Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Why I don’t review many books

Growing up, I read all the time.  In my small Texas town, the school librarian would give me the catalogs she received and had me order new books, because I knew the library better than she did.  But when the kids were young, I stopped reading books (I still read voraciously online).  I would keep a paperback in the diaper bag, but every time I found my location (forget keeping a bookmark in place) I had to put the book down. So, for several years I just didn’t read books, until I started using an e-reader, which was a game-changer.

For the past few years I have tracked what I read through Goodreads. I probably should have deleted my account when they banned Vox Day, but the ability to track my progress kept me on the dark side. (Come on, #alt-tech, we need an unconverged Goodreads!)

A lot of what I read are self-published books and I am proud to support anything that hits mainstream publishers where it hurts.  However, self-published books are prone to problems that traditional editors would normally catch.  I get it—I have priced editors, and know that many self-published authors do not have the money to pay for professional editing services (you need two of ‘em—one for content; the other for writing mechanics).  However, these same people who don’t pony up for professional editing then complain when reviewers deduct stars on Amazon due to content and editing mistakes.

Self-published authors also like to complain that reviewers “don’t understand” Amazon’s ranking system.  See, Amazon lump 3-star review into the “negative review” category.  Only 4- and 5-star reviews appear in the “positive review” category. Most books are average (funny how that works out).  They aren’t particularly bad, but they aren’t very good, either.   An average book is (and should be) 3 stars.  But now, instead of pressuring Amazon to change their system, authors are putting pressure on their readers to inflate their ratings so that written reviews appear in the “positive review” category. I get enough of this garbage from students—I am not going to let someone whose product I just paid for tell me that I owe them a more positive review. Down with review inflation!

Further, the “meh” reviews are warranted, in my opinion.  As an example, for a reader like me, a grammatical mistake knocks me out of the book.  I leave the book’s universe and start editing it in my head.  When this happens once per page, I never fully get into the book.  And yes, that will cost at least one star in the review.  Self-published authors do not tend to think this is fair, judging by their comments on social media.  As a reader who spends a lot on books, I think this is very fair.  Yes, a good mechanics editor would have cost you around $500 up front, and it is possible (likely) that you would never earn that back. Well, you are going to pay either way—pay up front for professional editing, or pay on the back-end in mediocre reviews.  Them’s the breaks.

So, I don’t review books on Amazon or Goodreads unless I really like them, and feel that the author has treated his product with respect. I think I might be putting my catty reviews here, however. 

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