Let’s Talk with Lois Winston

January 20, 2022

By Lois Winston

I recently read a review from a national newspaper for a memoir that has received quite a bit of hype. The reviewer gave it only two stars, stating that the book left her frustrated because it didn’t live up to what it had been purported to be. Instead of “a dissection of life in a working-class industry populated by hard-nosed men sent off to live and work in solitude in the middle of the North Sea,” it was a about “an affair and a woman who is thinking about writing a book of substance but never actually does.” Ouch!

I’ve known some professional reviewers who have worked for major publications, either as staff reporters or freelancers. I know they’re paid to give their honest opinions of the books sent to them by publishers. These reviewers receive hundreds of advance-reading copies each year and must choose which ones they’ll devote time to. They don’t set out to read books they know they won’t like. They read with an open mind, hoping they’ll be blown away by the writing, the characters, and the story. However, sometimes they’re not, and the review is far from what the publisher and author had hoped to see.

As an author, I feel badly when another author receives a less than flattering review of her work. I know the blood, sweat, and tears that go into writing a book. We all crave praise for our babies. That’s why, no matter how much I dislike a book, I’ll rarely post a negative review. I can think of only one occasion where I posted a one-star review. That was for a novel about a child born with a genetic disorder. I know quite a bit about that disorder, having had an uncle born with it and a friend who gave birth to two children with it. Surprisingly, although the author’s lack of research was glaringly evident throughout the pages of the novel, the book sat on bestseller lists for more than a year!

Like professional reviewers, I never open a book expecting to dislike it. I choose books I hope to love. I post my reviews on BookBub, but only for books I’ve enjoyed. Unlike Amazon, BookBub encourages authors to post reviews, and it’s free of the drama often associated with Goodreads.

However, unlike professional reviewers, I won’t post reviews of books I haven’t enjoyed. Most of the books I review receive four or five stars. Occasionally, I’ll give a book a three-star review because, although there were things I disliked about the book, there were also things I liked about it. To me, three stars is equivalent to a C grade, enjoyable for a few hours of reading but not a book I’ll think about days, weeks, months, or years later and certainly not worthy of rereading in the future.

If you’d like to see some of my recommendations, check out my author page on BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/lois-winston.

What about you? Do you post reviews for every book you read or only for those that have really captivated you?

Posted in Uncategorized • Tags: , , , , |  35 Comments


35 thoughts on “Let’s Talk with Lois Winston

  1. In the first place, I try not to choose a book I won’t like. When I am disappointed, I keep that news to myself. I also like the BookBub site because authors can post freely.

    1. Cheryl, your comment made me think of all those assigned books we had to read back in junior high and high school, then write book reports. There were many I had to force myself to finish. 🙁

  2. Well said, Lois – and thank you for the Bookbub reminder.

    Most of my reviews are on the Goodreads star system. If a book is extraordinary, or if I received it from the author or through a giveaway, I will post a written review. Even within those parameters, If I’ve read a book that I feel deserves a three or less star, I simply don’t post anything, largely because I haven’t finished the book. Life is too short to be negative, and there seem to be enough people who enjoy it. I prefer the positive side of life.

  3. I agree with you all. If I don’t like a book, I won’t post a review. We need more kindness in the world, and writing book reviews is one place I like to be kind.

  4. I feel there is a big difference between a negative review and not-so-complimentary review. As an author, while I’d prefer all 5-star reviews, I’m OK with a 3-star review that is thoughtfully written and explains why the reader didn’t rank my book way up there. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I can learn from reader criticism, even if I may not always agree. On the other hand, posting a review which simply trashes a book does nothing for the author or potential readers, even if it gives the reviewer satisfaction. No need to be a jerk. If you hate a book, return it or donate it and simply move on. 🙂

    1. Diane, that’s why I’ll post a 3-star review occasionally. And I’m also OK with receiving them. Sometimes a book is good enough to finish but wasn’t all that great (in my opinion), and I’ll explain why I felt that way.

  5. I am more than willing to leave reviews, but like the rest of you, don’t want to do so when I don’t care for the book. At the same time, I often have an issue trying to figure out what to do on Goodreads (especially before it was sold to Amazon) when the 5 star was supposed to be super duper fantastic (unlike Amazon at the time where 5 star was great). I want my reviews to be credible so the star system throws me off. How do the rest of you handle the star system?

