On Writing: What's the big deal about book reviews?
Why we read
Reading is more often than not an essential task that gets us through our days. We read for work, for school, we read and reread the directions for assembling our Ikea furniture. We read to cook. Is there nothing better than an excellent cookbook? Yes, you can watch a video demonstration, but for many people, having the book in your hand makes the task more intimate. I am guilty of writing notes in my cookbooks, can't do that with a video. We read and not even realize it. Staring at the back of a cereal box at breakfast or the back of a shampoo bottle in the shower. Our eyes are drawn to words. For me, and hopefully for you, the best reason to read is for the pleasure it brings to our lives.
Reading a book
Congratulations you've read a book. Did you like it? Love it? Hate it? Reading a book should have an effect on you both as you make your way through the pages and again when you reach its conclusion. Books can scare us, make us laugh, make us cry, and make us angry. And hopefully, that's what they are meant to do. A great book inspires us and can make a profound impact on our lives. We may reread our favorites year after year, savoring the beauty of the written word. I can't tell you how many times I've read my collection of Jane Austin books.
When we read great engaging book, our minds can be transported. We are immersed in worlds new and old, some real, some fantasy. Regardless of the genre, we are there alongside the main characters, cheering them on, holding our breath when they are in danger, crying alongside them when they are sad and shaking our fist at the bad guy. The best reading experience is akin to an out of body experience, the feeling that we are only in our heads, our minds are detached from the rest of our body.
Behind the book
Behind every book is a human, a writer an author. Their book may represent years of struggle, of heartache, or perhaps they are so talented they whipped it out in a matter of months. Either way, there is a flesh and blood person who produced that book.
For the majority of writers, writing is hard. It's a lonely pursuit. Sitting in an office, pecking out words on the keyboard, trying not to be distracted by family, friends, life in general. Good writers agonize over word choice, plot, characters, and world building. They pour their heart and soul into their manuscript. The book becomes your baby, a part of you. You know your main character inside out, you cry when they cry. You exult when they overcome the obstacles you've put in their way. They are your family.
When the last edit is complete, the book cover approved, the font set, the acknowledgements written and the dedication penned, its time to print. Holding your first book for the first time is a moving experience. You look down at it and think, I did it, I did this. Its a moment of fulfillment and joy. Next comes the hard part.
What's the point of writing a book? For most of us who call ourselves authors, it's the hope that someone will read it. And love it. Its a scary feeling, nail biting, waiting for someone to pick it up, admire the cover, read the blurb and think, hum, I'm going to give this one a go. Friends and family don't count, we know they'll love it. We wait for that first stranger, someone across the nation, who has never heard our name, to purchase our book.
Most writers are riddled with self-doubt. We refer to it as the 'imposter syndrome'. I'm not really a writer, I don't have what it takes, I'm just fooling myself, I'm not good enough. This feeling of worthlessness is reinforced by the whole publishing process. Authors submit query letters to agents and publishers, hoping to be one of the chosen few that gets a traditional publishing deal. But the process is brutal. An author may query hundreds of agents and get hundreds of refusal letters in return. Not for me. Not what I'm looking for. Not what my readers want. Some shoot down your hopes and dreams in thirty seconds, others leave you hanging in the void, no response for months, if ever.
Whether an author chooses the traditional route to publishing or self-publishes, the end game is the same. We want people to read our books. Sadly, as the number of published books skyrockets the same can't be said for readers. The act of reading for pleasure has plummeted. A book has to compete with video games, streaming movies and t.v. shows, cat videos on Facebook, and all the distractions social media provides. There is no time in our frantic day to fit in a book. I think this is very sad. Books have been a part of my life since childhood. I can't imagine a day without a book.
This lack of readership has led to a fierce competition for those remaining readers. Books are cheap, some authors give them away for free, hoping they'll lure readers back to buy the next one. Indie and self-published authors must market their own books. Self-marketing is time consuming and expensive. The ultimate question these days is how do I get my book seen by readers.
Hallelujah! Someone read my book. It's confirmed, I really am an author. But what did they think? Did they like it? Did they understand what I meant? Did they get the point? Did they cheer for my characters? Will they recommend it to their friends? How is an author to know.
One simple thing can help make or break a book. The review or lack there of. Authors live for a review. Of course we all hope the review will be glowing. We want readers to fall in love with our work. But what we need is an honest review.
The review can be as simple as 'I loved it', or 'it made me laugh'. Most sites give you the option to just leave stars for your review. It only takes a few minutes to make a huge impact on future sales and readership. Some reviewers go to great lengths to spell out what they liked or did not like about a book. They delve into writing skills, historical accuracy and other elements of style. Others leave a brief, gut-felt opinion. We'll take either. My only request is that if you did not like a book, take a few minutes to say why. If you're handing out a one-star review, it would help the writer enormously to know why.
If you buy a horror book and halfway through realize you don't like horror books, its not the authors fault. In that case, perhaps its best not to leave a review. If you bought your book online and it took longer than you expected, don't leave a bad review. It's not the author's fault and you can damage their reputation by rating the shipper and not the author. This is especially true for new authors without a following.
Reviews should never be used as weapons. I recently checked out the reviews for an author I admire. One reviewer gave each of her ten-plus books a one star review. Why? She didn't like the author. This is abusing the system and hurtful to all authors. I hope there aren't many people out there who treat books and authors this way, but I fear there are.
My Appeal to Readers
This is a simple appeal to all readers. Please leave a review, it helps more than you will ever know.