Thursday, February 01, 2018

So, I got an ARC with a review request...but I don't like the book

I recently won an ARC from Goodreads. Included with the book was a sheet from the publisher (Penguin Random House), requesting me to rate & review it on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and with an email to the publisher. While I understand that the main purpose of ARCs is to generate a buzz for the book in advance of publication, there’s a problem. I don’t like the book.

While the premise is intriguing, the writing needs help. I’ve found typos, missing words, and doubled words—all of which are expected, and will be cleaned up before publication. The bigger issue is that I think the book would benefit greatly from additional in-depth editing—a bit of tightening and elimination of repeating the same internal dialogue in different ways would make it a much better read. The shape it is in now would make me put it down by page 50 (however, I’m soldiering on, since it was an ARC and I’m expected to write a review).

I never post a rating or a review of a book unless I can give it 4 or 5 stars. That’s my rule. If the book doesn’t merit that, I remove it from my Goodreads list and carry forth like I never read it. I try to be respectful and truthful in my online impressions of other authors’ work. So, what do I do in this case? Do I clench my teeth and post a positive review, lauding the premise, pacing, and plot twists and ignoring the glaring editorial refinements which could have/should have been made? Or do I post an honest review and say how I believe the book could have been better? It has received mostly favorable reviews on Goodreads, so maybe it’s just me.

Let's be clear here: you did not enter into a contractual arrangement to review this book, no matter what the cover letter said. They can ask you review it, but they can't demand it.

And the flip side of that is you are not obliged to review a book, even if they sent it to you at no cost. 

Your time has value; stop you're wasting it on a book you don't like.Your opinion has value; don't devalue it trying to say something nice about a book you don't like.

The publisher sends out review copies then hopes like hell they resonate with critics (that's you.) If the book does, yay. If it doesn't, oh well, better luck next time. PRH does not have a list of people who publish bad reviews (well, ok, yes they do, but it's of reviewers farther up the circulation chain than you.)

What other people think (Goodreads) doesn't matter a whit. It's your time, and your opinion. Don't waste either.

Set that book down, and go read something you do like after 50 pages.

Do you need some suggestions? I bet we can find a couple dozen just in the comments column here.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

“Your time has value; stop you're wasting it on a book you don't like.”

To every student of life here today.

There will come a moment in your life, many years from now, or before the sun sets today, when you will wish for and plead your maker for, "one more minute."
Just one more minute of breath, one more minute to ask for forgiveness, one more moment to tell the people you love, that you love them.

Do not waste your precious time doing something which serves a task deemed empty or a duty unserved. By way of chore or mission do that which brings you joy.
Joy is the oxygen of a life well lived.

Theresa said...

OP, I think you should post your review. You have a very thoughtful way of expressing your beliefs about the book's weaknesses. You could forego assigning stars and write a version of what you wrote here. It is your assessment, and other readers might appreciate knowing about the points you raise.

Ashes said...

It took me 25 years (well okay, I probably wasn't reading those first 5) to learn to put down a book I didn't like. I always had this nagging feeling of 'maybe it gets better on the next page'.

That said, negative reviews can have value. While they lower the overall star-rating of a book, which is bad, because that is always the first thing I glance at, sometimes reviewers point out things that I know wouldn't bother me and that is a further indication I might like the book.

Do you guys read the bad reviews of your favorite books? I do all the time. It reassures me of the subjectivity of this crazy industry when I read why someone doesn't like what is clearly the Best Book In The Universe.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yeah, put it aside. There are more good books to read than can be fit inside one life time. Don’t waste time with one you don’t like.

Kitty said...

I agree with Theresa and Ashes; write an honest critique. I've discovered that writing about a book I don't like is a learning experience in how to write. After all, writing a glowing review is easy if you liked the book, but writing an honest review of a book you didn't like, while respecting the writer, can be difficult.

Lennon Faris said...

My rule has sort of been the 4-5 stars thing too. However, I hate it when I see that a book has raving reviews, and then I read it, and find that it doesn't add up.

Honesty can be such a breath of fresh air. My newest rule is that I don't write a review that I wouldn't send straight to a friend author.

Ashes, I do read bad reviews of books I like for that very reason.

Joseph S. said...

I review every book I've won at Goodreads (and many I acquired myself). I generally give positive ratings and reviews, but I've given poor ratings including one for a book I quit reading a third of the way through. They asked for reviews. I gave them one. Now I don't say a book is horrible trash or anything that may have been the subject of yesterday's blog, but I give a critique one way or another. (I do read the book first.)

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

I just read reviews on Amazon for a best selling award winning book by an author whose previous works I loved. I thought this latest book was badly flawed.

