I’ve spent my whole life reading. I have memories of living in West Germany as a little girl, where my father was stationed with the Air Force and the library on the air base was better than a sweet shop for me. We had no TV and our entertainment was the British Forces Broadcasting Service radio programmes, Barbie dolls (dangerous with a little sister who had a penchant for snapping off arms, legs and occasionally heads) and books.
Books were expensive even back in the 1970’s and the likelihood of getting something written in English where the national language was German, was remote. But the library on the base had them all lined up neatly on shelves, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, my heroes, wearing dustcovers and little plastic jackets to protect them from our tiny, eager hands. We went there on a Sunday after church but we had to be quick as the lunch would already be in the oven - my organised parents put it there before we left. There was no time to do proper choosing, it was just smash and grab, child style. It was the highlight of the week for me and sadly not always guaranteed. If Dad was on nights or working Sundays, we didn’t get to go anywhere as Mum couldn’t drive.
I remember once, getting home, scoffing my lunch and devouring Enid Blyton’s ‘Castle of Adventure’ for pudding. I couldn’t get enough of it. My mother refused to believe that I had actually read it all in that short space of time, coming upon me as I closed the back cover in sadness about two hours after lunch. I recounted the whole thing and she was probably sorry that she had asked, when I finally finished following her around the house four hours later.
But what is my point here?
Well it’s basically that back then, nobody really cared if I liked the book and went back for the next one at the earliest opportunity. The publisher didn’t, the library just had it there and the author would never have known that she just make a little girl’s boring Sunday afternoon a whole lot better.
I started publishing a year ago, but only got my Kindle six months later as a gift from my mother. Up until then, I was still feeding my library habit, only I could choose six instead of one and didn’t have to pay my younger sister in household chores just to let me have her choose as well. Again, the library didn’t care if I liked my picks when I returned them, they probably measured their stats on how many times that book was issued, but they never actually asked ME personally if I had enjoyed it.
I always read the bit about the author in the back and love it when there’s a photo because I can see if they look how I imagined them. Maybe there were email addresses and website addresses but I had a book in my hands, not a computer and so I don’t recall ever looking anything up.
The world is different now. When I finish a book on my Kindle, a box pops up asking me if I want to give it a star rating. Amazon emails me if I ignore that and asks me what I thought of my purchase. As a reader, I’m bombarded by questions and asked for my opinion about somebody else’s work. It’s no longer that detached experience, it’s an interaction with a real person, who is going to see what I think and have an opinion on it. As a reader, I’m not sure how I feel about that. I like what I like and surely that’s nobody’s business but mine. Isn’t it?
As an author, I am ranked and rated and statistically examined a million times over, based on the reviews I get for my work. Some authors give away copies of their precious works in return for reviews which they may never get, knowing that the greasy pole which our books have to climb is aided by the solid opinion of our readers. Others cajole, encourage and resort to begging readers who perhaps agree cagily and then don’t, for a whole variety of reasons.
What seems to have happened in the last few years, is that readers who willingly and genuinely place reviews for every book they read, become hot property. Amazon and Goodreads both have lists of their ‘top 100 reviewers’. I do routinely review almost every book that I read nowadays, because I know that it’s important and even I have a rank as a reviewer - not a very good one yet, but it’s getting there. Authors used to be powerful people, able to influence the fabric of society, the perception of governments and the mood of the people. Now it’s readers.
With the click of the keyboard, a reader can place a review that either devastates or delivers hope to somebody who has put their work out there in the ether. There are no surprises (other than perhaps content) as the author will be eagerly awaiting that opinion. Some authors must check hourly for reviews. I’ve put up a review as a reader, only to get a notification from Amazon within minutes that ‘somebody’ liked my review and found it ‘helpful’. I know it’s the author, who else could it be? I’m going to time the next one and see how long it takes. I might even keep a book on it, in a light hearted, completely non-financially advantageous way, you understand.
A few reviewers really do understand the power of reviews. I have heard awful stories of reviewers deliberately trashing work which they haven’t even read, just because they can. They spend an afternoon dolling out one star reviews to random authors because it’s raining and they were bored. But I wonder if they get and keep that power, because not enough of the other readers out there, know that their opinion is wanted and valued, very much. Perhaps if the load was spread among the other millions, the corrosive influence of the few would be dispersed.
I’m not really sure what the answer is - I’m just musing as always.
I guess what I’m saying is that, if you are reading this and currently enjoying something on your iPad, Kindle or other device, just know that there is an author on the other side of that creation who is desperate to know what you thought. Yes you! They care about how your received their main character, what you liked or didn’t about the setting. Are you bothered that they killed off the lead actress at the end or did you hate her anyway? Did you want to marry the leading man or take out a hit on him and more importantly, when this author puts out their next book, will you be there? Do a 5 minute review. Let them know.