Thursday, March 6, 2014

I Know I Shouldn’t, But I Do.

by Alan

Do you read reviews? Reply to them? Review the works of other writers?

All reviews are not created equally, so for the purposes of this post, I’m going to divide them into three types, based on who’s doing the reviewing.

1) Professional, high-profile reviews (The four services: Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist; and major general and trade publications):

Reviews from these sources can matter, in several ways. First, getting a good review (starred or otherwise) can have a definite effect on books sold. People read those publications for a reason, and if your book gets good notice, they’ll be more likely to order and recommend your book. Also, these reviews can provide marketing material (blurbs!) for book covers and other promotional efforts. A complimentary pull-quote about your book from Kirkus (“The best book about talking walruses on the shelves today!!”) can give a boost to your marketing campaign.

Read them? I ALWAYS read reviews from these sources (even if an author wouldn’t want to, their publicist would bombard them with emails about the reviews).

Reply to them? Never.


2) Less well-known publications, bloggers: These types of reviews can also be helpful, both in terms of generating positive word-of-mouth (influencing sales) and for use in marketing, but a lot depends on the individual source/reviewer. The vast majority of these reviewers are very professional, but once in a while you might run across one with a particular agenda. Or a grudge. Or a bizarre way of looking at the world (and your book!).

Read them? Yep, I usually read these (if I know about them, of course), but I’m always watchful for those reviewers who seem to have an axe to grind or who are just out to impress their own blog readers with their super-snarky musings.

Reply to them? I’ll sometimes thank the reviewer (if I know their name) for taking the time to read my book and offer a thoughtful review, but I NEVER make specific comments about the review itself. People are entitled to their opinions, and that’s one of the things that makes this country great (along with 24-hour donut shops).


3) Random Internet people (on Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, etc.): If you’ve ever surfed these sights (and really, who hasn’t?), you’ll know how, um, uneven reviews can be here. Most are reasonably fair and honest reactions to the books they’ve read. But there are some reviewers (a not insignificant number), who use these reviews to vent or try to show their superiority or to exhibit their wit or to demonstrate their need for stronger medication. Actually, these reviews can be quite entertaining (as long as it’s not your book they’re reviewing—then it’s slightly less entertaining).

Read them? I admit that I usually read them, but I don’t give them much weight. When it comes to reviews from the masses, I look for general trends. A hundred mostly-positive reviews outweigh that one-star, “my dead great aunt could write a better book” outlier.

Reply to them? Although sorely tempted at times, I NEVER respond to an Amazon review. Never. Only bad things can come from that. Really bad things. I’m not kidding. Just say no. (I’m talking to you, writers!). Move along, move along, nothing to comment on here.


Do I review other writers’ work? Not anymore. I stopped leaving reviews a few years ago, mostly because of guilt. I’d feel guilty that I couldn’t read all my friends’ books, and then I’d feel guilty if I wanted to leave a 4-star review (instead of 5 stars), and then I’d feel guilty about feeling guilty. And really, who cares what I think about a book anyway? So, no more reviews.

What say you? How much stock do you put in reviews, especially the “non-professional” ones?


Kristopher said...

Hi Alan. I really enjoyed your breakdown of "types" of reviewers.

I think this really is the best way to look at this topic. Each outlet has its strengths and weaknesses (though some days I do wonder what the strengths are of Amazon and GoodRead reviews when I read some of the harsh things written).

The line between professional reviewer and blogger is tending to blur a bit. Many practitioners are doing both. In both fields, I think we are seeing a greater variety of quality presented. One really has to judge each on an individual basis to determine how influential they might be.

For readers, I think it is best to find a few reviewers who express opinions of books you agree with. Then when you find other reviews by that person, you are going in with confidence that they might lead you in the right direction.

Barb Goffman said...

I review books once, twice, maybe three times a year. I only post reviews of books that meet three criteria: (1) I thought the book was exceptional; (2) I think the author is midlist and more people should know about him/her; and (3) I'm not too busy at the moment.

I often read reviews of other people's books after I read the book to see if other people agreed with my reaction. It also helps me to think things through sometimes.

And, I admit, I always read my reviews. I read one yesterday that called me Beth? I'm not complaining, mind you. It was a very nice review. So if I need to be Beth to get it, I'll do it!

Paul D. Marks said...

Good piece, Alan, and all good points. But especially about not responding. I'm the kind of person who wants to respond and my wife has to tie me down to keep me from doing so. But sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. You'll never be able to convince these people or make them see another way. But still, sometimes they're so off base it's like they read a different book or story.

Alan Orloff said...

Kristopher - Good point about readers finding a few trusted reviewers. I do that, for books and movies, too. You can tune out a lot of the noise that way.

Barb - I also sometimes read reviews about books I've read, usually a book that I've either really loved or really disliked, just to see if I was on the same, uh, page as everyone else.

Paul - Just walk away. Of course, from time to time, I do get amused by some of the flame wars between an irate author and a reviewer.

Susan C Shea said...

Oh, so you got the dead great aunt one too? I bet that snark didn't even like the amazing book about walruses, which just goes to show you.

I can't imagine responding. What would you say:"Much as I loved our late great-aunt (hello Percy, you always were a snot), I don't think she knew two beans about walruses, and I do."

Keith Raffel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keith Raffel said...

As always, a great post, Alan. Just one thing. Kirkus isn't Kirkus anymore. It went under four years ago. The re-born Kirkus supports itself mainly by charging self-published authors for reviews. I think we are down to a big 3. Keith

Susan C Shea said...


Wait a minute. I know Kirkus has sullied its reputation by allowing people to purchase reviews, although I don't know if they guarantee a good one. But they also review the normal way. I was reviewed twice , the last time in mid 2013, solely because my publishers sent ARCs without any suggestion of payment. (The other 3 reviewed me too.) Good professional reviews are so hard to get that I would hate to have one invalidated without cause!

Keith Raffel said...

Great, Susan. I would take any good review you get and cherish it. But still, the new Kirkus does not carry the weight of the old one. See, e.g.,