Linda G. Hill

Life in progress

Bad Reviews

101 Comments

About a month ago I was approached on Goodreads, completely at random, by a man (I think it’s a man – the name s/he uses is genderless) who was looking for people to give his novel away to in exchange for an honest review. I thought about it for a while. I looked up the book on Amazon and saw it already had a few good reviews, and then I accepted on the condition he wasn’t in too much of a rush. He said fine.

A couple of days ago I started reading it, but I was struggling. The story itself is so-so, but the writing is horrible. At least by my standards. Yes, I know, I’ve been at this editing thing for so long that I’ve started mentally editing every single thing I read. I’m critical to a fault. But really… the writing is bad. So I did what any decent author who doesn’t want trashy reviews of her own work would do, and I emailed the author, telling him he needed an editor. Because he said he’d just received a bad review, I suggested he pull his novel, fix it, and put it back up for sale. Along with a few examples I gave him on what he could improve, I gave him the choice that I, a) keep reading and give the best review I can, b) stop reading and forget about it, or, c) put it down and start again after he altered it.

He chose to leave it as is, and said thanks, but no thanks. Just delete it from my files.

Now here’s my dilemma: to write bad reviews for novels written by independent authors or not? I’m not talking necessarily about the aforementioned one, though it has crossed my mind that maybe I owe it to the public to let them know what they’re potentially spending $5.99 on, (yes, $5.99 for a first time author’s unedited novel) but in general. How does one author crush another author’s dream? And it really is crushing. Bad reviews for an unknown, independent author can, and probably will, mean no sales.

You may say that there’s always something positive to comment on, but if I only mention the good stuff, it’s my own reputation on the line. Say, for instance, I write in my review, “A fast-paced, thrilling ride full of twists and turns! I couldn’t wait to get to the end to find out what was going to happen!” but on the way to the end, the reader who took my review to heart comes across a line that should have read, “She turned to look out the windshield,” but that actually reads, “She threw her face at the windshield,” (an actual line from the book I was reading). Is that reader going to think I missed such a painfully painful detail? And if so, is the reader going to avoid my novels like the proverbial plague?

It’s been bothering me all day, this dilemma. It’s a question of morals, compassion, and self-preservation in regards to my career. I won’t review this particular book, but the situation is bound to arise again, unless I decide to just stop writing reviews, or only write them for good books.

What would you do? Or, as a reader, what do you wish I’d do?

 

Author: LindaGHill

There's a writer in here, clawing her way out.

101 thoughts on “Bad Reviews

  1. I know this is an old post but what the heck!! I learned a few things reading it as well as some comments and when I saw you had 99 comments…well, what can I say? I had to be the 100th (smiles). Reviews and feedback always scare me and I think that is one reason I took so many years to start writing again. However, if I had a book (novel, poetry) whatever, I would certainly want a few people I look up to in writing to give me feedback. As for book reviews for books I purchase, I try to review some now and then and I get such great thank you letters from some authors which I find really cool. If the writing is bad and the story is good, I may try to get through it real fast. I think you were very generous to take the time to give suggestions and advice. YOUR time is precious too.

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    • I think there are two types of bad reviews – those we can learn from and those we need to put down as a matter of opinion. When writing publicly, it’s a must to learn to not only accept them but to tell them apart. But what author wants a public grammar lesson, eh? 😛
      Sending out thank you letters is a great way for authors to connect with readers. I’ll have to remember that one and try to do it myself.
      Thanks for commenting, Cheryl-Lynn. 🙂 And congrats on being #100! 😉 hehe

      Liked by 1 person

  2. bad writing is bad writing and should be reviewed as such. self-published books of poor quality bring the whole industry down.

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    • I agree. But do you think extenuating circumstances, such as when you know the author is willing to fix the problems, should allow for some leniency? The fact is, once a bad review is posted on Amazon, it’s there for good, no matter how the product is changed for the better.

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  3. bad writing is bad writing. it should be reviewed as such.

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  4. As a friend of mine used to say ‘It’s not a charity’. As a professional, you’re bound to give your honest opinion – there’s no way you should praise a book you think is bad. The most you can do is warn the author, and not review it at all. Your loyalties are to your readers.

