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4 Truths for Book Reviewers to Remember
From Reviewer to Writer
I've been on both sides of the saddle. First and foremost, I'm a reader. In 2012, I decided to take my lifelong passion for books to the next level, and imprint my first genuine electronic footprint by starting my own book blog. It really began as a way to simply remember what books I'd tackled, since I was making the switch to eBooks and no longer had a physical shelf to commemorate my literary conquests.
But it metamorphosed into something more. After my little blog accrued more subscribers, comment conversations and international hits than I'd imagined, I began rifling through books in the excitement to get new reviews out there. It wasn't just for leisure anymore; I was on a mission. Sadly, I actually stopped enjoying the process of reading so much. Instead of appreciating every book for the tremendous effort it was by a group of people who, for the most part, revolve their careers around pleasing my whims, I began only to grumble about the patterns, supposed "formula", perceived unoriginality, and what I thought the authors could've done better.
I finally reached a tipping point. I put my foot down and thought, "If all these folks can get published, why can't I? I could write something better than what's on the market, or at least as good as. I'm sure it's got to be easy."
So, I set out and tried.
I did write several novels. And I did get them published. But that's only because I poured months and years of pain, sweat, blood and literal tears into it. Sacrifices, time from my family, thousands of dollars in marketing, countless rewrites, not to mention hundreds of rejection letters have been my life on the road to authorhood.
A Call for Fairness
But getting a manuscript accepted and published is only half the battle, as it turns out. The true beast is the live market, where your book drowns among millions of other Amazon listings in an impossible battle for attention. You pay and pay for marketing, ads, blog tours, promotions and giveaways, yet somehow still can't manage to sell a thing. And then, after all of your energy and money's spent, your fragile dreams are hanging by a thread and you face daily nail-biting anxiety whenever you check your rankings or receive updates from your publishers, the reader reviews start pouring in. Some are enthusiastic. Some are fair and respectful. But others...well, others will make you cry.
Now, a book reviewer has every darned right to dislike a book and say so. I know I have. In fact, the negative reviews I wrote (and have since deleted) were often my most popular and up-voted ones. In a way, I think some consumers are looking for an excuse not to have to buy yet another item in a material world that seems to only want our money. Isn't that why we always check the one-star reviews first, to see if we can live with the complaints, or else ensure we aren't swindled or disappointed? But I digress. We count on internet reviewers to warn against lazy or poor quality. Especially if, say, a book is unedited and contains pedestrian grammatical errors, typos or improper formatting. Or if a book has offensive or disturbing material, I want someone to alert me.
And yet, for the rest of the genuine quality books out there by hardworking authors, there ought to be a push for reviews that are a little fairer to everyone. Honest, of course, in helping readers make their decisions, but also with the understanding that a team of human beings - including an author, with real feelings - is behind every book. Give criticism where it's due, certainly...but also try to give a little credit. After all, to have made it past a wall of agents, publishers, editors, and other investors, most traditionally published books can't be total garbage. It could simply not be your cup of tea - and that's just fine. But I think there are things reviewers tend to forget, if they were ever aware of them in the first place. I know I wasn't, until I walked in a writer's shoes.
And so, here are my 4 little truths I hope every book blogger will keep in mind before posting their next review:
1. Authors Read Your Reviews.
When I was just starting out as a blogger, I used to post to my blog, Amazon, Goodreads, and similar sites (like Shelfari and LibraryThing), thinking my insignificant voice would never be heard. It didn't matter how scathing I was, because it wasn't like the author would see it anyway, right?
Wrong. While hugely famous and bestselling authors probably don't read (or care about) their reviews, smaller-time and indie authors live for reviews as proof that real people are actually finding and reading their books. It makes our whole year if you loved it, but we respect all opinions. We do see your reviews, as do our publishers, family and friends. And we do take your feedback to heart, sometimes even applying what you say to our future works. We thrive off of your input.
*Due to recent events, it's important to note here that all authors must respect every reviewer's rights and privacy. Any self-respecting author would never stalk someone's social media accounts or pose a threat in retaliation for a negative review.
2. Authors Aren't Rich.
Especially not indie ones. I would approximate 95% of published authors don't make a livable wage on their writing. Some don't make any money at all. Please keep that in mind next time you want to accuse an author of trying to "pump another one out", "money grab" or "please the market".
Most of us write for no reason other than the fact that we enjoy it. If someone's genre happens to match what's trending, that doesn't make them greedy, especially considering many of us see so little in royalties. Most authors never sell a hundred copies of a book, let alone their first thousand. So, this is purely a labor of love. It's something we choose to do to express what's inside of us, with the bonus added hope that we might make you smile.
3. Authors Have Feelings, Too.
Many authors are creative, thought-filled souls who chisel out the shapes of their hearts and the deepest, most vulnerable parts of themselves and their beliefs about the world into their craft. Be honest, be blunt if you have to, but there's usually no need to be outright flippant, unnecessarily critical, or cruel. As mentioned in #1, the author most likely will see and read your review. While most authors welcome even negative opinions, just be sure to ask yourself first if it really is necessary to be so critical, or if you truly could have written the book so much better yourself.
4. We Need You.
Let me reiterate: you are highly needed. You, valiant reviewers, are one of the most vital parts of the market and the reading and publishing experience for readers and writers alike. Authors wish more people were like you, unafraid to post their thoughts online and tell the world they read our books. Our listings need reviews to be seen, so please keep sharing and reviewing, and continue to tell us what you want. We hope to serve you.
Unless you've written a book yourself, and undergone what it takes to get it published and market-ready, you may never realize how difficult it is and what it costs. It seems easy, but I can promise you, it's anything but. Not everyone can actually finish a manuscript, and fewer still can manage to get it published. It's important to recognize, when you're reading a book, that the author at least made it that far. For most of us without previous fame or connections, it was no small feat.
I believe that authors and reviewers can coexist in a relationship built on mutual trust, appreciation, honesty and fairness. Thank you, reviewers, for all that you do. And thank you, authors, too!
© 2016 CK Brooke