Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Writer's Corner: Should Writers Review?


Hey guys. So I've been stalking again (big surprise). This time it's the blogs and websites of my fellow writers and self publishers. A theme that keeps coming up is whether or not writers should review books. It's something that I've been mulling over for a while and one which I change my mind about all the time.
       I can understand why a lot of writers would abstain from putting their opinions on other books out there. Writing is a deeply personal thing and unless you do it yourself, it's hard to describe what it would feel like to put your heart and soul into creating a story, only to have someone tear it down. But I don't need to describe it to a lot of you guys who follow me. Many of you have blogs of your own and know how you get a spring in your step when you get a complimentary comment. Imagine then what it would feel like if you got a comment which totally trashes your review.
       There's also a feeling of solidarity amongst writers. If I know anything about writing (and I admit I know scant little as I'm a novice) it's that the best source of advice and also support is from other writers.
        Then there's that anxiety of offending someone in the book industry and have it come back later and bite you in the behind. See THIS POST from Becca Fitzpatrick's blog for an example. (FYI I don't necessarily agree with what she says). Essentially, publishing is a small world and you never know who you may offend. It makes it difficult to be honest with your opinion on a book because in the back of your mind, you're trying to juggle writing an honest review whilst treading lightly on the feelings of a writer who may possibly help your career one day.
       This is all well and good, but what oh what do I do with all these plot holes and character flaws that I see is books which gets my blood boiling and makes me want to jump into the book and kick some a$$? When I finish reading a book that I loathe, my immediate reaction is to go online to see if there are others who disliked it as much as I did. Thanks to book blogs, Amazon and Goodreads, there's usually no shortage of fuel for my fire. I think this is where I make my mistakes. Where I lose sight of being objective and begin to sink into the realm of 'this book sucks therefore the writer must be some blethering idiot and I am going to enjoy sinking my fangs into their book.' It's a condition that I am going to call critic-lust. That moment when something goes off in my head and I forget about the difficult writing journey and only concentrate on the unpalatable outcome. I have selective amnesia and the hours I spend agonising over plot points and character arcs, something every writer does, goes out the window. And as much as I hate to admit it, I enjoy having a good rant. It's liberating. Being a writer means putting your work out there and if you haven't developed a thick skin or learned to take criticism, you're going to have a hard slog ahead of you.
        However. There's always a however! I think there are ways for writers to review books without succumbing to critic-lust. I may be a writer but I am also a reader. And I want to share my opinions with my fellow reader friends. I don't want to alienate anyone but I want to be able to be honest without fear or hesitation. So published writers...I'm sorry if what I say isn't what you want to hear. I will review your books as honestly and objectively as I can if you won't hold it against me. There are many things I will forgive in a book but I don't want to look up to whiny, stupid women or stalker guys and vapid friends. As much as I don't like the thought of pulling the rug from under myself later on, I detest the idea of having to stifle myself to keep it from happening. Feel free not to blurb me, I understand. I almost didn't read The Hunger Games because Stephanie Meyer recommended it. Go figure.

18 comments:

  1. I am always careful to state that something I don't like "was not for me". I have never told people a book I have read isn't fit to be published. Nor have I ever blatantly discouraged my readers from checking out a book based soley on whether it pleased me.

    Instead, I tend to give a detailed analysis of what it was within a book that made me love it, like it or leave it. I also take great care to point out when there is likely a personal bias at work (for instance, I'm not a fan of passive heroines who need a guy to do everything.)

    I love sharing my opinion and as a writer I feel that reviews are something that can and should be learned from -- or at least observed -- provided that they are written civilly. There is always a wrong way and a right way to say something. As someone who spends her time working with words, I should hope that I can write something the way I mean it in a review without making a fool of myself.

    Just my view, though. I've had authors contact me for reviews specifically because I write and the fact that I write is certainly no secret (my blog is called I Write, I Read, I Review.) Definitely an interesting topic of discussion and it does have two legitimate sides with valid arguments.

