Avoid Trashing a Book Online


When I’m thinking of buying a book, I do read the one-star reviews. There. I admitted it. But would I write one? No, and here are three reasons why:

The author is not a moneymaking machine, but a human. A mean reviewer won’t see the fallout of posting a nasty review, but writers cry, get angry, sulk and fall into depressions over one-star reviews. It’s not fair to use the Internet to vent at a target you think is safe because you are in a bad mood that day or just angry in general. I know I’m preaching to the proverbial choir because I don’t sense angry dispositions among our regular blog readers, but we’ve all seen reviews from people who need a chill pill. If a book happens to hit all your HATE IT buttons, take your chill pill before bequeathing a one-star review. Wait a day or two before spouting off. Or better yet, don’t.

Reviews are read by the author’s publishing team. I don’t believe one bad review will keep an author from gaining her next contract. But it doesn’t help, even though the publishing team possesses discernment in assessing the merit of all reviews. An author drafting his friends and family to give nothing but five-star reviews may bring up the idea that only the author’s friends are reading the book. And speaking of the publishing team…

A bad review insults everyone involved in the book, not just the author. This is a point especially to consider if you are a writer. The publisher and author are obvious, but it will be hard for you to find out who’s editing what. If you unwittingly insult most of the books edited by Mr. Major Editor, how likely is he to buy your precious words, no matter how many times he has lunch with Your Big-Time Agent?

If you don’t normally read the genre and find you don’t care for the book, why trash it? Some reviewers will admit they usually don’t read a certain type of book and proceed to criticize everything about it. I suggest chalking it up to a learning experience and saving vitriol for books you really know about.

But what if a book really and truly deserves a bad review? Find out what to do on next week’s post.

Your turn:

Do book reviews influence your book-buying choices?

Have your feelings ever been hurt by a review?

What have you learned from bad reviews, either as a reader or writer?

49 Responses to Avoid Trashing a Book Online

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    Cecelia Dowdy August 29, 2013 at 3:54 am #

    I read the one-star reviews before I read the five-star reviews. I usually don’t let the reviews affect my buying decision. I usually have my mind made up about buying the book before I read the reviews.

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    Anne Love August 29, 2013 at 4:02 am #

    I don’t read the reviews before I purchase because I don’t want my reactions tainted or swayed by others prior to reading. I’ve never given a one star review, that seems spiteful and unhelpful the author. What I struggle with is not the one stars, or the four or five star reviews, but how to delicately write a three star review that is helpful and kind. If often wonder if the four star reviews are actually what the readers felt. On Goodreads at least, I’m not really seeing three stars or much less. Maybe I’m not sifting through as many reviews as others. Not sure. Is a three star review an insult?

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      Anne Love August 29, 2013 at 4:03 am #

      Oops: unhelpful **to** the author. I haven’t had a full cup of coffee yet!

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      Tamela Hancock Murray August 29, 2013 at 7:35 am #

      Anne, in my view, three-star reviews aren’t an outright insult but I look at them as, “I can take or leave this book,” or “This book is flawed and there are other books that are better.” Other people might consider three-star reviews simply balanced. I think that rating is the trickiest, so what you say in the review does make all the difference.

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        Pat Jaeger September 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

        Anne and Tamela, that is exactly what my daughter says (she reviews and writes interviews). A three-star review is worse than a one-star. It’s ambivalent. When she does reviews, she feels it’s only fair to the author, as well as potential readers to be “kindly” honest. No trashing books, but if there’s a problem, try to find a gracious way of saying so. Thanks for this great post, Tamela.

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    Ron Estrada August 29, 2013 at 4:06 am #

    I find there are two ends of the extreme–the glowing reviews written by friends of the author (like us) and the people who have Simon Cowell posters hanging on their bedroom walls. People watch or listen to blunt critics on TV and radio, then attempt to emulate them in amateur online reviews. There’s a difference between being constructively blunt and just plain vicious. Most one star reviews are just vicious. I constantly remind my writing partner, who published a mystery this year, that Moby Dick has 42 one-star reviews.

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    Lily August 29, 2013 at 4:37 am #

    Okay, so I’m probably going to be in the minority here, but so be it.

