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Writers/authors casually reviewing books?

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Nathan Bransford has a really interesting post today about writers/authors reviewing books. Basically, he asked whether a writer gives up the right to write a casual or ranting review.
http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2012/02/do-writers-give-up-right-to-be-casual.html

Do any of you write reviews? Do you write negative reviews? If so, how do you handle that?

Tabitha
#1 - February 08, 2012, 08:13 AM

Ann Jacobus

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Very interesting post by Nathan. I'm a writer and I do occasional reviews of middle-grade books for www.readerkidz.com and even less frequently on my own blog.

I do only write up books I like, as do the other bloggers at ReaderkidZ.

I'm happy to leave negative reviews to the pros and appreciate thoughtful, analytical pans (but dislike snark).

I also think that once something is published and out there, we have to be willing to take what comes. Kind of like keeping quiet when your ms. is being critiqued in writing group--the written words have to speak for themselves. Although I completely understand how hard it is to stay unemotional when your work is being criticized.
#2 - February 08, 2012, 09:29 AM

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There was a thread started on this board by an agent, asking their authors to not review others. Can’t find it right now, but maybe someone more talented will.

This is what I commented on Nathan Bradford's post:

‘Casually [word censored],’ while ubiquitous on the Internet, has no business in my soul. Not good for me. If I were to be ‘[word censored]’ there would be nothing casual about it. The offender better be a serial killer who got off on a technicality.
Also- any review or reply, good and especially bad, draws attention to the product. Why would you want to draw attention and raise interest in something you found to be unworthy?
I find Mr. Bradford to be spot-on, as always. The day I disagree with him I will be silent.

Thank you for bringing this up here, Tabitha.
#3 - February 08, 2012, 09:33 AM
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Personally I've taken to hardly ever saying anything disparaging about a book, just to be safe. Things can become awkward real fast in this small literary world where everyone knows each other. But that said, I'm troubled by this. I think books, like all art, are meant to be discussed by readers. No, of course not torn apart, but discussed and debated. It's sad that some of the most engaged readers out there (authors) are encouraged to keep silent.
#5 - February 08, 2012, 10:29 AM
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I really think this has to be up to the individual author. We don't sign anything giving up our rights to free speech when we sign a book contract. However...when I talk about books in public spaces online, I have a personal policy of talking about the ones I love (and doing so loudly) and keeping quiet about what I don't love. Why? Because I just don't want to be responsible for another writer having a crummy day. My chatter with a friend over coffee about a book I didn't like doesn't have that effect on the author; posting my rant it on the Internet might.

One of my books was reviewed negatively (and with some serious snark) by a fellow author in the New York Times. Fact: Said author is brilliant and talented but will in my mind forevermore be "the guy who wrote that horrible Times review."  I'm sure he would be fine knowing this. But I wouldn't be if the roles were reversed, which is why we're not the same person and why our personal review philosophies are different.  Does that make him wrong? Nope - just different.

I tend to buy into the saying that's posted on the wall at my yoga class... "Before you open your mouth to speak, as yourself: Is it true? Is it kind? Does it improve upon the silence?"  But at the end of the day, it's not my job to set anybody's book review policy other than my own.
#6 - February 08, 2012, 11:17 AM
« Last Edit: February 08, 2012, 11:19 AM by KateMessner »
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I'm with Kate on this. I read lots, as most authors do, and certainly there are books I love and books that disappoint. But as an author, I understand what it takes to put a book out there--the long hours of drafting, editing, editing again, crying because you don't understand what your editor wants, etc., etc. We try to send the best book possible into the world. So, for me, it doesn't feel right to give a negative review just because the book didn't resonate with me.
#7 - February 08, 2012, 11:26 AM

Z-cat

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I like recommending books for sure.
 As for real, critical reviews, I don't spend time on those. If I didn't like a book, that's not to say someone else won't like it, right? But something I did like might appeal to others with similar tastes, and good old word-of-mouth is a great way to help out anything you like and want to encourage. Like reading  :moose
#8 - February 08, 2012, 03:12 PM

ecb

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I agree with everything Bransford says--his points are spot on and I find his positivity refreshing and cheering--EXCEPT the notion of "giving up rights."

