Reviews – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Reviews are a contentious issue, one only has to look at social media to discover that. Good Reads particularly has a lot of reviewers, and some are very vocal. It must be remembered Good Reads is a READER site, primarily but of late there have been many issues, discussions and arguments about reviews, their value, what they mean, who can give them, and their validity.  There is no hard and fast answer to any of these questions.

Ultimately book reviews are for readers. Readers are, of course, consumers of books and many readers like to catalogue their thoughts on a particular book. A review is an OPINION, and thus has the prejudices, views and likes and dislikes of the particular reviewer.

What one reviewer thinks is wonderful another might hate.

Reviewer A hates typos/reviewer B overlooks or doesn’t notice them.

Reviewer A likes strong world building/reviewer B sees it as an ‘info dump’.

Reviewer A doesn’t like swearing/violence/sex in books/ reviewer B likes that type of book.

You see what I mean?

Then there are reviewers who use the review space to comment on an author’s behaviour/ideals etc. Personally I think the review should be about the book but that’s my own view. Some folks find this important and it’s true some writers forget they are the brand. If they act like a jerk online then someone will notice and likely as not the behaviour will backfire. What goes on the internet stays on the internet.  This does work both ways. If a reviewer is particularly spiteful, or obviously has an agenda then other readers will see that and hopefully ignore the review.

So what do reviews mean? They mean what the review wants them to mean – his or her own views and values. A reader seeing the review might misunderstand the reviewer’s opinion, might read the book and think the opposite. People review for all sorts of reasons: Personal lists, for friends, because they loved/hated a book so much they want to share, because they enjoy reviewing, even for the author.

Again I’ll say it. Reviews are opinions.

How important are they? I haven’t a damn clue. Again that probably depends on who you ask.  Some people put a lot of store in reviews, scanning a book’s reviews for the pros and cons from readers who think the same way, or perhaps to see how many ratings of a particular level they have. There are many who think a book with only 5 star ratings have fake ratings. Is this true? Not usually, but it doesn’t have to be true or false, just perceived as true. And there are authors who have bought reviews. These are in the minority.

If a reviewer says “I love this book (insert title here)” or possible “This was the suckiest book evah” that doesn’t tell anyone a great deal. It helps to add why it was liked or disliked but as I’ve said it depends on the reviewer and why and for whom they are reviewing. Some use reviews as a list of I liked this, I didn’t like this. They simply don’t want to say WHY, or aren’t confident to find the words to do so.

Then there are readers who only read a few, or don’t let reviews influence them. I’m like this. I might read reviews but I have usually made up my mind by then. I’ve even bought books based on BAD reviews. I’m actually more likely to look at reviews for non-book products. Don’t ask me why.

That said I do review – partly because I have a bad memory – and partly because I enjoy it.  There’s another reason. I’m more likely to review if the book is written by an indie author.  Yes I know I said reviews are for readers, and they are. I might be an author but I am also a reader. As an author I feel a writer appreciates a review – it’s always nice to learn what a reader thought of one’s books. I’ve seen many arguments saying that reviewers aren’t an indie’s beta readers – and that’s true but even the most polished work is not going to be liked by everyone.  Reviews help authors to understand the market, their own work and what readers want (which might not be what the writer thinks they want).

I’ve seen the debates on Good Reads from reviewers who say that they don’t review for authors – but if the review is on a site such as Goodreads or Amazon the likelihood is the author will see it and interpret it. For better or worse.

As an author do I like getting reviews? Yes, of course. I appreciate any reader taking the time to put his or her thoughts down. Do I think they affect sales? Not a clue. Good reviews might help, then again they might not.  Bad reviews might hurt, then again they might not.

Conclusion – are reviews important? Yes and no. Do they make a difference to readers? Yes and no. Do they make a difference to authors? Yes and no. As a writer you can’t please everyone. There will ALWAYS be someone who doesn’t like the book, as there will be someone who adores it. As a reader/reviewer there are bound to be others who share your views, but many who won’t. Look at any book from Hamlet http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hamlet-Wordsworth-Classics-William-Shakespeare/dp/1853260096/ to Fifty Shades of Grey http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fifty-Shades-Trilogy-Darker-Freed-ebook/dp/B008BM9L72/ and see the selections of reviews. (For the latter some are hilarious).

There is no right and wrong.

Guest Post – Jade Varden – on Writing and Marketing

Today YA author Jade Varden joins us – here are her tips on writing and marketing.

