When Reviewing a Book, Please Know That Your Words Are Very Powerful

-ism's
Creative Commons License photo credit: quinn.anya

When you review someone’s book – whether it be on your blog, in your publication, for a newspaper, on Amazon.com, on a book based social network, or elsewhere – please know that your words are very powerful. They are full of meaning  and wisdom and can impact whether or not people buy that book and, as such, they can impact the livelihoods of many, many people.

Please understand that I am not talking about positive or negative reviews. I am also not talking about worrying what people think or worrying about affecting others in a negative way, at the expense of your own honestly. What I am talking about is treating your words with the respect they deserve for the power that they wield. Your words matter – a lot.

This doesn’t just apply to books, but I’m an author, so I’m going to tackle it from that angle. A bunch of people invested their time and efforts to put “Managing Online Forums” together. Beyond me, there was my agent, editors, those who contributed to the work and other creative people inside and outside of the publisher. My hope for the book was that my knowledge would help others. It is both the simplest and the biggest goal you can have. My success in achieving this is judged not through my beliefs, but by what others tell me, after they have read the book.

I am been truly blessed as my book has been very well received by people from all walks and all experience levels. I am deeply thankful for this. Reading reviews for me is a mix of nerves, joy, disappointment, enlightenment and consideration. I take a deep breath and I start. I did this on the first review and I did it on the fiftieth review. Those nerves never quite go away. Not all reviews have been completely positive and I read and accept them and try to learn what I can from them and to help those who didn’t get what they wanted out of the book, to the best of my ability.

There have been a couple of instances, though, where I’ve seen people review the book in a way I felt was unfair. One of these popped up a little while ago. For example, in the review I read, the reviewer gave the book a very poor rating and made a statement that was inaccurate about it’s contents. And then the reviewer admitted to not even reading a single chapter. Not one. In the review! This is a part of life and I accept that. I’ll survive. No big deal.

But, this is an example of what I mean. Through the internet and social media, this person’s words are so powerful and yet, she wrote a review without even reading one chapter.  She did not take the responsibility of her words seriously and I feel as though everyone is shortchanged because of it. We (myself, the team that worked on the book and those who read reviews, looking for insight when making a purchasing decision) are shortchanged because we do not receive the benefit or the respect of a review written with actual consideration of the work.

As an author, all I want is your honesty. Whether you like my work or you don’t – your honesty means a lot to me. Your words should mean a lot to you. And so I ask you to please be aware of your power. Too many people think “oh, it’s just a review online, who cares.” That’s not true and that’s not an accurate assessment of the power that we all share, a power that affects the lives of others and a power that we all must treat responsibly.

When reviewing a book, please read it, rather than scanning a few pages and making a judgment. Carefully consider it and judge it not on a typo or two, not on whether or not you disagreed with it or because you don’t like the author, but on whether or not it created value for you and made you think. Value is the measurement.

Please don’t halfheartedly post your thoughts about a book when you have not read it and considered it. There are people out there who love to play games with online review systems, to skew them or cause chaos. That’s not going to change. What I am saying is that, if you care about social media or the legitimacy of writing in general or, at the very least, if you want to be taken seriously, you should take your words seriously. Your words are very important and this is not a game. Please wield this great power responsibly.

Patrick O'Keefe

Managing online communities since 2000, I publish a collective of websites known as the iFroggy Network. I wrote the book Managing Online Forums and, as a public speaker, have presented for organizations like CNN, institutions like Australian National University and conferences like SXSW. More about me.

9 Comments

Kim Dushinski

about 10 years ago

Patrick: I agree. As a published author myself I know exactly what you are saying. To "review" a book without even reading it is absolutely wrong! Also, I would add that thinking about the timing of the book writing as well. I got a negative review of my book recently that mentioned that some concepts in it were "basic" and not cutting edge. I agree with that assessment now near the end of 2009. However, when I wrote that chapter 2 years ago it really was cutting edge. Hopefully having a second edition come out soon will help.

