Book reviews for any author, but especially a new author and an “indie author” are an incredibly important thing. They help in ways most readers cannot really understand. Emotionally, they are a verification that someone enjoyed our hard work (it’s like a nice tip for a writer) at the same time they help us professionally as well since more and better reviews bring new readers and attention (ideally).
They can, however, also be the bane of our writing careers as well if they are bad when our work is out there more and longer and especially when new reviews are slow coming in. Authors (myself included) cringe at the reviews where grammar issues are brought up. Something like, “I really liked the story and the characters were wonderful but the poor grammar made it hard to read”. Reviews like that are a giant nut punch. It’s like telling someone you like they’re shirt but If they weren’t so fat it would look better.
I’ve always argued whether pointing these issues out in reviews was necessary or not. For me, when I write a review on Amazon.com or Goodreads.com they (grammatical issues) don’t get brought up at all unless they’re so blatantly horrible and frequent but that is rare where I do that. I went to college with 18-year-olds when I was in my 30’s who were very bad writers so I know what really horrible is. On the rare occasion when I do write a review where these issues are brought up I will edit my review if the author updates the book and I am aware of the update ( more on that last point later).
Maybe it’s a combination of how I see things from the side of an author but I’d also rather focus on the meat of the story in a review like I did in college for the 18-year old’s. I think the “meat” of the story is what’s really important to an up and coming author who is honing their style and NOT whether they use the wrong form of they’re/their/there a few times or god forbid didn’t put an apostrophe or comma where they were supposed to. Some people though seem to take much pride in making a big damn deal about even the tiniest of errors when it comes to indies or works by new authors but I seriously doubt they give as much heat to more experienced “bestselling” authors in reviews of their books. It seems some readers give a pass on grammar issues if the book says New York Time Best Selling Author….
I just finished reading another book by a best-selling author who is also someone I deeply admire when it comes to more experienced novelists and storytellers. I noticed about 13 “grammatical” errors in the book; there could have been more but I didn’t care. Will I bring that up in my review? Nope. Why? Because it doesn’t matter and it didn’t take away from the story or my enjoyment of it. I loved it so inconsequential things like that become arbitrary. Ultimately I also know that those issues were most likely the fault of his editor and his publisher (Simon & Schuster) or even the printer so what good would it do to tear down this author in a review even if he did care what his reviews said? None?
Acceptable grammar, punctuation, and editing are incredibly important things but as the English language evolves exceptions to long held “rules” are being allowed and in some instances encouraged if not accepted overall. It seems like people who went to school decades ago and never furthered their education have a hard time accepting these changes in allowable grammar usage and love to point them out. Recently I got a review on my first book. It was stellar and wonderful and it was from someone who says she is “very picky” about what she reads and likes. She read the same book that other reviewers had brought up grammar and editing issues about since it came out in 2012. This reader took the time to contact me through my website to really explain how much she loved the book in detail (because I really encourage that sort of thing) so it gave me the chance to see what her thoughts were about issues others had complained about and just to get a little reader feedback in general. Her answers were very helpful and interesting but some were different from what some other readers have mentioned in their reviews before. Basically, when asked she said there were so few grammar issues that she hardly noticed and the ones she saw didn’t get in the way of loving or reading my first book. She also didn’t mention the grammar issues she did notice in her review which is something I noticed when I first read it, so of course when I had the chance to ask I did.
HOWEVER, many of the more negative reviews for this particular book which brought up grammar and punctuation issues came from earlier editions published in 2012/13. Ones which I will fully admit were full of grammatical errors, bad ones in fact due to unreliable editing and my newness to the business of writing and publishing. When the final edition which was released in 2015 most of those issues were fixed but like almost any other published novel a few remained. Some are like I said before, a matter of new rules versus old rules and people’s perceptions. The English language is used all over the world and in every place its acceptable usage changes. American lingo in novels might be deemed an error by the grammar police in England but totally accepted in Australia for example or vice versa. Few authors publish books in English prevalent countries and change the manuscripts to fit each particular dialect of English used there. Authors have a lot of leeway when it comes to grammar usage in things like dialogue but these are often where people complain about grammar issues in novels.
According to an old literature and writing professor, I had at GVSU, most modern novels would be almost entirely unreadable or at least enjoyable if they used 100% proper English and followed the rules of right and wrong. He also said people don’t speak in proper English generally so what’s wrong with having certain parts of dialogue that follow the natural speaking style most people use. I remember in one review from another country they didn’t like that I used the word “Hun” when one character was talking to another. That reviewer acknowledged it was probably an American thing and it is. It’s something you hear nearly every day here. Maybe it’s not grammatically correct but it’s part of the everyday vernacular we use. It’s just one example of the everyday vernacular that has worked its way into modern literature.
Bringing up grammar issues in reviews aside I do wish Amazon would make some changes to their review policies and setup on the review section of books Amazon pages. When an author releases a new edition or updates their published book we (authors) have to go through quite a hassle when proving this to Amazon so they will notify current owners of the books that there is an update available. Usually, they only do this if the manuscript was changed extensively. Often they will make an update available but won’t notify current readers of the update. They leave that to the authors to do which is very hard and sometimes impossible. Sometimes you might get Amazon to push the update to readers automatically but this is very very rare.