    1. The star system can be confusing, Debra. I think that’s why I’ll often see reviews where the reviewer says she really enjoyed the book but only gives it 3 stars. To me, 3 stars, as I said in my post, is the same as a C grade. But even back in our school days, teachers had different ideas of what deserved an A, B, or C.

  6. Well, as a reader, negative or one- or two-star reviews are valuable to me. I just stopped reading a book that was up for a major award and had gotten raves. I was on the fence about it–I thought the writing was overwrought and the plot weak. I sort of wanted to stick with it, because of all the raves. The negative reviews called out the things I was having trouble with and made it clear it wouldn’t get better, so I abandoned the book. If I’m considering getting a book, I’ll also read the negs. Often they complain about things that I like or at least don’t mind, so I’ll still get the book. BTW, just want to point out, in the case of the reviewer for the national newspaper, they were likely assigned to review the book.

    1. I think it depends on the newspaper. The reviewer I know who wrote for a major city paper was able to choose the books she wanted to review from those that had been sent to her. I would imagine, though, that the newspaper may have requested that certain titles be reviewed because of who wrote them or the subject matter, but that wouldn’t have been the case with most genre fiction.

  7. I don’t post a review for every book and here’s why? If I read a book and feel it’s not to my liking meaning I’d rate 3 or below, I just don’t post a review because I want to encourage the author not bring them. I’ve only ever post a negative review and it was 3 star. After reading a book, I feel the book is 3 stars or below then I won’t post it.
    Due to the fact I have troubles reading digital books the books I review are mostly print books but still review a digital book every-now-and-then.

  8. I do post reviews for every book I read. Like you said, I pick books I think I will enjoy. Reading is a hobby, and I’m not going to devote time to something I expect to dislike. (That’s what work is for.) However, if I don’t like a book, I try to write a review that will explain why I didn’t like it without trashing it. I have a few reviews in my history where I did trash the book/author, and I’m not proud of them. Fortunately, most are buried at Amazon these days.

    My reviews are for readers, not authors. I’m trying to help readers find the books I enjoy, but I do feel the need to post when something is less than 4 or 5 stars. And it’s a bit of OCD since, as I said, I’ve reviewed every book I’ve read for years.

    As to my star rating system, it’s fairly fluid, but it looks something like this:
    5 Stars – Great
    4 Stars – Good
    3 Stars – ok
    2 Stars – Bad
    1 Star – Horrible

    Or, roughly traditional school grades.

    1. One thing I should have mentioned was, when I do write a negative review, I still try to point out who might like something. I also try to say if I think it might be me for some reason. And sometimes, I know something wasn’t for me (I’m thinking more movies than books), and I’ll state so clearly. In other words, I try hard to make it clear it is my opinion and others might like it.

      1. Mark, it sounds like you put a lot of thought into reviewing the books you’ve read and that your criticisms are constructive. It would be nice if everyone who didn’t like a book followed your lead.

  9. I started keeping a spreadsheet in 2003 for books I read and listened to and reviewed a good many of them with a rating between 1 and 10 and I even have a few ten pluses.
    Like many of you I do not and will never post a mean/nasty/condescending review, but I believe in being honest.

    People comprehend different things when reading a book and what one person likes, another may not. That is why I like critique groups because we all listen to 3 or 5 pages of someone’s work, and we come up with different analogies.

    I have seen reviews that were so mean I wondered how they ever got posted, and that is something I will never do. Like you said, our books are our babies nobody wants their baby hurt.
    Every year I am asked to judge contests entries from a writer’s group, and I can’t tell you how many times the president has forwarded nice messages to me from an author about what I said in judging their work. I was very flattered. I like reviewing books, but sometimes I am so jealous and wish DARN! I wish I could write like that.

  10. My style of writing reviews has changed over the years. I no longer include a plot summery. I tell what I liked about a book. If I didn’t like it, I usually won’t leave a review. Thus, my reviews under my reviewer name of Muddy Rose are all 4 or 5 star reviews. Every writer puts plenty of sweat equity in a book–Id never do anything to diminish their accomplishment of getting a book published.