Jade – over to you.

Advice to newbies: Read a lot. Find out what sort of stories you like. Re-read your favorites. Read, read, read.

Your best and worst marketing tips: Market your book by giving people something they can use. What does your book offer them? What questions will it answer? Will they laugh or cry or think because of it? Think about that, and you’ll know how to market it. Don’t market your book by saying “buy this book.” Be more creative than that.

What YOU look for in a good book. I look for a strong main character that I can feel something about. Good or bad, I want to feel something for the character.

The importance of good and consistent characterisation.A character has to stay true to their established personality, but character growth is also important in books.

How to find beta readers. Use forums to find them. This is a great resource for connecting with other authors and readers.

Please tell us a little about yourself. (A couple of lines.) Lately I’ve been trying to challenge myself with my writing. I’ve been trying to branch out into new genres, and I’m really enjoying it so far.

On average how many books do you read a month?  What genres do you enjoy? I don’t really have much time to read beyond doing my own proofing. I love the YA genre, but I’m eclectic. I read mystery, horror, romance, anything that looks good.

When reviewing what are the important criteria? Editing? Plot?  Which factors do you overlook? (if any). I look for character and plot development. Pacing is also incredibly important. I don’t want it to be too slow, but not too fast either.

What are your opinions on authors commenting on a review – negative and positive? I don’t think they should do it.

Do you feel it is appropriate to discuss author behaviour in a review, is this a factor which influences your choice? No and no.

A lot of readers comment about a book with all 4 or 5 star reviews and nothing below as being suspicious? What do you think about this? I think people probably do this a lot. It’s much easier not to write any text, right?

Do you give negative reviews?  I give constructive criticism. It has been interpreted as negative in the past.

Do you mainly stick to your preferred genres, or would you consider reviewing outside your comfort zone? If the plot sounds interesting, I’ll definitely go outside my comfort zone.

Are your characters based on real people? All of them are based on real characteristics that I’ve seen in people, but only very rarely is one of my characters wholly based on a real person. I pick and choose from people I know and even strangers.

Have you ever used a person you don’t/didn’t like as a character then killed them off? No, but that’s an amazing idea.

Research can be important in world-building, how much do you need to do for your books? Do you enjoy this aspect of creating a novel and what are your favourite resources? Research is huge when it comes to writing a book, and you need to do as much as you need to do to answer all the questions your readers might have. I don’t necessarily enjoy research because it is time-consuming. I look for credible resources only. Encyclopedias, university websites, newspapers. Don’t use Wikipedia.

Do you think indie/self-published authors are viewed differently to traditionally published authors? Why do you think this might be? I absolutely do. Indie authors have taken an alternative path, and anything different is suspect.

Do you read work by self-published authors? Absolutely!

What three pieces of advice would you give to new writers? Read. Connect with readers. Edit.

What are your views on authors offering free books? It’s a great way to promote.

Do you have a favourite movie? Gone With the Wind

Can you give us a silly fact about yourself? I’m afraid of the shower.

What medium do you prefer – e-books, audiobooks or paper books? Would you care to expand on this? I love, love, love ebooks. It’s just so easy.

When choosing a book what makes you stop and give it a second look?  What makes you turn away? The blurb. I’ll always flip a cover over to get to the blurb. If I see any errors in the blurb, I’m out.

Do you read reviews by others and if so do they influence your choice?I don’t, because I want to avoid spoilers. However, I will look at general ratings and if a book has a ton of really low ratings I might think twice.

Do you “judge a book by its cover?” I do up to a point. I’ll only turn away from a book if the cover is really poorly done.

Does the behaviour of an author affect your choice to read one of their books? I usually don’t know much about the author personally when I go to read one of their books.

If you had to pick three favourite books to take to a desert island what would they be? Gone With the Wind, Flowers in the Attic, Valley of Horses.

Do you think bricks and mortar bookshops are in decline? I don’t think there’s any question that they are.

Some readers believe all 4 and 5 star reviews on a book must be fake. What are your thoughts on this? I think that sounds ridiculous.

About the Author

 

Jade Varden writes young adult novels for teen readers. When she’s not crafting mysteries in her books, Jade also blogs practical writing tips for authors who self-publish. Jade currently makes her home in Louisville, Kentucky, where she enjoys reading and reviewing indie books by other self-published authors. Follow her on Twitter @JadeVarden. Visit Jade’s blog at http://jadevarden.blogspot.com/ for reviews, writing tips, self-publishing advice and everything else you ever wanted to know about reading and writing books.

