Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reviewing for Pleasure & Revenge

New authors ask me how to react when a reviewer seems to have a wooden stake to drive through their new novel or how to review other authors’ books. The questions make me evaluate how I regard reviews.

First, each book has qualities that may not work for me, but are probably the reason other readers love it. The very aspect that one reader enjoys, another will dislike. I know that and remind myself when I see reader reviews of books – other people’s and mine.

That’s the part of reviewing that’s hard for me: being an author. I want to say only encouraging things to other authors. I’ve been there. No one wants to read a harsh review of their work.

A review is, after all, one person’s opinion. My friend Brenda would often recite, “Opinions are like a$$#*les; everyone has one and it usually stinks.”

So, on sites like Amazon or GoodReads, I tend to not write reviews unless I’m crazy-infatuated with a book, and then I’ll keep focused on what I think other people will find interesting about it. 

Giving stars is difficult too. For a while, I gave 5-stars to every book I enjoyed, but it occurred to me that 4-stars are “great” and 5-stars means a book is “perfect.”  That was the performance evaluation criteria we had in the corporate world – I was always disappointed if I didn’t get a perfect evaluation.  Donna, my director, would remind me that I did not “walk on water.”

No book “walks on water” either. A 4-star review is a compliment to the work. I know I see a lot of all 5-star reviews. Moms and friends are kind to their writers. ;-)  Also, some authors have achieved teen idol status, so gushing reviews are common for household names or pretty writers. I like to read and to write well-thought reviews about what was enjoyable about the novel. A written review takes time and effort; I appreciate those for my own work and try to return that to others.

We can’t always be syrupy in admiration for a book, but if I find a book doesn’t speak to me, I stop reading and move to the next one on my list. I don’t release brimstone onto the author. A rabid, hateful review demonstrates more about the reviewer than it does of the targeted book.

That’s what I tell new authors about reviews. If the tone is harsh, the review is about something more than the book. It was written to be hurtful to the book’s author. Julia Cameron says “blocked creatives” can be very spiteful to those who are achieving what they long for.

 
Focus on encouragement and refinement when reading or writing a review from someone not of your relation! The old adage “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all” is a good rule for reviewing (and in life).