Every once in a while I’ll see someone talk about how they don’t trust certain reviewers because they think their reviews are probably biased. I’ve thought a lot about this. What does it mean to be biased, and can we really ever claim not to be biased in our reviews? After all, biases can’t be helped. Even if we did absolutely everything we could to avoid conscious biases, what about subconscious biases?
Lately I’ve been thinking more about my own biases and how they affect my reviews. As you all know, I don’t include negative reviews on my blog anymore. It’s just too much of a conflict of interest when I’m on submission with my own book. If I don’t like a book, I just quietly set the book aside and never mention it. If it’s a review book, I’ll put a few quick thoughts on Goodreads with no star rating and try to focus on the positives.
But even when it comes to books I love, am I truly unbiased? I doubt it. I can vow to be honest in my reviews but not unbiased. I’m guessing that even professional reviewers have some biases that affect them, even if they try not to allow those things to slip in.
Biases that could affect my reviews
(consciously or subconsciously):
- Seeing an author at an event in person – I’ve realized that I’m more apt to look forward to a book if I’ve met the author in person and heard them talk about it. Does this affect my excitement about the book when I actually read it? There’s a good chance it does. I might even be more excited about a book just knowing that I’m going to meet the author soon after I’ve read it.
- Interacting with an author via social media – Likewise, interactions on social media can increase (or decrease) my excitement about a book. I’ve thought about this with other authors from the Author Mentor Match program as well because I’ve interacted with them a lot. I’ve made an effort to pick up their books recently. Will I be more apt to enjoy them? If I’m being honest with myself, probably.
- An author you’ve read before and loved – I’ve found that this can work both ways. I can either give a little more grace to an author I love OR be more disappointed when I don’t absolutely adore a book by a favorite author.
- Books your friends loved and recommended – Of course I want to love a book that someone has specifically raved about and recommended to me. Not loving that book almost feels like letting your friend down!
- Reading many similar books in quick succession – I found this with my judging for the Cybils Awards. I read over 60 middle grade spec fiction books, and it was hard not to let my feelings about one book affect how I viewed other similar books (especially when I was specifically judging them against each other). If I read an amazing book, and then the next book was very similar and just not quite as good, those comparisons might change how I felt about the books overall.
- Receiving a book for review – Of course, this is the bias that most people are worried about. I try my best not to let the fact that I’ve received a book for review affect my impression of it, but can I be absolutely sure that no bias has crept in? When a shiny ARC shows up on my doorstep, aren’t I likely to be excited about it? Does that affect my excitement while reading? Who knows?
- Authors you know IRL – This is the one I struggle with the most. I will include an indication in my review if I actually know an author because in this case, I can’t even pretend to be unbiased. If a friend writes a book, I’m inclined to like it.
Again, there’s a difference between having biases and being dishonest. I have definitely read books that I’ve received for review and just plain not liked them. I won’t be singing their praises on the blog. Likewise, if I read a book by someone I know in real life and I wasn’t a fan, I would just never mention the book at all, anywhere, and hope no one ever knows I read it. (Luckily, this hasn’t happened yet. But it’s bound to at some point, right?)
So, I guess I just don’t really believe that anyone writes completely “unbiased” reviews, and I’m okay with that. Reviews are subjective and no one lives in a vacuum. Feel free to tell me your biases in your reviews (if you know them). I won’t judge you!
Do you think reviews can be truly unbiased? Do you ever worry about biases in your own reviews? I want to know!