FOR THE HELL OF IT VOL. 7 NO. 4
ON REVIEWS AND SUCH….
It’s always nice to get a wonderful review in Audiofile Magazine or Publishers Weekly. It feels good. Good reviews tend to validate your choice to become an actor who does audiobooks. It says: “I am being recognized and my work is being commended. I am good.”
But does it? Does it really? I am certain that a good review does say that the reviewer who said nice things thinks you did a good job. But what is the relationship between good reviews in an industry magazine or blog and the sales of the audiobook? Probably minimal. And how many good reviews did you get for work that wasn’t really all that great? Or – worse – how many bad reviews did you get for wonderful work you did? Or -even worse – no review at all for a fantastic job?
Reese Witherspoon is going to do Harper Lee’s new book. I suggest that the book would do well even if the amazingly talentless Kim Kardashian read it. It wouldn’t sound very good and it would be an awful thing on almost every level but people would still listen to the thing. Some books are simply going to sell because there is great interest in it. Even if the reviews were horrible, people would buy the audio.
It’s always nice to get a good review. A review that says: “Great Caesar’s Ghost! What a good listen!” is much better than a review that says: “Every word the narrator spoke tore away another piece of my soul. I would rather drop my genitals in a blender than ever hear this narrator again.”
So how important are reviews?
Scott Brick, a man I think we can all agree is considered to be a swell narrator, says that reviews aren’t all that important. “I do appreciate a kind word now and again, if only for the encouragement and bad reviews can keep me humble and encourage me to get better at what I do.”
“Good reviews are important to me,” says the talented Tavia Gilbert. “Great reviews are very important. Bad reviews on Audible are just there for amusement.”
Karen White, a totally fab narrator says: “I don’t even pay attention to reviews from listeners who aren’t professional reviewers or bloggers who are committed to reviewing audiobooks.”
Another great narrator, Robert Fass, says: “OMG! Reviews are soooo important – without them, how would I know if I was a good narrator or not? Ok. The truth is – not important at all but if I get a great review for a book I am excited about, I am quick to utilize the review on social media to publicize the book.”
Karen agrees. “Reviews are marketing tools. While I have used some constructive criticism from reviewers in my work , I mostly use the reviews to promote the book.”
Simon Vance, who speaks English remarkably well for a foreigner, says that on a scale of 1-10, the importance of a review to him is around 6 or 7. (NOTE: I don’t know if numbers are the same in Great Britain – where Simon is from — as in the USA. You have to remember these guys drive on the wrong side of the street, use “meters” instead of “feet and inches” and once had a half penny coin that they could actually buy stuff with. So a 6 or 7 to Simon may be a tuppence to us.)
What about the source of the review – How Important is That?
Is a glowing review in Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, American Library Association, Audiofile Magazine and the like better than a listener’s comment on Audible? What about being mentioned in one of the many blogs that review audiobooks – like Audiobook Jukebox, Literate Housewife, Guilded Earlobe, AudioGals and so many more?
Fass says: “It’s important to remember that all reviews – good, bad, or indifferent – are nothing more than one person’s opinion. But I also believe that there is an art to criticism and that a well-written, insightful review that can enrich the reader/listener experience is more likely to come from a legitimate publication devoted to books – and, increasingly, from some of the serious, more literate corners of the blogosphere (blogoverse? blog-o-mat?). So I do place more importance on some sources than on others.”
Brick feels all reviews are equal. “To me there is absolutely no importance in where the review comes from; there is no difference from someone expressing their opinion in Publishers Weekly or as a consumer on Audible. When it comes right down to it, reviews never reveal absolute truth, only personal truth — that person loved the performance or they hated it, but that’s as far as it goes. The only difference is that one person may have achieved a platform from which to speak that is a bit more prestigious than the other, but if the PW review loved me and the Audible customer hated me, neither one will ever be more important (or more true) than the other.”
