Reviews, critiques and objectivity

Was just reading a blog about the Amazon review process and its make or break influence.  It’s unfortunately true that a bad review in the early stages can do great harm to the success of a book.  Whilst it would be nice to think everyone might consider this when posting a review, we haven’t yet reached Utopia and everyone is not going to rate more highly than they’re first inclined out of sympathy.

What rattles me about Amazon reviews is the helpful and unhelpful rating scheme attached.  Now, from my perspective a review is helpful if it presents the reading experience of the reviewer.  However, many people will rate a review as unhelpful simply because they also have read the book and don’t agree with what you felt about it.  A die-hard fan will rate you unhelpful if you rate 4 stars and say it lacked a certain spark but was otherwise great.  Where is the room for objectivity in writing a review in that case?

A review needs to be objective.  It needs to describe your experience of a book and nothing more.  A review is neither a synopsis or a critique.  Synopsis is for the author and/or publisher; critique is for the literary circle meeting or the classroom, maybe some broadsheet literary pages.  In a review, by all means say whether the language was brilliantly poetic and maybe give one example, but do not write an essay about it.

But how do you retain objectivity when you’re conscious of helpful and unhelpful ratings on your opinion?  Well the simple way to look at it is this.  If it would stick in your throat to say it to the face of the author, don’t write it.  If 4 stars makes you swallow your pride, don’t rate it.  As much as I might be hurting my own future ratings by encouraging honesty, I see no point in dishonesty.

Amazon have huge power over the self-publishing world.  But who has power over the quality of what we Indie authors put out there?  The reader.  It’s now up to the readers to ensure the good books thrive and the bad ones wilt.  The reader must enable the cream to rise to the top.

Now, am I that confident about my own writing?  Of course not.  No-one is.  It’s a simple fact for me though that if I write something and publish it, the reviews should tell me whether I’ve hit the mark or not.  I should read reviews and see what readers like and dislike about my work, take it all onboard whether positive or negative and use it to my advantage for future work.  If you walked into a door and everyone laughed but it didn’t hurt, you’d keep on walking into doors for the comedic value without realising you were slowly destroying yourself.  Feedback in any respect is a gift that we can’t afford to dissuade anyone from giving.  It might hurt sometimes, but how can we avoid the same mistake in future if it doesn’t?

So write your reviews, give your star ratings and if you’ve been completely honest, you’ve done it right.  If you choose to bear in mind the harm a three stars or below rating might do to an author, then you have an altruistic heart and you’re very kind, but have you been honest?  A little white lie can do as much harm as a hurtful truth because you’re withholding the means for someone to become better.

Be objective.  No two people read the same book, so they say.  Your experience will of course be subjective in that respect.  But your review should have no agenda other than to share your experience and that is wholly objective.  That then, is my objective take on the subject!

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About julietmchugh

Fiction writer from the North East of England with a taste for the gruesome and macabre.

2 responses to “Reviews, critiques and objectivity”

  1. Robert Perry says :

    Very true, indeed. Honesty is very important in the reviewing process, and it would be wise to keep your conscience in mind when writing. I am relatively new to the indie publishing world, and so do not have many works online yet, but reading reviews of fellow authors, I have seen some pretty terrible things. It is sad that some people feel a sense to destroy only. A review, in my opinion, is a directional map as to where you went right, and wrong. As you said, Juliet, it is their experience recorded for others to view. Great blog. Thanks for sharing.

    • julietmchugh says :

      In some cases though, the author probably should have asked someone other than their mum and best friend to read it first This new Indie market puts the power into the authors’ and readers hands and we need to take reviews objectively as well as give them. It is possible to give a terrible review without being nasty though and should always bear in mind me might have missed the point completely!

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