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Reviewing Books: What's a Writer To Do?

You'll notice something about my blog: I don't write book reviews.  I do Friday Reads every week, but I don't tell you if I'd recommend the book or not, or pick apart what I thought worked well and what I thought   was a little meh.

This is deliberate.

I've noticed something in a lot of writerly blogs and Goodreads reviews--we're squeamish about truly reviewing books.  We're happy to recommend and gleeful about sharing what we love, but we're hesitant to say "This wasn't up to par for reasons I shall enumerate herein."

Yes, there are nasty reviews out there.  And yes, there are still honest, forthright reviewers, too.  But for the most part?  We as writers are kind of yes men to books.

Maybe it's because we're all reading things we truly, truly enjoy and can find nothing negative to say.  Maybe it's just because we appreciate the work and dedication that go into a book and gloss over anything we're not fond of relatively easily--more easily than a non-writer could.

I think it's more than that, though--I think we aren't quite sure how to be critical yet supportive of our fellow writers.  I'm not sure, actually, that we can be effective critics and effective support teams.  To me, when one reviews a book, one is responsible to potential readers, not to the author.  The author is owed nothing in the review except for fair consideration.  The reader, however, is owed honesty and criticism and praise to carefully weigh the choice of a purchase and time spent reading.  A review doesn't exist to help an author promote books--it exists to share the reading experience with other readers and help them decide whether to purchase the book or not.

I'm not sure how often reviews sway a purchase--I know I've bought books without reading reviews, and I've even bought books having read negative reviews, knowing that the things the reviewer complained about would be things I would actually enjoy.  Still, I'm not up for that responsibility here.  Especially if I'm reading and sharing a book written by someone I know--someone from my network here in WebernetWritingWorld.

So I don't review books--I share what I'm reading and let you take things from there.  At some point I might find myself more comfortable with the idea--but right now I'm not willing or able to be a true reviewer.

What do you think?  Am I overthinking what it means to review a book?  Are you able to be an objective reviewer, or do you find it difficult?

Comments

  1. I think your reasoning for not reviewing is sound, but I do find it helpful to my own writing to dissect books that didn't work for me and figure out what the problem is (on my LJ, not my more professional blog). Recently I realized how important even small conflicts are when I read a book and started writing about why it dissatisfied/bored me, and figured out that every single conflict was wrapped up before it even started by someone other than the protagonist.

    I don't think I'd want to do professional blog-type reviews, though. When I review books I complain a lot.

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    1. So true, Cassidy--I definitely pick apart what worked and what didn't in the reading. I just don't want to share my pickiness with everyone lol!

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  2. I don't think you're overthinking it at all. When you are a writer, it's hard to avoid feeling like you're crushing another writer with a negative review, because you're all too aware of the fact that there is a person behind that name on the front cover.

    This definitely affects my own reviewing - I generally only tend to finish books I like, anyway (I don't have the time to slog through books I'm not enjoying), but I generally only feel moved to write a review (or as they're short, should I call them 'reviewlets'?) when I've really enjoyed a book or found it useful and want to recommend it to others. Essentially, my reviews are little bits of excitement that I'd usually squeal to my friends when I've finished a book I enjoyed/found useful/found thought-provoking.

    Unless the book was just utterly amazing and blew me away with its awesomeness, I do tend to mention any frustrations I had with the book or things that could be a negative, because I do feel that I owe it to the writer and especially to potential readers to be honest with my review.

    I think the other problem with writing negative reviews as a writer is that you run the risk of being accused of jealousy and the like and, if you're a published writer yourself, you risk your own reputation by triggering a flamewar over your review. When you're a published writer you also have a professional interest and unless your negative review is perfectly executed, you're also in danger of being (or appearing) unprofessional in giving it. It's a bit of a minefield!

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    1. Good point on only finishing what you enjoy--I've given myself permission to just put it down if I'm not enjoying it, so the fact that I finished a book is kind of a recommendation in and of itself! Professionalism is also such a concern--probably another reason I'm just avoiding real reviews!

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  3. I have mixed feelings about writing reviews. I tend to write them only for books I really enjoy. If I'm honest, it's because I know how hard it is to write a book and I genuinely feel for the writer even if I don't like the book. The other reason is that for a lot of books--the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There are many books I really don't like that make the NYT bestseller list, and there are books I love that don't.

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    1. So true, Connie--I feel for the writer, too. And you're right that what I might pan another person might love. I do appreciate reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for that reason--the variety really helps you discern what there is to like about a book!

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  4. I was about to comment and then Connie took the words out of my mouth. I think I'll leave the reviewing up other people. For me, even if I didn't like the book, I'd still want to say something nice because I can relate to the writer.

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    1. Connie is awesome like that :) I'm with you, Ravenna--I'd rather support than be a balanced critic of published books at this point in my writing career!

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  5. Definitely not over thinking. It's a great to share a good piece. Not bring down a piece that you just happen to not like.

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    1. Thanks, Demitria! I do appreciate honest, negative reviews in their place...I'm just not in the position to write them, I feel!

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