Who are the mysterious Super Book Reviewers?

82a5889c97305ae40949250c748723d2“Today, the publishing industry survives on super reviewers – book worms who read far more than most Americans, and who tell their friends what to read as well.”

This quote is taken from the  Atlantic Magazine. It refers to the US but what happens in the book world there is usually very similar to here in the UK. The article reveals that 19% of people do 79% of all the book reading, and these people tell the rest of us what to read via reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads.  What an incredible statistic!  BUT despite the huge influence these 19% of Super Reviewers have over our book buying choices, most readers and writers know very little about them. So, I am delighted to introduce you to Amazon Top 500 Reviewer Ignite –  AKA  Kath Middleton – who has agreed to answer some of my questions about being a Super Reviewer.  And, as you know, we always LOVE to hear from you so do ask  if you have any of your own questions 🙂

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Me: You are an Amazon top 500 reviewer, for those who don’t know what that means, can you explain?

Kath: Amazon encourages reviews of all their products, not just books. When I bought my kindle I began to read lots of books by self-published authors – often called ‘indies’. I noticed that people left reviews and I often consulted these, as well as the product description, when I was choosing a book to read. After a while, I felt I might as well leave reviews of my own – my opinions were just as valid! Reviewers are given a ranking which depends not on how many reviews they have left, but on how helpful those reviews have been. When a potential reader clicks the button to say a review has been (or hasn’t been) helpful, it affects the review’s ranking. So Top 500 means amongst the 500 most helpful reviewers.

Me: When did you write your first book review?

Kath: I had to go and check! July 2011.

Me: What makes a good read for you?

Kath: I like a book to draw me in – both to the story and to the characters. I like it to be believable – on its own level. For example, I’m fond of the fantasy genre but I allow myself to believe in the magic, the creatures, the other world or whatever it is – as long as it’s true to itself and its own rules. I really like to care about the people in the story. I don’t have to like everyone and sometimes books that I’ve really loved have shown me a flawed character that I’ve grown to care about. I love it when there are several sub-plots too and they interweave. I’m in awe of authors who can do this, and have everything arrive at the right place at the end of the book!

Me: What would put you off reviewing a book and/or giving it a negative review?

Kath: I generally choose books I think I’ll like so I don’t give too many negative reviews. However, you don’t do the author any favours by being bland about it. If there’s a problem with the story, the grammar, the characters or – I really don’t like wooden dialogue! – then I have to say so. Nothing puts me off giving a less than favourable review but I don’t enjoy doing it. However, I have had authors contact me afterwards to thank me for them, and say they’ve had a book edited, for example. The result can be a better book – and we all win.

Me: How do you choose which books to review and do you have a favourite genre?

Kath: I choose books I like the sound of. I love fantasy, thrillers, some crime novels, horror, some that are simply a bit quirky and appeal to me. I rarely fancy chick-lit and I think humour is difficult – it’s so subjective. When I know a writer has tickled my funny-bone in the past I’ll buy the next book but I often feel dismayed when the blurb says, ‘side splittingly funny’. That’s for me to decide, not the author to tell me! I choose my books from reader and author forums, taking the blurb and the reviews into account. I also take notice of fellow readers’ recommendations, especially those who I know have enjoyed the same books I have in the past.

I see myself as a reader who reviews, though, rather than a reviewer. There are forums which have sections where authors can offer free copies of books in exchange for a review. I’ve never gone down that route. I feel it makes me more impartial that I choose what I read.

imgresMe: How long does it take you to read a book?

Kath: I’m retired so I have more time to read than I used to have. I generally finish a book within 3 or 4 days but it can depend on other factors – like if we have visitors or there’s a lot to be done on the allotment!

Me: What qualities does a good book reviewer need?

Kath: You need to read analytically I feel. Reviewing has made me pay more attention and if I find I’ve been drifting (not always a bad book, sometimes just a tired reader!) I’ll go back over a page or two. You also have to be impartial. Sometimes an author comes over as a lovely person but if the story, the writing the grammar and punctuation are poor, as can happen with self-published work, it can spoil the experience and you have to be fair to everyone. I also try to go out into the big world of Amazon and try new authors. It’s easy to get stuck in your cosy world of ‘authors I love’.

