Tuesday, May 13, 2014

To Review or Not to Review AND Retreat Registration Open

by Donna K. Weaver

Registration for the retreat is now open.
Check the blog post here for instructions.

About reviewing
Before I started writing, I'd never considered composing a book review. Yeah, that was something my teachers'd had us do a bazillion years ago when I was a kid, but it wasn't anything I'd done as an adult. Then I started reading a lot of book reviews and adding so many books to my to-be-read list that I had to open an account on Goodreads just to keep track of them. And I started doing my own book reviews.

But when you begin to meet people in the writing world and interact with published authors, you realize a few things.

One is that a book you loved isn't loved universally. It might have touched something deep inside you but to another person it's a piece of cliché drivel. *gasp* That book sang to your heart. There must be something wrong with those people who wrote negative reviews.

Or, the book just didn't connect with them. That whole subjectiveness of the reading experience is an eyeopener to you. You think back on the books you thoughtlessly dissed in reviews.

This comes especially close to home when you're published. You now understand just how very much time, effort, and emotion goes into creating a book. You think about the gut punch a negative review was for you. You wonder if anything you've ever said in a review had the same power to slice up that author's heart.

Did you trash someone's artistic baby?
Original picture via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of library_mistress
Authors/writers bring an interesting view to the books of others. We're usually part of critique groups, so we're being trained to look for what's wrong, something a regular reader is not. Sometimes it's easy to criticize and to forget to look for what works. 

By the same virtue, we're also frequently connected somehow to so many other authors in the writing community. How often do we love a book because we love its author?

I confess to coming closer and closer to not reviewing books. I'm very tempted to go so far as to take down all the reviews I've already written.

What do you think? Review or Not Review? Why?


ilima said...

I resisted reviewing for a long time but finally caved because I know how much it helps authors. If a book is not a 5-star, I don't rate it at all. And I only leave short positive reviews if any. I'm still always on the fence about taking my entire goodreads account down, though.

Tristi Pinkston said...

I've been a media reviewer for a long time, probably as long as I've been an author, and I've done it professionally as well as a hobby. One thing I've learned is that there's a huge difference between constructive, helpful reviews and reviews that are just negative. I think that we as authors can be more nitpicky because we see flaws more easily than other readers, but we should also be more sensitive to the feelings of the author because we've been there. It's a tricky balance, for sure.

Pam Williams said...

According to my "Handbook of Literature" from college days, literary criticism involves evaluating works of art according to certain standards, based on the philosophy or world view of the evaluator. It all comes down to what purpose the criticism is meant to serve. To most people criticism means to find fault with something, but that just encourages meanness and doesn't give a true picture of the work in question. In the literary world, true criticism should be an evaluation. To simplify life for LDS readers and writers, those who evaluate books for that audience should simply describe the story, comment on the artistry, and suggest why readers might enjoy it. Story descriptions should be brief--that's why there's a cover blurb--and comments should relate to the plot threads mentioned there. People should review books only from the genre they personally like to read. Or else say something like, "Fantasy isn't my favorite genre, but people who favor it will like this book." Okay, having said that, I'll just remind people that my book will be out soon. Remember the golden rule. You can be honest AND kind in the same review.

Gussie said...

Thanks for writing an excellent article, Donna. I agree with the thoughtful comments, too. Very helpful!

Canda said...

I won't put anything on Goodreads that I don't give at least 3 stars to. There are many books that I read and never review because it would not be positive. It isn't that I'm withholding my real feelings--I just believe that I'm not that book's target audience. I also completely ignore book reviews from people who are Goodreads Friends if their rating was below 3 stars as well.

Stephanie Abney said...

Wow. Everything you said is true. Same for the comments so far. It still leaves an author/reviewer in limbo - not sure. I know that I appreciate knowing ahead of time if there are graphic sexual scenes or foul language, things like that. But it IS far too easy to be critical of style, grammar and typo when you also write for a living. Good thoughts. I'm still thinking. :) Cheers!!