Thursday, June 23, 2016
SM Johnson ~ Do reviews help readers?
How do you find books to read?
Amazon makes a lot of suggestions to me, and I get tons of book blurb promos from Facebook. If something gets my attention I usually follow a link to Amazon and check out the reviews (starting with the low star reviews) or see what people have to say about that title on Goodreads.
Five star reviews are meaning less and less to me, as a reader, at least.
It feels like every writer has sisters, friends, fans, and god only knows who else spewing out so many five star reviews that it's impossible to judge a book by its star rating. It's as if reviews are no longer geared toward readers, and are now just a mechanism authors use to game the system.
I can't even tell you guys how many terrible books I've given up on because the characters are flat, the narrative is boring, and the overall quality of a good read just isn't there. I really don't want to be with a character from the moment the alarm goes off, they roll out of bed, brush their teeth, shower, get dressed, drink coffee, put their cup in the dishwasher, etc etc etc. Unless they're thinking really strange and wonderful things, I don't need to be present for the drivel. I also don't need the same three sentence description of every person our character runs into on the street or in the office.
It is a task and a skill to leap into the narrative, to keep the pace moving, to allow your readers to assume that characters shower and dress and eat and poop.
I know it's a task and a skill because I work at it every day - the editing out of drivel and building smooth transitions from scene to scene. Keeping to the important bits is not as easy as it seems.
But the five star reviews of drivel are starting to get on my nerves. Give me a good solid wordy three star review - tell me what worked, what maybe didn't.
Not every book is a five star read. One good clue is when every single review starts with "This is the hottest book I've ever read." I start reading, kind of excited, only to be disappointed by an amateurish effort. There might be a really hot or perverse sex scene at some point, but if the narrative is shallow and poorly executed, I'll never get to it. When on page one, the main character divulges, "There are three things about me that are utterly true: I detest the alarm clock, and I love coffee more than life."
Pages later I'm still wondering what the third thing is. Maybe that the narrator doesn't know how to count? And the problem is... if you give me an idiot main character on page 1, I'm probably not going to make it to page 15 before I give up.
Sometimes I feel like authors are putting more time and energy into marketing and promotion than they put into writing their books.
So how do we find books that are actually good? The John Sandfords or the Stephen Kings of the erotica genre? That's what I want. A fascinating narrator who won't allow me to leave until the full story is told. A story can have a thousand great reviews, but if the narrative is boring, I'm not going to keep reading. I just don't have that kind of time. I've started downloading the samples from Amazon, and that does help me know what I'm getting into before I pay for a book.
I would like to find reviewers to follow who have liked books that I also liked. I enjoyed the Dear Author site, but there was some crazy blow up over there, and I haven't been back for awhile.
I've stumbled into some YA reads that have been great, and I'm finding that I typically tend to like books by the big publishers, too. Not because of the marketing, but the actual content of the books, the quality of the writing.
I am by no means a perfect writer. I'm the one who had a gay guy get a straight girl pregnant, remember? So my characters have had their share of TSTL moments. It's an art, not a science, and sometimes we miss the mark.
None of my books have hundreds of 5-star reviews. And that's okay. The only time I've worked to solicit reviews was for the UnCommon Bodies anthology, and requesting reviews was part of the deal. Other than that, if they loved it or hated it, almost all of my reviews come from an organic response on behalf of the reader. And I have to say, I prefer it that way. They are honest. Sometimes brutally honest, but you know what? I can take it. And quite often there's some merit in a critical review.
I'm still learning how to write great books.