5-stars, head to the big name writers and check out their 1-star reviews. The exercise just might brighten your day.

As for the questions, if Ms. Anonymous sat opposite A.G. Riddle, might she be more nuanced about her choice of words? I wonder if she took time to read Riddle’s bio or visit his website. Would it have made a difference? When I imagine conversing with an author, writing a review becomes more holistic for me. I have a better sense of the person and his or her work. But what is most extraordinary is that I often discover a new friend. How about you? I’d love to know your thoughts and wish we could share over a cup of coffee or tea. Someday, maybe?

Happy writing!

63 thoughts on “Holistic Reviews

  1. I feel compelled to tell the story (yet again) of the person who left me a TERRIBLE review after admitting that she never read my book. She “won” it from a Goodreads contest I had done and gave the book away. Why in the world would you enter a contest for a book and never read it? Yuk. Anyway, this is a great column and I appreciate the solid points! Thanks for sharing it!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi, Gwen! You’re right, no one book is for everyone. That being said, was there at least one book Ms. Anonymous gave more than a one star review? This person probably doesn’t understand the devastating effects a one star review has on an author––or doesn’t care. I only review books that I’ve liked and are worthy of 3, 4 or 5 stars. I also enjoy reading the bio of authors whose books I’ve enjoyed. I’ve read through reviews of my favorite authors too. Great article!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your comments, Vashti. I saw one book that she rated with 2-stars, nothing higher. It’s perplexing. Since writing this post, I’ve looked at other 1-star reviewers and found a similar pattern. Like you, I only review books I like. 💗

      Liked by 2 people

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  4. Hi Gwen, you are spot on with this post. No author can please everyone or write a book that appeals to everyone. All my favourite novels have 1 and 2 star reviews including Fahrenheit 451, The Red Badge of Courage, A journal of the plague year [my personal favourite book], The Stand, The Shining, IT. Actually, you can’t be a famous author without 1 and 2 star reviews so we really should be grateful if we get any [smile!]

    Liked by 2 people

  5. As you said, negative reviews sometimes reveal more about the reviewer than the book. I think someone can explain why they didn’t care for a book without being a total jerk. Some negative reviews come across as mean-spirited.

    Like so many things in life, I compare this to my prior life as an educator. On rare occasions, I would get a negative letter from a parent. As a young teacher, I used to get so upset when that happened. One time I showed a letter to two of my more experienced colleagues, and they said, “Oh, it’s that parent. She’s not happy with anybody. Last year, she wrote to tell me I was the worst teacher. in the country.” That teacher, respected by everyone on the staff, had won an award for “County Teacher of the Year.” After that, I always considered the source.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Excellent post, Gwen, and food for thought. I stopped posting bad reviews years ago (before I even started writing), largely because I do not have time to finish books I’m not enjoying. My reading time is so limited, I will only read on if I’m truly involved with the characters, and that in itself is enough to warrant at least a 4-star review. Of course, to be fair, I’m WAY behind on my reviews right now anyway, a state of affairs I’m working on correcting. But honestly, I don’t see the reason for finishing a book I don’t like, just so I can go out and tell the world how much I hated it. And the reviewer you quoted above sounds like she has anger issues that have nothing to do with reading. I think she gets a kick out of her cleverly worded insults more than anything else, and would automatically discount her reviews, were I considering the book in question.

    Here’s a thought. If I were eating a meal I didn’t care for, though others were obviously enjoying, would I continue to choke it down? I don’t think so. Nor would I go around telling others not to finish theirs. Okay, not quite the best analogy ever, but it seems to me that’s what this person is doing.

    I’m behind on everything and jammed full of appointments this week, but I WILL be sharing this over on TWS as soon as I can get it up. Lots of folks need to know that a bad review isn’t always as much about their book as it is about the reviewer themselves. Not that we should ignore those reviews, but we don’t need to take every one of them personally. I think we should just read, consider what’s been pointed out, know which issues to pay attention to & learn from, and then let it go and move forward.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. My Kindle is so full of books that I want to read that I’ve become stricter with myself about ploughing on with a book I’m not enjoying. Like many on here I only post positive reviews for Indie authors but I have occasionally given some lower ones for mainstream books that didn’t live up to the hype for me. I don’t think you ever forget your first mean review but a sense of perspective comes quickly and this post helps with that perspective! Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I appreciated your insightful post on the authors, their books, and the reviewers, Gwen. I’ve read some 1 or 2-stars reviews on books and other items and tried to understand the rating. One reviewer gave 1 star on a memoir and said the book was irrelevant to her. My reaction was that she just missed the point of the book. Another 1 star reviewers complaint the machine making noises or the screws fell out when most the reviews were 4 or 5-stars, again, my reaction was those persons didn’t install the machine correctly.
    One interesting thing about getting hundreds or thousands of 4 or 5 stars reviews in marketing. I purchased one item, and the marketing department asked me to write and post a 5-star review to receive a $10 Amazon reward and additional $5 if I post photos of the items. It totally changed my view of looking at the thousands of 5-stars reviews.

