Some insights into reviewing
The fabulous Mary Ann Marlowe asked me if I wanted to take part in a blog post she was doing about reviewers. She had some great questions and it made me think about what I’d been doing as a reviewer. Its something I fell into by accident but have gained great satisfaction from ( and a lot of wonderful books to read). I still buy books, still am a KU member and borrow books that way. I just love to read.
Maryann’s books: http://www.maryannmarlowe.com/?cat=7
My review of Some Kind of Magic https://jeanniezelos.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/caraval-stephanie-garber-some-kind-of-magic-mary-ann-marlowe/
My review of A Crazy Kind of Love https://jeanniezelos.wordpress.com/2017/11/28/a-crazy-kind-of-love-mary-ann-marlowe-van-a-cold-fury-hockey-novel-sawyer-bennett/
Coming 25th June 2019
How long have you been reviewing books? Why did you start?
Seems like ages, but its about six/seven years I think. I love reading, saw an ad on amazon forums for a reviewer for a blog reviewing supernatural reads. That lasted about a year before closing down, and in the meantime I’d found Netgalley ( Egalley ARC site) and started my own blog.
What’s your favourite thing about reviewing books?
I love to read, getting review books lets me indulge in my hobby. as a quick reader I couldn’t afford to buy all these books, although I still love to reread favourites.
How many books do you read in a year generally? How do you usually find books to read?
I read more than I review, with personal purchases, free books and KU reads. I don’t always review those, depends on time commitment but if I’ve received a book for review I always write review for that. I see it as my part of the bargain. Reviewing takes time, I do a first rough draft, then run through and correct it, adding more, taking bits out and correcting spellings, ( I can spell, I can’t hits keys in the right order!!) then save a copy and add to online sites. Although I often intend to review the other books life sometimes gets in the way.
I keep a spreadsheet with all review books listed and publication dates so I know when to post and where I’ve posted. I’m approaching 2,500 on the spreadsheet so as I only started this a year or so in to reviewing when I began getting more books, that sounds about right for the 2-300 a year reviewed.
I guess I read maybe 4-500 a year and review around 2-300. I’ve not done so many recently as I’m in temporary accommodation while my home is being renovated and its hard finding the right mindset to review.
What is your typical process for deciding which books to review? For instance, do you go by what strikes your mood or make lists to tackle like homework? Do you accept requests to review from authors directly (and if so, how)?
What I read day to day is very mood dependent, and being in temporary accommodation has meant i don’t read so many of the intense reads, the complex ones as its hard to concentrate, and I’ve not felt in the mood for those.
I write reviews in the mornings, so if I’ve just finished a review book I won’t read another in that genre until I’ve written my review – found out the hard way that its easy to confuse two similar books when writing reviews, so now i keep only one of each genre in my head until review finished.
When choosing books I have quite eclectic tastes but romance figures heavily, whether its contemporary, suspense or fantasy. I try to research titles when i can, looking to see if I’ve enjoyed past books by an author, trying to find a sample to read or to see if other reviewers whose tastes I share have read it. I hate writing low star reviews, just means a book isn’t right for me, not that its a bad book, and that’s not always easy to get across. By researching first hopefully I avoid most of those. I spend anything from a couple of mins to twenty mins or so looking at each book request. Sometimes its clear pretty quick that I’ll love or loathe it but often its a case of thinking, does this sound right? Do I feel a connection/am I interested to see what happens. Existing books are easier, I can download samples, but many review books are months ahead of release, so unless I’ve read from that author before its a tough decision. Do I risk having to write a two star if I don’t like it, or conversely refuse it and miss a gem of a read….
I mostly get books via Netgalley now, but do have several authors who’ve contacted me over the years and I review their new reads – if they sound right for me. I used to open my blog for reviews but got so many requests that I simply couldn’t read them all, and the pre-choice research takes time too, so I now have a message that I don’t accept requests. I still get a few offers that way, and each gets looked at to see if its one for me.
