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Thursday, December 01, 2011

The value of a book review


What is the real value of a book review?

For most authors a review means validation for all our hard work and hope that we’ve produced a story readers will buy and enjoy. In many cases this is the only feedback we have to consider, since readers don’t often write what was once considered fan mail. But, just how important should that much-sought-after review really be? I’ve been writing, and getting reviews, for almost seven years now. I admit I was lucky in the sense that my first pro story was universally reviewed with top ratings and raves. But, that was before bloggers became a dominant voice in the world of books and reviews.

So, which reviews DO matter to the overall marketability of your book is what becomes the real issue now. There are sites I respect and value as reviewers, well established sites with a team of reviewers who take their jobs as seriously as the authors they are reading. They take time to evaluate and consider what they have to say about a book, and to make solid and rational statements about their perceptions. Sites like Romance Junkies, The Romance Studio, Siren Reviews, Talking Two Lips Reviews, Long and the Short of It (and sister site Whipped Cream for their reviews of erotic books), Coffeetime Romance, Just Erotic Romance Reviews–to name only a few. (There are many reputable review sites, and a quick internet search will find them for you.) These sites have a policy in place that requires reviewers to submit their reviews, and they will be approved by the owners before being posted to the site. This gives a little time for clarity and review of thoughts, which can be invaluable.

Recently, with the popularity of blogging, there has been a marked surge in reviewers who operate individually from a blog they own. While it’s certainly true that ALL opinions are valid and valued, when bloggers become reviewers you have huge potential for confrontation and “bad” reviews. I can only speak from my personal experience with this new breed of reviewer, and it’s a mixed response at best. In my career of over four dozen books, I’ve only received a few questionable reviews, and they’ve been from bloggers who take it upon themselves to review books they read. In one instance the reviewer hit a book that contained one of her personal red zone issues… you know, the one thing that will kill any book for you kind of thing. Instead of admitting she couldn’t be objective about the book, which had received a number of 4 and 4.5 (out of 5) star reviews, she chose to post a review that defied reason. She ranted, quite literally–other authors went to read it, I share the bad and the good, and they were all stunned and confused, said her review was incoherent and made no sense, so how was anyone to take it seriously? This made me think a lot about whether this kind of review even has a value to potential readers. It was the second time in six months that such a review appeared on a single-person owned blog, and the second time the book wasn’t what the reviewer anticipated when buying it and choosing to review it. So, if you are wholly mistaken about what you’re about to read, or you hit a topic that sets you off–is it remotely fair to then proceed to trash author and book for the world to see, so to speak?

Some bloggers work hard to be objective and clear in their efforts to review books, and I applaud their dedication to authors and readers alike. The ones I personally object to are the ones who publish ranting, inarticulate messes and get their friends to jump in the moment someone disagrees with them. As an author, I refuse to comment on bad reviews posted to blogs. If it’s my book being shredded, the blogger gets a thank you for your input, which is all that’s required. ANY author who attempts to “justify” their work is giving the power to the person who needs to express their negative opinion mostly for the sake of gaining attention. Same rule applies to Amazon reviews, you’ll often notice there is one really poor review on many works–and if you look closer, few people see that as helpful. They recognize it for what it is, someone using the power of the rating button to simply be petty and mean. That’s not to say those who take the time to post thoughtful and honest reviews aren’t appreciated, because these are the readers themselves and they are often the best reviews we as writers can ever hope to receive.

To new authors who really want to see your book reviewed, speak with your publishers about where to send your book for review, ask other authors who they trust. And, if you are unlucky enough to get a bad review, it will hurt, certainly, but smile, say thank you, and move on. Serious book review sites will listen to the author if there is a legitimate complaint about a review–I once asked Coffeetime Romance to review one of the reviews for a book I’d written because the reviewer hadn’t read the book–it was obvious in the fact that she continually called the hero by the wrong name and his name was part of the title. They removed the review and put it back into the queue for another reviewer to select in the event they wanted to do it more fairly.

