Discussion: Who are reviews for?

Posted 13 August, 2018 by Nikki in General / 11 Comments

I saw this on Twitter (this thread) and immediately had a ton of thoughts, especially after I saw the tweet claiming that reviews (in general) are for everyone: authors, readers, other reviewers… And in one way, that’s true; there’s no way I can stop authors coming to my blog and reading my reviews, and maybe they’ll be useful to authors too! I don’t begrudge them to authors, if they’ve got thick skins and can keep themselves from arguing with me.

But. With every piece of writing, you have an audience in mind. That’s part of what makes the writing effective: you tailor it to the people you want it to be useful to. It’s no use me posting here talking about the MIC of bedaquiline against Mycobacterium tuberculosis — you’re a smart bunch, so I’m sure some of you know what the MIC is and what it’s about, but it’s simply not relevant to most people — and likewise there’s no point in me using a chatty style in my dissertation. The audience distinction between other readers and the author of the thing being reviewed is not necessarily that large, but I’m definitely not keeping the author in mind when I review. I’m talking about what I liked and what I didn’t, and often don’t even touch on anything beyond personal taste. Now, unless an author’s planning to write a book just for me, that’s not exactly useful, is it?

Now, reading the actual thread, I don’t think me and the writer of that thread are actually too far apart in our opinions. I don’t disagree that reviews are open to and worth scrutinising, etc, etc. But all the same, I have an audience in mind for my reviews and it’s not authors (and it’s not really non-readers, either: I don’t see why a non-reader would be interested in my reviews). So sure, my reviews can be read by anyone who comes along and maybe they’ll be of interest or even useful for people whom I don’t expect to find them so.

But still, saying my reviews are for anybody I don’t think they’re for is putting a bit much of a burden on the rather slender shoulders of my typically 200-word-ish summaries of what I thought of a book. And I don’t think most people who are saying that reviews aren’t for authors or aren’t for xyz are saying that their reviews can’t/shouldn’t/mustn’t be read by those people — they’re saying, fucking Christ, will authors please stop commenting on my reviews to browbeat me because I didn’t like their book. So in that sense, yeah. Reviews are for other readers. Fight me.

(Please don’t.)

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11 Responses to “Discussion: Who are reviews for?”

  1. arbie

    I agree – my intended audience is, however restricted to: future me. I was more than a little shocked when anybody at all besides me took any interest in anything I had to say. I have had very few author comments on my reviews and none of them have been diatribes, fortunately. I have my suspicions that a few anonymous or guest comments that disagree with me are author avatars, but even they have not been the kind of outrageous rants I’ve heard so many stories about from others.

    • I think that was the case for me originally, too, but having a blog means I do try and make it applicable to people who might be reading.

  2. Interesting, the thread and, of course, your commentary! As someone who both writes and reads reviews I largely agree with both the writer of the thread and with you, but I can’t help feeling this is such a large topic that a short comment from me isn’t going to do the issue much justice, but I’ll try! (I discuss this in more detail here: https://wp.me/s2oNj1-review)

    We all ‘write’ reviews, if only in our heads. Publishing them online then becomes a question of audience: as you put it, who are they for? To be blunt, your own reviews are primarily for yourself, as I see it: you don’t exclude anybody but comments like ‘I didn’ t learn anything new’ makes them seem more like aide-memoires than anything else. That’s not to say I don’t find them informative or entertaining, but the sense is of an audience of one. (Except when it comes to discussions like this!)

    I’m not a professional writer: my reviews are, as with you, primarily for me, myself: a record of what I’ve read and what I thought of the works. But I’m also a bit of a pseud, I like to share my thoughts and display my critical acumen, invite possible censure or praise for my imagined insights, join a wider discussion on the merits or otherwise of the works. So my audience has widened to an online community.

    What the reviews are rarely for are for the authors. Mind you, it’s nice if living authors respond, but as many if not most of my authors are deceased, and the rest far too famous or busy to bother to read my critiques, I never or rarely consider them as audience. (I gave up asking for Arcs eons ago, for reasons too many to reiterate.)

    • I think I might revise my statement of my reviews being for other readers to “for other readers who have a general idea of my taste and depth of knowledge”. For example, if I say “I didn’t learn anything new” about genetics, I’m going to guess that you know how much value to place on that given that you probably know I’m a biology student who has been reading about genetics for fun and study for years now. You’d know roughly the level of the book (and I think I do tend to try and contextualise my knowledge for people who won’t be as familiar, e.g. by saying that I’ve read a lot of other books on the same topic). Hmm…

      • Long-time readers of your blog do indeed know where you’re coming from and therefore know to respect the value you place on a work, be it fiction or non-fiction, lowbrow, highbrow or middle-brow. It’s the range of what you read as much as the value judgements you give that interests me and which I appreciate!

  3. I agree, my reviews tend mostly to be aimed at other readers since I know I find them to be helpful when deciding if I should pick up a new book or not. Unless it’s an arc or I’m a beta reader, my reviews aren’t going to help or hinder anything and even then I doubt it’d change anything.

    • That too! Sometimes negative reviews are helpful to people who are looking for particular stuff to read, even though they’re negative for the person who wrote them, too.

  4. I’ve thought about this question lately myself. I think in large part I do write for other readers, but then if that’s the case, I probably wouldn’t be so hard on myself to follow a specific format, or certain “rules” that I’ve made for myself when I write reviews (i.e. I always precede with an intro, a short summary, etc.). I realized then that I probably write them first and foremost for myself. My summaries are there for me to remember what the book is about, and how I felt about it, so I can look back on them at a future date. I lack the time to reread books, so in a way, I think my reviews are written in a way that helps me find ways to “relive:” them!
    Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum recently posted…Book Review: Bad Man by Dathan AuerbachMy Profile

  5. My target audience for my book reviews are other readers. Yeah I get asked by an author to do an occasional read and review but I’m still writing the review to tell my blog followers what I thought of the book, to give them an idea of what the book is about, and what things they might like or dislike about it. I do also agree with Mogsy about writing the reviews for myself to remind me of what the book was like but I tend to leave huge spoilers out so I don’t ruin the book for others. I wouldn’t do that if I was writing purely for myself.

    • I think I need to be a bit more detailed with that in my own reviews — I feel like I read too much to be able to keep track of a series sometimes!

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