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  5. On another note … did I thank you for stopping by “It Is What It Is” and the follow? If I did … here it is again!! If I didn’t …. thank you. Hope you enjoy your visits there!! Peace …

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  7. I think you handled this particular situation very well. There is also a very real possibility that once the author has some time to settle in with your suggestions, they may just be followed, and you will have been of huge assistance to the author having a much better, and more readable book.
    Wonderful post, and the commentary following is very interesting too.

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  8. I like what Paul said. Take it on a case by case basis. This time, it was the right thing to do. Near impossible to make a general decision on what you should do. Your only option there would then be: Dont do book reviews.. period. So, case by case or not at all. 🙂 I know … you feel because folks are happy to beta read your work.. and offer suggestions and help that you are obliged to do likewise. You are not dearest. Not right now. Stop fucking around with these distractions now and go edit. 😉 we all cannot wait for YOU to release your book. Just teasing you. You too kind to people… and you were here too… with a dash of self preservation. Its not your job to help the public avoid bad books… as an author, its your job to erite good ones. So maaaybe, the question is: are you a critic and book reviewer, or are you an author? It is… in this twisted tricky way, a conflict of interests to be both.
    Just wondering, but does S king, or Jk R do book reviews?

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  10. This highlights why I have gotten in the habit of telling people, “Do not ask me for an opinion if you are not willing to listen to the truth.” That being said, I think you need to do what you feel is ethically or morally right for you.

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  11. Oh it’s definitely a tricky balance – be truthful and give a bad review or support a fellow struggling writer who took the time to ask for your help. I was approached myself a few years ago to do the same thing (books, movies, human-rights campaigns, etc) via my blog.. but in the end I didn’t because the particular subject matter didn’t fit my blog at the time. So I passed..

    In the end you just have to do what’s best for you and your product. If it would be counterproductive for what you’re trying to do, then I say give it a pass. But if it can help your cause, why the heck not. May sound a bit too self-centred, but in the end it’s your name that’s attached.

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    • It’s actually a common practice to give a review and get one in return, so it’s not really self-centered. It IS tricky though, when you end up with a book to read that you don’t like in that case. 😛
      Thanks for dropping by and commenting, my dear. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • The swapping of reviews just makes sense.. My experience was more one-way, with me not getting a review in return, hence why I usually said no. But who knows what the future will bring 😊

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  12. All reviews are the opinions of the reviewer and anyone reading a review should in this day and age take it as such. If you or anyone else chooses to review a book, I would only have the expectation the reviewer is providing their authentic take on the book (or movie, etc).

    Any artist, whether author, actor, or painter, must be prepared for a bad review if they choose to put his or her work out there into the marketplace. Of course, it is painful to be on the receiving end of a bad review, but such is the life of the artist. Some of the great artists were only truly appreciated after they were dead.

    For transparency sake, I have to say that I went through a couple of years of writing workshops. Week after week I would get “bad reviews,” offered ways to “improve” and what needed to be just tossed into the garbage. I became a better writer as a result.

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    • Indeed, it’s our commitment to our art to the extent that we do take steps to improve our talent, that separate those who despair at the mere mention that their work is not up to par, from we who have thick enough skin to take it. I suppose you could say it’s the difference between blind confidence and reasonable confidence.
      And that would be enough if it weren’t for the back-stabbing, vengeful, entitled, anonymous trolls that make up half the internet on which we rely. 😛 But not to be argumentative, I do see your point. I agree. If an artist puts something out there, they should either produce the best of their abilities or brace themselves for the worst.
      Thanks for your comment. 🙂

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  13. I think you owe people honesty in your reviews and that’s it. You don’t owe people a review of every book you read. if the book is bad I think you did the humane thing. You contacted the author in an attempt to help. He refused. Why should you waste your time reading something bad? You dumped it which was a good thing.

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  15. You did the best you could do.
    fiddledeedeebooks.wordpress.com

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  16. There’s a difference between books that are poorly written and those which don’t appeal to me but have no technical flaws. Both are hard to review. I will let the writer know if there are fixable flaws but if a book doesn’t appeal to me I just comment on the writing and the plot. Hope that helps – don’t agonize about it too much. You did the right thing.

