I semi-regularly review books on the internets and am also fairly active in the Facebook lesfic community. The lesfic community itself is kind of fascinating. There’s this lovely supportive feeling to it, likely because it’s such a small niche and a lot of people are gung ho in their loyalty to their favorite authors. Which is GREAT! It helps people get books sold and helps foster an environment of regular sales and keeps those authors writing! All good things!
However, there is a downside to this that I think needs to be addressed loudly and regularly. This loyalty can result in a flood of positive reviews for books that are objectively terrible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to Amazon, taken a gander at the best selling lists, saw glowing reviews for a book with a decent blurb and thought “oh this looks great, I will read it!” Then I drop 8 bucks, start reading and am appalled at what I am seeing. Tons of errors, inabilities to use commas, poor sentence structure, etc. Then I think I must be crazy because so many people think it’s the greatest book ever.
I think there are several problems we could discuss, but only one of which I can really focus on here. I think we need to continue the loyalty (yay support!) but we need to cease and desist immediately the notion of “blind loyalty.” This is the practice of “I love this author and she’s a nice person so even though this book is fundamentally flawed FIVE STARS!” I’m sure that author is super sweet. I’m sure you love her posts on Facebook and you feel like you know her and you really want to be the first to loudly decree “I love you and I will show you by pushing all your books everywhere, no matter the quality!”
We so desperately need more objectivity when we discuss books. We need to think first before reviewing things so we can say “wait, did I really love this book because it’s a good story that is well-developed with complex characters?” Or did I love it because I love everything this author does and “if you say anything critical about their books I hate you and you are mean!” Are there terrible reviewers out there that just give a “this book sux” one-star review? Absolutely. Are there reviewers that go on a long diatribe making accusations about an author’s life, bringing completely unnecessary things into the review? Most definitely! Does this mean that critical reviews should never be posted? FUCK NO.
The entire point of reviews is to let any normal person off the street be able to see if there are any glaring problems with the narrative that are on their “do not tolerate list.” Some people can not stand head-hopping POV’s. If the book does that, please say so. There’s a bunch of other people this doesn’t bother in the slightest, as long as the story is good. Those people will read that review and say “ok that’s fine” and move on. If the book needed more editing, say that. Some people (like me) will get so furious because they are reading a book that is full of grammatical errors, and would never have bought that book if that was apparent. There are other people who couldn’t care less if that’s the case, as long as there’s good sex in it. But the only way people can know that going in is from reviews. We need to stop the practice of using reviews as a way to stroke an author’s ego. Please stop doing that! You are not making reviews better, you are making lesfic WORSE. That practice makes people stop taking chances on new authors because they have been burned too many times.
Yes, there are vindictive authors and their blindly loyal followers that love going after reviewers. But let’s practice what we preach and not let their words bother us. It’s just their opinion, just as your review is just your opinion.
There are other problems, including authors that make a bunch of pseudonyms to upvote their own work. There are also companies on the internet where you can BUY five star Amazon reviews, which saddens me (if you are doing either of those things I hope karma pops your tires). But let’s all work toward making better, more objective reviews (whether they be positive or negative) and better books for us to read! The community benefits from it, I promise.
For another voice on reviews please see this very good blog that discusses a similar problem.
And if you want to see a well-known (and much more eloquent than I) author’s thoughts on critical reviews, hop over to Karin Kallmaker’s blog here.