Do you take the time to share your impressions of books you read? Where do you post them? Amazon? Goodreads? Barnes and Noble? Facebook, Yahoo or Google groups?
Why not on a blog? But there's no blog for that, I hear you say. Au contraire—it's the Internet, the digital age... If there's no centralized blog for the books you like where you can become a contributor, then blog it yourself! There are many good reasons to make your thoughts accessible beyond the places I listed above. I'm surprised by how many don't realize they owe it to their own body of work—which is what you call a collection of creative endeavors such as writing down opinions—to share it as widely as possible.
[UPDATE Part 2: 9/26/13]
Yes, I know you're thinking "I'm just a reader and my thoughts just don't matter that much in the larger scheme of things so why would anyone care if I blog them." Since most of you reading this are women I'll say bluntly, "That's horse hockey, girlfriend." You think men worry about their opinion mattering in some mythical larger scheme of things? What you're reading right now is "just" one woman's opinion. That's all most blogs are: one person's opinion.
If you take the time to share your thoughts on any of those places I listed above, they are just as worthy of sharing in the blogsphere. Not only that, they become far more useful to everyone else because they're in a single, centralized location, not scattered far and wide throughout a commercial site or lost in the unsearchable depths of a list-serv on Google or Yahoo.
WHY THE SCATTERED APPROACH HAS LIMITATIONS
Reviews you post on almost any Internet site belong to them.
It's in the fine print. If you only post in one place and that place deletes your reviews, you are seriously screwed. Amazon.com can—and has—deleted entire reviews from users. Top Reviewer Amos Lassen faced that last year after a review of a gay male erotica anthology was reported as offensive. The complaint seems to have been about the book, not the review, but whatever the reason, thousands of reviews *poof* gone. Though I'm not aware that the same thing has happened with Goodreads or Barnes and Noble, I imagine that it could. (Mr. Lassen now has a blog.) [In 2013, Goodreads deleted thousands of reviews without warning.]
Facebook is notorious for lack of persistence in its data. It's expected and common to find posts simply not there anymore. Forget about being able to search for something. Google and Yahoo groups can and do "lose" posts. They are also dismal to search through, even when you know the date, title and content of a post. The bigger the group, the more click...click...click... ::headdesk::
What's This Reviewer All About?
Most reviewers I know post at Amazon. I understand why, and yet, it's a nightmare trying to look only at a single reviewer's work. How many times have you looked at a reviewer's profile to discern their biases, likes and dislikes so you can decide if their opinion is of value to you? It's not hard if the reviewer only reviews the kinds of books you're interested in. But the more they review the harder it is to study their opinions. Click on a reviewer's name, wait, click for their reviews, wait, then wade through what could be hundreds of reviews of non-books, ten items at a time. If the reviewer has written about 100 items from energy bars to blenders to books, that's 10 pages of clicking and scanning.
Amazon Reviews and a Grain of Salt Won't Get You a Margarita
Also as a reader, and primarily again at Amazon, reviews appearing only there are treated with skepticism by a great many readers. In a recent highly public career suicide, an author defended her book by pointing out her many 5-star reviews at Amazon. The response was universal derision. All too easily her detractors pointed out how many of those reviews were written by people with the same last name as herself, or the same initials, or by people who had only reviewed her book and made many of the same misspeltings (sic) as she did. The reviewers who had shared honest and independent thoughts about the book were completely discounted because so many of the other reviews were obviously plants.
Did you know that vanity presses send their clients to Amazon and other sites with full instructions of how to sign up under multiple names and have their family and friends post glowing reviews and that's "legit" marketing, a.k.a. "dupe the reader"? Another reason so many people look with great skepticism on reviews sourced off of Amazon.
Even a highly ranked reviewer doesn't escape skepticism. There are top 500 reviewers who (unlike Amos Lassen whom I mentioned above) have achieved that status by reposting the product description as their "review." So while a review posted at Amazon is helpful to those who know you, it may not influence anyone else.
So far, a site like Goodreads seems relatively free of plant reviews, and many readers find reviews there very useful. However, when two vanity presses put Goodreads on their list of sites to "bomb market" as part of their marketing advice, there was an obvious incursion of similar plant reviews.
Reviews on Commercial Sites Aren't Quotable
The print magazines and indie bookstores where feedback was a small but steady stream for authors are all gone. Just finding consistent reviewers to follow is difficult, especially wading through how a reviewer's body of work is presented by Amazon and other sites. Many reviewers I know are writing their 100-200-500 words of feedback to help other readers. But if I do find a useful review on a site like Amazon, I can't seriously quote it (see above) because at least half the readers will automatically discount its value. That very same review in a blog or online newsletter (e.g. Just About Write) is quotable, and I can give a link to a page where the visitor can see other reviews and regard the review (and my book) in a context free of plants or reviews with agendas other than the book.
WHY BLOGS ARE MORE USEFUL
It's a red-letter day when a reviewer blogs their thoughts. A number of Amazon reviewers post reviews and include a link to their review blog at the end, which is marvelous. At the blog I can read the reviewer's philosophy. I can search by whatever labels the reviewer uses to keep track. I can scan by date, search by name or title. I can learn if that reviewer hates fantasy, loves mysteries, tends to not like contemporary romance, but adores historical romance and reads memoirs like I eat chocolate. That reviewer's body of work is made useful, incredibly useful, to me as a reader and a writer. It can be quoted, cited, verified and seen in context.
