Tuesday 4 June 2019

Let's talk about reviews

I chatted on Twitter a little earlier today about reviews - sparked because of another round of the popular reality show Authors Behaving Badly... so without wading into specifics about that drama, here's my thoughts on the art of reviewing, and how putting readers under pressure over them is absolutely the wrong way to go.

Hi. Let's talk about reviews. Recently in author Twitter, there's been a bit of a kerfuffle about reviews - with some authors demanding readers review more often and what kind of review to leave. First thing first, reviews are for readers, not authors.

Let's put a bit more meat on that - because if reviews are for readers, why is it authors are so keen to receive them? Well, reviews are for readers - but authors benefit from them too. That doesn't mean a review should be written to an author's requirement! Far from it.

Indeed, the best reviews are one thing more than anything else: honest. Authors benefit from reviews because it gets their work in front of others and being talked about, hopefully by reviewers whose honest opinions can persuade other readers. But the reader is the focus.

Simply put, if I tell you my book is brilliant and you should buy it, you're quite right to roll your eyes and say I would say that. If a reviewer you trust says my book is brilliant and you should buy it, they're not trying to sell you something and honesty is powerful.

Reviews are always welcome - but readers should not feel under pressure to leave them. Leave them if you want to. Don't leave them if you don't want to. Reading is a pleasure, not a job. If you want to leave a review? Great! If you don't? That's just grand too.

As to what to say in a review - say what you want. If you like a book, say that however you want. If you hate it, do the same. Every classic book you'll find on Amazon has one-star reviews, and if Ray Bradbury or Ursula Le Guin can get one star then I'm darn sure I can.

Writing a review can be intimidating - and authors who put pressure on others over how often they review or what they say when they do don't help that.

It needn't be intimidating to write a review, though. If all you want to do is leave a one-word review - "Great!" "Awful!" "Meh!" - that's cool. If you want to talk at length about what you loved/hated, also great! It's your review, it's up to you.

There are a couple of caveats, of course. If you read and review for your job, then sure, you'll have pressure on you. But not from the author, from your boss. I've been a professional reviewer for two decades and when my boss says "400 words!" I can't give him ten :)

And yes, there are reviews that are inappropriate. They include personal attacks on the author for private reasons (such as by stalkers) and comments that are racist/homophobic/prejudiced in some fashion. But heck, readers see those comments for what they are.

Still, in instances of particularly abusive reviews, they can usually be reported to the sites where they're left. That's not the main focus of what I'm saying in this thread, though, but it would be wrong of me not to acknowledge that such things happen.

The takeaway is this: Reading is a hobby. If you enjoy reading, don't let anyone suck the fun out of it by placing demands on you. Read what you want. Review what you want. Say what you want. And have fun doing it.

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