Why I Write Book Reviews

Someone asked me recently why, as an author trying to promote my own books, do I spend so much of my time writing about other people’s books? I more or less said ‘karma’. That is, of course, a highly simplistic answer to what’s actually a kind of interesting question.

I grew up and reached adulthood before the internet became widespread. Back then (by which I actually mean ‘all the time between when I started to read and fairly recently’), it never occurred to me that anyone might find my opinion of a book I read to be worth anything. Book reviewers were, so far as I knew, like Anton Ego in Ratatouille: old, white, male, snobbish, and scathing. They published their reviews in the New York Times and various book review publications that I never read and didn’t care about.

The way I found books was to wander into the bookstore or library, grab something from the science fiction/fantasy section more or less at random, read the back, and read the first few pages. If I liked what I found, I was done and I got my book. What reviewers said about it had exactly no bearing whatsoever on the choices I made. Even as a young person, I knew they’d only put flattering quotes in the book itself, and other reviews weren’t near at hand.

Which brings me to last year, when I took the plunge into self-publishing. I’d read product reviews on Amazon, but hadn’t really been reading anything outside my favored authors for a while. Young offspring can curtail reading time, as it turns out, so I only went for books I knew I’d like already, and got stuck in that rut for a several years. The kinds of books I read already had lots of reviews, because they were already popular by the time I got to them. Why bother writing a review for a book that already has 500 reviews?

Then I found out that reviews matter. For the indie author, it’s all we’ve really got. There’s no big name, and it doesn’t ever sit on a book store shelf. Oprah, Jon Stewart, and Jimmy Kimmel will never hear about it, let alone pimp it. All a prospective reader has to go on is a blurb, a cover, a and a sample. Just like before the internet. Except they have product reviews now.

I started reading reviews of books I found my way to, and realized they actually had a great deal of bearing on my decision of whether to purchase or not, even for free books. More importantly, I’ve also learned that reviews affect Amazon rankings, and rankings determine what Amazon recommends to people based upon shopping and browsing history.

Which brings me back to writing reviews. I read a lot of books. Knowing what I now know about reviews, I feel selfish if I keep my opinion to myself. Besides, there’s no downside to helping others, and it’s preparing me for the inevitable negative reviews of my own stuff.

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