To my mind, one of the greatest strengths of websites such as Amazon and GoodReads is that they allow readers (and writers) to post book reviews for all to see. Much as I love bricks-and-mortar bookshops, I’ve never seen one yet which can do this on the same scale. (Though I DO love Waterstones‘ idea of displaying their staff’s views on books they’ve read.)
I therefore find the current “sockpuppet” controversy irritating. Haven’t we all known all along that some reviewers are unscrupulous, biased and driven by their own agenda? They are pretty easy to spot and the intelligent person ignores them and moves on.
Whatever you do, don’t let it put you off posting your reviews of books you’ve read, because, counter-intuitive as it may seem, reviewing other writers’ books is a great way of promoting your own books. It also helps you hone your own writing abilities.
Here are six sound reasons why you, as a writer, should post online book reviews:
1) Composing a formal book review is a great way of harnessing your thoughts about what works and doesn’t work in books that you have read. Building your critical faculties in this way makes you a more effective writer and editor of your own books.
2) Reviewing books in the genre in which you write, ending with a signature linking back to your own author website, raises your profile before previously unknown readers who will by definition be interested in your kind of book.
3) Reading other authors’ review pages gives you insight into how they manage their public image. Examining how they present themselves on Amazon will give you new ideas for how you manage your own publicity. They’re missing a trick if they haven’t set up their own author page on Amazon Central and linked it back to their own author website – as are you.
4) It helps you build a thicker skin for when you are on the receiving end of book reviews. Reading one-star reviews for books that you love will make you realise that even the best authors get slated by some readers, through no fault of their own. It’s common for someone to condemn a book because they hadn’t read the blurb properly when they ordered it, and so it turned out not to be what they were expecting or wanting to read. And of course some of reviewers are clearly just plain bonkers – or have other issues that make them enjoy complaining. (If you check out other one-star reviewers’ reviews, you’ll often find they are negative about everything they read.)
5) It’s a great way of encouraging other indie writers in your social network, and doubtless they will want to do the same for you. I’m not suggesting for a moment that you should post dishonest reviews full of false praise – but you might want to keep your criticism constructive and diplomatic. And if you have something really negative to say, always consider whether online is the right place to say it. For example, if you’ve just read an e-book peppered with typos, it would be far kinder to send the author a private email, giving them the opportunity to correct their mistakes without public embarrassment. Call me old-fashioned, but “do as you would be done by” is one of my mantras.
6) Reading and writing reviews is not only entertaining. It’s also a great stimulus to your imagination. As a writer, you find yourself fleshing out the character of the people who have written the reviews, following interactions and conversations, and before you know it, you have the starting point for a novel or short story – or even a murder mystery! (If you write one, do let me know – I’d love to read it!)
So keep calm and carry on reviewing. It’s good for you as an author, it’s good for promoting your book, and it’s good for the industry as a whole. As far as I’m concerned, those grumpy people out to devalue this fabulous arena can jolly well put a sock(puppet) in it.
An interesting and balanced piece from The Daily Telegraph (that’s something I don’t say very often!)