Digression time again, I’m afraid. This one was sparked by a comment that I saw on Twitter the other day – which, unfortunately, I can’t locate – concerning not being able to trust reviews on blogs. The reason for this was that the reviewer could be frequently seen having conversations with the author that they had reviewed on Twitter and, if I recall correctly, mentioned going out for a drink or dinner with said author. As such, it was effectively as if a friend was reviewing another friend’s work and as such the review could not be trusted. The tweeter (twitterer?) said that such instances were, in their opinion, on the rise, and hence such blogs couldn’t be trusted. Fair enough, everyone’s entitled to their opinion.
But that got me thinking. I’ve met a few authors in my blogging time – indeed, I’m going to see two of them this evening at the British Library (although there will be a few hundred other people there too) – and I communicate with them at times over email. So is this blog biased, even on a subconscious level?
First off, I should say that no author has ever bought me dinner. I got a couple of free glasses of white wine and a Scandinavian-style cake at the launch of Sarah Ward’s A Deadly Thaw but so did everyone else who was there. Not that I’d say no, mind you, if someone wanted to invited me to one of the Detection Club dinners, but it hasn’t happened so far. Oh, I did get some free bookmarks from Dean Street Press, but only because they asked if anyone wanted some. And I haven’t reviewed anything from them in a while anyway…
I do get books sent to me to review, some of which come directly from the author. Some are from new authors, but others are from authors who I’ve reviewed favourably in the past. Occasionally, they put a message in the front. Paul Doherty has, as I may have mentioned a few times, actually dedicated Dark Serpent to me, but by then, I’d reviewed (mostly very favourably) over seventy of his books. But does that bias my opinion?
It depends on what you think of as bias. With regards authors who I chat to on Twitter, I do tend to review their work promptly and positively. But while there is a correlation between the two statements, that does not imply causation. Both statements “I chat to an author on Twitter” and “I tend to give positive and prompt reviews” come from a single root which is “I like that author’s work.” That doesn’t make me biased in my reviews, although it may make me biased towards “books that I think I’m going to enjoy” in my choice of book. But isn’t everybody? That’s like accusing my blog of being biased towards mystery fiction. Of course it is – there’s probably one book that I’ve reviewed going into it that I knew wasn’t a mystery novel and that’s Fields Of Glory by Michael Jecks, someone who I do have occasional chats to on Twitter (the last one was on factorising polynomials, fact fans). But the reason wasn’t because he asked me, but because based on the twenty-or-so of his books that I’d previously read, I thought I’d see what his non-mystery work was like. So I don’t think that’s an issue.
I suppose that some people might be concerned that my reviews tend to be positive ones – well, people who aren’t Ngaio Marsh fans. Well, the policy for the blog for a long time is not to post a negative review of something that has been requested of me if I don’t like it. I know the deal when a review is requested is for a “fair and honest” review, but I don’t like being negative, especially when it’s a new author. I will give the author a bit of feedback, but I really don’t like to give a kicking to someone starting out in this writing business. After all, one day it might just be me – possibly.
Are there biased blogs out there? I don’t think so. I’ve seen some biased reviews on Amazon – there’s an historical mystery that’s written by someone with EXACTLY the same name as an another author of 100+ historical mysteries. When this book appeared, a couple of five star reviews appeared instantly, one of which, after a bit of internet digging appeared to be from a relative of said author. But blogs? I’m not aware of any.
So, what’s my point? Well, as I said, that tweet got me thinking, and I think best out loud. So while the blog is biased towards the sorts of books that I want to read (well, duh), I have every confidence (and so should you) that every review presented here is entirely bias free. Unless of course someone wants to buy me a new car? Then I’ll write anything you want…