Last week I followed an interesting discussion started on Facebook by reviewer Becky Condit of Mrs. Condit & Friends Read. The most thought-provoking part of the conversation for me began with the questions “So, do we write reviews for readers or writers? If for readers, are we part of the marketing team? If for writers, are we part of the editing team? Or are we some half-breed entity and does anyone really pay any attention to reviews?”
I’ve been mulling over the relationship between reviewers/readers and authors for the past few days, and the truth is we have a unique relationship built on mutual dependence and equality. Readers love to read. (I know that’s a no-brainer.) Books provide a much needed respite from life. They build hope. They boost the spirits. They are there to serve the reader.
Authors, on the other hand, have a burning need to tell stories. I say it’s a burning need, because it's not logical to work in isolation for months for very little financial reward in most cases, and then open oneself up to public criticism. That takes passion. We write because we love it. But telling the story isn’t enough. We need someone to read our books and hopefully love our stories as much as we do.
We need readers. Readers need us. It’s the circle of literary life, and it is beautiful.
I’m not a reviewer and I know these questions were posed to reviewers, but I have some thoughts. Are reviews written for readers or authors? I say BOTH.
A well-written review can help a reader find books she will love, and it can help an author find her audience. This is true whether the reviewer liked the book or not as long as the review has substance. If it’s filled with inflammatory language like “worst book ever” or “TSTL” or “all the other reviewers must be the author’s family because no one could like this book”, there is very little—if any—useful information readers can take from it. (Does anyone else see putting down a reader's review and trying to discredit her through name-calling a form of cyber-bullying?) *edited to clarify the original intent of this question.
Here are some of the things readers can expect from my books based on both positive and negative reviews:
- My work has been described as historical chick-lit. My characters are nonconventional and they don’t always follow the rules of polite society. Lovers of traditional Regency probably won’t enjoy my books.
- My stories are humorous, light, and a fun romp. If a reader is looking for an angsty drama or heart-pounding thriller, she won’t find it in one of my books.
- My books have sex. Some people say too much. Some say not enough. But there is definitely sex.
- Sometimes people want to strangle a character and sometimes they want to weep with them. Sometimes they love them and sometimes they hate them. Therefore, readers can feel reasonably certain they will have some emotional experience, although that’s not always the case.
- My stories don’t center on a big misunderstanding. Characters talk to each other, like each other, and often deal with an outer source of conflict together toward the end of the story, because falling in love is just the beginning in real life.
- My work is “pretty much free of poor grammar and typos”, thanks to my critique partners, editor, copyeditor, and proofreader. If one slips through, I feel like it must be destiny. LOL
Does anyone pay any attention to reviews? I do! I do! (Raising hand and waving it madly) I was a reader long before I became a writer. Sometimes I check out reviews to help me decide what to read, although I’m most likely to read books friends have recommended.
Rules I apply when reading reviews:
- I don’t pay attention to the mean-spirited reviews that attack the author or try to discredit the other readers. Those reviews only discredit the person writing it, IMO. A professional knows how to provide a critical analysis of a book without being condescending and resorting to name-calling when someone has a different opinion.
- I automatically discount any reviews that use the word boring. I always picture a young reader, and I don’t think we would have similar reading likes.
- I don’t factor into my decision reviews where the reader DNF. As one commenter in Mrs. Condit’s FB discussion said, where did the person stop reading? The first page? The first chapter? I don't feel I can base a decision on a reader’s opinion when she already admitted she didn’t read it. I might miss out on a book I might think is great.
- I’m less likely to buy a book that has several readers saying the work has typos and grammar mistakes. I figure if several people notice, it must be more than a couple. Lots of typos, missing words, and wrong words begin to distract me from the story.
- I’m more likely to buy a book that has elements I enjoy, regardless of the rating.
I feel pretty lucky to have gotten several helpful reviews for my books, and I'd like to say thank you to reviewers for reading my books and taking time to write a thoughtful review. Even if it turns out I’m not your cup of tea, I am someone’s, and your reviews have gotten us one step closer to discovering each other. I guess that kind of makes you matchmakers. Happy reading, everyone!
Who do you think reviewers write for: readers, authors, or both? Do you pay attention to reviews? If so, do you have a set of rules you apply when reading reviews? How do you discover new authors?
If you haven’t tried one of my books and would like to, leave your email address along with your comment. I’ll draw one winner to receive their choice of book from my Beau Monde Bachelors series. (Open internationally.)