Reading unicorns—is that what people who read reviews are? Mystical, ever-elusive types who only exist in someone’s imagination?
I'm starting to think that, which one might think is ironic, given that I'm a book reviewer myself. But it's not. Why? Because I've been open from the start on how I feel about reviews. Generally I avoid them. Why? Too often they contain spoilers. Or at least that was my experience when I first started reading them, and I guess I take the whole “once burned, twice shy” to a whole new level. (Although obviously it happened way more than once.)
I will say, though, that every so often, when I'm really torn on a book—as in, I want it, but the author has no information about the book beyond a blurb—I'll try to hunt down some reviews (hint to authors: excerpts help!). There are a few sites I go to, and I'll skim, then make my decision.
Why am I saying this? Or why I am I saying this now? It appears to me that there are definite lines between authors/readers/reviewers that were established in the sand some time ago, and viewpoints have only become more entrenched.
It seems very few people read or care about reviews. I tried to take a different tack on it a few weeks ago on my own blog, basically asking people if they compared books they read to each other, and if they reviewed, did that factor into the review/grade at all. The magic word seemed to be “review” because most the responses I got weren't answers to my question, but how people felt about reviews.
I called it the dead horse subject every loves to beat and—that’s true, yes? Everyone claims to be sick of the topic, and you get the requisite “I'm above it all and sick of the sniping” (and inevitably such a person gives his or her opinion . . . sometimes without rising above the snark him/herself, ironically), but the point is people keep bringing it up. Again and again. And again. Ad nauseum. Post naseum. (Okay, so my Latin is rusty. If ever there even was enough to rust. But to coin my own phrase, beyond the point of disgust.)
My H&H editor asked if I'd be willing to write a post about reviews, and I, being the cheeky (and idiotic) person I am, I immediately responded, “Really?” But then . . . I couldn't get it out of my head. Also, I counted no fewer than four different links in my Twitter feed on blog posts discussing reviews. Likely there were more. We love to hate it, and discuss it.
Readers claim they don't read or care for reviews; whether it’s because they're just opinions and they already have their own opinions on books or because they don't really care and take it with a grain of salt.
Authors say they don't care about reviews and don't even check them—and you get the “tough hide” and “they're just opinions” comments as well. (Of course, these are only in response to “negative” reviews. Or shall we call them less-than-glowing ones? You never, or rarely (there's only one sensible soul out there that has ever said to me, “I don't believe or care for a glowing review if that's all the site does”) see the author complain about a “good” review. Even if every book is 50 sparklebunnies on that site. Including the one that wasn't actually edited and mistakenly put out for sale. (I don't know that this has actually happened before, but I'm sure each of us can think of one publisher where that might have happened before.)
When I first started out, I naively and idealistically thought my in-depth consideration and contemplation of the book would help people decide whether or not they would want to read a book. And an even loftier belief, that I might provide constructive criticism to an author. As you can see, I've become a jaded old thing and don't believe either really happens.
It's . . . well, it’s not fun. It's a lot of work, actually, and incredibly difficult to keep reviews fresh and new and interesting without being repetitive. You have to be specific enough to make it so each review is obviously about the book you're reviewing and only that book, yet vague enough to not give away any spoilers. It's a fine line, and the balancing act is not always successful. Then there's the tactful and intelligent aspect. If you loved a book, you have to give reasons why—and put it into words. You can't just say “ZOMG IT WAS AMAZEBALLZ! . . . KTNXBAI.” I have been tempted to do that before. Or, if you really disliked the book, you can't say “this book was a travesty and a crime against nature—I consider it murder on the part of the trees that were used to print that book.” Well, not so much can't, but it's my personal preference to not do that, for a “real review.” Snark is fun and entertaining, and draws the most hits and attention, but I'm one of those thin-skinned people, and have a personal policy of not putting anything in my review that I wouldn't be okay with someone saying to me.
I do understand constructive criticism is a part of life. Which is why I personally post the “negative” reviews. If I didn't like a book I'm not going to hide it or lie about it. Even with your best efforts, you might mess up. For example, I love cooking, but if I make something that just isn't that good, I'd be okay with people telling me that. It's difficult to not internalize the response to reviews. It's also hard not to take it personally. I get that.
On the flip side, at a workshop I attended, authors said how important reviews are. (Some who at other times have said they don't check reviews.) The workshop said readers should post reviews to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other bookseller sites. Even posting to those sites in addition to the reviewers’ own personal sites.
This seems disingenuous as well, as though someone is trying to have it “both ways” almost. You should write reviews—but I don't want to look at them or know they exist. Other than that they're there. Oh, and that they’re positive.
Let’s discuss that positive catch for a moment; the “you can't say anything mean or bad about books because the author worked really hard on it” idea.
Are you kidding me? I don't know if it's some author who led the charge on that idea, but these days it's almost readers/reviewers who are harder on each other.
You're a mean person who is obviously dissatisfied with his/her own life and inability to publish a book which is why you have to take your bitterness and vitriol out on others. *blink* Frankly, I don't think every book out there is amazingly fantastic. I do think the majority out there are okay, and probably a sound business decision, or what one thought would be. The “no criticism because hard work was put into it” dumbfounds me. I'm almost beyond livid—almost speechless.
That logic—if logic it is—just can't fly. What about the time the reviewer took to read the book? And then review it? Which I've already noted to write a “good” review (regardless of a positive or negative response to the novel), is difficult. Authors should appreciate that. (As in, understand and know.) Then there's the editor. Where's the editor's kudos? He or she worked hard on the book. (Though I'd like to note this isn't a call for editors to wade into the fray. Dear God, please don't.)
Does the person who presents that “logic” ever criticize the government? Or a corporation? Let me tell you, yes, there's some aspect of nepotism, but generally each president—regardless of party—has worked incredibly hard to get into that position. All that hard work means nobody can criticize him. That's the theory. And if you're starting to recoil . . . well then, you'd best apply that across the board. You can't pick and choose where reason works and doesn't work.
Author response is also mixed—and I'm not even talking about responding to the content of the review. (I think we can all agree that's generally not such a good idea across the board.) But do you comment or email with “thanks for reading my book?” I always wonder about those when the review grade is bad—my paranoid mind thinks “is s/he trying to shame me or make me feel bad?” Especially when it's just an average/okay grade—the whole “I'm sorry you didn't like my book.” Gah. Some readers say author comments chill speech. Others look forward to it and like seeing accessible authors.
Reviews aren't “interesting” either. So what's the point? Are you the reader unicorn? Do you care about and read reviews? Even more, do you respond to them or comment? Authors—do you ever respond to a review, not even to the content, but just a “thank you for reading my book?” How do you feel about that?