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Friday, March 14, 2014

Reader Reviews: Why They Matter by Jacqueline Seewald

As a reader you might think that your opinion of a book or short story you’ve read doesn’t matter, but you’d be wrong! Not only does your opinion matter to the author but it matters to other potential readers as well. Writers who can’t build a readership because they remain unknown are likely to become discouraged and stop writing. So if you do respect and/or enjoy a book or short story, voice your opinion. Give that writer some encouragement and publicity. Amazon is one place to do it and so are Goodreads and Library Thing. But there are many other sites as well.

For those authors who are published in print, major editorial reviews only matter as much as they do because the reviews offered in such publications as: The New York Times Book Review, Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus etc. are what acquisitions librarians consider when they place their orders. Librarians are often referred to as gatekeepers, but this is not quite true. For the most part, just a few publications control what books will be purchased worldwide. But these review pubs merely voice the opinion of single reviewers, and these reviewers don’t know more than the average person in regard to what should be available to readers. If a book gets a rave or starred review from these all important publications, then in essence that is what readers will have available in libraries and bookstores. 

Unfortunately, a great many fine, quality books will be ignored and get no reviews or publicity because they aren’t offered by the big publishers who heavily advertise. It appears that the major review publications give special preference to the publishers who advertise with them—not at all surprising. Readers should check out some of the internet review sites for buying recommendations. Also, why not request that your library order books from smaller, independent publishers that you think might be a good read.

The internet is now offering readers real alternatives. This is wonderfully democratic. A great many small independent publishers are making a variety of books available to readers. If you read a book you like, speak up and be a reader reviewer. Tell other readers why you would recommend a particular book. Write and be counted! Your opinion matters! But one caution: take this as a serious responsibility. Of late, it has been noted that some individuals bash books, sometimes books they haven’t even bothered to read. This is highly destructive, much in the way that hackers attack the internet.


What is your thinking on this topic? Your comments pro and con are welcome here.

40 comments:

Susan Oleksiw said...

You're right on target with this, Jacquie. Readers' reviews are important for bringing less well known books to the attention of more readers, and also for giving readers a chance to say what they are looking for in a book. Your last comment is also a reminder that reviewing a book is a responsibility, and not the place to show off how clever you are or to release pent-up anger. Good post.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thank you, Susan. I realize for some this will be a controversial blog post. But for some time now, I thought certain things needed to be said. I appreciate that you have made similar observations.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the less than glowing reviews -- if presented honestly- more than some more fulsome ones because I think I will be warned of any shortcomings before I buy.
I do not ccare for graohic sex or street language so like to be warned of such things before hand.
Reading "I just loved this book!! with gushing praise of a character doesn't usually lead me to buy the book.
I have experienced too many people telling me they Loved Jane Austen only to discover that they Loved seeing Colin Firth in the movie of Pride and Prejudice.
I also like to read a 1 -3 star rating review to get a balanced picture. The best lure to buy is the Look inside feature on Amazon-- or an excerpt. I have started looking for books by an author after I read a free book by her.
However, sometimes the free book tells me that I really don't want to spend my time and money on more of that author.
Others swear by tweeted reviews. These are fine if you trst the taste of the one sending the Tweets.

Patricia Gligor said...

Jacqueline, great post on a very important and relevant topic.
As a reader, I don't put much stock in reviews because I prefer not to let the opinions of other people influence me. However, I realize that not everyone feels the same way. Reviews do matter! So, I always write a review for a book I've read and enjoyed. If I don't like a book, I won't review it because I believe wholeheartedly that "one man's garbage is another man's gold." Just because a book didn't appeal to me doesn't mean it isn't a good book.
As an author, I appreciate when someone takes the time to review one of my books but I have no respect for anyone who "bashes" a book.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Pat,

We agree: I do write book reviews but do not write them for books I don't like. As an author myself, I won't write snarky reviews that hurt another writer.

As to Anonymous's comments: I'm glad that you don't simply accept a negative review at face value. Amazon's showing of the beginning of a book as you point out is helpful. Which brings up another topic of value: why writers need a strong narrative hook at the beginning of a book. More about that another time!

Janis Susan May said...

I agree that the internet is offering alternatives, but not alternatives are great. The ease and anonymity give permission to trolls who give bad reviews for any number of reasons, most of which have no relationship to the merit of the book. It is just an exercise of jealousy or power on their part, and the writer is unable to protect herself or her work. (I mean bad reviews simply for the sake of bad reviews, not a judicious analysis of a bad book.) Until something is done to control or identify the trolls, the entire review process is by necessity suspect.
Susan, also known as Janis

Bonnie Tharp said...

