Friday, February 4, 2011

Why I don't write bad reviews

Can you guess why? Pop quiz time!

A - I'm a chickenshit
B - Karma is a bitch!
C - The Golden Rule; do unto others as you would have done unto you, especially applies to writers
D - My opinion isn't the only one that should matter
E - All of the above
F - All of the above, except A cause you know me and you know I ain't no chickenshit!

If you follow this blog or my reviews at Historical Novel Reviews, you know how much I love writing, historical fiction and other writers. I truly believe my role in this amazing community of writers is to give back generously because of the number of writers who've helped me. It's also part of my role to be positive and uplifting of other writers' careers.  So, what happens when I put on my book reviewer hat and get down to reading something that, in my opinion, isn't quite up to snuff?

A couple weeks ago, I finished reading someone's work that had been submitted for review. The concept sounded amazingly interesting and I knew it was just the right book for me...until I started reading it. The plot just didn't work and the characters weren't on the page long enough for me to connect with them. I was hugely disappointed, but I'm sure, no more so than the writer whom I wrote to and explained that I couldn't publicly post a review. It was one of the hardest emails I've ever had to write. I know what it feels like to hear that someone thinks your work isn't good, but my conscience wouldn't allow me to slam another writer like that.

Whoever said "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," must have been thinking about writers reviewing each other's work. Fortunately, I'm not the goddess of great writing - I'll take my imperfect attempts any day over having to write consistently perfect prose, thank you very much. I still have a lot to learn and fortunately, the writing community teaches me something each day. With that in mind, my estimation of the quality of someone's work isn't the only opinion that matters. I would hate for my negative opinion to be the first for a book under review. Some people might say, hell, you're just telling an ugly truth that the other writer needs to hear. Maybe. But it goes deeper than that.

The writing and book blogging community is a little incestuous. Many of us who review also write, particularly in the same genre. It's a little hard to be objective and avoid imposing some of "this is how I would have done it" into your views on another writer's work. Also, that thing about karma being a bitch and the Golden Rule - yeah, I know all about that. When you bring someone else's writing down, you're just opening yourself up for the same criticism.

I leave it up to the readers, who are not writers themselves and who have no ambitions to take on the challenges that we do, to post the bad reviews. I'll just keep doing my part to support fellow writers.


S.L. (Samantha) Stevens said...

I have this dilemma too. I want to review books because I want to let readers know about middling-to-good fiction about the ancient world. Yet I don't want to write a bad review, for several reasons. One of the biggest is that if you write a negative review about a fellow author's book, you'll probably get a bad reputation as ungracious and spiteful. I wouldn't write a review of a book if I had to give it less than three stars. And even then I'd be a little leery.

Lisa Yarde said...

Thanks Samantha, I know many writers who struggle with this, and then some others who are truly spiteful and ungracious in their reviews. As much as people say writers are overly sensitive about their "babies" there's usually a happy medium for getting across what doesn't work in a book without being mean about it.

S.L. (Samantha) Stevens said...

I took a journalism class and did a journalism internship this fall. In the class, I learned how to write reviews, which was extremely helpful. The key is to praise several positive things and then select only a few (1-3 is ideal) negative things to critique. And then you conclude with an overall assessment. It was great advice and I try to follow it whenever I write a review.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Great post! I talked about similar things on my blog yesterday. Things change a bit when you publish your work. Even before then, I think all writers should be nothing but supportive of the community.

By the way, I have your book on my Kindle. I can't wait to read it! I have such a huge list and stack. Sigh. So many books, so little time!

Lisa Yarde said...

Thanks for stopping by Michelle, I'm checking out your post. I think criticism of other writers was on a couple of radars yesterday.

I have your Cinders too and I'd better get to reading it before Monarch comes out. So many books, so little time indeed.

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