What constitutes an unfair book review?

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DennisK
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Re: What constitutes an unfair book review?

Post by DennisK » 19 Nov 2015, 00:02

gali wrote:
DennisK wrote:
gali wrote:I review both self-published and professionally published books, and sometimes I find typos on the last ones as well.
I've been wondering - how can you tell if a book is self published? I'm reading Notes From a Very Small Island and judging from the typos in the book, I assume it was self published, but to read the copyright page, I see a publishing company that looks like any other publishing company.
You can't really tell unless it says so on the book.
I guess it's just as well ......

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Post by moderntimes » 19 Nov 2015, 08:28

Only for porn stars, Larry. ha ha

Bad publicity for a writer is pretty cruddy. A bad review in a major spot (NYT review of books, etc) can sink sales like a stone.

Regarding self published, the masthead page (copyright info, who the publisher is) will tell you immediately whether a book is self-published. The publisher will be clearly listed and it takes about 10 sec to search for that imprint and determine if it's a vanity press or legit. (there are however "legit" vanity presses, the ones who clearly announce this up front and don't hide that they're author-paying and do a good pro job on the book)

With the advent of POD (publishing on demand) via places like CreateSpace, numerous small indie publishers are springing up who can take on newbie authors for far less of an outlay than was true years before, these publishers being non-subsidy, non-author-pay houses who can accept unknown writers more easily.

The author must still create a marketable product, a good book which will sell in modest amounts, however. But the advent of these small specialty publishers (most of them printing genre fiction -- fantasy, romance, mystery, etc) means that writers who are considering self publishing might be well advised to check the "professional" publisher market first -- you never know till you try.

But to the point of these recent posts, a self published book vs a professionally published book -- neither should have precedence in a review rating -- the content of the book should be the true measure of a book's rating. If the cover art is less than perfect, that simply cannot enter in a judgment or rating of review, for example. Nor should whether the book is self published or professionally published. But yes, numerous typos and grammatical errors should absolutely enter into the rating and judgment of a review.
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Post by rachel_jacks » 19 Nov 2015, 08:39

bookowlie wrote:Regarding Moderntimes' third point, I have to agree with Gali. For example, I think J.K. Rowling's overly wordy style, particularly with descriptions, bogged down her stories. I'm sure all the Harry Potter book lovers will throw tomatoes at me, but this is my opinion. I think this would be a valid issue to bring up in a review, regardless of my personal style preferences,
I didn't really have a problem with the descriptions provided throughout the series, my biggest dislike from that series was her need to restate everything that happened previously. I'm sorry, but if you get to book 4 and don't know that Harry used to live in the cupboard under the stairs, that Voldemort killed his parents, etc. then you probably should go reread the first book. I don't think she needed pages dedicated to retelling the story that was already told. I don't think I would have deducted points for that in a book review, but I would definitely have mentioned it.
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Post by moderntimes » 19 Nov 2015, 11:19

rachel_jacks wrote:
bookowlie wrote:Regarding Moderntimes' third point, I have to agree with Gali. For example, I think J.K. Rowling's overly wordy style, particularly with descriptions, bogged down her stories. I'm sure all the Harry Potter book lovers will throw tomatoes at me, but this is my opinion. I think this would be a valid issue to bring up in a review, regardless of my personal style preferences,
I didn't really have a problem with the descriptions provided throughout the series, my biggest dislike from that series was her need to restate everything that happened previously. I'm sorry, but if you get to book 4 and don't know that Harry used to live in the cupboard under the stairs, that Voldemort killed his parents, etc. then you probably should go reread the first book. I don't think she needed pages dedicated to retelling the story that was already told. I don't think I would have deducted points for that in a book review, but I would definitely have mentioned it.
First of all, remember that the Potter books are for KIDS and not adults. You can't judge a children's book by adult standards. The whole structure of a book for adults is different, assuming things which young readers might not have the maturity to pick up on. Likewise, some YA authors may tend to re-state things overly and such things might not be that necessary in an adult novel.

When writing a series, as I am doing, there is a necessity to re-tell a portion of what went before but there are two elements which need to be watched -- don't give too much in the way of spoilers, or you'll mess up the backlist sales, and don't go on too much or the backstory will deaden the forward movement of the plot and bore the readers.

