How useful are book reviews?
I’ve noticed writers in the writing community on Twitter often ask readers to submit book reviews – sometimes with a discrete nudge, sometimes with a direct request, occasionally with a blatant bribe. This has set me thinking about the usefulness, the value and indeed the ethics of reviews. It’s turned out to be a more interesting subject to consider than I expected. (I was just planning to write a quick 5-minute blog!).
Most of the reviews I read are on commonly accessed, online sites such as Amazon and Goodreads. When it comes to writing one, every time I finish an ebook on Kindle I am asked to rate it on Amazon and a review is requested. I often as not might press the rating stars but then ignore the request for an actual review. Isn’t that what most people do? Of course it might be different if I feel very strongly about the book. If I’ve read a paper copy, bought from a bookshop or borrowed from the library, I’m more likely to rate it and maybe comment or recommend on Goodreads, rather than on Amazon.
I realise there are many other online sites on which to post or read reviews and also a myriad of review magazines exist, ranging from ‘The London Review of Books’ to ‘Book Club Bible’ and ‘Self-publishing Review’. A review can be a literary analysis or a scholarly essay, a summary review, an opinion piece or simply a comment based on personal taste. I imagine formats used by the publishing industry might be different from those used by the average readers.
So what makes me write a review? Sometimes it could be a favour for a writing friend, or more often I will simply be passing onto others a recommendation for a book I’ve loved reading. I’ve often had the feeling when I’ve enjoyed a particular book, that I want friends to enjoy it too - I want to be able to talk to them about it. Sometimes I feel sad, even a little lost, when I’ve finished a special book and I want to recall my own thoughts and feelings about it before I let go. Sometimes I genuinely want the writer to know how much I’ve enjoyed their work, especially if I’ve felt a special connection with their characters or subject matter. (I’ve looked at the last twenty book reviews I’ve posted on Amazon and was surprised to note that seven of the books I’ve responded to were actually written by friends).
In terms of the ethics of book review writing, I think it is important to be honest but also kind – not every book deserves five stars and not all genres or styles are to everyone’s taste but most books have some merit that can be recognised. Good teachers always say it’s good to balance any negative comments with positives – I suggest in book reviews always look for the positives and handle negatives gently and with sensitivity. If the writing is truly awful, I would consider avoiding doing a review at all. (If it is offensive, pornographic, or downright rude, rather than reviewing it, I’d say report it). In most cases I would acknowledge that the writer has worked long and hard to create their 80,000+ word masterpiece. They probably have battled through umpteen rejections before getting their book published, be it traditionally or independently, so most will appreciate some consideration.
Having said all that, if any of you readers out there have read and enjoyed reading ‘Lawn House Blues’ do feel free to submit a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Please regard this as a gentle nudge, as I’m not going to bribe you. Be assured it’s quite an easy and straightforward process to write and post a brief review and you might well make a writer’s day.