Saturday, 28 December 2013

Suck It Up!




A couple of weeks ago, I read a blog that has made a huge difference to the way I now view and deal with critical comments, Twitter trolls and Amazon reviews. Sadly, I can't recall the name of the blogger - but it was a male American writer, which narrows it down somewhat.

Basically his message was: Do Not Respond. Ever. His reasoning ran thus: As a writer, you are The Brand. People judge what you write by how you present yourself. Thus, if you come over as whiny, defensive or argumentative -  however justified, prospective readers will back away.

Twitter is a very fast moving medium. A tweet has about a four second life, before it is replaced by others. Ignoring a nasty comment means that is is gone in an instant. As soon as you engage with the remark, you and the sender and the ensuing exchanges become visible to everyone. Whether you ''win'' or not, you will be seen by thousands of people. Will it enhance your ''brand'' for this to happen? If not, don't engage, he advised.

The same could be said for one star reviews. Most readers know what sort of person writes a one star review - either they got hold of the wrong book, didn't understand the book, didn't like the book (fair enough) or are another writer with a new book out, trying to diss the book. Ignoring them and their comments gives the impression that you are a bigger person with a wider vision, he counselled.

This rang true for me: I had just recently witnessed a couple of writers receiving bad reviews and dealing with it by complaining on social media sites - ok, their choice to do so, they were clearly upset and it was important to them to say so. But the result? Everyone instantly hopped over to Amazon to read them. Yes, maybe their good friends piled in with supportive digital shoulders, but I'm not sure this was a professional way of dealing with it. You may disagree.

As soon as we have published a book, we become less important than the readers' experience. In fact I don't think we, the sensitive tortured artistic little soul, figures at all. Witness the friend who recently rang up to see how I was, then went on to tell me at some length that they liked books written in chapters - which I had failed to do in Diamonds & Dust. (For future reference: I write in episodes, not chapters. Episodes. Got that? And I intend to write the sequel in episodes too. Pretentious? Moi?)

The lessons I learned from reading the blog were extremely useful when I started tweeting promos to Diamonds & Dust. A person on Twitter, let us call them X, (though this is not their real name) decided they did not like a particular strand of my advertising. Not at all. And they fired off a series of unpleasant tweets, informing me of their displeasure and accusing me of all sorts of stuff.

Did you see the tweets? Probably not. Why not? Because I did not respond. And I blocked the person, so that the comments are not there any more. The temptation (and it was very very tempting, believe me) was to take them on. I had to have a deep breath, stand back and ask myself: what would be the point? And I decided there was no point. I wanted people to focus on the book, not on the spat.

It has been a hard lesson to learn, especially for someone like me, who has a Degree in Confrontation. But learn it I have. Hopefully. Until the next troll sticks its head out from under the bridge ...


If you would like to read a free sample of Diamonds & Dust you can do so here  
US readers can do so here

64 comments:

  1. Utterly agree. Once we set "our baby" out into the wide world on its own, we no longer own it. The book is public property as far as reactions are concerned. Yes, it hurts, yes we want to lash back but ... personally I wouldn't buy any further work by a writer who did that. I'd see them as a spoilt child and pre-judge their books in that light. Gritted teeth and dignity in-tact are the answer (no matter how hard that is) Great post.

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    1. Thanks Ailsa. I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the Facebook kvetchers!!! Why do people develop a sense-of-humour bypass on public sites? Baffling

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  2. My Dad had a saying which still rings in my ears, Never Explain Never Complain! It applies to most things in life...even social media. X

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    1. Always listen to your parents!!! Hahaha.

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  3. I shall try to absorb the grace and calm you quite rightly advise here Hedges and, subsequently, exude such qualities myself should the need arise...however, I refuse to surrender the collection of effigy's and accompanying pins I hold on stand-by which, thankfully, can be worked upon covertly thus dodging the attention of the twitterazzi!...Oh btw...can I have a lock of your hair please?...no particular reason...*smirks*...

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    1. Hahaha ... OK, sometimes there may be occasions when, out of sight and behind the digital bike sheds, a judicious knee can be applied to a groin....but only when nobody is looking..

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  4. Well said, Carol, as always. Almost always, anyway. *ducks and runs*

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    1. Not my advice..I am a mere conduit - tho I'd question the word 'mere' in my case....

