Let Readers Be Readers

Let Readers Be Readers

The question of what readers “owe” authors arises periodically in the book blogosphere. Often, strangely enough, this conversation is driven by book bloggers and reviewers themselves, many of whom believe that their purpose in life is to promote authors through their unpaid labor by posting reviews, participating in blog tours, Tweeting release dates, and convincing all and sundry to buy certain books. Some reviewers will even argue that readers “owe” it to authors to read a book in full, or to never post a negative review. This is because their primary goal is to “support authors” rather than to engage in discourse about the book or assist potential readers in deciding whether the book is right for them. Lately, however, the conversation on Twitter has taken a bit of a new turn, as authors jump in with the expectation that readers–all readers–“owe” them certain types of reviews and online engagement.

Previously, the discourse seemed to be driven mainly by individuals who presumably see themselves as bookish influencers. They run blogs, post on Bookstagram, make BookTook videos, engage on Book Twitter, and probably promote titles on Amazon and Goodreads in addition. They keep up with the book industry and maybe even have jobs in it or tangential to it (publishing, libraries, schools, etc.) Their presence on online platforms seems to have made authors forget, however, that not all readers are bookish influencers or want to be. Some authors are now on Twitter demanding that all readers review their books online and that, when they do, they review it in a certain “appropriate” way. For instance, according to some, no reader should leave a star rating on Amazon or Goodreads without a review. Any star rating seen to be negative is apparently especially egregious if the reader does not leave a review justifying their low rating to the author. Authors have forgotten that some readers…are just readers. They do not exist to market the book online. They just want to read it.

For years, authors and the publishing industry has treated book bloggers and bookish influences are their unofficial unpaid marketing team. They expected book bloggers to read and promote their books free–maybe for an ARC, if they were lucky–and felt empowered to make demands that book bloggers do things like not only review the book, but also do it by a certain date (maybe withholding the review till after publication, if it was negative) and then cross-post the review to several platforms like Amazon, Goodreads, and Instagram, in addition to the blog. Book bloggers may have grumbled a bit about their time, talent and labor being unappreciated, but many did it. Perhaps this acquiescence has helped authors forget that the public does not, actually, exist to work as their unpaid laborers.

Goodreads, one might recall, started out as a social media site for book lovers to connect with their friends and see what they were reading. Others joined simply to use Goodreads for themselves so they could keep track of what they were reading and how they felt about it. The vast majority of people who use Goodreads presumably do not see themselves as bookish influencers and feel no obligation to support authors with high ratings and in-depth justifications of their feelings on a title. They just want to read a book! Reading is, one might also recall, a hobby. It is something people do for fun, to relax and enjoy themselves. The vast majority of the public has no idea that there are authors out there who think they are “owed” free marketing by their readers. They bought the book. They paid for it. That was where their obligation to the author ended. Now, they get to enjoy the product they bought as they see fit.

And Amazon reviews? Most people, presumably, see reviews as intended for the potential consumer of a product and not for the author. Reviews typically tell people what they can expect from the item in question, so they can make an informed opinion as to whether it will suit their needs. Reviews are separate from marketing copy because their purpose is actually not to sell the product. Or, not necessarily. A positive review could help sell the product. But, again, the review is to help the consumer to decide. A really good review will share pros and cons of how the product might be effective and how it might not. Some people will find its function satisfactory for their specific situation and others won’t. That’s okay. The review is functioning as it ought.

Readers should not be expected to provide automatic positive reviews on behalf of the author because then the review becomes meaningless. It’s just marketing copy. And readers, frankly, should not be expected to provide reviews at all. Some people do because they want to be useful or they like sharing their opinions. That is kind of them and could be considered going above and beyond. But if they don’t want to, that’s fine. The author isn’t paying them to write a review and they don’t owe the author their time to do it. And if they just want to leave a star rating with no review, that is also fine. Is a mere rating less useful to consumers than explaining the rating? Probably. But readers do not owe the author a justification of their reaction to a title. Readers are not the unpaid marketing team for authors.

Let us remember that reading is a hobby. Reading is something people do for pleasure. The vast majority of readers simply want to read a book and that’s it. They are not obligated to work for the author to promote the book online. They are not obligated to spend their time writing a review. The reader’s obligation to the author includes two things only: obtaining the book legally and being courteous to the author by not tagging them in negative reviews or personally insulting them. Let readers be readers, and stop expecting the world to do unpaid marketing.

