Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Honest Review

Who should you be reviewing for? Readers, authors, publishing houses? If you are going to start reviewing on a blog or website then you will need to decide who it is exactly that you are reviewing for. You can not review for them all and you will have to choose your angle carefully if you do.

I sometimes get told (by Indie authors only at this stage as they rely heavily on the promotional power of the positive review) that reviewers should only be writing positive reviews and that if a reviewer has not liked a book and has negative feedback to give, then they should not write a review at all.
But why would I do that? Why would any reader want to do that? I am reviewing books for my fellow readers and fellow readers do not want a one sided opinion on a book. They want your truth. A warts and all evaluation.
To a reader, negative feedback in a review is as important as positive feedback. To an author or a publisher, positive feedback is the most important, because positive reviews sell books and create buzz (small or big, buzz does sell books too).

A reviewer who is reviewing for other readers, should not be interested in selling books for people, even if they are friendly acquaintances or friends. If the book is any good, it will sell itself and it will build a steady supply of positive reviews on its own. Leaving biased over positive reviews of books because the author is a friend will only out you as a dishonest reviewer when people discover your opinion can not be relied upon.
A book review blogger needs to build an honest relationship with their followers and readers. If week in week out you are consistent and truthful, then over time people will begin to trust you. Or in the very least, understand you. They may not agree with you on a book, but they know your opinions cannot be bought. They come to understand your taste and can base their own decisions, on what to read, off of your opinions. 
It is a mutually beneficial relationship. 
You rely on others to read your blog to make the time you put into blogging worthwhile. The follower relies on you over time to help them find new books. In the process, the follower will also learn a lot about themselves as a reader. You will have helped them understand their own tastes, likes and dislikes.
You may not know you are building a rapport with your viewers because they sit out there in silence. The only hint that they are there is the growing number of 'site visits' on your visitation counter or the 'followers' number you can see in your site stats (although the majority of your followers are going to follow you by email and will never show up in that follower count).

You can only build this rapport with fellow readers if you stay true to yourself. This may mean irritating some authors or publicists who may have given you a book, or, offending the occasional author who you regard as a friendly acquaintance. In my opinion however, this should never factor into your decision on who to review for and how you review.
When you bruise an author's ego or offend a publisher and they cut you off or turn sour towards you, you are just going to have to roll with the punches. As long as you have been honest and fair in your evaluation of a book, then it is the author or publicist who is in the wrong. Not you.

A book is no different to a movie, or a restaurant. If you write a book, make a movie, open a restaurant, you are going to have to reconcile the fact that criticism goes hand in hand with your profession. As there are movie critics and food critics, so too should there be book critics.
Critics are the people (fair critics that is) who keep it real. Bring the honesty. They critique for fellow readers, movie watchers, foodies and cannot be bought or bargained with. People choose the critics they follow based on whether their level of honesty appeals. They know instantly - when they read a review by them - what their options are based on the connection they have formed with the reviewer's blog posts over time.

As for reviewing for authors...I like to call the reviewing for authors issue, The Amazon Reviewer Syndrome. Due to the exhaustive amount of Indie and Self Pub authors on Amazon (not a diss, just a fact), books are being given away for reviews by the thousands on a daily basis. This is not exclusive to Amazon anymore and happens via many other outlets, ie Goodreads, but it all began in the Amazon ebook jungle and so I stick with The Amazon Reviewer Syndrome for any official diagnosis.
In return for the free book many reviewers lose sight of who reviews are supposed to be for and they end up crossing over into a state of mind where they no longer review for fellow readers, but review for authors instead. Many will 'think' they are reviewing for themselves and for fellow readers, but if they look closely, they are not. They are dicing with words to ease the egos of authors and to inadvertently promote more sales for the author by withholding the negatives.

If this is what you want to do – write reviews in exchange for free books and leave out the honesty when it comes to the negative elements – then you are a reviewer for authors or publishers.
Once you paint yourself into that corner, fellow readers will gradually learn that your opinion is compromised. Influenced by a predilection for favouring the feelings of authors.
I would much rather put effort into wording some fair and respectful negative feedback, over gagging my honesty for the sake of somebody else's ego or sales figures.

It is just up to you, the professional critic, the professional reviewer, to decide how you want to be perceived as a critic. And I say keep it fair, keep it respectful and keep it clean, but find the words to say what you want in the process.
Try not to hit below the belt when leaving negative reviews. Although, as critics who lean towards colourful description we will always walk that knife edge. Authors are happy with emphasis on the positive, but not with emphasis on the negative, therefore each author will put differing values on what constitutes 'hitting below the belt'.

In all honesty (since honesty is what I am about here on the A&M Mayhem blog) if you want to be a book reviewer and start a blog or website, you will need to do some deep thinking on who it is that you want to review for. Especially if you are planning on accepting free books in exchange for a review.
If you review for authors, then life will be simple and carefree for you. But if you review for fellow readers, things can get a bit tricky. You need to understand that there could be repercussions in your relationships with authors and publishers, but as long as you stick with the adage 'say what you mean, don't say it mean', then you will always be able to hold the high ground and be proud of what you are doing.
In the process, you may also learn how to juggle things to keep everybody happy, even the authors and publishers.

- MM


  1. Well written. However, you seem to have forgotten one person who you might review for: yourself.
    And reviewing for yourself, while appearing very similar to reviewing for other readers, is different. And it gives you the high ground from start to finish, no matter what. You in fact are the god of your little review world.
    Reviewing for others can lead to self-censorship due to societal pressures or changing mores that you might not agree with.
    I am trying to find the balance between reviewing for myself, others and publishers [as I've joined Netgalley and now can read and review e-arcs].

    1. Hi mate,
      Yes, I see what you mean. I think my formula is a mish mash of reviewing for myself and for others all in the one bundle. I know a lot of the people who read my reviews (and I also read theirs so we kind of know all our likes and dislikes).
      When I review, I keep true to my integrity. As long as I am keeping tru to my integrity then that is the part that is reviewing for myself. the larger portion of the review is for others. I always have in mind what others like to know about a book.
      ie: I know fellow readers who don't like graphic sex or graphic violence in a book, therefore I make sure to touch on those aspects if a book contains excessive amounts of them. It helps a person decide whether they want to spend money on a book, if they know it contains things they hate.
      So, I will always be in there reviewing for myself while I am reviewing for others, and trying to not offend publishers and authors. :)

  2. What a well written piece. It annoys me that some authors expect that giving you their book ensures a good review. For me being a reviewer is all about helping the reader not the writer. If the book is good then I will give it the praise I feel it deserves


    1. Thanks very much. :)
      Yes, so annoying. The author needs to understand that it isn't personal. We don't dislike their book on purpose. I think they get so used to people telling them what they want to hear that many get surprised when someone dares to points out the flaws.