If you’ve read some of my books reviews (whaddaya mean no!) chances are you’ll have noticed that some are based on advance copies from NetGalley and the relevant publisher.
From my own research I know that some people have mixed feelings when reading reviews from NetGalley readers. This appears to be because it is felt that having received a free copy of a given book, the reviewer is then under pressure to leave a good review (usually 4 or 5 stars) regardless of what they actually think of the book.
I read one review (on Amazon) of a book which I had already read via NetGalley and the reviewer said, in a state of some annoyance, that she had bought and read the book with her own money from an actual shop and she wasn’t giving the book a glowing review because she felt obliged to having received a free copy from NetGalley or another advance copy review organisation. She seemed quite upset about it. I do hope she has since calmed down.
The thing is…she might have had a point. Some reviewers probably do feel they have to give a good review of a book even if they don’t like it simply because they’re getting a free copy but I suspect they are the minority.
I read one review on NetGalley where it was obvious the reviewer in question didn’t like the book then proceeded to give it five stars because it was obvious to them that the author had done alot of research so on that basis gave it five stars. It seems to me that it doesn’t matter if the author researches for ten years and produces a PhD standard research guide to a given subject, if the resulting book is naff then it shouldn’t be getting five stars. It was one I had reviewed myself and I believe I gave it three stars, neither hit nor miss, somewhere in the middle! As it was my first ever NetGalley review I confess I was tempted to boost it to a four but I decided no, if I was going to review books I would be honest about my thoughts and try to be constructive about it.
I’ve read other reviews where it seems obvious (to me anyway) that the reviewer didn’t like the book but was desperately trying not to be too harsh by pointing out that ‘the writing was good in places’ or ‘I didn’t connect with the characters but may have had sympathy for one’ and because of these seemingly redeeming qualities managed to scrape from the embers of their dislike of the book maybe three stars. It is of course all subjective and it’s not easy to second guess what a reviewer means by their particular choice of words.
I’m reminded of some reviews I’ve seen on Amazon, one stating, “I haven’t read this as bought for someone else but it arrived promptly and was well packaged” and gave it five stars on that basis. Another said “Received book this morning! This is my favourite author and can’t wait to start reading it!” Yes, you guessed, they gave it five stars without having read the first page because it was their favourite author. Maybe they hadn’t had a very good week and the arrival of this book brought excitement so they gave it five stars for the medicinal benefit the anticipation brought, the joyful effect of released endorphins etc. I have some sympathy with this. I get excited (endorphin hit) when I see a book I’ve been waiting for newly released on the bookstore ‘new titles’ section. It doesn’t matter if it turns out to be rubbish, I still get that endorphin burst from seeing it without having read a word. Maybe even if a book is rubbish it should get a ‘consolation’ endorphin rating depending on how good it made you feel before you started reading…even if you were depressed and in need of more endorphins by the end?
There are of course other reviewers who seem to have no problem whatsoever giving “an honest and unbiased review” and don’t hold back saying things like “Utter rubbish, waste of time” and give it one star before leaving (or not leaving) a tentative “Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy” …at which point I’m wondering if it’ll be the reviewer’s last free review copy and any future request will remain eternally in the “Your request is pending…” queue? Even if I think a book is ‘utter rubbish’ I’d hope to at least give constructive reasons why I didn’t like it and just leave the more diplomatic conclusion I’ve seen some people write, “others will like it but not for me.” I always smile reading that, it’s like throwing it in a nicely scented bin.
So after some reflection I decided if I was going to do ‘proper reviewing’ I would need to do it honestly. I can’t say a book is great if I don’t think it is great. I can’t give a poor story a glowing review on the basis that there was a lot of research involved. I have given books ratings according to my honest opinion and have tried to relate my honest opinions and tried to do so respectfully. I have given marks from two to five so far. I haven’t yet given any book one out of five for the simple reason that I haven’t yet read a book I considered that bad. Yet when I do (I’m sure the day will come) then I won’t hold back from giving one out of five if I think that’s what it merits but I will say why.*
Among several things reviewing books on NetGalley has taught me is to engage in a bit more self-analysis and ask why I didn’t or indeed did like a book. That’s a pretty good thing to do and sometimes it can change everything.
I read one book where in all honesty I didn’t think the writing was of a particularly good standard and because of that I was reading and telling myself I wasn’t enjoying the story. Then it finally dawned on me that I was actually enjoying the story, in fact it became one of the best I’d read, but I’d been allowing my low view of the literary standard to colour my appraisal of the story myself.
In the end I realised it was a painfully honest account from the author of their life and to try to write it in some high literary style would not have been true to them or their story and in fact when I realised this I discovered that actually, looking from that perspective, the writing was good. It did exactly what was intended. It told the story in the author’s own voice and that’s why it worked so well. To maintain balance I’ll say I’ve also read some books where the literary standard was pretty high but the story itself was poor quality. Great writing cannot make up for a poor story.
I read some hints that said that you should try to read books where you think you have something unique to say. I actually think that way no matter the book. I have a voice, it’s unique. You have a voice, it’s unique. That’s worth celebrating…and writing about.
So those are some of my thoughts on NetGalley.
Thanks for reading.
*I’ve since given a book one out of five but I did given my reasons in what I hope was a fair minded way. I’ve no idea what will happen if I request another book from that particular publisher though!