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    • I’ve put a few books down that didn’t appeal to me, and told the authors that I couldn’t review, and I’ve had the same done to me. No harm, no foul. It seems a shame to me though, not to be able to read a book that would appeal to me if it wasn’t poorly written.
      Thanks for your comment, Jan. 🙂

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  17. I’m not against giving bad reviews, but I go back and forth. I know they say authors shouldn’t give bad reviews (courtesy & what not), but as a broke reader, when I spend $5 to $14 on a book that has tons of great reviews and it turns out to be trash, I’m pretty pissed. I don’t want to hoodwink someone into a buying a book that isn’t good, just like I don’t want to be hoodwinked.

    Honestly, I feel like not giving a bad review on a bad book is the same as giving it a good review (like not voting only helps get the guy you don’t like elected). I wouldn’t totally trash the book. If I managed to finish it, there’s bound to be something positive about it, and I’d definitely mention that first. I’d also add my constructive feedback.

    The thing about bad reviews, you gotta say ’em nicely so the author doesn’t take it personal. Then again, some people are just petty, so you might be better off staying quiet. lol

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    • These are pretty much my thoughts in a nutshell. It really really is a tough call! I, too, have spent what little money I have on crappy books and it pisses me off too. Sometimes I think maybe it would be better to give my honest opinion anonymously. Always as kindly as possible, but always what I really think. 😛
      Thanks for your comment, Nortina. 🙂

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  18. I don’t know much about the editing world….and to be honest I can’t believe you read my crap as often as you do, being the writer you are. But I will say this: As long as what you do is done with honesty and (hopefully) grace, your integrity will remain intact and you will have nothing to apologize for. Artists of any kind; musicians, writers etc, require feedback and criticism constantly in order to grow, and you would be doing someone a disservice by not providing them with professional feedback if that is your role. Good luck!

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    • *applauds your succinct way of putting things and wonders where you get off saying you write crap 😉 * We have a lot more important things than writing in common – we have kids. But I digress.
      I agree with you completely, which is why I not only gave my critique to him, but I gave it in private. Anything less would be read as ungraceful, no matter how I worded it. But that’s the thing – I feel this undying need to help where I can. However it’s a hell of a lot more work advising someone on their writing in an email than it is to write a few sentences in public on what I thought of the book. BUT, am I doing a disservice to the readers by not reviewing the book in public…?
      What you say rings very true to me. Honesty IS everything. It’s something, when given to me, I take to heart and allow myself to learn from. Others will hate me for giving it. It just goes to show there’s more than one skin we need to work on toughening.
      Thank you for your comment, my dear. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I try to be very careful about reviewing indie authors. If there work is not good, I don’t want them to view a negative review as me trying to eliminate the competition. I also don’t want to risk retaliatory bad reviews. I’ve shared my books with other indie authors in a more informal setting just to get their opinions. I sent one of mine to a particular author, who will remain nameless, with the promise of reading his in return. After reading mine, he decided not to send me his because he felt my writing was superior to his and he was afraid of a negative review. It can be a precarious situation.

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    • Wow. I’m always amazed that there is any level of competition between authors. And yeah, the tit for tat thing is definitely something to take into consideration.
      Thanks for your comment, Don. 🙂

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  20. You were kind to advise those changes. I don’t do reviews, good or bad, by personal choice. I have read works by folks/writers I love that were brilliant, and some that were really bad. If they ask, I give the reasons why it didn’t work for me; grammar and spelling errors, poor translations from other languages, weak plot points or shallow characters…all things that jump out at me.

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  21. I don’t like to write bad reviews, so I don’t write bad reviews. I reserve my 5 stars for books I will never forget. I am a bad reader 😉

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  22. I will not write a review by an indie author if I cannot give it at least three stars and say as much positive as negative, there are plenty out there who will happily do it anyway but if it is traditionally published then I don’t feel bad if it warrants a really bad review giving it one as there were people between the author and me as a reader that should have intervened already. I am also very ready to hold my hands up when the story fails for me as a reader on a personal level but I can see it’s merits for others, but again my reviews are about my impressions rather than indepth academic style reviews so I can forgive lots of little things if I love the characters and story 😀

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    • I like both your personal rule of thumb (3 stars) and your philosophy of not worrying about it if it’s traditionally published. If nothing else, it says as much about the publisher (for the sake of other writers) as it does the author when a poorly written book comes out. And I wish I still had the ability not to edit as I go! Perhaps it will fade away when I stop editing myself.
      Thanks very much for your comment, Paula. 🙂

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  23. Wow! Been there. Not on a full book, but on term papers. When I was in college I always had my wife and son review my papers before I turned them in. They weren’t familiar with the subject, which was good, so they could give honest literary critique. I didn’t always go with what they said, but still appreciated it.

