Tag Archives: book review

Reviewers vs writers

I’ve been thinking a bit about reviewers lately.  Mostly it’s because I’ve been sending out oodles of requests for people to review my book (Awfully Appetizing).  There’s a longstanding love/hate relationship between writers and reviewers.  It’s kind of a parallel between the love/hate relationship between writers and publishers.

By the nature of what we each do, we are dependent upon one another.  Obviously reviewers need writers so that they (the reviewer) has something to do, while reviewers are able to present a book to a group of people who, otherwise, might never have even heard of it.  One might assume that there was a symbiosis between the two, and in a way there is.  But there is also a rivalry.  The rivalry is, I think, based upon an imbalance of power.  For every reviewer out there, there seems to be a thousand authors.  Or perhaps its just that every author is trying to contact every reviewer.

Whatever the reason, the effect is the same: the reviewers are inundated with requests from desperate authors.  When, inevitably, the reviewers find themselves unable to read every single book, the result is a collection of annoyed authors who feel that they’ve somehow been stiffed.  Not all of us, some of us have been around long enough to know that it isn’t personal, but when nine hundred people didn’t make the cut, some of them are bound to be resentful.

It’s an interesting situation.  And, frankly, it highlights some of the problems with the way the writing world works.

Advertisements

Rules for Reviews

A few years ago I was chatting with a writing buddy of mine who also reviewed books.  He told me something interesting: apparently he doesn’t give bad reviews.

Now, to be clear, that doesn’t mean that anything he reads automatically gets a good review, but if he reads a book and he can’t give it at least three stars (I think it was three, it might have been four) he just doesn’t review it at all.

A year or two before that, he’d confided something similar to me when we was judging manuscripts for a writer’s conference competition.  In that particular instance the potential score for a book had ranged from zero to, I think, eighty.  He told me that he never gave a score below sixty.

In that particular instance it rather made sense.  A score of less than seventy by one of your judges pretty much knocked you out of the running for winning the competition.  My friend felt that giving a score lower than sixty was basically just adding insult to injury.  Kind of like if an editor sent you a rejection letter that said ‘you should really quit trying to write.’

But while I agreed with him about the contest scores, I couldn’t help but feel that his rules for book reviews were a little less logical.

Mostly it’s a question of who you are writing the review for.  If you’re writing a review for the author, then the rule makes sense.  I have, on several occasions, read a book by someone I know, or a friend of someone I know, intending to write a review for them.  But when I get to the end of the book and find that I can’t give it four or five stars, I generally don’t do anything at all.  Because I went in to this planning to help them.  Writing the review that I feel the story deserves would be like slapping them in the face, and I just can’t do that.

But most of the time, if I read a book and it just sucks, I mark it like I think it deserves.  Because, as long as I don’t know the author, I’m not writing the review for them.  I’m beholding to the reader, and I don’t just want to put good books into the hands of readers, I want to keep bad books out of their hands.

My friend has been a writer even longer than I have, and he’s more sociable than I am, so I think that on some level he feels a greater kinship to other writers.  And perhaps he’s been burned by more cruel reviews than I’ve had to face, or more low scores without any explanation.  I do know that those are incredibly frustrating.

But maybe another part of the problem is that we can’t agree on what the various stars mean.  I remember looking at the goodread stars one time.  It turns out that, from their perspective, only one star reviews are ‘bad.’  One start is for ‘didn’t like it’.  two stars is supposed to mean ‘it was okay.’  three start is I liked it, for starts is I liked it a lot, and five stars is “I loved it!”

But when I’m scanning for books to read, what do I usually look for?  Four stars and above.  A 3.2 star ranking isn’t very impressive even though it means, if the star system is to be believed, that on average people liked it.

Or maybe they don’t.  When I take a survey with five answer slots the slots are usually ‘strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, strongly disagree.’  I’ve sort of always done my reviews the same way.  After all, if I read a book and think it kind of sucks, I don’t want to recommend it, but I don’t want to give it the same score as a book that I think is unreadable.  If I had my druthers (whatever a druther is), I’d change the way we do reviews.  get rid of stars, come up with a scale that made sense.  Something…

Delayed Reaction

Woo!  Sorry about that last post.  As  rule I should avoid blogging when I’ve been up for more than twenty hours at a stretch.  I know people who can function after a couple of days without sleep, but let’s face it, I need eight hours a day or I’m delirious.

Anyway, after finding out a couple of days ago that I’ve sold all of seven copies of my book over the last three weeks (SEVEN?!?), I’m going to be spending quite a bit of time over the next couple of days focusing on promotion.

But one of the problems I have with promotions is that the best forms generally take a lot of time, and are incredibly hard to attribute directly to the source.

For example, the form of promotion I think is most effective is word of mouth.  If somebody reads your book and loves it so much that they start telling everybody about it, that is probably the single most effective method of reaching a wide audience that you will ever find.  Now, it’s true that if the person who read it and loves it has a platform, it’s even more effective, for example, if Oprah Winfrey loves your book, that’ll get you more sales than if Ms. Bennett from apartment 3A loves your book, but either way, if you can make somebody a fan for life, then you’ve got an advertisement that will keep on working for you for years to come.  Not to mention the fact that an endorsement from someone who is obviously not being paid to endorse your work will carry more weight than any paid advertisement.  Oh, and by the way, you also have somebody who wants to know when your next book comes out.

But getting word of mouth going requires time.  After all, you have to get the book into the reader’s hand and wait for them to actually read it.  Plus, who remembers the name of a book recommended to them in a casual conversation?  You have to tell it to them half a dozen times before they remember that it was Storm Front by Jim Butcher, not the Butcher Store by Jimmy Front.

And attribution is a bitch as well.  Promoting is a lot like putting on a blindfold and throwing darts at the board.  When you finally take the blindfold off and see that one of the darts got you fifty points, how the hell are you supposed to know which throw it came from?

So even if you find the perfect way to promote your book, once you’ve done it, how the hell do you figure out which of the techniques is actually responsible?

I’m sending review requests to a bunch of book reviewers over the next couple of days.  I’ve done this before, when I was promoting a book under another name.  I sent out reviews to about a dozen bloggers and exactly zero of them replied.  But hey, maybe this time…

Rated! Judged!

So, my book got its first rating by somebody I cannot immediately identify.  Of course, we’re online, There’s really no way to be certain that it isn’t a friend or family member, but nothing about the amazon review makes me think it’s somebody I know.  So for the time being, I’m assuming that a stranger bought my book, read my book, and reviewed my book.

And they gave it four stars!

Sure, five stars would’ve been better, but they wrote a review and were pretty complimentary.  I’m stoked!

I’ve said it before, reviews aren’t really the business of the writer.  If I had the discipline I’d ignore them and just continue working on my own crap, but who am I kidding?  First book?  I’ll be watching amazon and goodreads like a hawk watching a rat-hole.  the second something pops up… POW!  I’m all over that.

Man that’s a bad idea… oh well, watcha gonna do?

Four stars!  Somebody read my book and enjoyed it!  BOOM!

First one star review I get I’ll be on here bitching and crying….

When you’re an artist, your art is sort of like your child.  You spend so long trying to turn it into something perfect, and then you send it out into the world and just hope it doesn’t end up in a ditch somewhere.  Or starting world war three.