Reviewing a Fiction Book With Tact

I find myself reading less and less book reviews, even tho I spend more and more time on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Why? It seems that many book reviewers feel the need to dump not only their personal feelings on what happened in a fictional story, but leave an entire summary of the book, dropping plot spoilers about important characters (by name, no less!) or story twists, that are called twists for a reason – they shake things up and turn the story around on a dime so that the reader has that ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t see THAT coming’ moment that most of us really enjoy in a good Fiction book. Let me just say – summarizing a Fiction book online is NOT necessary to leave your opinion of the book. We aren’t talking about perennials, college textbooks or biographies about people we already know – we are talking about fantasy worlds or characters created to entertain. Summarizing a Fiction book is like stripping it of all surprise factor. It’s just…rude.

So…why do reviewers review this way? I wish I could tell you. With the Indie Author rush on Amazon and elsewhere, book reviews are an important way to make sales. Not the ONLY way, of course, but it makes sense that a book with fifty 4 or 5 star reviews will attract more potential readers than a book with fifty 1 or 2 star reviews. The fact that all reviews are NOT honest from actual readers is a totally different conversation to be had at another time. Back to the why’s: Do reviewers feel obligated to lay out the plot for potential readers because they feel they are a voice of authority? Do reviewers reveal plot twists because they were so excited by them they want to share their feelings? Do reviewers know that their words have the potential to turn off or turn on a potential reader? I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I do have examples (all the following reviews contain plot spoilers – I suggest you don’t actually read them unless you’ve already read the book):

The last book I read was ‘Warm Bodies’ by Isaac Marion. Check out this lower star review on Amazon

Before that I read ‘Save My Soul’ by Kristie Haigwood. Check out this higher star review on Amazon

Not long ago, I read ‘The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden’ by Jessica Sorensen. Here is an example of an Amazon review riddled with spoilers but with one difference – there is a spoiler alert tag at the top of the review to warn potential readers to stave off.

In Nicolas Spark’s ‘Safe Haven’ (another recent read) there are plenty of moments intended for the reader to enjoy WHILE reading the book. Check out the spoilera in this 4 star review on Amazon!

It seems like the Amazon ranking system for reviews is a moot point. My version of a 5 star book could be the equivalent to another reader’s 3 star review. But regardless of the star review rank, one thing is CRYSTAL clear: Reviewers don’t seem to understand how to leave an appropriate review! I am betting most of those same people would hate to be told how a book will end, or be given a play-by-play of what a character goes through. I mean, not many potential readers enjoy that. We read Fiction because we want to be entertained. Personally, I don’t read something I know the outcome to – why bother? My life is busy, reading for pleasure is not something I have the ability to do 24/7, so when I sit down with a book, I want to be able to lose myself in the story and experience the plot twists for the first time. I know I’m not the only reader who feels the same way. The description area of a book online, left by the Author – who can choose to disclose what he or she wants, or the description on the back of the book, is the only thing I personally want to read before buying it.

Another thing that has exploded is the ‘professional reviewer’. Some people actually get paid to review a book. Let’s skip over the conflict of paying someone to leave a *cough, cough* honest review and focus on what professional reviewers do – they read. They they tell us about what they read. And their fan base takes into consideration their thoughts the next time they browse for books. A book is not like the new, nifty laptop you are considering purchasing and want to know EVERYTHING about – good and bad before buying. Books are meant to hold a few secrets for the readers. A ‘professional’ reviewer should obviously know this. So why continue to review books paragraph by paragraph? It’s already BEEN written – by the Author! Tell us how you liked the story and move on, don’t list it all and ruin the plot for the readers!

Sadly, there isn’t much that can be done for the reader browsing on Amazon or Goodreads in search of that next book to read. Amazon should have a box to check for reviewers – ‘Does this review contain plots spoilers?’ that can then bold that review in RED for the millions of us who want to find out for ourselves what happens, to avoid like the plague. Seriously, if you want to leave your mark on the review page of a book, consider that other people will read it. Consider what you want your mark to be. Will you be the reviewer that tore open a book and spilled its guts for the entire world to see, or will you be the type of reviewer that attracts people to your opinions by your own actual words? As a reviewer, I only seriously consider the reviews left by that latter group. If you happen to be the kind of person who ENJOYS ruining the ending of a book or movie, well I have nothing nice to say, so I won’t say anything else to you.