Me: How many books have you reviewed in total?

Kath: I think it’s coming up to 260 at the moment.

Me: Wow! That is a lot! What is the best thing about being a reviewer?

Kath: Oh what a hard question! I like to do it because it gives an aim and purpose to my reading other than simple enjoyment. I like to feel that if I’ve enjoyed a book I can help to point other readers to it – to share the enjoyment. Posting a review somewhere also help me to remember the details of a book which particularly drew me (or put me off) so that if I’m asked by friends to recommend something I can go back and look at my reviews and choose.

Me: What is worst thing about being a reviewer?

Kath: Upsetting an author is horrid. It must be nasty to read a bad review of your book. However, I can’t see any point in not being honest. Apart from anything else, it devalues the good reviews.

It’s also not pleasant to be attacked for having favourite authors. It happens. It’s weird. I have favourite foods so why not favourite authors? I would hope that my reviews would explain what I like about their work but there’s always someone who will have a downer on you for it.

Me: There appears to be little or no money to be had from reviewing books, if this is the case, why do you do it?

Kath: I imagine someone, somewhere, is making money from it, but I do it because I enjoy it. I actually feel if I got paid for reviews it would be harder to be impartial. Anyway, I do a lot of other things without being paid! I’m one of life’s natural amateurs!

Me: What advice would you give to an aspiring book reviewer starting out?

Kath: Ask yourself a few questions before you write your first review. Obviously, did I enjoy the book? Why? Did I like the story? Did I like the characters, or at least, feel they were believable? Do I feel the author’s passion for the subject? (I can’t enjoy a lukewarm book!) Did I like the writing style – this is rather subjective. Personally I love creative phrases. I like someone to tell me something in an unusual fashion, so it throws a new light on it or makes me see it in a different way. Other readers may well feel this is superfluous prose and should be chopped out. If I say I like this aspect of the book, then the potential readers can decide if it’s a pro or a con for them. People often say that a review is just one person’s opinion. It’s not much of an opinion to say ‘This book is brilliant,’ or ‘This book is rubbish’. Always give reasons. And of course – choose your books wisely!

Me: Oops, nearly forgot … Can you see a time when Amazon Top Reviewers (and other reviewers like the top 500) will remove completely the need for the paid literary/newspaper book critic?

Kath: Not really. I think they are used by different people. I rarely choose a book based on a newspaper review. Most of the books I read are by indie authors anyway, and the newspaper reviewers don’t bother with them. They are missing some belters!

For some great book recommendations, you can find Kath’s excellent reviews on her blog  http://ignitebooks.blogspot.co.uk.

A huge thanks again to Kath for answering my questions.


(photo of soft toy bookworms with thanks via Flickr and thomaspetermueller)

(photo of Wonder Women and Batman reading via Pinterest and the American Library Association)

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22 Responses to Who are the mysterious Super Book Reviewers?

  1. Wendy says:

    This is a fascinating interview, Marianne and of great interest, I am sure, to all of those bloggers who have self published. Just one question, Kath: Does reading ‘analytically’ ever spoil your enjoyment of a book? I know, from the long gone days of studying ‘A’ level English Literature, that the books I had to study in this way, I have been unable to look at since – as I was unable to lose myself in the book. So, what I think I am getting at is … are there books you will just read for pleasure alone?

  2. Kath says:

    I think I’ve always read analytically, in that I notice typos and grammar – much of which is probably due to my age – that’s how I was taught. I now try to notice changes in point of view, whether it’s a first or third person narrative. It doesn’t spoil my reading though. I think it enhances it. I notice more what the author’s doing and I like to think I appreciate the skills all the more. I’m lucky enough (!) never to have studied even 0 level English Language so all that ‘ruining of a book’ that people talk about, never happened to me.
    I read all books purely for enjoyment. There’s little to beat a clever author’s imagination.

  3. I’ve had the pleasure of receiving a few reviews from Ignite – including one 5 star! I also appreciated how she let me know any errors she spotted. Thanks!

