Sunday, April 1, 2012

To review or not review

I’m still a rookie book reviewer in so many ways but one of the lessons I’ve learned is to be selective because you owe it to yourself and the author. 

I have to say up front that I subscribe to an approach where if the material doesn't reach a certain plateau, call it three stars, I won’t write about it.  While negative reviews may be entertaining to some, I feel most readers are looking for good reads from the outset.  That’s where I put my time and energy and I’m also not one to diminish people who've made the kind of investment a writer makes throughout the process of creating a story.  It serves no purpose for me.

The problem is that early on and even today, I’m looking at more requests for reviews than I could hope to complete in a year, and that’s not counting some of the stuff I simply want to read.  On one hand you have an author who’s devoted a lot of time in creating the story and on the other is my very limited time, which compels me to find those gems others will enjoy.

I’ve had to learn to try and find stories that fit but don’t type-cast me by genre because though I love a great epic fantasy, I’m also a fan if historical fiction and can be a sucker for romance, suspense and even some young adult stories.  I’m keen on books with well-developed, quality characters and a compelling plot.  I want a book that pulls me in and makes me feel something, which is not an easy task.  I’m no different than your typical reader, no more and no less.  It just happens that I make it a point to write something about the books I’ve enjoyed so others might give them a try and enjoy them too.

There are a couple of efficient techniques I’ve adopted to help me sort through the titles and it starts with other reviews.  Yes, I definitely stop by Amazon to see what others have said but with an eye out for self-promotion reviews and the blatantly malicious posts as well.  It’s sad that someone would mark a book with one star and simply say they hate it without an explanation.  I chalk that up to a person with an agenda.  Same goes with the five-star review that says it was the best with nothing to quantify the comment. 

I also use Goodreads and Smashwords in the same way I use Amazon.  I usually finish up with a look at the author or book website to see the summary and any other thoughts from readers.  I honestly don’t look at video trailers but I do read samples when they’re available.  Once the background work is done I make a decision and notify the writer. 

I’m sure there are plenty of missed opportunities for me but I do what I can to mitigate.  For example, if it’s a new release that may not have many reviews then I consider comments on other work by the author.  If other stories were good then there’s a better than average chance this might be worth picking up too.  Debut novelists have it tough, which is why those samples are so important and even short stories can give a good picture of the writer’s style.

It’s never fun to decline a request from an author but by the same token, I have to take a certain amount of responsibility to make this fun because it is a hobby.  There’s no pay and I think that makes a lot of sense ethically because you’ll know that the review you read is an honest opinion with no hidden agenda or outside pressure.  A free copy of the story is enough for me and when it’s a good read that I can share with others, there is no better reward.  

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