Monday, 11 September 2017

Should Readers Finish A Book Before Leaving #BookReviews?

"The least I think you should expect of a book review is that the reviewer has actually read the book... I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect some kind of requirement for reviewers to have at least read a book before reviewing it."

You might think that the above statement was made by an indie author who is struggling to get reviews for their books in general, let alone positive reviews, and is reacting to a 1-star review posted on Amazon or Goodreads where a reviewer said they stopped reading their book after the first chapter/first couple of pages/without finishing the book. Right?


This is the opinion of established author Alex Gerlis, as expressed in the below article I came across recently:

Alex Gerlis was a BBC journalist for over 25 years, and left in 2011 to become a full-time author. He has three books out, and they've sold over 105,000 copies between them (as of June 2017). His novels have more than 1,300 Amazon reviews, with 85% of them being four- or five-star reviews. Alex therefore isn't short for reviews. A couple of 1-star ratings from readers that haven't finished his novels won't hurt him too much, and yet, he feels that it's unfair for a reader to post a review without finishing a book. So, you can't blame indie authors for holding the same opinion.

So, what do you think? Should it be mandatory for readers to actually finish a book before writing a review and leaving a low rating? Should there be a tick box in the review writing pane on Goodreads and Amazon that asks if the reader has finished the book, so that those reviews can be filtered out, or not taken into account when calculating the average rating?

Personally, I don't rate or review a book that I didn't finish reading, not on Amazon nor on Goodreads. In my May Wrap-Up post however, I had to name the books I couldn't finish that month due to the reading slump I was suffering from. I had no choice ~ I'd mentioned planning to read them in my May Book Haul post, and when it came to my monthly wrap-up, I had to explain why there were fewer reviews that month than in previous months. 

Nonetheless, I didn't rate/review these books on Goodreads or at any other retailer website, even though they were written by established authors who wouldn't have been too hurt by a 'I couldn't finish this book' review. That's just my personal choice, which I don't enforce on anyone.

I have however, noticed on Goodreads, a number of arguments (via the comments section on the book reviews), where some readers are insisting that because a certain reviewer hadn't read more than a couple of chapters of a book, they shouldn't have posted their review, shouldn't have rated that book with a 1-star, and ought not to have expressed such negative sentiments on the book. Those targeted reviewers stormed back, saying that it's their right to express their opinions on every book they start and rate/review it accordingly, whether they finish it or not. This argument was supported by many other Goodreads users.

I don't know what the percentage is, whether the majority believe in the former or the latter, but I have noticed a lot of reviews where the reader has rated a book with a 1-star and said they didn't finish it after a few pages/chapters. I don't think I've seen a single review where a reader just wrote that they didn't get past the first chapter (for whatever reason) and therefore didn't rate it.

I've seen a couple of reviews for my own works, where the reader rated it 1-star and said they couldn't finish it. I was fine with that. I didn't complain about it to anyone who'd listen. I didn't write a blog post ranting about the unfairness of it. I thought, "fair enough". It's the reader's right to express themselves. And, I'd want to know, wouldn't I, if a significant number of readers had the same experience with my book? So, that I could work on making the early pages stronger? 

There was a 1-star review for my Poison Blood, Book 1, where the reader stopped reading the book as soon as she learned about the main character's skin type and I wrote a post about that (click here for that post). I just found it strange that someone would dislike a particular skin type so much that they'd stop reading a book that they seemed to have enjoyed up until that point. They'd even complimented the writing quality, too! I guess it's a sensitive topic for me, discriminating against people because of their skin, seen as I've had to fight against racism and prejudices all my life because of my own skin colour. Even if I am considered to be 'fair-skinned', it's clear when you look at me that my ethnicity is of South Asian origin. 

Anyway, I myself don't rate/review books that I can't finish ~ does that mean that I, deep down, think it's unfair to rate/review a book (negatively) without finishing it? Or is it because I'm an author myself, I know how 1-star ratings and reviews affect our average ratings on Goodreads and Amazon, and don't feel comfortable doing that to a fellow author?

I don't knowI see merit in both arguments. I get Alex Gerlis's argument about powering through to the end of a book, because you can sometimes be rewarded. My favourite book of 2016 was A Court of Mist and Fury (ACOMAF) by Sarah J. Maas (see my Books I Read in 2016 post), the sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR).

I struggled through the first 50-60% of ACOTAR (book 1 in the series). It was also the first Maas book I'd read. I'm glad I powered through, though; I could so easily have given up on it. I came close to giving up on it a couple of times! If I hadn't pushed to the end, however, I'd have missed out on the thrilling conclusion to that book, because it finished really strongly. More that, I'd have missed out on reading what was to become my favourite book of that year, ACOMAF, which won the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards in the YA Fantasy and Sci-Fi category.

And yet, I also agree that if a reader doesn't finish a book and wants to 'review' it, they shouldn't be criticised for doing so. People stop reading books early on for various reasons, the main book-related ones being:
  • Far too many spelling/grammatical errors in the first few pages.
  • The writing is rubbish in their opinion.
  • The book isn’t what they expected.
  • The book isn’t what they’re looking for.
  • The book isn't their cup of tea. 
Everyone has their own experiences, expectations and perspectives, and will act on those things accordingly. For example, one thing most of my readers say about my books, both the Poison Blood Series and the Soulmates Saga, is that they like the characters and the characterisation is very good, but a recent reviewer of Poison Blood, Book 1 stated that the characters/characterisation was what they disliked most and that aspect of the novel needed work. This same reader said that she couldn’t find fault with the plot, though, yet another reviewer a while back had said that the same book had no plot. See? It's not just that a book can't please all the people all the time, but also the fact that everyone has their own way of interpreting what they read, which is shaped by their experiences and expectations.

