Sunday 13 February 2022

The Mid-Month Extra: Should Book Review Sites Have A Duty Of Care?

by Helen Hollick, founder of Discovering Diamonds

Here at Discovering Diamonds we maintain that a ‘good book is a good book’ no matter who it is published by – a traditional mainstream publishing house, a small independent company or totally DIY self-published.

We define a ‘good book’ as one that is correctly presented, an enjoyable read, has a well-designed cover and is, overall, ‘value for money’. Most mainstream traditionally published books are correctly presented, (although I note typos creeping in and, sadly an ‘enjoyable read’ is not always the case.)

Most indie- or self-published novels are correctly presented, possibly even more so than mainstream because indie writers have a need to prove we are as good as (even better than?) the Big Boys.

By ‘correctly presented’ I mean professionally formatted with

  • the text fully justified (not left justified with a ragged right-hand margin)
  • no unsightly ‘widow’ lines hanging by themselves on an otherwise blank page
  • no blank pages in the middle of chapters
  • no double-spaced lines between paragraphs
  • indentations for new paragraphs missing
  • a standard font – not Comic Sans, for instance. (Unless it is a children’s or comic-type book)
  • a well-designed, professional standard cover

And obviously, well-written and properly/professionally edited.

You would expect professional publishing houses (small independent or mainstream) to understand and adhere to the above list, although I have known small publishers to mess up. (I won’t mention names, but my own books have suffered from this incompetence in the past – which is why I am now fully committed to being DIY self-published. Errors are my errors, and are up to me to ignore or put right.)

A few, barely noticed typographical errors, I think, can be overlooked – they do, most annoyingly, tend to creep in, But littered all over the page, and typo after typo is a different matter – it soon becomes fairly obvious that the text has not been edited; in some cases it makes you wonder if the author has even bothered to read through the final draft.

To be honest, if a book is well presented, is well-written, has an engrossing plot, believable characters and can grab the reader’s full attention from line one, then the occasional missed typo is not going to be noticed.

Our team of enthusiastic and dedicated reviewers here at Discovering Diamonds look for all the above in the novels submitted to us for review. We post reviews of books that we have personally enjoyed reading, with the best now being awarded ‘Reviewer’s Choice’ and the best of the best (in the reviewer’s opinion) being longlisted for our new Richard Tearle Discovering Diamonds Award. (I will add the caveat that what one reader likes another might not – but it would be a boring old world if we all liked/disliked the same things!)

Often, especially where a debut author is concerned, our reviews will include some constructive criticism, usually along the lines of something like: ‘a really good read, but we suggest another edit to pick up those missed typos.’

We have had books submitted that had to be rejected because of various presentation reasons, but when this happens if the novel would otherwise have been a good read, we privately email the authors, outline the problem and suggest a re-edit and/or re-format and a reprint. The appreciation we get in return is immense – and rewarding. I am incredibly proud that quite a few authors have taken our advice and ended up with re-submitting not just  a ‘good’ book but a very good book. (In fact, I’d go as far as saying in several cases, brilliant books!) Of course publishing houses of old (before the end of the '90s) used to do this - recognise potential very good writers, snap them up and nurture that debut attempt into full blossom. Alas, not now. The slush pile remains a slush pile with good authors undiscovered.

However, Discovering Diamonds does not post reviews for books that we reject. Rejects may be for a variety of reasons: too many errors, the novel is too slow overall, not as well-written as it could have been, far too much ‘tell not show’. Not edited, poor plot, characters that appear then disappear never to be involved again, poor continuity ... well you get my drift. So, we only post reviews for novels that reach a four- or five-star status. Only twice have we posted a three-star uncomplimentary, but honest, review. Neither book had been submitted to us, but privately read so were personal views. Both were published by top publishing houses and written by best-selling authors who, frankly, should have written better books.

Even so, we do not, nor will not, ever post a review that trashes a book or the author. What purpose does it serve to rip a book apart in public – particularly if this is a debut novel? If a book is not well written, why waste space (and time!) reviewing it?

I was appalled, therefore, to recently come across a usually respected review site that had posted a review that read more like a spiteful tirade written by an Amazon troll. If I, or I suspect many an author, had read such a review I think I would give up writing and crawl into a corner to cry.