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  2. Im laughing because of the Stephenie Meyer reference - imagine how close you came to MISSING out on Hunger Games!

    Writers reviewing books. I only met Amazon etc a year ago and so I only started writing book reviews recently. And when I did, I wrote some unrestrained mean ones. And THEN, two things happened.
    1. I got the Kindle app on my computer and started downloading free and really cheap books and I realized how awful a lot of them were...and in comparison, how good those books were that I had scathingly reviewed. (Does that make sense?)

    2.I wrote an e-book. And put several of my short stories on amazon as well. And opened myself up to scathing reviews and put-downs.

    Now, I take a breath before I scathe any books by anyone. The biggest review mistake I ever made was hating on a sci-fi romance book because it had "weird sex scenes with lizard men aliens in it" - but what I failed to remember was, the book was listed as a SCI-FI EROTIC ROMANCE and so it was wrong of me to hate on it for having lizard men engaging in sexual acts...because heck, sci-fi romance pretty much is an open door to anything and everything in the universe right? Now if the book had lied to me and said it was contemporary chick-lit then yes, my review was well deserved.

    Now I try to remember to be objective and constructive when I review anything. And if i absolutely hate a book? Then I don't write a review on amazon at all.Call me chicken or whatever, but I now would rather not trash on a book publicly. I have had readers email me directly to point out a spelling error or ...a bed that was a double on page 24 and then became a Queen bed on page 35... Im grateful they didnt rip me to bits via an amazon review about the errors and so I try to do the same for other authors.

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  3. I agree there is no need to be rude in a review. The only time Iever did that was when it was a book full of scathing reviews of some of Australia's best children's writers . That is, the author had been horrible to others herself. My reviews are usually set out as, this worked for me, that didn't, because... But one thing that can be a problem is reviewing books by "mates". They tend to expect a positive review. At least one of my friends sulked when my review ws polite but not gushing. And if you have to gush in hopes they will do the same for you, how honest can you be? It helps that I have a day job in a library. I can look at it as a librarian. Mostly, though, I just don't review a book I hate. Makes life easier. ;-)

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  4. Kathy: Pointing out whether something is a personal bias sounds like a good idea. I might start taking that up as part of my reviews. I'm always trying to make my reviews sound more objective but I feel like I have such a dry and sarcastic way of writing that it just comes off as me being mean.

    Lani: I know what you mean about ripping into books only to read some that are truly awful and then realising the quality of the former. It would be doubly difficult once you have something of your own out there in the world. I guess I'm just going to have to keep my crazy whinges for personal conversations :)

    Sue: Reviews for mates can be very difficult. It's also difficult when writers email and ask you to review their work and they're so nice but their books aren't really your cup to tea. That's very awkward. I'm going to rewrite my review policy I think so as to make it clear why I won't just write favourable reviews. I don't write reviews for books I truly hate. There are those ones that I disliked for a particular reason which do have saving graces and I will review those with reasons.

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  5. I tell the truth no matter what, and when I know the truth is going to hurt, I try to word it as politely as possible. I didn't start reviewing on my blog, but on another blog, which I still do. Within the first month I read a book that I didn't like. I knew I would have to finish it, I was also writing up interview questions for the author, which scared me to death! At the time things were coming out about authors lashing out at bloggers, but I did my review based on the book. I was as polite as possible and explained when it wasn't for me. Things actually went well because of it.

    I do have a problem with when I start a review sometimes it sounds harsh, like crazy harsh. That is because I have a crit group that I meet with for my own writing. Sometimes I have to take a step back from that, and remember who my audience is. After that it is easier.

    Beth ^_^

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  6. It's best to be tactfully honest. You don't need to be mean about it either. There are respectful ways of getting your opinion across without hurting an author's feelings.

    Even though I know I'm a pessimist, there's just something about giving a negative review that I just can't do. I can mark it as one star on Goodreads, but I just can't make myself write out a review for it. Mostly because I can't find anything interesting to say about lame books. I'd much rather promote books I loved than disliked. Although I should try to work on writing respectfully honest reviews on books I didn't like.

