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Why you should review what you read

  • 28 March, 2021
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By A.B. Endacott

It seems unnecessary to say that reviews are important. But I’ll say it anyway. Reviews are important. The advent of online peer reviews has ushered in a new way of determining what we purchase. 

Purchasing patterns have always been heavily influenced by reviews. It’s one of the reasons why Choice magazine ratings were such a valuable currency for such a long time – the anecdotal evidence of the review team was taken to cut through the claims used by a company to sell a product and establish if a product did actually do what it claimed to, and whether it did that well. But with the internet came the capacity for everybody to leave a review – an arguable democratisation of the capacity to leave feedback on a restaurant, hotel, vacuum cleaner, or book, meaning that rather than being required to hope a magazine or newspaper happened to review something we were interested in buying (or, perhaps find a friend who’d bravely forged ahead and plumb their experience as a guide).  The higher the number of ratings and reviews, the more ‘true’ users deem any aggregate rating, for basically any thing, place, or product – including books.

Sure, there are differences between a visit to Disneyland and reading Catching Teller Crow, but consider this: You look at a review when you’re already considering the thing in question but aren’t certain. A bad review is likely to dissuade you from going to Disneyland or picking up the book, while an effusive review is likely to affirm your inclination to pop on a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, or add the book to your Booktopia cart.

So the more reviews, the better; it’s taken as proof of something’s popularity, when paired with a reasonable star rating. And it’s especially important when we’re looking at Australian authors where there is a relatively small amount of focus and time given to them. Even a single review affirms to a prospective reader that someone deemed the book was worthy of buy, thus encouraging them to do so as well.

But more than the psychological effect, reviews actually trigger responses in the algorithms that put book titles in front of readers and buyers as part of those ‘people who buy/like this also bought/read…’ which you can’t help but examine. Ratings can help, too, but reviews work a different algorithm magic. While that doesn’t mean an individual is immediately going to go and buy the book, it puts the book on their radar, which is the crucial way to eventual purchase, or borrow from a library. 

But there’s another reason why it’s really important that you as a reader leave reviews of the titles whose pages you’ve devoured.

There’s a trend of giving out advanced reader copies (ARCs) and electronic advanced reader copies (eARCs) to a wide variety of readers so that, come publication day, the casual book buyer already has a good idea as to whether the book definitely falls within their interests, and whether it’s actually good. The issue is that the book bloggers, bookstagrammers, and booktubers who form the core group of people who receive these ARCs and post the reviews you see popping up on a book’s Goodreads page long before the release date have an incentive to keep a good relationship with the publishers, so that they continue to receive books. It’s not as though they’ll post a rave review of a book they really hated, but in general, the reviews will tend to skew to the positive, or gloss over elements of the book that they didn’t like.

Equally, reviewers within this subset of people who really didn’t like a book are more likely to withhold a review rather than post a negative one (as someone who reviews for an online publication, I have told my editor that I really loathed a couple of books and she has advised me that there is no need to write a review in that case).
So if you, a non-ARC recipient, and just casual reader, leave a review. You’re adding a review that has no pressure on determining what you include within it other than your lived experience and genuine opinion on the book’s contents. You’re altering the data set to be more accurate. 

I could talk about data sets and the difficulty of attaining ‘truthful’ subjective opinions on a piece of writing all day. But I won’t, because I don’t want to bore you all to tears. Also, because there’s an additional point to consider. Generally, the dissemination of physical ARCs (and to some extent, eARCS), and the ‘push’ done to get them into the hands of readers, is not an equal process.

Certain texts may be earmarked by a publisher for a publicity push. The reasons for this may vary, but it means that two similar books which may be released by the same publishing house, can get a vastly different number of reviews in the leadup to publication, or immediately after. As a result, books can slip through the cracks. Similarly, larger publishing houses have the capacity to send out physical ARCs rather than just eARCs (which definitely changes the calculus on the part of reviewers as to whether they actually agree to review the book, but could arguably also affect how they approach the book – a beautiful cover makes for a nice Instagram post, an eBook can require a bit more work), and have a larger publicity team to contact members of the reviewing community. Consequently, books by smaller publishing houses can end up with far fewer pre-publication reviews.

So if we go back to what we’ve established near the beginning of this piece, the reviews you leave for books that have less publicity behind them mean they will have a higher online presence. That in turn increases the likelihood of those stories actually being discovered by other readers. 

The major places to review a book are Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/), Amazon, The Storygraph (https://app.thestorygraph.com/), and any site from where you might buy your books. The review doesn’t need to be long, but even a few sentences not only helps inform someone about a book they’re considering, but ensures that book is put in front of someone who can consider it. 

Alice is the Secretary of #LoveOzYA and the author of seven fantasy books.

Photo credit: Perfecto Capucine on Unsplash


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