Guest Chick: Sandra Murphy

We’re so happy to welcome back the inimitable reviewer and author Sandra Murphy. Today she’s offering very wise words for both authors and readers. Take it away, Sandra!

Do’s and Don’t’s of Book Reviews

I review over 100 books a year for Kings River Life online magazine, cozies and thrillers, set in the present and in the not-too-distant past which means I spend seven or eight hours of time to read, review, and promote someone else’s book. There is no pay but the books are free to me from the publisher or author. Since the pandemic, the balance has moved to more e-books than print.

I make sure the names and locations are spelled correctly, there are no spoilers included. I tell what I like and am kind about what I don’t. Main characters are never listed as ‘TSTL’ aka, Too Stupid To Live for the extreme risks they take. Instead I say she acts impulsively and puts herself into dangerous situations. I don’t say the story is buried in details of what they’re wearing, eating, or who their besties are. I say, there’s more description than I care for and it sometimes gets in the way of the story. After all, there are readers who like characters who aren’t afraid to act impulsively and who enjoy knowing exactly what the character looks like.

If an author has more than one series, chances are readers will like them all. Here’s a sample of the ending of a recent review of Bayou Book Thief: “This is the first book in a new series. The epilogue promises an enticing twist. Hopefully, readers will find out more in book two, Wined and Died in New Orleans, available for preorder and shipping in February 2023. There’s a teaser chapter of it at the back of this book. Vintage Cookbook has been added to my list of favorite series. Byron also writes the Cajun Country mysteries (7), the Catering Hall series under the pen name of Maria DiRico (3). Ricki shares recipes from vintage cookbooks: French pancakes a la gelee (raspberry or current jelly suggested), Swedish salad (herring is involved), daisy canapes, gingerbread, coconut patties, and crawfish etouffee.”

Even if I don’t cook, only knit something that’s flat and doesn’t have to fit, or sew at all, I like to read about such things. Readers who are more talented or adventurous will buy the book to try them.

Readers: Don’t post a one-star comment on Amazon because the cover was damaged during delivery. Don’t blame the author for typos. They happen, no matter how many people proofread a book. Talk about the story, what you liked or didn’t. Be kind. What you didn’t care for will be the favorite part of the book for someone else. Don’t include spoilers!

Authors: I’ve heard writers say they never read their reviews because it might be negative. It’s insulting to ask time and effort from a reviewer if you won’t read the result. Read it, promote it, thank the publisher like Kings River Life, thank the reviewer. Follow them, comment, and share their posts. Promotion goes both ways.

And if you get a bad, awful, really terrible review? I find name-calling and liberal doses of chocolate to be soothing.

Readers, Readers, what do you look for in a review? Just the facts, ma’am, the reviewer’s opinion, or a combination of the two? 

BIO: Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the Gateway Arch in St Louis. She writes magazine articles, short stories, reviews, and edits the Writers and Publishers Network monthly newsletter. Her collection of 300ish quotes about cats, Happiness Is Listening to Your Cat Purr, is now available at www.untreedreads.com/author/sandrajmurphy/URP/1/ and the usual outlets. Her cat, Louie, swears he wrote the book. 

44 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Sandra Murphy

  1. An excellent overview of the book review process, Ellen. Your author advice rings true. Feedback marks the path to continuous improvement, and readers are paying for the opportunity to help.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you liked it. It’s annoying to receive a bad review for something that was out of your control. One of mine had a very nice comment that included the identity of the killer. No spoilers!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t usually read reviews as I want to make up my own mind on the book. I have my favorite authors and then a great cover will draw my attention to a book. I mostly post reviews on GoodReads. I am disabled and mainly only give star ratings unless I’m having a good day then I’ll write a short review.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Tom, my reply to you showed up under Lisa’s comment! Gremlins must have moved it. I agree, one person might give you a pause but several mean take another look at what you’re writing.

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  3. Thanks for being on the Chicks today, Sandra! I can definitely say that I’m a much kinder reviewer now that I’m an author. And I’m very appreciative of all the reviews and am grateful for publications like Kings River Life! (Also, cute cat book!)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Jennifer. Kings River Life has been very good to writers, readers, and me. The cat book was a lot of fun to do. There’s a dog version as well.

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  4. I have my own phrases I use in reviews to avoid spoilers. But I’m not going to break my code because then I will be posting spoilers when I post reviews.

    I agree with much of what you said in your comments to readers. It is important to remember that what you don’t like someone else will love. But it is important to write a review of your thoughts, so it is a balance to write about what didn’t work without being harsh. I also agree that you can’t write a negative review because the book arrived ruined. Sadly, I have had encounters with people who think that is to review the shipping, not the product itself. I’ll disagree on the typos. Yes, it isn’t the author’s fault, but if it takes away from enjoying the book, it’s important to talk about in a review. I’m talking about more than one or two in a book but enough that it actually impacts the reading enjoyment.