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  7. Hehe. This post made me chuckle becase, well, I'm reading a book right now that SUCKS!!!!! OH My, I hate it. It's really short on purpose and I just hate it. It was given by an author and I feel I need to read it anyway because its only 61 pages (see how I'm not naming the book here). I was also excited because it was an African American author and I wanted to give it a chancem but it had horrible grammar and a bunch of stereotypical slang that made me want to punch out the screen of my new mac so I didnt have to read it again. How on earth am I going to be able to review this horrible book. I can't because I'll be mean, and then the problem is...do I just not say anything to the author about how I'm not going to post it? Do I tell her? Do I post it anyway?

    I also must tell you, I started my book!!!! (some outlining anyway) I am already worried that if anyone see's my opening sentence they will shoot me down on sight. (yes I only have 1 sentence written down so far) I understand the terror of a horrible review, but sometimes I wonder if SOME people self publish some books because they think their book is amazing when it's not. It's like those people on American Idol (no idea if people in Australia even watch it but hey). All these people go on tv thinking they can sing when everyone around them have told them they suck. Why do it?

    I must point out that the book that I hate has gotten a lot of good reviews. I just feel like people lied or have low standards. Is that bad?

    Anywho, done ranting, back to my job and homework (and some more stalking of you page.)

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  8. Great post, Lan. I come up against this whenever I read a book that seriously lets me down. Usually, that's what makes me so angry, the disappointment. Like, you know, before I read the book, I thought the concept sounded so great, the characters, everything. Then when I get to reading, I'm like, "Seriously??? This is how you decided to go?" It's different if I'm not expecting much, but when a book has been hyped up by EVERYONE, I get a little upset (more than a little actually; sometimes ends up w/me throwing the book across the room--which I know is uncool, but hey! I'm only human LOL). But yeah, I think writers definitely have to tread carefully, and so do book bloggers who want to get arcs. Like I think you said in an earlier post, sometimes I actually look up bad reviews. Just so I can get a clearer representation/opinions from people who might not be influenced or hold back their true emotions. I can tell a difference in the reviews I write that are for the stellar books I really recommend, and the ones I was kinda like "Whatever" to.
    Hope you're having a great week,
    NInja Girl

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  9. Lan, you crack me up and I completely agree with you. Believe it or not I like to write and would love to one day be published...even if I am taking a massive break from it at the moment, so, yeah. I worry about my nasty reviews coming back to bite me in the butt. I just can't keep my mouth shut when a book ticks me off, though. I spent money on that book I spent precious time reading it and I want my time and moneys worth. Is that too much to ask? And I'm not talking about books that are just not to my taste. I'm talking about books with plot holes bigger than the grand canyon and writing reminiscent of a first graders. I'm sorry to say it, but those authors, no matter how much heart and soul they put into it, should be ashamed of themselves! Where's their pride?! So, yes, I fully intend to say what I want about books whether it's "unprofessional" or not.

    Phew! Rant over.

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  10. "...I almost didn't read The Hunger Games because Stephenie Meyer recommended it."

    THIS is why I love you, Lan!!! You are so friggin' hilarious and refreshing.

    Anyway, as for the topic at hand, I totally agree with you. I'm a reader, probably first of all, because how can anyone write if they don't read? So, I think it's only natural to review other writer's books. Why do authors take issue with this? It makes no sense to me at all, so I just ignore it. Call it being TOO sensitive.

    Who cares if another author doesn't like your book, Author A? Everyone else hates it, anyway! Writers are readers, too, so why can't any author give their opinion on any book they want? It's a free country over here, last time I checked.

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  11. "As much as I don't like the thought of pulling the rug from under myself later on, I detest the idea of having to stifle myself to keep it from happening." LOVE IT!!!

    I adore your posts, Lan--they always make me think.

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  12. Beth: Taking a step back is a good idea. So often I think of this blog as my personal rant page but it's not really. There's been heaps of stuff flying around goodreads about authors having a go at reviewers so clearly we're not the only ones who are aware of the issue.