    I no longer place much importance on book reviews because they’re just a marketing tool now, and have little to do with reality. And THAT is the main reason why 1-star reviews are so vicious now, and 5-star reviews are almost a joke.

    That being said, what about reading a book and giving an honest review?

    If a person buys a book, they are entitled to give their honest opinion on it. If the book does not deliver what it promises, is poorly written, etc. then why is it not appropriate to rate it poorly – in a polite manner? Please don’t tell me you haven’t read a book that rates 1-star – ever?

    All taste in literature is subjective. I’ve read wonderful books that got 1-star reviews, and horrible books with 5-star reviews. Anyone who lives and dies by book reviews is foolish.

    And yet, should we not be honest in a helpful manner?

    Are all 1-star reviews spiteful? What if the book has absolutely no redeeming qualities and you state that succinctly and politely in a review? Is that being unhelpful? Perhaps the author can learn from that type of review? Is dishonesty helpful?

    It is never correct to be vicious, mean and vindictive, but giving an honest, constructively critical opinion is certainly within a book buyers rights. It is better to be honest in an appropriate manner, than to give a book a good review that doesn’t deserve, it because you don’t want to hurt the author’s feelings. All that does is encourage mediocrity.

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      Ngkn August 29, 2013 at 5:02 am #

      I totally agree.

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      Sharon Henning August 29, 2013 at 7:17 am #

      I agree with Lily. Just because someone gave a one star review doesn’t mean they were being mean or vindictive or having a bad day.

      One reason I give one star reviews is because the author claims to be a Christian and yet they have all sorts of content that aren’t just a little off scripturally, they are way off. I’m going to give an honest and well- argued statement as to why I think the author’s writing is not scripturally sound. And yes, I do that without being spiteful.

      I’m also glad when I read other one star reviews that say the same thing. The five star reviews on those particular books are usually written by young, immature Christians who not only lack spiritual discernment but are being led down a wrong path. (Better that a millstone be hung around one’s neck…)

      And yes, it is a comment on the publishers and others involved in publishing such a book. It affects the way I look at them as well. I wonder why they published such a book.

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        Tamela Hancock Murray August 29, 2013 at 8:09 am #

        Sharon, I actually have no problem with another Christian pointing out problems with theology in a review. In fact, that type of one-star review has kept me from purchasing many a book. I have already spent a good deal of time learning the arguments of opposing theology and I don’t think they have anything “new” to say to me. As Dr. J. Vernon McGee would say, “It’s the same old sin.” So if I am reading a book for my edification, growth, and encouragement, I appreciate knowing that the author’s theology is spot on before I press the “buy” button.

        That said, I find your comment that you wonder why a publisher would publish such a book interesting. The fact of the matter is, books on each side of the theological spectrum will be published until the end of time. Your one-star reviews are probably encouraging those with the opposing viewpoint to decide to buy the book. But this is not your concern. It is God’s concern. You are just doing your best to be faithful and obedient to Him.

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      Tamela Hancock Murray August 29, 2013 at 7:58 am #

      Lily, you are confusing discretion with dishonesty. I never at any time said book reviewers should be dishonest. I said not to trash books online. Writing a thoughtful one-star review, when that is your honest opinion and you are backing it up with examples from the book, is the not same as venting online.

      Those who know me understand that personal and professional integrity extremely important to me, and that I choose to associate with others who strive to live God-honoring lives. I regret that my words were misinterpreted as encouraging deception of any kind. That was never, ever my intention.

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      Virginia August 29, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

      I totally, totally agree with these comments. Thank you for being so thoughtful.

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    Carol Moncado August 29, 2013 at 4:42 am #

    I look forward to next week’s post. I only offer to read/review/influence books I expect to like but recently read one that was just awful. The WRITING was good but some of the rest of it… OY! I would have chalked it up to personal taste except I knew some of it would offend a lot of CBA readers and felt I had to say something since none of the other reviews did [which really surprised me]. I ended up giving it two stars [which, sadly, felt generous :(] and mentioning it to the book lady at the local CBA store when I happened to be in there because I knew she’d hear about it from a lot of their customers :(.

