rather than Amazon and reviews were simply not part of the equation.
How things have changed then, as the rise of eBooks have opened up the world for writers, so too as it empowered readers. We have more power than ever before as we are encouraged to have our say in reviews and on reader’s forums. In my world, however, people seem reluctant to wield their power and encouraging friends and family to review books that they have read is invariably met with a variety of excuses. The most common one being – too busy!
Regardless, I am leading by example and embracing the role of reviewer. I have no more time than anybody else but, let’s face it; the whole process takes no more than five minutes and can make a massive difference to a writer. The indie writer particularly benefits from reviews for two reasons. Firstly, with no publishing house behind them, the indie writer is completely dependent upon word of mouth and what better way to get the word out there than through reviews. Secondly, often the only impartial feedback the writer gets is through reviews. It can feel like a very lonely place once you have offered up your work and are met with silence. Clearly family and friends are not reliable because they will love whatever you do.
In my new guise as reviewer, I have made one or two observations. Reviews seem to be the subject of many a blog and no two opinions are the same. The whole subject of reviews has been shaken up by the recent furore where writers have allegedly reviewed their own books. Frankly, I don’t have the technical skills to create multiple identities and it all seems far too much like hard work. Likewise, with claims that writers get family and friends to post reviews. All I can say is other people must have much more energetic friends than I have because I can’t get most of mine to read my books let alone review them. As my sister puts it, “I have bought them, what more do you want?” Most indie writers then, unless my nearest and dearest are a freak aberration, rely on the kindness of strangers.
There are different kinds of reviews and I don’t claim to be one of those wonderful, selfless people who write detailed, painstaking critiques. Lots of readers have their own websites devoted to reviewing books which are pretty amazing and make my own piddling, little reviews seem pathetic by comparison. I do believe though that there is a place for both. My own efforts are born out of the belief that even a couple of lines can prove to be beneficial and heart warming to a writer.
I have to confess, I never use reviews to inform my decision of whether to purchase a book or not. I tend to read the synopsis and the sample chapters although I have spoken to other people for whom the reviews are everything. Despite not using them as a gauge, since embracing the world of the review, I have developed a little bit of a passion for reading them. It is clear that everybody has a different style and different issues that consume them. For some readers, accuracy is everything and grammatical or spelling errors can ruin any enjoyment of a book for them. I surely must be the world’s worst English teacher because I couldn’t give a fig about the technical accuracy of a book, for me it’s all about the story. If a book engages me and I love the characters then that’s pretty much all it takes to win me over. Some readers get hung up about the authenticity of a story and how well the writer has researched his or her material. Again, I am not fussy and don’t particularly notice whether a story set in, let’s say Liverpool, has all the correct landmarks or uses accurate lexicology.
I have read in some blog postings how reviewers should be careful when awarding 5 star reviews, as these should be reserved for work that is truly exceptional. If that were the case, however, would we ever award 5 stars? Is there any such thing as the perfect novel, especially one that has been published independently? My own criteria for a 5 star review is whether or not I have enjoyed the book and would I be happy to recommend it to other readers.
This brings us to the tricky subject of bad reviews. I absolutely stand by the right of readers to express their honest opinion. Once a writer has put work into a public arena then there is no room for a thin skin and you just have to take any criticism on the chin. Some of the reviews I have read, however, have been nothing short of nasty. The reviewers come across as almost gleeful in their annihilation of what they have read and, as much as this is indeed their right, it does beg the question – what’s the point? Maybe I am shirking my full responsibility as a reviewer but, if I don’t enjoy a book, I simply don’t leave a review. This is in much the same way that if I am dissatisfied with any product or service that a company has provided, I would chose not to use that company again.
We all have different ways of going about things though and each to their own. My own reasoning for my decision not to leave bad reviews is that if I don’t enjoy a book I don’t assume that other readers will feel the same way. After all, one man’s feast is another man’s poison. This was confirmed for me when I read a tweet recently where someone had reviewed Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, giving it only 1 star. I didn’t read the review but I can only guess that Mr Darcy didn’t do the trick for this particular reader.
Speaking of Jane Austen, this brings me to another feature of my reviewing habits. I only review books by indie writers even though I read lots of professionally published novels as well. My philosophy for doing this is writers such as Jane Austen or the likes of Lee Child and Harlan Coben, fabulous writers that they may be, don’t really need my support. They have the support of multi-national publishing houses behind them after all and, when time is precious, I would rather use mine helping writers who have gone it alone and need all the support they can get.
So how about you? Do you leave reviews? Maybe your criteria is completely at odds with mine and isn’t that what makes it all so interesting? How or why we review doesn’t really matter only that we do. So come on – there are lots of indie writers out there who need you!