Is Honesty Even The Goal?

September 28th, 2004 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Better minds than ours have sliced and diced the Kirkus paid reviews decision. Questions like are they crazy, won’t this destory their hard-earned reputation, and is this an ethical approach have been debated and answered. We won’t bother with our thoughts.

Okay, we will. Is it our fault we were born with an opinion on everything?

First, to answer the question posed by the Christian Science Monitor: no. When one pays a lot of money (and, given the income to output ratio in self-publishing, $350 is a lot of money), one doesn’t want to be trashed in the process. To be honest, you can get that sort of helpful input for free. The type of author who buys a Kirkus review is likely not hoping to win librarians and influence booksellers. Those groups aren’t going to take the paid reviews seriously. However, the general public, the great unwashed masses and all that, aren’t going to be au courant on paid review concept. They’ll be hitting Amazon and noting this book and that book have been reviewed by Kirkus. Now, whether or not they know jack about the publication, they’ll get that it’s a big deal, a big name, and will take the review more seriously.

And it’s probably going to be a good review. Unless the Kirkus economic model is less cynical than we believe, cold truth won’t turn this project into a success. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Once upon a time, we did book reviews. As we grew better at fiction writing, we stopped reviewing. Authors simply didn’t do things the way we wanted. We were unreasonably harsh on poor souls who didn’t hit the joke the way we would or plotted in ways we wouldn’t. We got out of the review game. Though, despite our best efforts, our name is still on a list somewhere, and we continue to get requests for reviews. This leads us to a bit of advice before we reveal something we learned:

Advice: If you write non-fiction books about military matters, a reviewer who specializes in women’s fiction isn’t going to be interested. Don’t waste your time or hers. We deleted your message without even bothering to read the entire subject line (which was egregiously long, by the way). You won’t get reviews that way.

So, the thing we learned is that there are a lot of authors who don’t want honest reviews. And there are a lot of reviewers who are willing to accommodate this. This is a trend especially prevalent in the online romance community. When reviewers enter into friendships with authors (and there’s certainly no law against it), objectivity falls by the wayside. Sometimes these reviewers enter into friendships and they refuse to write anything negative about the books they read — this is couched in terms liked “I only review books I like.” Okay. So much for critical thought; and we do like to note that criticism is not always a negative thing.

These reviewers get a reputation as being author-friendly. Sure, they serve a function, but it’s not reviewing. When we hear about authors who get good reviews, posting excerpts, our first thought is to consider the source. We know the authors are excited, and chances are they’ve written a really good book, but when you’re trying to lure new readers, please recall that the online community is jaded. We don’t fall for drive-by posters and we don’t fall for glowing reviews that don’t say anything (“it’s the best thing I’ve read this hour.”)

Harsh? Us? Yes. Be excited about every kind word said about your book, and use those lovely quotes to the fullest extent possible. We don’t get it, but people are influenced by these things. Also cultivate healthy cyncism about the impact of the reviewer’s words. Are reviews by Harriet Klausner (who does sometimes write less-than-positive reviews) taken to heart by savvy readers?

Authors do their part by bristling and reacting angrily when less-than-positive reviews are posted. Perhaps this is because the ensuing controversy brings additional sales. We can’t say. This is why we suggest to our friends that ignoring reviews is the best thing. You don’t want to be labeled as a whiner who can’t take it. Better to not even know it’s out there. It is always interesting to us that review sites unpopular with authors are very popular with readers. These sites also tend to be less “fan-girl” than others. Probably there is a lesson here, but we’ll let you figure it out on your own.

Reviewers who don’t play honest aren’t doing authors any favors. We’re reading a book right now that, frankly, sucks. It was given to us at the RWA National Conference, and we thought, we’ll give it a shot. The fact that the book didn’t hit the wall after the author gave us the most basic, basic information is amazing: “Did they call 9-1-1?” [Character] nodded as the doctor tossed off the question. She knew the answer because she was a paramedic and was very familiar with the three-digit phone number commonly used by people in emergency situations. (Yes, we’ve paraphrased. And, yes, we realize one or two people out there don’t have a clue from 9-1-1.). This book is not well-written — we’re reading it like we watch train wrecks.

When we entered writing contests, we were always more interested in negative remarks than positive remarks. The negative always felt more honest (painful, sometimes, but at least they were substantive) even when we didn’t agree. There are lots of great books being written and published; we’ve read a lot of them. But there are a lot of books that don’t pass the credibility test. If you’ve lived with your work, writing and rewriting, you have to know where your book’s strengths and weaknesses are. A reader’s reaction (and reviewers are just readers, when you get down to is) shouldn’t affect your pride in your work. But a reader’s reaction may help propel you to do better, deeper, stronger work the next time.

The Kirkus paid reviews aren’t going to influence the publication’s core subscribers. They may impact casual book purchasers. Everybody who participates in this program will be happy — because honesty isn’t necessarily the goal. Positive quotes to plaster on websites and in marketing materials are.

  • Will authors get honest review for $350?

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