    That said… I didn’t go after the author’s mother and made sure to mention that I read the whole thing – and in just a few hours as it kept me turning [Kindle] pages. Sigh. Such a hard place to be…

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      Tamela Hancock Murray August 29, 2013 at 8:10 am #

      Carol, I admire you for sticking with the book. That will give your review much more credibility than if you abandoned it.

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    Kathy E Eberly August 29, 2013 at 5:24 am #

    I try to be kind when posting reviews. I remember a few years back being at a writers’ conference and meeting a person in the elevator and noting what their genre of fiction was. She asked me if I like that genre and I said no. Looking back on the experience I feel bad about it. I could have found a better way to say my feelings than I did and likewise with books, it is the same thing. Each of us has different taste in books and because I didn’t necessarily like it doesn’t mean it might not be good to someone else.

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      Tamela Hancock Murray August 29, 2013 at 8:12 am #

      Kathy, what is that saying — Don’t ask a question you don’t want an answer to?

      The author took you off guard by asking such a direct question. I imagine you blurted “no” because of that. I’ve learned from those type of experiences, too.

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    Heather Day Gilbert August 29, 2013 at 5:33 am #

    Hm. Lately I’m very suspicious when I find books that have ONLY five-star ratings–that smacks of marketing machines to me. And yet I totally hear you that we can’t trash other authors’ books–though I think we’d all agree that there are some abominably written books out there. So what do we do for those? For me, I rarely dip below 3 stars in my reviews. If something is so horrid I can’t even read it, I just don’t REVIEW it. The thing that gets me is when some readers read ONLY the first pages of a book, then proceed to give a scathing review, without completing said book. That brings down an author’s ratings and just doesn’t seem honest. But just like critiquing other authors’ work–I feel like (as my momma told me) “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” At least wrap the criticism in some kind of positive words.

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      Susie Bixler August 29, 2013 at 7:38 am #

      I so agree with you. Thumper said, when reminded by his mom, in the Bambi movie: If you can’t say something nice – Don’t say anything at all. Also read the whole book before you give a scathing review. It might take more than a chapter to grab you. I can’t count the books I’ve read and said to myself . . . How did that get published? Everyone doesn’t have the same taste. Wouldn’t it be boring world if we did? ~Susie

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    Dina Sleiman August 29, 2013 at 6:19 am #

    Okay, here is a one star review that cracked me up. I was too busy laughing to be upset.

    “Like reading the Bible, bought by mistake. Amazon needs to add more filters to the list of books under romance.”

    Has anyone else noticed, though, that people are much quicker to give bad reviews and lower star ratings on goodreads than on amazon? I think they judge more by preference there than by quality.

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      Iola August 29, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

      That’s partly because 4 stars at Amazon means “I liked it”, but “I liked it” at Goodreads is defined as three stars. Almost all my ratings are therefore one lower on Goodreads than Amazon, and I reserve five stars at Goodreads for books I have read and re-read over the years.

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    Jeanne Takenaka August 29, 2013 at 6:34 am #

    Interesting topic, Tamela. I have never given a one-star review. It seems like there is sometimes a fine line between conveying constructive truth in a low-starred review and trashing the book. I make it my goal (and I’m not perfect) to make sure that what I speak is done graciously. When I can do that in a low review, I try to. But if I can’t share something gracious around the hard truths I see about a book, I usually don’t publish a review.

    The work an author puts into a book, the heart that often goes into it doesn’t need to be slammed by people who may not fully understand all that goes into writing and publishing a book. Thinking about how I would respond if someone spoke the words I’m considering writing helps me decide if those words need to be said.

    Yes, speak truth. But, be careful how it’s done.

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    Thomas Allbaugh August 29, 2013 at 6:45 am #

    Really great advice. A book is the result of a lot of collaboration and the contributions of many creative people. Anyway, I’m reminded of a statement on Facebook attributed to Kurt Vonnegut Jr. recently, so it may or may not be his words: “Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.” – Kurt Vonnegut

    Most of the negative reviews on Amazon don’t reflect well on the writers.

