Author-Reviewer Relationship – I
I have been a book reviewer for a while and been a reader practically all my life. And in the last few years when I have edited books for authors, I’ve come close to knowing about the world of authors and book reviewers, at closer quarters. Which brings me to the need of getting books reviewed, reviewer ethics and author expectations! There seems to be a lot of ambiguity regarding the need for book reviews – how important it is to the author and is the reviewer really that important a link?
Over time, I have witnessed both sides to the coin. While few authors have begged reviewers for book reviews and thrown tantrums on public forums if the review was not positive, there also have been reviewers who have taken the author’s patience for granted and not followed the norms. Wrong, both these behaviors are wrong. I will write a separate post on book reviewing etiquettes but for now, let’s stick to how the relationship should be.
I asked them both how important a book review is for an author. And also, what exactly does an author expect from someone who is reviewing their book. Shatrujeet explained saying, “I can’t speak for everyone, but the two things that I expect from a professional book reviewer are honesty, and the ability to critique a book in a way that offers an insight not just about the book but also its genre, its context etc. It is fine for a reader to say he liked the book or he hated the book. But professional reviewers have to go beyond that and look at the work in much greater depth, cross-referencing it with others books in the same genre, or other books that share the same narrative structure or subject matter. I don’t think a reviewer’s job is limited to telling readers whether they liked the book or not.” This makes a lot of sense. To know if a book is good or bad is not really difficult; one can check for ratings on goodreads. However, if a reader can know what in the book is good and what is bad, they actually get to make a choice to read the book or not, fairly. For instance, you think that a book has too much mush. So you rank it a three out of five. Someone reading your review might decide to pick the book for exactly that reason!
Adite elaborates on similar lines by pointing out a very interesting fact, “Book reviews are an author’s life line. Reviews help in bringing a book to readers’ notice. In the past, newspapers used to have pages dedicated to books and reviews featured regularly in them. This increased the chances of a book being discovered by the book reading public. However, things have changed quite dramatically in the publishing industry as well as in media. The sheer volume of books being published (especially in the mainstream genres) has increased exponentially. It’s no longer possible for every book that is published to find prominent display space in book stores. Besides, book stores are shutting down and people are purchasing books online. In such a scenario, reviews become very important in terms of discoverability of the book. While some newspapers still feature book reviews, these are mostly about prominent books on important topics by heavyweight authors. Non-fiction rather than fiction get a look in. And even among fiction authors, it’s only the top few names that stand a chance of being reviewed. So what happens to other authors? Fortunately, the blogging world has come to their rescue. Reviewer-bloggers help authors to reach their audience and prominent reviewer-bloggers who have a large number of followers thus play a huge role in drawing attention to books.”
Now comes the question, how honest should the reviewers be in the reviews. Since few authors are known to have shown displeasure over poor reviews, this does comes as a concern.
“An honest review is the single most important criteria for me. While no book will appeal to every reader/reviewer, a reviewer should present his/her honest opinion about the book. Slamming the book without articulating the reasons why the book didn’t work for them is not only unfair but can be very damaging for the book and author,” said Adite. What both the authors are pointing at is that an author expects the pluses and the minuses of the book to be pointed out by the reviewer, and let the readers decide for themselves, what appeals to them.
To this, Shatrujeet said, “I think reviewers should be honest to the extent of not being under any compulsion to say nice things about a book just because the author is a big name or even a friend. Authors should be mature enough to accept a bad review — as long as the reviewer displays integrity and fairness in his or her opinion. An author-reviewer relationship should be based on trust and mutual respect.” He further explains that it is not easy for an author to accept a review/reviewer who has some nasty things to say about his book. Well, fair enough. We are all humans after all. A book is an author’s creation and it would surely hurt if it was slaughtered mercilessly.
“But I find it equally hard to digest an overwhelmingly positive review, even though it may surround me in its glow for 2 days. Insincere praise and admiration is easily detected, and hurts quite a bit. The reviewer, on the other hand, has to realize that his review — much like the work he is reviewing — is subjective, and prone to biases. So a little appreciation of what it takes to write a full-length novel will help temper and prevent unnecessary acidity from creeping into the review.”
While we are still talking about honest reviews, one wonders how honest a paid review can be. Is the payment really for the visibility and outreach, or is it also for a positive review? Adite shares her view on this, “I would stick my neck out and say that there are many reviewers who charge for book reviews. While I do understand that they are well within their rights to monetize their blogs and are basically charging for allowing authors to access their blogs’ audience, my personal opinion is that when money changes hands it’s no longer a review but becomes a form of advertising; the credibility of the review becomes suspect.”
What do you think about book reviews? Are you an author, a reviewer or a reader who picks books based on book reviews? I’d love to know, why don’t we connect over comments below?
…….Next part of this series coming to you very soon. Happy Pensieving.