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Conscientious Objectors

I've talked a bit about reviewing and reviewers here. I have the greatest respect for reviewers -- whether professional or amateur -- who write conscientious, informed, and reasoned reviews. Because that's not easy to do -- and it deserves respect.

I also enjoy those spontaneous, enthusiastic outpourings from bloggers -- heartfelt appreciation, -- because that's the closest most of us in e-publishing get to  "word of mouth," which is vital to a writer's success -- and which can't be manufacturered. It's the equivalent of you telling your best friend you loved this book, and her reading it and telling her friends, and so on and so on and so on...just like that shampoo ad from a million years ago with the wheat germ and honey...

Which brings me to one of my thoughts on reviews. I think one reason why writers may have some problems with "negative" reviews is that in e-publishing (which is where most M/M writing happens) reviews have been largely hijacked for promotional purposes. A lot of the initial word-of-mouthing on e-books comes through reviews and e-book review sites. Most of us are not in print, after all, and so readers aren't discovering us wedged on the shelf of a bricks and mortar bookstore. They learn of us through reviews on their favorite review sites -- or through word of mouth on blogs or discussion lists.  So many of us come to view reviews as promotional and marketing tools -- which I don't really feel is the true purpose behind reviews.

Meaning, I don't think reviews are supposed to be for the benefit of authors so much as for the benefit of readers. 

Agree or disagree?

I think the point of a review is to match the right book to the right reader. And if this helps a writer sell a boat-load more of books, all the better, but that's not the real aim of a review is it? Because to be effective, a review (I'm talking about a professional review now on a professional review site) must be honest and informed. The conscientious reviewer doesn't make judgments on a writer's research if the reviewer hasn't done her own on the subject. A professional reviewer should, in theory, be able to review a book even if the book is in a genre the reviewer doesn't usually enjoy, because there should be some objective criteria for reviewing any book. The first being the demands of the genre (which, true, might be hard for a reviewer who doesn't read in a particular genre) Maybe one of the most important things for a reviewer to consider is whether the book successfully holds attention and immerses the reader in the story -- because as a writer that's the main thing I'm after. I want the reader lost in the world I create, turning the pages and resenting any interruption -- needing to know what happens next.

True, a lot of reviewing is subjective, and you can't argue with someone's opinion. Or can you? Because, let's face it, there are informed opinions and uninformed opinions. If a cop reads my book and tells me I got my police procedure right, but a civilian reviewer reads my book and says she thinks my procedure sounds unlikely...well, whose opinion do I value more? Whose opinion is worth more? All reviews are not created equal.

And, as a writer, I can't help but feel that if a reviewer is going to say something negative it's more important to back that up, than it is to back up positive comments. Now is that realistic of me? Probably not. Human and understandable, but not logical. 

I ignore negative reviews. Not that I get many, but everyone gets a few. I look for the consensus of opinion because that's the closest you can get to a fair understanding of how your work strikes most readers. (And yes, okay, yes, there was that one time when I made fun of a particular review here, but it wasn't like it was a well-thought out rebuttal or anything, and, frankly, I'd be happier now if I'd ignored what didn't thrill me.) Which brings me to another aspect of reviewing. 

My friend (and my sometimes reviewer) kellkatkins and I were having a recent discussion on reviews, and she brought up the point about authors thanking reviewers for good reviews. My feeling is, good or bad, you don't respond to a professional review. In fact, if it's bad -- I mean really bad -- you don't respond at all because you're dealing with someone who has an ax to grind. Intelligent discourse will not result from dialog. 

But so much of the reviewing for e-books is done on informal blogs or discussion lists, and so many of these readers are so enthusiastic and kind, it seems...I dunno. It seems like the right thing to thank them. And yet is this perceived as sucking up? It would certainly be so perceived in professional reviewing, I think. At least in the old days. But now days the review dynamic has changed. The internet has changed it, just as it's changed writing and publishing. 

And I've come to know some really charming readers through their blogs and their reviews. Friendships have sprung up in certain cases. So...is crossing that professional distance a mistake? Or is it part of the new reader/writer dynamic? 

I'd really like to hear from other writers -- and reviewers -- on this because I admit I'm undecided.