Spoilers in book reviews – love 'em or hate 'em?

When I write book reviews, I try very hard to not give away so much of the book that it would make reading it pointless. I might go over a basic summary of the plot, but I try not to give away the ending or any major things that happen, and I also try to make sure that I don’t phrase any of my unanswered questions in a way that gives away something important to the plot.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable, though, or I want to mention some spoilers for one reason or another. When I do that, I try to make sure to give warning that I’m about to give away some spoilers and provide enough blank space that the reader can avoid seeing them, if they don’t want to.

This morning, I woke up to a new review on The Secrets He Kept. This reviewer, in complaining of some questions that she felt went unanswered (which, for the record, they did not, but we’ll get into that later), managed to give away some rather major plot points.

This annoyed me. Not just because this was a review of one of my books, but also because it just bothers me in general when people don’t consider their review and think about the fact that giving away major plot points, or even minor ones, can ruin it for the rest of us. Many people won’t buy books if they read a review that basically tells them the whole story or gives away the ending. Why would you ruin that for a reader? If they were really looking forward to reading that book and you just reviewed it and said how much you hated that the main characters all died in the end, why should they buy it now? Why should they read it when they know how it ends? It’s not fair to them that you just ruined it for them because you weren’t happy with it.

But it’s also not fair to the author. If you weren’t happy with my book, or didn’t like a particular part, okay. I get that – you didn’t like it, and you’re entitled to that opinion. But when you spill details of my book in your review, other readers are going to read that and some won’t buy my book now. You’re costing me money by doing that, taking away from my ability to feed my kids and keep a roof over their heads.

Am I saying you can’t share that you didn’t like my book? No, of course not. If you feel the book wasn’t good, then by all means, write a review. But it’s possible to write a review and say you didn’t like it without including details that could make other people feel there’s not point in reading it now because they know what will happen.


**There may be a minor spoiler or two below, but nothing that would ruin the story for you. Read on if you wish, or don’t if you don’t want to risk even the slightest hint of knowing anything that happened.**

And while we’re on the topic of knowing what will happen – let’s talk unanswered questions. In this particular review, the reviewer claimed to have questions that were unanswered.  The thing is, her questions were answered. As just one example, when a character takes a sleeping pill, if you feel confused about what happens after that, maybe you should remember they took a sleeping pill and that they can affect dreams and even whether a person sleepwalks – same goes for a character who drinks earlier in a scene, or does drugs.

But I will address one question this reviewer posted, because it’s a variation on one that comes up a lot. The reviewer asked: Who doesn’t go to see their deceased husband’s body?

When I write my books, anything that involves the police – whether how the police handle a situation or what the arrest process is or anything like that, I actually have a real police officer that I communicate with who helps me determine how things should be handled.

TV leads you to believe that a recent widow would be dragged into a morgue to identify her newly dead husband. However, especially in a case like this particular book where my character’s ID was still with him so he was easily identified, the police do not make a wife identify her husband’s body. In fact, as my police source put it, if he was easily identifiable (which he was), they would simply identify him, and they could also use fingerprints to identify him.  If she wanted to identify him, she could, but it wouldn’t be required (and she was not the type of woman who would want to see her husband like that). In addition, my source also explained that it was unlikely she would identify him by phsyically seeing his body – it would likely be by photo or video (after he was cleaned up and in the morgue). He also stated, very clearly, that if the husband’s head and skull had been extremely damaged, he would try very hard to encourage her not to look at the body.

So, to answer the question of why she wouldn’t go see his body – simply put, because I tried to write this real to life and not based on what you see on TV. If a body can be identified without having someone come and look (by photo ID, location of the body, etc.), then family won’t be forced to identify it. My dead body was able to be identified without the wife’s help, and she didn’t want to see her husband that way. Most people wouldn’t want to see their spouse that way.

The reviewer also mentioned the detective not going to see the body – frankly, I’m not sure where that came from, other than that he/she simply assumed that, because that was certainly never said or implied.

Whoops…went way off topic there.

Time to get back on topic…spoilers in reviews. I’m not a fan of them, mainly because I hate to know what happens in the book before I read it. I don’t mind reading “the ending wasn’t what I thought it would be” or “the author did something to one of the characters that I didn’t expect and thought was really, really horrible.” But I hate reading “the author killed the main character in chapter 33 and from then on, the book sucked” or “I never understood why Joey took the pills to begin with, I mean how stupid was he?”

If you must post spoilers, if it’s crucial to your review, then at least say so up front. Say something like “This review contains spoilers” and give enough warning before you start spoiling that people who don’t want to know can skip over your review. It’s not too hard to do that, is it?

What do you think? Do you prefer your reviews spoiler-free or overflowing with them? If you prefer spoilers, why?

2 thoughts on “Spoilers in book reviews – love 'em or hate 'em?

  1. Spoilers suck no matter what. Heck on Sunday I was even mad at AMC for letting the Walking Dead post the photo of a newly dead character on FB before the West Coast had even seen the show yet. (I’m on the West Coast).

    A warning in reviews is fine. The worst is when a reviewer gets the spoiler (or any detail) wrong. It’s not like you can correct them. Oh, excuse me, it was the mom, not the daughter . . . or whatever. I think your best defense against spoiled plots in reviews is having them hidden in dozens of other reviews that are vague, but provide a sense of feeling from the book. If someone takes the time to go though every review and get the whole plot, then they deserve what they find.

    Reviews are for readers, not writers, but writers are the only ones who lose sleep over them. We’re a tortured breed, right Wendy?

    1. We are, Dan! lol

      I agree spoilers suck no matter what. I particularly hate when I watch a show that I have to record because of the hour it comes on and then I see a commercial for next week’s episode before I can watch the one I’ve recorded. My kids think it’s hilarious to watch me fumbling for the remote and trying to change the channel, all the while saying, “No, no, no! I can’t see this! No, I don’t want to see so-and-so’s dead body, I didn’t know they died yet!”

      I agree about getting details wrong in the spoiler, too. I think that’s what was bothering me with this one – she didn’t get anything specifically “wrong”, but her unanswered questions really were answered. It was just a matter of remembering details from earlier and putting them together with the parts she felt were confusing.

      At least I didn’t lose too much sleep over this one.

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