Wednesday, February 23, 2022

A Guest Post by Nick Kolakowski

Nick Kolakowski is the author of eleven novels. His work has also appeared in The Washington PostMcSweeney’sThuglitShotgun HoneyNorth American Review, and Carrier Pigeon, among other venues. He lives in New York City, and he’s sitting in, answering this week’s question:

As authors we’re often put in an enviable position – we get to read books ahead of publication because we’re asked to provide comments for other authors to use as blurbs, or as early reviews. Do you approach “early reading” differently than the way you read already published books on your TBR pile?

I do, and it depends on how early I’m reading a particular book or manuscript. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to receive a book before it’s settled into its final form — when the author and editor are still tweaking certain scenes or adjusting the plot’s flow. In those circumstances, I’m usually asked to act as a beta reader, and I’m more than happy to offer suggestions about how to refine the manuscript.

Obviously, you’re really forgiving about books at that stage, because they’re very much a work in progress. Even if there are rough spots, you grind through (and take notes). You offer constructive criticism. You stay as positive as possible. 

With most of the pre-publication books I read, though, it’s later in the process, and it’s because the author or publisher wants a blurb and/or early review. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve never been asked to blurb or review a book that I found unreadable. That being said, if I’m not wholly engaged by the text — and sometimes that’s my fault, if there’s a lot going on in my life at the moment, or a towering stack of reading to get through — I sometimes resort to skimming a bit more than I usually would.

When I read books that’ve been published, the game changes. Years ago, I was more willing to keep reading books I didn’t find all that compelling, or even outright hated. There was something about not finishing a book that felt like defeat. But, as I’ve grown older and more viscerally aware of the hours of my life ticking by, though, I’ve gotten much harsher about whether I finish a book or not  — if I’m not gripped, I generally close it after 50 pages or so. If the book comes off as a pastiche of something better (a continual issue in crime fiction and horror, especially), I might not make it past page three.

If I don’t like a published book, I don’t leave a negative review — there’s just not enough time. If the book comes up during a discussion with someone, I might warn them away from it, but I’m under no delusions that posting something negative will make a difference amidst the tide of Goodreads and Amazon reviews. Plus, I know how much work goes into the creation of a book, and I don’t want to broadcast something that’ll potentially give a long-suffering author an apocalyptically bad day, just because the writing wasn’t quite to my taste. 

Being able to read books early isn’t a privilege I take lightly. I’m appreciative of every chance I get to blurb or review something before it hits bookshelves. With a published work, though, I’m often a lot more stringent about whether I stick with it — even if I end up keeping my opinions to myself. 


Thank you to Nick Kolakowski for dropping in. And be sure to check out his latest: “Love & Bullets: Megabomb Edition.”


Terry said...

Welcome, Nick.

Love this post! I totally agree about not leaving negative reviews. I once heard a bookseller say it's hard to write a book--even a bad book. And I find that there seems to be an audience for most books, even ones I don't care for.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Well said, Nick. Thanks for your views on this week's topic.