Reviews. Authors love them, want them, need them. At least, so long as they’re good ones. On the other hand, authors aren’t too keen on getting not-so-good reviews.
In many ways, talking about the review process is like walking through a minefield. Opinions are likely to go off anywhere — and tempers could flare. It’s a touchy subject — and both authors and readers tend to tiptoe around it. Let’s chat about it today, OK? Let’s put some of the questions out there, share a few thoughts, and see if we can better understand the whole complicated issue of book reviews.
Why are reviews so important?
Today, there are thousands of authors publishing tens of thousands of books in every genre and sub-genre you can think of — and probably in a few you never thought of. Remember the “dino love” craze? The “robot romance” fad? Some things are better forgotten, and I’d put those two on that list.
On a more serious note, readers have a multitude of options today. Reviews — ideally — should help a reader find (a) books worth reading, (b) books that the reader might especially enjoy, and (c) books from different genres that might entice the reader to try something new.
Book reviews help readers make wise buying choices; they help authors sell books. Everyone benefits.
So, what’s the problem?
Reviews should be a win-win situation for both author and reader. Unfortunately, just as the writing industry itself has changed in recent years, the review process has changed, as well. Changes often bring problems, and that’s definitely happened with the review process. Together, we’re exploring new possibilities, and nobody is quite sure yet how to make it all work.
In the past, reviews were professionally written and generally published in newspapers or magazines where the appropriate “reading public” would find them. That still happens, of course. I’ve purchased a lot of history books after reading reviews in American History or American Heritage. Reader and author are somewhat removed from one another, and the reviewer is typically a professional with impressive credentials. He/She shares an informed opinion with you/me, and we decide to buy or not based upon that opinion.
Today, it’s different. Today, there’s the internet…and there’s Amazon. Amazon is a book-lover’s delight. Hardbacks, paperbacks, and ebooks are available with a single click. And reviews are everywhere! Whenever you make a purchase from Amazon, you’ll soon receive a request: Please review!
A lot of readers do just that. Others don’t.
Why? Or why not?
In discussions about reviews, readers have sometimes said they don’t like to leave “bad” reviews. They resort to the old adage that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Sounds like a nice thing to do, but then again, it leads to a lot of questions. If I browse books at Amazon and find one that has no reviews, am I, as a reader, supposed to take this as a sign that nobody liked the book? Or is it merely that no one has read it? Or that those who have read it simply didn’t bother to write a review? I’m left with little to go on.
On the other hand, if I, as a reader, see dozens of glowing reviews, am I guaranteed that the book will be worth reading? Sadly, no. I’ve read some really bad books with lots of 5-star reviews. Chances are, you have, too.
How does that happen? How do truly awful books get stellar reviews?
I wish I knew the answer. I’ve heard a lot of “guesses”. The most frequent guess is that the author and his/her friends and family have written those glowing reviews. Another good guess is that, in some way, the author has paid for those 5 stars. I’ve seen authors run contests: Read and review my book, they say, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for… Fill in the blank with a nice prize. Now, seriously, would you write a bad review and submit it? I don’t think so. In hopes of winning that lovely gift, you’d probably write a few lovely words, right? Lovely. Just lovely.
Should bad reviews be given?
The “sticky wicket” with book reviews seems to be this unavoidable question. “What do I do if I read a bad book?” Do you leave a bad review? If so, don’t be surprised if the author swoops down on you and takes you to task, telling you that “You just don’t understand my point,” or that, “I spent hours researching this setting,” or “I’m an author and I have the right to take literary license,” or “You’re obviously not the sort of reader I want.” Yikes! Yes, an irate author can be downright snarky.
Of course, let’s be honest. Disappointed readers can be a bit snarky, too. “Didn’t anybody bother to proofread this book?” “My ten-year-old daughter could write better than this author.” “Plot holes big enough to drive a semi through!” “Total waste of time and money.”
I’ve read those comments — thankfully, not on any books I’ve written — and you’ve probably read them, too, while browsing through reviews.
Are reviews like this helpful in any way? If an author’s writing needs improvement, shouldn’t we point that fact out? Or should we keep our mouth shut? Should we express an opinion, but do it as nicely as possible? And what about other readers? If a book truly isn’t worth reading — and definitely not worth spending hard-earned money to buy — shouldn’t we let other readers know that?
What’s your opinion?
Do you leave reviews on books you’ve read? Only on books you’ve read and enjoyed? Do you read reviews? Do those reviews influence your decision to purchase a book? Would you buy a book if there were no reviews for it? Would you buy a book that had bad reviews?
Let’s chat about it!