Monday, March 3, 2014

Reviewing the reviewers

by Meredith Cole

Do you read reviews? Reply to them? Review the works of other writers?

Something rather frightening happens to some writers when their first book comes out. They become obsessed with their own reviews. They obsessively check the issues of Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, etc., etc., holding their breath and hoping that their book will get a favorable mention (or perhaps even a star). When it doesn't? Despair! When it does? They slowly find out that a great review does not instantly make them a bestselling author.

It's not that I don't read my own reviews--I just don't read them very often. I noticed that all I ever remembered were the bad parts of the review and none of the good. Eventually I had to stop measuring my own abilities on whether or not a newspaper/magazine still gave a few inches of space to unknown writers, and whether or not a reviewer happened to like or dislike my writing. I did a guest blog some years ago where my host quoted from a review that I remembered as being particularly horrible and scathing--and I was shocked that he had been able to find something that sounded so wonderful in the reviewer's words. I had completely missed it. I realized that I had no perspective and it was healthier to step away.

I have never responded to a bad review because I think it is, well, tacky. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I'm not going to change their mind and I would just end up looking like an overly sensitive wimp. And I only tweet about (or mention on Facebook) books that I like. I'm not being paid to review anything and I figure life is too short to read things that I don't enjoy. Or pour salt on the wound of a writer just because it wasn't a book that I enjoyed.

Now, I'm not saying that reviews are not important. I love to read reviews and I'm sad that newspapers aren't reserving space for them anymore. I find reviews helpful as I look for new books and authors to read. And I can sometimes tell by reading between the lines of a bad review that it's actually a book I would love. I just have to trust that other readers will do the same for my books.


Robin Spano said...

Good attitude. Very healthy. You can tell you're a seasoned pro!

Susan C Shea said...

Agree with Robin's comments - wise attitude. I don't read the reader reviews any more. If they really read it and didn't enjoy it, I'm sorry. If they didn't read it but still want to trash it, I'm annoyed. If they loved it, I can't convey my gratitude. All I can do is keep writing.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks Robin and Susan! I try to be. Sometimes I slip... But Susan is right--there isn't much you can do about other people's opinions. It's best to just keep writing.

Dana King said...

I read my reviews, but don't take them too seriously. If a consensus emerges, I need to at least pay attention, but I don't let them get me too high or too low.

What bothers me about reviews today--and I'm talking about professional, paid reviewers as well as amateurs--is how they too often resemble a school book reports. Plot points are laid out, saving the climax, though key elements earlier in the book that would have been more effective as a surprise may be mentioned. A review should tell more of what a book is about, less of what happens.

Meredith Cole said...

I hate spoilers, Dana! I think most professional reviewers would say that writing reviews is hard... But I agree that not many people do it well.

Paul D. Marks said...

Interesting points, Meredith. And I agree with you about not responding to bad reviews. You'll just end up in a verbal firefight most likely that will not go anywhere.

What bothers me when I do read some reviews of my stuff is when they totally miss the point or seem to have an agenda. I have a short story that is very clear noir and a reader reviewer on Amazon laid into why it wasn't. And it was ridiculous. But you can't argue with stupid.

And reviews remind me of a line from Donvoan's song "Young Girl Blues": "The book you are reading
Is one man's opinion of moonlight."

That's all reviews are: one person's opinion of moonlight. The next person has a different opinion.

Kristopher said...

Sometimes, I think that a distinction has to be made between professional (paid) reviewers and those that are reviewing for the "love" of reading (I am talking bloggers here and not GoodReads or Amazon reviews, which is a whole other bucket).

Writing a review is tough - there is a fine line to tread between telling enough about a book to generate interest (in my case, the reason I am writing a review) and not giving away spoilers. But certainly a review should contain some discussion of what the book is "about," not a plot summary.

I am sure that some other bloggers put less thought into that than I do. But I do always try to err on the side of no spoilers, but I am sure that at times I also fail and reveal something an author would prefer I not reveal.

But I get no money from what I do. I use no affiliate links, no ads, thus no income. I do it because I want to tell others about books I love. I do not do negative reviews. Like Meredith said, I have better things to do than focus on things I don't like.

Reviews are just part of the process. I think Meredith has the right idea with her way of handling it.