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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pam Stack Guest Blog: What To Do When A Book Isn't All That

Today on the blog Pam Stack, host of Authors on the Air, discusses her dilemma of how to review a stinker when the author is hoping for a positive blurb.

Lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about reviews I post on the many books that I read during the year.  Most are for novels by writers that I truly enjoy.  Give me murder and mayhem, spies and espionage, romantic thrillers and comedy, paranormal and Steampunk.  These are my favorites.  Rarely do I read, much less review, non-fiction.  And generally, I choose the books I want to read and review and post my ratings on books that garner 3 – 5 stars.  Those that don’t, well, let’s just say I “forget” that I’ve read them.

As Authors on the Air radio becomes more popular I find myself in the position of being asked to read an author’s work in hopes of a positive review to be used as a quote on a book jacket.  At first, I was flattered.  They want me?  Little ole me, who loves the written word and reads 300+ books a year?  Oh yes!  Of course, I agree.  However.  And you know there is a “however” here.
What happens when I read a novel that I feel is a stinker?  What do I say to the author who has poured their heart and soul into this book and is waiting for a quote to place on the jacket to encourage others to purchase their book?  Therein lies the rub.  And my conundrum.

I was recently faced with this dilemma.  I agreed to read, review and offer a pithy yet witty comment on a particular writer’s follow-up book; I enjoyed the first book, but the follow-up was less than satisfactory.  And actually, after the few chapters I realized that either (1) the first book was a fluke or (2) the writer believed that a successful first novel guaranteed the second would be as successful and as well-received without the same hard work. The wrongs would not be righted unless, in my humble opinion, the story was completely re-written. 

So, what to do, what to do?  I consulted with friends and colleagues known for their diplomacy and solicited their opinions.  Most said that I should find a kind and gentle was to advise the writer that their book sucked.  I’m not so good at that.  I want to make people happy; it’s my nature.  I want them to be successful.  I adore books and honor authors.  What to do?

Finally, I decided that in order to maintain my credibility as a reviewer, BETA reader and editor as well as a talk show host, I must be honest with said author and let them know that I found their work lacking and explain exactly what I found missing in their current work that was present in the previous one.  

And I have decided that I will no longer review books in order to have my name conceitedly placed on a book jacket, as though I were some authority, even if asked by the author.  I will continue to review books, talk about them, promote them, have lively and interesting discussions with authors on the radio, but I will decide which books I will read and review.  I can live with myself knowing that I have not hurt anyone’s feelings and still remain true to myself.


  1. I have this same problem as an author. Friends or acquaintances want blurbs all the time. I often say yes, but then regret it because a) I'm swamped with my own writing; and b) what if I hate or, at best, feel lukewarm about the book?

    The best course of action is to simply turn everyone down... :)

  2. I wanted to include the conversation about this from the facebook page:

    Kath Baer: Love Pam!

    Andrew Peters: Wise words. I give up on most of the books I read, but wouldn't post a review of them. If it's a friend's book I'll post as positive a review as I can, but if it's really bad I'll forget it. I'm too insignificant to be asked for cover quotes, and I tend to regard them with extreme suspicion anyway. The back covers of my paperback versions are full of wildly enthusiastic quotes from long-dead bluesmen. I think the whole review thing is now wildly out of hand.

    Must Read Mysteries: Usually if I don't care for something I don't review it, but there can be cases when it is a necessary corrective to all the 'friends and family' positive reviews.

    Andrew Peters: . . . .and then watch the author, friends and family pile into you. There's no point in the 'this fool sucks' reviews, but if someone points out real issues. . .well, they can actually be fixed on Kindle books very quickly.

    Must Read Mysteries: Very true...some books seem to have a new version/revision every month

    Pam Stack: It was the most difficult conversation I have ever had. I so respect and care about the author and I cried myself to sleep thinking of having to say anything. It's a lesson well learned.

    Must Read Mysteries: How did the conversation go and how did the author take it?

    Andrew Peters: One thing I have learned since buying a Kindle. Everyone does NOT have a novel in them.

    Pam Stack: She told me she was devastated and disappointed but that we would remain friends. I an grateful for her kindness but very very humbled now.

    Pam Stack: Andrew - I think everyone DOES have a novel in them, but what they lack is a writer for that novel. ; )

    Fred Yoder: I agree about the reviews. Most of the bad reviews, are in themselves, bad reviews. Saying the authors write like high school students, boring, etc. I think the review should in fact review the story itself. There are more polite ways to point of the negatives. Sometimes I want to ask the reviewers for a list of books they have written so I can read a well written one.

    Pam Stack: Aw Fred. Many authors get burned by reviewers. Learned writes who come on my talk show say that they try to weed out those who have no specific bone to pick with the author other than it wasn't their cuppa tea (I like this reason); specific bitching and complaining about the authors POV (useless and delete-able) or the person is well written and has some very interesting points to make (can be valuable). I read the entire book before I review, will not post a review that is not 3 - 5 stars and try to drive home WHY I like a book

    Andrew Peters: Of course, I have no idea whether Pam was right, but if so she was only doing what a decent editor would do. I am too cowardly to point out serious flaws in FB friends' writing.

    Andrew Peters: Can't agree with Fred that anyone reviewing a novel badly should be able to write a better one. Novels are written for everyday people. I can't build a house, but I know when the roof leaks.

    Jeanine Elizalde: I write reviews of the books I read. If the book is a stinker, it could well be because its just not my type of story. No reason to blast the author. If I don't finish the book, I don't review it.

    Andrew Peters: I think personal blasting is always wrong. I won't put myself forward as a reviewer because I don't want' to review stuff I don't like. The blurb and a few free chapters are usually enough to tell whether it's my scene....though there are plenty of people who read the opening pages, decide it's not for them and then post a 1* review.

    Fred Yoder: Andrew, what I meant was that a review should be about the storyline, not to say, point blank, it was no good. I didn't mean that the reviews themselves are badly written. Even though that may be the case.

  3. I face the same problem, and it's a tricky one! Especially because I know I'm a tough audience and that other people might enjoy the book. At this point, I turn everyone down...except a couple of writers who beta read for me. And in those cases, the books are still in development.

    1. LJ - I've tried to be fair about any review that I write about. I don't speak to anything other than the story itself and whether or not I think it is well-written. But having said that, aren't all reviews subjective? Therefore, if the story isn't my cuppa tea, I just don't review it. Experts come in all shapes and sizes and bring their own experiences to a book and it's review. I try to remember that I am one letter on one page or a very large encyclopedia and that all I have to offer is my opinion. And I'll never again act to self-important that I agree to do a review at a writer's request other than the usual, "please write a reader review if you like my book" type thing. If I like the tome, I feel I owe that praise to the author who took the time to write it. Thanks for you thoughts on the matter.


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