I've got a lovely review up today at indie e-book review. It's by crime writer Chris Longmuir and I was impressed by the quality and depth of the review. But it made me think about reviews in general and how they work both for and against the writer and the reviewer.
I've been a "professional" reviewer - in that many years ago I used to get paid for book reviews by national media magazine Starburst. I've reviewed an awful lot of books for the British Fantasy Society and am still on several publishers' review lists, despite the cutbacks. I've even got into the habit now of writing brief reviews on most things I read and posting on Amazon and/or Goodreads - not least because it gives me a more balanced set of reviews, so that when I really have something to say, it gets taken more seriously. I mean do you trust an Amazon reviewer who gives everything 5* and says it's all wonderful? You need a certain amount of credibility as a reviewer before you attain any level of respect.
And that's the problem with Amazon, isn't it? Anyone can post a review (much like anyone can upload a book). And I think that's a good thing - everyone is entitled to their own opinion and really there is nothing wrong with a 5* It's awesome and a plot summary. So long as a) the reviewer doesn't do that with every book he/she reads, and b) the reviewer isn't your uncle/best friend/dad or worse still - another author who is expecting a review on their own book in return.
Reciprocal reviews are all too common amongst indie authors. I'm not sure they work and they are certainly viewed with suspicion from outside. What do you do if the book you are reading is truly awful? I'd like to think I have sufficient writing and editing experience now to be able to read and appraise/review something that may not be my choice of reading material. I've reviewed books I wouldn't have chosen to read - and have discovered some great new authors this way. But I've also tried to review books where the author really needed to engage the services of an editor before publication. And it's hard to know what to do in this case. I once even reviewed a print book by a small press by reading the first ten pages and the last ten pages ...
Reviews have different functions. Amazon reviews are meant to be almost ad copy - to sell more books, whereas Goodreads reviews are often far more discussion-orientated and the reviewer more likely to go into detail and nit-pick over everything. Reviews where you've been sent an advance review copy (ARC) by a traditional publisher are expected to be generally positive, although you can get away with the shit-sandwich style review if you're clever. But many reviews on Amazon are by trolls, disgruntled authors whose books are selling worse than yours, friends of said authors - look on these as a blessing! No, they may not be nice but potential buyers of your book will see them for what they are and it gives you a far more balanced set of reviews. And anybody who genuinely doesn't like your book is not your intended audience anyway - this simply shows your book is reaching a wider market.
There are discussions around the net (such as here) as to whether review sites will become the new gatekeepers of quality fiction. With more and more books being uploaded onto amazon and other ebook sites, there will have to be ways of finding what you want to read. And I think reviews will become a part of this. Maybe one day, the national press might review indie books too? And then we will know we have arrived!