Wednesday, November 14, 2012

ABC's of Writing - (R)eviews are 100% Subjective - Deal With It!

I know I have posted on this before but this seemed like the perfect post for the R day.

Authors are obsessed with reviews. So are actors, restaurant owners, and artists. This is a common feature of any craft where we put ourselves out there for the public to see. We want to hear glowing comments about our books and comments we can post on Twitter, Facebook and our book covers that proclaim us as being the greatest author in history.

But, we have to remember that all reviews are 100% subjective.

As an agent, I am always cautious when authors submit projects to me telling me all of the rave reviews they have had over their prior works. They will go on and on telling me about how those prior books demonstrated "an amazing command of the genre." Sure, those reviews were probably legitimate, but I have to always look at these with a bit of caution. Who wrote the review? What did the review really say? This list of questions goes on and on.

I am not saying that all reviews are not authentic, but we have to consider a few things:

SOME REVIEWERS DO THIS AS A HOBBY This is a big one for me. There are a ton of websites out there with people who simply like to read. They have found a way to get books, read about them and write about them. The problem, however, is that, in many cases, there is no set criteria and, for many, there is not training to look at a story objectively. The only criteria is whether they like it or not. In the end, this is just one person's comment and that is all it is.

These readers might not even be successful writers. In other words, if the reviewer is still struggling to understand the craft on their own, how would they be able to successfully critique something. This is where we return to Bloom's Taxonomy. Evaluations is one of the upper levels of learning and can only be reached once you have mastered the lower levels of learning.

The judging for the Golden Heart Award for the Romance Writers of America is a prime example of this. The organization requires the assistance of a huge number of volunteers. While their heart's might be there, the knowledge level of many of the writers is simply not strong enough to warrant a quality review or critique of the project.

SOME REVIEWERS REVIEW BOOKS THEY NORMALLY DON'T LIKE Some of the larger reviewing sites simply send out projects to their writers as the books come in. Sometimes the story lands on the desk of someone who normally doesn't read that genre. Will you get a good review? The odds are against you in this case. I have stressed this here on the blog for sometime now. Writers have to work in genres they understand. There are nuances to each genre that simply require the writer to fully understand them. The same goes for the reviewers. If they normally hate the genre, will they A) understand what makes a good story in this genre; and B) ever appreciate it because they are looking at the story through a less than objective filter?

This is also part of my reason for not liking the scoring for both the RITA's and the GOLDEN HEART. Sure, we don't want writers reviewing a category they have entered, BUT, reviewing a category you simply wouldn't read in the first place, AND your only criteria for scoring is whether you liked it and would buy the book is never going to work.

SOME REVIEWERS ONLY REVIEW THEIR FRIENDS  Remember I said I always have to ask who did the review? This where the issue comes to play. Some reviewers will only go out and create 5 star reviews for their friends. In other words, they have created a review system/blog with the single goal of only hyping up their own friends.

This same idea applies to those "quotes" you see authors place on their books. There are two authors that I always laugh at when I see their comments on their books. Don't get me wrong, I like their writing, but they always quote each other for their books. Is this really a fair and objective comment? Probably not.

The point of all this is simple. Reviews are nothing more than single individual's comments. Sometimes you get bad comments and sometimes you get great comments. This doesn't mean we immediately discount the negative comment. This person may be right. Along the same lines, we cannot just say the good comment was the only correct one. This too may be an unfair and less than accurate portrayal of your story.

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