20 thoughts on “Let Readers Be Readers

  1. Briana | Pages Unbound says:

    This is now my recurring mantra that I feel obliged to share with the world, “Some people just want to read a book!” I, personally, can be Very Online and, yes, do things like review lots of books because I find it entertaining, but the fact that some people seem to have entirely forgotten that there are legions of people who are not reviewers or influencers and have no intention of becoming one (or who may not even know bookish influencers EXIST!) just blows my mind.

    Like it’s possible to just read a book, think it was nice, and move on to reading another book! That’s the hobby. Reading. Reviewing books is an entirely separate hobby.


    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I am baffled that people can’t seem to remember that there’s a whole mass of people out there who just read books and have zero desire to be online or part of the marketing hype. When did people forget that life happens offline, too?


  2. Carol says:

    I’m guilty of occasionally leaving a star rating on Goodreads with no written review. If the book was meh or not to my taste I just want to move onto my next read and not invest more time with the book! Any time I don’t leave a written review is likely because I’m having difficulty finding something positive to say!

    Thanks for all your thoughts on this topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I leave stars with no review all the time. I use GR for myself and don’t really even friend anyone there. I don’t want to be connected all the time and I certainly don’t feel pressure to write up all my thoughts for authors looking for validation and/or critical feedback.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Janette says:

    This is all absolutely true. I signed up to Goodreads as a way of tracking my books and certainly not for reviewing books. I only got into book reviewing when I signed up to NetGalley and it certainly seems reasonable that if I’m going to be able to read a book for free, then I will review it. However, all the books that I buy or borrow from the library don’t come with any such obligation. I record them on Goodreads and give them a rating for my own memory so that I can see whether I enjoyed it or not at some point in the future. My ratings are for me rather than being for the author or publisher. I’m certainly not going to start writing reviews for every book I read as that would take away a lot of the pleasure of reading. I do review some books that I buy and they are generally the ones that I feel strongly about but that could be good or bad.


    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I would hazard a guess that most people use GR as a personal tracking tool and have no idea that a bunch of people in the publishing industry think they’re supposed to be churning out content for their benefit! Reading is, as you say, for pleasure! I’d hate to think authors expect us all to provide critical feedback and lengthy notes every time we read a book. That’s what editors and beta readers are for!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Books Teacup and Reviews says:

    This is so true. Trying to please everyone and then chasing publication dates leaves readers and bloggers drained and I think it’s also one reason why readers or bloggers experience slump as they are no longer doing it for fun and make it a chore or job. As for the rating and negative reviews, I never felt guilty about them. My mantra is do everything just because I want to and not because I feel obliged.


  5. Kim @ Traveling in Books says:

    There are a lot of TikTok authors who could stand to learn that readers don’t owe authors anything, and that, like you said “some people just want to read a book “. There is a BookTuber I watch who is being majorly harassed by Piper CJ and her fans because she didn’t like CJ’s book, and that’s just wrong. She wasn’t owed a good review, nor was the review meant for her. It was meant for the readers trying to decide if they wanted to read the book in the first place.


    • Krysta says:

      It’s always so disappointing when something like that happens. I’m sure it’s difficult to release your book into the world and hope people like it. But the reality is that people have different tastes. Someone not liking your book doesn’t automatically make the book trash, or them wrong! I wish more authors would learn not to search for reviews of their books. It never seems to end well and most writers will undoubtedly be happier not knowing.


  6. Molly's Book Nook says:

    I use Goodreads for my own tracking and almost NEVER write a review with my rating. I genuinely don’t remember the last time I did. If that bothers someone..idk block me? lol I do hate that obligation that people kind of put on readers who are present online. I joined the online book community (blogging and instagram) so I can meet fellow readers and talk about books, not meet some arbitrary standards or expectations. And to add to that, I don’t really like the idea that reviews should even be written a certain way (like if it’s a negative review it should still be constructive) – I’m sorry, sometimes I want to RANT about a book I really hated, and my blog/social media pages were created so that I COULD DO JUST THAT. Not so that I could be told HOW to talk about books. Anyways, that was a side rant lol


    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, same! I use GR for myself and don’t even really even friend other people on there. I never saw it as a requirement to write reviews when I signed up because that was not the purpose, at all. Expectations have changed, I guess, since Amazon bought the site and now it’s seen as integral to marketing books. But the whole point was really just for readers to keep track of their books and share it with bookish friends. Not give authors free marketing and/or writing feedback.

      I feel strongly that reviews are for readers and authors shouldn’t read their reviews if they can’t emotionally accept that not all will be glowing. And negative reviews aren’t even bad! They’re integral to the integrity of the review process. And most people understand reading is a personal experience. I will read negative reviews and still read the book because what bothers on reader doesn’t bother me!


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