Last Updated on February 8, 2023 by ThoughtsStained
Apparently, I’m in my, “let’s talk about the Discourse” era. But of course, I’ve moved the discussion over to my blog, because social media (and Twitter in particular) just isn’t the space where nuance is given the chance to breathe. So, I want to go over the debate about the proper audience for book reviews. Most namely, the question of who they are for, exactly. And for what purposes.
Let’s dig in.
Audience for Book Reviews
So, I’m not going to link to the Discourse. I’m sure you’ve either a) already seen it. Or b) you can find it easily. And finally, c) because, for the bad takes, there don’t need any more exposure.
But, some of the arguments that have been swimming around bookish circles surrounds two questions. One: who is the audience for book reviews? Who are book reviews for? Or, who should be reading them?
The second lies in what the purpose of book reviews are. And how each audience argued to be the “right one” for book reviews, how those purposes differ.
I’m not going to be able to cover the different facets and opinions. Instead, I want to focus on some of the major ones I’ve seen and offer my two cents. Obviously, these are just my specific opinions, informed as my role as a book blogger, a reader AND a writer. Nothing right or wrong about them. And I do welcome discussion in the comments!
But let’s keep it civil. If you can’t handle that, you will be blocked. Because on top of being in my delving into Discourse era, I’m also in my no bullshit era. You’re welcome. 🖤
So, who are book reviews for? This seems to break down into three main camps. Book reviews are for:
This is argued who the primary audience is. Many of them tie their rationale of why due to the purpose book reviews can serve that group. And why their purpose is more important than these other camps (which I’ll get into more below).
I’m not saying that each group doesn’t have its purpose or shouldn’t access reviews. (Though, if you are an author, the advice of blocking Good*eads from your browser to avoid reviews entirely, I think, is sound.)
Personally, I think that reviews should be primarily for other readers. You might tailor your reviews for a certain audience (say, more for other book bloggers than your casual reader). As book bloggers especially, we can absolutely still use our reviews as part of marketing tools (that, admittedly, publishers do want). Or to help support authors in combating algorithms (which, they truly, truly do).
But, at the end of the day, I believe reviews should be meant for other readers, to help them–if they so choose to use reviews in this way–determine if they want to read a book or not. In many cases, as I discussed in my post last week, it’s also very much simply an avenue for a reader, the reviewer, to share their thoughts about a book.
However, like I alluded to, each camp in the discourse has a specific purpose of why reviews should be primarily for them. As an incomplete list, these reasons have been labeled as:
- Readers should use reviews to: determine if they want to buy a book; join discussion with other readers about opinions on said book; serve as a free marketing tool for publishers; owe it to authors/publishers to review; engage directly with the author about their book.
- Authors should use reviews to: market their books; learn how to be better writers; as editorial feedback; engage in discourse with readers about their books.
- Publishers should use reviews to: get free marketing; something they should consider “owed” to them by readers, especially for ARCs; an free marketing opportunity.
Now, let me be clear: the above (incomplete) list are just some of the opinions I’ve seen floating around on Twitter the past few weeks. Personally, I agree with some, while I think others are absolute horseshit.
For example: because I believe the audience for book reviews should be readers FIRST, I think the purpose should fall into two main categories: allowing a reader to express their opinion on the book. And, allowing others to use that opinion to help inform or influence their own, if they choose to engage with it.
I don’t believe readers, reviews or book bloggers owe it to an author OR a publisher to review a book. Even an ARC. We aren’t required to post them online on retailor sites. The pressure of an author’s success shouldn’t be on the backs of how well I market their book for free. (But that’s a larger structural issue with how publishing does and does not market their own books.)
Personally, I do really try to review all books I read because I do recognize the power my review can have with affecting marketing algorithms. The reason I try to crosspost on Am*zon, Good*eads and StoryGraph is to help support authors. I shout about books I love (and warn about problematic books) because I want the author to either be successful or help others avoid being harmed. But that is NOT the purpose of the reviews. It is not required. It is not owed. And it shouldn’t be expected of reviewers.
Likewise, I think the argument that book reviews are for authors so that they can become better writers is bullshit. In many cases, authors prolly shouldn’t be reading reviews (just to protect their own mental health). But thinking that you saying the author’s pacing sucked about a book that is already published is not going to suddenly make their next book better in regards to pacing. They have a team and a process to improve their craft. It does not–and should not–include reader reviews as feedback.**
For publishers, they should really be paying book reviewers if they want guaranteed marketing. They’ve taken advantage of the book review community for too long. ☕
Okay, so this discussion got way longer than I expected it to! Oops. And I feel like it barely scratched the surface of some of the points I wanted to make. Or some of the other arguments that I didn’t even touch on that have been surrounding the audience for book reviews discourse.
So, tl;dr version:
- Book reviews are for READERS
- They can be used in a multitude of ways (and purposes) but you don’t owe anyone your review, your time or your opinion of books you read
- Authors should not be expected to learn from reviews and REVIEWERS should not be expecting to teach authors
- However, if you write a review, cross-posting them to retail sites can be helpful
- Publishing should stop making reviewers (and authors) do the bulk of its marketing (especially unpaid)
Thanks for coming to my TedTalk! Next week, I think I might write a post about book review etiquette, as there has also been some discourse on that that has been…intriguing. (And I want to touch on the author-reviewer engagement arguments way more than I did here.)
But that’s another post for another day. Thanks for reading!
**However, calling out problematic and harmful elements is the exception. Ideally, a book with problematic elements would have been caught before going to print. Or a problematic author would never be able to publish. Obviously, that’s not the case, so calling these things out vocally IS important. But, I’d argue, still not the main purpose of book reviews.