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Please note this is something I’ve been thinking over and kind of working on for a while. At best, I am offering my opinions below, as I am not an expert, nor am I seeking to argue with anyone.
Over probably the last year or so I have seen several different authors state they wish reviews were more objective, or that reviews themselves should be objective. This has ranged from several honest desires to reviewer attacks. For the most part, this seems to mean that they wish reviews stated whether or not the books were successful in what they set out to do or say as ‘objective.’ While breaking down other key parts with emotional ties or personal opinion as ‘subjective.’
Whether or not that actually fits the definition is also debatable I think.
SO, what is a review?
Obviously I assume we’d all have go with definition two here. The main thing this brings to mind for me whenever I hear it is: can we as humans, readers, etc., truly be objective about something we are experiencing?
When an author writes something, they may have deep rooted beliefs hidden within their world. They may have written their story with something else in mind entirely. Their book about gods eating other gods may be allegoric. Their superhero story might actually be depicting the evil of WWII. As a writer, I tend to look for deeper meaning too. Whether it be the theme behind the story, or even the meaning behind characters’ names. That is the power at play when you are creating something. But it is an incredibly important thing to remember that some (dare I say, MOST) readers will never pick up on it. For example, many of my current BETA readers (bless them for helping me!) have missed somewhat (to me) important and rather obvious clues…in my mystery. So as the author, that is a reminder to me that what I think is obvious, may be completely missed by others. Not only is that okay, but it’s honestly to be expected.
To my point, if that’s the case and we as readers may have missed your true meaning, how exactly are we to be objective? I personally feel as if stripping away your true meaning leaves us dissecting the very basics. “This was marketed as a science fiction space opera…it certainly was.” Yes I know I am pedantically breaking this down, hopefully within reason. And of course you could speak to its overall successes better or with more heart, but again, that’s leaning into YOUR connection with the book.
As a reader, I would not necessarily read an objective review and ever be sold on your novel. Now a review that’s screaming about the connection, the love they have for the world or characters or action, now that could have me buying the book without even reading a blurb.
As an author, I feel as if every review counts. Currently I don’t have any negative ones, as I only have a novelette out (and in part feel like a pretend-author), but I’m a firm believer that showing opinions on both sides of something just makes it feel more…real. And one of my favorite reviews ever, is actually one that just says something like, “this was spooky.” Within that assumed definition of objective, sure.The horror was horror. But again, selling it for anyone? Maybe not.
For me, especially in the incredibly diverse sphere that is indie publishing, so many are writing about heavy, powerful things. The themes of race, culture, politics, humanity, ecological decline, and many more are prevalent throughout. Not only that but most feature some kind of romance, strong character arcs, and often character deaths. Therefore, asking for readers to be objective is actually taking away from what the story is about. If I am emotionally invested in an author’s work, chances are my enjoyment/reception are through the roof. And we all know how much authors love to pull at readers’ heartstrings, it’s only natural that readers get attached. Now, could we argue that readers can still take a step back and dissect if the book is achieving a goal? Yes and no. Many reviewers/bloggers tend to put in something like, “if you are a fan of fast-paced epic fantasy with great characters…this one’s for you.” Meaning that I think some people do try. But believe it or not, that’s still an opinion, right? So it’s not really an objective fact, is it?
What weighs on the mind for me, is that these are usually conversations centered around negative reviews. Not always, and not everyone, but usually. If someone spams your book online, gives it a 5/5 and rants about it to everyone included their neighbor’s baby sister, authors tend to not seem to mind it so much. And as a new writer, I can understand it. We spend so much time and effort into crafting something, so it’s really hard to not feel hurt when someone doesn’t like it. And of course things somehow seem so much worse, or so much more personal, when it’s coming from the place of ‘not liking/enjoying’ something. But the fact of the matter is, the chances are awfully high that your book is not for everyone. They say you need tough skin, or to avoid reviews altogether, as that space is meant for readers. But to me, it’s simply more important that you understand that this is the nature of things. And hey, your book got someone invested–good or bad, they spent their time on YOUR words. They have a right to feel any way that they do, and every right to talk about what they didn’t like.
Before I wrap this up, there are a few things I want to highlight: I have no intentions of sparking an argument. *No author should ever attack a reviewer. *Disliking a book is not a platform for you to attack an author. Criticism does not need to be harsh, although I understand the investment, as well as being worked up. I can’t say with any real authority that this makes any sense, or proves whatever point it is I’m trying to make, I just think that once a book is released into the world it takes on a second life. Every human processes differently, is different. Therefore we cannot all comprehend exactly the same. I do believe that someone reviewing something they’ve just read is inherently subjective, as it has morphed along with the reader, meaning that we cannot truly break off and be objective, but it’s okay if you disagree.
Thanks for reading. What is life if not shameless plugging at this point? If you’d like to read my novelette with (currently) no negative reviews, it’s called BestGhost: A Novelette and it’s completely free at my links.