My opinion is that certain bloggers and the industry magazines are more likely to have more insightful reviews from writers with a better chance of having a background in literary criticism or theater than the comments one sees on Audible from various listeners. That doesn’t diminish the “everyman” reviews/comments one gets on Audible. But you have to understand that people who actually take time to comment on a thing either really hate it or really really love it. It’s like telling someone about a wonderful restaurant or film. You share your experience and it’s a known fact – that I just made up – that people enjoy sharing comments about things they hated than they do things they enjoyed.
Here’s an example from Audible from 2 listeners commenting on the exact same book I did:
1.”The narrator was so poor, it was difficult to keep the characters straight.”
2. “Johnny Heller was pleasant to listen to -he portrayed each voice so it was obvious as to who was speaking.”
Same book! Same me! Different takes because people like what they like and hate what they hate.
Look at how many crappy comments you can find on Audible for a particular narrator on a particular book and then note the overall ranking of the performance. I have many 5 start performance ratings for books where the printed comments tell you how awful I am.
What do we do with that? Nothing. Nothing at all.
You must not fall into a pattern where you are validating your work on whether or not “Jeff-Bob” from Oklahoma likes your choices. Remember that you are an actor and the book is your script. Be true to the author’s intent in all things and you will do fine. How do you know if you did a good job? Nice reviews in nice magazines are wonderful but you will know if you’ve done a good job while you’re doing it and you’ll be certain you did well when you get another job from the same producer.
Can you get work from reviews? Maybe.
Ms. White says: “I have definitely gotten work because of the effort I’ve put into marketing a series. Because of getting to know bloggers, I was able to get books reviewed by a slew of them (many very positive)“
Sharing reviews? I think it wise to share good reviews from bloggers and industry magazines that have detailed reviews. Karen suggests that a narrator should have a Fan Page and share reviews there – you “don’t bludgeon your family and friends with reviews.” I think, as Robert says, a shared great review can help spread the word for you and the author and the publisher. However, as Robert also says: “I’m fairly certain that if you never read the reviews it will harm you not one bit.”
“It’s important to share good reviews,” says Gilbert. “This is a competitive business and sharing a good review allows you to create a little bit of buzz. It matters alot.”
And now: – a horrible review of Robert Fass (shared with his permission): “At one point Robert Fass’ attempt at a German accent sounded like Kermit the Frog. Horrible. I couldn’t take it anymore and stopped listening.”
And a wonderful review: “Audie Award winner Robert Fass uses vocal depth and texture to become Adam, making the listener forget the presence of an actor.”
Even Scott Brick has a worst review/comment ever: “I hope Scott Brick gets throat cancer and dies so he stops ruining good books.” Isn’t that sweet?
He’s got a bunch of good ones – his favorite: “One review of DUNE said I was so suited to the material that I sounded like a tour guide for the planet Arrakis, which I dearly loved reading, that was very cool.”
Simon Vance has nothing but good reviews. He uses Audie Awards as car blocks and paper weights and his sound booth is treated acoustically with wadded up Earphone Award Certificates.
As for me – here’s one: “Narrator Johnny Heller’s performance is terrific.” And another – at the end of a very long tirade about a book, the writer finished with “Johnny Heller narrated the book.” High praise indeed!
The lesson of today’s blog is that reviews are nice to see if people say nice things. And while consistently good or bad reviews should reveal something to you about your work, only you can control what choice you make. When you are repeatedly hired and working regularly, that’s when you know you work is good and appreciated.
And be careful what you share and where you share it and why. Don’t let a review determine your value as an actor. If a listener on Audible thinks you’re the new James Earl Jones, swell – but you don’t have to post it. All it means is that one person in the world who may not even know James Earl Jones from Justin Bieber and may not know a fine bit of acting if Kenneth Brannagh sat down and did King Lear over breakfast for him, said a nice thing about you on an internet board. It doesn’t mean you are James Earl Jones. You may not even be Reese Witherspoon.