There's been considerable discussion online lately about reviews, about authors reviewing other authors' books, and about how reviews work for book readers. With Goodreads deleting reviews, then apologizing for deleting reviews, and people migrating to other book review communities, there's been a good amount of discussion about what reviews specifically do.
You might imagine I have a lot to say about the topic of reviews, and how they work. I've written about the fact that nothing, most especially a book, is exempt from reviews in our written culture right now. EVERYTHING gets a review. I can go read reviews of every piece of clothing I'm wearing, the chair I'm sitting on, the computer I'm using, and I can probably get a review of the weather outside right now, too. (A++++ weather! Would have this humidity again!)
I also do workshops at RWA chapters about reviews, how to pitch for them and how to react when you receive one, and talk a lot about reviews when I meet authors at varying conferences. I think about this a good bit, too, like when I'm walking the dog. Why does one review upset a whole lot of people while another similar review does not? Why is there a varying reaction to a negative review? What makes a “good” review good?
Last week, Elyse reviewed Jennifer McQuiston's Summer Is For Lovers, giving it an A:
Summer is for Lovers by Jennifer McQuiston was just the sort of wonderful, summery read I was looking for. I was actually disappointed it was released in late September since it’s already cold here by then, and most of this book takes place by the ocean, and it has a wonderful beach-y feel to it. This is the sort of book I want to take on vacation to the Caribbean with me. I really enjoyed everything about this book, the characters, the setting, the conflict, the humor… I had one tiny issue with the hero, but more on that later.
She didn't like the previous book, What Happens in Scotland, and gave it a D:
If I had to describe What Happens in Scotland by Jennifer McQuiston in one sentence it would be this: the hero and heroine don't really meet until page 140. Also there's a lack of shoes, but more on that later.
I really wanted to like this book. The premise is similar toThe Hangover; a night of partying leads to confusion and regrets in the morning. The problem is, you can't have a romance novel where the hero and heroine are apart for 127 pages. The point of a romance novel is for them to grow and change together in order to find love. This was really just humorous historical fiction with some lovin' thrown in at the end, and that's not what I signed up for, folks.
I want to point out two things about Elyse's reviews.
1. She gave the first book a D. And then she read the second book in the series, despite not having liked the first one.
2. A negative review is not the end of the world. It means that book didn't work for that person. (This may seem like an obvious point, but I think it needs to be said. Repeatedly.)
I know a few readers whose taste aligns so perfectly with another reviewer's that their buying and borrowing decisions are heavily influenced by the reviews they read from that person. But that is a small number. Most readers in my experience read more than one review before they decide to buy or borrow a book.
So even if a book gets a D, it doesn't mean all hope is lost. That's one reader and one review. If that review is here, on Goodreads, on DearAuthor, on a brand new BlogSpot site with six total reviews in the archives (welcome to blogging! Woo!), whatever: it's one review. Most readers read more than one review before deciding whether they want to read a book. One of the smartest things Mandi at Smexybooks does (and she does a lot of smart things) is link to other reviews of a book when she reviews it. It gives a broader sense of what other romance readers online think of the same book. (And disparity in grading leads to more curiosity, but that's another topic). I don't know of any reviewer in any industry whose opinion is the final pronouncement of quality.
But more importantly, one book that wasn't enjoyed doesn't equal the end for that reader. Elyse went back and read the second McQuiston book, despite the fact that she really had some issues with the first one.
I asked Elyse about her decision to read the second book after disliking the first, and she said:
I think there's a misconception that a bad review of a book is a bad review of the author, and that's not the case at all. When I give a book a bad grade I'm not saying “This author is a bad writer and I'll never read anything by him/her again.” I'm saying that this book in particular didn't work for me.
I don't pick up books to read and review that have themes I hate or are in a genre I don't care for (paranormals for instance). I don't think it's fair to say “I usually hate vampire books–and guess what, I did!” I set out every time with the expectation of enjoyment, and sometimes I don't get there. That's almost always specific to a book, not an author.
I didn't particularly like What Happens in Scotland. There were serious pacing issues for me–the hero and heroine didn't meet up until late in the book and so the first part dragged, and the second part (where they fell in love) felt rushed. I did like the humor in the book, and I could tell that McQuiston had a distinct voice that I enjoyed. I knew even as I was giving What Happens in Scotland a D, that I would be reading the sequel. As it happened, I loved Summer is for Lovers.
There were plenty of people who responded to my review saying that even though I didn't like it, they thought What Happens in Scotland sounded perfect for them, and that they were going to buy it.
I also gave The Last Kiss Goodbye by Karen Robards a F+ because the heroine is in love with the ghost of a serial killer. It didn't make sense to me, but I'll probably read the sequel to that too just because I want to see how it all plays out. She may well explain the serial killer thing in a way that makes sense to me, and I might give that book an A, too.
Even authors I love sometimes have a book that I just can't get into. Eloisa James is one of my auto-buys. Her books are like a big, warm quilt for me–total comfort reading. Her book An Affair Before Christmas was a big disappointment for me. I just couldn't get into it, and I didn't feel much for the hero or heroine. That hasn't stopped me from buying her books though, and I've enjoyed all of her subsequent titles.
The only time a book will stop me from ever reading an author again is if I find the content upsetting or offensive or if the writing/editing is so poor that it's work for me to get through the book. I've experienced the latter a few times with self-published authors.
I think Elyse is right, that there is a misconception that a negative review of a book is equated with a negative review of the author. That is not always the case. I think it's rarely the case, honestly.
At an RT awhile back, Jane and I hosted a reader roundtable, and one of the questions she asked was how many books it takes for an author to land on a reader's autobuy list. Most readers in the room said one book. She then asked how many books it takes for an author to fall off the autobuy list. Most readers said two or three. It's harder to break off reading an author than it is to start a glom. Starting a glom can be very easy. And expensive.
I mean, come on. How many people complain about the directions that longstanding popular series go and STILL buy the next one when it comes out? It's a big deal to break up with a series. It's not easy to do. One book not enjoyed does not mean a breakup.
My point is, one negative review of a book is not the end of the world. It's one negative review. It doesn't mean the book is doomed, it doesn't mean readers won't try it. It doesn't even mean that particular reader won't try that author's work again.
I'm going to try to make this a series of articles on reivews and what they do, partly to try to dispel some of the panic and fear of a negative review, and partly to open the conversation to how you use reviews.
I'm curious, especially as the number of things reviewed only increases. How many books does it take to fall off your autobuy list? If you didn't like one book by an author, have you tried another? What makes you stop reading an author altogether, and you're never, ever, ever getting back together?