Editors comment… be careful what you wish for.

Or, the evolution of an idea.

The idea for the IEBR first hit me around New Year.  The first reviews went out on Feb 21st. Three months on and things have really taken off.  So. Time for reflection.

First the figures: We are averaging about 2500 views a month – weekly somewhere around 500-600.  We deliver on average 3 reviews a week and as of this point our reviewers have reviewed a total of 43 ebooks, by 34 different authors– and our 50th should hit the site around the first week of June.

We have reviewed everything from drama to biography, contemporary fiction to short stories and crime/thrillers to historical/romance as well as children/YA books.  The aim is offer something for a wide range of readers.  We don’t expect anyone to like all the books we offer, but if each site visitor finds one ebook a month they like – surely that’s doing everyone a service?

We have settled into a team of of  9 regular reviewers as well as a bunch of occasional reviewers who submit when they have found something they like that fits the bill. Or when they choose one of the huge amount of open submissions we’ve received. Maybe I was naive, maybe I didn’t think it through, maybe I over-estimated my administrative capabilities and amount of free time… but in three months I have  nearly drowned in a huge list of submissions  -so much so that we have had to temporarily suspend accepting open submissions. Despite having  been quite restrictive in who can actually submit plenty of submissions have been received, there has been quantity and largely there has been quantity in equal measure.

It has led me to consider (in the odd idle moment) the democratisation (or anarchy, depending on your viewpoint) of the publishing industry which has come about due to the rise of ebooks. It has its pros and cons.  The good thing is anyone can publish an ebook. The bad thing is anyone can publish an ebook. Therefore the market becomes a caveat emptor environment, and this calls for the learning, polishing off or simply a more intelligent use of discriminatory skills on the part of the potential reader.  This site aims to help in the choice process.  Reviews are made without fear or favour. No money is involved and no axes are ground. It’s simply a group of professional writers offering up the work they’ve found and enjoyed reading. And, as a group, we are all individuals with individual tastes, therefore the range is wide and eclectic. Our reviews are recommendations of what our reviewers consider good writing.

The problem (as I see it) with reviews on many other sites is that anyone can do them and recommendation is given often purely on personal opinion with no critical review faculties employed. Opinion is not critical review. As professional writers our reviewers are well placed to distinguish between the two.

I fear that many people remember writing ‘book reports’ at school. Others think that a ‘critical’ review means criticising a work (ie badmouthing it)  Neither of these are actually what a critical review is.  In the first instance, where the ‘review’ usually consists of  a summary of the main plot points followed by a personal opinion, this is of little use to anyone when deciding to buy/download an ebook.  Because it asks you to accept the opinion of someone you don’t know, will never meet and may have nothing in common with. Why would you take their word for it?  Unless you research the reviewer you cannot give much credence to their opinion.  In the second instance – at IEBR we all agree life is simply too short to comment on bad writing, or work we don’t like.  Professionally many of us can earn decent money script ‘doctoring’ or ‘editing’ or ‘consulting’ or ‘reporting.’ So we are fully able to take a work apart and say what’s wrong with it.  But this review site is about letting people know what we think ‘works’ not what doesn’t work for us.

Our reviewers are able to offer their personal opinions about who might like the work and whether there are some elements that didn’t completely convince them – but they are also able to explore and explain the elements of a work that makes it worth the reading. And this they strive to do.  It’s up to you as reader to look at the reviews (and the work of the reviewer) and build a relationship of trust.  If, over time, you find that you like the same things as one of our reviewers you will be more disposed to taking their word for it on a book you haven’t read. And over time as you read the reviews, we hope that you’ll begin to see the difference between a critical review that comments on the strengths of a literary work and a comment which is personal opinion.

There are a couple of things I would like visitors here to think about – I’ll be discussing them at greater length in the months to come, so get your thinking caps on so that you’re ready to engage in debate.

What is the purpose of a review? (and what is a ‘good’ review?)

What are you looking for in an ebook?

I believe these questions raise key issues: 1) that the ability to discriminate between good and bad reviews is actually quite important in a choice process which is thrust upon us all by the tsunami of ebooks available out there and 2) that what you are looking for in a book is relevant to that choice. If you don’t know what you’re looking for you aren’t likely to find something that fits the bill.  I have a really neat travel analogy which I’m saving for a future occasion (inspired actually by some of the works I’ve reviewed on this site.)

I’ve found the best thing about running this site and reading and reviewing is that I’ve found what I want. In all sorts of places I never knew about. I’ve encountered lots of challenging reading I would never have otherwise known about.  Sometimes some of it is hard going and takes me out of my comfort zone, but I like that in reading. I like to be challenged, to undergo a learning experience and to have the opportunity to make a virtual one to one connection with another person’s mind.  I write fiction that doesn’t suit everyone. I like to read fiction that doesn’t suit everyone. I reckon I’m pretty good at my initial ‘choice’ research because by the time I commit to read something, I’m rarely disappointed.  Okay, sometimes I make a bad choice. It happens in life. Every day. You just have to get over it. It’s not like you shelled out a huge sum of money for a bad holiday now is it?  It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. You can always stop reading. But sometimes, if you carry on reading and get to the end, you realise the problem was less with the writer and more with you, the reader, and your misaligned expectations.

I don’t suggest that everyone is looking for the same as I am in a ‘good read.’  I’m not suggesting that they should.  I’m just suggesting that perhaps at least as important as a debate on whether an ebook is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is  the understanding that at least part of the responsibility of whether an ebook ‘experience’ is good or bad is in the hands of the reader.  Read the label on the tin before you open it.  Browse. Download samples. Read reviews (critically) and look both ways before you cross the road!

Ebooks offer you infinity. Which path you take is your choice. Choose wisely.  We hope to offer you a helping hand towards a more enriched reading experience.  HAPPY READING.

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