    Thank you for this interesting post, Gwen.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I only post 4 and 5 star reviews… Read lots of 3s and very few below that because if I can’t get into a book by end of Chapter 1, I’m out! That’s just me. It might be a great read, but I just couldn’t stick with it. I have lots of books to review–need to get busy writing them!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. In a large part, I think it comes down to the perceived freedom the internet gives us. People seem to feel it’s their right to denigrate just about anything these days- it’s sad. I never leave a review for anything under three stars (and only bestow that on books that I expected a lot from and was disappointed). For me, it goes back to how I was raised; if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I won’t finish or review I book I don’t like. Sometimes, if possible and the author is open to it I will email them to let them know why. I’ve ran into a couple of mean reviews, one almost stopped me from writing poetry. Another I noticed the reviewer was leaving bad posts for anyone who mentioned alcoholism. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I didn’t worry about it after that. Yes, I do think about the books I love and the bad reviews they get, it certainly helps. The truth can be very helpful and I always take that forward but tearing a person down does nothing but make the reviewer feel some sort of cruel satisfaction. Great post, Gwen.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Like a few others who’ve commented, I won’t review a book that’s less than 3 stars because I won’t finish reading it, so I don’t consider that fair. My first 1 or 2 star reviews really hurt, but I’ve learned that what one person loves, another might hate. So I try to keep that in mind. I do read most of my reviews, though, and I’ve learned a lot from constructive criticism. Enough that if I really enjoyed a book but something in it really bothered me, I try to mention that in a constructive way. The author can agree or disagree.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. You touched on a super important subject for every author today, Gwen. There are some who seem to enjoy tearing other authors down with bad reviews. I too have seen some of those 1-star reviews left for the biggest authors in the business. I like your approach to take a look at the reviewer. Most often, you see a pattern. I take every review to heart if I feel it is honest. A great example is a review Harmony Kent left for “Flowers and Stone.” Her honest review prompted me to pull the book down and rework it. I learned so much from that experience and I greatly appreciate Harmony’s constructive criticism. As a result of that, I have a much better book! Those are the kinds of reviews I can learn from. The 4 and 5-star reviews make my heart sing every time! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on holistic reviews!

    Liked by 4 people

  14. I find it difficult to write reviews. I’m torn between giving away too much and simply saying “I liked it.” I think, like Staci said, I wouldn’t bother if I couldn’t give three stars. Then again, I probably wouldn’t finish a book I didn’t like at least three stars worth. When I look at bad reviews of books and/or products, I wonder more about the reviewer than the thing being reviewed. In. By case, this was interesting, Gwen.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. I never think about reading an author’s bio before writing a review. I won’t write a review if I can’t give above three stars. That’s an interesting angle I haven’t considered.

    I do look up a reviewer if I get a negative review. I want to understand any biases he or she might be bringing to the review before I decide how valid the criticism is.

    You raised so many interesting points, Gwen.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Staci. Like you, I normally don’t read bios before writing a review. But if I’m considering a book to read, and I don’t know the writer, I go to the bio and also read the reviews. I think it helps me connect and journey with the writer. Writing a review is quite the journey. 😊

      Liked by 3 people

  16. I think we the world has gotten used to those kind of reviews. They don’t seem to garner the shock value they once did. I’ve even seen bad reviews of books because the reviewer had software problems and couldn’t read the book. It’s unfair, but still happens.

    Liked by 4 people

  17. Hi,
    I am smiling because I thought about my first two really scathing reviews. The first in a German newspaper after I had done a concert in an old Medival castle. The concert was well-received by the public. However, the journalist who attended the concert to judge my performance did not think my performance was good at all. He tore me to pieces, and it hurt. It took me a few weeks to work through his rejection of my performance. What helped me was continuing on. I had performances to do so I couldn’t hide under a rock. The second rejection came with one of my stories almost ten years ago. Again, I was shocked and hurt. The reviewer was comparing me to Toni Morrison and although I like Toni Morrison and have many of her books, I had never striven to be like her.
    I guess it was about then that I knew I had to develop a way of dealing with others’ opinions and also not to expect everyone to think I am a lovely writer. In fact, I am still in the process of working on learning to deal with reviews and accepting that I can’t please everyone. Sometimes I droop but the main thing is that I keep going even if I am drooping.
    By the way, I have read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, We The Living, and The Fountainhead, and find them all super. I love how she wrote her stories and in my book, she has 5 stars for each book.
    Take care and have a great week.
    Shalom aleichem

