Trust me, I’m a reviewer …

3 11 2012

If you’re a crime fiction fan who spends any time on social media, you’ve probably been scraping your jaw off the ground at the shenanigans over sock puppet reviews where a number of big – and not as big as they’d like to be – names have been posting negative reviews of other writers’ books under false names.

Enough has been written already on the whole nasty saga. What I want to do, though, is to offer up some suggestions on how readers can find reviewers they can trust …

The fake review saga has undermined any credibility that Amazon reviews had – and that wasn’t much to start with. I feel immensely sorry for honest and thoughtful reviewers like British reviewer Maxine Clarke and John L Murphy, an American academic, who both continue to push a rock uphill by posting their excellent reviews to Amazon.

My illusions were shattered early on in my career about reviewing – my mildly negative comment about the vegetarian food on a Rhine cruise for a travel piece was doctored so the travel editor would continue to get freebies.

I’ve stopped reviewing for two other magazines where even faintly negative comments were excised. And when I edited ReviewingtheEvidence, I suggested a very prolific reviewer (four or five reviews a week) might like to find another outlet for her efforts, as she never criticised anything. And those of you on the crime fiction scene will know of another ‘reviewer’ who appears to read hundreds of books a month and has never found one she doesn’t like.

So how do you find publications and reviewers to trust …?

Don’t assume that a newspaper reviewer is automatically going to be better than a blogger. Far too much newspaper reviewers are authors who may not be prepared to give an honest review. A writer/reviewer once told me that they never write even faintly negative reviews, as they don’t want to turn up at a convention and find they’re on a panel with someone whose book they once criticised. My view on this? Give up reviewing once you’re a published novelist –  it’s more honest and comfortable all round and stops any conflict of interest.

There are some very good bloggers out there, but you are generally safer with a specialist review site where there’s a range of reviewers. Certain bloggers have got onto the free book gravy train and they suddenly become terrified this will dry up if they write negative reviews. I can assure them this isn’t true. Most publicists and authors are realists and know that poor reviews are an occupational hazard. If a blogger gets grief from a self-published author (and believe me, this happens a lot), then more fool them for reviewing self-published books in the first place.

I don’t attend conventions and have only been to a couple of meet-and-greets – my choice, I hasten to add. I was taught by a very grumpy old-school newspaper editor who warned about getting too close to contacts. I know other very good reviewers disagree and think I’m being over-paranoid, but it means I feel more comfortable as a reviewer.

And check the following when you find a publication you like the look of:

  • Do they review a good range of books? If they only review cosies and you prefer noir, then it won’t be much help to you.
  • Do they criticise? You don’t want wall-to-wall hatchet jobs, but you do want thoughtful and constructive reviews. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time all round.
  • Do reviewers appear to use their own names? One UK site uses initials, which makes me wonder what the reviewers have to hide.
  • Who’s reviewing for them? You don’t have to be a journalist to be a good reviewer, but it’s useful to know what a reviewer’s background is (see my comments above on authors reviewing …)
  • Do they have a stated policy – or do you suspect they only review books they like and quietly forget the duds? RTE, for example, states explicitly that they won’t review self-published books. Some reviewers admit openly that they don’t review books they don’t like – which is pretty unhelpful.

Ultimately, my best advice is to read widely. You’ll find gems that way – both books and reviewers. And when you find a reviewer you can trust, stick to their coat-tails. Good reviewers should be prized above rubies!

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4 responses

3 11 2012
DavidWebster

Reblogged this on Dispirited and commented:
Off topic: but well worth reading..

3 11 2012
lartonmedia

Cheers, Dave!

25 10 2013
dropscone

Not sure I agree that only doing reviews for books you like is useless. I’ve read very negative reviews for books I had already read and really liked. If I’d read the reviews first I probably wouldn’t have bothered with them. If the reviewer loves a book it’ll encourage me to at least pick it up and then I can make up my own mind.

30 10 2013
lartonmedia

I think I get twitchy about it as there’s a whole raft of reviewers/bloggers who seem to think that they have to be cheerleaders for the authors. That’s not a reviewer’s job! And they also appear to believe that they won’t get review copies if they’re honest about a book, which, if they’re kosher reviewers, isn’t true.

I trust certain reviewers after a while. But if I go to somewhere like Amazon and see that every review is glowing, I get suspicious and always assume the author has got their family to go on and rave about the book!

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