Review Journals and Sites versus Blogs
Of course there is a difference between an experienced, compensated reviewer on NPR.com or a literary journal and one who dashes off thoughts from the heart. In the former I look for useful criticism with examples from the text. In the latter, I look for proof of having read the book and authenticity of their feelings about the book in the context of how they discuss other books.
In the Olden Days...
For me, review blogs are the same as the newsletters that women's bookstores put out in the 80s and 90s to advise their customers on what they'd enjoyed recently. These weren't literary critics, but readers or booksellers. Women who loved books. Their short comments were helpful to me as a reader, and water in the desert as an author.
A Blog Belongs to the Reviewer
The reviewer can copy and paste their review to Amazon and Google and Yahoo groups. The blog can automatically post to Goodreads, Facebook and many other sites without doing anything more than clicking "post." And while those sites claim ownership of the copy that was posted there, the original belongs to the reviewer, and it will always be where she can find it. Backing up blog content is easier than backing up a computer—you just have to do it. [That reminds me...be right back.]
A Blog Can Be Read By Anyone, Including Search Engines
The reader doesn't have to belong to a Facebook, Yahoo or Google group where there is almost zero memory and no ability to search for a title or author or genre that is of interest. Within a short while those reviews are virtually lost to people who join the group later.
Search engines can't read groups unless they're public, which is rare. Search engines can read blogs, though, and will offer a blog as a relevant resource when the searcher uses the right words.
Blogs Have Bells and Whistles
Blogging sites, like Blogger and Wordpress, will build in email subscriptions so once a reader finds you they can always get your reviews instead of stumbling across them willy-nilly. After you get used to the software there are other add-ins, like comments, polls, blog cross-links to the blog review sites you like, and vice versa. Plus there are built-in share buttons you or anyone else can use to Facebook, Tweet, Stumble Upon, Digg, etc. You can't do that kind of sharing with reviews in a Google group or on Amazon, etc.
SO YOU READ ALL THAT AND YOU'RE THINKING...
- I'm not official enough to be a reviewer, those are just my thoughts. That's what a blog is. Book Thoughts by Terry or Read It-Loved It Blog or The Phantom Knows Good Books. Personal thoughts shared just as you would anywhere else. Look closely at many of the book review blogs out there. It's a reader, or 2-3 readers. They chose a name, included a bit about why and how they review and sent their posts out into the world for all to benefit from. Many also post those reviews to Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, etc.
- People will think I'm saying I'm an authority and I'm just a reader. As long as you don't claim to be speaking for others, include a statement about why you review, are upfront about your conflicts of interests (e.g. your best friend or partner works for a publisher who gives you free books), all you're doing is preserving your reviews so you and others can always find them. Again, you are the only authority on what you think about what you've read.
- I don't want people to know it's me. I get that—plenty of very good reviewers on Amazon are anonymous. Whatever email you're using in a group list to keep your book life separate from the rest of your life will get you a blog at Blogspot or Wordpress (the two I recommend for ease). If you use anonymity for malicious reasons you can discuss that later with your own personal deity and/or your mom.
- I don't have time. You got me there. Setting up a blog takes about 5 minutes, but making it look pretty and getting used to the way the labels work and all that, yep more time. Once you've posted an entry, however, it'll always be where you expect it to be, and you can cut and paste it into an email or a group post when you want. There are easy services that will post your blog to other sites for you. You can use your own share buttons to post it as well. My prediction is that once you've adapted to blogging first, then sharing, it won't take much longer, and you may find that since you can easily access your own previous work instead of hunting on some site for it (or even hunting on your own hard drive) that you'll save time in the end.
- I'm not good enough to... Let's step back. A blog is a format. It's a place on the Internet where you're taking the time to put all your thoughts together. The thoughts already exist. You're already sharing them in the tone and style that's yours. All I'm saying is if you're going to that bother, make it accessible to all by bringing them to a central location under your own control.
- I don't want to deal with the people who disagree with me. Totally hear you! I don't like it either. In a group if someone attacks your opinion that's usually against the rules and others have your back, so to speak. On a blog, it's your blog and people with the anonymous Internet will do and say stupid and cruel things they would never voice anywhere else. But on a blog, you don't have to give a public email. You don't have to take comments. You can just blog, share and walk away. If someone doesn't like it they can start their own blog. If an author's feelings are wounded because it's not the 5-star glowfest she expected, she has to get out her big girl panties and deal. (This last point is the topic of an entire panel at GCLS this year.)
- I don't want to write negative reviews and I would have to before anyone took me seriously, wouldn't I? If you already don't write negative reviews, don't on a blog. Again, it's just a format, not a "serious" versus "not serious" thing. Keep doing what you're doing, just all in one place.
- What if nobody comments or seems to care? I've seen readers begin a blog then stop after a short while, I think because their blog didn't turn into a popular discussion hot spot. If you start a review blog, the places where you already discuss reviews, such as your favorite Yahoo reader group, is where you'll go right on talking about them. Think of your blog not as a discussion site but as a repository that belongs to you, not Yahoo or Amazon or Facebook. Yes, a review blog can become much more if that's your goal. But it doesn't have to be.
So there's my two cents times about twenty. It's a topic I've thought about a lot, obviously, so I hope those of you who write up your thoughts about books will think about starting your own blog. I'm betting you'll find it personally more useful in the long run, and in the short run so will readers and writers.