Monday, September 10, 2012

The Inherent Problem With Book Reviews

I have always laughed when people talk about reviews of books. What I hear is not unlike the same comments I have heard at the end of courses in college when instructors conduct course evaluations. When we get favorable comments, we run around telling the world how amazing we are, and yet, when we get bad evaluations, the problem now lies on the shoulders of the people doing the critiques. While it might be true that you had some "idiot" writing your book review, it might also be true that the reader did indeed know what they were talking about and your book really was a big piece of garbage.

In publishing, I firmly believe authors pay too much attention to those book reviews. Yes, it is always great to hear someone say you are amazing, I have always found it interesting that the majority of readers out there are not in their book store with a copy of ROMANTIC TIMES in front of them only picking the books that received a 4 or 5 star review. Readers tend to stick to their favorite authors and have their own reasons for reading books.

Today, however, I want to talk about many of the real problems with book reviews.
Authors have followings who make sure the reviews are always good This has been an increasing trend out there lately. An author will gather up their personal troops to invade the review sites with amazing and glowing comments about the author. This is not to say they didn't like the writing. This is simply to say they give their glowing comments, not necessarily because of the book, but because it is a good friend. Can you say biased? Sure. But this is really an issue of stacking the deck in favor of the author. Therefore, we have to consider any of those comments truly with a grain of salt.

Reviewers are critiquing books they would never read in the first place This one happened to an author friend of mine. She received a review on one of the Internet book stores that gave the book less than favorable comments. Here was the problem though. This author openly claimed they NEVER read this type of book. And yet, the comment was that the reader made a big deal about how they would never even consider reading this author ever again. Ummmm, remember the first comment about not reading this type of writing? The comment here was really coming from someone who might not have been the right person to make the comment.
The author's reputation earns the great review, not the book This idea is one of the reasons why I have been arguing for a complete over-haul of the RITA Award in the RWA. When that box of books shows up for the judge, they are already making decisions on the books they like because of the author. "Awesome, I get to read [insert famous author]'s book." And then there is the reverse of it. "Oh, I have to read this book from this publisher. You know, they only produce average books." Really? Without even opening the book, the reviews have already begun.

Don't get me wrong here. Bad reviews suck. But I do have to say, I do feel that a reviewer might have done the right thing when he or she gives a bad review to a famous author. This person, potentially, had the nerve to say this piece of writing really was bad, regardless of who the author is.

...and the biggest reason....

There is no criteria other than I like it or I hate it To be truly fair with judging books, the same criteria has to be applied to each and every book you read and review. You can't judge character on one and skip the plot, and then go to the plot for another one and skip the characters. There has to be consistency for every critique and review. A lack of established criteria is simply not going to result in quality comments.

This is simply a subjective business  Look, every book isn't right for everyone. That level of subjectivity is certainly going to play a major role in all of this. Not much more to say here.

So, what is the point of this ramble? The answer is simple.

As authors, we have to stop and really consider the truth behind all of these critiques. This is simply one person's comments that may or may not be accurate. In the end, it will all come back to the readers who buy your books. What they think matters and not what that random reviewer says out there about the books.

Consider this, 50 Shades has sold a lot of books, but that doesn't mean the reviewers liked the books. Editors, agents and reviewers have made a lot of comments about the quality of the writing. And yet it didn't stop people from buying the books!

In the end, authors have to be clear in their head about what those reviews are saying. But they also need to listen to those reviews. Remember, just because the review is bad doesn't mean that person was off the mark.


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