Writing a Bad Review

While my story is in the hands of beta readers, I’ve had the opportunity to read more books.  Because I’m on my way to becoming an indie author in the fantasy genre, I’ve decided to read a few books by other indie authors in the same genre, just to see what’s out there.

And…part of me wishes I hadn’t.  Of the five (actually nine) books I’ve read, two were great, but three (two of those three were three books in their respective series) were less than impressive.

The first bad book used the same ‘core descriptions’ for every action scene, had bland, boring characters with the exception of two antagonists who made all of two appearances, bad names, a forgettable plot line about a damsel in distress, and one character had somehow gone from ‘silver hair’ to ‘dark hair’ within a few chapters.  In short, this book needed a developmental edit.  I don’t remember too much about this book, so I’m going to stop criticizing it here.

Next, I read a set of three books that is part of a much larger series.  Here’s the theme:  World of Warcraft in novel form.  As a former player of WoW (I stopped between the third and fourth expansions), it’s easy to immerse yourself in a world that has so much variety in battle techniques using a gaming platform.  But a book?  Eh, doesn’t exactly translate too well, especially if you’re not a fan of WoW or similar games.  Whereas in a game you have tutorials and helpful hints, this is far too much to explain in a novel format, and consequently leaves a reader either hanging (even moreso if they know nothing about the fantasy gaming environment) or forced to sit through pages of potentially confusing exposition.  In short, a lot of the reasoning in the book dwindled down to ‘because magic’ and there were a lot of ‘deus ex machina’ moments.  While magic is standard in the fantasy genre and I usually let a few instances slide (especially if a nice reveal is involved), there comes a point when you begin to wonder if there’s anything magic can’t do.  And at that point the belief is suspended, and any ‘danger’ that the character comes across is, well, no longer dangerous.  Again, this is another pitfall were just because a concept works in a game doesn’t mean it translates very well to a book.

Other than that, these characters had, well, character, even if clichéd (big strong male protagonist, sexy female protagonist, smarmy supporting characters, wise elder, egotistical antagonists, etc.).  What they lacked was background.  There was no reason why the characters behaved the way they did.  Consequently, when one of the main characters died, I had really no reaction, because I didn’t know a lot about her history or had any emotional connection to her.

The last set of three books is, again, part of a much larger series.  I do blame myself a little bit for picking this one to read – it wasn’t so much fantasy as it was paranormal romance.  However, my Amazon feed stated it was a fantasy book so I bought it anyway.  It wasn’t until I read it I realized it wasn’t entirely fantasy – it had fantasy elements but it was much more a romance novel than anything.  And because I don’t read romance novels specifically because I get bored/annoyed with empty back-and-forth relationships, I’m a bit biased against it.  That being said, there were other things that made this a bad novel.  One was that several characters seemed to have this ‘one and done’ deal – they made a brief appearance and then disappeared for chapters, even books, before they reappeared.  At one point a character was killed ‘off screen’ – a character I didn’t remember at all but was somehow the main protagonist’s best friend.  There were minor plot points and useless exposition that went nowhere and could have been taken out without effecting the main story.  I skipped over a lot of needlessly long puzzles and fight scenes. While the books weren’t terribly long, they were a chore to read.  In the end the novel did start to pick up pace and one of the main characters (finally!) faced a real danger, but I did not want to read more ping-pong romance to find out what happened.

But perhaps most baffling is that each of these stories had many, many positive reviews.  Yes.  Many.  Perhaps my standards are high, or I have different preferences, or I’m just being a snob, but these books would never garner more than a couple stars out of me.  They all needed editing in some form (some more than others), were plagued by vacant characters, boring plots, shallow exposition, and little if any growth in any shape or form.

Now that my rant is out of the way, you’ve probably noticed I didn’t name any names of the books or authors.  Also, while I could’ve left scathing reviews of these books on Amazon or Goodreads, I decided to talk about them here.  Why?

Because self-publishing a book is a god damn difficult thing to do.  It is time-consuming.  It is mind-numbing.  It requires research.  It requires shutting people out.  And editing, while essential, can get expensive quickly.  Marketing is challenging.  In short, it is not an easy feat.  And even though all I’ve read and critiqued is the final product, there is no doubt that any of these authors poured their hearts and souls into their work.  I’ve been there.  I get it.  And I respect these authors for going the distance, finishing their books, and putting them out there.  I’m not there yet, and while I’m not exactly intimidated I know that publishing is going to be an obstacle that will require more research and a strategy.  And as slim as that respect is, I’m not going to publicly crush their name and work.  Instead, I simply won’t provide links to them.

Keep in mind that I don’t think there is an excuse for the poor quality in the writing.  These books could have definitely been better.  There is a story in each one of these books.  Unfortunately, it is buried underneath poor execution, whether it be bland characters, overused magic, or uninteresting stories.  (Supposedly each of these books had been edited and beta-read, but there’s not much in the details.)  Still, self-publishing a book and getting it out for the world to read is something that not every writer achieves for one reason or another.  Because of that, I don’t think it’s necessary to put their names out on public notice.

As for the two books I enjoyed, here are their links:

The Wanted Child

Reaper of Stone



One thought on “Writing a Bad Review

  1. I really agree with your points; I write reviews for “beta books” as well as well-established novels by well-established authors. It can be difficult to provide a balanced judgement if you find lots of flaws and criticisms, and I respect your decision not to mention the authors and titles respectively. At the same time however, whilst publishing a book is a mountainous and admirable accomplishment, I don’t think we should shy away from negativity just because they tried really hard. It’s like a lot of competitions and other things out there in the real world: you may have given 11/10 effort, but if the execution is a 2/10 say, you won’t do as well as others. Those are just my thoughts 😊


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