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What I Do if I Can't Give Your Book a High Rating

A lot of book bloggers get this question. What happens if a book doesn't make the cut? Will you tear it to pieces and post it for the whole world to see? Not necessarily. I won't be mean when I point out what needs fixing in the manuscript, but I won't pull the wool over your eyes either. What I will do is offer constructive criticism that can help turn a so-so book into something worth reading. The best books I review get video coverage on my Youtube channel, those ranging in the four and five-star category. What do I do with the rest? Read on to find out.

When I became a book reviewer, my goal was to help other indie authors find their wings, but I can't help them improve their work by lying to them about the quality of it. We writers all write garbage when we first start out, which is fine because it's all part of the process of working out those beginner kinks that hopefully won't show up later. What isn't acceptable is making the mistake of publishing the first one or two books we write, because those will be our poorest-quality books by far. Even if authors do make that mistake, I just can't pretend it's a good book if it isn't.

I'm now going to share with you what I do when I find that a book I'm reviewing isn't up to scratch. There are many reasons a book isn't great, among them being poor writing mechanics, no talent, uninspired dialogue, etc. Though many things can push a book's rating to the lower end of the spectrum, some books are salvageable with a bit of work and patience. Basically, the story could be fantastic, but the dialogue flat. Or, the characters are unbelievably real, but the setting isn't accurate, etc. For the books that aren't salvageable, I write the kindest constructive review I can and post it online. For the ones that have great potential, I write to the author and share with them what could turn their "pretty good" book into one that I'd love to read over and over again. The purpose of this is to give them a chance to pull their book from the market and fix it before other people post bad reviews of what could have been a wonderful book.

What follows is one of those author letters, in which I have kept the identity of the author and the title of the book secret, along with its characters.

Dear Author ________,

Less than a month ago, you responded to one of my tweets on Twitter regarding my request for more indie author books to read and review. I’m happy to tell you that I’ve just finished reading your book, ________, and I enjoyed it very much, enough to add the rest of your books to my to-be-read list. I am, however, reluctant to be the first reviewer of ________ because I can’t possibly give it a five-star rating in its current state, and that would hurt your sales. As an indie author myself, and one who endeavors to support her fellow self-published authors, I think that you deserve the chance to fix the things in your book that will potentially lower your future ratings.

Now, before you throw something at me, I want to point out that ________ has so many positive things going for it, which I will list here:

1. It was definitely a page-turner, and I finished the read-through in less than a week. I found myself returning to the book several times a day, even if it was only for a few minutes, because I kept wanting to know what was going to happen next. You have created a very heartwarming tale, and it was a delight to read from the prologue to the epilogue.

2. As I dove deeper into Character One's world, I really got some useful perspective on the lives of those who are disabled. Disability is often misunderstood, as well as frightening to those who do not suffer from it, but your book makes a great contribution in helping light to be shed on this topic. We need more books like this. The last book I reviewed, We Are Immeasurable, by B.L. McGrew, featured a blind teenager who wanted to spend her final high school year in a regular school. Both We Are Immeasurable and your book fill a niche that is often ignored, and that’s a good thing.

This quote from the book is unforgettable: “They say time heals all wounds, but wounds will always leave scars.”

3. Character One and Character Two were a delight to read about, especially Character Two. They were definitely not cardboard characters with no life. They both had sparkle.

4. I liked the cover of the book. It was simple, and looks good in thumbnail size.

As far as the problems in this book go, don’t sweat it; many of them are easy fixes, and let’s face it---writing a book is insanely difficult. I call it “childbirth of the brain,” because that’s what it is. ________ is a good book, but it could be a great book if you address the following issues:

1. The book is in dire need of editing. I get it...editing is about as much fun as pulling out your own teeth, and editors aren’t cheap. A poorly-edited manuscript is something that your readers will notice, and trust me---they will take their frustrations out on you by leaving bad reviews, which can kill your sales and your reputation as an author. You don’t want that, especially after all the hard work you’ve put in. Unlike most book reviewers, I actually care that my words could do potential harm. I believe in this book, that it could be really wonderful one day, so I posted no review online. You deserve better, which is why I want to help you fix it.