Even though I did not go and post a negative review I appreciated seeing that I was not the only one who saw the book's flaws. It's nice to know you're not crazy when a work is getting awards and you wonder why.

Joseph S. said...


What I find fascinating and a bit disorienting is the (few) times when my feelings about a book (positive or negative) differs greatly from the other reviewers' overwhelming consensus. How can so many otherwise intelligent people not see the obvious?

Stacy said...

I used to sign up for books in Penguin-Random House's First to Read program. But there were so many books I didn't connect with, and so many I couldn't or didn't want to finish, I stopped. I felt too guilty.

Unknown said...

There's no accounting for taste. The worst book I ever read has a majority of 5-star reviews on Amazon.

I appreciate negative reviews. The key is to have a reason for the rating, beyond, "I didn't like it."

Book rating sites should have a little icon underneath that explains that 5 stars means "best." I always read the 1-star reviews. Too often, there's a comment gushing love. I assume this means confusion about the rating system.

As for Janet's comment about good books, I'm re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird (*****), just finished The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas (*****)nth power, and am starting Dear Martin (Nic Stone). Finished ARCs of Sophie Kinsella's Surprise Me, and Matt Haig's How to Stop Time, and reviewed both on GoodReads, 5 stars to each.

Tom M Franklin said...

As a general rule, I don't write reviews of ARCs I don't finish. Maybe it does get better, but if it's bad in the first 10-20 pages, I'm not going to stick it out to find out.

I have written plenty of negative reviews on Goodreads, but they have always included specific reasons of what didn't work for me and why.

The other day I posted a negative review on Goodreads and NetGalley for a book. A rep from the publisher thanked me for the review and said he was sorry the book hadn't met my expectations. He opened the publisher's NetGalley offering to me and said he hoped he would give the publishing house another chance.

Julie Weathers said...

I don't like reviewing books, but I need to. The reason I don't like reviewing books is that I don't think I'll do a credible job, number one. Number two, I hate leaving bad reviews, but sometimes I just hate books. One book people kept recommending I read because it was about Civil War spies was so bad I wanted to write such a scathing review it would burn the pages down.

Another was so biased it was unreal. The title should have been Hatchet Job, My Views of ________.

Thankfully, most fall somewhere in between so I could write an honest, positive review, but then I wrestle with my conscience on the negative ones. And I highly value negative reviews. You can tell which ones are thoughtfully written with cause and which ones aren't.

Anyway, back to OP, stop wasting your time. There must be a ball of yarn to unravel somewhere. That would be a lot more fun. Life is too short to read stuff you hate...unless you're trying to figure out what people do wrong. Then you're excused.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Opie: about Janet's suggestion to read something you do like. A few of my favorites:

Word by Word: The Secret life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper recommended by Janet. A fascinating read and the author's sly humor shows up unexpectedly.

On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman. Romantic comedy with suspense about her attic find in her new home.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, also recommended by a Reider, I believe.

Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo. A GLBT story about a West Indian not-quite-happily-married couple living in Britain.

I need to read Kathy Joyce's recommendation, The Hate U Give. I just read Nathan Bradford's interview with author Angie Thomas.

The Noise In Space said...

Honestly, I truly wish more people would write honest reviews. I feel like so many people on GoodReads just write good ones because they want to gain a following and win free books. Books always seem to have between 3.7 and 4.5 stars, almost never more or less. And the last several times I bought something based on positive GR reviews, I've been disappointed.

OP, you're not just ranting over small things--you have valid points! I'd encourage you to share those points and save the rest of us $15 on a bad book when we could be spending it on a good one.

Anonymous said...

I understand not wanting to "be mean" online, but I value honesty more than attempting not to hurt some unknown author's feelings. I use Goodreads reviews to decide what I want to read next. If a book has only glowing reviews because the people who didn't like it just skipped over it, that would be totally misleading. And I get very annoyed when I realize I've purchased and am spending my precious time reading a bad book. There are too many good ones out there I still want to get to!

Basically, I don't like the idea that instead of writing a negative review, people would just skip over the book. Tell me why you didn't like it! Please!

nightsmusic said...

I don't review books either. I do however, read all of the 2 and one star reviews. One can learn a lot reading them such as, badly written, too many asides, too many thoughts that should have been put into some form of conversation, poor research, no real plot, etc, etc. Life is too short for me to waste my time and money on a book I won't read more than a quarter of the way through.

That said, I encourage you, OP, to post your review. You can be kind but honest regarding the flaws in the book. Since it's an ARC, I have no idea if the publisher looks at all reviews and takes into consideration what the lower reviews have to say, but you're doing them and the author a favor by being honest. If they have time to pull the book for an edit, so be it. If not, the book stands with all of its flaws, but you took the time to let others know what they are and there are many readers like me who appreciate that.

