by Raelene Gorlinsky
My turn to talk about something that's bothering me. What does Kelli call it, Me Time?
As a reader (NOT wearing my editor or publisher hat) I'm getting a bit concerned about a particular aspect of online reviews. As in, how many of the reviewers actually thoroughly read and think about the books--or how many are just copying someone else's review? Every person has individual reading tastes and preferences, so I'd expect opinions on books to reflect that diversity. Why am I seeing more and more online reviews that say the same things about a book? (I'm specifically talking about online review sites and bloggers who post reviews, as those are the most prolific and the ones I'm most likely to read. I'm not talking about reviews at big businesses like Publishers Weekly or the New York Times.)
Okay, if a book has very apparent glowing elements or serious flaws, likely most readers/reviewers would notice and mention those. But type of plot, characters, setting -- everybody's different, so should have different things to say. But I'm seeing multiple reviews with almost the same wording. And that's not matching up with the diversity of comments from my fellow readers. For example, I just read a steampunk romance by a well-known author. The book got a lot of buzz and a number of online reviews. A lot of those reviewers had close to identical comments about the hero. Yet when I read the book, I saw the hero in a completely different light, I had a different understanding of his motivations and emotions. And when I talked to others who'd read the story, they had varying takes on and opinions of the hero. If a dozen readers voice a dozen different opinions, it seems odd that another dozen readers who happen to label themselves reviewers churn out almost identical opinions.
The same thing happened with a recent erotica story. Every reviewer seemed to make the same comment about an item they felt was unnecessary. In fact, the sentences in reviews on different sites were practically duplicates. And yet comments from readers reflected that some of them appreciated that element or felt it was not a problem -- again, diversity of reader opinion that was not reflected by diversity in reviewer opinion.
A "reviewer" is just a reader who posts their comments for others to see. And nowadays anyone with a blog wants to post reviews, whether they have any skill at explaining a book's strengths and flaws or not. It isn't like there's special training or testing to be allowed to call oneself a reviewer. Just (hopefully) a love of books and an ability to analyze what you like and dislike about a story and express that coherently.
Unfortunately, sometimes authors are so hopeful to have someone mention their name and praise their book that they provide free copies to any person who says they'll write about the book on a blog or review site. Authors should research all such requests for review copies: ask the person for all the places they post reviews and under what names, how many books they have reviewed and in what genres, what their process and timeline are, what their criteria are for selecting books to review and what books they will not accept, what they do if they DNF a book. Make sure you trust this person to read your whole book and give it a fair and well-thought-out review. (And I am leery of reviewers or sites that never post negative reviews -- I don't want nasty, but I do want honest. I learn a lot about a book that got an F or DNF at AAR, SBTB, DA or GBU, and I may choose to read some of those books based on the analysis in that review.)
It was pointed out to me by someone associated with a review site that six online reviews are not necessarily six reviewers. It isn't just that a person may post their review in multiple places -- lawdy, how many places can you find the same Harriet Klausner review. But some reviewers use several "pen names" to post on different sites. They just slightly modify the wording of the review to post it elsewhere as if they are a different reader. And it has always been rumored that some reviewers don't read the books -- they read the blurb, excerpt, and other reviews, and then post a review under their own name. So of course in such a case they'd be mimicking someone else's comments and reflecting the same opinions.
Why? Are some people so eager to believe their opinion matters to others, to suck up to authors, or to see their own name online that they will "cheat" in order to post lots of reviews?
I don't really care whether a reviewer liked or disliked a book. I read reviews to find out about the plot and characters, the writing style, particular elements it contains -- so that I can decide if it's the type of story I would like. So it does bother me that I may be misled by reviews that are just a copy of someone else's opinion. For example, I would avoid a book if multiple reviews say the heroine is TSTL -- I assume if that many people had that same reaction, it likely is accurate about the story. But now I wonder if I'm missing books I would enjoy, because really only one or a few people had that opinion, and others just copied them.
I appreciate insightful and informational reviews, I thank and applaud the dedicated reviewers who put time and effort into reading and analyzing a story. So it's discouraging that I'm seeing less of that, more useless repetition from a minority who are diluting the value of the reviewing process to readers.
If you read reviews, have you noticed this phenomenon? Do you post reviews and have an opinion to offer on this?