A writer will take any opportunity to write, no matter what it is, and there are always non-writers around who are happy to let people like me do it for them. That’s how I came to ghostwrite an article for a local restaurant magazine under the name of my friend who happens to be a chef. We sat together for awhile, he talked, I listened, took notes, asked questions, then went off to write the article, which he read over and approved. The topic he chose for me to write about for him was reviews.
His issue as a chef was this… famous food critics who write restaurant reviews for publications such as the NY Times are, well, famous. Given that, every one of his 5 restaurants had the photo of the reviewer taped behind the hostess desk so if this critic came in, (s)he would get the highest quality of service from both the waitstaff as well as the kitchen, thereby kind of defeating the purpose. Reviews are supposed to tell the rest of us everyday folks what to expect from our visit, but alas, we are not famous and won’t get treated as such.
Then there’s Zagats, that famed restaurant review book people shell out good money to purchase to make an informed decision about choosing a restaurant. Did you know that anyone in the world can submit a Zagat’s review, regardless of qualification or personal agenda? I didn’t until he told me.
Apparently reviews were a hot enough topic for him to want to devote his space in that magazine to it. At the time I wasn’t writing full time, so it wasn’t until recently that I realized the irony of this subject he chose. Reviews, you see, are also the bane of every author’s existence.
It is a double edges sword. You want reviews, you NEED reviews, to get your name out there in the public. However, as the title of this post indicates, people’s opinions differ greatly. Watch any movie review team on TV and you will see one critic describe how he loved a film while his partner tells why (s)he hated the exact same movie. How is that useful to the consumer? I’m not exactly sure except that the movie is being brought to their attention.
Then there are the reader reviewers in this crazy book biz I’m in. Reader reviews are kind of the equivalent of Zagat’s reviews. You don’t know who the reviewer is, or what the qualifications are, or what particular ax they may have to grind that day. In any case, just like the professional reviewers, readers will have their own opinions and view a book with eyes colored by their very personal experiences and feelings.
Knowing that, you would think we authors would take reviews with a grain of salt. The reality is I can get 100 good reviews but it is that 1 bad one that sticks with me. That is my own problem. What is not within my control to fix however, is how often review systems are flawed. Case in point, Amazon.com’s reader reviews. Here you can rate a book with stars (1 for bad, 5 for excellent) and also write a commentary review. Recently there has been a big controversy going on with books vs. eBooks regarding availability and pricing. Readers and authors are the ones most affected by this mess, but it is the publisher and the reseller in control of the situation. However, disgruntled readers have turned to giving books bad reviews to express their displeasure with the pub/reseller decisions. They could love the book, but will give it a 1 star because they are mad it is priced too high, or not available in kindle format. Unfair to the author but readers say they have no other forum to express their displeasure.In the old days, they would have likely put pen to paper and written a letter of complaint (you remember pen and paper, from grandma’s days?) But now Amazon puts that handy dandy star rating right there for you and you can complain with just one click of a mouse and then move on with your busy day… You see the issue.
Then there is the anonymity of the internet which leads people to believe that common courtesy is no longer necessary. The internet is not a filter. It is also not one of those interrogation rooms where the reader is behind the one-way glass in a soundproof room where the author can’t see or hear them. Comments made are public and yes, authors see them.
So, what? Where does this leave us? I don’t have the answers. Chefs, actors, writers, artists… we all need the reviews for word of mouth, which as we know is the best form of advertising, and we all wear the scars from those reviews. Perhaps we need thicker skin. Maybe I need to tattoo the title of this post on my arm for when I stumble upon a negative opinion. Or I have to simply remember that reviews, good or bad, mean someone took precious time to not only read but also to write about little old me and my book, and for that I am most grateful.
Until next time.