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  5. Couldn't agree more. Okay, one star seems a touch harsh, and I probably wouldn't go that far, but I've downloaded plenty books that were, quite frankly, stinkers - and thoroughly deserving the comments they received. But in almost every case, the writer leapt in to defend their book - I can understand the urge, but all it did was make them seem amateurish.

    Almost as worrying in my opinion are the books which seem to have an unusually high percentage of five star reviews. Fine, everyone's taste is different, but I can't help feeling some writers (and I don't mean the 'biggies') almost have an assumption that a clutch of five star reviews is theirs by right.

    I rarely leave reviews now, because I try to stick to Amazon's guidelines - so what I'd categorise as 'a good, enjoyable read' gets four stars. 'So-so' gets three, and five is reserved for 'wow, this was great - unputdownable'. I've read books which thoroughly merited their four stars, but I hesitated to review, usually because I know the writer slightly - and that's just silly, isn't it? What do others think?

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    1. Very interesting! Like you - I tend to regard 4 stars as a good review...and have left such...and got a sniffy response from the writer who seemed to expect 5 stars from me..... Which was interesting, as in fact I WAS erring on the generous side..You open up a whole new area of debate: should one review if you know the writer? I am thinking about this now...maybe another blog...

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    2. I'm fine with a four star review. as it means the reader really liked the book--three stars is average, after all. I personally rarely leave a five star review (when I have time to review, which isn't often, lately). Those are for stories that absolutely blow me away. While it would be nice if all books did that (maybe... but then where would the point of judgement start, if all books were knockouts?), they don't. I do review authors I know, largely because so many of them are 'small authors', like myself, and many rely on reviews to draw new readers. I don't judge them by a different standard than other writers, though; that wouldn't be fair.

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  6. Great post, Carol. I remember the post you refer to, but can't remember the author's name; I hope he's not reading this and feeling slighted. (On the other hand, if you are reading this, mystery man, please reveal yourself). I do know that Hope Clark from FundsforWriters recently posted the same advice. We all work hard to develop our brands; it doesn't make sense to let someone take it all away from us.

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    1. ..especially if we are the ones destroying it ourselves...thanks!

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  7. Well done you! And yes, very true. About everything. Being defensive diminishes us anyway. Having had a long and hard training in customer service, I know going on the defensive is the worst thing you can do. It invites confrontation in which the defender will always come out poorly. As you say, on Twitter, nasty tweets are gone in a flash anyway…it's all too fast for me! I can't keep up with the good tweets either, but then I'm a bit slow at everything…great post and one to keep in mind, CarolStar!

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    1. thanks lovely Val. Who would never ''troll'' anybody.

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  8. Oh, I so agree with (nearly) all this. The only thing I don;t agree with is the 'type' of person who will write a one star review. I think that most of them are written simply by people who have just read a book they consider to be badly written rubbish, or well written stuff with a lousy plot, or whatever. Very few are by real trolls. I've read lots of 0ne star reviews (I am quite an ardent browser of Amazon!) and I think most people write them because they are very disappointed in a book, or because they are annoyed by the amount of rubbish that is thrown up on Amazon practically in first draft, and then give 5 stars by the authors' mates. I've been caught myself that way - paying 2.99 for books I've abandoned after the first chapter.

    As far as not responding goes - absolutely. Makes you look like an unprofessional prat!!!

    Margaret, above - go on, give that 4 star!!!! I give mostly 4 stars - and the odd 3 star, too! I wrote a post a couple of months ago about why writers shouldn't be scared to give a 3 star. 'Okay' is okay - and 3 stars is actually 'I liked it' on Goodreads!

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    1. Thanks TT. re reviews:I had in mind a specific incident where writer A got friend B to write a poor review of writer C's work and it all blew up on FB. Yes, yes, I can hear you saying how pathetic!! But I also suffered from this when the first 2 Spygirl books came out...reviews were posted criticising the book -- but all praising another writer in the same genre - and none of the reviews, from the language, were written by the 10year olds the books were aimed at.. It was quite clear what was going on, and Usborne must have dealt with it as the reviews (almost identically worded) have disappeared. So I think that both the disappointed reader and the deliberately motivated reader exist. I think Margaret has raised an extremely interesting point: how far are we ''guilt-tripped'' into being over generous with praise for a book when we know the author. OK< I know you wouldn't - but others, I think, might be tempted, to ''preserve'' the friendship.