    Another one for readers is – Don’t tag an author when you post a negative review. Yes, they will probably still find it and read it, but don’t rub a negative review in your face.

    Also, it’s nice to see I’m not alone in my estimate of how much time each book review represents between reading the book, writing the review, promoting the review, etc. When I did the math a couple of years ago, I suddenly understood why my blog takes up so much of my non-work time. It really is a second, unpaid, full time job.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Mark, this should be a post of its own! Although I know you did share your thoughts and experiences as a reviewer once before. I am in awe of what you and Sandra and Dru and all reviewers do. If I get to put up stars for a book I’ve read, I’m proud of myself!

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    2. Typos pop up when you’re not looking and a couple are acceptable. Anything more and it distracts from the story. It does take a lot of time but it’s so enjoyably spent!

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    1. Thanks, we’ve all seen cringe-worthy reviews, hopefully not about our own writing, and know how that could hurt. Kindness and honesty work much better for all concerned.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you Sandra for this terrific post, AND for all you do for us writers and readers as a reviewer!

    I always read reviews from publications such as yours and others, and share them on social media, for it’s such a gift that you give us, of your time, energy, and love for books!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s much appreciated that you share. I’ve reviewed your books and always enjoyed reading them and writing the reviews.

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  6. Great post, Sandra! I think it’s great that you give your opinion–a true review. I’ve noticed that some reviewers (most often authors reviewing other authors) don’t give their opinions anymore, but that’s really what I read them for. I love the balance and careful wording of a “real” review, because readers depend on them. When I worked as an in-house editor, reading reviews was a daily part of the job–and both we and the authors learned from them. As authors, it’s important for us to remind ourselves that you can’t please all the folks all the time…and while in our hearts we would loooooove to have all 5 stars and glowing accolades, when the reviews are thoughtfully balanced and honest, they mean so much more. My boss used to say, you can always find 3 nice things to say about anyone’s work. (And if you can’t, read it again!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lisa, I love that about “three nice things” … it’s so true!

      Sandra, this is such an interesting post. Thanks for sharing it with us here today. It’s easy to forget how much time and effort goes into a reviewers job, so this is a good reminder. As a writer, I love how much you care about our tender feelings. I mean, a negative review is no different than calling our baby ugly! And as a reader, I love the scope of reviews over at KRL. I always find something new to me over there. Thanks for everything you and the others over there do for us!

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      1. Lorie does a wonderful job of herding us reviewers and putting out a good issue every week. Thanks to her, I’ve read books I might never have found otherwise. I hope my reviews give readers the same opportunity.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. The three nice things rule is a good one to follow. I’ll keep that in mind when I write my next review. And you’re right, there’s always someone who will complain about anything.

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  7. This is such a great post, Sandra, with wonderful advice! Your dedication to your craft is clear, and we are so very grateful for the time, energy, and love you put into your reviews. It’s such a gift for readers and authors!

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  8. Great post and I read all of my reviews. I figure if someone took the time to read my book AND write a review, they deserve to be read. Do the bad ones sting? Yes. But sometimes they make me laugh out loud. One day on Goodreads I had 2 reviews for the same book. The first was a glowing 5-star. The second was a 1-star that said it read like a high schooler wrote it. And I honestly laughed out loud. Because, hey, that’s funny and at the end of the day, two people read my book and took the time to comment.

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    1. Me t00 – read a review of an anthology I’m in, best story in the book was mine, just loved it they said. That felt so good, I decided to check out another anthology – worst story in the book, hated it, it was just awful, the whole book awful, but my story was the most awful. You have to laugh.

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  9. Thanks so much, Sandy, for being such a thoughtful and kind reviewer. I’ve always been a bit timid about publicly thanking and following reviewers as I had the feeling some might think the author-reviewer relationship was too “cozy.” However, I’ll now follow your advice! Authors DO appreciate honest reviews, and I do read my reviews both to look for what worked and where I can improve.

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    1. A lot of reviewers are also writers. It helps our own writing when we see what works and what doesn’t in the books we read. Since publishers don’t do the big publicity pushes like they used to, it’s up to us to promote each other however we can. Getting to know each other helps a lot. Plus, you wrote a darn good book with a unique job for your character!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Marilyn, I enjoy your writing – and am thankful you’ve let me reprint some of your posts in the Writers and Publishers Network newsletter. They’re always well received and help us both.

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    1. Thanks for the compliment for me and KRL. In publishing, we need to rely on each other for support. It’s good to see it’s appreciated.

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