Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Thing About Book Review Websites....

The thing about book review websites is that they may all look the same, but they are not.

Many book review sites are there largely to serve the industry, I tend to call these "fluff" review sites but I mean no particular insult by this. Fluff reviews have an important role; they tend to run: "there was a character, there was another character, stuff happened, the book was good". These reviews provide promotional quotes, and negative comments are largely forbidden (see my rant on the topic here). This is all well and good for marketing the book. Although it is reaching the point where a book has reviewers instead of customers--these sites are really proliferating. Given that readers hardly ever venture onto these sites there is no need, IMHO, to send your book to more than a handful of them. Your publisher probably has this covered.

There are, of course, other websites that are run (shock, horror) by readers. They buy the book and along with it they buy the right to say exactly what they think about it. Some of these places have a decent readership because readers trust what other readers say. If the reader likes your book, this can actually help sales. If they don't, well, you probably haven't lost anything and there may still be an up side so long as the criticism was specific and idiosyncratic. (I often run and out buy books based on reviews that say the equivalent of: "ew, there was terrible gayness all through, with the butt sex and everything. This writer is a prevert [sic]." Some publishers suggest not sending their books to these people (in which case you should not do it, naturally) and it can be a gamble. It pays to be familiar with the site and just where they rest on the scale of brutal honesty to malicious snark.

1) Fluff review are neutral to positive and are there to help you promote the book.
2) Reader reviews are customer word of mouth and if they hate the book you have to just suck it up.

It seems to me that trouble can occur when we blur the boundaries. For example, when a writer puts promo fluff in as an amazon review -- or some other place clearly intended for reader-to-reader communication. Also there can be trouble when a reader site accepts author-contributed books, which can lead an author who has not done their research to get a nasty surprise when the review comes out. Pretty soon I think book submissions by authors will start getting refused for the sake of clarity, because any author should understand that a customer buys the right to hate the book, and they are free to tell the world. This is, perhaps, a situation that gift horses should not become involved in?

What do y'all think?

p.s. So just how many of us here are New Zealanders? Can I have a show of hands? [raises hand]


Beverley Kendall said...

I think that, as in any aristic endeavour, when you put yourself out there, you have to be able to take the hard punches. I think in the long run your talent (or lack thereof) will tell the true story. But I can see as a newbie writer, how that can really be the pits. You haven't even established a readership yet, and if someone doesn't like your book, Lord knows if you ever will. But hey, this is a tough because.

P.S. Saw your posting on RT and thought I'd drop by.

veinglory said...

Hi Bev :)

I know negative reviews are never fun, but as you say it is part of the deal. Some writers simply choose not to read reviews of their books.

Imp said...

I've been on the good side and the, um, not so good side of reader reviews ... but I have absolutely NO regrets about requesting them.

The so-called "fluff" reviews are nice to have, but you gotta wonder about the value (to the reader) of reviews from a site that has a scale of 1-5 but admittedly refuses to publish any score below 3.

When it comes to selling books, I think the reader reviews are more helpful. Authors need to find the silver lining in a less-than-favorable review. Hell, even my very worst review produced a great marketing quote.

It's all what you make of it!

veinglory said...

Negative reviews can also be great talking points. I think that when a writer considers a negative review without feeling the need to rebut it or counter-attack my opinion of them goes up. And after the initial 'urk' emotion, there is often something to be learned. In discussions you will see if the other readers feel the same way or it was just a 'one off'.

Barbara Sheridan said...

I think less than favorable reviews hurt more on a personal level when a writer is just starting out.

My first book came out in 1999 and over time I've gotten to the point of: If you like it I'm happy, if you don't, those are the breaks.

Of course there are those reviews that contain comments making you wonder why in the hell this person requested or bought the book to read knowing damn well they'd find fault in setting or characters.

Those type make me scratch my head and think as long as the advance/royalty check clears the bank all is good.

Jules Jones said...

Barbara's right -- when you're still a novice you haven't had a chance to get used to the idea that not everyone will love your baby, and it will *hurt* when you read the thumbs-down reviews. But it's something you have to get used to. If you put the book out there for people to read, not everyone is going to like it, because people's tastes vary, and some people will hate the book for exactly the same reason that other people like it. And I do mean that quite literally -- I've been looking at the Amazon reviews for a friend's fantasy novel, and some of the reviews praise him for the beautiful description and world-building, while others are complaining about all the descriptive detail and get on with the story, why don't you.

Responding to reviews by explaining to the reviewer how incredibly ignorant and stupid they are is a really bad idea. I'm aware there's a flame war going on right now in the romance world about this, but I'm speaking from the sf side here, because we get regular rounds of it in the sf genre, and it generally leads to much pointing and laughing at the writer or editor who's in a public snit about a bad review. The mockery is because bad reviews are a hazard of the job; if you *don't* get the occasional unglowing review, it's an indication that there aren't actually that many people reading your books. Bitching to your friends in private is fine, but detailed essays rebutting the review are seen as evidence that you are missing the point. (Unless it really is a case of "the reviewer reviewed some other book entirely, and got the titles confused" -- which happens.)

That said, I do wish some of the publishers would warn their new authors that bad reviews happen, and that some review sites *will* say very bluntly that they did not like a book. If you've only seen the fluffy bunny review sites, you're going to get a nasty shock the first time you egosurf and find someone shredding your book.

Kis Lee said...

i haven't been writing long enough to get a lot of my stuff reviewed. the few reviews of my works have been good to moderate. i think you just have to learn to develop thick skin. it helps if you're in the arts in the first place.

Anne D said...

I'm fairly new to the scene, but I think Jules brings up a good point. It's not what the review says, it's how you as the reviewed act about it.

I've only had one review thus far that made me go hmmm? I blogged a little on it's content - but not a WTF you talking about, Willis? type blog post.Then I turned it around and used it in the recent short story that had those same characters in it, and made it funny (not made fun of it). So reviews are what you make of them, or don't make of them.

If you make a fuss, and you make a bad review even worse. And face it, it's the internet, it doesn't matter where you say it, someone will find it and cram it down your throat when you least expect it.

Oh and I'm a New Zealander, though I live in Florida currently