Wednesday, May 10, 2017

EDITORIAL: Mythbusting the Book Review System

This segment in the Book Reviews Matter series focuses on keeping the industry honest and fair.  There seems to be some confusion, or more specially misunderstanding, in the romance book community when it comes to review copies.  So this post is aimed at clearing things up. 

Myth #1
  “If I can’t rate a title 3 stars or higher, I must withhold or delay my review. Everyone knows how that works with ARCs.”
Reality: It is unethical for an author or a tour company to distribute review copies under the condition that it must meet a specific star rating.  Reviewers are meant to be independent, unbiased critics. Do not feel pressured to comply with any review conditions that would compromise that position. For full transparency, you should detail any review stipulations in the disclaimer for your review.  FTC guidelines seem pretty clear that the burden is not on the consumers, or the general readers in this case, to be knowledgeable of industry practices. It is, in fact, the reviewer who must be transparent about any affiliations with the author or promoter and conditions placed on the product (in this case the advanced copy) they received.  

Furthermore, the other issue or myth here is one this community must get past—the idea that “good” reviews are only 4 and 5 stars and anything less is “bad.”  The star rating does not tell the whole story. A truly good or helpful review will explain the reason for the rating and allow the readers of the review to make their own decision. For more on this topic, see the post Make Your Words Count.

Myth #2
“I received an ARC for a tour or release blitz and didn’t care for it; therefore, I should wait to post my review.”
Reality:  Withholding reviews only negates the honesty of the review system.  Note the word “Advanced” in ARC, meaning that edition was distributed prior to publication so the review could be posted before or in time for the release. 

If you’re still not convinced that it’s in the community’s best interest to not delay, then consider it from the average reader’s shoes. Imagine you are a reader perusing reviews of a brand new title to decide if that book is right for you.  All the reviews are positive, glowing reports, and you purchase the book feeling confident it’s a winner based on the high ratings it’s sporting. Then after reading it, your excitement and warm fuzzy feelings over the title (and those reviews) have vanished. We must not have read the same book, you begin to wonder. So you go back and look at the reviews again. Now there are several low reviews posted— ARCs that were previously held back. And low and behold, the less than stellar reviews point to the same issues you had. Don’t you feel duped? You should because under this scenario the review system didn't give you an ample sampling of varied opinions.

Myth #3 
“Before posting a low star review I should contact the author prior to posting or in lieu of posting my review at all.”
Reality:   A reviewer is under no obligation to contact the author or the promotional company prior to posting their review, no matter the star rating.  And some authors may not want to be contacted in that situation. Either way, once ARCs are distributed it is out of the author's or tour company's hands what kind of response the book receives. That is how the review systems works in order to keep things honest. It’s the same thing for filmmakers who premier a new movie. They can only invite the critics to the showing. They cannot tell them what to write.  

Myth #4
“If an author paid for a promotional tour, it should only highlight positive reviews.”
Reality:   The realities of #1-3 all apply here. But this bears repeating because the thinking behind this particular myth can potentially cross a legal line. When an author purchases a tour package from a promoter they are not purchasing positive reviews. That would essentially be like paying for 4 and 5 stars.  They are, in fact, paying for the services of the PR companies to promote their title(s) which may provide reviewers with ARCs and other promotional materials; however, their payment to the promotional company should not guarantee the reception of the book.  This is where promoters must be clear of the message they are relaying to their reviewers as they [the PR firm] are also, if not more so, potentially liable under FTC regulations.

Myth #5
“I’m a huge fan of an author so if I come across negative reviews I should tell the reviewers how great the book really is.”
Reality:  It’s one thing to have different opinions; it’s another to harass or bully another reviewer.  Comments such as, “I really liked this book, but sorry it didn’t work out for you” are usually fine, probably more appropriate if this is someone who you generally discuss books with rather than an absolute stranger.

On some rare occasions there may be some gray areas if a reviewer completely misconstrued or misrepresented an aspect of the story. But be very careful if you decide to step up to the plate and address the error. In fact, make sure it really is an error, not simply a difference of tastes and opinions. If there's truly an issue with a review (as in it goes against the site's policy) let the administrators review it and make a decision. 

What’s not okay is telling the reviewer that they are ruining the author’s life with a bad review or espousing any of the above myths about book reviews.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen. Don’t be that fan girl. In fact, it’s more likely to have a negative effect on the author than it is a positive one if you sound like you are speaking on his/her behalf.

Sadly there are some not so pretty things in an industry devoted to love. You might call this post the dark side or the underbelly of the romance industry. It doesn’t have to stay this way though.  Follow the FTC guidelines, use good judgment, and keep things honest. Believe it or not, indulging in these myths does have wide ranging consequences. Failure to comply with FTC regulations may result in formal notice to correct your errors and/or led to fines. I am not in any way affiliated with them so see their website for official policies whenever in doubt.  In the meantime, Amazon has already started cracking down on reviews they feel are compromising.  They’ve updated their guidelines; they’ve deleted some reviews; and they’ve more prominently featured verified purchases.  

But all the formal sanctions aside for a moment, as a reviewer don’t you want other readers to feel they can trust your reviews and opinions, whether they agree with them or not? And same goes for the authors whose books you are reviewing. If that author is a serious writer, he/she is more interested in receiving valuable feedback rather than an ego inflate over the praise and number of stars.  

Not sure what to include when composing a romance review? 
Then check out the first in this blog post series, Book Reviews 101.  There you’ll find literary topics to address and tips on writing a thorough review.

Scared off of writing reviews and only want to leave a star rating?  
Make sure to read MakeYour Words Count before you go that route because what you have to say does matter. 

No comments:

Post a Comment