K. White said...

This is exactly why I stopped writing book reviews. Personally knowing how difficult it is to write a novel, I hated the possibility that my opinion might negatively affect the author in some way.

And even when I like a book, I have trouble reviewing it, because I think too much like a writer and not like a reader, so I'm not confident the majority of the audience would get value from my opinions.

I used to follow the 50-page rule, but found that I stopped reading like 80-percent of the books that I had bought. So my 2018 resolution was to stop buying so many books. Now, I get them at the library, and if I keep reading past page 50, then I buy the book.

Colin Smith said...

Opie: I never post a rating or a review of a book unless I can give it 4 or 5 stars. So don't. Just because a big publisher sends you a book and asks for a review doesn't mean you sacrifice your integrity. If those are your review rules, stick to them. And if anyone cries foul, just point to your rule. It's your account, and, as Janet said, you're under no contractual obligation to give a review.

As for good reading, you might want to check out this month's issue of Riggwelter Magazine. Not that I'm self-promoting or anything... but the story's called "A Brief Affair." 😆

Unknown said...

OT, kind of. So I just read a short story published online. The author posted on twitter how pleased she was that her story was selected for an online journal, and gave the link. The story has a grammatical error, ("had went") that stopped me cold. Others will notice.

I don't know this author, but I do like her work. The story is published, (and I assume it went through an editor). But, since it's published online, it could be fixed. Do I say something? (I wouldn't do it publicly, on twitter or her blog, so would have to search for an email address.)

Unknown said...

Weird juxtaposition after Colin's post. Colin, not talking about you "in disguise." Looking forward to reading your story.

Sherry Howard said...

Kathy Joyce, I have a lot of stories in on-line journals. I’d want to know if one of mine had a mistake. And I’d appreciate your sensitivity about doing it privately.

Book reviews are a really big deal to authors. I won’t waste my time reading a book I don’t like. And I might write directly to an author about an ARC that had a lot of mistakes, but I haven’t posted a negative review. I’m in that generation where I heard: If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, keep your mouth shut. I know that for most authors, especially newer ones, the work is so much a part of them that I hesitate to say anything bad. So I say nothing.

Beth Carpenter said...

OP, I like Theresa's idea of a review without a rating. I was in a similar situation. I won a non-fiction book that seemed to be about a subject I was interested in, but turned out to be more of an insider's gossip book, with a lot of name-dropping. I wrote something about it being well-written (which it was) and would be interesting for someone interested in the inner workings of the industry, but was a little disappointing for me.

Also remember, on Goodreads 3 stars means "I liked it."

Elissa M said...

If you think that finishing the book and writing an honest review will help you in your own writing journey (I learn a lot from poorly written books and articulating why I found them poorly written), you should go ahead an do so. If your time would really be better spent doing something else, pass the book on to someone you know who might like it better than you--whether or not they might bother to review it.

Steve Stubbs said...

I keep reading that publishing is a small community, meaning everybody knows everybody else. My instinct is, if you get crosswise with Random House, everybody will know YOU. And not in a good way.

Your forthcoming autobiography about how boring it was growing up at the bottom of a swimming pool trying to survive eating jelly beans may not get published by Random House.

Or by Anyotherhouse either.

Payback's a bitch.

I don't know why everybody is writing an autobiography but they do.

Really, who cares if someone grew up in somebody else's outhouse and developed sleep apnia because it smelled so bad?

And why do publishers print this crap when there are so many good unpublished MSS out there about how it rained last night or some other exciting thing like that?

They must be starving for good material.

Maybe I should take up writing.

nightsmusic said...

I wanted to come back and say, since I can't edit my first post, OP, if you can't finish the book, don't. But if you choose to leave an honest review about the book, tell people you couldn't finish it and why. Don't finish it for the sake of reading to the end. That's time in your life you'll never get back.

RachelErin said...

I just finished The Hate U Give! I had high expectations (Angie Thomas has a fantastic query for a different book on query shark, btw), and it completely exceeded them.

I think the review question is different if you are working towards become a published novelist, or a professional reviewer. If you hope to keep reviewing and eventually get paid for it, by all means, write an intelligent and thoughtful low-rating critique. If you are working towards publishing your own fiction, then I think the other posters have good thoughts about how to make that decision.

Cheryl said...

If you do decide to write an honest, DNF review, consider the phrase "It's not for me." As in, "There's a lot of repetitive internal dialogue, which I know some readers enjoy but it's not for me."

Acknowledging that things you don't like might be things others do like can go a long way towards making a negative review tolerable.

And to be honest, I've found negative reviews helpful, not just in finding books to avoid, but in finding books to read. Because we don't all like or hate the same tropes and writing tics.