  4. Mago (Mark) says:

    Great interview.
    After completing a degree in Literature in the early 90s it was over a decade before I started reading for pleasure. Thanks to the work of reviewers such as Ignite, and others I’ve become aware of through Goodreads, the pleasure is very rarely diminished as a “thumbs up” from a reviewer you trust inevitably leads to a great time well spent.
    Keep up the good work, Ignite.

    • It was a pleasure to interview Kath. And you are so right, Mago (Mark), it is so so helpful to be able to trust a reviewer and know you are going to be pointed in the direction of some very good reads 🙂

  5. Kath says:

    Whoops! I did get my English Language 0 level – it’s Eng Lit I didn’t study! 🙂

  6. David staniforth says:

    I was lucky to get discovered by Kath at the very beginning of my idie publishing adventure, and even luckier that she like my writing style, and pointed out a few errors before giving each of the three books so far five stars. If only there were more readers out there like this lovely lady, prepared to give self published authors a chance.

    I know I’m not the only one who is greatful that you do what you do.

    Thanks 😀

  7. Hear! Hear! As far as I am concerned Kath, and her fellow Super Reviewers, are the unsung heroes of the book world. Thanks for popping by!

  8. M T McGuire says:

    That’s a very interesting article, thanks for posting it and thanks, also to Kath. I’ve been on the end of two Ignite reviews now and I know they helped my sales. Ignite also recommends books on those “can anyone suggest a book about…” kind of threads and I probably owe a big chunk of my sales to her efforts!



  9. Cornelius Harker says:

    An excellent interview. I know I’m not alone in saying that Kath’s contribution to the indie scene is invaluable.

  10. Ruth F Hunt says:

    An interesting discussion. I wonder if there is a downside to being able to comment on things, like the news, or a book review or my message here. It paints a nightmarish world where everyone makes comments but nobody listens. I suppose that is where I find problems with this. An interesting discussion.

    • Hi Ruth … I think, to a certain extent, what you describe already exists –hundreds of thousands of people comment on everything and anything via twitter/facebook/youtube/LinkedIn/on blogs … etc etc and it can often seem as if no one is listening and who cares, anyway? And I am in two minds about the place of social media in our society at the moment, which is right up there at the front. BUT I do think people who honestly give up their time to offer a service to others is something else – sorry that was a bit long winded but you know what I mean? The hard fact is, if you don’t have a big main stream publisher behind you it is almost impossible to get your book reviewed by any of the regular media. I think ‘super’ book reviewers like Kathy are democratising the new publishing world by putting readers in touch with new writers and new writers in touch with new readers, who may have otherwise never met. And it’s not just new emerging authors that benefit from such support, many mid list writers are being dropped by their publishers and agents because while their books are selling in the thousands, they are not selling in the hundreds of thousands. Oops, this is sounding like a rant but I don’t mean it to be ;o) Who knows what the future will bring, though!? Thanks for a thought-provoking comment, Ruth 🙂

      • Kendra says:

        Hi Ruth and Marianne,
        An interesting discussion and interview here. I think I would tend to agree with Marianne about the role of ‘super’ book reviewers and book review websites such as Ignite and GoodReads democratising the publishing world to an extent. I will have to check out Kathy’s book review page now.
        Thanks again.

  11. Joo says:

    Great interview.
    I’m not in Ignite’s league, I dipped my toes into top 1000, but have fallen out again, but I like to review to at least be one of the new “gatekeepers” to tell people that a book is readable at the very least.
    Yes, some people like some stories and other people like other stories, but if there is as many rubbish indie books out there as some people on forums seems to think (and I seem to have avoided most of them), then I think our “job” is to tell others that the book is at least a decent read, so they can risk their time trying it.

    • Hi Joo – thanks for this 🙂 Yes, a good reviewer not only sifts the wheat from the chaff but tells me in an unbiassed way, what the book is about and when they are so many different stories out there being told in so many different ways, this is invaluable – and means, yep, I can decide if it is worth the risk. Thanks again for stopping by 🙂

  12. Juliane says:

    Thanks ery interesting blog!

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