Such things are very tricky to keep balanced. I know this because I'm now on the 4th novel of the series, and with the sale and publication of all 3 completed books ongoing, I've had to re-read and revise those 3 books. I tweaked some of the early story lines for continuity, reset a couple of small plot points, and generally strengthened the themes and such. In so doing I realized places in the 2nd and 3rd novels where I'd gone overboard in re-telling what had happened in the previous book, and trimmed this.

Now also realize that some books require a lot of background. For example, any fantasy by definition contains unreal elements, such as with the LOTR books, you have to tell the readers who the Elves are, what the wizards can do, describe their fortress, detail each type of creature, etc. That takes words and that usually means that a fantasy like LOTR or Potter will be longer.

For my books, set in modern Houston with no fantasy, all very realistic, I just start. I don't have to describe what a cellphone is or how a car functions, how police operate in their duties, what a gun is, and so on. That means that I simply tell the story without a lot of background needed, and so by general aspects, modern crime novels are shorter. Mine run from 68,000 to 82,000 words, whereas a fantasy novel might easily be 130,000.

What the author cannot do in any case, however, is to pad the novel with endless busywork details, and as you can easily recognize, adding too much lace and scrollwork will deaden the plot. Now I cannot say whether the Potter books are padded, since I simply don't read juvenile fiction. I tried to read LOTR many years ago and was bored out of my skull. So I'm certainly no authority on such books.

A reviewer must know the genre of the book being reviewed so that it can be compared against the "masterwork" novels of that genre. Only then can the book be properly evaluated. And so I believe it's incumbent upon the reviewer to be as well-read as possible in the particular genre of the review. It's only fair.
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Post by SeasonOfOpportunity » 20 Nov 2015, 07:21

These comments have been quite interesting to read. I have frequently come across negative reviews which attack author or publisher based on personal preferences. Personally when reviewing a book that just wasn't my style, I may mention that, but remind the reader that depending on what they like, they might actually enjoy the book. There are times when reading a negative review has actually stimulated my interest in the book, just to see for myself, if it is a fair review.

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Post by rachel_jacks » 20 Nov 2015, 08:36

You sound like me! When I read a review about anything, I always consider personal preference. I will read through the whole review and give little weight to the person's own thoughts about the book, product, what-have-you. I focus more on the support for that opinion. I recently read a review where the person lowered the rating because the book was too descriptive for them and they don't have a taste for gory things. Nothing else in the review supported that the book was not fantastic. Even if someone read a book and gave it a poor review, if their support makes it seem like the book isn't that bad I would probably still read it.
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Post by moderntimes » 20 Nov 2015, 10:52

Yeah. Mentioning that you didn't like that much gore is one thing, downgrading a book because it has it is another.

However, IF the way the gore is depicted is badly written or if the gore is just stuck into the book for sensation's sake, egregiously, then yes, it can be downrated accordingly.

What's essential, as you note, is for the reviewer to say WHY the book was downrated. If the reviewer didn't like gore but you enjoy it, then at least you've got a way to decide on the book more sensibly, because the reviewer explained the judgments made.
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Post by mgprice » 23 Nov 2015, 09:57

An unfair book review would be a biased opinion or review. Maybe the reviewer didn't read the whole book and still wrote a review. Maybe the reviewer didn't like the author and wrote a review based on personal opinions and not on the actual book itself.
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Post by 45karma » 23 Nov 2015, 10:43

If there is any way you could give a deep description of your book you finished reading, without criticizing the author: thats the goal. If you didnot like that book, you owe it to other potential readers of that same book, give then fair warning when they read your blog. There is nothing wrong with honesty. Tell the truth without ripping the authors, writers of the book, to shreds!

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Post by moderntimes » 23 Nov 2015, 15:45

It's okay to have a personal opinion about a book and express it in a review, so long as you clearly state it's your individual preference. But that opinion cannot bleed over into the review's judgment of the book's quality -- that must be impartial and all reviewers must put on their "impartial" hat when rendering judgment.

