Over the course of the last few weeks there has been a lot of debate, often quite intense, about book reviews and what they should or shouldn't do. I don't think there is ever going to be a magic answer plucked out of the air that will keep everyone involved happy but I wanted to put down my thoughts on the matter so I can be done with thinking about it.
For me things came to a head this weekend when a prominent author made the comment on twitter "There is too much positivity in the book world. Esp in book blogs and on Youtube. Books can't all be good can they?". This statement led to lots of bloggers and authors weighing in with their opinions on the whole matter.
Let's break it down
"There is too much positivity in the book world"
The first part of this statement I didn't object to. I am taking this statement (and the author's further tweets) to say that reviewers should be writing both positive and negative reviews. I don't see an issue with this at all. I do think people should be honest in their reviews about what they thought about a book. I don't agree with writing a positive review for a book you didn't like. All too often so much hype is built up around titles which probably don't deserve it and other wonderful books don't receive even half the recognition they deserve.Is this driven my marketing and sales from the publishing houses? Probably. I suspect if you are a huge publishing house with a huge budget for marketing and have signed the author for a six figure deal you are going to promote that book big time because at the end of the day authors and publishing houses are out to make money because if they didn't there would be not books. Yes the title being promoted might be a fantastic read but due to the subjective nature of reading I doubt it is going to be universally loved.
Therefore I do think reviewers need to be balanced and give an honest opinion and not buy into the hype. I've been known to write a negative review about titles (that I've had for review) from hugely successful authors and I'm happy to do that when I can justify why I've had such an opinion about a book. That said I wouldn't be tweeting the author with links to that review because I think that smacks of rubbing salt into the wound for something someone has spent a good chunk of their existence working on. There is a fine line being being critical and being nasty which I don't want to cross. I will put the review on goodreads and might put it on my blog if I felt so inclined. I don't see those reviews as an awful thing and I'd never be put off a book by a negative review because I know reading is so subjective. All of the books on my favourites list have one star reviews and it doesn't stop me loving them.
However the second part of the tweet annoyed me a lot.
"Esp in book blogs and on Youtube"
I felt this statement both singled out bloggers and dismissed them and what they do as well as generalising and assuming all book blogs are the same. To my mind while bloggers are dedicated book reviewers they are not paid to do so and therefore they can do whatever the hell they like on their blogs and shouldn't have to answer to anyone unlike someone being paid for a publication to review titles. Every blog is different. Some only post positive reviews. Some do a mix. Some specialise in snarky reviews which do tear books apart. Is anyone approach right? I don't think so and that is what makes blogging such a wonderful hobby for so many people.
Now there were loads of counterarguments flung about yesterday to try and discredit bloggers who mostly only write positive reviews and I'm going to try and answer a few (to be clear I have made these up and they are not exact wording from twitter but the general idea is there)
"But you get paid. You get free books don't you?"
Yes and paid professional reviewers also get free books. Plus if you think about if for a book that retails at about £7 the blogger will then spend say 6 hours reading it and another hour writing a review and posting it to all the various places they post their review online. Thinking it of it like that it's about £1 an hour. I don't know about you but doesn't really seem like adequate payment for any service in traditional sense*. Also you are forgetting much of what bloggers review they have bought themselves because they love all the books.
*in the book stroking, opening parcel and dancing sense I think most book bloggers are more than happy with those terms and adore the publishers who send them titles beyond belief.
"But you only include positive reviews on your blog? Therefore your reviews aren't valid"
I suspect this is true for a lot of bloggers and not because they got the books for review. I can only talk for myself but these are the reasons why my reviews are mostly positive
1) If I am not enjoying a book I usually give up on it quite early on and therefore I have very little to say about it (with the exception of books that make me rage ... then a negative review might happen). I have limited reading time to fit in around the day job and the boring adult things I have to do (like hoover) and I therefore don't want to waste it reading books I don't like.
2) I have been reading extensively for the last 25 years. Since I started blogging I have read about 1000 books. I'm now at the point where I know the sort of books I'll like and not like in much the same way that I know what foods I like and don't like. I wouldn't pick up a adult horror book for much the same reasons why I wouldn't go into a restaurant and order lamb because I know however good it is I won't like it. Therefore the books I read tend to be those I'll like and therefore I generally write positive reviews about them.
3) It is easy to write a review about something you are really excited about. I can write reviews about books I loved easily. I can write reviews about books I hated easily. I struggle to write reviews about books that I felt were about the three star quality because they were OK but I didn't find them particularly great. I know that is down to my reading preferences and very often a case of "it's not you, it's me". In fact one of the reasons why you've seen so few reviews from me of late is because I've not really read anything that is above three stars and I got sick of trying to review books I wasn't fussed about.
But you're writing reviews about books by authors you've met and liked.
This is a difficult kettle of fish. There are authors out there I really like as a person and chat to regularly. I do promote their titles because I've read and loved them. I have a friend who is a YA author. I adore her and I make no secret of that. We love the same books. I'll head into the city infrequently to see her for lunch and spend all day talking about books. When I found out she was being published I was beyond excited and inevitably I loved it because we have a very similar reading brain and her book was so her. What happens if the time comes and I don't like a book of hers?? Being the wonderful person she is she'd just shrug it off in her wonderfully modest way and tell me not to worry myself about it. Me? I'd probably choose to say nothing rather than rip her book to shreds. In fact I know I've done that before for other authors who I've chatted to on twitter and then had the pleasure to meet and get my book signed at an event before actually getting a chance to read and find out their book isn't for me. Does that make me an awful blogger? I don't think so. I don't see the point in upsetting someone who I have that personal connection with because I'd worry that they'd think I was two faced. Equally I don't want to be false and promote a book I don't love because I have met that person. Therefore by choosing to say nothing I resolve both those issues.
Why are you worried about what authors you don't know think?
This leads me to all those authors I don't personally know. I can say what I want about them right? I suppose yes in theory and I'd like to think I do but some authors do not play nice. I've had friends who have been harrassed online by authors who did not like their review. Recent stories of a Scottish blogger who was attacked at work with a bottle and an author who turned up on the doorstep of a blogger I'm sure have made bloggers think. Some bloggers are only just teens. Would 13 year old me have risked a negative review when the possibility of those things outline existed? While they wouldn't stop me now, I'm not sure I would have back at 13. Would I touch titles written by the crazed authors as mentioned above now though? I highly doubt it. Admittedly they are examples of extremes of behaviour and most authors wouldn't dream of doing such a thing.
To sum up book bloggers generally are a different kettle of fish to paid professional reviewers. They are often positive because their hobby is to discuss and getting excited about books they adore and they are good at reading what they know they'll like. If they want to post most positive review that is up to them. No one should be saying what they should and shouldn't be doing.