As The French Say: “C’est le ton qui fait la musique.” – A Book Review By A Writer

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Many writers have a myriad of other writers and authors in their network. Since we all know how important book reviews are for us authors, most of us are willing to help out and write a review for our fellow authors. If not, we should.

At this moment I won’t repeat how and why book reviews are essential to our work, I published plenty of blog posts on ‘Writer’s Treasure Chest’ about that subject, many of them written by other bloggers and writers and shared here.

Also, I won’t add any more tips and tricks on how to write a review, because, ditto…

But what, if we agreed to help and find ourselves in the horrible situation of having to review a book that’s not what we expected, neither in character development, character voice, description clarity, or plot arc? What if we just cannot find the thread that leads us through the story, and we have the feeling that this particular writer suffers from a lack of skill, ability, and talent to actually write a book?

And here, I admit, I feel torn apart… I want to be honest, I don’t want to discourage a fellow author, in particular a young, upcoming author who’s just starting out… But at the same time, there’s that nasty little thought that tries to talk me into protecting the world from a really bad book…

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So, what should we do in such a case? And here, each one of us might decide differently. There are, of course, different possibilities. I’ve seen them all.

  1. I write and publish an honest review, clearly stating that the book is not good
  2. I don’t publish that review, but send it to the author personally and tell them, the book is crap
  3. I contact the author and let them know that I read the book and ask if they’re willing to ‘listen’ to some advice
  4. I want to help and recommend the author to remove the book from the market for a while and work on it before re-publishing
  5. Tell the writer that it might be a good idea to find another occupation, maybe as a gardener, at least they’d do something useful

I admit I wish I had never made that horrible experience or stood in front of that decision. But unfortunately, it happened. What did I do?

Very simple: I tried a mix of numbers three and four.

Now, we are talking about three different young authors and three different reactions.

Author A: “How DARE you judge my book like that. My Mum said it’s a great story, and my sister said the same thing. That’s why it’s published, and they both helped me with the editing and stuff.” (You must be a writer, man… I like the ‘and stuff’ part best). Basically, I dare to judge your book ‘like that’ because you asked me to. If you ask for an honest review, you will have to brace yourself for the possibility that you will get a very honest review, and it cannot always be good. If you only want a good review, ask your Mum and your sister. Being a writer, and a published author is not always a ride on a pink rainbow unicorn. It’s hard work, and you give many people the chance to libel your name. Get a very thick skin, that’s the only way to protect you from being harmed. Not everybody is as nice as to tell you in private that your work needs a bit of polishing.

Author B: “Thank you very much for telling me. I’d like to hear what you recommend, please! I really appreciate it. I don’t get much support from anyone, and I feel I can do with some help.” (Needless to say, I’m still in contact with that author, and the story has massively improved. I will promote the book here on ‘Writer’s Treasure Chest’, once it’s ready.)

Author C: “I hate you! You hurt me so much! I will make sure that nobody will ever take you seriously as an author. You will pay. for what you said..” (In that case I would really have liked to recommend a good shrink)

Now, in each one of these cases, I’m not talking about a published book review on my side. I contacted each one of these authors and told them, that I’d like to talk about that book, carefully explaining, why I thought, at this moment a review wouldn’t be the best idea. Also, in each case, I started by mentioning the good things I found. (Even though there weren’t many, I tried my best). Only then I listed the things that should improve.

There’s always more than one way to say something. And right here the title of this blog post kicks in. As the French say: “It’s the tone that makes the music.”, or in French: “C’est le ton qui fait la musique.”

Let’s say, you’re at a party, and the host serves an adventurous combination of manchego cheese, pickles, pineapple, and maraschino cherries on the avocado salad. You can either say, you’re allergic to avocado (And hope, she doesn’t remember you ate her guacamole last time you were there) or, you can ask her, if she’s pregnant, because, nobody in their right mind would eat something like that without vomiting big time. I’m known to be quite straight out, but even I wouldn’t eat that salad, and faking an allergy at that moment sounds just perfect.

