In a recent thread at our Let’s Talk Romance Novels Forum, the question was raised why reviewers write reviews, what they get out of it (if they don’t receive any remuneration, which is the case at almost all online review sites and blogs), and whether they are beholden to the authors whose ARCs they receive or whose favor they may wish to gain. Reading that thread made me consider why I review.

Yes, it’s extra work for which I don’t get paid, and sometimes it means I sit up late at my computer to finish a review for which there is a deadline, instead of curling up on the sofa, watching TV or reading another romance novel. Still, I make the time to do it. What do I get out of it?

First, the rewards I do not get. I do not receive ARCs or free copies of all the books I review. In fact, I probably buy three quarters of my review books out of my own pocket due to overseas postage constraints. This percentage is significantly lower for my colleagues who live in the USA, but they too buy books sometimes that they want to review. Not all authors or publishers send out ARCs of books that are interesting to our reviewers, and often I read a book that I have come across by accident and am struck so much by it that I mail Blythe, our Managing Editor, to ask in retrospect whether I may review it. With a single exception (and that was not for reviewing), I don’t receive ARCs as perks from authors whose books I have reviewed favorably, as all books which authors or publishers wish to have reviewed at AAR go through Blythe’s hands.

Nor do I get any closer to authors I admire. Living on another continent, I will hardly meet US authors at a public reading or a conference, be able to identify myself as the person who wrote that admiring review, have the author thank me prettily, and agree to have lunch with me. I have received five personal thank-you mails after a favorable review in almost two years of reviewing, and I value them. But this has not made me close pals with any author, nor do I imagine it ever will, and it is not a major incentive for me to go on reviewing.

Now to the rewards I do get. I get to write about a topic I like, and to which I can make a real contribution, being well-read in romance and all that. I love writing. Sadly, my talents do not run to novels, short stories or screenplays, my days of designing AD&D adventures are over, and my life is too boring (i.e., I am too private a person) for a personal blog. So writing reviews is like a gift from heaven.

I love reading reviews. Many, many of my book acquisitions are based on reviews I read, as I mostly can’t pick up a book at the store and leaf through it. In my case, this is because bookstores here don’t stock a wide range of romances in English. For other readers, this may be because they live miles from the next good bookstore, they work long hours and don’t find the time to visit a bookstore, or they have small children who’d work havoc in a store and start whining when mom picks up a book. So I am really, really grateful to all those people whose reviews continue to influence my purchasing. A heartfelt thanks, folks. Coming from this, writing what I hope are honest, well-considered, balanced reviews is my way of contributing to this wonderful body of work, and giving back a bit. Life is expensive enough as it is without shelling out cash for the duds out there, so I believe trying to point other readers to some gems of romance writing means being useful to them, if in a small way.

Do I feel I owe a particular author for an ARC I receive for reviewing? On the whole, I don’t. I do owe them a fair and honest review, but no more than that. I appreciate the hard work that went into writing the novel, and finding a publisher, but once it’s out in the marketplace, I do believe it must be judged by its own merits. If the book’s a dud, I will say so, even if I liked earlier books by the same author, and if it’s great, I don’t care if she has received Ds otherwise. I feel far more indebted to readers. Because I am one of them, I owe them all my powers of analysis to explain why a book works or doesn’t work for me, so they can decide with more information on their hands whether to expend their valuable money or time on it. Is that enough reward for spending some hours at the computer, missing out on a new TV show or going to bed later than planned? For me, it is. With the romance publishing industry putting ever so many books on the market each month, with all those wonderful authors writing them in the first place (!), and with AAR giving me space to write, I’ll be busy for a while. :-)

-Rike Horstmann