How to Leave a Book Review: Reviews Etiquette, 5-Stars or the Truth

Some time ago, I asked on Twitter what should be the Reviews Etiquette when you’re thinking about reviewing a book.

Imagine you’re reading a book. It has some strong points and some horrible mistakes.

Should you tell the cruel and horrid truth or should you stop yourself from reviewing it?

Bad reviews really hurt the author and sales. However, 5-start only reviews don’t offer the complete truth to the reader. It makes the reader trust you less.

So, what should you do?

There were different opinions regarding this topic, so let the battle begin with the arguments for each side:

5-Star Only Reviews versus The Truth

The Truth

  • Reviews aren’t for the author, but for other readers. Giving 5-stars only might please the author, but it’s deceptive for other readers;
  • You can give the feedback you would like to receive but in an honest, helpful and kind way;
  • If you need to, you have to do whatever it takes for the author to get better. This involves pure honest feedback. Otherwise, the author won’t improve.
  • There’s a balance. You don’t need to rip the author to shreds but you can always tell the truth. This involves 3-star reviews as well.
  • People can’t improve if they don’t know what they did wrong. If they only want 5-starts, they don’t care about being a writer, so they don’t deserve it.
  • You have to be brave enough to hear the truth. Truths are better than lies.
  • Generic good reviews will not help anyone. Not the reader, not the writer. In-depth reviews, on the other hand, will help both.
  • Tell the truth is not the same as being mean.
  • If you lie, you don’t respect not the reader, not the writer.
  • You can always tell the truth somewhere that won’t hurt the stars on Amazon, like on your blog.
  • Bad writing and fake reviews look worst than bad reviews.
  • You are losing the trust of your readers with good-only generic reviews. Nothing good comes from that except the writer’s ego.
  • Nobody believes that the book is only “good”. It has to have something else.

5-Stars Only

  • If a book is good enough for you to finish it, you should leave a good review. If it’s not, you just stop reading it and let it go;
  • If you’re considering giving it less than 4 stars, it would be better to talk to the author privately (especially if they are self-published) instead. Bad reviews are only hurtful for everyone.
  • Try to find the positives only. If you can’t, simply don’t review it.
  • Some books might not do it for me, but they can be great for other tastes. They don’t need my personal opinion, each person is different. Something you hate can be what other person loves the most. There’s no point in hurting another author for this.
  • Opinions are subjective.
  • Do book recommendations of books you like and ignore the ones you don’t. Giving bad reviews publicly can hurt your image as well.
  • If you’re a writer yourself, it’s easy to critique the way other people write because you would do it differently. Remember, most readers aren’t writers and they wouldn’t think the same as the book.
  • There’s no real standard. You shouldn’t think that your own opinions are the standard.
  • It’s unprofessional to criticize your colleagues if you’re a writer yourself.
  • Bad reviews can destroy the writer (especially if they are small and self-published). Don’t do that just to estate your opinion.
  • As a writer, leave a bad review and the other writer can do the same with your book as revenge. Just something to think about.
  • You can’t fix a published book. Don’t hurt the author’s image because of that.

Who Won?

We can almost call it a draw. Each side has great arguments. The tell-the-truth side usually goes in the line that the reviews are not for the author, but the readers, and telling the truth is better because the writer improves, the readers know the truth, and the truth is always better than lying. However, the 5-starts side goes into the arguments that every opinion is subjective. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t like something, somebody else might love that. It’s unprofessional to leave a bad review as a writer and it might hurt your own image. Also, it’s a lack of empathy with the other writer for you to think that your personal opinion is important enough for you to destroy their reputation.

My opinion on the matter

It’s hard.

I think I’ll go with tell the truth but, to be honest, I really wanted to leave a terrible review in a book that I read but could only give 4 stars. I’ve never given less than 4. I did that for empathy and also because of the writer image thing. I might be wrong and this is a heated topic, so you can dislike my opinion, but I just couldn’t bring myself into telling the whole truth… I did, however, a very in-depth review of everything I thought it was wrong. Anybody else could read the in-depth thing and think: for this explanation, I think this should get a 2-starts review. It was my way of letting the writer know how I felt about the book, without being mean, but also without hurting the book’s image with a 3-star review.

I would say that everybody really has to give this matter some thought. Each side has great arguments as I said. It’s not good to lie. It never is. And the reviews, definitely, are not for the writer’s ego but for the readers. However, we are writers as well. This has to come into consideration. Your personal opinion should not destroy someone’s reputation.

What to do then? How to Leave a Book Review?

The thing I say, and you might not agree, is: regardless of the side you pick, 5-starts or the truth, don’t be mean and do leave an in-depth review. Tell everything in a professional manner, which means that I think you shouldn’t say something like: I hated this book because I hate wizards and this book has a wizard. Instead, go for: the wizard in this book was not very well-developed, it didn’t feel real to me. Don’t use your personal private opinion but try to say what bothered you in a way that others can understand and relate.

However, people, this is just my personal opinion. The arguments were brought to you by a lot of writers in the #WritingCommunity on Twitter.

Tell me below, what do you think? Which side should win?

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