Advocating a middle-of-the-road approach to reviewing…

An interesting blog post about negative reviews: should we, as reviewers, be publishing negative reviews at all?

As a reviewer and editor, I urge caution if one decides to post a negative review. As others have pointed out, reading is a subjective activity. Posting negatively because the book isn’t to one’s personal taste is unfair to the author, as it ignores the quality of the writing itself. There should be a set of criteria for reviewing to prevent purely “subjective tastes” from potentially ruining an author’s career. Plot cohesion and clarity, character development, imagination (although this can veer into the subjective realm), and grammatical correctness are a couple of criteria I apply when reviewing books. I also attempt to identify the audience that the particular book might appeal to, as I am always aware of the wide variety of reading preferences.

I have been thinking about review quality a lot lately. When I look at some of the reviews blogs out there, I am shocked by the lack of sophistication and critical thinking inherent in many of the reviews. Simply saying “this is a great book” and giving it a star rating doesn’t cut it for me. If I were to write a novel, I would want to know why the person liked the book–what aspects in particular would appeal to readers, what specifically did you like about the book, characters, or plot–were there any particular passages that appealed to you, anything creative that sparked your interest in the book in the first place?

I am bothered by the fact that bloggers like these have become such an intense focus of the publishing industry (speaking as a book blogger myself). This thought is quite controversial, I know, and I’m not thrilled with the corruption at times of “professional” reviewers, either, but the fact that numerous people without the background, experience, critical thinking or writing skills to seriously critique books are out there determining who will “win” and “lose” in the game of literary “greatness” bothers me a lot. How would you, as an author, feel, knowing that you are at the mercy of just anyone who feels like making a thoughtless comment about your work; that you have to kowtow to people who wouldn’t know first from third person point of view or how to correctly conjugate a verb…

Hm, it sounds as if I’m advocating for reviewer elitism here; I’m actually not. What I am advocating is a thoughtful, middle-of-the-road approach to reviewing. If people would just explain in detail why they liked or disliked a book AND ensure their reviews are comprehensively written (using correct grammar, spelling, etc), then I think authors, readers, reviewers, and the entire industry would be better served. (note: a few typos, a mistake here and there is NOT what I’m criticizing; it’s the larger issues.)

5 responses

  1. Great post! I have had to review books that I didn’t particularly like, but as you said, I try to look at it from the view point of someone who might like the book…I am by no means a professional, but I do love reviewing and dread the thought of trashing something that someone poured so much time, effort and love into. Now, let’s talk word counts…lol…

    • The upside of blogging is no word limit! Sometimes I’ll expand on a word-limited review here on the blog…but there is a reason, believe it or not, for word limits, namely “conciseness.” Few people have the patience to read an entire “essay” when they could get the same information in 300 words! It’s also a quite a skill to be able to say what you want to say in 300 or fewer words…

  2. I totally agree. I cannot see the point of writing and posting in public a negative review – one that includes a little _constructive_ criticism is fair enough, but something that rubbishes an author…. what purpose does this serve?

    I admit I DO tend to leave just a comment on Amazon “Liked this book, very entertaining” sort of thing, but then I regard Amazon’s comments as just that – comments. The choice for me would be a quick comment or nothing at all as I do not have time to do in depth reviews on Amazon of everything I read.

    I don’t necessarily agree with you about ‘people without the background, experience, critical thinking or writing skills to seriously critique books’ – you don’t have to know all this to know you’ve enjoyed (or not enjoyed) a book (although to give _in depth_ professional critique, yes I do agree)

    If you liked a book – say so, if you didn’t like it and have a genuine reason of why you didn’t like it, then say so, if you must: “Too much historical detail, not enough romance for my personal taste” is a fair comment (or the opposite; “Too much romance, not enough historical detail” – I have had both for the same book!)
    “This book is a load of garbage” is not helpful to anyone, except maybe to satisfy the spite of the person writing this type of “review”.
    If it was that bad why bother even finishing it, let alone reviewing it?

    • Oh, I wasn’t talking about Amazon or Goodreads, sites like that. I’m referring to book review blogs that establish ties with publishers, really; I think they are trying to be “professional” without actually being able to do “professional” work, but that’s just my personal opinion. See, I knew this would be controversial : )

      • I agree, professional blog sites should be professional in output – although there are some that have got a good reputation because they give good, fair, reviews as enthusiastic readers.

        It’s the unprofessional people who give bad “reviews” on Amazon etc that do the damage to authors (in my personal opinion.) There is not a lot an author can do about the “what a load of rubbish” type comment posted on Amazon.

        Personally, any blog that posted negative reviews I wouldn’t bother with. I haven’t got the time, or inclination, to read through a review panning a book – I want suggestions for books to read, not those not to read!

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