I was pointed to this article from an author on FB that I follow, so naturally, as a reviewer (and aspiring author) I look at information regarding reviews, success and marketing of books. Go and read – I’ll wait. I’m a tad bit tetchy today – I’ve spent 50 of the past 72 hours reading books JUST for reviews.
So – did you notice the paragraph where it states: “At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50.” ?
And that he is bringing in $28,000 a month? Let’s just do that maths. If he gets only the single review – that is over 282 books a month to read and review. If he gets the 20 review package sold: that is over 56 books to read and review. 28 books for the “big package”. But then let’s look at time: I read fast. Really fast. I take notes when I read a book for review, and I use those notes to craft the review. Then I have posting time to the “usual sites” of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and Smashwords. If I blog the review – there is more time to craft the post and make it pretty. Even a quick book (fewer than 200 pages) is 5 or 6 hours in reading, crafting and posting. And I assume the authors are providing the ‘links’ for him to post reviews on, at least when he gets to the 99. I can’t believe that he is “reading” all those books – and having a ‘team’ of reviewers wouldn’t necessarily guarantee the rave reviews paid for.
Now, here is where I have issues. These are reviews that are paid to glow. There isn’t accountability from the reviewer to not sell me a bill of goods because his ‘niche’ better fills his pocket than his honest desire to promote a book they enjoyed, because they appreciate the time and effort the author put in. When I review a book, I make it abundantly clear that all I received is the book to read for honest review. I am not paid to review the books I do, and I accept all reviews with an understanding that I will be honest. I will give you my honest and unbiased opinion on the book, the storyline, the crafting and when I find issues with the editing I will mention that. I understand the amount of blood, sweat and tears that go into crafting a book. The dreams that accompany them and the hope that someone appreciates the work and love you put in to craft it. I don’t care who you are, or what your personal demons or proclivities are: I review your work, not you. To be honest, I don’t think any one of us would want to be reviewed on our every move and personal decision – nor is it necessary.
What I need from authors is the understanding that I am simply working with what you provided me, and making my decisions and creating my conclusions from that. I can’t honestly rave about a book that left me “meh”. I can and will have an impression about a book from the blurb; and I expect good things from every book I read. When the blurb doesn’t fit the story, or leaves me wondering what “dramatic tension” was mentioned, I need to find where it missed. Oh, the other thing: just because I am the first to note that there was a lack of _X_, whatever X may be it is not appropriate for you to tell me you have discounted my review because that was a comment never heard. I have been reading books with a critical eye since I learned how to read, and I can tell you what I like, don’t like and need from a book I would pass on to others.
The whole push-pull with authors and reviewers, and now the paid to review people has me sad. I love books, I love to read, and I appreciate the effort made to create the books I read. I also don’t read anyone else’s review of a book that I will review – NOT until I have created my own. I don’t think it’s fair or that I am above being ‘influenced’ by other reviews that are out there. When I do read reviews: the first ones I look for are those who, like mine, clearly state they are not reviewed for compensation. That should discount the possibility of the tainted “pay for raves” reviews that are highlighted in the referenced article. I also tend to not take much stock in reviews that are not specific, or degrade to personal attacks, or have bad grammatical or spelling errors.
What I will do when I review a book is this:
♦ I read every book I am given – from prologue through dedication, each page to the end.
♦ I take notes as I read: so I know who the main and important characters are, the era, the point of view, the plot twists, and often if it reminds me of another author or book
♦ I note if there are glaring grammatical errors, bad word choices or repeated spelling errors
♦ I make notes about style, crafting and technique: some techniques, like conversation or description are incredibly difficult to do well, and put you in the moment
♦ I put a book down and immediately write a rough draft of the review – including my impressions.
When I’ve completed all that, on a normal day I will then put it all aside and do something else for a while to come back to the notes with fresh eyes. When I write the final review, I look at my notes, and make sure I have included the relevant points. For every element I took issue with, I try to make note of the good points, while realizing that what irks me may not bother another. I am positive and honest, when something arrives in need of editor; I do note that the book would have read better for me with one more run from an editor. Even in books I could not honestly recommend, there are good things to be found: plot or idea, a character, some points to encourage. I complete it, check it for errors, and then I put it aside for a day. Before I post – I read over the review, make sure it ‘feels’ right, and I then assign stars.
Five Star: I loved the book, will read it again and you should read it now. There were minimal issues that I found in style or construct, I was drawn in and I didn’t want it to end. I wonder about the characters and what is next for them.
Four Star: I may like the book very much, and I think you will too. But something just didn’t strike all the chords for me. Perhaps there were one too many issues with the grammar, or I found the plot to be too farfetched. Maybe foreshadowing in the book had me solving it long before the end, and I had no real “wow” reaction. It’s not a bad thing to get 4 stars: most books are quite comfortably settled there for me.
Three Star: So, there were issues. While the book must read well, there are issues. If it’s set in a certain era – the language and the references must match the era. You can’t refer to texting in a novel set in 1940. (yes – I have seen that). The characters must be more than I expect: no one is all good or all bad. Ever. Important and integral characters must have some depth and nuance. Repeated poor word choice, or overuse of a word making a “catch phrase”. More than one instance of your for you’re, or there for their or they’re; especially in a released work – not a pre-release copy.
Two Star: I’ve only ever given one of these. It was a self-published work, without editing, thesaurus or spellcheck. The concept was great; the writing was not so good. Immature writing and language, half-formed plotline, no clear point of view, no ability to bring me into the world to provide some insight.
One Star: I don’t know that I have seen a book worth that. It would scare me.
I don’t ask for much as a reader: I want to be entertained and to learn something. While I truly believe that a good book can transport me to worlds unknown, I know that they also can give me an understanding of people, religions, places and situations I am not likely to encounter in my life. And that is the joy. I adore my “candy floss” reads, the light and fluffy entertaining books that let me escape and enjoy the ride. Just as I enjoy the deeper stories about the meaning of life, overcoming the odds, worlds and creatures that we now believe are only imagined. The ability to see that there is some common ground for all of us; and a book couched as a good story and a work of fiction can give us that understanding if only we are open.
So readers and authors: don’t discount all the reviews you see. Take a moment to realize that many of us do this because we love it – we spend hours a week to share the joy we found in the books we have been fortunate enough to read. And we share that joy when we explain to you in clear words: I received a copy of this book from the author for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review, and all conclusions are my own responsibility.