Similar to the influence-free review, but no less challenging, is the unbiased review. While bias can be a form of influence, it creates an entirely different set of obstacles to overcome when writing a review, and so I thought it deserved to be discussed separately.
As reviewers, with each and every book we read we strive to be fair and impartial, but it’s not always easy. There are many biases we may have that predispose us toward or against a particular book. We may have a genre bias, an author bias, a series bias or even a bias toward a recommended book.
The Genre Bias
Everyone has a favored genre, whether it’s romance, western, science-fiction, paranormal, urban fantasy, contemporary, steampunk, dystopian, horror or other. And that gravitational pull toward a favored genre will probably never change. We like what we like. There’s nothing wrong with that. But when reading books in genres that don’t rank among our favorites, is it fair to let our biases color our reviews? I’d have to say no.
Unless we choose only to read books in our favorite genres, as reviewers we must work hard to not let our bias for or against certain types of stories affect how we write our reviews. We have to try and create a level playing field. By saying one book isn’t as good as another simply because of its genre isn’t doing that. And readers of those reviews won’t be getting an accurate picture of the pros and cons of that story.
I work very hard at trying not to let my bias toward specific genres factor in when writing my reviews. I think I’ve actually been fairly successful. While contemporary may not be my first choice – I do tend to gravitate toward a story with a paranormal element – I find that I fall in love with them just as much, if not more, than some of the paranormal books I read.
But it’s almost as if there’s an invisible mini-hurdle that has to be overcome when I begin reading. I have to remind myself that the fantasy element that I enjoy about those other books will not be present and that’s okay. And almost always, once I get caught up in the story, whether it’s on the tenth page or the hundredth, I completely forget why paranormal is my favorite.
So, while I might first choose to read a paranormal book over a contemporary novel, I don’t let my bias extend any further. And because of my desire to expand my reading horizons, I will always have a mix of reviews from many different genres.
The Author Bias
Not every author’s book we read is a debut book. There are many authors that can take credit for writing a few, several, or more, books. And if an author has written one or more books that we call favorites, it’s more likely that we have developed a bias toward that author. Is this a fair bias for a reviewer to have? I am going to say yes and no.
I have many, many authors that I am biased toward. And I don’t think I can change this. I don’t think I want to. In fact, I actually think that this bias is earned. If an author has written quality books time and time again, they deserve to have a reader who is biased toward their books. And even a reviewer.
But that doesn’t mean they should get a free pass. As much as they are deserving of their reputation and our bias for putting forth a quality product, if they miss the mark, then they should be held accountable.
Having a bias toward an author simply means going into the book with a positive outlook rather than a neutral one.
In fact, being biased toward an author can actually be a negative. Expectations are much higher for that author and their books. Nothing is worse than having high expectations about a book simply because an author is who they are and feeling let down if the story doesn’t meet those expectations.
And when that happens, and it does happen, we have to try not to let our bias affect our reviews. In these instances we should try to set aside our elevated expectations, and look at the story for itself and what it’s offering in order for us to fairly determine its rating.
But when a book meets expectations, or surpasses them, there’s no reason why bias shouldn’t come into play. Why shouldn’t a favored author who excelled get special treatment for having produced something amazing yet again? I see absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t.
The Series Bias
While it may seem that every book written for the young adult market is a series book, not every book is. The standalone novel does exist. Should it be unfairly punished simply because the story will end after three hundred or so pages? Absolutely not.
And, as with the author bias, is it fair to allow bias to come into play when writing a review for a favored series that continues to deliver entertaining and successful books? Once again, I’d say yes and no.
For those of us who are partial toward series books, it is important to look past our bias and not penalize the standalone novel when writing our reviews. We must keep in mind that when the story ends, that’s it. The end of the road. Whatever is meant to happen next for the characters will forever remain a mystery.
We may let our bias unfairly color our view of the story if we are left hoping for more at the book’s end or find ourselves surprised when we have to say goodbye before we feel we’re ready. So we have to work hard to not let this happen.
If we find it difficult to shed this particular bias, we may have to approach reading the book by keeping a level of detachment from the characters so that we will be prepared to let go at the story’s conclusion. While this is not an ideal way to read a book, if we can’t let go of that feeling of disappointment that there will be no more story forthcoming, it is better to be slightly detached when sitting down to write our reviews than to feel let down by a book that is in no other way disappointing.
Overcoming my series bias is a challenge. I am completely and totally a books-in-a-series girl. I’ve always loved epic novels or stories that continue beyond the length of one book. When I fell in love with a character, I never wanted to let them go. And I still don’t. I find that letting go after just one book is devastating. So, of course I am biased toward books that continue the character’s story.
