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Interesting thoughts about reader reviews

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Tue July 13th, 2010, 1:29 pm

Good call on reviews, Margaret. I hate assigning numbers because so much depends on my mood at the time and what else I'm reading. the Twilight series, for instance, occupied a week when I had a winter cold. It entertained me immensely and I appreciated very much that it set an example to the young girls who are snapping it up about avoiding casual sex. So I give Stephanie Meyers thumbs-up for doing what she should be doing to earn the price of the book. But in retrospect, the series doesn't hold up for me at all--the writing is spotty, the characters annoying, and the storyworld won't stand up to scrutiny. So the review I would give right after reading it would be quite different from the review I would give now, two years later.

Ditto CW's Confessions. I have been spending A LOT of time in renaissance history of late, and so I find the OTT characterizations and the personality inaccuracies annoying, although I can also see that a straight biography would not work as a novel. A problem I am beginning to have with almost all well-known personalities of that time-span; 'history lite' is pretty banal when you are just coming out of piles of period original documents. So I'm not contributing much to the BOTM thread this month for that reason--I don't think my experience is typical enough to be of much use to other readers.

User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Tue July 13th, 2010, 2:20 pm

Agreed, Jules. Books are subjective and not every book is going to be right for every reader. An author who doesn't realize and expect that isn't being very realistic.


Bingo! I'm finding this a lot with the Amazon Vine books. Oftentimes the description we're given by Amazon doesn't quite represent that the book as well as it should. Case in point, the new one coming out called Poison by Sara Pool. Kasthu and I didn't care for it much, we expected more of a historical novel, and this is more of a spy/thriller type of thing. The other vine reviewers are enjoying it a lot, but they do note that it is anachronistic (sp?) and might not be for every reader.

I've had a couple of vine books come that turned out to be insprirational (not my cuppa). And we do have to review 75% of what we get or they cut you off, so you have to call them as you see them. I loathe it when you see all the critical reviews getting the same amount of negative votes, and it keeps up anytime a new critical review comes up. Come on now, we know that's not coming from the casual Amazon customer.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

User avatar
LoveHistory
Bibliomaniac
Location: Wisconsin, USA
Contact:

Postby LoveHistory » Tue July 13th, 2010, 2:48 pm

Misfit wrote:I loathe it when you see all the critical reviews getting the same amount of negative votes, and it keeps up anytime a new critical review comes up. Come on now, we know that's not coming from the casual Amazon customer.


You're absolutely right about that. The casual Amazon customer doesn't read the reviews.

Personally I only vote down a review that is not about the book or not about the content of it. But I know that there are people who make a point of abusing the system. The question is, can it be stopped? What possible incentive could Amazon be offered to stop cease tolerating such behavior?

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Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Tue July 13th, 2010, 3:21 pm

You're absolutely right about that. The casual Amazon customer doesn't read the reviews.


No they don't, they just look at all those five stars and think it must be awesome.

Personally I only vote down a review that is not about the book or not about the content of it. But I know that there are people who make a point of abusing the system. The question is, can it be stopped? What possible incentive could Amazon be offered to stop cease tolerating such behavior?


As Ash mentioned those are the reviews I find unhelpful as well. Complaining about the Kindle price, shipper, etc. Reviews are the not the place for that and unfairly hinder a book's rating.

As for negative voting? If someone is actively attacking one person's reviews with negative votes (there's been one very infamous one who has hurt many many people), send a note to Amazon and they will investigate it and if they deem it they'll remove them. The latest twist is to negative votes Lists and images. It doesn't affect ranking but it does hurt one's approval rating. A lot of time waste, so you have to wonder who would bother.....

As for voting down critical reviews on a particular item? I think that would be harder for Amazon to investigate but it's an interesting thought. Wonder if they would?

Personally I'd rather they just do away with the negative vote button and only have the *yes* button for ones that are helpful. And I know I'm not alone in those thoughts.
At home with a good book and the cat...

...is the only place I want to be

User avatar
Ludmilla
Bibliophile
Location: Georgia USA

Postby Ludmilla » Tue July 13th, 2010, 3:54 pm

The thing is, reviews at book sites like Amazon, or blogs or the social networking sites, aren't professional criticism, though there may be very well-informed, professionals contributing . They are, quite simply, someone's reaction to a book (get from it whatever you will and move on). I'm not sure it's healthy for an author to take these kind of reviews too much to heart, at best they need to realize that anything said is lacking in context. Occasionally, I do run into a blogger who is a specialist in some kind of field who can provide very helpful, constructive criticism, but mostly I find enthusiasts who are doing nothing more than advertising what they read, summarizing the plot, and spreading hype (i.e., those exclamatory comments that are about as helpful as the book blurbs, such as this is the best book ever, but no reason as to WHY).

Reviewing books in such a public forum shouldn't be turned into a competitive activity, IMO, because what a reader gets from a book is as unique and individual as the person himself. To tell someone their reaction to a book is wrong or stinks (and sometimes it's hard not to feel that way) is to invalidate that person's experiences. The exception would be trolls who are clearly out to create mischief, and they are usually pretty obvious. I can only assume that those who care about the amount of traffic their reviews generate are worried about income derived by those reviews or some kind of benefit gained by proving they get traffic (such as continuing to get free books to read). Otherwise, why care?

I don't contribute reviews or vote on them, but I do track and rate what I read. I don't regard my ratings as fixed or final. It's simply how I felt about the book the last time I read it, and everything I read afterward might affect how I feel about something I've read in the past.

