Reviews are good for you

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.

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Reviews are good for you

23 thoughts on “Reviews are good for you

  1. sunnycspot says:

    Very well said! I have a feeling there will be a lot of tires popping because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been burned by amazingly good reviews leading me to buy a book riddled with errors and bad writing.

  2. I’m a reviewer for Awesome Indies (http://awesomeindies.net). One of the stated purposes of AI is to provide feedback to indie authors re: how well their work stacks up against traditionally published books. That applies to both story and presentation.

    Fortunately our reviews are posted anonymously as “Awesome Indies Reviewer” or I wouldn’t review for them, because I’m well aware that some authors will seek revenge if they don’t get the results they want. Many others simply CANNOT hear criticism without reacting to it, rather than use it to improve their writing.

    I rejected one book back in the days* when AI posted all reviews, good or bad, to Amazon. My critique pointed out problems and related them to the book AI reviewers use as a blueprint for good writing that avoids amateur errors. The author rebutted each and every criticism in a comment, indicating that she had learned absolutely NOTHING from my critique. Worse than that, it proclaimed that she wasn’t open to hearing any criticism at all.

    Another book I recommended, but with “only” 4 stars. Moments after the review was posted to Amazon, it was voted down. Who would do that but the author? And that was a book that was ACCEPTED by AI. As a result, I am less than enthusiastic about doing more reviewing.

    I’m posting this here because I see many of us trying to improve the quality of indie and lesbian fiction and getting slammed for it. No wonder people don’t post critical reviews.

    * Because of backlash, AI no longer posts reviews of books that don’t make the cut, but submits it privately to the author. Who probably dumps it in the trash.

  3. proofrdr1 says:

    That’s something that needed to be said and needs to be heard! We have some very talented lesbian authors who care about their craft and work diligently with their beta readers and editors to create as perfect a book as possible. Unfortunately. I think we are being inundated by too many “first-draft” books, and the grain is hard to find amid all that chaff. Effusive reviews with no depth do little to help.

  4. I did a blog on this identical issue two days ago (https://margueritequantaine.wordpress.com/2015/01/06/when-bad-reviews-hurt-good-authors-and-what-can-be-done-to-change-that/#comment-835), but yours brings up extra issues. Brava.

    I would like to point out, Amazon allows you the “Look inside ” most books for a 7 chapter free read before deciding whether (or not) you want to purchase it. Even if someone tells me of they’re intent to buy, I encourage her to take advantage of that offer on my book (Imogene’s Eloise : Inspired by a true-love story) so the caliber of writing can be ascertained BEFORE spending a cent.

    If a free look isn’t offered, I’d search for the author on Facebook, friend her, and ask for a free read of at least one chapter, via email, in a PDF file before buying. At the price of books, plus a five dollar postage add-on, a look inside seems only fair — even necessary.

    1. And so often you can really get a good idea of what you are getting into with these looks inside!

      I loved your blog and wanted to add a link to it but didn’t want to ride on your coattails! But since you are kind enough to post it here I’ll add it to the blog. Thank you!

  5. Adan Ramie says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. I post reviews myself, and I tend toward the positive, but I would never 5-star a book that I really didn’t think deserved it. Readers deserve better.

    As an author, I expect more from a reviewer than the review equivalent of a bouquet of flowers and a strippergram. Most authors are mature enough to take a critical review for what it’s worth: necessary feedback that can help her improve her craft. Great post!

    1. “bouquet of flowers and a strippergram” HA!

      I always try to find something I liked in a book even in a negative review (although I can fail at that…) I also always try to find a place that could be improved in a positive review. I like a good balance. And I really do think we can give authors more credit for their ability to take a review.

      1. Adan Ramie says:

        You’re absolutely right, Nikki. Authors are people, too. Some of us can take a bad review and read it like a checklist on what we need to improve. Some, on the other hand, turn into squealing toddlers sobbing and stomping their feet. As an author, I hope that, as a whole, we fall more into the first group.

  6. canuckeh says:

    Well said. I admit to being kinder and gentler with my reviews of lesfic since the market is so small and I fear the authors will barely cover the cost of hiring an editor if I post extremely negative reviews. I am not so kind with the mainstream authors I read.
    You are correct though. I am not helping authors by glossing over poor editing when I see it or characters which leave me flat. If we ever hope to see lesbian fiction enter the mainstream market it’s time I treat all authors the same.

  7. This is so true! By overindulgent reviews, instead of promoting lesfic we make it worse. As a young author myself I see when a critic is honest and I enjoy constructive criticism. It is just childish to refuse to accept bad critics. It is the only way we can improve :/

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