Sunday, 27 November 2011

And you call yourself a reviewer?

Did I get your attention? Good. Now you might want to make yourself a cuppa and take a seat. It won't be a minute.
First I'd like to say that I don't include all reviewers; it's merely about a trend I observed and don't approve of.

Ready? Okay, then my rant starts now. With self-publishing, a new trend has evolved: self-acclaimed reviewers who will read and 'review' self-published authors' books. Now I'm certainly all for it, it helps to get the word out there and it's also often balm for the author's soul. If done right, that is. Since I'm self-published myself, I went on the hunt for a few so-called reviewers. What I found shocked me. Many state in their policies they won't post reviews for books with less than three stars. wooden spoons, tanks, monkeys -- whatever they use for their ratings. I find that rather peculiar, if I'm honest. Many say they will e-mail the author the exact reasons as to why they won't post a review. My bet is that many of those authors rub their little hands, happy they got away, ignore the reasons and carry on with promotion. What I don't understand is why people still believe a review is for the author. It's not. It's for the potential new reader to see if it's for her or for him. Surely the author benefits from a review; if it's positive they'll stick it on their blog (I do), if it's negative and packed with constructive comments, they hopefully learn and crack on with the correction.
Surely, opinions differ and sometimes people just don't like the book. Happens.

But why the fear of posting something negative? I mean as authors we should edit and polish our books to the point that the story flows with no holes or inconsistencies, the grammar and punctuation is up to a certain standard and the formatting is correct. If a book doesn't reach that standard, I find, readers should be made aware. With pressing the publish-button, an author hands over the book to the public and with it puts it into the limelight which may or may not result in negative feedback. Of course we are delicate souls, but we also ask people to pay money for our humble scribblings and not to forget, ask them for their time. Especially reviewers' time. It's lovely from reviewers not wanting to hurt anyone, but it's also a bit dishonest. As a reader I don't click on a review blog to have recommendations only, I click on a review blog to make up my mind. And I want to know the truth. If I only find positive reviews and recommendations, I don't know if I can take this blog seriously. To me that's not a review blog, it's a blog of a reader who recommends some books. That's an entirely different animal.

If a reviewer doesn't like the character or storyline or maybe the writing as much, fine. I didn't like the bestseller One Day, not one bit of it. Tried twice, then threw it across the room. As long as one can give valuable reasons, there's no point of not telling the world. I'm not asking to tear a book apart, but to post the negative as well. Or change your blog name to reader's picks or something like that. A reviewer is someone who gives an objective opinion of the book he or she's been given. Selecting only the positive, I find, won't earn you credits in the long run.
Authors don't need protection, they know full well what they're doing. Well, mostly.
It's the readers who need protection. Protection of those books that 'reviewers' find too crappy to even post.

Take Big Al, for instance, a great reviewer who knows he does and is not afraid to post negative feedback. As a result he has a queue from here to the moon and back, having to recruit more people who know what they're doing.

And since we're at it, I need to get somthing else off my chest: if you don't know how to review, don't do it at all. I had so-called reviewers spoiling the plot of my book, I had reviewers who anticipated hot and raunchy sex-scenes in my paranormal romantic comedy and I had a few who didn't even have a clue what conflict means in a novel. If you want to call yourself a reviewer, learn how to do it first.
Know the genre, don't spoil the plot and most of all: be honest and constructive.

Now if that's not food for thoughts, I don't know. What I certainly know is that I'll go on quite a few of black lists after this. Time to open the Champagne, right? Just kidding.

Have a nice Sunday.


  1. There is a difference between a reviewer trying to be honest about their take on a book and those reviewers who trash a book for some superficial reason. If a reviewer is being honest then there should be positive and negative comments included in their review.

  2. Ryan! I see you're back in Tokyo ;-)

    Yes, that's exactly what I mean. A good reviewer won't trash books. They will point out why they either liked or didn't like it, and that's exactly what will give the potential reader an idea, help to make a decision: to buy or not to buy?

    Sometimes, though, you don't have anything positive to say. Take One day; the only bit I liked about that book was the premise and that's all. Didn't like the characters, didn't like the execution, didn't like the inconsistencies or POV.

  3. When I decided to start reviewing indie books (for free, on my own time) I made the decision that I'm not going spend my time reading books I don't enjoy and then even more time writing reviews for them.

    It's a purely selfish decision on my part and I'm okay with that. I'm willing to give anything a fair shot, but if the story doesn't have my attention in the first twenty to thirty pages, if the writing and/or editing are so bad they distract from the story, it's just not worth my time. (And there are so many other, better books I could be reading and thinking about.)

    I'm toying with the idea of keeping an "abandoned books" list on Goodreads so people can see what I've tried and didn't like, but I don't see myself devoting time to explaining why.