    1. Maggie, I don’t do plot summaries, either. I figure the reader has probably already seen the summary, either on one of the retail sites or by reading the back cover copy.

  11. I post reviews for most of the books I read. I don’t post a review of a book I didn’t like, though, even if I forced myself to finish it. I open a book with the expectation I’m going to love it or at least, most of it.

  12. Hi Lois,

    I, too, only post book reviews for those that earn a 4-5 star review, rarely a 3. If I send a review for publication, I do include a light summary, but get to what made me enjoy the book first. I do the tightrope review of writing for readers and writers. I view my reviews as a teaching tool for both. There’s no reason I can’t talk about some of the craft angles of a book, but in a casual and enthusiastic way that will give readers more to think about than “I really enjoy it.” I throw in why the novel connected with me personally and whether I felt some kinship with the characters with examples of that. I try to approach each novel review with a unique perspective and give it some spice. Reviews, IMHO, are not just about my HO. I try to entertain too. As you and a number of people have said in their posts, the world does not need more negativity, but I think there’s a difference between negativity and taking a tactful approach. If I find something that warrants a 1-or-2 star review, I might give it a 3 and say it wasn’t to my taste. I don’t mind saying that a novel is explicit in gore, but that it is a trend that I’m sorry some authors are following, just as in film and streaming series. I might even argue with myself over something in the review. Now you really have me thinking of my approach, and that’s a good thing. Thanks for the topic and starting this thread!

  13. I post reviews of every book I read unless I thought it worthy of less than 3 stars. Most of my reviews are also 4 or 5 stars. I post them on Goodreads and only the remarkable ones on Bookbub. Often times, we have to remind readers about how important reviews are to us and how to post one.

  14. I began reviewing mysteries in the 1980s, and avoid writing a negative review. Every book has both good and bad, and I remind myself when I don’t like a particular book that an editor and in-house team have vetted this one and there must be good parts. I focus on what works and will say other things didn’t appeal to me but I never trash a book and find only flaws. Looking back, I wish I’d kept better track of all that I reviewed. I post reviews on GR and my blog, but I’m not consistent about it. I rank books 3, 4, or 5, and 5 is for the absolutely brilliant books that I wish I’d written. They’re rare. Three is a respectable rating–a book that can be read and enjoyed even if it’s not perfect. And, if we’re honest, most of the books out there fit into that category (nothing brilliant is going to be written in three months), but we find qualities that we love and say so. Most of the other reviewers I look at are eminently fair and I trust mystery reviewers especially. Many understand what it takes to write a book and rate accordingly.

    1. Susan, I agree with your assessment of a 3-star rating. I think the 3-star gets a bad rap. Of course, as authors, we really do hope for those 4 and especially 5-star reviews. 😉

  15. I also only review books on Book Bub, and I only write recommendations for those that I loved. I taught English (junior high, high school and college) and often had students say they “hated” one book or another. When I drilled down, their dislikes were mostly personal taste. Often, mine are, too!

    1. Debbie, I think unless someone is an impartial professional reviewer, most, if not all, reviews we see are based on personal taste. I don’t think that’s a bad thing as long as the reviewer states her reasons. Someone who posts a review that a book was awful without saying why she felt that way is just being nasty, IMHO. I’m sure you spent a lot of time explaining that to your students. 😉

  16. I belong to NetGalley, and so post reviews for the books I get from them (and also post reviews on Amazon, B&N and Waterstone’s for books that I buy). I hadn’t thought of Bookbub, perhaps I should start posting there, too. My reviews are generally four stars, sometimes three, and once in a blue moon I’ll give a book a fifth star. I review historical mysteries exclusively. It has to really “wow” me to get a high grade. Sometimes I come across a clunker. I never post a review on books that I consider deserve less than three stars, and I do come across some of those. I don’t post reviews for every book I read, because I read a lot of books — it’s my main hobby.

    1. Helen, I think we’ve all come across clunkers! My rule is that if a book isn’t capturing me by the third chapter, I give up on it. As the saying goes, too many books, too little time!

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