Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: Some Thoughts on Reviews from Neil Clarke

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Friday, May 2, 2014

Some Thoughts on Reviews from Neil Clarke

FIRST! Because I almost forgot and This Is Important: Three Dances will be free to download from starting tomorrow and running through Sunday. If you enjoyed Soulwoven, drop on by and give it a read. It's short and interesting.

SECOND! The meat of this blog post:

Neil Clarke runs an award-winning online science fiction and fantasy magazine called Clarkesworld. The magazine itself is one of my favorites, and as I was thumbing through it last weekend (I get a print copy every month in return for backing them as a patron), I came across a note from him that had to do, in part, with leaving reviews.

You can read it here.

It felt highly relevant to me and to Soulwoven, and since he explains not only the usefulness of leaving a review for your favorite anything (books, yes, but also magazines, restaurants, blenders, dish soaps, and cat leashes), but his own hangups about leaving reviews and how he's going to make an effort to review things anyway, I wanted to share.

It also got me thinking, because I live in a world of publishing where everybody knows that customer reviews are massively important, so much so that we don't even talk about why, and I'm sometimes surprised when I talk to the overwhelming majority of the world that doesn't work in publishing and they don't share my assumptions.

So I'll put it like this:

In the world of Internet commerce, customer reviews are the currency of credibility.

You can thank me for the alliteration later. I took poetry classes in college for that (well, not really for that, but I do love alliteration).

When books come in paper and we go to stores to buy them, we as readers tend to rely on several things to establish their credibility (i.e. whether we think they'll be any good) before we even open them, above and beyond the obvious like whether we've read the author's books before:

1.) Placement in the store. If a store put a book out front, somebody at the store thought it was good enough to highlight.

2.) Who published it. When I pick up a book from a publishing imprint whose name and logo I recognize, I have faith that it will meet a certain editorial standard and contain content of a certain kind.

3.) Physical cues. How's the cover look? Is the paper nice? Does it have a good heft? Does it smell like a book is supposed to smell?

4.) Laudatory quotes from booksellers, review sources, etc.

Internet retailers have done their best to replicate some of those things, but by and large, customer reviews have taken the place of most of them. If 400 people have taken the time to review a book, and the average rating they gave it was 4 stars, we feel reasonably certain that, even if it doesn't end up being right for us, it's at least a decent book in general. If 40 people have done so, we think it's got a niche audience and hopefully it's all right. If four people have reviewed it, it's a bit risky. How do we know it's any good? Who were those four people? Also, who wants to read a book that they can only talk about with four other people? That's boring. I want a book I can talk about with 4,000 of my friends, like this one over here that has prominent placement in the online storefront.

And then the author of the four-review book, who's probably new, who may or may not have the backing of a publishing house (I've seen traditionally published books launch with only a handful of reviews as well), and who might have written something brilliant, never gets read, and everybody loses.

So if you like a book, leave a review for it online, even if that just means clicking the stars. Amazon is the best place to do so, but other retailer sites and Goodreads are great too. That way other people will read it too, and someday you'll have more than just those four other star-givers to talk to about it.

Besides, reviewing is fun. It makes you feel important, which is good, because you ARE important.

Cheers, and happy weekend,

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