2. There were far too many scenes that involved the sequence of Character One doing the following: getting up, showering, and picking out his clothes after “limping out of bed." There were probably at least five of these. I think they were written to hammer in that just a simple thing like getting ready in the morning is very challenging for those who are physically disabled, so here is a possible alternative that would accomplish the same goal: Make the very first “getting up” scene as detailed about Character One's difficulties as possible, adding some sort of line saying, “For a person suffering with the hell of incurable kidney failure, getting ready each morning was about as easy as an obese person trying to run five miles without training.” On future days of Character One’s life, you could just say, “He got up and drove to the college.”

3. While I’m on the topic of repetition, there were too many of Character One’s “getting out of the car” scenes, as well. As with his “getting ready for the day scene,” just make the first mention of it a hellish description for the readers, then all other “getting out of the car” scenes can just be summed up in one sentence. For example, “Character One left the car and entered the dialysis building.” Fixing this issue can cut down of repetitiveness.

4. Speaking of repetitiveness, I noticed a lot of same-word repetition in the same paragraph. For example, in Chapter 10, you ended four sentences in the same paragraph with the word “it.” It was the paragraph where the doctor was examining Character One’s swollen arm after his infection.

5. Mentioning every tiny action is not necessary. Readers don’t need to know that Character One flipped a light switch, closed a door, or turned left and right down a hallway, or loaded his wheelchair into his truck (when we know he does that already from a previous scene). These actions are usually implied, but they can be tedious to read through.

Here are some things I wanted to see, or issues I just have questions about:

1. I wanted to see Character One and his best friend saying farewell for the last time, and just more of the friend in general, particularly a conversation between the two men in regards to Character One's decision to permanently end his dialysis treatment. As Character One’s best friend, I would have thought that he would have tried to talk him out of it, or at least have been at the funeral.

2. Why did Character One spend six years in college, only to decide to end his life right after graduation? I thought he wanted to be a college professor.

3. As much as I loved the relationship between Character One and Character Two, I felt like it happened way too fast to be believable. I felt that their relationship, while sweet, had them too trusting of one another way too quickly. For example, you just don’t give a person you met only one week ago the spare key to your house, especially in this day and age. Might have worked for a story that took place in the 1950s, but it doesn’t work now. You might fix the too-fast relationship issue in this way: Have Character One suddenly decide that he needs a change in his life, and he decides to move back to Galveston Island and live in his parent’s beach house. He makes a new friend on the ghost tour on his first week back on the island (Character Two), and the two become fast friends and spend a lot of time getting to know one another over the next few months, eventually developing feelings for one another. Unfortunately, watching others enjoy their “normal” lives in bliss in the tourist destination becomes too much for Character One, because he knows that his medical problems will bring, and are bringing challenges to his and Character Two’s relationship that he isn’t sure he wants them to handle. That, coupled with his being tired of constant medical treatments, is what compels him to, without Character Two’s knowledge, end his dialysis treatments and live out his final days touring the island and trying to get as much enjoyment out of these last days as possible, until he has his heart attack on the Pleasure Pier. He wakes up the next day and confesses his plans to Character Two, who, with her backbone of steel, chews him out royally for wanting to die, but admits that nothing could ever make her stop loving him, and that, despite the permanent damage to his heart, her heart belongs to him until the end.

4. I think Character One’s death would have made a bigger impact on the reader if we could have seen it through Character Two’s eyes, which is a classic example of it needing to be a “show, don’t tell,” moment. We, as the readers have been with Character One in all his struggles, heartbreaks, in each drop of blood spilled and every scream of his pain. We need to be there at his death. Don’t be afraid to make us cry at his side with the one he loves.

5. What happened to Character One’s parents? Not many 27-year-olds have dead parents, as I got the impression they had died. You could slip in that perhaps they died in an accident or something, perhaps in the last hurricane on the island.

In closing, I want you to know that I think you’re a very talented writer. If at some point _______ receives the polishing it needs, I would be happy to read the new edition and leave a review online. Your book is too good to not let it get the best treatment you can give it, and reading it was truly an honor.

I remain, respectfully, your ally and comrade in this fight to help indie authors write the best books they can write and win the respect they deserve. If you ever need advice, don’t hesitate to contact me via my Twitter handle, which is @prospero1501.


Andria Redlin, Indie Author and Indie Book Reviewer


As I've often said, sometimes the best way to learn how to do something is to learn how not to do it. I hope this example of constructive book criticism has been of help to all writers who are reading this, and I do hope you'll share it with them so they can benefit.

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