It’s Monday, and I haven’t shared an unpopular opinion in a while, so what the heck?
Today I mourn the death of the unsolicited, average-reader book review. I know many of you actively solicit reader feedback on Amazon, Goodreads, and elsewhere. Please don’t be offended. I understand you have no choice. This is the New World Order, and mining reader reviews is not just an option, it is an obligation, an integral part of a writer’s job.
But for a few minutes, let us reflect on what we’ve lost.
The supremely talented Jessica Bell recently blogged on Should Authors Post Negative Reviews. While Jess and I didn’t agree on the subject—for more details, read the comments to her post—that is only a part of what I intend to discuss today.
What I really want to talk about is the devaluing of reviews, whether as a result of abuse—faking or buying feedback and cronyism being the three most obvious examples—or because the average reader is so weary of being solicited for reviews, he or she simply doesn’t bother with them anymore.
I used to enjoy reviewing books. Now, the backlash for writing even a three star review is so harsh, I’m afraid to be honest, and I refuse to limit my feedback to five star reads. In my opinion, any book review requires context, and that context is honesty about what the reviewer doesn’t like as well as what he or she likes. Frankly, I don’t trust reviews from readers who love everything.
But as I mentioned earlier, there’s a New World Order, and here’s my real gripe (you knew it was coming, right?), reviews are no longer a tool to guide readers to books they’ll enjoy or help writers improve their craft. Instead, reviews are now a near-homogenized means of free promotion.
The reader review system has essentially been gutted and what remains is largely a glut of sycophantic fawning or reviews so brutal, it’s clear they were written for the sole purpose of tanking the author.
When I first heard Amazon was removing author reviews, I, like most other writers, was appalled. Now I think maybe Amazon had it right. A flood of writers who consciously choose to discuss only the books they like because they don’t want to “shit where they eat” (again see Jessica’s post here), is a game changer. In most professions, expecting a fellow colleague to provide an unbiased review of one’s work for promotional purposes would be too absurd to contemplate. In publishing, it’s just another day at the office.
Reviews as free promotion are not solely the purview of authors. I have a mailbox full of requests for feedback covering everything from the installation of my cable, to recent experiences with a local hotel. You name the retailer, from Target to Nordstrom, and I can show you an email solicitation for a review. If I eat at a restaurant, the waitstaff points out the web address at the bottom of the bill where I can sign-on and write my testimonial. I take a walking tour and the guide announces tips are great, but if I really want to help, please review the tour company on TripAdvisor. And just try and avoid a vender review request when you shop Amazon Marketplace.
Whether you’re writer, merchant, or service provider, user reviews equal free promotion.
But here’s the thing, I’m drowning in requests for feedback. Moreover, I’m relatively certain I’m not alone. I could spend all day everyday writing reviews if I had no other responsibilities and didn’t mind my honest opinion meaning little in this New World Order.
Truth is, I likely won’t review your book (or your product, or your service) even if I love it to pieces. And not just because I feel my freely-given opinion is worthless in the sea of bought and paid for five-star gushing, but because to review what I love, I’d also have to review what I don’t love, and being bullied for honesty sucks.
Have you ever written a less-than-stellar book review?
What about a review for a product or service?
Are you tired of the continual pressures to provide
feedback on EVERYTHING these days?