I suggest reading reviews with caution. Some are fantastic. Some are not. But don’t stop buying and reading books. I won’t, Fiction is a fantasy world I enjoy traveling to on a regular basis. Thank you to all the Authors out there for their hard work. And thank you to the reviewers who (whether they liked the book or not) kept their review tactful for the rest of us.

Happy Reading!

14 thoughts on “Reviewing a Fiction Book With Tact

  1. huntersjones says:

    Excellent blog Trish. John Updike said in his professional outline of how to review–understand the writer’s point of view before you write a review. Great words to review by, don’t you think?

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  2. Shiralyn Lee says:

    Yep! Well said. Reviews have gotten so out of hand with revealing the plot. I see it so many times and it just gets me in the guts LOL. There is an add on TV in Canada that this woman keeps telling the end of the story, or who has a baby with who, the add ends with a fed up friend telling her the ending of a film before she has watched it. I think it’s netflix, but anyhoo, back to the topic. I like to find out for myself, ride the journey, feel the pain, the laughter, the experiEnce. When I buy a book, it’s for my own journey and my own pleasure. Why would I want someone else taking away my rights to experince this just because they got there before I did?

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  3. Nette (@shereads05) says:

    Great article! I really dislike reading reviews that are 2 or more paragraphs…in fact, I’ll skip over it. It is somewhat of a disservice to the author and readers alike to completely dissect the book in a review. It’s not necessary, nobody wants to read a book report!! Thank you for writing this. =)

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  4. J. A. Huss (@JAHuss) says:

    I agree, I hardly ever give out plot points. I tend to stick to the character I liked, or maybe something that fell flat. I never give out spoilers without a spoiler alert on GR and a fully-fledged black out on the blog. And I can count on three fingers the number of times I’ve done that.

    OK, so that’s my blogger/reader opinion.

    Now my author opinion is something else. I LOVE to hear all about the plot from reviewers. I love to hear what they liked, even with spoilers and I like to hear (not as much obviously) the parts they struggled with. So, I guess it’s a difficult call and it depends on who you’re writing the review for. Are you trying to tell the author/publisher how much you enjoyed/disliked/struggled with it? Or are you trying to influence a potential reader to pick it up or skip it?

    When I host authors on the book blog for tours I’m speaking to them and the readers. I figure the author/publsiher paid for someone to set up this tour and they’re gonna stop buy to see what I thought of it. I try to give them something useful.

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    • trishmarie says:

      I get a lot of messages via Twitter and my Facebook Author page about plots, characters, what comes next, why I chose a certain story twist, etc…and I welcome all of that. I love to know what the readers are thinking! I just see book reviews online (GR and Amazon) as a platform for potential readers more so than for feedback for the author. Tho I have seen reviews that you know were aimed at the author, lol.

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  5. uconnhusky13 says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been doing a great deal of reading and doing reviews, and felt that I was not doing it properly. After reading this I realize that I’m right on track. I’ll usually write 4-5 sentences of What I liked about the book. Some of the reviews out there now after you read them you no longer need to read the book. To me reviews are a good time to think about ‘less is better’

    Kimberly

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    • trishmarie says:

      Hi Kimberly! I think if someone is reviewing a book that already has a description on the back or online, there is no need to go into too much detail about what happened. Sounds like you are doing it right (for me anyway, lol)! 😀

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  6. abbiefoxton says:

    Lot’s to chew over here, great topic.It is so frustrating when plots are exposed and books don’t meet the expectations of the review, I am very selective of who I trust in all areas of the arts when it comes to purchasing items reviewed – music, movies etc. One needs to develop a good reading peripheral vision and have all senses on high alert to sniff out reviews that will reveal too much – it is a love/hate necessity. Is the synopsis on the back cover enough?

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    • trishmarie says:

      Definitely a love/hate relationship, isn’t it?! On one hand, I want to know what the majority thinks of items I’m interested in (including books) but darn if reviewers aren’t making a habit out of giving too much away in their reviews. LOL Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

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