I'm fully convinced across most of the blogs and social networking sites that a handful of reviewers (quite a few of whom are industry insiders) dominate most of the opinion, and they often don't reflect regular people like myself because regular people like me aren't contributing reviews. Reviewers with a large following, even, are usually preaching to their choirs. I read them all with the self-awareness that my experiences and tastes may very well be different. It's fun to share opinions with other readers, but not when you think your opinion is valued at one cent to someone else's dollar, and I don't think opinions at that level are productive for authors who are trying to get constructive criticism about their work.

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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Tue July 13th, 2010, 4:07 pm

"Ludmilla" wrote:, at best they need to realize that anything said is lacking in context.


I'm not sure what you mean here?

"Margaret" wrote:I figure if I can't describe the book well enough in a review to give readers a pretty good idea of whether they would or would not enjoy a novel, then giving it a high, low or middle-of-the-road star rating isn't going to help matters.


I find the number rating, or star rating, or whatever, quite helpful; call me dense, but without that little bit of quantification it is difficult for me to "place" the reviewer's opinion, no matter how in-depth the review may be. In fact, I won't read reviews that don't have some sort of ranking attached to them.

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Ludmilla
Bibliophile
Location: Georgia USA

Postby Ludmilla » Tue July 13th, 2010, 5:14 pm

"Michy" wrote:I'm not sure what you mean here?


Context is what you know or don't know about the reviewer and all those factors that inevitably influence reader reactions. Sometimes we have been following a reviewer long enough to get a sense of her reading history, disposition, tastes or mood she was in when reading a book. Oftentimes we have none of that when reading random reviews. Quite often, I think we can make some pretty bad assumptions about people based on the very sketchy and incomplete information they might reveal about themselves (relevant to the book being read). I think it's analogous to making up your mind about a person based on their reputation rather than making the effort to get to know the person for yourself.

User avatar
Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Tue July 13th, 2010, 5:41 pm

I don't see that knowing the reviewer's background, frame of mind or anything else is all that relevant to an author, or other reviewers, or anyone else. If an individual chooses to read an author's work then that places them in the author's audience, which is all the context the author needs to know. Reviews should be read for simply what they are: an opinion expressed by someone who chose to read the book. If the review is thoughtful and well-written, then pay attention to it. If it's poorly written or overly emotional (whatever end of the star-rating spectrum it may be on) then ignore it. And in the big world of Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, etc. etc., you get the full gamut.

The value of these reviews to authors is that they allow them to see reactions and opinions about their book at the grass-roots level, as it were. They can give as much credence to these reviews as they choose to. Or the author can choose to ignore them altogether, as apparently many do.

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fljustice
Bibliophile
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Contact:

Postby fljustice » Tue July 13th, 2010, 6:46 pm

When I write "professional" (paid) reviews for magazines or sites, I only write positive ones about books I genuinely think the readers will enjoy. I don't use a rating system, but describe the book and why I thought it was a good one. If the book was poorly written, had plot problems, uninteresting characters, etc., it doesn't get reviewed at all. Yes, negative reviews can save the readers some time and money, but there is only a limited amount of space in a magazine on on a site and most readers are looking for recommendations, not what to avoid.

When I write personal reviews at reader sites like Library Thing or Amazon, again, I tend to write only positive reviews. Like everyone, I have limited time and basically only write reviews of those books that I really like and want to let others know about. The point being if someone looked at my reviews and saw they were all positive they might assume I give positive reviews to everything I read, which just ain't so. I'm in no way standing up for HK, just saying how it works for me.

The exception for me is Bookcrossing.com. If I'm in a bookring (serial book group), I always give a critique of the book (positive or negative) because that's the point - to share your opinion with that specific group of readers.
Faith L. Justice, Author Website
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cw gortner
Bibliophile
Location: San Francisco,CA
Contact:

Postby cw gortner » Tue July 13th, 2010, 6:58 pm

"MLE" wrote:A problem I am beginning to have with almost all well-known personalities of that time-span; 'history lite' is pretty banal when you are just coming out of piles of period original documents.


I believe some people are best disposed to the history itself, such as original documents, erudite biographies, etc. This is the arena where scholars dwell and while certainly a hallowed place, it's not necessarily conducive to reading historical fiction, which, in the final say, remains a form of entertainment. While hf can inform and inspire an interest in history, and should of course refrain from blatant disrespect, the genre was never intended to substitute or even augument history itself. Historical fiction is a form of creative interpretation; it utilizes historical framework to relate a fictionalized story based on past events.

In addition, if you're a working hf writer in today's publishing climate, with an editor at a major house - and you're not Hilary Mantel - then by and large you will find yourself obliged to steamline characterizations, simplify complex political, social, and religious situations, and keep your cast small and your pacing crisp. In sum, most commercial editors want hf writers whose books can be accessible to ALL potential readers, regardless of their particular backgrounds. We must remember that history is not a subject that the majority of us take to readily; many readers still find historical fiction intimidating.

A scholar approaches material from an extremely detailed perspective. While such impressive breadth of knowledge can inform the reading and even make it enjoyable, it can also by contrast curtail the ability to suspend disbelief, which I believe is an essential requirement for reading novels, regardless of the genre.

We read novels because we want to be entertained; we read nonfiction because we want to learn. And while the two may often cross and, in the best of cases, even blend, the distinction still exists. I say this with the utmost respect, both for the incredible wealth of information on this board as for countless readers out there who, for a variety of reasons, do not explore history as intensely as some here do.
Last edited by cw gortner on Tue July 13th, 2010, 8:33 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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