If you know me, you owe me an excellent review.

My face when I get a good review.

My face when I get a good review.

Authors love reviews. We really, really do. Call it vanity, call it self-indulgence, but we really like it when people sing the praises of our books. At the same time, we feel somewhat afraid of them. I’ve received an okay number of reviews, and fortunately most of them were good, though two or three have managed to make cracks in my cocoon of review-induced happiness.

The best reviews are those written by complete strangers who you’ve never spoken to before, those who love your book  even though they’re not under  any obligation to be nice to you. Such reviews always fill me with such joy. On the other hand you have the reviews that make you feel as if someone wrenched your heart out and stepped on it. Then finally you have reviews from friends and family, which have to be good by default. In my previous post I wrote about how movie ratings are a lie. This applies to books too, where friends and family members are the biggest “liars”. Usually.

Honestly, when have you come across a bad review written by the parents or siblings of the author? While it’s true that they could’ve actually really enjoyed the book, one can’t deny that the reviews end up over the top and positively glowing, with remarks such as “The next J.K.Rowling!” and “The best book I’ve ever read!” Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds fishy to me… even more so when I see that the reviews have all been posted at very close intervals.

I know, I know… family and friends are probably the only surefire way to gain five-star reviews and increase one’s rankings, but that’s where their benefits end. Their reviews serve to bloat the author’s ego, and this can send him/her crashing down harder when an “outsider” gives them a negative review. Plus, overly cheery reviews might be a turn-off to some people who, like me, might smell something fishy about the book. It doesn’t give the author much credibility, and it doesn’t allow them to improve. If they think their book is the best thing ever, then there’s no need to change, is there? If someone dislikes their book, well… they just don’t know how to read, do they?

On a semi-related note, have you heard about Amy’s Baking Company that got featured on Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares? The woman was convinced that her food was amazing and nothing anyone said could change her mind, because her husband sheltered her from all negative remarks. If any dish got sent back to the kitchen, the husband threw it out immediately without telling his wife as he knew that she didn’t take criticism well and he didn’t wish to hurt her feelings. That, and he was scared of her temper. That’s just silly… if he wanted to help her, he would’ve done better to criticize her rather than allow her to live in her delusions. I suppose that’s the main problem; people are too afraid to hurt their author friend’s feelings to even dare give them some constructive feedback. =/

On a completely related note, Derek Childs wrote a fantastic review for my book today, and even though he knows me, he was still pretty honest and did not try to be nice on purpose… I asked!

Do you think friends and family should be honest in their reviews, or should they sugar-coat everything? If you’re a writer, what do you prefer? If you’re a reader, what do you do when your friend asks for a review?

This is a pretty good way to dish criticism. "Dish", geddit? Ha ha. Oh never mind.  (http://skydeckcartoons.com)

This is a pretty good way to dish criticism. “Dish”, geddit? Ha ha. Oh never mind.
(http://skydeckcartoons.com)

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14 thoughts on “If you know me, you owe me an excellent review.

  1. It’s touchy. Sometimes we ask friends and family because what we’re really looking for isn’t a review but encouragement. If I want a real review from someone I know I’ll approach it asking specifically for them to apply their strengths. “You’re such a good proofreader. Would you please…” or “You read so much in this genre could you let me know how….” or “As one writer to another, please tell me….” It’s hard on the other side too. I asked my sister to beta-read my second book and was specific about what kind of feedback I wanted from her. She was terrified to sit down and tell me. She did it, (brave and noble woman that she is) and it will be easier next time.

    • I know it’s hard on the other side too, seeing as I’ve been on it. But I believe it’s important that the author has people that s/he can trust to give honest opinions among all other people who might be willing to lie. Your sister is definitely brave for speaking her mind! 🙂

  2. I loved the review, Zen – congratulations 😀

    I guess I’m good at giving ‘constructive feedback’ due to years of reviewing my children’s homework 😉 I wish I could do book reviews, but I seriously don’t have enough time on my hands (and I’m not very good at it). I usually get my mother and sisters to read my novels before I publish them only to find typos. None of them are reviewers and I wouldn’t expect them to review because they’re too bias and it would seem fake. Great post – and congrats again, my friend!

    • Thank you, Dianne! 😀 I loved it too.

      Constructive feedback is great. I understand that not all people will like what I write, and in those cases I’d appreciate such feedback instead of a full-on bashing! It’s good that you have someone to review your novels for typos – those are the worst – but yeah, it’s probably difficult to get a non-biased review from a family member. =[

