Sunday, March 18, 2018

Reviews Are for Readers - Or Are They?

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is on our calendar as "Reviews - I'm rubber, you're glue."

Which gave me pause, I'll admit. The phrase comes from US playground taunts among children (do other countries have this one?) where the teased child will reply "I'm rubber, you're glue. What bounces off me, sticks to you." In other words saying that any insults hurled at us bounce off and stick to the the one flinging them.

So, I imagine whoever phrased this topic was thinking of how authors have to allow less-than-complimentary reviews of our books roll off of us. Which is true. But I disagree with putting it this way for a number of reasons.

  1. A review is of a book, not the author. It's different than teasing and taunting in that we are not the target, but rather something we produced. And put into the world for people to take part in. We're not quietly eating our brown-bag lunches (while reading a book) when Billy the Bully comes up and questions our worthiness to use up oxygen. While some reviews do go so far as to insult the author, those are unprofessional and not worth noticing.
  2. Even a terrible review isn't the same as an insult. Sure a bad review is painful, but that's on us. It's just not a personal attack. If someone wishes us harm, then it's reasonable to imagine the fair thing is for that harm to ricochet and instead the person inflicting it. That's not the intent of most reviewers. If it is, that's unprofessional, etc.
  3. Reviews are for readers, not for authors. We're not even the subject of the playground discussion. No more so than if we brought a fine ball from home (which we maybe painstaking decoupaged with Guardians of the Galaxy images), kicked it out there for everyone to play with while we retire with our bag lunch and book, and then the other kids weigh in on whether it's really good for dodgeball or not. It's really not about us.

The big EXCEPT here, is that in this Rate-and-Review-Every-Damn-Thing Economy, reviews have become critically important to sales. I really think Amazon (and other, similar, retail sites) have dug a pretty deep hole for us all. They want honestly reviewed products, so their customers get what will satisfy them, but then they want us to not care about reviews. Even though the number of reviews affects all aspects of a book's saleability, from whether customers even SEE it to obtaining highly sought advertising slots like in BookBub. 

So, sure, reviews are for readers. I read reviews all the time to see if I want to buy a book. But they've also become a key marketing tool for authors and publishers. Which moves the game off the playground and into the big leagues. 

Of course, for authors the answer is still to let them slide off. Leaving out the "sticks to you part." I included the cover here of THE SHIFT OF THE TIDE because I thought of different reviews I've gotten of this recent release. This book is a little different than the rest of the series, because the heroine is other - she's a shapeshifter and doesn't think like a person who can't shapeshift. Spending time in animal forms makes her wild in some ways. 

Some readers have loved it, exactly because Zynda is so different. Others rated it their least favorite of the series because she is so other. Some say it's their favorite.

Since I clearly accomplished what I set out to do - capture her otherness - I can't complain. There are other balls waiting for decoupage. 


  1. Yep, a bad review doesn't mean the author did something wrong. There will NEVER be one book that hits the sweet spot for all people. As long as a bad review is only about what didn't work for that reader in that particular book, great.

    *side note, I've purchased and loved books that had a bad review because said review didn't like something that I found intriguing. All publicity is good publicity as they say.

    1. I believe this, too. Have totally bought one-star books because what they hated, I knew I'd love.