Recently, I received encouragement to start reviewing books again, which has led to reflection on why I’ve stopped. In brief: I am the chief of insecure authors.
Not all fiction writers fit the stereotype of the moody, emotionally insecure artist anymore than we’re all narcissistic and critical. However, quite a few authors took my reviews of their work as more negative than I had intended them to be, and none liked my review so much they asked me to post it on Amazon. Between that and a load where I was only reading books for review, it stopped being fun, and I took a much-needed break.
“Why don’t I review on Amazon?” has an answer that may be somewhat ironic. Amazon’s reviewers are required to give the books they review a star rating. I hate the idea of giving out star ratings to art. It strikes me as a value judgment. If I did, I could only do so on the basis of my subjective tastes. Further, I’d tend to give out stars in a bell curve, meaning lots of threes, some twos and fours, and few ones, and very few fives.
Now, readers may not mind an honest reviewer who gives most books three stars and lists both likes and dislikes and my opinion on which types of readers should pass and which should give it a try. Authors however might, and we have a dark secret that I’m totally going to blab.
Readers, reviews are supposed to be for your benefit. The vast majority of authors who review other authors’ books aren’t in it for your benefit. In my circles, it’s rare for someone to be stupid enough to give out harsh reviews to hurt the competition. Most authors write reviews to help the competition with the expectation the favor will someday be returned—with the hope of getting so lucky, in the case of best sellers. This phenomenon makes me uncomfortable.
I’m not accusing folks of artificially inflating the star ratings they give or of exaggerating their praise. I do know some aren’t giving you the whole picture and leaving out the negatives. I hope it is more common for writers to only review something if we can give it an honest four or five star review and keep silent otherwise. I’m not sure that is ever a good policy, but it is sometimes carried out unfairly, where the authors choose to give no review over a negative review for colleagues but give negative reviews to strangers not in a position to help them.
I don’t play favorites, except when it’s an honest favorite and I’m actually such a big fan of someone’s work, I manage to read it as simply a fan girl and end up raving like one. That is rare behavior for me in part as I find the behavior weird.
Readers, I refuse to review books to help my career and other authors rather than to help you. That offends my conscience, but reviewing books the way I feel is right could lead to backlash. For most published authors today, bumming for reviews is part of the job. The most sympathetic folks are our own colleagues. It’s natural to not want to help someone who gave you a review that was measured rather than glowing, especially if you took it as a one star review rather than as a three star review and had paid for the reviewer’s copy of the book yourself.
Further, in an effort to keep my blog coherent, I often used reviews to dissect the book’s theology and discuss the religious themes in the book. While attempting to draw out points relevant to the topics we’ve talked about here, sometimes I dissented to a view of a character, and it turned out that character was speaking for the author, and the author got defensive. In those cases, too often, it became a situation where no one really wins.
For authors: if I return to reviewing, I’ll do some things differently. I’ll review on Amazon and/or goodreads.com, with a star rating, and I’ll do every book I read fairly, provided I can persuade my instant gratification monkey that giving up my pleasure reading is not an acceptable way to avoid doing my boring homework. I’ll be more cautious about discussing theology. Characters are allowed to have different views than me. What I’m not fond of is books advocating dissenting views on issues I feel strongly about, which only makes me human.
I also will not be accepting review copies that cost the author or the publisher money to produce. This is partially my way of helping out and partially due to the fact I’ve fallen in love with reading on my Kindle. If you have a paperback you want to get rid of, I’d rather you donated it to the Boise Public Library in my name than sent it to me, but I do welcome suggestions of books to add to my reading list. To get a yes from me requires only that I’d read it for fun, it’s available for the Kindle, and not an overpriced ebook. In my opinion as a consumer, an ebook is overpriced starting at a mere six dollars.
I love well-written fiction of any genre (save horror) that has a positive, biblically sound message or otherwise glorifies the Lord rather than sin. If you have a book that you believe would be of interest to me, send me a short synopsis or your promotional material and a link to where the e-book is sold.