As a reader, I’ve written scores of reviews. Often under what I think are clever usernames so no one can truly peg who I am or what gender and/or demographic I represent. Why do I do that? Because I don’t want my reviews to be typecast or scrutinized as more than my opinion on the title. But until my first novel was published, I had no idea how important those reviews are.
I write reviews because I love good books, and I want other readers to find those books in the ever-growing tsunami of new books released in the ever-growing number of genres and sub-genres every day. Not everyone has to agree with me on books—I’m giving my opinion, what I loved about each book, why I would suggest it to my best friend. If someone doesn’t like it and offers a contrasting review to mine, that’s fine. I’m not going to say their review wasn’t helpful, because what they have to say is important to the type of readers who read books they prefer—not the books I enjoy. I don’t write negative reviews. I’d rather use my time to throw a spotlight on books I really want other people to read.
For fun and a bit of illumination on the subject, go out and do a Goodreads or Amazon search on your favorite author, then check out the range of stars and written reviews on that author’s books. Even titles held up as classics or best-loved are going to have negative reviews sprinkled in with all the many four- and five-star reviews. And that’s okay. Really. Because books are the great leveler in our society. There truly is something for everyone. While a good many of the books and stories I read in school were “because it was mandatory,” and many I would never recommend to my worst enemy, there was something in each that needed to be said to someone.
I belonged to a book club for several years, and one of the titles we discussed once was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Everyone in the group read the book, but one man in particular wanted to know why in the world anyone would want to read it, much less suggest it for a group read. I’d been a longtime Atwood fan, so kept my mouth shut to listen to the others respond. Several members offered a comments about why they liked the novel, but he wasn’t buying any of it. Finally, I spoke up and said, “It’s a cautionary tale. It’s something to think about if the wrong people control society.” In that instant, we all saw the light pass over his face finally, and he nodded and said, “Okay, I get it now.”
When we discussed John Irving novels, another of my favorite authors, I learned how about half the readers in our book club—despite being voracious readers—truly did not understand symbolism. Until our discussion, in our little circle on the second floor of our neighborhood indie bookstore, all of these readers missed so many important elements of the Irving title we read. Half went back and reread the book after our discussion, when the rest of us explained the symbolism and quiet information they’d missed. Nearly all realized they liked the book the second time, after dismissing so much in the initial read.
Reviews help readers see what others are thinking, and understand things read too quickly in our hurry-up-world. I read negative reviews as often as I read positive ones. Many times, the very things readers point out as reasons they didn’t like a title is exactly why I knew I wanted to read it.
Of course, as an author I wish every review of my books was a five-star glowing soliloquy to why it is the best novel the reader has ever read, and why that reviewer wants everyone in the world to read it too. Let’s be reasonable, though. That’s never going to happen.
However, honest reviews, thoughtful reviews, short, long, or medium reviews—all help the reader decide whether to choose a book and make a purchase. That’s what I’ve learned as an author—the power a review has to help some anonymous buyer decide from the words written by some anonymous reviewer that a title is exactly the one the anonymous buyer wants to purchase. Especially if the author is a “new-to-me” author to that purchasing reader. I’ve learned to add one quick line like, “I can’t wait for the next in this series” to my reviews, to not only tell readers what they need to know, but to also give the author a boost of confidence, too. Because I really do hate having to wait any longer than I have to, and I want to do everything in my power to make a favorite author write that much faster.
What about you? What’s your philosophy about reviews?