Animation by Kayelle Allen at The Author's Secret

Monday, May 7, 2012

Another thought about Reviews

Readers and Writers - a loving relationship

There is a body of opinion that believes it’s wrong for authors to review the work of other authors, and I confess, this baffles me.  Aren’t writers readers too?  Are their opinions less valid because they are ‘in the trade’?

I've been an avid reader all my life – to such an extent that all my favourite people in history (except one) were writers of some description.  From as early as I can remember being aware of an author behind the words that brought me so much joy, I fantasised about sitting down to tea with that writer and discussing his or her story, thereby prolonging my delightful experience in the fictional realm s/he had created.  But, of course, it never happened.

I did try writing to one or two authors, the old fashioned way – you know, pen on paper, envelope, stamp – all now becoming relics of a bygone age – via their publishers.  Well, in the dark ages pre-internet, how else could readers ever hope to make contact with their favourite authors and tell them what they liked and disliked?  I don’t think I ever received any replies and authors both living and dead were shrouded in the same aura of mystery and inaccessibility. I entered my teens no less an avid reader but much more of a cynic.  If only I had known then what I know now: that writers love to hear from readers.

The fact is that historically, writing book reviews was the privilege of other writers – journalists.  Ordinary readers rarely had a public voice no matter how passionate their opinions.  A reader might daydream about having tea with an author and discussing his or her character and fictional realms – though I suspect never in a very critical way – but they didn’t contemplate writing actual book reviews for other people – including the author – to read. 

The internet and e-publishing has changed all that.  Now authors have become accessible to their readers and lo and behold they tell us they love to hear from us.  They long to hear what we thought of their latest creation.  Having joined those ranks myself, I know I do and I’m fortunate enough to know quite a number of writers- and they all feel the same.  To date I haven’t met one who doesn’t value constructive feedback from readers.  And being a writer doesn’t make me any less avid a reader.

Despite the ease of it, many readers still feel reluctant to air their views in public.  Out of every 10,000 sales, a writer might receive as few as 10 reviews.  That seems very surprising to me.  The internet has given everyone a voice…but how many people bother to use it?  I can only assume that the culture of writing reviews hasn’t yet caught up with the technological advances of e-publishing or that the vast majority of readers simply don’t have the time to sit and compose missives explaining their likes and dislikes.
This is a pity as constructive feedback is manna to most authors.  For my part, as a writer, I live and learn by it; while as a reader it informs me about the pros and cons of a new book and can be extremely useful.  I often read reviews and think I’d like to sit and chat to the reviewer over a cup of coffee and swap opinions and ideas.  There I go again!

When I’ve enjoyed a book, I still want to let the author know and if the book surpassed my expectations, I want to shout it from the rooftops and let other potential readers in on it.  And if that can help the writer who has brought me so much pleasure at so little cost, so much the better.  It’s quite a tough world for writers, especially the new ones who are struggling to make a name for themselves.  

The internet is enabling me finally to realise my childhood dreams of communicating with good writers who have brightened up my day.  I don’t do it for any ulterior motive, except to show my appreciation in the same way I will applaud a good play in the theatre or music at a concert.  The fact that I’m a writer too should make no difference to my opinions as a reader.  And those cynics who think reviews from other writers are suspect, should really just…go away and pick up a good book and stop complaining.


Bob said...

I am an avid reader, writer, editor, and reviewer. I long for comments from readers of my work. I appreciate the fact that someone took the time to comment, and look at any and all comments as a learning experience to help me improve.

ManicScribbler said...

I couldn't agree more, Bob. Thank you for dropping by.

Tori L. Ridgewood said...

You're right about the value of reviews, and how individuals can and should speak up more often, sharing their thoughts about what they read. I must confess, it didn't even occur to me to use the Net for that purpose until I started getting published, myself! But as an avid reader, I'm always eager to spread the word (heh, heh -- unintentional pun) about a fantastic new book, and the Web is a terrific means of doing so. That being said -- I cannot stand writing a bad review. I'd much rather say nothing. I do enough critiquing in the classroom; I don't know that I could write anything bad about a book, no matter how much I disliked it or found fault with it.

ManicScribbler said...

I agree with you there, Tori. You need a cruel streak in you to write a mean, negative review. If you can't find something encouraging to say, then it's kinder to say nothing. That's always been my motto too (and even in the classroom it's hard to be TOO critical and shatter young dreams). Thanks for stopping by.

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