 

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JadeVarden

At Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Jade-Varden/e/B006QD4LUA/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

 

Reviewer Interview Number 3 – Bella (Mia)

Please tell us a little about yourself.

Bella: I write books as Mia Darien, but I review them as Bella on my blog. (I do post via my Mia Darien goodreads, though, to not break my own head.) I’ve been reading forever, and anyone who knows me will say I’m pretty mouthy, so reviewing wasn’t a surprise!

On average how many books do you read a month?  What genres do you enjoy?

Bella: Some months, I’m too busy to read almost anything. Other months I can read eight or ten, chewing through a book in two days. It all depends on my available time and energy, really. I enjoy all “speculative fiction” or “genre fiction” genres, like fantasy, scifi, paranormal, horror, crime, thriller, romance…

Where do you tend to review?

Bella: When I read a self-published or small press book, I write my review on my blog and post it at goodreads. When it’s a traditional publisher/big publisher, it’s just on goodreads.

http://boombabyreviews.miadarien.com/

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/mia_darien

Why do you review – for other readers, for author feedback, for yourself?

Bella: All of the above? I will rate books at goodreads sometimes just to mark them off in my own “files” to keep track of what I’ve read. Otherwise, I try to do reviews for readers, and then when it’s an indie book, for both reader and writer. Unlike some reviewers, I will post one or two star reviews, but I ALWAYS work hard to be equitable. I try to make reasonable points that maybe the author can be helped by (like story, pacing, character) and I try to always point out that I know it’s subjective; like I’ll say, “This just wasn’t for me, but I can see it working for someone else.”

What are your opinions on authors commenting on a review – negative and positive?

Bella: I think it’s fine, as long as it’s done graciously. Just “thank you for reading my book” and if it’s negative, “I’m sorry it wasn’t to your taste.” Though sometimes it’s wiser to say nothing. Typically, I think authors should be careful to not “stalk” their readers when they rate/review, but if there’s a good open forum for it (say, on a blog) it can be a polite thing to do, as long as it’s done with taste and grace!

What are your opinions on “sockpuppetry” after the scandals of well-known authors leaving bad reviews for competitors?

Bella: That’s incredibly tasteless and poor sportsmanship, UNLESS they GENUINELY disliked the book. Authors can dislike other author’s work, but if all you’re doing is smearing the competition? It’s just low class. And if you’re going to do it, be sure you’re willing to put your name to it.

What are your opinions on a well-written review? What should it contain and how do you feel about personal comments listed in reviews.

Bella: It depends on what you mean by “personal comments.” All reviews are personal in some way. If a review EVER goes after the author personally, it’s bad form. Stick to the book. Good reviews are fair and equitable. You can write even a bad review while still being considerate. Don’t trash someone cause you can. Be honest, but be kind. It IS possible to be both. Note when it’s something that didn’t work for you, but might for someone else. Talk about the book: the story, the plot, the characters, etc.,

One thing I won’t do that some reviewers do is change my rating based on editing issues. I will note in a review if there should have been better editing, but my ratings are always based on the story elements. If the plot and characters were good, I will still rate high, even if the editing wasn’t as good.

Do you find yourself being suspicious of a book with only 4 and 5 star reviews?

Bella: I’m better if it’s four stars, or has some four stars. I distrust books with ALL five star reviews. Just feels like they got people they knew to flood the reviews. Maybe that’s unfair, but I’m kind of jaded. No book will be liked by everyone, so every story with more than a handful of reviews will have at least one mediocre rating. I am not likely to read a book with multiple five star only reviews.

Do the reviews of others influence your choices? What attracts you to read a book?

Bella: Different things, whatever grabs me in the description usually. Do the reviews of others? Sometimes. Sometimes I read reviews. Other times I don’t. Usually just to see what elements they might note. If there’s something mentioned I don’t think I’ll like, even in a high rating, I’ll pass. Otherwise, it’s just informational and I’ll read the book either way.

Do you deal with reviewing Indie books differently to how you review a mainstream book?

Bella: A little. With a mainstream book, I don’t see the author reading my review, lol, so I don’t write anything meant to be “helpful” or advice-like. Thus, mainstream reviews are geared more specifically just for fellow readers, where as indie book reviews of mine may try to offer information that the author might want to know. Otherwise, though, it’s just posting location. My blog is just for indie books, so mainstream reviews are only on goodreads.