The Challenge and/or the Business of the Book Review(er)
The Challenge and/or the Business of the Book Review(er) I have been writing book reviews, one each week, for several years now. I have the privilege of writing reviews of the books I choose to read and feel are books I would like to share with other readers. I am not challenged to review a book I did not enjoy as I have discovered many reviewers for newspapers and journals are.
I was once told by an author who sometimes reviewed for the Globe & Mail that she had no choice about the books she was given to review, and therefore if there was a book, for whatever reason, she felt she could not criticize, but did not really want to praise, she was in the awkward position of having to find something to say that was neither. The next time you read a review that simply outlines the plot – or talks more about the author than the book - ask yourself why that might be, it is usually because the author is well liked and the reviewer cannot bring themselves to criticize the book.
Since I am reviewing for the Parry Sound North Star, not the New York Times or the Globe and Mail, there is very little incentive for me to do more than write an honest assessment of a book I have read and want to share with other readers. Since I am not being paid for my reviews there is no reason for me to praise a book I really did not feel worthy of praise – except of course to encourage a few sales. I could never have imagined that anyone would purposely write a thoroughly dishonest review praising a book until I read a couple of recent and interesting articles about book reviews.
The most fascinating was in the New York Times, about reviews that are bought by agents or authors – favourable reviews of course. Not only are these reviews purchased, the reviewer most often has not even read the book.
What happens on the internet is a whole other story. There are those who have turned reviewing books into a very profitable business. These days anyone who writes a book, no matter how good or bad, can pay to have it printed and sold by Amazon – and they can pay for positive reviews. How marvelous is the internet and Amazon! Who needs an editor or a publisher these days? No one it seems.
An article in the Guardian tells of the dismay felt by British writers of crime fiction when it was discovered that a well known American mystery writer was writing positive reviews of his own book (under various pseudonyms) to move them up the Amazon bestseller list. Don’t kid yourself if you read a whole bunch of five star reviews on Amazon – many of these reviews may not be from actual real readers – in fact, they probably are not.
Publishers, instead of paying for placement and manufacturing “bestsellers”, should be honestly promoting superior books. They will then be doing what we are all in this “business” to do – share great books with other readers. I believe we lose all integrity with readers and customers if we are giving positive reviews to books that don’t deserve them. The so-called “bestsellers” may help to support the business but they are often not what we are proud to be publishing or selling.
When I read reviews, sometimes disagreeing completely with the reviewer, I realize of course that we all have different tastes, different interests and different backgrounds that we bring to what we read, affecting how we respond to particular books. I try to think of other readers when I consider which books to recommend, and I readily admit that if I did or did not enjoy a particular book, it is only my opinion - my honest opinion.
I wish you all the very best for the New Year, as I look forward to reading and reviewing books, and sharing them with you in 2013.