    You informed him/her of your opinion, they turned down the suggestions. Did s/he ask you not to review? If so, abide by their wishes; if not, then offer your honest opinion for those who might purchase it. But, make it honest, not bitter. Knowing what I do of you, I figure that last part wasn’t really necessary, if it were you would be asking opinions. 😉

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    • You’re right, I would not write a bitter review. Your comment makes me wonder if this author had any beta readers. And it brings up a thought I had earlier too – it’s wonderful to have the confidence to publish a book. But I think unless you’ve had one person hate it (before it’s published), you can’t discount the fact that your beta readers were telling you what you wanted to hear. Especially if they were all friends.
      (Apologies to all my beta readers – I have faith in your honesty, only because I begged you for it. Really I do.)
      Thanks very much for sharing. 🙂

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  24. If I was reading it, I’d give it an honest (probably meaning “bad”) review.
    If I’d written it, I’d expect an honest (if that means “bad”, then so be it) review.

    The badly edited line you quoted sounds like a free translation error, are you sure s/he is writing in their first language?

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    • English is definitely his first language – there weren’t enough misused words to indicate otherwise. That line was just one of a number of badly formed similes throughout the first third of the book (which is as far as I got).
      Thing is, bad reviews are relative, don’t you think? There are bad reviews that can be dismissed as non-relevant to a reader, and then there are ones that make a reader not want to touch the book, and possibly avoid the writer as well. I, too, expect loads of bad reviews on my novels. But I hope they will criticize the controversy my book stirs up rather than the quality of my writing.
      Thanks for commenting, Guy. 🙂

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      • I never read reviews, they’re all subjective, I don’t see the point.

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        • All subjective? So if I wrote a review (and this is a true example of a book I read but didn’t review) of a book which described its main character as sitting in front of a “pitcher” window as just one of many examples of the author not being able to write her way out of a wet paper bag, as being unreadable, would you consider that subjective?

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          • *sigh*
            “Bad spelling” is one of the acceptable comments, I suppose.
            Although if the story was good and it was still readable, that doesn’t make it a bad book, by any stretch of the imagination.
            I’m talking about reviewing content. Your idea of a good plot/character/theme/atmosphere etc etc etc is TOTALLY subjective and therefore (no offence to reviewers) utterly irrelevant to me if I’m going to read it, because my idea of those things is, of course, going to be different.
            Same for films.
            Same for music.

            If you* say “Here’s a book I think is good, you should read it.” and I think we share a taste in books, I’ll look at it.
            If I don’t like it, I won’t read it.
            I don’t need to know what you think of the characterisation or the interesting thematic symbolism; I’ll like it, or I won’t like it, reading a review first will make zero difference to that.

            * for “you”, insert “a reviewer” if it causes less offence. ;~}

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            • Oh, my dear, I’m very hard to offend. Because I, like you, know the difference between what I like and what I don’t, so unless a book gets a very very bad review (the book I mentioned in my last comment was horrid in every way imaginable) I take it with a grain of salt. BUT, considering how many very very bad books there are out there, I’ve started reading a lot more reviews.
              Thing is, after a certain number of reviews on Amazon, whether good or bad, the site advertises the book more. Which is just one of the reasons reviews are all-important these days. Anyway, I digress.
              Thank you for conceding, just this once. 😉

              Liked by 1 person

  25. I’d wimp out of panning it. But if I’d asked for the review I’d want to know why it didn’t work for you. Giving him the option sounds to me like the fairest deal and doesn’t compromise you in my eyes.