  3. I agree with you Zen. People one knows often seem to wear kid gloves when handling their work as though attempting to shield them from the negativity of criticism, regardless of its beneficial constructive nature. For instance, recently at university we conducted work-shopping during our classes, each student providing feedback on another individual’s work. Now, bearing in mind that I have in the past sent pieces to publishing houses, anthologies, teachers, writing professionals, literary agents, etc, I had come to expect much of the same thing. Whenever a person read my work, writing professional or not, they always commented on how good a writer I was. This did nothing but fuel my abnormally large ego and cause me to become even more pretentiously egotistical than what I already was. Anyway, during the workshop, mine lasts not fifteen minutes and I receive more criticism than I ever have in my entire life! Safe to say it deflated me quite a fair bit; too many vowels, adjectives, etc. Story is convoluted. Too much talking. Too many speech tags. Narrative tone is wrong. It just kept going. In fact, the only compliment I received was form the teacher. I guess she realised that I should have at least one nice comment made about my work since the entire class apparently wished I had never written it in the first place. True, this was kind of disconcerting, but in the end I liked the feedback because it enabled me to improve.
    On that note, I don’t much enjoy asking my friends and parents for their opinion. Although my mother and some of my friends have either worked or continue to work in the editing and/or writing industry, I cannot entirely trust their opinion due to potential bias. I do trust the grammatical changes they believe ought to be implemented, but that is about it, and although I still to this day ask my friends for their opinions on, say poetry I intend to submit to a magazine or something, I usually ask whether they think it ties in with a certain subject matter, not if they thought it was any good. If a friend suddenly says they didn’t like something, that could cause unnecessary tension in a relationship. I think married couples have broken up for less.
    As for what happens when a friend asks for a review – most ask me to edit their piece – and I am one helluva horrible editor. By the end of the process, usually half of their creation has red all over the place – not necessarily all bad, but they ask for my opinion and it is my job to provide. If I provide people who are not my friends with potentially valued feedback, who am I to not do the same to a person that I know? Besides, I do work part time as an editor. It wouldn’t look too good for me professionally if I go around wearing kid gloves all day long. I’ll never get a gig again! On the other hand, I have also found that many people do not appreciate the truth. For instance, if someone asks ‘do I look fat in this?’ and one says ‘yes’, then that response will probably not go down well, regardless of its accuracy. I think people sometimes enjoy living in ignorance – it is after all safer than hearing the hardened truth of it all.
    Again Zen, I’m glad you liked the review of your book. ‘Fantastic’ eh? Also thank you for providing an answer to the question that I asked about your text’s conclusion. I think it’s because I’m a soporific romantic that I traditionally either want the relationship to either end happily or not at all – not somewhere in-between where it can be left up to the readership’s discretion to fill in the blanks, although I do agree with the points that you raised. Thank you again!
    I would also note that I don’t exactly think that I know you Zen in the traditional sense of such terminology. I mean, what do I really know? Apart from the fact that you are an avid reader, writer, a lover of all things chocolate and have animated purple hair, I wouldn’t say that I truly ‘know you’, but I do understand what you mean. We’ve communicated on WP a couple of times and due to this a bias may be induced in order to avoid angering a professional writer. Fact of life – writers are spooky! I am glad though that you are, as you said, not some kind of murderous author who kills lots of people within her stories!
    Cheers! 😀

    • Ouch. That must’ve been a painful experience! I’ve received criticism before, but never that much in one sitting. But it’s better late than never, no? I appreciate brutal criticism in doses; it allows me to improve without deflating me too much, haha.

      It’s funny that you should mention married couples. My fiancé and I edit each other’s work, and we’re brutal when it requires it. He trusts me to help him publish works free from mistakes and outrageous writing/plot mistakes and cliches, and I trust him to do the same for me. It might sting at first, but eventually I/he see the point the other was trying to make. As long as one is willing to accept criticism, I don’t see why one shouldn’t ask a friend/family member for an honest opinion… provided that such person is brave enough to give it, of course. 😉

      I don’t think that’s “horrible”, if anything you’re just meticulous! I’m sure your friends appreciate it, and you’re right, when a person is a professional editor they can’t afford to be nice at all. But yeah, I agree – a lot of people prefer to live a sheltered life rather than face the truth, even if it actually benefits them. =/

      I understand what you mean! I thought it was apparent… but then again, I’m the author so it’s natural for me to assume that it’s apparent, haha. Thank YOU again for the review. Yes, it was pretty fantastic. 😀

      And I assure you I do not have purple hair. 😉 But I think once two people communicate, even if through comments and whatnot, it’s fair to say that they know each other and hence might be a bit biased in their assessment! Haha, I already have enough murderers and victims in my head to go looking for people in real life! … wait, that did not sound too good. Uhm. >.>;

  4. Of course, reviews from friends only work if you can actually convince said friends to take 5 minutes out of their busy lives to write you a review. Lol. Guess what I’m currently struggling with at the moment?

    And yes, definitely saw the show on Amy’s Baking Company. I couldn’t actually believe what I was seeing when I watched it! Amy’s problem isn’t that she doesn’t know her food’s bad because she never hears criticism — her problem is that she refuses to listen to anyone other than herself, and therefore has absolutely no idea what’s going, be it with her cooking, the state of her business, or life in general.

    • Haha, I’ve had to deal with the same thing. Still am, actually. I’ve been waiting on a review from my best friend for almost… six months now! If she were in the same country I would physically force her to do it, but she’s safely out of my reach. =[

      It was outrageous, wasn’t it? I’m not a big fan of Gordon Ramsey, but I was actually sympathizing with him throughout that episode. If she only was a liiiiittle bit more accepting, she would’ve saved herself all that humiliation, but instead she goes and refers to criticism as “online bullying.”

  5. Would it be possible to have anonymous reviews?
    I mean, asking a group of friends/ relatives / acquaintances an opinion / review but claiming that they be returned anonymously …..
    What do you think about this?

  6. Amen to all this. Some of the least helpful people I had were the ones who just supported me because they knew me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful, but I didn’t grow through them, and the book didn’t grow through them. I always enjoy honest dislike to smiling fakers.
    Heck, even the Bible says that enemies multiply kisses, but the wounds of a friend can be trusted.

    • Agreed. I’ve been blessed with friends who aren’t afraid to speak their mind even though they knew me, and that has proved really helpful. 🙂

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