Saturday, September 7, 2013

When the Author Comments On Your Less Than Glowing Review

I don’t review very many books at all.  I read a lot of books and I will almost always rate them on goodreads, but I rarely take the time to write any sort of review.  Part of it is laziness on my part.  I read the book, I rate the book (and make sure it’s added to my books read this year on goodreads because, yes, it matters more than it should to me to reach my goal), and then usually move on to the next book.  I also don’t think reviewing books is necessarily my gift; other people write much more interesting reviews than I typically do, so I usually leave it to them.  Persistence is my gift, so if I read a book that I just know a friend or family member will love I usually just hound them until they read it in an effort to make me go away quietly.  In my defense, they usually like the book.

All of that being said, once in a while I do review a book on goodreads.  There’s not much of a system to my deciding which ones to actually write a review of, but it’s usually for a book that wasn’t what I expected (good or bad) or a case where I thought my rating needed an explanation of sorts. 

Last year hubby and I were in a cookbook book club, and I reviewed a few of the cookbooks we used.  I gave one of them a less than stellar review. 

Now, I’d like to take a moment to throw something out there about books read in any sort of book club.  I’ve noticed that the reactions to the books tend to be strong.  It makes sense to me.  You have a group of people choosing books for the whole group to read; not everyone is going to love every book they read, especially if it’s a book they might not have chosen on their own.  The other side of that is that sometimes you come across an unexpected treasure – a book you never would have picked up on your own, but one that you absolutely love.  So it makes sense to me that the ratings for book club books might not be very middle of the road since it can easily be a book your felt forced to read, or a book you never would have found, but totally rocked your world.  Has anyone else noticed this?

Back to my less than stellar review.  I gave the book two stars, which on goodreads means “it was okay”.  Here’s my review:

I bought this cookbook because it was the one being used for a cookbook book club, otherwise, I probably wouldn't have bought it. I thought it was somewhat over-priced in the grand scheme of available cookbooks. All of the recipes that I made, or tried, were very, very good. However, I have two major issues with this cookbook.

The first problem is with the book itself; it was not designed as a cookbook, it was designed more along the lines of a coffee table book. It's very pretty to look at, but an absolute pain to use. The book doesn't lay flat and the shape is very awkward. It's extremely difficult to follow a recipe when the cookbook won't stay open. I finally ended up copying the last recipe I made, just to have an easier time using it. It seems silly to have to make a copy for yourself from a cookbook you own. There are also some typos in the book. I know that's not a huge deal, but it's not something I was expecting to find in an over-priced cookbook.

The second problem is with the actual recipes; while they are delicious, they're not always very practical for cooking at home. Some of the quantities are basically insane to make at home. It seems like they just put the cafe recipes in the book and didn't reduce or adapt them for cooking at home, even though it's sold as a home cookbook. Sure, sometimes you do need a dish or dessert to feed 10 - 20 people, but not that often. Quite a few of the recipes in this cookbook leave you with much more food than you can possibly consume at home. They don't really seem to lend themselves to being halved either. I also thought that the cookbook doesn't always take into consideration what is available in the average home kitchen; quite a few of the recipes call for unusual sized pans, a standing mixer, food processor, etc. It just seems like some of the kitchen tools it assumed you will have aren't necessarily standard.

Overall, I can't say that this will ever become one of my "go-to" cookbooks. It's just not a good format for someone who actually intends to use it, not just decorate with it, and for the money, there are definitely better cookbooks available.

And now, here’s the author’s recently posted comment:

Thanks for your comments Danielle! The book is a very creative book, where many of the recipes were pulled from my restaurant days. ALthough, I am not the only book that has large quantity recipes. Ina Garten and The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook are very similar her recipes.
I agree totally on the cover of the book, but people also love the look of the book. I am working on changing the cover.
Thank you so much for your comments, they all help!!!

I’ll be honest, I thought it was a little weird.  I don’t think my review was scathing.  It was my honest opinion, and I tried to explain why I didn’t like the cookbook instead of just saying I think there are better cookbooks out there.  I didn’t post anything at all on the author’s website.  I just reviewed the book on goodreads. 

I don’t think the author’s comment is really that bad, but I don’t think it’s entirely appropriate either.  Maybe it’s just me, but it has the feel of having been fired off in a hurry, which is usually a bad idea.  It also seems like it’s aimed at changing my mind when she points to another cookbook that has something I said I didn’t like about hers.  Furthermore, my review was for a finished cookbook, not an advance copy or any sort of pre-release, so I don’t think the part about changing the cover was especially relevant.  That’s how it was published, so I think she needs to deal with the fact that at least one reviewer didn’t like it.

I won’t say that the author’s comment has put me off buying her next cookbook because I probably wouldn’t have anyway based on the first one, but it definitely didn’t make me likely to re-think that decision.  I stand by my review.

I’m just not sure how appropriate it is for authors to comment on reviews like that.  I’ve heard of authors not reading reviews of their work for fear of responding inappropriately.  I can’t help wondering if that’s a better choice than responding even a little defensively to a less than glowing review. 

So what are your thoughts on the author commenting on a less than glowing review?  Have you had an author comment on any of your reviews?


  1. I have never had an author say anything about any of my reviews, unless it was an email or tweet to say they appreciated me taking the time to review. No one (author or reader) has ever commented on my Goodreads reviews, and I post a review there, my blog, and on Amazon for every book I read.

    That being said, I don't think that the response to your review was angry or insulting, but why did she take the time to comment on yours if she did not comment on all the others? That is the part that troubles me. I think you might be right that she is trying to explain herself so you might change your mind, but possibly she wants a more positive spin attached after your own comment to focus attention on how the book is just like other famous chefs' books and therefore worthwhile.
    By the way, you gave an excellent review; you stated your concerns and backed them up with ideas, so it is in no way an attack on the author.

    1. You are very diligent about reviewing! I don't think I could keep up with all of that. I've had likes on a few goodreads reviews before this; never from the author though.

      Mine was the only review that wasn't gushing, so I guess it's the only one that she thought "needed" a positive spin.

      Thank you for calling my review "excellent"! I don't usually review, so I worry that I don't do it well.

  2. I haven't had one comment on a negative one that I can remember but on some positive ones. I always appreciate the time they took to read it and leave a comment either on the post or via email. But yeah they definitely need to be careful about it because it can come off so badly sometimes.

    If they are going to leave one on a negative review best to just say thank you for your comments and taking the time to review then they need to move on.

    1. I think the "thanks for taking the time to review" response, if they must respond is definitely the best one.

  3. Interesting that you actually garnished a reply. I would think most reviews are either not read, or ignored as just one person's opinion, at best.

    The reply did seem a bit odd or 'off', like you said, hurriedly done, without much thought.


    1. This is the only time an author has ever commented on a review of mine, so I did think that was a little odd.

  4. We authors are, generally, a very insecure lot. But, to be in this business,you also have to generate a thick skin. She needs to work on that. She should have kept silent and used your comments as food for thought. No pun intended!

    1. I can understand not being thrilled to read that someone doesn't love your work. I guess that's why some authors say they never read reviews of their books. Maybe ignorance is bliss in this case.

      Food for thought, awesome!


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