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    April W Gardner August 29, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    I’ve stopped reviewing books, because I rarely DON’T feel dishonest by what I say. Even though I know reviews can be helpful to authors, I justify abstaining by reminding myself that it’s often considered unethical for authors to write reviews for other authors’s books. Amazon has really cracked down on it, and I’d rather not be put on their blacklist.
    I leave the reviews to the READERS, and pray God brings READERS to review mine.
    Great post. Hadn’t considered that a review affects more people than the authors.

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    Cheri Gregory August 29, 2013 at 6:58 am #

    I read 1-star reviews first. They typically say far more about the reviewer than the book! I’ve bought many a book after laughing thru the 1-star reviews and figuring if “they” thought “that,” I’ll probably love the book!

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      Heather Day Gilbert August 29, 2013 at 7:03 am #

      Oooh, excellent point, Cheri. I’ve done that, as well. And sometimes those good one-stars save you from buying a crummy book.

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    Ann Shorey August 29, 2013 at 7:11 am #

    “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” is my motto on writing reviews. On my second novel, a person who had volunteered to be an influencer for the book posted a nasty one-star review on Amazon tearing the story apart. It was one of the first reviews posted. Aargh.

    Later on a loop I’m part of she defended herself on the subject by saying she felt reviews were like offering helpful critiques. Someone else on the loop pointed out that you can’t “critique” a published book.

    Good point about bad reviews insulting the entire publishing team.

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    Meghan Carver August 29, 2013 at 7:21 am #

    I never thought about a bad review insulting the entire team, Tamela. That’a s good point. I’m like so many of the others, though. If I don’t enjoy a book, I just don’t post a review. Likes and dislikes are so subjective, and there are definitely bunches of people who love books I don’t care for. At the very least, the editorial team, the sales and marketing team, and the publisher liked the book. For that reason, others’ reviews don’t typically influence what I read. I’d rather just read it and decide for myself.

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    Jules August 29, 2013 at 7:33 am #

    I usually don’t review a book if I can’t say anything nice. However just lately I have paid good money for an atrociously written book which sadly had been self published. In this instance there were lots of very undeserved five star reviews, which I suspect are from friends and family. On that occasion I did leave a one star review, my first ever, because I felt they were cheating readers. Everybody has their own taste and views but I do believe that if you’re going to sell books you should at least get them professionally edited. Publishers and Agents have been gatekeepers for a long time for good reason. That said there are lots of fantastic self-pub books out there but the few bad apples are not doing them any favours.

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    Rachel Muller August 29, 2013 at 7:45 am #

    I’m so glad you touched on this, Tamela. Within the last month I have had several discussions with authors on this distasteful subject.

    I agree that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and views, BUT when it comes to writing up a bad review I can’t help but think it’s in the best interest of the reviewer AND the author to leave the negative feedback out. The Disney movie, Bambi, comes to mind when Thumper’s mother scolds him for saying something unkind and makes him recite, “If you can’t say something nice…” and we all know the rest of that line.

    I have left 4 and 5 star reviews on books that I found fantastic – but those books were works in my taste and what I like to read. If I dislike a book or find it less than the 3-star standard I opt not to leave any feedback.

    As for the 1-star reviews, if a book is really all that bad, did the reviewer get through the whole story, cover to cover, I wonder?

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    Esther Thompson August 29, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Excellent advice. If I can’t say something constructive, I don’t say anything at all. In my writing critique we’ve learned not to tear down, but to build up with constructive advice and compliment what we like. It’s very rewarding and everyone leaves feeling uplifted and ready to rewrite.

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    Leola Ogle August 29, 2013 at 8:48 am #

    I appreciated this blog immensely. Thanks, Tamela! Before I started writing, I never read reviews, and (sigh) I hate to admit, I never left reviews, although I read 1-2 books a week. I do read reviews now, and leave reviews. Some one star reviews are deliberately meant to hurt the author, while others are meant to impart useful, constructive critique. Genuine people can tell the difference, and hopefully ignore the vicious reviews.

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    Jennifer Zarifeh Major August 29, 2013 at 8:56 am #

    In this age of Google, blogs and trending, why would ANYONE in the CBA feel self-righteous and overly-holy enough to publicly shred anyone? The days of “I didn’t mean what they printed” and having no control over one’s own words is long gone.
    Bambi’s mom was right. So watch your heart and your send button, because some people still believe in pay-back.