What I hate is when I get requests such as one recently ” I see you reviewed xyz title, and wondered if you’d review my book?” Very often, authors haven’t really looked at what I review, nor is their book comparable to the one they quoted. In one case, about a month ago, the book offered for review was a contemporary romance, a short story of just 12 pages. I never read those, they just don’t work for me, ditto novellas unless they’re part of a series, and the book the author compared hers to was a full length fantasy suspense.
I do get constant requests to review “how to make a fortune with bitcoin/forex/day trading/how to lose a stone in ten days/how to write a bestseller/how to xxx” Those just go straight to junk. If an author can’t be bothered to see if their book fits what I read I’m not going to waste time on it, and these scam books are a particular hot button for me.
Do you review every book you intend to? If not, why might you choose not to review?
Occasionally I’ve chosen one that sounds perfect for me but I just can’t get through it, I’ve one like that right now. I’m at 20% and struggling to like the characters, the story, just can’t get into the book. Its one where its me not the book though, so rather than slog through and regret the time I’ve wasted I’ll return it to netgalley with a note that i couldn’t finish. I think over the years I’ve been with Netgalley ( 2012 joined, I just looked it up) I’ve returned maybe 15 books that way. I’ve also had a handful with formatting errors, where text too faint to read, too small, or has weird gaps and words that run into one. Reference books too, cookery, and gardening are ones I love, but don’t really work well as e-Books and I don’t really read on my pc or tablet.
If you give numeric ratings, what is your strategy for determining values? Are you stingy with 5 stars? Will you give a book 1 star?
A good book is 3-4, a great book 4-5, one I don’t really like overall but enjoyed parts will be 2-3. I rarely write one star, only if the book is really error ridden ( not formatting, but basic spelling and grammar, what I think of lazy editing), or in the case of two I one starred, they were complete rip offs of another popular book. Both of those had the exact same story outline in detail. They’d renamed characters and made some tiny changes but presented the book as something original when it wasn’t.
As an artist copyright really is important to me and I hate seeing folk trying to profit from someone else hard work.
What’s your opinion on authors reading reviews of their own books? When writing a review, are you concerned the author may read it? Does that ever influence your review?
When I’ve been contacted direct I always send a copy of review to author, I’m happy for them to read what I’ve written, its my honest opinion. Its hard when I thought I’d like a book and didn’t, but I try to stress in my summing up that book tastes are subjective, and though I didn’t enjoy it others will. It doesn’t influence my review – at least not consciously – as otherwise review ratings would become meaningless. I do find sending an author a copy of a two star review hard…but hopefully my initial weeding out and research prevents that happening often.
What’s your philosophy about interacting with authors? Do you tag them on reviews? Follow authors? Chat with them?
I follow a few of my favourites who write series so I know when next due out. I chat with a handful via email, I probably ought to add tags to reviews but my non tech brain hasn’t quite got that fixed yet. I know how, its just more time though, looking up who to tag and adding it. Its something I need to work on…one day! I used to be FB friends with several authors until Amazon decided that friendship and reviewing were incompatible. Amazon can be pretty draconian about removing reviews. In the last year I’ve had that happen twice. 3,000+ reviews gone overnight. Both times I appealed, said I was open, honest about reviews, use my own name, don’t accept money or any free products except a copy of the book. They even regard things like author competitions where not just a book but a voucher is a prize, so I don’t do those now.
I’m really wary of falling foul of their rules, but as I’ve experienced, it happens really easily. there’s no communication, the first time I noticed when I went to add a book review and found I couldn’t, and that everything was gone, second time an author contacted me to say my review was missing although it had been there a few days prior. I was lucky getting them reinstated but I’ve no idea why they went in the first place?
Sadly their review rules now mean people still get products( free books are allowed, free products are not) free for review, but as its harder to find folk willing to take the risk producers now offer payment as well as free products. I know because I get maybe 100-150 requests to review products each week. The way they bend Amazon rules is reviewer purchases as normal, sellers then refund cost plus a small fee via paypal once review is up. Of course they want five stars and are unlikely to pay unless that’s what they get. So Amazon efforts to tighten up fake reviews have led to less reviews overall, but even more fake ones. IMO
I add my reviews to Amazon com and uk, goodreads and my blog, but of course its Amazon that’s what authors really want, so I’m very careful to stay within guidelines. I used to do B&N but their site is so temperamental I gave up some months back.