Also realize that readers of a review are likely not going to read the reviewer's blog. The review must be totally self contained.

The reviewer must also say WHY specifically the book was not liked -- lack of coherent plot, poor dialogue, excessive bad grammar & typos, jumbled narrative, etc. These are all valid reasons to downgrade a book. What is NOT valid however is using the reviewer's personal dislike for an author or the specific genre or sub-genre for that lower rating. If for example a mystery is more placid and speculative, not a lot of action, but perfectly valid within that sub-genre of a more "peaceful" mystery, and the reviewer prefers more shooting and fighting and action, it's invalid to downgrade the book for those reasons.
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Post by Chrislock » 24 Nov 2015, 08:05

kbasoff wrote:The reviewer has not read the book thoroughly.
Overly Critical not seeing anything not one thing positive.
Overly bias and Judgmental of the subject.
This for me is essentially what makes an unjust review. There's nothing wrong with reading a book and finding it doesn't suit your taste and the alluding to that in the review. It's a completely different story when you go into reading the book with a closed mind.
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Post by moderntimes » 24 Nov 2015, 11:24

But just because book doesn't match your taste, this is NOT a justification to lower the rating. It could be mentioned but cannot be a reason for downrating. What CAN be a reason is if the book doesn't do the job with skill or competence, regardless of the theme's being liked or now personally by the reviewer. This is a significant difference.

If for example the book is a nonfiction review of the Obama admin, and it's written by a flaming right wing author, and the review is by a sycophantic left wing Obama supporter, the review is likely to be very prejudiced. But let's say that the points brought in the book were valid and carefully researched and so on. The reviewer would be dishonest and wrong if those things were ignored and allowed prejudice in favor of Obama and dislike for conservatives to color the ratings. This would be just as wrong if the roles were reversed.

A reviewer's mind can be closed not just before reading the book but during, too.
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Post by PaulR » 30 Nov 2015, 20:33

To be fair to both readers and authors, shouldn't reviewers briefly state their genre and writing style preferences in each review?

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Post by moderntimes » 30 Nov 2015, 21:31

Not necessarily, unless this becomes a factor in the review. It's assumed that a reporter who's good at economics and world history books would be unable to accept the request to write a review of a romance novel, unless that person was also a fan of the genre off-hours.

For mainstream novels or non-fiction, staff reviewers can do the job. Of course a political non-fiction book is best reviewed by an expert in modern politics, an historical novel best reviewed by someone who's familiar with the period in which the book is set, and so on.

But it's really unnecessary for the reviewer to disclose the genre most favored. However, a romance reviewer might say "I prefer the more genteel and 'cultured' romantic story, and this novel was certainly not among this type, being quite racy and even explicit at times. But the author did a superb job with the narrative and dialogue and created a very realistic and believable story which fans of the more forthright style will certainly appreciate."

It's perfectly okay to insert some personal tidbits into a review, just so long as it's made clear that these items are the reviewer's personal opinion and don't affect the book's rating, as the example above would show.

I review mysteries (being a private eye novelist myself) and although I am more appreciative of the action-packed thriller, I'm always ready to praise a more "sedate" story line which is well drawn and plotted. It's the skill of the author which I will praise, not particularly the type of mystery.
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Post by TRose73 » 02 Dec 2015, 16:57

If a reader doesn't like a genre, and gives the book a poor review based on that, I agree it is unfair. However, if they are willing to set aside the fact that they do not normally read that kind of book and judge it purely on quality, it could be useful.

For errors in print, especially in self or e-published materials, it would all depend on how bad it was. I read a book on my Kindle once that had four spelling errors on one page in the first chapter, and it was very difficult to get past. I've seen errors where words are just wrong as well, like "to" rather than "two." To be honest, that makes my brain stumble for a moment. However, there are only a few errors in the entire manuscript... say 3 errors per 200 pages, I usually just ignore it.

As for not liking the author's style, that is entirely subjective on a very personal level. It is very valid for a reviewer to note the style was not to their liking. Long winded descriptions to fill space are one of my pet peeves, for instance. But if the story still manages to hold my attention enough to finish the book, it would most likely get a moderate rating at least.

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