Reviews and the writer

Much as the internet has been beneficial to many people, it has also brought some uneasy consequences. Before the advent of Facebook and Twitter, writers used to write books, and reviewers used to review them, the reviews would be published and that was the end of that. Well, I’m sure it wasn’t always that simple, but you get the gist.

Now that everyone is on Facebook and Twitter, people of the SF/F writing community are all living in each other’s pockets. We’re all friends with authors on Facebook, Twitter and goodreads. This is, for the most part, a good thing, until the time comes to review books, and you find that there is something deeply uncomfortable about writing a review for an author you’re friends with in several places on the internet.

If your review is really good, the author might be pleased, but you might be accused of cronyism. If your review contains critical elements, you might feel that your relationship with the author might be damaged by it. It’s a no-win situation.

Reviews, what do they mean?

As reader, I don’t look at reviews. I don’t buy from Amazon, or any places where books have reviews (I’m a Book Depository gal), and I don’t check out books on goodreads to see what people have written. I have only once bought a book after reading a review. It was a dreadful review, and I bought the book out of curiosity. To me, reviews are white noise. The only thing reviews mean to me is that people are reading the book. I often read unusual books, so I don’t mind if there are no reviews.

When I do look at reviews, the books with a complete range of reviews (including some really bad ones) appeal more to me than the books with the gushing reviews. Somehow, readers are more able to describe why they didn’t like a book than why they did like it. When they’re giving reasons for hating the book, they’re telling me what sort of book it is. And hey! I may actually like that type of book, or at least not mind whatever the other person found problematic.

As an author, I like reviews because it means people are reading my stuff. I don’t really mind what people are saying or how they rate the book. I looked at average ranking of my favourite books on goodreads. It was between 3 and 4. In fact, almost all well-known classics or popular books have an average rank between 3 and 4.

As author, I tend to leave reviews and reviewers alone. Reviews are for readers, not for me. I once had a well-known author post a review I’d written on goodreads on his blog. Aargh!! Horrible! The embarrassment! I will never review that author again (I haven’t actually bought anything from this author since). I suppose when you write the review, you know that the author will probably see it, but you don’t expect (nor want) the author to butt in and look over your shoulder. To me, that constitutes a breach of trust.

For all the reasons above, I don’t embarrass my writing friends by asking for reviews, I don’t comment on reviews people have written, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them. They’re just not for me.

How you feel about reviews, as reader or writer?

9 comments on “Reviews and the writer

  1. Hi, Patty

    This is wise decision. I blogged about this a while ago, coming to the same conclusion. There are already websites and groups that do review exchanges; I believe that’s not good for the Indie industry and I have my doubts that those authors who exchange reviews can be really honest. If you get a devastating 1-star-review, will you really be able to read the other person’s book with an objective eye? If I happen to receive a review from another author I say thank you, but I will not return any ‘favours’. I write for readers, not for authors.

    • I guess you already know from Authonomy that I don’t like those sorts of bargains at all. I also don’t do requested reviews, and as such, could be accused of being ‘unsupportive’ of the self-publishing movement. I believe that when a book is published, however it is published, it needs to stand on its own two feet. That does not involve me cajoling all my writing/critique/forum buddies into leaving reviews.

      As for myself, my reading time is limited enough that I will decide what I read, and I don’t let any friendships, agendas or bargains intrude on that decision-making.

  2. With so many books now available for download in seconds, a well written review is a useful tool to assist in making a decision to buy. I find that too many reviewers (especially in the self published sector) are too liberal with their awarding five stars and I try my best to be more constructive although if I am not prepared to give three stars or more I simply won’t review the book.

    I hope that if and when my own novel is eventually published I’ll get plenty of reviews as without them (good or bad) the book will go unnoticed. But I hope that friends on Twitter and Facebook will be honest with my shortcomings as a brand new self published author with lots of gushing five star reviews is, for me, a bit suspicious and not the sign of a masterpiece.

  3. As a reader, I’ve discovered that I enjoy writing reviews. I think it’s due to the desire to talk about what I’ve read (something I’ve always felt) and the lack of people to talk to. Yay for the internet. Of course, it’s quite possible I’ll get sick of writing said reviews, but for the time being I’m having fun.

    As far as choosing books to read based on reviews, I do to some degree, but only reviews by people I know, not miscellaneous internet strangers. Generally, I’m pretty good at picking out books I think I’ll enjoy. I don’t really trust blurbs but I think over the years I’ve learnt to read between the lines of some of them. In a real-life bookshop I’d possibly also read the first page to decide, but not having that luxury anymore and not all books having online excerpts (and really, it’s much more effort to find one online usually), reviews become more relevant if I’m really deliberating over picking a book.

    As a writer, I haven’t had enough published in visible enough venues to garner any bad reviews (just “bad” rejections), so I’m still at the stage of eagerly clicking on what few reviews I might get. I’m sure that will change in time too.

    • I think some people are born reviewers, like some are born editors. I’m not sure that there are too many successful writers who are also very successful reviewers. I think the discomfort keeps you from reviewing books of other writers.

      A well-written review gives an idea of what sort of book it is, and you should be able to pick between the lines and see what is in the book and what is the reviewer’s opinion.

      But, reviewing isn’t for me.

  4. Pingback: Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #18 — The Book Designer

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