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    • Wimping out is a good description of what I did. Because I know how much work goes into writing a novel, but I know how so very much more goes into getting it right. And obviously he didn’t go through that effort. Having said that, I think I’m happy about the way I handled this one. I just worry about next time. 😛
      Thanks for your comment, Geoff. 🙂

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  26. I think people get post happy these days. If I was trying to sell a novel, I would get my book edited (even unofficially but someone other than myself) and have a bunch of beta readers were critical criticism is expected. So when my book is openly up for sale I would want honest reviews good and bad. I appreciate your approach, taking a sidelines headsup to something and I probably would do something like that as well. I guess my rambling point is, if the author does not take the time and care into their work (editing/revisions) and then dismisses suggestions that were asked for I say write the bad review. As an avid reader loads of horrible books have made it big and it leaves you wondering how and why. I think it’s our civic responsibility to leave bad reviews (not bashing or hateful) .

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    • The thing is, in this case, I wasn’t asked for any advice. So I can’t expect him to take it. I’ve already agreed not to review it under the conditions it was given to me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t buy it and then review it.
      You make a very good point, Tasha. The advice is out there for authors to take, to have beta readers and editors, *before* they publish. If they don’t take it, then what else can they expect but bad reviews? As well as it being our civic responsibility to write bad reviews, it’s also on the reader to at least check the preview if one is provided. At least bad writing (and lack of editing) can usually be detected right away.
      Thanks for your comment. 🙂

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  27. I once gave a … not so much a bad review, but a review suggesting that the author could look into getting an editor. The spelling, diction, grammar and punctuation were all over the place, ruining what could have been quite a good story. The author asked me to explain further, but then proceeded to get friends to mark my comments as “unhelpful”. So I don’t actually know why they asked me to elaborate if they were just going to ignore any constructive criticism. So I can understand your reticence in this particular case, but think you did the right thing.

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    • Thank you. I’m not sure a review like yours is terribly negated by marking it unhelpful, but I suppose some people deal with things differently. Unless, of course, the author got an editor and revised after your comment. 😛
      Thanks for commenting here. 🙂

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  28. I am facing a similar dilemma, someone asked me to read his book (surprisingly enough, he didn’t ask for a review) nearly 2 months ago, but I’ve barely made it past the first chapter. His entire book is told in past tense, but he keeps using the past participle “had” and it is driving me insane! I just want to go in and edit it. He is very proud of his book and promotes it constantly on Twitter… I just want to shake him and wake him up and then give him an editor *sighs* and it’s a thriller, but the slowest paced thriller I’ve ever read. Eh.. Anyway, I think you did the right thing, Linda.

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  29. i would have offered a merciless review since that was the agreement 😉 so, well done. apropos, you’ve never told me anything about my writing. i want my bashing – i’ve got a right to it, ahah 🙂

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  30. You definitely did the right thing, Linda. A similar thing has happened to me (with several short stories I’ve been asked to read), and quite simply, these writers are not ready to put their work out into the world and if they’ve asked for your advice then you owe it to them (& yourself as a person of integrity) to be honest about that. How you impart that advice matters of course, but it sounds as if you did that very well. It’s no good to have an ego if you want to be a writer!

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    • Ah, we do have to grow thick skin, that’s for sure. In this case though, I was asked for a review and ended up giving advice instead. If that is going to be the case, I think I’d rather not review at all. 😛
      Thanks for your comment, Mary. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  31. I believe in writing it comes down to a case of “if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” I may not be an author, but really bad writing deserves a bad review as much as great writing does. [That sentence about the windshield sounds almost like it was written by someone with weak English grammar skills.] How else does a novice learn what NOT to do. The author you contacted may have no true interest in improving his/her writing, only in making money.

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    • His grammar wasn’t actually that bad – and I didn’t find a single typo. But somehow he managed to grasp every terrible cliche he’s ever read and he ran with it. Thing is, I wanted to give him a chance to improve. I gave him specific advice. I’ll wait and see if he does anything with it… At this point though, I’m not comfortable giving him a bad review unless I pay for the book.
      If he’s in it just for the money, I’m afraid he’ll be disappointed.
      Thanks for your comment, Barb. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  32. This is actually a dilemma that occurs in more than just editing Linda. When I was a manger I used to get employers calling for references for ex-employees of mine. When the employee was excellent – it’s a non-issue. When they were terrible, it’s a non-issue. When they were in between – this created an issue. We actually had seminars on how to respond to requests for references. One thing to remember is that everyone reads to get something different , just as each employer focuses on different employee strengths. For instance I had one employee who was terrible with customers but he was great with the equipment, was always on time, accident free, did well on his own and needed little supervision. He constantly created issues for me clashing with customers and I had to fire him. I knew another employer whose trucks just ran pin switches at night – terminal to terminal. They had a hard time keeping guys who were reliable when there was no supervision – and their drivers never saw another human being for the whole shift. I called up the boss there and sent my ex-employee over for an interview. About 3 months later he showed up at my office and I was concerned until he shook my hand and said he had no idea he could be so happy and he wanted to thank me for firing him.