  4. Just wanted to add, I do agree that reviewing is for other readers, not the writers. But other readers don't have any more right to tell me what and how to review than the writers do.

    (Also, my link in my last comment name is busted. This one should work.)

  5. But if you ask people to send them their books and you agree, wouldn't it be fair to let others know why you stopped reading it after just twenty or thirty pages? What's wrong with putting it on your blog: I've tried, but I couldn't read more than that for reason a, b, c.

    Not telling you what to do; it's your decision, just wondering why you won't do it. The author sent the book to you, so they have to live with the consequences, I think.

  6. I totally answered your question and I don't see my comment here. I'm gonna be so pissed if Blogger ate it.

  7. But if you ask people to send them their books and you agree, wouldn't it be fair to let others know why you stopped reading it after just twenty or thirty pages? What's wrong with putting it on your blog: I've tried, but I couldn't read more than that for reason a, b, c.

    I don't seek out people and ask them to send me copies of their books for review. I haven't even signed up on any of the reviewer lists. (With the whole ugly taste of reading about the William Morrow debacle still in my mouth, I feel even better about this decision.)

    I have a form set up so people can send me links to ebooks. I hesitated to even do that because I'm pretty happy with the books I find on my own and I don't like the attitude that giving a reviewer a book obligates them to the author, publisher, or publicist in some way. The last thing I want is the aggravation of dealing with some nitwit that thinks just because they sent me an ebook, I work for them.

    The only reason that form is there at all is because I'm aware that marketing and self-promotion and especially reviewer access can be hard for indies, and especially hard in some of the categories I read, like poetry.

    I view it as a suggestion box that authors can use, but it should be really clear that it's not a reciprocal arrangement. The only promise that comes with sending me a suggestion is that I'll take a look and see if it interests me. That's it.

    As for why I don't post reviews panning a book that I don't finish...

    I'm a hedonist; I read for pleasure. I review because I care about indie literature and independent authors and small presses, and in the ever deepening bog of mediocre-to-crap out there (fwiw, I agree with Mr. Sturgeon that 90% of anything is crap) I think it's much more important to draw attention to the good books than it is to rant about the crap.

    When I put down a book, for any reason, before I finish, that's it. It may not be as clear as reasons a, b, and c. Is it fair to pan a book because I didn't like the author's voice, or because the story isn't my cup of tea, or because it's not my genre but I gave it a look anyway? There's nothing helpful to readers in that; it's purely subjective.

    I think the only obligation of a reviewer is to write a thoughtful, honest review of the books they do read. I don't think it's possible to write that kind of review without reading the entire book.

    When I review, I work really fucking hard. I read the book. I make notes and think about the book. I ask myself questions about the book and I read the book again looking for the answers. All before I sit down to write the review. Why would I invest that kind of time and energy in a book I hate after ten or twenty pages, that's derivative and badly written?

    I can't come up with a good reason.

  8. Hey, thanks again for posting. I now see why you were mightily annoyed that blogger ate your reply.

    Okay, one mistake on my side: I expressed myself wrongly. Didn't mean you contacting people, but more the scenario: I'm a reviewer, I have a review blog, please contact me to see if we are interested in reviewing your book.

    I think I'm a bit hung up on the term 'reviewer', because to me a reviewer is an independent person giving an objective opinion, including: I've tried, but I simply couldn't get into the book, it bored me stiff (in a more constructive way of course).

    It's absolutely admirable that you and others put so much effort into reading and reviewing our books and yes, it's difficult to get 'professional' reviews, meaning, from people who know what they're doing.

    As to 'why to pan an author's work when I didn't like it anyway'; well, there's panning and there's a constructive way of saying: sorry this just didn't do it for me. I agree we should celebrate the good, but somehow the term reviewer doesn't sit well with me if you only pick out the positive ones.

    Still, it's your choice, I can't and I won't tell you what to do; perhaps it's simply the case of agreeing to disagree on this.
    By the way: reviewing poetry is rather rare, isn't it? Kudos to you. I'm not a fan of that genre, but I know many people are and I'll direct them to your blog :-)

    And now my reply is as long as yours, got a bit carried away here.

  9. I should point out, I don't actually disagree with your premise--that if a book is not good, the review should reflect that. I have no qualms about pointing out the flaws in books and writing the review the book has earned. It's just my feeling that it's not fair to do that unless I've actually read the entire book.

  10. Probably one reason I'm not a reviewer; I won't spend time on a book I don't like. And I'm a picky reader anyway. :-)

    I would give One Day two stars, maybe even only one. Tried twice to get into it, but couldn't. Didn't like the characters, didn't like the inconsistencies (the editors should be slapped) and I found it unbelievable that someone hangs on an arsehole for 20 years. And it was so slow paced I started skipping pages right from the start.