I think there's a big difference between not having the "right" to trash somebody... and just looking like a big ol' @ss if you do. Everyone has the right to look like an @ss online, authors included; our profession doesn't take that away from us. But Bransford makes the more important point so well: Why would you want to?

Anne, I don't think Bransford is encouraging authors to keep silent; he's encouraging them to write thoughtful, respectful reviews that contribute to the conversation.

Now. All that said, I'm in the camp of not posting negative reviews, and only crowing about books I love and/or support... and that's primarily for the reason Mirka stated so eloquently above--why give your time, attention, and energy to something you don't want to promote? (My exception is the "What are you reading?" thread in Book Talk, here on the Blueboards; we're all craftspeople and a quick discussion of what's working or not is useful to us as writers.)

But I also want to say that, as a favor to a friend, I started writing TV reviews for a blog this summer. After having done it for a bit now, I am really starting to wonder what the value is... particularly for individual bloggers reviewing books. On the one hand, I definitely still believe in showing support for things you love (and am hugely grateful to the bloggers who daily share their love for my books with their readers). But I guess I'm not sure what value a negative review has. I totally understand the value of *institutional* reviews on library collections--budgets are limited and librarians can't buy every book and don't have the time to personally read every title released in a season to decide. But when I, a casual blogger, write a critical review of a TV show or a book... who benefits from *that?* How does it add goodness to the world?  (I don't know the answers or the right thing here, but this is a question that I've been wrestling with, as a blogger-reviewer.)
#9 - February 08, 2012, 03:13 PM

Actually, ecb, I think tv reviews are really helpful. A book, I can crack open, read something that's not for me, close it, and it's usually not a big deal. But if I think a tv show is one thing and it's not those images are *burned into my brain*!!!

I really do want to know if a show isn't worth my time - so brava for the tv reviews! Plus, you can't skim a show - you just have to give it some time and see if it goes splat. That's why I usually don't start a show till I hear it's great, then I catch up on Netflix. TV has a very special place in my heart. I love my shows... :)

But anyway...

I do mostly agree with Nathan. I don't think it's true that authors should *never* voice a negative opinion. I wouldn't do it based on craft, or ability, or taste. But I can think of reasons why I might say, "I'm not a fan of that book or author" but it would be very selective, and not "casual" which was his point, I think.

For instance, I've seen editors tweet and write reviews saying things about New Dawn like, "there's a problem with a story where a girl is physically hurt by a relationship with a boy and shrugs it off because he loves her." I think that's a good point. I think it's ok for someone in the business to make it. That's a lot different than trashing a debut novelist for an incomplete character arc, though...
#10 - February 08, 2012, 03:32 PM
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As I've mentioned in other, similar threads, I do review books even though I also write (although I'm pre-published, heh). 

Since I find value in reviews which mention why someone didn't like a book, I will put that in my reviews -- but I also try to mention something positive (or perhaps the type of reader that book will appeal to).  Even though I have a one-star rating in my 'system,' I don't use it anymore.  (One star means I put it down after only reading the first few chapters.)  I don't feel I can really 'review' a book I can't even get through, so why bother?  And when I read friends' books (or even acquaintances') that I don't really find to my taste, I will often just pretend I didn't read it rather than give a less-than-stellar review.

