Kindness vs. Honesty

I’m a harsh critic. Those who’ve witnessed my screening on Goodreads, or read any of my reviews for Catherine Coulter’s work know this. When I don’t like something, I don’t mind telling you. Somewhere on this site, I did mention that I’m overly opinionated, didn’t I?

My recent reviewing streak has not gone well. In fact, I can’t remember ever handing out so many low ratings. Twice, as I was composing a review, I considered letting kindness trump honesty. I didn’t need to detail the errors I noticed, or spotlight poor characterization. A one star rating would suffice, wouldn’t it? Plenty of other people read and reviewed these books and found many wonderful things to mention. Perhaps the issues that bothered me weren’t that serious.

But they were.

When I buy a book (even during a free promotion), I expect to have bought a real book. I’ve been reading voraciously since I was in middle school. My brain is accustomed to certain standards. I know where commas belong, the correct placement of punctuation for dialogue, and when necessary exposition becomes info dumping. If your dialogue doesn’t sound real, I’m rolling my eyes. If your characters fall in love after three minutes of lustful staring, I’m grinding my teeth.

When I’m reading a book, I don’t want to wish for a red pen. I don’t want to think of better ways you could have opened your book, or handled a scene, or introduced tension. I want to immerse myself in your story, lose all track of time, and stay up way too late because I can’t put it down. I haven’t had that experience in a while, and my one-star streak is evidence of that.

Funny thing is, most of these books didn’t come with fair warning. The blurbs weren’t (all) terrible. The reviews might have mentioned a comma issue or two, but they didn’t shout: “NEEDS AN EDIT!” when I feel they should have.

Much as we all say that reviews are for readers, few of us stay true to that. An unreadable book should not have twenty reviews (3 – 4 stars) that say the love triangle was superb, or the characters really shined, or the plot was convincing without ever mentioning that a classroom full of kindergarteners could have improved upon the editing. I’m convinced that these issues are not unnoticed by all but myself. No, what I think is happening is that readers are attempting to spare the feelings of authors.

It’s a kind thing to do – on the surface. A writer once told me that there were a lot of things much worse than negative reviews…like no reviews. A book that by all rights shouldn’t be categorized as such will probably not go far. By ignoring issues and sparing feelings and remarking only on the positive, the only thing you are really doing is losing personal credibility.

Maybe you don’t care about that (although if you are also an author you damned well should). Maybe you just like getting review copies for free, and assume no one pays any attention to what you say anyway. Or maybe, just maybe, you don’t want to be “mean.”

This is not a call I can make for anyone other than myself, but I’d ask you to consider this: will a good review of a terrible book make it popular? Not likely. Will a bad review of a terrible book possibly encourage an author who has prematurely published a rough draft to pull it from the shelf and get some professional guidance? Okay, probably not. But the latter is infinitely more realistic than the former…



4 thoughts on “Kindness vs. Honesty

  1. Ultimately, it’s kinder, as well as more useful, to be honest, whether that’s nice or critical.

    A writer can only improve with criticism. It’s great to be told everything’s super, but you can only correct weaknesses and get better when people point out what’s wrong. Ideally, that happens at the beta reader/editing stage, so reviewers are left with only good things to say, but even if reviewers do have issues that can help the writer try and avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Will a good review of a terrible book make it popular? I give you Dan Brown… 🙂

    No, sorry, not my cup of tea but enough people appear to have enjoyed it as to make my dislike of his turgid prose a little irrelevant.

    I used to find reviews useful, but that was when I was buying from bookshops and reviews were written by professional reviewers, journalists and other published writers. I might occasionally discover that the reviewer’s tastes and mine differed but that was also useful as I was then able to read that reviewer’s work more critically in future.

    Ebooks, Kindles and, especially, the rapid growth in self-publication has almost broken that cosy relationship. While I can still go into a bookshop, still read reviews in literary magazines and newspapers, once I step away from the traditional publishing safety-net and into the online world of anything an everything, such easy, and essentially trustworthy, reviews are much harder to find.

    Look at almost any self-published book on Amazon and you will find such a confusing array of reviews that it becomes a job in itself to distinguish a real reader’s review from a friend-of-the-author’s review or a paid-for review, and that’s once you’ve fought through the pointless, gushing, semi-illiterate ramblings that make up the vast majority of such writings.

    Part of the problem here is that self-publishing has subverted the art of the review. Ebook reviews rarely have the aim of informing the potential reader as to the work’s content and merit, and are more often just another part of the marketing process. Some people manage a balance but it can be hard to find them amidst all the ‘noise’.

    That’s why what you say matters. If the ebook market is ever going to be more than just a way for people to pretend they are writers, if it is ever to mature as a marketplace, then readers need to play their part too, diligently and honestly. If you honestly loved the book you read, found no fault in it, then great, sing it from the rooftops. If, on the other hand, you found it poorly written, full of grammatical and punctuation errors, and little or no plot or character development, then do us all a favour and point it out. Potential readers will be your friend and, if the writer has any aspiration at all to really ‘being’ a writer, so will they.

    N.B. One thing to remember, the Internet is global. If the use of a particular word jars, or an idiom is unfamiliar, or you think the book is full of spelling errors, do yourself a favour before writing that review, see what nationality the author is – it might be correct for them. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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