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    Amber Perry August 29, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    This is a great post and something that hits very close to home since I both write books and review them. I feel its very important to give readers an honest view of the books I read–BUT, I also feel there is NO place for out-and-out cruelty. I have never written a one start review and never plan to. Most one star reviews I have read tend to be full of insults and attacks. It should never be done, and yet it happens all the time. Reviews that are insightful, and bring out the good, and point out possible negatives (no novel is PERFECT, because not all readers will like the book equally…) and help to inform the readers as to what to expect, those are the ones I think are most beneficial and those are the ones I try and write. Focus on the positive, and let the reader decide for themselves if they want to read it, and if they do, they’ll come to their own conclusion.
    Thanks again for a great post!

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    Rachel Smith August 29, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    I have left a one-star review, on Goodreads. It was a self-published book, and it never should have left the guy’s hard drive. The Goodreads reviews are largely glowing ones, praising the author’s skill at translating the story of Moses to a science fiction setting.

    Except there was no skill. It was a poorly written book all around. And the sad part is it’s from a man who’s generally well regarded within the SF/spec writing community as a good editor.

    He may be a good editor, but he’s a lousy writer. I bought it after reading the sample, telling myself surely it can’t be this bad all the way through, maybe it gets better. It didn’t. Since this book was my one and only exposure to him, I steer clear of anything with his name on it.

    I don’t read Amazon reviews. Don’t trust them. I do read Goodreads reviews however, especially if I’m on the fence about a book and not sure what the heat level is. Goodreads reviews are pretty good about helping me figure out where on the heat spectrum a romance falls.

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      Stacey Zink August 29, 2013 at 9:41 am #

      Great post. I have struggled with this in the past. I do not review very many books, but the few I have reviewed I am honest about. Thankfully, I have loved them. My policy tend to be, if I don’t love it, then I don’t review it. As a new writer, I have no interest in tearing down another persons hard work. I understand the amount of sacrifice involved in publishing a book, so I wouldn’t want to be responsible for raining on their parade. Now, if the book goes against my moral beliefs, then that would be different.

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    Jane Squires August 29, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    I as a reviewer will never write a bad review. I had a couple of books I did not like. I wrote the author and told them what bothered me and they thanked me. But I never wrote a review that would cause someone else not to buy the book. Why? Because someone else might like it. We are all different. Only post positive reviews that will help the authors.

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    Effie-Alean Gross August 29, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    I try to remember the Golden Rule.

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    Monica August 29, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    This was a great post. I usually select books based on my interests. It may sound silly but I usually pray and ask what book do I need to read next? I rarely pick one that doesn’t live up to my expectations. I did give a 3 star review to one book but I tried to kindly explain why. I try to treat people like I would want to be treated really. I wouldn’t want to just tear down someone’s hard work either.

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    Christine Ashworth August 29, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    I’m lucky (I guess) – my books haven’t garnered any 1-star reviews as yet. I do read the 1 and 2 star reviews of books before I buy them, just to see why they rated the book that way; and those reviews are rarely well-written, so it’s difficult to take them seriously.

    Great post. It’s my first time here, but I will most likely be back.

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    Nancy Hardy August 29, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    I don’t let reviews influence my book-buying decisions. The best thing about having an eReader is the “Get a Sample” feature. If a book doesn’t hook me with the sample – or I find something that irritates me about the writing style, characterization, etc., in those first few pages, I stop reading, delete the sample and move on. Amazon has also had the “look inside” features for many years,and I will use that if an eBook is not available before I plunk down my money. All of this is equivalent to picking up a book of interest at a bookstore and reading the beginning before buying.

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      Iola August 29, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

      That’s good advice. A lot of the books I’ve given low reviews to are books I never would have picked up if I’d had the opportunity to read the Kindle sample (as a NetGalley reviewer, we only get the title, author, publisher, and sometimes a brief blurb on which to base our decisions. I’m usually pretty good at picking books I’ll like, but sometimes I miss big time).