Then there's another school of thought, the believers of which would criticise me for not making clear what books I didn't finish, because these readers believe that every reader has a responsibility to future readers of that book, to let them know that this was one they couldn't finish, and for what reason, so as to help potential readers decide whether they want to start that book or not. This opinion, I find a bit iffy. Peoples' tastes and needs are different. Just because a bunch of readers struggled with a book, doesn't mean another bunch of readers won't get hooked on it. I think most readers know this, and so how much attention will they pay to the number of readers that didn't finish a book that they're seriously interested in reading? Not too much, I'd think.

One thing that most people agree on is that a review should be an honest account of how you felt about a book, its plot and themes, its characters and the writing. It shouldn't be a way for you to get back at, or lash out at, an author you have a personal vendetta against or because you took offence at something they said (e.g. writing a negative review for a Alex Gerlis book because you disagree with him saying that readers should finish a book in order to rate/review it). These types of reviews are easy to spot, actually ~ when it's a personal attack on the author ~ regardless of how the ulterior motive of the reviewer is disguised. So, don't do that. It's not cool.

Thank you for reading this post. If you're interested in my debut novel, click the image below to learn more about it:

Like all my other books, it's also available on:
iBooks   |   B&N Nook   |   Kobo |   Smashwords 

Book Details

Length: 110,000 words
Genre: Contemporary Romance / Clean Romance / Diverse Romance / Interracial Romance / Romantic Drama / Women’s Fiction

Mood: Inspirational / Feel Good / Coming of Age / Dark
Content: Sexy but No explicit sex scenes / No erotica
Audience: New Adult & College / Adult / Female Readers

Recommended for: Readers that enjoy romance novels with serious issues and characters with depth. This is a story about life, love, friendship, family, music, art, destiny and soul mates.

And the first two books in my teen urban fantasy/YA paranormal romance series, the Poison Blood series, can be downloaded for free via:

Amazon US|  Amazon UK|   iBooks US UK   |   B&N Nook Store   |   Smashwords

PB1 Book Details

Length: 29,000 words
GenreYA Paranormal Romance / Teen Vampire Romance / Young Adult Paranormal Fantasy / Teen & YA Urban Fantasy / Young Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy / Supernatural Romance / Fantasy Romance
Mood: Dark / Humorous / Coming of age
Content: No violence / No explicit sex scenes / No erotica
Audience: Teen / Young Adult / New Adult / Adult
Recommended for: Readers that love all things vampires, slayers and witches!

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  1. This is an interesting article, Neha. I do review books if I haven't finished them. One or two that were so badly in need of proofreading that I couldn't read them. Or that started well but fizzled out quickly. Mostly, I agree with your point that reviewers can write what they want; bad reviews that are not a fully constructive critique of the book are the downside of being able to publish on Amazon. I've said this before but it's worth saying: we don't moan when the one liners just say 'I loved it'!

    In contrast to the 1* from people who have only read one chapter, I have one on my new book. The reader read the whole thing (so obviously liked it, or she would have abandoned it), and gave it 1* purely based on the fact that it's not a stand alone. She hasn't reviewed the book at all, just ranted about what she's read in writer articles that says that even episodes of ongoing series have to be complete in themselves (yes, she has been referred to Game of Thrones and LOTR by readers!). Alas, I just have to suck this up.

    I suppose the answer is that readers can write what they like ... whether they should or not is another matter, but we do not live in an ideal world!

    1. Thanks, Terry! Yes, it isn't an ideal world, and I think there's no right or wrong answer to this question that we can generalise to every situation or book....

      As for what the reviewer said about books in a series needing to be complete... I disagree. I think that if enough loose ends are tied up (which I'm sure you did in your book) then you can end a book in a series with plenty of questions and plot threads to explore in the subsequent books, even have a huge cliffhanger at the end. The book doesn't have to be wrapped up completely with a pretty bow. Its what you expect in a series. Its what you sign up for when you start reading a trilogy or saga. In fact, I'd say that if a book in a series is wrapped up too well then readers won't feel the urgency to read the next instalment.

      I guess it's slightly different for crime novels where the reader expects to have the mystery fully explained by the end, but even with crime series, there is usually a plot line running throughout the books, typically relating to the detective's personal life. The idea is to keep bringing the reader back to your books so we have to do everything we can to make that possible.

  2. I feel that, sometimes, the fact that a book can't be finished is an indicator of the quality. I will power through a bad book, or try to, and I will review it but I do know that some are so incomprehensible, especially in the world of self-publishing (as there are a lot of bad books out there thanks to the ease of it). What is important is what that review is saying. If there is a good reason it couldn't be finished, such as bad writing, too many mistakes, incomprehensible story-line, etc I find them acceptable. On the other hand, if it's something, like skin color, as you mentioned, then I don't find it right. Essentially, it is all circumstantial - in my opinion.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Some very good points.