    Jessica: I've never thought about just marking something as one star and not writing a review. I don't know why but the lower I mark a book the more I feel as if I have to justify that with a reason. And I agree, I would much rather spend my time promoting books I enjoy.

    Sherre: You are in a bit of a bind my friend. It's so hard when you are stuck in that kind of situation. Especially if it's something you requested to read in the first place. I would probably contact the author and politely say why would would rather not review their book. Maybe if they're receptive you could point out the reasons why. I keep thinking to myself that reading should be enjoyable and we shouldn't have to feel guilty.

    I'm so excited that you've started writing! Cannot wait to read it :)

    Ninja Girl: Sometimes I'm so glad I haven't signed up for any ARCs because I just can't bring myself to rave about a book I didn't like out of guilt. Until I master the art of polite constructive criticism I am going to hold off as well. I agree that disappointment is the worst thing about not liking a book. I've stopped reading so many books in the last month that others have raved about. Maybe it's just me!

    Jenny: That's right! As a reader, you pay a good price for books and if you're not satisfied, why shouldn't you say so? Even and ARC isn't given for free really because it's for publicity.

    Cathy: Exactly! People are way too sensitive these days. Reviewer opinions count but at the end of the day if someone wants to read something enough, they're not going to be persuaded by a bad review.

    Karen: I'm glad you enjoyed the post :) I think I was a bit ranty but this issue was really weighing on my mind.

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  13. @Lan: Yes, you're so right about that. One person's bad opinion on a book hardly persuades anyone, so if someone wants to read a book, they will do it no matter what anyone says. Several bad reviews may change things, but that would only happen if a book really were significantly bad.

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  14. I really like this post idea. I see nothing wrong with authors reviewing books, as long as they keep the review professional and honest. I expect that of every reviewer.

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  15. Great discussion post! Most writers are also readers, so they shouldn't be penalized by not being able to review books just because they also write. So long as the review isn't a personal attack and honestly explains what the reviewer did and didn't like, they should be fine. I try to avoid reading other reviews until mine is done so I don't get influenced one way or the other. No sinking my fangs into any necks! *L*

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  16. Another great post, Lan. So much I could comment on, but I'd better keep it short and sweet because I have to get back to work and stop procrastinating.

    An overriding element not only in your post but most of the comments above has to do with our emotional responses to books. We all have books we love and hate. But it's a given that for every person who hates a book, movie or TV show there's another person who loves it. I'm not sure what value there is to me either as a reader or a writer in reading a review based on either of these emotions.

    I think I've made this point here before, and I apologize for my repetitiveness, but I'd much rather read a review that explains WHY the reviewer liked or disliked the book. I've seen the word "professional" several times above, and that's the key, because it involves an objective assessment of the book, rather than a purely subjective rant filled with hate and anger.

    God knows, as a writer I'd much rather be told that there are particular things I need to improve before Reviewer X will support my work in their reviews than simply that Reviewer X hates my stuff and wants to tear me to shreds.

    As far as your other point goes, I agree it's difficult to act as a writer and reviewer both. Some can do it, but I'm dubious..... I've been tempted to review books in my blog but I just don't think it's a good idea to mix the two. And I'd have to break my personal rule never to write anything negative.....!

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  17. Just stumbled across this post (as always late to the party), and thought I'd comment as this is something I've been struggling to decide as well. I basically decided to take the easy/wimpy way out and only write book recommendations on my blog. Any books I read that I didn't like simply wont appear there. I yell/scream/cry/tear apart books at home and have a big file of "what not to do" reminders for myself, but none of that sees my blog. It's 100% a cop-out, I know =/

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    1. I always try and get out my frustrations with a book offline as well, but I don't really have any friends who are as into books as I am. So this blog is my outlet. I really respect those who can refrain from writing a bad reviews, but on the other hand, if people only wrote good reviews then there wouldn't be anything to counterbalance it and everything would get 4/5 stars. I'm just trying to work on writing more objective reviews regardless of how I feel about a book.

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