Great post, Jacquie. As a reader I read book reviews, including the bad ones, in order to get a picture of what appealed (or didn't) about the book. If nobody like it, I probably won't either. But if a few didn't like it and most loved it then I assume personal preference was the big influence, not just the story. Not everyone likes a story, it's a fact of life. I don't waste my time reading a book I don't like and I do post reviews on most everything I read on Goodreads or Amazon.

As a writer, I love reading reviews. It helps me understand what about my story resonated with the reader and what didn't. While the bad reviews break my heart (no one likes to hear they have an ugly baby & our books are like our children)I look at the content and take what I can to heart. It's obvious I didn't fulfill that readers expectations and I want to learn how to improve future stories.

Book Reviews are an essential communications device between readers and for writers. Thanks for starting this valuable discussion.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Janis,

I have read more and more comments by fellow authors about nasty reviews. But as writers, we're putting ourselves out there and not everyone is going to like what we write. I make it a policy not to comment back on negative reviews when I get them. Usually, the good ones will outweigh them anyway.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Bonnie,

I agree with you that we can learn how to improve our writing from constructive criticism. But bashing for the sake of it is just plain cruel. That's why I say if readers do read a book they like it's important to write a review that others can read. A wonderfully democratic process! Positives and negatives, both co-existing.

Barbara Anne Waite said...

Great post. I have been so thankful for genuine reviews for the memoir I wrote about my grandmother Elsie. I have had 269 Amazon reviews. I was unprepared for the harshly negative few that made no sense. I had to laugh when one comment said "This was so old-fashioned." The cover says it is from diary & letters 1913-1916. Yes, certainly is "old -fashioned." Perhaps one hazard of offering free e-books are readers who will download a historical memoir that have no interest in that genre. I am a writer of reviews for books that I enjoy. I can't bring myself to write negative reviews. There does appear to be people who enjoy being negative. Before buying a book I check the # of positive reviews and read if there are a large number of negative reviews that appear to be valid criticism. Thanks for writing about this topic. Barbara Anne Waite

Nancy Means Wright said...

An important post, indeed, Jacquie, for writers and readers. I agree with what commenters before me have said: we should support one another through reviews and feedback--in so far as we have time! And keep our mouths/pen still when we encounter a work we simply don't care for. Empathy is the word here: writers and readers must have empathy for one another, and put ourselves in the other person's head and heart.We're dealing with people here,not objects.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Barbara Anne,

I think the number of reviews you've received on Amazon is very impressive. But offering any book for free on Amazon incurs certain risks. Some readers will download books just because they are free. This can draw negativity.

Jan Christensen said...

Great post,Jacqueline. I especially like the line about reviews now being a democratic process because anyone can post a revew on Amazon/Goodreads/etc. And yes, the internet has also brought out the trolls. I guess they think it's fun to bash others, and I can only hope that we will learn how to raise children not to become bullies, which the trools certainly are.

Betty Gordon said...

A thoughtful post, Jacquie. I agree with comments shared, but I must add that I NEVER even considered writing a review for A book I didn't like. Fortunately, I have disliked few books.

T.W. Fendley said...

Hi, Jacquie -- Reviews are so important, aren't they?! As you know, we tried to facilitate the process of getting readers/other authors to request books through the Library Exchange Request on The Writers' Lens. I've only had limited success with my requests, but keep trying and encourage others to do the same. Broad Universe is also now offering Net Galley to solicit reviews--available to members for $25 per book per month. Patchwork Press has a similar service, without membership, for $45.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Jan,

The "trolls" are a real problem. Cyber bullying takes many forms. We writers have to hang tough, even though it isn't always easy.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Nancy,

I so agree with you about writers needing to have empathy and helping each other.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Betty,

I'm completely agree. Nasty reviews are cruel and unnecessary.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thanks for the info, Teresa. I know some writers will find it helpful. As you know, it's very difficult to get librarians to purchase books that haven't been reviewed by the big pubs, and of course, the small publishers mostly get their books ignored. It's a catch-22.

LJ Garland said...

Great post, Jacqueline! I totally agree. Honest reviews are important.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thanks for dropping by, L.J.

Mary F. Schoenecker said...

A good blog, Jacquie, and again you have many comments that are relevant. I would never consider writing a nasty review and don't understand readers who do. Find the best in the work and be positive with any suggestions.That works for me.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Mary,

I agree with you. If a reader doesn't like a book then that reader shouldn't review it.

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Well done!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thank you, Sylvia!

jrlindermuth said...

Exactly. Sometimes readers just don't realize the importance of reviews. It doesn't hurt to ask those with whom you come in contact. Not all will follow through. Many will.
As to libraries, some readers don't realize they have the power to suggest books, too. Again, it doesn't hurt to ask.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

From the writer's perspective, reader reviews on Amazon in particular can make a book much more visible among the millions of others in Amazon's mysteriously shifting algorithms. Sometimes the issue is not even what the reviews actually say. Readers may not realize that if you give a book you like three stars, it will end up in the "critical" (ie negative) reviews column. Finally, my personal example of the power of reviews: I've just signed a contract with Amazon, which is picking up my indie e-book Voyage of Strangers. What caught an acquisitions editor's eye? The wonderful reviews from a handful of people who took the time and trouble to read the book and post the review. I'm eternally grateful to every one of them.