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  9. A good topic, and I think your approach is the best one, Carol. However, I did respond last year to a negative blog review for the simple reason that is gave out misinformation. The reviewer complained that a particular issue was "never explained" when it was, actually within the first chapter of the book. That made me a bit cross. The same reviewer also felt that I included a lesbian character just so as to be "right-on", when this wasn't my intention at all; the lesbian was a lesbian because she happened to be a lesbian. So I wanted to address that was well. But the correspondence was polite and I thanked her very much for reviewing my book.

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    1. Fair enough, if you decided it was a misinterpretation...and good for you for being so polite! I wonder whether any of the ''big'' writers respond though ....Dan Brown and E L James has some very very icky reviews....it would be interesting to find out. Mind, I guess with the amount of money they get, they couldn't care less...

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    2. One incident I know of, Carol, involved a friend who was passionately disappointed with the final chapters of the book ONE DAY (David Nicholls). She somehow got hold of his email address and presented her case (very politely). He responded kindly, explaining his reasoning. Though he didn't change her mind, it was all conducted very politely, and he gained several loyal readers by actually caring enough to answer her. Unique situation, I know, but it was enlightening.

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    3. A very good way of dealing with it - and as you say, it won him readers!

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  10. I think I've been quite lucky on this sort of thing so far Carol in that I've not encountered much negativity or bad reviews. But I agree with you that less is more when it comes to responding to things. I have found people are more likely to be unpleasant in mediums where then are anonymous (such as Reddit). And are likely to be more knee-jerk on Twitter than in blog comments which tend to be more considered. I have unfollowed people on both Twitter and Facebook - but this tends to be because they are in some way extremely odd (such as the swingers who were following me on Facebook!) rather than because they have been mean to me.

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    1. Fascinated by Facebook..it is where I've watched the most rows develop....but no swingers or dodgy blokes have EVER contacted me....as opposed to many others!What am I doing wrong?

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    2. Hi Carol. This is a very thoughtful discussion and as a first-time (non-fiction) writer, I will take all these wise points on board. I think you have the right approach to criticism. But it's frustrating that we now need to put so much importance on Amazon reviews or comments on social media. The fact we're all having this discussion shows the power it has over writers whether they want to admit it or not and very difficult to ignore, especially a spiteful one-star. The fact that it's so hard for many writers to get work reviewed by mainstream publications and reviewers means 'social' reviewing has to play a bigger role and that can be skewed, and not always honest and fair, though a clutch of five-stars on Amazon can make all the booky angst worthwhile. In an ideal world we'd be like those 'celebrities' who refuse to read ANY write ups, especially if they're in the Mail!!! I think it's a magical/heartwarming experience having a book published but on a bad day the saying 'Be careful what you wish for' comes to mind. Best of luck with your new book Carol. x

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    3. Thanks Marjory ..and welcome to the blog. So agree with this - especially the ''power'' of Amazon/Goodreads to skew opinion and dictate taste. In the old days, we were, as writers and readers, far less influenced by ''others'. I do not have an answer! Sadly.

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  11. I know one writer who has unjoined all the FB writer groups because of all the bitchiness etc - I never took part, I think they're a hotbed of cliques, etc, and largely a waste of time. Hate all that crap. I used to get into Fb arguments before i was self-published, simply with people who I thought were talking rubbish, but I don't bother anymore. Bettter things to do, etc. Other writers trying to diss you with bad reviews is a compliment anyway; shows they see you as a rival. It is better to be talked about, etc etc!

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    1. It is ..but it depends how badly and publically you react to it, of course!

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    2. Indeed. Most of this type of stuff is just a storm in a teacup anyway!

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  12. Excellent blog! As a non-writer I can't comment on how it must feel to receive disparaging remarks on your 'baby', but I do know the advice you give is good for even us folks just trying to enjoy the social media. I've found from personal experience (several TwitSuspensions) that interacting with negative nellies is not a good idea. As you say, if you ignore, it goes away quickly. If you interact, it develops a life of its own! Thanks for another interesting read.

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    1. Yes indeed, you are more of an expert on 'nasties' - I have been amazed by your experience!! But here you are!! Thank goodness!!

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  13. Re: Twitter. It's not worth responding to malicious tweets. Such nasty tweets cannot be seen in your timeline by your followers unless you respond to them, and as soon as you do, the malicious tweet gets published in your timeline (with your response) and is visible to all. Also, check if the author of the nastiness is following you; often the nastiest comments are made by people who do not follow you on Twitter and therefore are not worth the effort.
    I do chat to people who do not follow me, but not to trolls. Every best wish.

