Good Reviews, Bad Reviews

As a self-published author, I paid a sum of money to have three prestigious companies review my two novels. These American companies that critiqued my books are blueink Review, Clarion Book Review, and Kirkus Reviews.

The books of mine reviewed are More Precious Than Rubies: The Return of the Norse Gods which follows the adventures of a 7th-grade student as he battles an evil Norse God who is embodied in the school’s new principal, and The Monarchs, about a man battling cancer and trying to find some meaning in his life as he makes various journeys to Mexico with his wife.

The reviews were uplifting at times and disappointing at times, giving me the true sense of being an author. The most beneficial part of the whole exercise was that it made me contemplate the value of my work and how to make it better next time. Most people would say this is a good lesson; yet, I totally understand how critics can cause people to consider turning away from their craft.


After some brief bouts of depression when I read negative references to my novels, I convinced myself that some reviewers will like one’s output as an author and some will not. Then, their opinions may switch for one’s following novel. I also considered all of those established authors out there whose books have been turned down by publishers countless times. And did they give up?

I will give some examples of the reviewers’ comments regarding my first self-published book, the children’s fantasy entitled More Precious Than Rubies.

Blueink Review had mostly negative things to say about the book: “…there’s very little action in the plot, and the most critical scenes – including the story’s climax – happen entirely offstage.” Also, “…this story requires major revisions to reach the standards of quality, excitement, and expanded mythology that are already available in the traditional marketplace.”

Clarion Book Review, on the other hand, had mostly positive things to say about the book: “Coates, an elementary school teacher, captures the characters of Paul and Chad perfectly, with the budding independence and maturity appropriate to their age, as well as the uncertainty that accompanies a lack of experience.” Also: More Precious Than Rubies is an enjoyable, self-contained tale that will entertain young readers and bring an ancient myth to life.”

Kirkus Reviews, as a balance, provided mixed comments. Contained in the critique is: “The initial mysteries surrounding the new school principal set the stage for a page-turning story and will pique readers’ interest.” But then it goes on to: “An intriguing tale, but one hampered by uneven characterization and a disappointing ending.”

Concerning my second self-published novel, The Monarchs, blueink Review held mixed reactions, indicating that I offer “a raw and sometimes painfully realistic look at how one paired-for-life couple handles their final years, months, and days together.” But there was also this: “One or two such scenes showing us the way cancer has made Robert’s life almost unlivable would be enough, but Coates revisits this theme so frequently and intensely that it overshadows the charming relationship between curmudgeonly Robert and his loyal, if frequently sarcastic, wife.”

Clarion Book Review is mostly positive: “Coates flawlessly combines their spoken and unspoken reflections and points of view, and what begins in jest…gradually takes on a deeper meaning.”

However, there is this, too: ”The Monarchs could benefit from a thorough review by a translator to clean up these portions, as there appear to be many errors, including a lack of italicization.” This type of criticism I do not mind so much: the problem is easier to clean up than one involving theme or action.

Meanwhile, Kirkus Reviews hits the book hard: “Additionally, Robert and Sharon’s ideologies are jammed into the narrative at perplexing intervals simply to make what come across as half-baked points. Rants about George W. Bush, religion, and cultural differences between Mexico and Canada are unfocused and distracting.”

My final analysis about seeking reviews for my novels?

When I read the positive comments, I’m happy about what I did. When I read the negative comments, I wonder if I should have put my money towards a trip to the Galapagos.

I guess I have adopted the mind-set of a professional writer.


About randycoates

Randy Coates graduated from the University of Waterloo with a bachelor of arts degree and went on to acquire his teacher’s certificate at the University of Western Ontario. He is currently an elementary teacher in the Toronto District Board of Education.
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