I recently had the novel experience of being the very first person to review a certain book online. When I initially posted my 2 star review, it had one 5 star rating with minimal commentary at GoodReads and no reviews I could find anywhere. (And given how many authors now salt review sites with phony reviews, I’m half sorry I didn’t give it a higher rating just to reward an honest author. But I guess that would defeat the purpose.)
It was a little unnerving to rate a book 2 stars when the only other rating is 5 stars, but I’ve been out of step so often, I’m pretty much used to it. Still, curiosity has kept me checking back on the book at GoodReads. Shortly after my review went up, another 2 star rating appeared. Then another. Currently it has four 2 star ratings, one 3 star, one 4 star and one 5 star. (Still no ratings at Amazon — again, thank you honest author!)
In my experience, this is very rare. Most early ratings I see run high — frequently, to me, bafflingly high. And though GoodReads is thankfully not as prone to the author sock-puppetry you see endlessly at Amazon, I confess, I have wondered about how much those reviewers were influenced by receiving a free early review copy or by feeling an obligation to the author.
But now I’m wondering if maybe it’s just really hard to go first. To have the courage of your negative convictions without any peer support. Would those other 2 star ratings have appeared if mine hadn’t? I have no way of knowing — all I know was that this wasn’t the first 2 star early read for me, but that this was the first time others have openly agreed with me.
I need to write a reviewer’s statement for “Karen Knows Best,” and it’s hard. I’d like to claim that I’m never influenced by where a book comes from, or by other people’s opinions, but I’m not sure I can. I’m the wishy-washy Beatle on this blog. I see three sides to every issue. Reviewing here has been good for me, because the spirit of the blog is to speak your mind as forthrightly as possible and let the chips fall where they may. (So far they haven’t fallen much of anyplace. It’s almost disappointing.)
And we need that spirit of forthrightness, because reviewing online is getting ugly. First the sock-puppets made Amazon reviews meaningless and useless (well not completely — when I see certain kinds of raves there, I can pretty much conclude the book sucks.) Now they’re also targeting honest reviewers with vicious personal retaliations. Check out this bit of nastiness, and this.
It’s hard to completely avoid forces that might influence how we read a book and thus how we review it. Not wanting to offend a favorite author. Not wanting to be mean. Being scared to be the first to offer a negative opinion. Trying to be funny. Having a bad day. Hell, I’m writing this while I have the flu; I’m just hoping it’s actually in English. For myself, I’ve concluded that those influences come with being human, and could even be considered part of the subjective experience of reviewing. What’s important to me is whether I can move past them and keep the focus of a review on what I genuinely think and feel.
But I can’t think of anything uglier that might influence a review than being scared to be honest because you might get attacked. So here’s to everyone out there who speaks up and goes first, and makes it easier for others to speak their mind. I’m glad I got to be one of you.