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    1. Thanks for you comment and welcome to the bog! I agree .. I am fairly new to Twitter (one year's membership) and have so much to learn. X was not following me, tho I was following X. This is now remedied. It seems a sham that people in the same 'business' cannot support each other.... ah well...human nature. Stop by again...

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  14. Good advice Carol. A writer of a book I enjoyed told me that one woman hated his book so much she started a blog just so she could tell everyone about it. He didn't really mind and said at least he made her start a blog. Everyone has different opinions about books they read but it is only their opinion and one person cannot speak for everyone.

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    1. It hurts, I can vouch for that -- it is how you deal with it that separates the pros from the amateurs...

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  15. How dare anyone cast aspersions about you or what you write, it is ridiculous!
    My mother once told me, 'if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all...' and is still the only thing she ever said that I agree with.
    All that rubbish about sticks and stones...it really does hurt!

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    1. Take your point, but if once you (I mean generally, not you personally!) publish a book and put it out for sale on a public forum where people are invited to express their views, then you shouldn't be surprised when they do! Once a book is published on Amazon it becomes a product for sale. Amazon isn't a writing group, it's an online book shop. I do understand what you're saying, but I think that if people can't cope with someone giving them a less than positive review, then perhaps publishing on Amazon isn't the right choice for them.

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    2. Exactly. I think sometimes people go into it thinking that everyone in the world will lurve their book and tell them so. Hoping the essence of this blog and all the comments (if they choose to scroll down) may give them food for thought!

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    3. Oh gosh, yes! I read so many blog posts etc by people talking as if someone has killed their mother, just because they don't like their book - I want to say, oh get over it! And if you want constructive criticism, join a writing group. My best friend reads mostly (very) literary fiction and doesn't care for mine much. That's okay - she doesn't have to!

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    4. Mine hasn't even bought the book , nor has husband, who designed the cover. Don't expect them to. Busy lives, 3 kids, one disabled.

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  16. Hello Carol, excellent post and I wholeheartedly agree. I have to admit though, that since I write murder mysteries, for some reason a woman who met a ghastly end in my latest just happened to have the same name as the person who gave me a horrible (and senseless) review for my first book - a Freudian slip if ever there was one! I'd better change the name of victim, it is a bit petty.

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    1. Oh I don't know..I've used conflated Tory councillors' names in mine... haahaha

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    2. Maybe more than meets the eye - in You Wish, I have a selfish, sneaky and self-obsessed character.... with the same name as the person who, 3 years after I wrote it, tried to pass off 7 chapters of a novel I'd written most of, as all her own work. Coincidence, or maybe I always saw her as capable of such things, which is why I subconsciously chose the name!!!!

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    3. I use the conflated names of murder victims - especially those of serial killers. It seems so unfair everyone remembers the names of notorious mass murderers and not the people they did to death.

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    4. The follow -up to D&D has 'Jack the Ripper meets Mr Hyde' sub plot..the names of the hapless female victims feature. As you say, nobody remembers a victim!!

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  17. I have a coupla friends called X. They heaved sighs of relief to know X was not the real name of your 'friend' X...

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    1. Greetings and welcome to the blog! No, I am sure it wasn't your X ... nor are or were they a friend.... Hahahaha

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  18. I think it's more than a misapprehension when a reviewer posts something that's plain inaccurate, though, and which you can correct with a page reference/quotation. After all, Carol, if a reviewer posted that your new novel was called 'Diamonds and Fluff', you'd want to put them right on that, wouldn't you?

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  19. I also think if a reviewer speculates aloud as to a writer's intention, then it's legitimate to respond that that as well. As long as everyone stays polite.

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    1. Now, hit me over the head here, but you are a well established writer, with a lot of public presence...and clearly dealt with this well and professionally..and you have a publisher (and agent?) behind you. if you read Terry's comments, you will see that many self-publ writers are too close to their work and get drawn in to spats or to sounding off on sites about bad reviews. My point is always...we must be aware of The Brand and develop a carapace. Correcting a mistake is fine..generally beating our sensitive little heads against the floor because someone doesn't like our book is just life.....

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  20. Honestly, I don't think it makes any difference whether you're self-published or with a big publisher. Your general guidance - not to get drawn into spats - remains sound. What I question is the idea that a reviewer ought never to be challenged, because I think there are times when it's appropriate. I've been published for ten years, and had seven books out, and I've done it on just two occasions.

