Welcome to our Spotlight On week here at the Daily Dose. As an author, I wanted to be able to ask book reviewers what they look for, what they think and how they do their reviews. As a reader, I know how I choose my books so it’s great fun to learn more about the reviewer’s perspective!
We kicked off our week of talking to book reviewers by chatting with Sabrina over at Cheeky Reads. Today, we continue this trend and we shine the spotlight on Heather from Errant Dreams! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me Heather! It’s always great to meet another Heather!
I try to go into a book with as few preconceptions as possible. I might look at the cover and blurb briefly to help me choose which books to review, as a first filter, but beyond that I try to start with a blank slate. I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought a book sounded amazing only to be disappointed, or thought a concept sounded trite only to be pleasantly surprised by the execution.
Covers, titles, and back-cover blurbs do tend to influence my choice when I pick up a book, but their impact on actual quality tends to be minimal. The exception is that, for example, if you know you tend to like a particular publisher’s books and they use a particular style of cover, then that can be a predictor.
Obviously it’s easy to review a book you like, but how do you handle books that don’t appeal?
That is both easier and harder in some ways! Easier because sometimes it’s difficult to come up with several hundred ways to say, “I love this book!” and still sound fresh and new. Harder because while I’m determined to be honest when I review a book, that doesn’t mean I *like* the idea of hurting an author’s feelings. I try to take a step back and judge whether the things I don’t like might appeal to other people, and who those people would be. I also try to explain why I didn’t like something, so readers who don’t share my tastes can judge whether they would like a book. As long as I can accomplish that, then I feel I’ve done the right thing.
Has an author ever lashed out at you for a review?
Yes. Oddly, it was a review in which I raved about a book and gave it top rankings, but mentioned one small thing I didn’t like. The author and his girlfriend called me all sorts of names. A couple of times I’ve also been lashed out at by people who were apparently fans of the authors in question, although since they were anonymous it’s hard to know for sure.
I’ve been told that the only reason I so disliked one particular book must have been because an SF writer broke my heart and I was trying to get revenge, which was pretty hilarious (I am and was quite happily married). A couple of publishers just quietly stopped sending me any review copies when they saw I disliked one of their products.
When you read, do you find yourself mentally writing a review or does that process begin after you’ve finished the story?
Usually that process starts during the reading portion, although it depends on the book. The more engrossing the book, the less I fall into reviewer-mode while reading. The more I hit that brow-furrowing state where I notice something that doesn’t quite add up, or where I’m trying to piece together why exactly I don’t like something, the more I start constructing the review as I go. I often bounce ideas and thoughts off of my husband as I go, and he’ll ask questions that help me to put my thoughts into words.
Do you prejudge a book, i.e. it’s by an author you liked or didn’t like previously?
Prejudge, no. I do go into a book with greater hopes or trepidations, however. If I’ve got a book by Shiloh Walker or Leslie Parrish in my hands I know I’ll squee like a fangirl and move it to the top of my stack. That doesn’t give the book a free pass, though, and if anything since I love their work so much I’m all the more likely to notice if the current book doesn’t measure up.
As an example on the other side, a long time ago I read Simon R. Greene’s Deathstalker and really didn’t like it. I recently received an anthology in which he had a short story, and I’d been hearing that he was writing really good urban fantasy these days. I went into the book not expecting to dislike his story, but looking forward to hopefully resolving this discontinuity, to see whether I liked his current urban fantasy better than his old SF. In fact, I quite enjoyed his story.
Have you found that your reviews influence readers?
I believe so. It’s hard to know for sure—for every reader who speaks up to say whether they’re going to read or avoid a book, there are plenty who don’t. I do get to see some numbers due to Amazon affiliate links, and can say that even our old reviews from years ago still seem to sell books. As odd as this may seem, I’m particularly proud when I see that a review for a book that I didn’t like sells a book—because that means I’ve included enough information for someone to make up their own mind.
As a reviewer, if you could get authors to do one thing for you, what would it be?
I’d urge writers to remember that different readers like and enjoy different things—beyond genre, we each like different sorts of styles, different ways of plotting, different types of character, etc. So although a negative review is unpleasant of course, I think it’s best to remember that everyone likes something different, and not everyone can like your book.
If I don’t think a book is perfect, I’m not insulting someone or implying that they shouldn’t be a writer, and I hope they’ll remember that. Something that I don’t think a lot of writers think about, however—when they’re linking from their web sites to reviews of their books, they might try linking to some of the less-than-perfect reviews as well as the “wow!” ones. I think readers are intelligent enough to make up their own minds, and they would probably appreciate the openness of the writer in sharing her reviewers’ less-than-perfect impressions.
ErrantDreams has been reviewing books in one form or another since 1998. We enjoy covering genre fiction of all kinds as well as cookbooks!