Who has the time to write and post a review of a mop? I used to wonder, browsing the products on a certain ‘world’s biggest online retailer’ site.
Little more than a year later, I am now a frequent reviewer. It started with books, and those are still the reviews that I take real time and consideration over (not that my comments on mops or other household necessities aren’t truthful – just short and take mere seconds). I started to review books out of empathy. An empathy generated when I published something myself. The books in the genre in which I write have a particularly hard time gaining reviews as they’re not allowed for submission on many of the book promotions and review sites (I am never certain whether people are offended or assume the books will be poorly written – or both).
I am not talking about reciprocal ‘tit-for-tat’ reviews – heaven forbid I should so audaciously breach Amazon’s terms of service. Nor am I a particular believer in ‘karma’. If an author wants to ‘pay forward’ the favour of having gained a review, that’s great, but there’s no particular expectation. However, empathy aside and a number of reviews down the line, I realise how much I gain from reviewing books.
There’s a mixed bag of reasons below, from a writer’s but mainly from a reader’s perspective. You can probably think of other reasons.
- If you do write, you learn more about technique, noticing what works and what does not, thinking about why something works. It goes without saying, you can be far more objective about someone else’s writing than your own. I finished a book this week and envied its naturalistic dialogue. It’s hard, and I got to analyse how the writer achieved it. As a writer you can also gain knowledge of the books in your own genre – useful for knowing what sells, yes, but, again, also to consider technique. The only downside is occasionally becoming teeth-grittingly envious about how well-written some indie writers’ work is.
- As well as writing skills, you get to hone your critical thinking (whether an author or not). I mean, by all means write a five-star review that says ‘I loved this, fantastic.’ Or indeed a three-star one saying ‘meh’. It’s all feedback. But to make a review useful for other readers (and the writer), and to create a more satisfying experience for yourself, it’s interesting to reflect on why you liked or disliked something.
- In doing so, you are helping other readers to make choices – and, of course, the more constructive, considered, and balanced the review, the more beneficial it will be. It doesn’t have to be hugely long, just pick a couple or three points on, say, plot, theme, characters… If you think about it, online reviews are, arguably, going to be more honest than those elicited by publishers in order to sell books.
- If you’re a blogger, reviewing can help gain online profile and presence, perhaps building a reputation, even if your site is not dedicated to reviewing, and particularly if you stick to a certain genre. This can also happen if you post a lot of reviews on Amazon; writers may start to approach you for an opinion. Free books may be involved.
- You can find new authors you’d never heard of before or read genres you were not attracted to but then surprise yourself. I never in a billion years thought I would enjoy fantasy, but have read several in the past year that were between pretty good and utterly engrossing (don’t tell anyone). And this relates to the last point because…
- The process drives home to me there is some really good self-published work. By no means all of it, no; it’s still the Wild West out there in some ways. But then not everything produced through mainstream publishing is ‘quality’. For example, B-list celebrities used to content themselves with having a biography ghost-written and the occasional cookbook; now we are seeing an awful lot of novels and children’s books produced by the famous and the rather less celebrated, with (let’s politely say) mixed results.
I admit that I do not always leave a review if I think something is poor and / or I didn’t enjoy it – particularly where the author is an independent. Sometimes I will, if I think someone is really taking the p*ss and clearly rushed to publish without effort, or for a successful author that can withstand a bit of negative feedback or low-star rating. That doesn’t mean my reviews are not honest though. And I do put thought into my comments, good or bad.
Writers, particularly those that self-publish, are in the position of having to drum up yet also slightly dreading reviews. Yet, as we know, reviews are essential to become visible and attract more readers, as well as to get useful critique. Naturally, it’s also amazing to get a positive rating and comments and know someone has enjoyed your work.
So the next time you have read a book and taken pleasure in it, particularly on your e-reader when you can simply click through, please do consider leaving a review. It does not take long and you’ll be helping other readers make their choices. Not least, you honestly will make the writer’s day. The final reason to review then – feeling good about that.
Mike’s Images, via Pexels