I don't pretend like I have a lot of influence, either. Yes, there are about 600 people following my Goodreads reviews, 2,200 following me on Twitter and around 800 subscribers via RSS on the Fantasy Casting blog. Even with a fair amount of overlap, I admit that's a couple thousand people at least glancing at each review, but in the grand scope of things... that's not really a huge number. For most books, most authors, my review isn't going to change their sales, for good or for bad. (I will come back to this thought.)
So, if I'm not affecting an author's sales, why do it, right?
Here are my reasons:
1) I like doing it. That ought to be reason enough, but...
2) It stretches my skills as a writer. If I'm specifically watching for what works and what doesn't in another story, I can shape my own writing. I can try to learn from the pitfalls of others, and aspire to emulate those I admire (there are far more of these!)
3) I want people to have honest, no BS opinions of what I've read.
I know a lot of reviewers who have a policy of never, ever posting a negative review. This means that one of three things is happening. First, they are lying sometimes.
Or two, they're way too easily impressed and really do like everything, no matter what it is. These are the same people who will tell you that Olive Garden is "like, really, really good!" and that Michelle Branch rocks. This means you can't trust their opinion.
The last option is that these people dislike a book sometimes, but they just keep their mouth shut about it. Which is fine, but it doesn't really help anybody.
And here's where my opinion as a non-reviewing reader comes in: I want to know when something is worth my time.
Story time: About a year ago, a book came out. As a book blogger and reviewer, I heard about this book quite a while before it hit shelves. I saw ARCs reviewed on other sites, and thought this book was going to change. my. life. The day it arrived, I put down whatever else I had been reading to start this book.
And it was terrible.
I wanted to shake every reviewer whom I had trusted and ask them "What in the world is the matter with you?!?!?!?!?!"
I wrote a review about this book. I gave it one star. I pointed out all the flaws (they were numerous). Most of those reviewers commented or tweeted or emailed me saying, "Oh, yeah, I saw all that stuff too, but *shrug* I just wanted to love it, so..." And I realized that, basically, these reviewers were caught up in the hype of the book that they forgot to be honest. They forgot that other readers see their reviews and use that information to make decisions about what to spend their time and money on. They were too busy "SQUEE"ing over the Next Big Thing to worry about whether or not it was actually good.
Now, I am not advocating for meanness, although Goodreads users do seem to love the meanness. That one-star review has garnered more comments and "likes" than almost all my other reviews combined. I was not mean, but I was brutally honest. (I think this author is actually very talented, and I said so in the review, but the book is terrible.)
But people want to know when a book sucks.
Now, remember how I said that "For most books, most authors, my review isn't going to change their sales, for good or for bad."? The exception to this is, of course, the fledgling or indie author. You know, the one who only has five ratings on Goodreads. One bad rating can really hurt their average and affect their sales.
So, I've made a habit of not marking an indie book on Goodreads until after I've finished it. If the review is good, it goes up. If it's bad, I contact the author to let them know. Since I enacted this policy, only ONE indie book review has gone up.
All others? CRAP. (which makes me doubt the "threat" that self- and indie-publishing are really giving to traditional publishing, but that's another post for another time)
Usually when I tell an author that the review is not going to be positive, they say, "thanks but no thanks." and leave it at that.
However, recently, an author got mad at me. Said I should be more careful about accepting books to review. That somehow it's MY responsibility as a reviewer to make sure that the book is in my favorite genre, and that the book meets my standards for quality and that the author and I share similar opinions of what constitutes quality prior to them sending me a book.
I'm sorry. I thought that's what your marketing team is for.
Now, if you're an indie author, you are your own marketing team, but still. That's YOUR job, to make sure it gets into the hands of the proper reviewers. You can't send the next big teeny-bopper-vampire-love book to someone who lists Kafka as her favorite author (neither of these apply to me, just speaking hypothetically). And it's not the reader's job to say to the author/marketing team, "Um, excuse me, I think you've done your job wrong."
So, fellow reviewers: What do you think? Is it your responsibility to only post positive reviews? Is it your responsibility to make sure that every book coming your way is of your favorite genre? What is your responsibility?
And to writers, I ask this: Do you think you (collectively, as a community of authors) deserve only praise? Should nothing ever be called out for being substandard? What role do you see reviews playing in sales?