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  21. The majority of my low-star reviews have come after my publishers put a book up as a freebie for a few days. Those who only buy from the free chart on Amazon will download anything whether it's in a genre they like or not, and comment accordingly. As for responses, I did respond to one who said that a medical emergency I wrote about just could not possibly happen. I very politely told the writer it could and did, to my son only a couple of months before the book was published. We actually ended up having a perfectly polite conversation about the postcode lottery of the NHS.

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    1. FREE books is a whole nother fraught and controversial topic! Thanks for this. I do not know why readers believe that we ''make up'' important stuff. We have integrity! Again, you seem to have dealt with things in a professional way and the argument was resolved amicably -maybe the reader learned something! Well done!

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  22. Good for you, Carol. It can be tough to just ignore people like that, but it's not worth it to comment back. You're the bigger person and that's what matters.

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  23. Good for you, Carol, for being the bigger person and "walking away" via twitter. It can be an ugly world out there but as authors, we know we have an audience and there will always be those "trolls" who dismiss some or all aspects of our writing. I completely agree with you on this one. It is best to ignore the ugliness and move on with the sheer enjoyment of being content within ourselves and hoping to move and inspire our readers.

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  24. You are absolutely right. When looking at reviews the 1 stars always seem to have the same MO. They don't say much about the person who wrote them and they're often badly written. I shall follow your good advice as sooner or later they're inevitable.

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  25. Ladies, thank you for your comments. As I said, it was someone else's blog that inspired me...happy to be a conduit..

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  26. I love this advice because it makes sense! If we don't comment back to the tweet- the tweet dies, but when we comment back we fuel the fire and more people see the original tweet than they would have without us! Good for you for ignoring the confrontational tweets! :)

    ~Jess

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    1. Thanks Jess. If you knew me, you'd know how much effort this took! hahaha

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  27. I really wanted to contact a reviewer who left 3 stars, although I resisted. I would love to have told her how refreshing it was to see a critical review that was polite and constructive. I value critical reviews that actually say what the book lacked in the opinion of the reviewer, because it's surely a good way to learn.

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    1. Hi Isabella - welcome to the blog. I think the Amazon 3 star rating means it was a good read. Which is fair enough! I rarely give 5 stars ..in fact 4/3 are much easier to write as you can (and always do) find both good and less good aspects of a book,whether it be a character, a plot line, dialogue or style. As you say, it is good to receive constructive criticism .... there is no way any of us will write the ''perfect'' book for every person.

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  28. I didn't see them, Carol. I do see a helluva lot of supporters here. The case rests, m'lud. Excellent post. I shall share.;) xx

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  29. Looking at these last comments, CarolStar, I must say I have a problem with these Amazon stars anyway as I would prefer not to give star ratings at all, but that being the case (and the fact that Amazon insists), I tend to follow their guidelines and go purely on whether I like or love I book I am going to review without worrying if it is 'perfect' or not. I used to do 3/4 stars, but now I mostly do 4/5 and if they only rate a 3 I tend not to review them now. I simply go on whether I romped through them without putting them down (I'm a guzzler) or whether I thought they were pretty good but not more. I am no longer picky about what I think is perfection (what is that, anyway?). The trouble is, it's down to taste much of the time and since these days I'm stepping outside the genres I typically like, I don't feel it's fair for me to give a 3 star review just because a book isn't actually my thing. As I said, I'd love to just write reviews and forget about stars. Lulu.com used to allow that, but now everyone insists on stars. And since we're on the subject, why can't we have half stars? I would often love to give a 4.5.

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    1. This is now such a problematic area....I am on the point of refusing to read books I am asked to (as opposed to chosen to) read, as I know that there will be cold shoulders if I don't give it a 5 star rating. Happened recently with a writer...didn't like a 4 star (I was being generous) review. There seems to be this attitude that 'if I send you the book, you will give it a top review'. Turned down 2 so far this month.

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    2. That comes of being who you are, lovely Carol!! Luckily, no one asks me to read their books, so I just buy what I like or feel like trying! And I'm trying a lot of books I would never have bought before now I've got a Kindle and can download without it costing me an arm and a leg. I would never have tried YA or Inspirational books before, but it's good to step outside my taste boundaries. I read a lot now that doesn't get reviewed, that's for sure. Still I admit that if it's not my taste, I might still give it a 4 if it's quite well-written, serves its purpose and is something I think others will like! Shuffling back to my studies now. I'm buried in literature on corrective feedback for students. Thanks for the distraction!

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