How do you think authors should interact with bloggers ? Do you want authors to read your reviews? RT links to them? Ignore them?
I’m happy for authors to do what they want, quote from reviews, read them, link to them, tag them. I don’t mind what they do, I write honestly so I don’t mind anything that helps sell books.
Have you ever received a response from an author after giving a bad review? If so, can you vaguely share what happened?
I hate low starring reviews but its necessary if I’m to be honest about how a book affects me. I have had one lady write to me about a two star saying she understood her book wasn’t for me, and she was pleased I’d made the point that it was a personal interaction with the story, not that it was a bad book. I still felt awful though, I know how hard authors work, and it must feel uncomfortable when someone doesn’t like your story. I paint, and of course there are folk that just don’t connect with my style, hate it. That’s how it goes but it still feels personal. I guess the art of growing a thicker skin is needed whether its books, art, anything you’ve created that others may have an opinion on.
I did get a lady email me to remove my review once. It wasn’t a two or three star review, but a four. It was her first book, and she was concerned because my four star review was showing first and a couple of five star ones were below it ( and reading them I suspect they were from friends, didn’t write much about the book itself just gushed…) . I was pretty astonished, to me a four star book is good. I thought hard but eventually removed it from Amazon, because I feel four stars is positive, and removing wouldn’t really make much difference. It stayed on GR and my blog. I felt an undertone from her in that what she really wanted was for me to make it five star rather than remove it, but for me a four was the right rating. I did tell her I wouldn’t usually remove a review, its an opinion from one reader, and I take time over writing them. I value them when I’m selecting reads, and I write honestly about how I feel as regards a story.
I also told her I wouldn’t review for her a second time ( but have just realised I can’t remember her name so in reality I may!) I’m still astonished by her request. I’ve been reviewing for maybe 7 or 8 years now and that’s the only time I’ve ever been asked to remove my review.
What advice do you have for authors who might get a negative review from you (or any blogger)?
See it as positive, its a balance, an opinion from one person. It may be that what that person doesn’t like is what makes it perfect for someone else. I’ve bought books for exactly that reason. Reading tastes vary so much, so not all books suit all readers even if brilliantly written. I hate Terry Pratchett, David Eddings, Neil Gaimon books, eldest son and millions of other readers love them. Perfect example, we both love Fantasy but different types of fantasy.
I tend to read a couple of high star reviews and a couple of low ones before choosing, so low stars help balance. If a book has a clutch of five stars but none really say anything except how wonderful it is I tend to get suspicious, ditto those where the reader has only reviewed this or a couple of books. I’m more likely to take note of a review from someone who’s reviewed lots of books.
Do you ever get any positive feedback from authors?
Yes, and I love it when authors take the time to say they like my review. Especially if I’ve picked up on a point they were making…its kind of hard to write what I mean, but that sort of undercurrent, seeing that someone isn’t all bad, connecting with a book on a personal level and knowing that there’s been a lot or research to get details right. That sort of thing. ( Pet hate: The Horse Whisperer. I took that to read in hospital not knowing what it was about – I just love horses and that connection appealed. Of course I should have read more, I was in to have most of my left leg amputated! I can tell you from experience getting back to riding after amputation is nothing like it was portrayed in that book, there are things there that are simply not physically possible ( continuing with a cracked limb socket, been there and it won’t stay on, climbing a fence and mounting – tried that too when i fell off out in woods, can’t do it) and made me really annoyed to read.
Have you met or become friends with any of the authors you’ve reviewed? If so, how has that changed your relationship with reviewing in general?
Never met any, have become in a lose way, online friends with a few but I try to keep friendship and reviewing separate. Having said that I’d find it hard to do if any of my longtime real-life friends wrote a book….
What’s the best thing that’s ever happened as a direct result of your decision to review a book?
Nothing really specific. Getting such a variety of reads is a bonus, I simply couldn’t afford to buy all the books I want. I used to be an avid library user, but I’ve eyesight issues that make printed text difficult to read and a whole book is impossible, so ebooks came at the perfect time for me. I can alter text size, fond, boldness etc.