Sarah said...

What an insightful post and thread (as always!).

I think we're dealing with two issues: are we obligated to finish and review an ARC (no!), and should we post honest reviews?

I love honest reviews from bloggers and reviewers. I think Susan of Bloggin' 'Bout Books does a fabulous job of giving honest, insightful reviews that don't feel like performance art– posts that draws attention to the reviewer's brilliance/snarkiness at the author's expense.

But I'm with K White. As an author, I choose not to write negative reviews. Critiques of already published books don't help the author. She couldn't revise based on my feedback, even if she wanted to. And I'd hate to meet an author of a book I panned, which is possible. The writing community is really small. We deal with enough barriers to our writing. I'd rather not add to someone else's burden.

Anonymous said...

I haven't wanted (or been offered) any ARCs, but I've wondered this, too. No review seems kinder than a 1 or 2, and I'd hate to make an enemy of the wrong person in this age of internet mobs. Especially when I hope to be published, myself some day.

I love @Cheryl's key phrase! Thanks.

Mary said...

I was just asked to write a blurb (my first one! Whoo hoo!) and I admit to feeling fear as I opened the document. Luckily, it's good. But now I am wondering about the writers whom I sent my ARC to for blurbs who never responded. I think as a writer I would have liked to hear something, even if they felt they could not write a blurb. Even...I don't have time, or I couldn't connect with it enough to write a blurb...SOMETHING. As I tell my teams, "Silence means compliance."

Karen McCoy said...

What Cheryl said. "Not for me" is still the truth...and it saves you from gritting your teeth, and making yourself uncomfortable only to ensure that others aren't. You do not have to shrink yourself to make them feel bigger. Haven't we done that enough in life? I certainly have.

I used to review books for Library Journal (contractual obligation). There were some books I majorly disliked, but with a publication, it was necessary to keep objective. I still gave criticisms, but in a way that was focused on helping a librarian choose whether to select the book or not--which kept me from unleashing full vitriol. I reviewed Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and while I wasn't a fan, plenty of other people were. Everything is subjective.

Sidenote: I spoke with a published author recently who said that her book was at least three drafts revised from the ARC version--so a lot of criticisms a book gets on that level may be resolved by the time publication rolls around. Just a thought. (Maybe I should re-read Wild?)

I now read and review books on my blog that I want to read, and it has made all the difference. There was a point where I dreaded reading--now I love it again. Don't burn yourself out doing what you don't want.

Gigi said...

It may also merit noting that there was a study done a few years ago that concluded that even negative reviews drive sales. They help people know if a product is or isn't for them/does or doesn't fit their specific wants/needs. And they actually reduce merchandise returns.

My background is in marketing and this was a study we talked about with clients quite a bit when it first came out. I haven't seen any follow up studies, but I'm guessing it's still true. Leaving a review with a detailed take on why a book didn't resonate with you isn't a bad thing. It helps book buyers - and, if the study is to be believed, it actually helps the author too.

MA Hudson said...

Like K.White and Sarah, I don't review books. As an aspiring author, I only want to create good vibes with my fellow journey-men and women. ! do make exceptions for friends though - but only if I can be honestly positive.

In OP's case, I'd be inclined to send her critique to the publisher and not post a review.

Gypmar said...

I love this side topic that we've wandered into, about the usefulness of negative reviews. I love the fine art of reading reviews and determining from them if I want to read a book or not. I often pass by well-reviewed books because I can tell from what the few dissenters are saying that it is not for me. :)

Craig F said...

I have, several times, considered throwing my name into Good Reads hat. All of those free books. Then I remember all the other things I have heard about them and cut it off.

I do read some of their reviews. Usually I wish there were more on the mechanics of the read. Is it a good story but a hard read, does it come together after page fifty and so on.

I have gotten a couple of ARCs from critique and beta partners. It amazes me how degraded some of them are. The originals didn't have as many mistakes as their ARCs did.I know that there are almost no perfect books. Missed commas and such happen but not to the extent ARCs usually have.

Steve: Thanks, astute insights.

AJ Blythe said...

Fascinating and insightful. Love you guys! I was recently asked to read a book for an honest review and politely declined. Like others here I was worried what to do if I didn't like it (I don't post negative reviews, even though I appreciate reading them when purchasing books).

Nicole Pyles said...

It may sound weird but it depends greatly for me who I'm working with. If it a book I've obtained through NetGalley or Blogging for Books, I'll be honest no matter what my review is (obviously professional and polite, no matter what my opinion is, but honest). And if I'm working with the author or publisher directly, I tend to tell them the book wasn't right for me and I can't follow up with a review. That happened to me recently and they understood.