I added a comment to Ginger Simpson's blog yesterday along these lines: I have a suspicion that there are people who offer to review via websites because it ensures them a free supply of reading material. Is that so strange?"
After thinking overnight I see nothing wrong in that. Books are expensive things these days. I remembered the few weeks when I offered to review for a well known website. After a test review, I was accepted, and it gave me an astonishing insight into the e-books published today, which is partly what I wanted. I also learned how difficult it is to phrase a review about a book that was not, shall we say, my normal choice of reading material. I got my eyes opened a few time along the way!
Not everyone wants to spend hours reading a book critically enough to be able to put their views up for public consumption afterwards. Thank goodness someone wants to do it, for there are never enough reviewers for the number of books published.
"But they can be a tiny bit biased to their favourite authors and their particular reading tastes." This was always true! Why should it be any different now? I and everyone else I know is biased towards their favourite authors.
"They are not trained to review and evaluate as I hope the reviewers of big nationals are." On reflection, I doubt anyone ever trained to review and evaluate fiction. We all do it at some level, otherwise we would never know what we like and dislike, or where our boundaries lie. The skill comes in being able to express clearly, in 500 words or less, an appraisal of the book without simply saying "I love this book!" Readers want to know why the reviewer loved it. Or hated it.
"So then publishers seek reviewers who will be kind - but is that any better?" At first sight it smacks of authors getting into cliques and giving each other favourable reviews. But it is part of a very professional strategy. Who would deliberately send something to a reviewer who is known to dislike the particular genre? Do that and the book will be ignored, or the review will be painful to read. Every publisher and author hopes to receive a favourable review, and searches for a reviwer who likes their particular genre. Who better than someone who writes in the same genre to understand what's been accomplished?
Reviewing is a strange game. It is possible to have two reviewers give opposing views on the same book, and if they're good at what they do, both will hold nuggets of truth. Authors can learn from good, constructive reviews. On the downside, authors can be incredibly hurt by a negative one. But to be fair to reviewers, it is not their job to tell an author how to restructure the book to make it a winner.
Personally I'm not in favour of anonymous reviews. Someone marked both my titles on Fictionwise as OK, and yet I have glowing reviews of both books.
Who, I wonder was that anonymous person who has forever labelled me as OK?
I'm tempted to bribe a friend to buy a copy just so they have a chance to up the rating! I wonder how many authors do that? Is it allowed to buy your own and put in the rating you want? I must investigate!