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    Wendy Gorski August 29, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    As a book reviewer (unpaid) for a Christian Publisher, I try to write reviews that provide both pros and cons, and list good things and not so good things about a book.
    If I address theological issues I back it up with scripture. I ask myself what do I want to know about a book that will help me make an informed decision.
    The only time I’ve given what may be considered a harsh review was when writer(s) have used fowl language to make their so-called hero manly. To me, that’s lazy writing and bad character development. Not to mention offensive.
    In writing a review, I try to check my ego at the door and be as real as possible.
    As a reader, I appreciate honest reviews and do read across the scale. Those who rate one star because they have an agenda are easy to spot, and I simply disregard them.

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    Martha Rogers August 29, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    I’ve read a lot of books for review, but would never give a one star review on a public site. Maybe the book hit me wrong, or the genre was wrong. If the writing really has problems, I might send an email to the author personally and ask about certain things that may have bothered me. I remember twice I didn’t finish a book because I just couldn’t get into it or enjoy it. If I’ve read an author at least twice, and still don’t enjoy his/her writing, I won’t buy another one of his/her books. I don’t read reviews until I’ve read the book myself.

    My feelings have been bruised by poor or bad reviews, but if the good ones outweigh the bad, I feel better. I have learned from poor reviews.

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    Ausjenny August 29, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    Being a reader I don’t read a lot of the reviews but if I do I tend to look at the 3 star ones cos they are often balanced. Unless I know the reviewer I tend to disregard 5 star reviews as have heard many are paid for. I do hate the one stars that abuse the author etc and a lot of the time have received the book for free. I will put up a 3 star review saying why I liked it then what I didn’t like. I do find reviews for non fiction I tend to look at more. Last year looking for a book for dealing with grief I read several of the 5 star reviews thought the book sounded great and then read the lower stars and could see it really wasn’t right for me at the time.

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    Pegg Thomas August 29, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    I’ve done hundreds of book reviews and only ever given two 1-star reviews. One I regret and one I don’t. I don’t regret the one that was neither Christian or fiction and I didn’t appreciate the mocking tone towards Christians or God.

    I would not give another 1-star review of a fiction book. Lesson learned. Good advice. Don’t do anything knee-jerk.

    And even though I do a lot of book reviews… I almost never read them. On the rare occasions I do, I’ll read the 3-star reviews. I figure most of the 5-stars are the author’s family and friends and most of the 1-stars are over-reactions (like mine was). The 3-stars give me – I think – the most objective views.

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    Peter DeHaan August 29, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    Generally I almost always give three, four, and five star book reviews. I may have given a couple of twos but no ones. I figure I’m better to keep quiet than spew forth a one star review.

    (That said, I have given a couple one star reviews on movies – but they truly deserved it!)

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    Carol September 1, 2013 at 8:38 am #

    Are reviews for the writer or the buyer?

    As a reader/buyer, I appreciate honest reviews from the full spectrum. Some of my favorites have had an equal amount of one star and five star reviews. Reading taste is certainly subjective.

    By not reviewing books that we deem only deserving of 4 or 5 stars the entire system of reviewing at all (from the readers perspective) has been diminished and become purely a marketing tactic.

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      Brooke @ i blog 4 books September 7, 2013 at 11:44 am #

      Agreed. Over the past 3.5 years, I have written 4 1-star reviews after waffling and laboring over what to do. A 1-star review is reserved for a book that I cannot or will not recommend to anyone (so it’s generally more than a personal preference issue). My personal opinion as a book blogger/reader is that if I only review the books I loved, it seems like I love everything I read. While I try to choose books I think I will like/love, every book isn’t a perfect fit for me, and I think my readers (of my blog) deserve my honest opinions and thoughts about the books I’m reading. Of course, there is no excuse for pettiness or nastiness, which I try very hard to avoid in all of my reviews (1-star or not). And with 2-star reviews, if I’m the only one who seems to feel the book was disappointing, I try to link to other reviews to provide a more balanced perspective. What doesn’t work for me may be the perfect book for someone else.

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    Pamela King Cable September 1, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    I agree with all of this. But I’m thinking back to how many reviews I read that trashed 50 Shades of Gray. Or is it Grey? Seems like everybody in the industry threw a few stones at that one for a while.

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