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?


Buying books: how do ratings influence you?

The other day there was a thread about ratings on a forum I belong to. Someone argued that a one-star review killed sales. Someone else argued the opposite. In combination with a survey reported by Dean Wesley Smith on what influences book buyers, people wondered how much rating influences someone to buy a book.

I only ever once bought a book solely based on a review. It was not a good review by any stretch of the imagination. But the review made me so curious about the supposedly bad ending that I wanted to see for myself. I read the book and saw where the reviewer came from. The ending was unusual, in that one of the characters made a decision that would not have been mine (neither would it have been the reviewer’s, I guess).

The funny thing is–because of that very negative review, I bought the book, and to date, I still remember the book, whereas I’ve forgotten countless other books I read around the same time. I spoke about the book at home, and my daughters read it as well.

So, yeah, one bad review, and three reads. Mostly, I don’t care about ratings at all. Sometimes I read the reviews. What I’m looking for in reviews is more setting and subject matter related comments, and much less what the reviewer thought about them. I find the bad reviews a lot more interesting than the good ones.

Do bad reviews stop you picking up a book?

I did some very unscientific research. I looked at the Amazon reviews of a number of my favourite big-name authors. By far the majority of books averaged 3-3.5 stars, sometimes over hundreds of reviews, including many one-star reviews. Obviously, bad reviews do not stop buyers.