Hi everyone, and welcome to another brilliant guest post on my blog! 💎
I’m extremely excited for you to read this incredible, insightful post today, written by the one and only Vicky @ Vicky Who Reads.
When I first started blogging, Vicky’s blog was one of the first ones I discovered, and I was (and still am) so in awe of the way she talks about relevant and important issues—so of course she’s one of the first people I reached out to about a guest post, when I thought of introducing the Sprinkles of Dreams Blogger Feature on my blog.
Not only is Vicky an extremely outspoken and eloquent blogger, she also spreads her wisdom on Twitter, is a visual artist (Vicky Who Draws), and even helped organize a blog tour for The Weight of Our Sky, which I’m so excited to be a part of (put this book on your TBRs!!).
I had so much fun editing and formatting this post, while still staying true to Vicky’s blog aesthetic—I hope you enjoy reading this post as much as I did, and leave us your own thoughts on this topic in the comments! 💗
I have to say, when Lily approached me with different topics, asking me to guest post on her blog, this one really stood out to me. Both because I am ultimately extremely tied to this topic as a blogger who reviews a lot of books early, and because I think it’s something we need to discuss.
I think a really central fact about the book community is that most of what’s “going on” revolves around new things. New releases. New authors. New things.
And yes, there are bunches of people in the book community who don’t care about the new things and who talk + blog solely about old stuff because they love it. This is not to say that people who talk about new things don’t love what they do, but it is to say there are people ensconced in their own little bubbles within the bubble of the book community.
But with regards to today’s topic, it’s pretty reasonable to establish that the book community we’re talking about revolves around new releases. Publishers rarely tweet about backlist titles. Authors promote their new titles more than their old. Book boxes always include new books, not solely backlist ones. And this is fine, and I believe it’s still important if we want the community to survive and not grow musty on the Internet.
Yet, there are potential implications within what this means to promoters who do involve themselves in new titles, specifically ARCs.
I’m only going to talk about bloggers + ARCs, because that’s what I know and am familiar with (also because I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a blogger doing a paid promotion of a book, only booktubers).
And the question of objectivity and ARCs comes up a lot, especially with physical ones. Because ultimately, you’re getting books for free and it seems hard to separate the nice gesture of getting a book and the objective nature of the task ahead of you.
I wanted to bring real, concrete data to this post, and I started attempting to record it, but I ultimately let that idea go because this is a topic that’s really hard to track concretely.
So instead, I can only speak from experience, and here are a few things I’ve noted.
1. I don’t think a lot of people intentionally review unobjectively.
I don’t. I think anyone who does this would have the lack of authenticity show up in what they write, and a reviewer flat out lying about their feelings about a book is honestly unheard of.
I do think that there are subconscious forces in play (more about that later), but I genuinely give all reviewers the benefit of the doubt (it’s the only way you’ll be able to trust what you read), and I don’t believe that anyone (in the YA community whom I’ve met) consistently lies in their reviews.
Yet, I still think that some early reviews are definitely potentially skewed, or a book’s buzz is skewed as a whole, but I don’t think any of this is because someone goes “Oh, I didn’t read this/I didn’t like it—let me try and write a 5 star review.”
2. Omission is not the same as lying, but both can skew a review.
This is a key factor in why I think early reviews seem skewed (and they probably are, a little bit). Some reviewers drop off a star rating for books they don’t like, mark it as read on Goodreads, and just never mention it again.
Reviewers on blog tours are told to write positive alternate posts if they didn’t enjoy the book, and hold off on posting their review—for example, how I write “5 Things I Liked About This Book” posts for when I encounter a blog tour book that I don’t like. Overall, I might not like the book, but I’m always capable of finding five things I think someone else might like. (And I understand this procedure, as blog tours are ultimately for promotion, so I try my best to be positive yet not lie.)
I think the main reason why early reviews seem to be more positive than the general consensus is because early reviewers are just more inclined not to say anything bad.
