Posted by: C. Margery Kempe | September 2, 2012

Can you trust reviews?

The inspiration for Chas

by C. Margery Kempe

First a bit of news: the return of CHASTITY FLAME! I know, I know. Some of you have been waiting a while for this. Here’s the skinny: the fabulous Tirgearr, home of my books Man City and Swan Prince, will re-release the first novel on September 20th with new art and a big fanfare. The sequel, Lush Situation, will be out in January and then the third book will be out in the spring. No, I don’t have a title chosen yet. Still hemming and hawing.

Now back to the topic: there’s a been a lot of brouhaha on Twitter and to a lesser extent on Facebook and other outlets about the madness that is sock puppets, i.e. fake accounts to review your own books, slag off your competition and mostly be jerky. Now obviously, as someone who uses a nom de plume (actually two) I can understand having multiple accounts (I do not use them to puff up my reviews!). I know lots of people who are active in pagan life in dangerously closed minded areas or who are political activists who need to shield their real life details.

We’re really talking about something far more nefarious here; and it’s only part of the problem. Paying for positive reviews is one of the latest new phenomena that just amazes me. As a writer who pines for more reviews (please!) I can understand the desire for them, but you know, I’d like to be able to earn mine.

As the Guardian says,

 Undeniably, they represent the latest stimulating chapter in the rather agonised history of book reviewing (read Orwell on the subject, and Edmund Wilson, and Cyril Connolly, and James Wood …) The ones most to be trusted, however, are perhaps more likely to be found on smaller, more specialised sites than Amazon – Goodreads and Librarything, for example (and hopefully among the Guardian’s reader reviews too). Yes, online anonymity will always raise problems, and no one can ensure, with this kind of reviewing, that what the New York Times calls “the sacred arm’s-length relationship between reviewer and author” is being preserved. But there are book communities and book communities, and it surely pays to choose carefully where you read and write your reviews.

I don’t know; there’s still ten billion reviews for best sellers and few for the rest of us small press folks. It seems more difficult than ever to get the ear of the reading public. And the weight of horrid, ill-informed and just nasty reviews seems deadening. Do you read reviews? Do you write reviews? Why or why not?

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Responses

  1. I both read and write reviews. I read synopses, the book jacket, perhaps part of the first chapter. I read movie reviews, too.

    Even if none of the reviews were bogus, there’s no guarantee I will agree with the reviewer. There are loads of classics acclaimed by all that I don’t warm up to. I’ve never particularly liked either Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner, yet both are fine writers. I don’t like horror and have read little of Stephen King. I like James Mathew Barrie and H.G.Wells.

    When I read movie reviews in the local papers regularly, I learned which movie critics’ tastes squared with mine. Still, I always took the reviews with a grain of salt. Maybe a whole teaspoon.

    But I read them.

    • A good point, Margaret. We all have different tastes. Heaven knows I can’t stand most of the mainstream writers who are the literary darlings at present.

  2. Hey Margery,
    Interesting and timely blog post since I’m in the process of shopping A Pirate’s Ransom around for reviews. There are a lot of review sites and how do you know if it’s a good one?

    • It’s a tough thing: the really good sites are way overbooked. You can take a chance on a new site, but who knows if you’ll be to their taste. I find it difficult.

  3. Reviews don’t influence whether or not I buy a book. I look at the cover, read the back blurb and decided for myself whether I might like it. That might just be me though. I always appreciate a good review, but sometimes even bad reviews can draw readers to your book.

    Best of luck!

    • Thanks, Mary. It’s good to know there are still readers who just take the books on face value and don’t wait for the critics.

  4. What bothers me is that there are some authors that would rather have a fake review than to hear the truth. I sent a review to another author instead of posting it, because there were a lot of errors. All her reviews are good…. I’m not going to accuse them of lying, but two of the reviewers had the same last name as the author. I outlined the problems witht the writing. The plot was good, but kept slipping from ist person to 3rd person and had multiple POV that ran together. It could all be fixed. Instead she unfriended me.

    • I think some ‘preshus snoflakes’ need to learn how to take criticism. There’s a chess saying: the only way you improve is by playing a better player. They only way your writing gets better is by accepting thoughtful criticism. Very sad that the writer unfriended you. Cowardly.

  5. I like to read the reviews, the good and the bad. Then I go back and read what the story is about. I read the yahoo story about the guy that writes reviews for a fee. I wanted to be angry about that and then I really thought about it. It’s another form of adversting and promoting their book. I think back of the reviews I had written. I like just about everything I read.

    • If only all readers were as easy to please as you, Mary!

  6. Interesting topic. Of course you can’t please all the readers all the time, and it’s been my experience that in all areas of life, most people are more willing to take their time to complain than to praise. So to all you reviewers out there, please remember you have someone’s “baby” in your hands, and you should praise the good things at least as often as you damn the bad.

    • Good point, Elizabeth. If I really don’t like a book, I may tell the author, but I wouldn’t bother writing a review. Life’s too short to spend on bad books and we all need recommendations of new authors to read.


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