    Liked by 4 people

  18. I, too, love Dan Brown! I’ve done the same, Gwen. I’ve visited the reviews of some of my favorite authors and have seen plenty of people trashing their books. Not every reader will have the same experience with a book, and that is what a review is – a reader’s experience. I tend to look at the general consensus of a novel, especially when there are reviews in the hundreds or thousands. You can’t please everyone! Lol!

    When I write a review, I write about my experience and how I reacted to the story. I want the reader of my review to know that it was MY reaction, which means it may not necessarily be his/her own.:-)

    Liked by 4 people

  19. I’ve never thought about reading the author’s bio before writing a review. If a book is so bad that I could only give it one star, I’d stop reading. A long time ago, I gave a one-star review. It was before I began writing, and I can’t even remember the name of the book.

    On the other hand, I have purchased (and enjoyed) many books after reading one and two-star reviews because I often see something the review hates that I know I’ll enjoy.

    As far as Ms. Anonymous reviewer, she sounds like a miserable person who likes to make others miserable as well or she doesn’t appreciate good literature.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Joan, for sharing your insights. It was eye-opening for me to visit Amazon’s reviewer page. I’ve since done it with other 1-star reviewers and found the same pattern as with Ms. Anonymous. Perplexing for sure. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  20. My mother taught me, if you don’t have anything thing nice to say, keep quiet. I apply the same with writing reviews. I’m shocked by some of the mean-spirited reviews I’ve read, more so on GoodReads than Amazon. Some are so hateful. I think many are sparked by jealousy and perhaps some reviewers don’t have anything better to do. As for my own reviews, I’ve learned years ago that not everyone is going to like you in this life, as a person or a writer. I just keep my head down and continue to write. Great post, Gwen!

    Liked by 5 people

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  22. I tend not to give a book a bad review, either. I’d skip the review and give none. I did once contact an author about a fact she got wrong. It was a geographical thing about the area where I live. She said there was a large lake, but there are no large lakes where she was talking about. She kindly responded, saying she had been told by someone who lived there that there was a lake. The point is that she recommended her publisher to me, who subsequently accepted my book and went on to take over my other books, and I’ve not looked back since.
    She also reD my book and gave it a 4* review.

    Liked by 4 people

  23. A wonderful approach to both reading and writing reviews, Gwen. And, yes, always remember there’s a real person behind any book. On recent reviews, I’ve had some wonderful interactions with big name authors via twitter, and it’s been a lovely experience. I’ve also gotten to know more about each person. Thanks so much for sharing these holistic thoughts, Gwen 🙂

    Reblogged this on: https://harmonykent.co.uk/holistic-reviews-story-empire/

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  25. I won’t write a review unless I can give a book at least three stars. Maybe that’s because, as a writer, I know how much work goes in putting a book out there, how much of a writer’s soul lays bare in every story they tell. I do think it would be much harder to write a negative review when you have a stronger connection to the author. If, however, I read a book by an author who’s bio moved me and the book had issues, that wouldn’t sway my opinion of the book.

    I used to be bothered when I got 1 or 2 star reviews. Let’s face it, no one likes them. Now I’m more inclined to shrug them off as coming with the territory. As you pointed out, even best selling authors get 1 and 2 star reviews. That makes them a bit easier to swallow when I receive one. A long as a review isn’t nasty, I’m fine with a reader pointing out what didn’t work for them.

    I’m sure this post will garner lots of discussion. Excellently presented, Gwen!

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Mae. Your reviews are always incredibly insightful and supportive, independent of the number of stars. If a book is poorly written, I suspect most of us don’t finish it and simply move on to another book. Like you, a bio doesn’t change my assessment of a book, but it could prompt compassion. 😊

      Liked by 3 people

      • If I can’t give three stars, it’s probably a DNF for me too, Gwen. And I agree about the compassion for the author.
        Thank you also, for the compliment on my reviews. So nice of you to say 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  26. I was brought up with one of the best maxims of all time, one that is highly relevant today. “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all…”
    and I may take a leaf out of your book, Gwen… and actually get to know an author before I review their book. This sounds like such a great idea!

    Liked by 5 people

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