Or, you’re taking your two besties out for dinner to celebrate… and when you arrive at the second one’s house, she shows up in a white mini-dress that has seen better days, and she’s completely oblivious that she grew out of it, most likely, about twenty-five years ago, you have two choices. Tell her, that she forgot to get dressed in something age-and weight-appropriate, or ask her if she forgot to get dressed – period.

In our case, things are similar. I had two possibilities: publish a book review that tells everybody the plot is crap, the characters are lame, and the book is poorly written, by a completely talent-free individual… or, I did what I did and try to help these authors by telling them something good I found to avoid killing their buzz, and then carefully showing them different blog posts and articles that help them to improve their story plot, their character voices and -development.

It’s all in the way we say things… how we make and keep friends, how we make sure we don’t hurt people, and how we remember, that our strongest talent and skill are words. That saying ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ is true. Words can injure and kill, as horribly as a blade can. In doubt, just remember one more thing: “Talk to others the way you want to be talked to.”

How would you handle a situation like that? And do you remember it’s the tone that makes the music? Let us read your comment, please.

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7 thoughts on “As The French Say: “C’est le ton qui fait la musique.” – A Book Review By A Writer

  1. I have posted bad reviews, I admit. Yes, it’s a difficult decision to make, but it’s not always possible to contact the author.
    Also, if a book only has good reviews, that might sound suspicious. Not everyone likes a particular book.
    On the whole, though, I always point out good points, as you say. Perhaps that’s something to do with my teacher training. We were told to always begin with a positive remark before saying what was wrong with a pupil’s work. But if there is something not good, it must be addressed. Readers should know if there is a problem with the story, writing, grammar etc.
    I had a review that said, “Good idea, poor execution.” That meant nothing. Was singularity unhelpful. What did the reviewer find poor about the execution? Was it helpful to readers? I doubt it.
    But a posted, poor review can help the writer if they are willing to accept it, and also let the reader know about problems. They might not worry about grammar, character depth and development. In fact I recently read a book in which the characters were cardboard cutouts, the male lead, as it were, was perfect. Annoyingly so. Yet this book was a NYT best seller, and had received a lot of 5* reviews. (Admittedly, quite a lot of reviews that agreed with me, too.)
    It’s tricky one!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it does, but I think the worst I had was a 1*, but no review to go with it. It was ages ago, but I’m still wondering why that person hated it so much.
        If they’d given some comment, I’d at least know why.


  2. I personally wouldn’t reach out to the authors directly.

    Firstly because too many people are way too thin-skinned and over-react. There have been petty people who have retaliated at other writers, spamming them with fake bad reviews as punishment.

    Secondly, I’ve been kind and offered support before to someone (different method of contact) and found my time and advice where then taken for granted as I was expected to read every scene for two separate books and give full detailed reports (not what I signed up for!). when I tried to set boundaries they got very angry and the sense of entitlement was overwhelming.

    So, instead I would write an honest review with an honest rating. I would always aim to include any positives I found and use the “Positivity Sandwich” method most of the time. Start with some positives, then mention the negatives, then end on something positive. After all, we aren’t trying to crush anyone’s dreams.

    I’d never include that the writer should change jobs or stop writing, but I wouldnt claim they had potential if I didn’t see it.

    There are so many free resources online these days to help writers be better, advance in both writing and marketing that it shocks me how people are still publishing books that have not been edited and their covers made in MS Paint. Support can be good, but it does seem so many writers these days don’t make any effort to improve their skills.

    It seems so many family members coddle their “writer family members” with praise and claims of “you should publish this” and all it does is flood the market with bad writing that makes good books even harder to find.

    I have seen reviews that were down-right nasty, I would never do that. If I couldn’t finish the book, due to it being so bad. I may just write a short, but clear reason for why I couldn’t finish it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If I can’t post a positive review of some kind, I don’t finish the book. I’ve offered critique directly to the author in the past and it destroyed a budding friendship. It’s a delicate balance. Thanks for this post, Aurora.

    Liked by 1 person

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