Nikki said...

I appreciate readers who take the time to read and review books. It reminds me of sharing recipes. In the same way, not everyone likes the same things. An honest negative review can be helpful, but trolling is evil.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi Jacqueline: Interesting post here. You're right about contacting your library. I have asked my library to order, for instance, a Five Star book I wanted to read. They've done it several times. I get to read the book and one was picked up by a book club which mean it was purchased by all five branches. Our Friends of Library group has made books available even with the county funds being reduced. Besides, it's a way to help out our Five Star friends. Thanks for a timely and relevant post.

Maggie Toussaint said...

I am in 100% agreement about the necessity of reviews. Some folks are hesitant to post what they think because they aren't professional reviewers, but the truth is their review is just as valid as a "professional" review. While a reader review may not carry as much weight as a Big Four reviewer, having more reviews does things to the placement of the book within purchasing systems and leads to the possibility of more viral buzz.

Just today I got a note through my website from someone I don't know, whose name I can't pronounce, saying how much they enjoyed my Cleopatra Jones mysteries. I hope they post their thoughts online, but regardless, its one more piece of reader feedback and validation.

Great topic, Jacquie!

Anonymous said...

Seems like all the comments are from writers seeking reviews.

How about addressing this from a reader's viewpoint? I'm an avid reader and I've written some reviews, all of them for great books that deserved the 5 stars I gave them. I've realized that writing a review is both difficult and time-consuming.

And, I kind of resent being expected to go the extra mile after I've already spent my money and given my time to reading the book. I'm more than willing to tell my friends and family about how wonderful the book is and somewhere I heard that word-of-mouth is the best publicity.

When writers ask for reviews, they are asking someone (readers)to give up something (time) for nothing just so they (the writer) can get an additional feather in his/her cap.

Susan Coryell said...

Jacqui: Great blog--helpful and informative. I do wish librarians would give Indie publishers more credence. There are some wonderful works published by small presses.
As a writer, I do read reviews with an analytical eye. I had to wonder about the review via Amazon that gave my book a 3 and said it was a typical wild wild west story. Actually, it's a Southern Gothic taking place in Southern VA!
Thanks for your insight!

Sandy Bruney said...

I do read reviews before buying a book, even if it is free. Like someone else posted, I like to be warned not only of graphic sex, but also if the book is full of grammatical errors, poor editing, etc. but I hate it when the reviewer writes a"book report" and gives away the ending!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

John, Elizabeth, Nikki, Joyce, Maggie, Susan, Sandy, and our Anonymous commentator,

You each represent facts and information about reviews that I believe both readers and writers can appreciate. Because major review publications will not and likely cannot discuss each work that is published, it becomes more important than ever for readers to offer reviews of works they truly enjoy.

Cindy Sample said...

You always write such compelling posts, Jacquie, and I've enjoyed the discussion so far. It's true that the more favorable reviews a book receives, the better it is perceived in the marketplace. On a personal note, there is nothing more motivating than receiving a new review from a reader who lives thousands of miles away who has just discovered your series and loves it. It makes all of your hard work and effort well worth it!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Cindy,

Your observation is so true. As a writer I also feel uplifted when a reader/reviewer comments that he or she loves one of my novels.

Jenny Milchman said...

Hi Jacquie,

An important subject indeed, and I like your point about the democratization we're experiencing now.

Personally, I appreciate every single one of my reader reviews, and the time someone took to put down their thoughts--good and bad.

But (and there is something of a but here), I think that before reader reviews can be given the seriousness they deserve, there's going to have be some controls put in place, and that may be the opposite of the Amazon culture, at least right now.

When 1 star can be accorded because, for instance, the author in question bashed JK Rowling, and JK fans want to get back at this person...that's not a review, it's a schoolyard playground. This is just one recent example of how reader reviews can be used in service of a purpose besides reviewing.

Readers need to know that they are reading other readers' honest, heartfelt thoughts about a book. They may or may not have the same take on that book, but at least they will trust they are reading a true opinion.

Great topic!

Allison Knight said...

I agree with you completely. What readers think is why you wrote the book in the first place. You liked it and you think others will too. If they don't say so, how do you know? Most authors I know treasure reader reviews over professional reviewers many times over. I know I do.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Jenny,

Your points are noted! I do believe Amazon and Goodreads in particular should be screening some of the reviews that are not actually reviews at all but trash talk. Writers need to read the comments that are made by readers, positive and negative.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Allison,

Reader reviews as well as professional reviews are valuable, but there is a need for balance.