You probably already know that as well as this blog, the Paisley Piranhas also run a book-review blog (check us out for some YA recommendations if you haven’t already). We review books because we love them and we want to share that love. A blog is the cyber-version of grabbing your friends and pushing a book into their hands with, “You’ve got to read this, it’s amazing!”
Now, everyone agrees that reviews are important (it’s all about discoverability these days). But I was on a writing forum the other day where writers were complaining that they’d got some “unhelpful” reviews from using Netgalley. Now, in this context it was clear from what they said that unhelpful = lower than 4 or 5 stars, and, while I sympathise with the pain of discovering that not everyone loves your books, I thought they were missing the point.
A review, although it will be scrutinised and celebrated or lamented by the writer, isn’t intended for them. The review is for other readers. Once the book’s published it’s too late for a “helpful” review – that’s what writers have beta readers, and editors and proof-readers for.
Reviews are for readers
Reviews are for readers, and as a reader I love them. I do look at the stars, but I’d argue that one-star reviews are the most ‘helpful’. A one-star review reveals either:
a) the book is genuinely awful (e.g “this book seems to have been written by someone with only a nodding acquaintance with English. I counted 37 errors in the first two pages”): thank you, reviewer, I need go no further;
b) the reviewer doesn’t understand what a review is for (“I ordered a toaster and Amazon sent this book instead. It’s entertaining, but I didn’t want it, so I’m giving it one star”);
or c) (And this is my personal favourite) the reviewer is simply barking mad (“The hero of this book is called David. My ex-boyfriend is called David, therefore I hate this book.”).
For instances and b and c I’m now intrigued and want to check this book out, so I’ll look at a few other reviews, and if it sounds promising I’ll download the preview and make my own mind up. Then, once I’ve read a book, I’ll write a review to help other people decide whether the book’s a good match for their tastes. I follow a number of review blogs run by people whose opinions I’ve come to value for exactly this reason: to find recommendations for new books I can be confident I’m going to enjoy.
One book in an ocean of words
And that’s why I write reviews: to help other readers find the books they’re going to love in the ocean of words that’s out there (and growing bigger by the day). If I can help an author whose books I love, then I’m delighted to do so (to keep them writing more), but I don’t review in order to massage the ego of writers.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that all reviewers (I haven’t yet found an exception) blog and review and generally rave about books because WE LOVE BOOKS. You’re disappointed as a writer that I didn’t give you four or five stars? I can understand that – because I’m disappointed it didn’t get four or five stars. I’d love for every book that I pick up to be five stars, but that just doesn’t happen. Personal taste gets in the way and books other people rave about leave me meh, and vice versa.
Any review, regardless the number of stars, IS helpful to a writer, because they boost up the raw numbers of people who’ve read your book and bothered to express an opinion. These numbers matter for things like Amazon promoting your book (“if you liked this, try this…”) and they are also part of the decision-making process for book promotion sites like Book Bub. The overall score does matter (if you’ve got 100 reviews with a score of 1.9, you’ve written a turkey – take it down and start again), but so long as your book averages out to something decent you’ve got nothing to worry about – and complaining about a review won’t help. If you want the reviews you receive to be helpful, then accept the help the reviewer is giving you by reading the review and seeing if they maybe have a point – then get on and write the next book, making it your best yet.
In good company
If you’re feeling down because of your reviews, have a look at (and be cheered up by) some famous, culturally beloved books which have received excoriating reviews in this article. To illustrate my point about taste: I agree entirely about Lord of the Rings which I find utterly unreadable (I have tried, several times), while 1984 is fabulous (although I love Harry Potter, too).
Do you write reviews? Do you read them? Are they useful? Let me know in the comments.