When sitting down to read a book in a series that has already become a favorite, I allow my bias to affect the way I read that book. I find no reason why I shouldn’t adopt a positive attitude when starting a sequel in a series I’ve grown to love. In fact, there’s no way I can take a neutral approach. I’ll have been anxiously awaiting the next book, building up my expectations for it. In my mind it will already be this amazing new book.
And if that excitement slightly skews my view of the book as I prepare to write my review, I don’t see that as a problem. As with the author bias, if a series is a favorite, why shouldn’t it get preferential treatment? But, once again as with author bias, if my expectations are set too high, then I have to readjust them when I write the review if there was nothing wrong with the book other than that I was expecting something much different from it.
If we truly can’t rid ourselves of our bias toward or against books in a series, then the best option may be just to stick with whichever type of book we prefer. If we like a story to wrap up neatly at the end of every book, letting the characters move on with their lives as we move on with ours, we should probably only be reviewing those books.
And if we must have more, when just one book is never good enough, we should probably focus on reviewing books we know will continue book after book and year after year.
The Recommended Book Bias
Book recommendations are par for the course for readers and reviewers. As with most things in life, we don’t want to spend our time and money on something we won’t enjoy. And so a book that comes highly recommended will generally be preferred above one that isn’t. Since it is virtually impossible to avoid hearing about a recommended read, is it wrong to allow ourselves, as reviewers, to be biased toward these books? Definitely not. Well, as long as we’re only biased toward them and not influenced by them.
We don’t live in a vacuum and we can’t avoid hearing what other people think. Many times we want to know before we devote time to reading a book whether or not it’s worth it. And certainly before we spend our money. There are so many amazing books out there waiting to be read, there is nothing quite as upsetting as finding out we’ve spent our money and our efforts on a book that our friends, family and trusted reviewers felt we should have passed on.
And when facing our large stack of books to be read, unsure of which books to choose, knowing that a book is a “must read” can help us to quickly turn chaos into order.
Does the bias toward a suggested book have the potential to cause us to miss out on books that might not have been recommended? Absolutely. It is just one of the many drawbacks of having so many books and so little time. With the overwhelming number of books that get released each year, sadly not every gem will be discovered.
Does the bias against a book that has been suggested as one to be skipped also have the potential to cause us to miss out on something we might have liked? Sure. But since the suggestion we would allow ourselves to be biased by would be coming from someone we trust, it’s probably in line with our thinking. And simply because we are biased against it, doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t be read. It might just mean that it won’t be read right now.
Unless I’m truly on the fence about a book, I try to avoid any and all recommendations. As a reviewer, I find that I’ve become biased against hugely popular books. The more touted a book is, the less inclination I feel to review it right away. Everyone’s read it. Everyone’s talking about it. My review will likely not offer something too out of line from what everyone’s had to say, other than it will be my opinion in my voice. But when a book is highly recommended, the urgency for me review it just goes away.
Where my recommended book bias does factor in is how close to the top of my reading pile that book is. Knowing a book has a potential of being phenomenal will certainly make me keep that book on my radar. Where the urgency to review a hyped book may be reduced, that doesn’t mean the urgency to read it will be.
Once more, as with the author and series biases, recommended books come with high expectations. What is slightly different in this situation is that the expectations are built not from our own experience with the series or the author but from another’s. So, as reviewers we must make sure only to let an outsider’s excitement about a book bias us toward that book and not influence our review of it.
We will always have biases. They are unavoidable. But as long as we don’t let our biases completely cloud our judgment and we can still put forth fair and impartial reviews of the books we read, then our biases are merely just one of the many subjective factors that go into writing reviews.
But if we allow our bias toward or against an author, genre, series or recommended read become the determining factor in how we write our reviews, it will be as if we are writing them with blinders on. And unless the only readers of those reviews are completely like-minded, we aren’t painting an accurate picture of the books we’ve read.
Some biases toward our favorite authors and series are well-deserved, but they can backfire if we allow ourselves to become too caught up in the excitement and anticipation of what’s to come. So, we must remember when writing our reviews that our expectation level might not be the same as everyone else’s and try to see past it to judge the book on its merits.
Having people read our reviews and potentially rely on what we’ve had to say is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. If what we have to say influences even one person, it can have a ripple effect. So, we always want to make sure that our reviews are as much of our own opinion as possible and that we are looking at each book without too many of our biases clouding our vision.