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Scott Fox, Author of e-Riches 2.0

about 10 years ago

Hi Patrick, Great post. As a fellow author, I feel your pain! It was only after I became a published author myself that I realized how personal a book is to the author. We invite debate but criticism without thought is like calling someone's baby ugly - it's inconsiderate and unfair. This is especially true today given the very long memory and reach of Google and Amazon reviews where inaccurate info can be repeated and archived indefinitely. All that being said, somebody smart once said "there's no such thing as bad publicity", so I guess it's part of our jobs, like it or not. Congrats on the success of "Managing Online Forums". Best, Scott

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Jared

about 10 years ago

Solid advice, Patrick -- not just for book reviewers, but even for John Doe reviewing ACME Product X on Amazon, for example. An Amazon product caked full of reviews from people who have never touched the product does nobody any favors and hurts that product, even if people vote the comment down as unhelpful. More need to heed your advice.

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Jodie Gastel

about 10 years ago

Yes, yes and again yes. I agree whole-heartedly; people who do reviews (and, really, it's not limited to books) have power (deserved or not) and the responsibility is not to be taken lightly. We could all wish to be able to follow a "sticks and stones" mantra - in real life and real business, that is not the case. In a perfect world reviews of anyone's hard work would be well thought-out... in the real world, we still need to place our faith that our consumers are thoughtful enough to make up their own minds.

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Shayne Tilley

about 10 years ago

From an author perspective reviews are terrifying, enlightening, rewarding, satisfying, just a real mixed bag of emotions. When reviewers have that much power of an individuals emotions it's really disappointing when it's not thought out and worse when they've not even read the book. I'll cop criticism fair and square on the chin - but only when people can back up their claims From the perspective of someone who's job it is to promote and sell other peoples books -- reviews matter - there's no questions of that. Some people still use the words of someone they don't know over any whiz bang sales copy I can use on the page, when deciding if to purchase or not. But Patrick, chances are very high, that if you deliver a great product, that is value-for-money, delivers what is says it will, you're legitimate, well thought out reviews, will echo out any off the cuff remarks. Take your book as a perfect example.

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david lee king

about 10 years ago

Definitely agree with your assessment! If you didn't read the book but review it anyway, that's pretty much lying in my book. Simply stated, it should never be done! Anything you pore months or years into tends to be very personal - so books, a big video or music project, etc can all be pretty personal to the author. So reviewers - remember that the book you are reading might be a product ... but there's another human on the other end of your book review, as well. Criticize if needed - but READ THE BOOK. And if possible, be constructive. Don't just point out things you didn't like - tell what you would have done that would make it better. Do this so the author (and everyone else reading your review) can learn from it, and improve, too.

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Patrick

about 10 years ago

Thanks so much for the comments Kim, Scott, Jared, Jodie, Shayne and David. I really appreciate it. Kim: I appreciate your perspective. Yeah, that is a pain. Context is important, for sure. That's a good point. Congrats on the second edition. Scott: Good points, I agree. Thanks for the kind words about the book. Being an author has definitely given me a new perspective, as well, on book reviews. Jared: Yes, that is very true. It applies to all sorts of products. Jodie: Good points, thank you for sharing your perspective. Shayne: Thanks for the kind words. I definitely agree with you - if it's a good product, it'll win out. Great comment. David: Great comment, thank you! Thanks again, Patrick

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Bob Gibson

about 10 years ago

Patrick: Thanks for sharing the author perspective with potential reviewers. As a recently published author anxiously awaiting/dreading reviewer feedback, I can relate very well to the feelings that you describe. I was astonished though about the comments of a "reviewer" who hadn't even read the material. That isn't something that I had even considered... Good luck in the future. Bob

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Patrick

about 10 years ago

Thanks for the comment, Bob. I appreciate it. Congrats on your book.

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