I’ve read and heard a variety of arguments on the subject or reviews. Much advice to authors focuses on the need to obtain reviews, on how important they are, on professional reviews (yes, because scandals apart, there are places, Kirkus reviews to name one of the best known, for example, that provide reviews for money, but we’re talking about honest, unbiased reviews, so as an author you might be in the weird situation of paying to get something bad said about you…hey, one can get that for free!), on bloggers who provide reviews, on methods to try and get reviews even before the book is finished (the famous ARC or ‘advance review copy’) as sales seem somehow linked to reviews. (It’s a bit of a catch 22 situations. Like trying to get a job on something you’ve never worked on before. Employers want experience and recommendations but you can’t get experience unless you get a first job on the field. Welcome to this world. Psychiatry is easy by comparison). Even if you’re trying to give your book for free, if you want to advertise it in certain sites, you need to have a number of five star reviews…(and in some cases pay a fair amount, like with Bookbub. Yes, dear readers, you have to pay to advertise that your book is for free. I told you psychiatry was easier in comparison).
More recently I also read a post by an author (Angel Sefer) whose take on author reviews is quite similar to mine. Some people feel authors shouldn’t review other authors because they might be biased, or be doing it as an exchange with other authors and therefore their reviews won’t be “honest” (whatever definition of that you might choose. I think the term is very elastic these days and has been deconstructed beyond recognition). A writer and reader recently told me that readers might not take it kindly if they think that authors’ recommendation are not sincere and we’re recommending bad work, I guess making a very similar point. Amazon seems to think that authors should not review other writers in their same gender as it would be unfair competition (it seems they take the view that we’ll try and stab each other in the back).
I’m a reader. I’ve read since I learned how to, and it is one of my most enduring loves. Live always feels better with a book (or an e-reader full of books these days) in my hands. I have a BA and a PhD in American Literature and I’m used to writing about books and love it. Commenting on books and reviewing them afterwards enhances the experience for me. I’m not that bothered about the number of stars (in the case of Amazon, their only guidance is that 5 stars means ‘I love it’, 4 ‘I like it’, 3 ‘It’s OK’, 2 ‘I don’t like it’ and 1 ‘I hate it’. It doesn’t say that you should only give 5 stars to the best book you’ve ever read, because then you would have to choose one of the books you’ve read in all your life, and even make a judgement on the books you might read int he future, and if you think about other products, because Amazon as we know sells everything or pretty close, when would you give 5 stars to other products? If you get it quickly, it works well, and it does what it’s supposed to do. Or would you expect a TV to make you breakfast, or an iron to tell you the news?) I’m more interested in explaining the things that made the book enjoyable, distinctive and special for me. I’m fully aware that people have different tastes and by highlighting different aspects of the books I think others might get a better idea if they’d like the book or not. For example, I’m not that enamoured of very long descriptions of people, places and clothes, but I can admire and acknowledge the skills of some authors writing them and I know some people love them. They are not bad, they’re just not what I’d choose. But I’m not the person writing the book and I know how hard it is to write, edit and correct time and again a book. Yes, I might like an idea and think of other ways of writing the same story, but I’m neither the author nor the editor, so I wouldn’t base my judgement on what I’d do instead. That’s not my task as a reviewer. Authors deserve respect.
I review books for an online magazine and as part of the instructions we get is that we have to follow guidelines and if we don’t like a book we must give it a low score. Luckily, so far it hasn’t happened.
I also take part in book blogs. The usual understanding, if you agree to provide reviews, is that if you feel your review is going to be under 3 stars you should abstain from publishing it during the time of the tour but are free to do so afterwards. It sounds reasonable to me, and of course you’re not obliged to take part. (By the way, blogs taking part in blog tours are not paid for taking part, although if you agree to review you’re sent a copy of the book in advance. And usually get thanked by the organiser and the author.That is it.) I’ll confess in one occasion I withdrew from a blog tour. I didn’t think the book deserved less than 3 stars, but I didn’t enjoy it and couldn’t think of something fair to the book I could write. The book and I were simply not a good fit. And no, I won’t tell you what book it was. It’s doing quite well and evidently many people think differently from me. I’m pleased for the author.
My personal take on the matter is that it would be a waste and silly not to write reviews just because I happen to write too. I don’t think one can be a writer if one is not a reader. I will try and write thought-out reviews that I hope can give others an indication of what they might or might not like in a book, whatever my personal take on it. If I don’t like a book and think that I would give it a very low score, I would not post a review. I would post a bad review of a product that I felt would endanger somebody or was a fraud or a rip-off, but books take a lot more work than the money they charge for them, and my personal taste is by no means the be all and end all.
Thanks for reading, sorry for the sermon, and please, tell me what you think, like, share, and comment if you feel like it. The links take you to my pages in some of the sites as an example and because… one never knows!