Amazon now is also apparently “tagging” books that have a certain amount of errors with some form of warning. These errors are ones they discover in the setup process (which the author might ignore but is notified of) or they are from frequently reported grammar issues complained about in the reviews on the book page. This warning is there until the errors are fixed I guess. Publishing new editions is a normal thing in the book business even in the days of print-only books. So, in this case, old Amazon reviews that complain about grammar/punctuation issues could potentially make a book look worse than it actually is for new readers and scares them away even though a new edition is currently available and hopefully largely error free. Don’t forget the fact there ARE trolls out there who just leave bad book reviews and complain about everything no matter what. These trolls often just make S#$t up too.
Amazon also automatically lists reviews in order from oldest to newest for books and go by the date the review was posted. So any older reviews that might be bad and bring up things like grammar and punctuation issues are also shown first sometimes or very soon in the listing. I think this is unfair to any author who has taken the time to update and fix the issues in old editions of their books. Just like any other product on the market. These negative reviews essentially become pointless because they are no longer accurate or relevant for a new buyer so they should not be there. They are reviews on a book that basically is no longer available or exists because the file has been replaced by a new updated version. Would you read a review on car model built in 2010 when you are actually looking at a model built this year in 2016? Of course, you wouldn’t; at least you would pay it no mind. Amazon prides itself on its customer reviews and review policies so why not put more focus on relevant and accurate reviews? The difficulty here lies with the good reviews that also came from those old editions. What do you do about the 4 or 5-star reviews that didn’t mention grammar and punctuation issues and thought the book was great as is. These reviews are listed next to the 1, 2, or 3-star reviews that did complain? Where do you draw the line?
What I think should be done
I think Amazon should say what specific edition (if there is more than one) a review was based on along with the date of the review so a new, potential reader can see that there is a newer edition available. It would make it clearer that these negative reviews, as well as the old but good reviews, were based on an older “out of print” edition or editions if that is indeed the case. As it is now, it makes it all look they were from the same book and edition even though they could be completely different and there could be a few editions. I’ve seen authors completely change the endings of their novels in a new edition a year after the original was first published but the reviews remain the same regardless of that very major change. I have had 4 editions of Running Northwest and Amazon used to show “all editions” near the top of the books page both out of print and current but now they only show the current editions in Kindle and Print. For myself and many other authors, this is itself an inaccurate and unfair portrayal of our books in terms of reviews. I might have a 2-star review on a book but that review might have been posted in 2012 or 2013 from an old edition but yet it’s listed as if it was from the current and final edition which is not even the same.
I think if Amazon automatically pushed all book updates to Kindle readers once adequate proof of fixed issues was given then it might make people more inclined to update their review so that they were accurate. At the very least it might make them inclined to finally read a book that they might have left unread sitting in their library or cloud for months or years. It is generally frowned upon for authors to interact with readers on their reviews on Amazon other than showing appreciation and even then some frown upon doing that.
I also think that Amazon should somehow flag reviews as questionable or not allow them from people who have never left another book review on any other book bought from Amazon. There is one prick who left a 1-star review on Goodreads.com (owned by Amazon) for one of my books who has NEVER reviewed any other book EVER and has shown no activity on the site other than that bad 1-star review. There is also one on Amazon from another prick who only reviewed a few video games but no books before or since the review he left for mine. In fact, it shows the cover of the first edition which was only out for a little over a month before I pulled it. Also, the review he left of mine was the first review he ever wrote. It seems suspect. These are what we refer to as Trolls. Trolls should not be allowed to review. Reviews are for serious readers, not trolls who have a grudge. Amazon has a big problem with trolls right now who do nothing but hurt authors.
For authors who publish on Amazon, the company has recently given us the ability to see the number of pages read in a book by readers who got our book/s for Kindle and we can get paid on that. So if one person bought my book last week for Kindle I can get an idea of how far they read if they started it and whether they finished it or not based on the chart showing pages read (obviously they don’t tell us who it is). This is assuming the data is accurate which it is not always and is much harder to interpret with multiple purchases and multiple active readers. Amazon though does have the accurate data and it’s really just a matter of them updating and sharing that data with authors.
I think Amazon should disallow reviews from people who have not read at least 75% of a book or at the minimum 50% and determine this using the companies reading algorithm based on Kindle reading speeds. If you didn’t read the whole book or at least try how can you leave an accurate, reliable review and why should that review even count since the book was not “read” all the way or even half way. Amazon is already flagging and not allowing “paid” reviews which are bought by many unscrupulous authors. Some authors also pay someone, often from the site Fiverr to buy their book then quickly turn the pages on their Kindle so it shows the book has been read and gets more money and reviews. So if Amazon can flag and prosecute those people and ban the authors it should be easy to see whether a reviewer who got an ebook from Amazon actually read the book and how much of it that they read. I’d wager an Indian nickel that those two reviews I mentioned earlier were from people who didn’t actually read much of the book if at all. Another curious review I have from November 2012, a three-star which says, “Quick delivery to my kindle. I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet.” So, they are basing a book review off delivery speed which is basically the same for all books without reading a damn word….see my issue here. Good, bad or mediocre they never actually read the book yet, any of it, as of the time the review was posted so how is that review relevant at all?
I do not think these ideas will fix all the issues when it comes to reviews but I think will make a major impact both for authors and readers in terms of quality and reliability.
Bad reviews are part of the game. It’s something we authors accept when we get into this; we have too. What one person sees as an issue though others may not. Sometimes it may not really even be much of an issue at all, sometimes it’s just a misinterpretation of what is acceptable grammar and what is not. So really is it necessary to bring it up in a review unless it’s really horrible? I have great readers, loyal readers, and great reviews so far which far out weigh the few random bad ones. Yes, I hate that the bad ones are there but only Amazon can really change that.