Wednesday, June 22, 2022

More on reviews

 Charlotte's post yesterday on writing reviews caught my attention. I loved her thoughtful, sensitive, but honest approach. In a world where independent professional reviewers are becoming scarcer than hen's teeth, online, "ordinary man" reviews are becoming not only the norm but the main guide to decision making. This goes for almost everything we buy nowadays. It seems before I buy anything, whether it's a vacuum, a patio umbrella stand, or a new car, I read the reviews. These reviews, taken as a whole, are enormously helpful. If half a dozen ordinary Janes tells me the patio stand crumbled within a week, or the vacuum can't handle pet fur, I give the product a pass. Those are objective, observable faults that can be easily recognized by everyone.

Books are a different story. Judging a book is subjective. Not only do people have different preferences and tastes, but different standards. Rarely is a book universally bad, but almost all will be considered bad by some readers. It's extremely difficult to remove your own preferences from your evaluation of a book. I don't read romance or fantasy and know nothing about either genre. Most likely, I would apply my standards for literary or mystery novels, both of which I do read, and my review would not only be worthless but potentially damaging not only to the book's sales but to the author. As an author, I know how much it hurts to get a negative review, particularly one that is ill-informed or mean. As Charlotte says, writing is hard. It can take more than a year, and a lot of heart and sweat, to write a book, and no matter how it turns out, it is very personal to the author. 

Because of this, I almost never write reviews. The writing community is small and close-knit. I have a lot of author friends, and although I know how important reviews are to our sales and rankings, and thus to our chances of getting our next publishing contract, but I value my friendships more. I can't give Author X a five-star rating and Author Y a three-star rating, leaving that author wondering why I was so stingy. For the same reason, I can't review Author X and not Author Y, leaving self-doubts and questions in Author Y's mind. 

A similar problem arising with cover blurbs, which we authors get asked to write frequently. Some authors refuse all requests, others accept all, and many of us pick and choose. I do the latter, but always with trepidation and the explicit caveat that I will read the book before deciding. If it's a friend or a connection of some kind (same publisher, met you at a book event), I will probably agree to read it. If the book seems to fit my style or preferences, I am also more likely to agree to read it. I will not accept a book by someone I've never heard of who writes books entirely different from mine unless the author or publisher makes a very good case.

I say trepidation because what if I hate it? What if the writing is appalling? We authors put our name and reputations on the line when we endorse a book, and I won't be misleading, even for a friend. But it's extremely difficult to find a gentle way to refuse once I have read the book. Fortunately so far, I have been lucky. Sometimes I have loved the book and had no trouble saying so in the blurb, and at other times, I have managed to find positive things to say even when the book wasn't to my taste. But I dread the day when I encounter a book that I can't endorse at all. I will have to think up some convoluted excuse such as "I'm sorry, I realize I have no time after all..." or "Once I started to read your manuscript, I realized it's not my strong suit...".

Writing a good review or a blurb takes time and careful thought. Any less, and 

No comments: