A few years ago, (8/25/09), before I was published, I wrote this controversial piece from the perspective of a book reviewer. Here's the piece again, with my take on it today, as an author being reviewed. Am I eating crow? Maybe a little.
Now: There are far more spiteful reviewers out there than I have ever dreamed. Of course not all writers of negative reviews are spiteful, but I have come in contact with bad reviewers who actually admitted to jealousy when explaining why their book should have had the success my books (particularly my debut, Crossing Oceans), has. Some reviewers do seem to be mean spirited. I've read reviews of my work that weren't anything but objective and balanced. I took for granted in this piece that reviewers were professional and unbiased. This is no longer true if it ever was.
This is true of most reviewers, particularly the professionals and readers of CBA fiction. It is not true of all reviewers. Many take exactly the opposite approach.
Again, true of most reviewers but certainly not all. Often a flaw is a subjective dislike of a style or where the story went that the reader didn't like.
True of professional reviewers, particularly in the CBA. Not necessarily true of all reviewers. Some, particularly nasty ones seem to hate all things that mention God. This type of "reviewer" often would like very much to see most Christian novels fail for reasons that aren't at all literary.
This is often true of good reviewers, professional reviewers, unbiased reviewers, of which there are fewer and fewer. Most so-called reviewers now are simply readers who now, with Amazon and other online book stores can write anything they want without thought. I've read many reviews that the writer admits to never having read the book. I have yet to read a professional review, even unflattering ones, that didn't have some truth to them. The trouble is now everyone is a reviewer. Kind of like anyone can put out a sign and call themselves an agent. Doesn't mean they're good. Doesn't mean they know the first thing about books.
Ouch. I had a fellow novelist write the harshest review out of all I've received. Calling my book basically poorly written slop with no redeeming merit at all. I was so fascinated by another CBA author tearing up my work so publicly that I wrote her. (Bad idea) A literary friend went on the defensive for me and well, I'm sure that reviewer considered herself attacked.
I still agree with the above. Reviewing is very time consuming!
This is true. Often we won't get an endorsement or review not because the reader didn't have time or forgot but because they read it and didn't like it. Many lay reviewers (anyone with a computer) will throw out their opinions without thinking them through or realizing that their is a real live author on the other end of the computer screen.
However, most unprofessional reviewers do not understand subjectivity at all.
I think most reviewers really do want to read amazing books. I no longer think this is universal. I think some people, and this often goes back to religion attackers, don't want Christian novels to succeed and will find flaws with them no matter what. It used to be that most reviewers were truly book lovers. Now everyone is a potential reviewer. Even those who can't string a sentence together themselves or have no idea what foreshadowing or symbolism is, let alone know how to recognize them.
What I have learned having hundreds of reviews myself now is that:
A. I cannot both be a literary genius AND a hack. My book is drivel to some, life-changing to others.
B. The more successful a book, the more apt it is to draw criticism. Most of that isn't sour grapes, but there is a lot more of that than I ever dreamed.
C. There are people who will give you negative reviews not because of literary merit but because they disagree with your faith, or the choices your character made, which would be different than theirs, or simply because they're having a bad day or hate the genre.
From professional reviewers, I have picked up a few things to consider when I'm writing that might make the next book a little better, but that's rare and usually I have to really read between the lines. Mostly I'm reading one subjective opinion after another.
I've also learned that reviews do seem to directly affect sales. When I find myself getting a string of tough reviews, my sales online do seem to take a dive.