Monday, 17 August 2015

On reviewing as a writer

Some of you may have noticed I don't often post reviews on the blog any more. This is mostly because of lack of time--obviously, I don't get paid for blogging, and I already juggle two demanding careers. But the second reason is the one sometimes tiptoed around: how can you review honestly while taking care not to alienate fellow writers? The publishing community is small, and bridges are easily burned. Because of this, I only leave a review when I liked or really liked the book, and I've been removing my lower rated reviews from Goodreads (I never leave reviews below 4 stars on Amazon).

Perhaps this is an unpopular opinion, but as an indie author, I'm acutely tuned into how customer reviews affect my ability to sell and market my books. Most of the biggest promo sites require a minimum of 10 or 20 reviews, with a 4 star average. BookBub, considered the best of all the promo sites out there, had a dramatic effect on my sales when Darkness Watching was featured there. One lower rating, though, and my book would have been knocked out of the running. This time last year, I was selling a book a month. Being picked up by BookBub literally changed my career.

I'm never dishonest in my reviews, but I've become more aware that there's a time and a place for critical feedback from a writer's perspective on how to "improve" a book, and that isn't in a customer review. As writers, we receive continual feedback on our work: from critique partners, beta readers, and editors. When the book is published, however, it's out of our hands. So how are we supposed to react to reviews saying we "should" have written the book a different way? Obviously, everything's subjective, and it's impossible to please every reader. But writer-readers tend to be the most critical, and post-publication feedback posted in a public place for potential readers to see can feel uncomfortable at best. Before publishing, I ask other writers and editors to rip my writing to pieces so I can improve it. But after publishing? A different story.

I read as a writer. I'm an author, editor and English Literature graduate, and of course I'm a critical reader. I enjoy picking stories apart. But posting a review on retailer sites to this effect sends an entirely different message to the author. Publishing a book is an emotional rollercoaster, and where do authors turn to find encouragement and support? The writing community. Authors are expected to be thick-skinned and ignore reviews, but it's difficult to avoid seeing critical views of our work - again, especially indie authors, because we're responsible for creating and updating our own GR/Amazon book pages. I'd hate for a fellow writer to feel unwelcome in what's supposed to be a supportive environment. Maybe I'm being overly careful, but I've been ostracised from once-supportive writing groups before, and to be honest, it hurts like hell.

I'm still posting mini-reviews in my monthly roundups and I review honestly for NetGalley, but I'm refraining from posting any less-than-complimentary reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. I find I'm being more picky about what I choose to read in the first place, which means my ratings are naturally higher than average. I'd never condemn another writer for choosing to review critically, but I feel my super-analytical, nitpicky inner grammar nerd is better suited for editing and beta reading.

What do you think, fellow writers?

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree! I've been taking off my lower star reviews on goodreads as well, and just marking them as read without a star rating if I didn't love them enough to give 4 or 5 stars.

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