Lisa A. Kramer

Author, Speaker, Theater Artist, Creativity Facilitator

Lessons of an Independent Author--Questioning the Power of Reviews

At least once a month (or more often depending on how busy and I am and how voraciously I read) I wander into the library and leave with a stack of books.

Books 2

While I occasionally look for a specific book, and sometimes try to find something off of my ever-growing "to read" list, more often than not I simply browse the newest collection and pick out books that look interesting. I trip over to the librarian recommendations and pick out books that call my name. I skim through the young adult section, or sometimes the children's section, and add books to my pile. I may even pass through the classic section and choose something I've always wanted to read but never had.

What attracts me? The cover, the blurb, and sometimes reading a passage or two.

The only thing that will stop me from taking a book home is if it reeks of smoke as some of them do.

On very rare occasions we go to the movies. We look online to see what's playing, perhaps read the description of the movie or watch the preview if we hadn't heard of it. Look at the ratings (G, PG, etc.) figure out the best times and go or not depending on if something appeals.

What draws me to a certain movie? Perhaps I've seen the previews, my mood, certain actors or themes. At one point in my life, when I was at loose ends and felt the need of a little escape, I would wander into movie theaters alone and purchase a ticket for whatever was playing next without even thinking about it. (Tickets were a little less expensive and time was more flexible).

The point is, I very rarely read reviews about things like books and movies before I make a selection. I will, occasionally, read reviews after to see if other people agreed with my reaction or if I was alone in my thoughts.

Of course, while I may not read reviews, I will listen to the recommendations of friends and certain people I trust. If someone tells me I must read a certain book, it will move higher up my list. I don't always listen when people don't like something--sometimes I just have to find out for myself.

Now that I have published, of course, I am reminded often that reviews are important. At the same time I am not getting reviews from the "important" reviewers. My book isn't in the New York Time.  I haven't found my way to Kirkus Reviews.

Does it even matter? The other day, my friend (and fellow author) Cameron Garriepy pointed out that, as painful as it might be, a smattering of 3 and 4 star reviews lends legitimacy to your work. "That way people know that it isn't just your friends and family giving you 5 stars. As long as it isn't a bunch of 1 star reviews." But does that mean that, for a debut independent author, all 5 star reviews from lesser known reviewers are going to be considered invalid? How does one prove little to know relationship with a reviewer--especially in a world where building an audience and word-of-mouth requires BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS?

When I review books, I am stingy with my stars. I try to reserve 5 stars for the books that astonish and astound--that I know I will revisit again and again. To me, 4 stars is still high praise. (Of course, when I received the first 4 star for P.O.W.ER my heart dropped a little--isn't it funny how that works?) But, now that I have entered the fields, does my legitimacy as a reviewer come into question? Can people say I am too harsh because I am trying to eliminate competition (which I would never do)? Will I be accused of being too gentle when supporting friends' books--even though recently I have become friends with people because I fell in love with their word?

These are lessons I still need to learn and understand if I want to continue growing as a writer. These are things that I am far from understanding. So now I am turning to you to help me understand. Do you think reviews are important? Do you choose things to read or see based on reviews?