Authors spend months (years) crafting a tale, editing and polishing, finding an agent and/or publisher, learning self-publishing options and formatting, dealing with cover art, blurbs, marketing, book tours, interviews … all that before their book is even published. Once their work is out there, authors are vulnerable to critique, rejection, or worse – indifference. After such dedicated bravery, it’s no surprise the biggest complaint I hear from authors is that readers don’t leave a review even when they like the book.
Readers value reviews as a means of gaining insight into the story before spending hard-earned money on a book. Some authors look to their reviews for validation that their hard work has paid off. Others for feedback to help them hone their writing skills. So, what’s the deal? Why don’t readers leave a review?
The Fear Factor
Lack of time or skill to write a review top the list of excuses. But, there is something much more visceral keeping people from leaving reviews: Fear.
What if you didn’t like the story? Or, you liked it, but not enough to give a 4 or 5 star rating? Besides not wanting to hurt or discourage the author, leaving an honest review (even a positive one) can have damaging repercussions.
People can be rude to reviewers who leave a positive review, but
they’re downright abusive if you dare leave a “critical” review (3 star or lower),
no matter how thoughtful and even-handed it is.
When you leave positive reviews, there’s speculation you’re fluffing the ratings either to make your pals look good or to have the favour returned. When you give negative reviews, you’re obviously a no-talent hack taking out your frustrations on others.
Leaving a less-than-stellar review can damage or end relationships with other authors. Sometimes, it’s a simple unfriending on Facebook. Other times, it’s an ugly public “breakup” … and I mean U-G-L-Y.
Public Humiliation and Attack
We’re all adults, right? Professionals who understand not everyone will agree … right? Then, why do so many people mutate into schoolyard bullies when they read a critical review?
In 2014, I made an acquaintance on Facebook via our mutual interest in ancient North American civilizations. He’d written a YA Sci-Fi and the description sounded interesting enough that I bought the ebook. It started out okay, but the more I read, the more upset I got. As a reader and author, I was deeply offended by the sub-standard quality of the writing and complete lack of editing.
It looked like a first draft of a hastily dictated story.
I took 3 days to calm down and another 3 days to write my review. Even though I was giving it a 1-star rating, I was determined to be even-handed and include what the author did well.
The day after I posted my review, I discovered several hostile public posts by the author splashed across multiple social media platforms.
(Note: Yes, he actually believed being an indie author and offering his book for a “cheap” price was a valid excuse for lack of quality.)
Things quickly degenerated as he and his friends swung into a full-on public bashing session: name calling, speculation about my writing skills, and insults about my physical appearance.
Besides public attacks, I’ve faced other forms of retaliation over the years:
- rude comments on my blog and Facebook Fan Page;
- hack attacks on my websites;
- creepy emails and private messages; and
- vicious comments left on reviews I’ve written, like this one on a “classic” written by a long-dead author:
- I get called “wishy-washy” when I outline the positives in a book I don’t like.
- I’m “apologetic” when I point out aspects others may appreciate about a book I’ve rated poorly.
- I’m “confusing” and shouldn’t post reviews, because I give a positive rating to a book I don’t like, but feel was well done and would be enjoyed by others.
Who needs that abuse and stress? It’s not like writing reviews is benefiting me in any way.
Time and Money
Here’s a secret authors may not know:
Writing book reviews to post on sites like Amazon, Smashwords, and GoodReads
is a losing prospect for the reviewer.
It takes hours to write a thoughtful review. And, that’s after you’ve spent several days reading the book in the first place. You need to:
- organize what worked and didn’t work;
- touch on points that may interest other readers;
- and write it in a way that is fair and intelligent.
Then, you need to edit and polish your review so it doesn’t read like a 4th grader wrote it. Any errors will immediately invalidate everything you’ve written and subject you to more public ridicule.
As a freelance writer, I charge between $25 and $75 for content that requires the same amount of time and effort put into the reviews I write. But, I’m not being paid to write reviews and that time could be better served working on my own novels (as my husband frequently points out).
Reviewing books is a “hobby” that costs me time and money. Unlike a hobby, though I can’t recoup losses by selling my products on Esty.
Speaking of loss, it’s hard to be honest about not liking an author’s work when you share the same social circles with them. If they take the review personally, there’s the serious possibility you’ll not only lose the author as a contact, but also their associates.
Mutual friends may shy away from you, either out of loyalty to the author or concern that you’ll give them a bad review also. Even if you don’t know the author, posting an unpopular review can make you an outcast and cost valuable contacts you rely on for networking; people who could help you advance by buying, reading, reviewing, and even promoting your books.
Just another “Stinky Butthole”
In the end, a review is just someone’s opinion. And as the adage goes, “Opinions are like buttholes. We all have one and we all think everyone else’s stink.”
As much as I want my reviews to make a meaningful impact, the harsh truth is they’re often another number that either bolsters someone’s rating or drags it down. The number of times my reviews are voted “unhelpful” (even 4 and 5 star reviews) is higher than the times they’re voted “helpful”.
Based on my personal experience, is it any wonder why readers don’t want to leave reviews? While I try not to take it personally, it’s frustrating. In fact, I nearly gave up writing reviews several times … but then, I get a “thank you” note from an author, a public mention, and even requests from someone who read one of my critical reviews and wants an honest opinion of their work. My reviews may not matter to everyone, but every now and then, they have meaning to the right someone.