Still, I think three stars is good, considering the vast variety of books and tastes out there, so I don't worry so much about that.
#11 - February 08, 2012, 04:27 PM
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As Tabwriter notes, Nathan only outlaws "casually [word censored]" reviews from writers; he outright states that he thinks "thoughtful" reviews are just fine. So do I. I love reading reviews and learn a ton from them, both about the subject matter of the book, and about what appeals to readers, or turns them off. (I have subscribed to The New York Times Book Review for years, along with, off and on, other review journals such as Horn Book, BookList, and VOYA, for which I used to review). I think we're all smart enough to decide when a negative review is fair and when it's written with an agenda or for the reviewer to show off. Nor do negative reviews necessarily keep me from reading the book. For example, Julia Glass's second novel got a lukewarm review in the NYTBR, but I'd loved THREE JUNES so much that I was willing to follow Glass anywhere. I bought the book, understood the reviewer's point of view, but loved the book anyway, for reasons the reviewer didn't mention.

Thoughtful reviews help me see things in books that I might not have noticed on my own. They alert me to books I want to read, they make me think about my own writing. I particularly like reading reviews by writers because I like to see their perspectives on books, to see what it is they notice.

That said, I do have some shame about reviews I wrote years ago for VOYA where I might have put a sense of my own cleverness above the writer's hard work. I was submitting and being rejected at the time, and I fear my reactions to some books might have been based more on my impression that MY book that got rejected was way better than this book that got published. Which leads me to my point: I think I used to fit into one of the most dangerous categories of reviewers---writers who are working very hard to get published but who haven't yet had a book accepted, and whose envy and frustration sometimes comes through in their reactions to the books they are reviewing.
#12 - February 08, 2012, 05:28 PM

Exactly right, ecb, thanks for pointing that out. Must read more carefully before I go off getting annoyed! I would agree that there's no point for authors to pen casual snarky reviews.
#13 - February 09, 2012, 04:33 AM
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Linda

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Hey---I write snarky reviews all the time!

Seriously, I think there's real value in negative reviews as long as they are not personal attacks on the writer, but rather more constructive criticism on the writing elements.  As the saying goes "Even Homer nods", and c'mon----there's a lot of nodding going on in the big bad world of kiddie lit.

And honestly? We can't point out the flaws of a book? This reminds me of the "everybody wins" participation ribbons my kids used to get in third grade. For third graders, this isn't such a big deal, but by the time we're out and about and writing for third graders, we should be able to take a couple on the chin without needing a ribbon to salve our ancient hearts.

(But I know of what I speak. My first review of my first book was SLJ slammin'...."meandering...confusing...not a first purchase." OW!  But now I laugh....sorta.)


On the other hand, I am a big fat weenie. I don't want authors calling me in the dead of night and breathing into the phone. I am also cognizant that even "constructive" criticism is apt to be taken personally. So, I take pains to obscure the details (never mention the book by name or author for starters) because if it's a valid criticism/discussion of the technique that applies more universally to children's lit, then I don't need to hold a particular book up for ridicule.


For instance, I just posted a snarky review of novellas in general ( and three in particular) on my website.   Man, they made me mad!  But then, read the review from the week before---I really loved that one!

Z

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#14 - February 09, 2012, 05:56 AM

Linda

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After having done it for a bit now, I am really starting to wonder what the value is... particularly for individual bloggers reviewing books. On the one hand, I definitely still believe in showing support for things you love (and am hugely grateful to the bloggers who daily share their love for my books with their readers). But I guess I'm not sure what value a negative review has.  ...who benefits from *that?* How does it add goodness to the world?  (I don't know the answers or the right thing here, but this is a question that I've been wrestling with, as a blogger-reviewer.)

Again, if we're just slamming a book, an author, because we don't like it, then there's no reason in the world to go negative. But if we say, "I had a hard time with this book for the following reasons" and we discuss the flaws of logic, narrative and character, then there's all the reason in the world to write. We're writers, man. We're all on the same team. We care PASSIONATELY about story and character, the advancement of literature---and when a fellow teammate write gets lazy, gets sloppy, tries to coast on her reputation or her social media skills to make up for bad writing, then we're honor-bound to call 'em on it. (I know because I just looked it up in the handbook.)

Besides, truth hurts only when it needs to hurt.

Z


#15 - February 09, 2012, 06:16 AM

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Thanks for sharing this--very interesting!
#16 - February 09, 2012, 06:57 AM
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