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Book Reviews Are a Complicated Process

I can’t get the topic of reviews and reviewers out of my mind, so here are a few more thoughts I have on the subject.

An author’s relationship with reviews is complicated.

On one hand, we’re told that reviews have nothing to do with us, they’re the reader’s reaction to our work and what they have to say is never personal.

I totally agree with this. And every reader/reviewer is entitled to their opinion, whether good or bad.

On the other hand, the publishing industry judges an author’s worth by the amount and types of reviews our work has received.

Amazon, along with several other factors, uses reviews to decide how they are going to advertise our books on their site. Readers use them to decide if the book is worth reading (and they totally should). Agents will even use them to decide if an author is worthy of representing.

A few years ago, when I was querying agents with The Appeal of Evil, one of them asked me if any of my books had reviews from an established reviewer. My middle grade book, The Ifs, did, so I sent the agent a link to Amazon to read the reviews.

At the time, there was one review on there that was more critical than the others, and the agent made that one the focus. I was asked if I had taken the review to heart and applied it to my writing. The agent basically insinuated that I needed to learn from the reviewer’s opinion of my book and write to make them happy.

I’m going to be honest, I was livid. I broke the cardinal rule of responding to the agent and asking questions (to which I never received a response). First of all, what did a review for a middle grade book have to do with the YA book I was querying? And secondly, everyone is going to have varying opinions of my work, writing to make all of them happy is impossible. I can’t please everyone.

But that’s the nature of the game. That’s what authors deal with. And it’s frustrating. However, that does not give authors the right to lash out at reviewers for not liking their work.

Reviews are such a big deal in the publishing world that companies have cropped up and promised to give authors 5-star reviews for a fee. This is not recommended, of course, because it’s obvious when someone has paid for a good review.

And yet, places like Kirkus and Publishers Weekly offer “expedited” review services. An author can submit their book for free, and it may or may not get read. If an author wants better chances of actually having their book reviewed within a few short weeks, they can pay to have it looked at. They don’t guarantee a 5-star review, but the author is still paying to be reviewed!

Amazon has cracked down quite a bit on reviews and who can give them on their site. Authors are rarely allowed to give other authors reviews, which is weird because authors are also readers. But there’s also a trend going on where authors will trade good reviews with other authors—the if you give my book a good review I’ll give yours one game. There’s this notion that Amazon wants to keep the review process “pure,” so they police who is reviewing.

Aside from paying for reviews or asking another author to help out, the process of getting reviews isn’t easy. It’s a submission process like everything else in the publishing world—one that is littered with rejection. But that’s because there isn’t enough time in the day for reviewers to read every book out there, and they have their favorite genres. On top of that, there’s a fear that the author could lash out at them if they give them anything less than a favorable review.

And that’s when reviews become complicated for reviewers.

Honestly, there have been times when I’ve received a less than favorable review and probably didn’t handle the situation well. I didn’t attack the reviewer directly, but I vented my irritation in a passive-aggressive way—either on my blog or to friends and family.

I’m still human, and I get upset. After expressing my anger, I got over it and moved on with my life. The reviews are still up for others to read. As they should be. Again, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. 

For those of you who know me, you are aware that I’m incredibly opinionated and I’m not shy about expressing it. And reviewers shouldn’t be either.

I highly doubt that most reviewers pick up a book thinking, “I’m going to trash this when I’m done.” Why would they do that? They agree to read the book because they find the blurb interesting. They think it’s something they’re going to like. 

As a reader, I’ve been disappointed by books before, and it’s not a pleasant feeling. But that doesn’t mean I can’t express my opinion about why I didn’t like it. And reviewers are allowed the same courtesy.

Most authors want readers to be honest—I know I do. I want them to express their opinion without being afraid of how I am going to react. Who’s going to read my books if I yell at them? It doesn’t help anyone. 

Bad reviews don’t necessarily mean that other readers won’t read your book. They are usually well aware that it is one person’s opinion, and they often want to form their own. If it’s something that interests them, they’ll give it a chance. But only if they know there aren’t repercussions for doing so.

The review process isn’t perfect, but it’s necessary. Both readers/reviewers and authors need each other. We don’t always have to agree with each other, but we can work really hard at getting along.