My final word to new authors on this touchy subject is this–reviewers are avid readers who love books, and they do this job because of that love. They are busy people with busy lives, just like authors, and they volunteer this service to support the writers they love so much. If you submit a book for review and it doesn’t get picked up, don’t hound the site owner or bitch on your Facebook about it–just keep sending the book for review, and accept what comes back to you with grace and professionalism. Most of all, just keep writing…the reviews are only a tiny part of the process, and at the end of the day, readers will read what they want to read. Reviews are bragging rights, they are not likely to make your book a best-seller or a flop, your writing skill is what does that, so keep learning your craft and improving with every new book!


10 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this Denyse. We are lucky as well as we went into our first review and interview blind, and the reviewer gave actually quite a good and I thought fair review. As newbies, we appreciate advice like this :)

    Oh and if this were to qualify for the contest ... gobblervt(at)cox(dot)net *wink*

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  2. Great blog Denise. This made me feel better about my situation. Ive sent in quite a few with only a couple coming back in some instances, sometimes none.

    I know it takes time to to build a base with reviewers as it does fans but its frustrating at times. Still, I love writing and will keep at it.

    Thanks for this!

    SLira aka Michael M/BLMorticia

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  3. Excellent, well-reasoned, timely advice. From an author of your caliber, I would expect nothing less.

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  4. Thank you Denyse this is useful to me, since I am still starting out. I am going to put you blog on mine okay that is okay. If not let me know. I am happy to see you are going good. Hope one day, I would be one to say it from my experience. I am like BL Morticia I love reading and writing. Even if I wasn't writing. I would still do it. It for me is therapy for my mind, keeping it sharp and keeping my memories in tack. I Love reading all the e-books I get my hands on, it is a relaxing therapy for me, mind, body and soul.

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  5. Thank you everyone for your wonderful responses. This is a very difficult issue for any author to address because it's touchy - you don't want to offend, and inevitably someone WILL be offended by what you have to say. HOWEVER, the real value of all this discussion is that new authors understand that reviews really are personal things, and while it's nice to get a five-star nod for something you've written, it's even nicer to get the next contract and expand your presence to the reading public. I value all the reviews, personal ones, pro, and blogger reviews. Even a bad review teaches us something, and the art is all about growth and new perspectives, really. So, everyone - keep writing and keep believing in your visions.

    Hugs to all, D

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  6. Nani - certainly, share away.... :)

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  7. I haven't gotten a blog review yet though I did try to ask one person to review one of m y books (was dipping my toe in) and was informed flat out she won't read anything with mages. *shakes head* I know just stick to reputable review places and hope they like my book.

    Great article Denyse.

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  8. Great Post Denyse! I've been the victim of bad customer reviews before where the reader left a negative review because she didn't like the way my character's doctor handled her case. She said that she had went through the same medical problem that my character had and her doctor handled it differently and quicker. So she left me a horrible review and gave my book a 1 star. LOL I guess people sometimes get so involved in a book that they forget the book is fiction and it's the author's fiction not theirs LOL I think some people want to rewrite the story to fit the way they see it instead of enjoying it for the story that the author intended. :)

    Lizzy Stevens

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  9. I can say from being on both ends of this stick. it is hard to write a bad review for me. I feel so sorry for the author. I try to balance the good the bad and then my editor has to look at it and see if what I gave it stands. For one thing they check my spelling and grammar considering how I spell without an editor I am grateful to them lol. but the one thing I really look for is how would someone spending their hard earned money feel after reading this book? Ohh and authors please please get beta readers, I just read a book where the character was caressing a creek instead of a cheek. I will say made me laugh. but its is hard on both ends trust me. Also twolips does have the policy if we got your book wrong or spoilers were in the review if you politely email us we will work with the author. After all without the awesome authors we would not have a review site.

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