Friday, October 17, 2014

The Gentle Reviewer

I don't give nasty reviews. But I don't lie either. This philosophy puts me in some rather delicate situations.

First of all, I'm deeply aware that it's much easier to find what's wrong with a book than what is good about it. In fact, looking for what's right instead of what's wrong is not a bad approach for assessing human beings. When it comes to evaluating a book, I always keep in mind that writing a book is hard. Even if the book stinks, it's hard.

Commenting on a book I love is easy. Descriptive words come easily. It's a joy to urge readers to run down to their local bookstore and add the title to their collection. If I'm really crazy about it, I'll foist it off on all my friends. "You gotta read this. Just gotta."

Next down the list are books that I don't really like but recognize their merit. These are mysteriously painful reads that I simply don't care for. I simply soldier on and do my best to expand on themes and or point out some special strength.

Next are books that are competent, but mediocre. The plotting is predictable, the characters trite, and the writing lazy. I simply come up with a completely objective plot summary, with no praise whatsoever. It goes something like this: "John Doe's historical novel, Blue Against the Grey,  is set during the Civil War. Doe follows the story of two families caught up in the Late Rebellion." I don't recommend these books, but don't make negative comments either.

And then there are the books I simply refuse to read beyond the first five pages. When that happens, I turn them back to the editor with the comment that I don't feel like I could do a good job reviewing this book. Find someone else!

An author I met at Bouchercon last year told me about a situation she was in and asked my advice in handling it. Although it had never happened to me, I knew what I would do. A lady who was very aggressive asked her to review an ebook and post the comments on-line. Blatant Self Promotion was the lady's middle name. She was shameless in pursuing people to offer their opinions.

My new friend finally agreed to give her a review. She herself wrote  hardcore ebooks, but when she reached the lady's second page, she knew it was the most depraved book she had ever read. What should she do? She loathed the book, but the lady was quite influential. She knew a lot a people.

I told her to nevertheless to refuse to have anything to do with the book. Refuse immediately and firmly. Use polite wording if you can in this kind of situation.  Something like "Your writing is completely different than mine. A recommendation from me wouldn't help your book. Find someone who supports your genre."

In fact, not only would I ditch the book, I would ditch the person. There's something blackmailish about someone throbbing with a veiled threat of "Give me a good review or I'll ruin your career."

Keep your distance from mean people.

1 comment:

Bob Edmondson said...

This is more than just good manners. The word "gracious" comes to mind. A very nice attitude towards people that might be applied to a variety of situations. Nice work.