Discoverability and Reviews, from the Reader’s POV

reviews reading with catReaders don’t talk much about discoverability or even reviews, I find. Writers, of course, worry about them all the time.

I’m both. But I read more books than I write.

Heck, I read more words than I write and I’ve been motoring at 3,000 words a day for a while now. That’s gross, you understand. In every sense of the word, probably, though I’d prefer you to interpret it as the opposite of net.

Reviews and Recommendations

As a reader, I like recommendations. Not reviews so much. Well not big ticket reviews in the Grown Up media, anyway. I slightly mistrust them. There’s always the feeling that the reviewer is writing with one eye on the book and the other on his own credibility with fellow critics.

reviews poet Ralston McTodd If Ralston McTodd a.k.a. Smith is making a name for himself with the cognoscenti, it’s a brave literary cove who puts his weekly column on the line by saying of the latest work, “Impressive on the bookcase, tedious on the train, supremely resistible on the night stand.”

Indeed, I once had an assistant (hello Hugo!) who, when asked to cast a critical eye over my own, mainly romantic, work, usually started his helpful remarks with, “Needs more sex and violence.” You wouldn’t catch Chummy Critic saying anything as crisp as that.

But a personal advocate? Yes.

Forget Stars

reviews forget the starsI don’t care about stars. Low star reviews with personality can convince me this is a book I want to read, in the way that a well-reasoned, dispassionate 5 star assessment from one of Amazon’s heavy hitters will never do.

The same goes for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books who have some reviewers who really come out of the broom cupboard and say what they mean.

Recent example: having issues with several plot elements, the reviewer nailed the protagonist in one masterly sentence. Max is hyper-vigilant, violent, uncouth, and wonderful. If I hadn’t already done so, that would have had me scampering off to read the book at once. Bleurgh star rating? I’d take my chances.

reviews TBR pileAnother reviewer I trust, is the crime-focused Mrs Peabody. She does use stars, very discreetly, but they are precise, rigorous and consistent – and hard to find.

The great delight of her approach is that a) the judgements are one person’s, so you get to know  where your interests overlap and b) wonderful value added on context. And she’s very selective.

What I look for in reviews

  1. What struck the reviewer as memorable?
  2. Do I connect with it?
  3. Does it intrigue me or otherwise draw me in?
  4. Did the book make an impact on the reader?
  5. Is there any significant context which might add to the book for me?
  6. Is there a sporting chance I will suspend disbelief in this novel?

To be honest, I’ve only just worked all this out. So I’m now starting to calibrate how and where I hear about books I read against how much I enjoy them and whether I then read more from that author. And then I’m going to pin other readers into corners on planes and boats and trains and, possibly, at parties and find out what they do. You have been Warned.

This is a research project that could run and run.



6 thoughts on “Discoverability and Reviews, from the Reader’s POV

  1. Sue McCormick

    I absolutely HATE to write reviews, because my total book reaction is pretty well summed up by “I love this book!”, “This book is OK.” or “Couldn’t finish, will never bother to try.” I don’t believe these reactions are useful to others.

    So I am copying your list of what you wish to see in a review, in an effort to improve mine.

    Having said that, I usually just buy by name. Since there is a large list of author that I love and those authors cross three genre (with a rare main-stream entry). This keeps me fairly well supplied with reading.

    I do respond to comments about books from friends whose reading interests appear to overlap mine. (And some of these friends are people I have met only on the internet.)

    1. Sophie Post author

      You’ve hit the nail on the head, Sue. That’s exactly why I started thinking about what, if anything, I find really useful in a review.

      After I’d finished, I wrote two whole reviews for books I particularly enjoyed, too. proves it!

      But I have to disagree – “I loved this book [enough to urge you to read it]” DOES encourage me, anyway.

      Sadly, I’m not sure I’ve connected with many readers who share my tastes yet. Except, maybe, via Word Wenches’ lovely blog. So you’re ahead of me there.

  2. Elizabeth Bailey

    I do try to review. Or I did. Dismally failed over last year or so to do more than a couple every so often. What I hate in reviews is a regurgitation of the plot. That drives me mad. If I want to know the plot, I can read the blurb, can’t I? Plus there are always spoilers. What I want to know is – like you – did they enjoy it. Also whether the writing is good, excellent, irresistible, different, lyrical. Style has a bearing on what I read. Did it keep the reader turning the page? In fact, what made it such a good read – without revealing what happens and the surprise twists.

    1. Sophie Post author

      I’m with you, Liz. But so many people do give a re-tread of the plot, I assume that must be what they want to read themselves. I just won’t do it. It takes too long, for one thing.

  3. Jan Jones (@janjonesauthor)

    The thing I most like in a review is enthusiasm. Not plot/plot holes, not a meticulous, lacklustre coverage of all the good/poor aspects, but an honest-to-goodness sense that the reviewer has read and enjoyed the book

    1. Sophie Post author

      Me too, Jan. Enthusiasm sells it to me, every time. Even when I’m to initially all that attracted to setting or characters. Probably sheer nosiness. I want to know WHY.

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