    The purpose of that tale is to underline that giving references (or reviews) is a one case at a time endeavor and sometimes doing the hard thing is doing the right thing. What you did was exactly tight Linda.

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  33. I think as soon I noticed the book was in need of editing I would get back to the author and do as you have done, say to him/her get an editor or your book wont go anywhere……its one thing to pay someone to write you a review which puts you up there with Jane Austen or Shakespeare it another thing when the book flops because someone does an honest review. Never having written a book Linda I can from all the friends I have, say, they both struggled with editing and even now one friend whose book has been out a while and is doing ok is thinking of re-editing it as she has learned so much since about the art of writing. I don’t think you ever get it perfect, but you do want to make it readable.

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    • Exactly. If grammar and style become a distraction from the story, then you’ve lost your audience. It’s like watching a movie set in the 1800s and seeing the contrails of a jet liner in the sky.
      I wasn’t getting paid to write the review, so I was under no obligation to do anything but trash him if I was so inclined. Golden Rule. 😉
      Thanks for commenting, Michael. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  34. You know, I have been on the receiving end of such a letter and I have been on the giving end of such a letter. It’s the right thing to do. If I read a work that is not edited I do get angry that I spent my money for an unworthy product. I pulled my first publication down for some editing after it went up based on feedback that was politely given me in emails. Since corrections, the book has received no more of the same complaints. Not that it’s for everybody…but no one can make that claim that it is poorly edited. My next book has been beta read and professionally edited, and still…I’m certain there will be people who won’t fancy the content. That’s okay. If we were all the same diversity wouldn’t be the glorious garment of the universe that it is. I once sent an email to a friend whose work I just couldn’t get into. Unfortunately, that “friend” dissipated. Yet, I have had friends who told me that they couldn’t get into a story I had written, and I value their honesty. That’s part of growth as a writer. Anyone who thinks they can please everyone is delusional. You did the right thing. You didn’t disturb his/her amazon ranking potential, but politely let them know that you could not give a favorable review as it was. That’s as fair as any human could be.

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    • Like you, I’m one who receives criticism well. To me it’s all part of the learning experience. In this case it wasn’t the content I was having a hard time with, but the way it was presented. Neither my conscience nor my compassion (nor my thoughts of karma) would allow me to criticize his work in public, so I figured it was the next best thing. I only hope he learned something from it too, or at the very least won’t be surprised when he gets more negative reviews.
      Thanks for sharing, Susan. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  35. I think you did the right thing. I believe there shouldn’t be any harm in tactful honesty but you’re right; it is a huge dilemma.

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  36. It would be very, very hard to say anything negative to an independent writer. It does beg the question why he asked for a review, but still, it would be hard, which is one reason i would be a bad crtic. I think telling him to get an editor is good. But if he’s a crappy writer with no talent i guess he’ll figure that out himself, sooner or later.

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    • Reviews are important on Amazon, because with enough of them, the site recommends your book to readers who have read novels of the same genre. I’m assuming that’s why he asked. You’ve got to be pretty confident to go out and ask for them though. I’m afraid I may have stripped him of a bit of that, but he did ask for honesty. I told him that I wanted to know what was going to happen in the story – and I did! But the writing itself was very distracting.
      Thanks for your comment! 🙂

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  37. It is a difficult task. Having been a teacher of early writers (ranging from Grades 2 thru 8), I met with the dilemma you are experiencing daily. I think you handled the above situation quite tactfully. Unfortunately, the author was not open to your suggestions. There is always that balance that must be maintained–honoring their attempt, honoring their desire, but giving good advice that will help them to grow and not despair. The only perplexing question I have for you is how do you only charge $5.99 for your arduous work? You are a saint!

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