Before I start with my post on reviews, I wanted to mention that I’ll soon be posting snippets from THIS SIDE OF THE GRAVE. So if you want a little glimpse at what Cat, Bones, and the gang are up to, check back :).
And now, to the main point of this blog. The topic of reviews has been floating around the blogosphere recently and for authors, it’s one that perhaps should be labeled “Handle with Care.” Reason being – for me at least – is that it’s difficult to separate Jeaniene the Person from Jeaniene the Author when I’m online. Jeaniene the Person has been an avid reader since age twelve, and like every reader, loves certain books, is ambivalent about others, won’t finish some, and occasionally flat out despises a book. I used to be able to share all of these opinions without there being a question of my having ulterior motives*, but what I found out after I signed a publishing contract was that online, Jeaniene the Person became replaced by Jeaniene the Author.
Now, if I make a comment or post a review about a book, it’s often** not taken as it should be, which is one reader’s individual taste and opinion. Instead, because I’m often perceived as an author first and a reader a distant second, if I like a book and rave about it in public, it can be seen by some as an attempt to boost a peer’s sales – usually under the assumption that I’m friends with the author, or that my publisher/agent made me do it. If I publicly bemoan how much I hated a book, it can sometimes be seen as though I have a personal grudge against the author, or that I’m jealous of his/her sales. I could lament about how frustrating this is, but I chose to be an author, no one made me do it, and this is simply one of the side effects. Because I have a limited amount of time, I’ve chosen to only post reviews of or mention books that I really enjoyed. I know the squinty-eyed reaction will still come from some corners, but I’d rather take my time defending the reasons why I liked a book and be perceived by some as a professional suck-up (or sell-out) than have to deal with the “OMG what did Author X ever do to you?” or “You’re just jealous!” reaction that posting negative reviews can sometimes generate.
Now, some of you might think, “But Jeaniene, are you saying if you’re an author then you should never post a negative review of another author’s book?” NO. That would make as much sense as me saying that because I don’t eat white chocolate (and I don’t; I hate that stuff) then no other author should eat white chocolate, either. Ridiculous, right? I’m not telling anyone else what to do. I’m only stating the why’s behind why I do or don’t do certain things myself. Everyone should do what they’re most comfortable with, and that comfort level will differ from person to person.
In case some of you are wondering, “Well, then what are your thoughts on reviews as a reader?” I’ll tell you. I’m ever so glad they exist. I buy books based off reviews all the time, and guess what? I buy books based on bad reviews almost as much as good ones. Why? What one reviewer loves might be first on my list to DNF a book, and conversely, I browse some review sites only looking for the C or lower grades because I know their tastes are polar opposite of mine. Tastes vary, and thank God, or the reading selecting would be very boring.
And now for the, “So what are your thoughts on reviews as an author?” I love them for all the reasons I listed above, but I’ve learned not to read them most of the time. Why? That depends. Sometimes I’m not feeling thick-skinned enough. It happens. Let’s say you had a rough day at work, you didn’t sleep well the night before, your family/spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/pet did something to annoy you, or you’re just in a foul mood. Is that the time to start eavesdropping on other people’s conversations about your work performance? Probably not, because you know what they say about eavesdroppers – sooner or later, they’ll hear something they won’t like. Reading reviews is like eavesdropping on a myriad of conversations about my work performance, and if I’m in the last leg of a deadline or stressed out for other reasons, it can be counterproductive to my writing. How? If I happen to stumble across a few scathing reviews, I might want to close my laptop and curl into a ball with some chocolate instead of finishing the chapter I was working on. Writers might be objective about negative reviews most of the time, but then there are days when things slip through that thick skin even though you know better.
Sometimes it’s counterproductive to read good reviews, too. If I read a spate of glowing accolades about my books, I might develop a case of temporary insanity where I think I’m all that and not listen to the good advice my editor and critique partner give me. Or I might be tempted to think I’m so special that I deserve a few days off when I should be writing instead. I don’t know which author said this about reviews, and I’m paraphrasing, but “the bad ones get inside your head while the good ones go to your head” is a wise word of caution, in my opinion. Both have the power at times to hinder my work performance, and so I’ve found it’s best to leave reviews for the audience they’re intended for: other readers :).
That’s my two cents on reviews and like opinions on books, what works for me won’t (and shouldn’t) work for everyone else.
*The suspicion that I have ulterior motives behind what I say about other books happens less frequently, but still enough that it’s a headache.
**Please note that “often” doesn’t mean “all the time,” but most people online know me solely through my books so that how I’m identified to them. Author Ilona Andrews recently said, “There is a curious shift that occurs sometime around the publication of your first book. You stop being a person and become a representative of your books. For all intents and purposes, you are a business entity.” I’ve found this to be true far more times than not when I’m interacting with people online.