Yes, maybe this debut novel was not as good as it could have been (Discovering Diamonds has not had a copy submitted to review it, nor have I read it yet,) but do public, respected review sites that claim to be supportive of all authors, be they traditional or indie, not have a duty of care towards writers? Especially debut writers who might, with constructive guidance, be on the cusp of a promising career - or who, on receipt of a vile review, may never write another novel again? It has happened.

Is it really acceptable for any review site to openly trash a book in a bullying, derogatory, and disrespectful manner? No, I do not think it is acceptable.

This particular review was nasty. When words such as ‘tedious’, ‘floundering’, ‘tired’ and ‘who cares’ riddle a review, then it is not a review but an insult to the author, to readers  and to the site which - I think in this instance very erroneously - published it.

Yes, authors come to accept derogatory remarks on platforms such as Amazon and Goodreads, but most of these are posted by known trolls or by people who clearly have a grudge. Discovering Diamonds values the time, effort and financial cost that authors, especially indie authors, put into their work. We respect this dedication and would never stoop to insulting or humiliating such authors by ridiculing them in public.

If a book is not good, for any reason, then don't review it. 

 © Helen Hollick

 feel free to leave your comments/thoughts below:




  1. A great article Helen - and food for thought :-)

  2. I think all reviewers have a duty of care to give as constructive a review as possible. I appreciate it's harder to be funny/witty/outrageous and positive - I think sometimes reviewers want to entertain, rather than inform.

    1. Yes I agree. A constructive review can even be helpful - but a destructive review can destroy an author (it has happened!)

  3. Very well said, Helen. I agree; let the author know privately if their book needs more work, but there is no need to be derogatory or nasty.

    1. On a review site (for instance #DDRevs) which have the main intention of suggesting good books to read, I can't understand how being derogatory helps anyone - neither author nor reader.

  4. Just recently I got into a back and forth with a poster on Historical Novel Society who wrote that most blog reviews are designed to promote authors and then claimed she had given a number of books a stinging, zinging one star with considerable pride. Another poster then wrote that bloggers who charge for a review are ripping off authors. I tried to refute their arguments but I doubt I made a dent in their views.

    1. Given that there are so many good books to be promoted but there is never enough space to include them, it does make you wonder why r valuable space is taken up by 'reviews' that are less than suitable doesn't it?

  5. Thank you, Helen, that is welcome support. It takes the sting away from the determined person who gives me one star for each of my stories. Why does she buy them if she didn't like the first one? More generally, I agree that sloppy editing is bad, and can spoil a story. I'm also one of those who think a good cover is the first hook to attract a reader.

    1. Why indeed! Makes you wonder doesn't it? I don't think we've received any of your books for potential review Beth? More than happy to add one or two to our 'to be read' list if you care to send us something. (See Submissions on the top menu bar)

  6. Thank you for a wonderful post. I'd occasionally wondered why your reviews are always so positive. I'd think, "Don't these folks ever come across a book they don't enjoy?" Now I realize that your policy is supportive in a different way, and more broadly supportive than I imagined.

    1. Thank you Susan; here at Discovering Diamonds we want to recommend good books, so there's no point in including books that, for various reasons, do not match a 4 or 5 star standard. If it's a case of the book needing another edit, however, I often privately contact the author. Sometimes we don't review a submitted book because it is more fantasy (or whatever) than history. Sadly, sometimes the book isn't formatted properly, or - I will be honest - just not very well written. But even when this is the case we will not be discourteous to authors in public.

  7. I totally agree! Very well stated. Whether it is a review on a supposedly unbiased review site or a personal blog, I have to question why anyone would give a terrible review to anyone, especially a debut author. Is it just a base human trait to be mean? I hope not but sometimes it feels that way. I know that there's at least one really bad review of my debut book on Amazon (one of my coworkers told me she wanted to jump to my defence but she hadn't finished reading my book yet so she didn't) and I don't even want to read it if it isn't constructive! What will I learn from meanness without any constructive feedback? Even with books I review on my own blog that I don't like (maybe I read it for book club) I at least try to give something positive or constructive. It really isn't that hard to be kind.

    1. Or if you can't say something constructive - say nothing at all!

  8. The bad taste left in the mouth by a scathing review lingers longer than all the good ones. And perhaps that's the critic's aim but they don't seem to realise that it usually reveals more about their meanness of spirit than the book.


We do not accept comments. If you need to contact Discovering Diamonds go to the CONTACT facility

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.