This doesn’t mean they’re lying about the good, but it does mean they’re omitting the bad. So you hear all these great things, and people end up being generally mum about the bad.
Not only does this contribute to hype, but it also reveals a big part of why the early reviews of a book sound a lot more positive than the later ones. Because nobody is really talking about the bad. A few voices might, but it’s not like everyone is trying to focus on the bad. They’re trying to help a book sell.
3. Mood can be everything.
This is where the subconscious factors in. I think mood is really important to liking a book. I’ve read books where I know I wasn’t in the right mood for it, and ultimately ended up not liking it, because I just wasn’t ready for that book.
And sometimes, mood is largely influenced by hype. Hype can make you suddenly in the mood for something, and that’s how some of the skewed, generally early reviews occur. Because c’mon. Just from this situation, which book do you think you’ll end up liking more?
- Moby Dick, which you’re being forced to read for 12th grade English, that you really don’t want to read, but have to.
- That one YA book you’ve been so excited about for a whole year!!!
I’d probably end up rating the YA book highly. I’d probably be more eager to like the YA book too. I’d probably be pretty curmudgeonly about reading Moby Dick (still am). I think hype can really influence mood, and that a good mood going into a book makes people more open to rating things highly. It puts them in an excitable mood for something, and honestly that can be why a book ends up being five stars.
4. Everyone is human, and sometimes wanting to like something can affect whether you think you like something.
I also think something that comes along with ARCs is that almost nobody is “hate-reading” an ARC. In theory, no one is reading an ARC they don’t want to read. All the ARCs you pick out are books you’re genuinely interested in. And they’re something that you want to like.
And I think wanting to like something is a huge influencer. I am certainly not a psychology expert. But you’ve probably seen those videos of people going somewhere with freezing temperatures, thinking about how they’re actually really hot, and then shedding all of their layers, because that’s what they think.
I think the mind is a powerful tool, and this obviously goes along with hype. Not only does excitement put you in the right mood, but just wanting to like something can put you in the right mood.
You want to like all the books you read—don’t you? (I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.) And so if you maybe know the author, you’re more inclined to want to like their book more. If you have any reason to like the book, you’re going to try. And the effort you put into liking an ARC is sometimes more than the effort you put into liking an already published book.
Want is a powerful tool (and also a great book).
So what’s the solution?
Honestly, I think the best thing anyone can do is establish transparency and boundaries consistently. Make your readers understand from what view you’re writing something.
I personally only say negative things in the reviews on my blog, and the reviews on Goodreads. That’s it. And it’s always my intent for the readers of my blog to know that. For them to know that I’m not going to randomly badmouth something in a recommendation post and I’ll only talk positive things in those sections of my blog.
I establish clear boundaries of where I might talk bad about books (reviews and Goodreads), and where I only talk about the good things (everywhere else).
Because I—we—are not just bloggers. We’re also promoters.
I think anyone who accepts an ARC from a professional entity (or with the intent that the professional entity might see it) must understand the fact that you’re not just a blogger right now. You’re also a promoter.
And I don’t think this is something everyone understands completely. Because yes, you are writing an honest review of a book. But that honest review—whether it’s positive or negative—will hopefully help a book sell.
The whole purpose of the professional entity giving you that book is so it hopefully sells better. You’re promoting the book with your honest review, positive or negative (because a negative for you can still be a positive for someone else).
As a blogger, knowing how I separate promotion and reviewing allows me to keep my reviews honest. It lets me promote things shamelessly (read Descendant of the Crane!!!), which in turn lets me feel like I’m satisfying the “promoter” in me enough to keep my reviews completely honest.
If you’re a blogger worried about your reviews not being objective, try and figure out how you separate promotion and reviewing. And once you figure out where you talk about books in certain ways, keep things transparent with your readers and followers so they too know.
Vicky is a teenage reader, book blogger, aspiring writer, and artist. She loves reading diverse books and seeing herself in novels, and strives to help make the book community a more inclusive space.