Friday, June 13, 2008

Reviews, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly . . .

By Lonnie Cruse

I've been following a debate on a discussion list or two about reviewing books. I'm going to try to boil the discussion down.

Some writers think only other writers should review books because they know the ins and outs, the difficulties of writing an entire manuscript and getting it published.

But, unfortunately, some writers confess to having a tough time giving negative reviews to other writers, even other writers they don't know, keeping in mind the advice nearly every mother gives her child: "If you can't say something nice . . . " Makes it a bit tough to get a balance in reviews if all of them are "nice."

Some readers think only readers should review a writer's work because they know good writing when they see it, have the ability to step back and see the trees apart from the forest, and whether they love or hate a book, they want to share their views either privately with friends or with a large unknown Internet audience. In other words, they're impartial.

Some readers and writers don't care WHO does the reviews or how nice/nasty the review is as long as the reviewer doesn't give away key plot points. Let's face it, anyone who gives away key plot points in a review should have to eat the entire book. Without condiments.

I've been an avid reader since childhood thanks to my step-mother, a teacher and an avid reader. I can remember riding in a car with her and jumping in my seat when she turned a sharp corner just as I reached an exciting point in the story. NO idea what book that was, but the memory tells me why I love books. Getting THAT lost in a story.

Before I became a writer I had no problem sharing my reviews of books I'd read with friends, and had I been on an Internet discussion list then, I'd have done the same. But now that I'm a writer, I find it very difficult to discard the "If you can't say something nice" rule and say what I really think about a book. I recently stopped listening to an audio book because the character did something so out of character for a law enforcement officer that I found myself shouting at my MP3 player, "Dial 911, Dummy." The comment wasn't meant for the MP3 player, of course, but for the character. And I was on the elliptical cycle at the time, and I'm not at my charming best when I'm exercising. Twenty minutes on that thing is more like two hours. Where was I? Am I going to post that particular review on the Internet or name the writer? Nope.

Here are my thoughts from a writer's perspective:

Once you learn the, ahem, "Rules of Writing" it is VERY difficult to read a book by another author and not find things that most readers would simply overlook in the enjoyment of the story. Repeat words, weed words (as Darlene posted about recently) shifting POV's, LY words, ING words, you name it and there is most likely a rule against it. So, if the story is compelling and the characters engaging, most readers who don't write will love it, and their eyes will slide right over such errors. Writers who have had the rules pounded into our heads will be stopped short. Reading for pleasure isn't as easy as it once was. But neither is reviewing.

Writers know how very important reviews are to a book's sales. And while we all reassure each other that even negative reviews sell books, we don't really buy that phrase when it comes to our own books. Not for a minute. So it's harder for a writer to post negative reviews of other writers.

It's nigh unto impossible for me to post a negative review of a book. However, I do read other people's (writers or readers) reviews because they keep me from wasting time and money on books I won't enjoy. I'd love to do that for the rest of you, but I just can't. Unless I love the book. Maybe. Could I possibly waffle a bit more on this subject? Let me get back to you on that.

The more you love to read, the more you want to share your opinions about the books you read. Nice or nasty. I think that's a good thing. The number of people reading for pleasure appears to be down in today's world, and I'm for anything we can do to encourage others to read. And word of mouth sells more books than just about any kind of advertising you can think of. Writers love that. I hope the rest of you will continue to read and to discuss with others the books you read. Me? I'll be waffling in the corner. And reading.

By the way, I'll be away from my computer most of today, selling and signing at the annual Superman Celebration in downtown Metropolis, IL. The celebration is Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. TONS of vendors selling lots of interesting stuff. I'll be with the other writers and artists in the building next to Thor's Gym. Please drop by and say hi. Next week I hope to have pictures of the Celebration for you.

9 comments:

Sharon Wildwind said...

I agree completely about not doing a negative review. Being a writer is a very small pond, and I know–I just KNOW-that the person I write a bad review about will end up sitting next to me at some point. Better to just wish the writer well in my head than to say anything negative in public.

caryn said...

Hi Lonnie,
I write a lot of reviews for three different sites and post some on Amazon. Two publishers send me books to review and to blurb on a couple of lists, so I was sort of ataken aback when the idea was floated that folks like me had no business reviewing! I try to be fair. I don't do negative reviews. If I didn't like a book, I try to say why tempered with what sorts of readers would enjoy it.

Personally, I don't care who writes the reivews I read-and I do read a lot of them. I want the reivew to tell me a little something about the book and a lot about what sort of a book it is. If I hear it is a well plotted cozy through and through, I'll put it on my maybe list. If I read that it is a classic noir which exposes the darker side of humanity with much explicit language, good to know as this book is probably not for me.

Other things that I like to read in a review are:
Is this book action driven or character driven? Is the setting a major part of the story? Did the author play fair? Does the final solution make sense based on the clues given?

What I don't want in a review is a lot of technical analysis of the writing. I'm a reader. Unless someone has pointed it out to me or it violates some basic grammar rule learned many years ago, I'm probably not going to care if the author has broken 12 "writer's rules." That fact is, that a book can be perfectly written following every rule and be...dare I say this...boring!

Lonnie Cruse said...

Caryn, I love your reviews, keep 'em comming.

Sharon, like you, I fear sitting next to some writer I've given a bad review . . . or worse, meeting them in a dark alley!

I just got home from the Superman Celebration. Sold well, nearly drowned in the storm. Whew.

Sandra Parshall said...

Writers are very picky readers, and that can ruin our pleasure in a book, but you're right, Lonnie -- readers who don't write may not mind the things that irritate us. In fact, if the author has a gift for storytelling, I'll stop minding the flaws too.

Now that I'm a published writer, I have no desire to trash anybody's books in a public forum. I may express my dissatisfaction to friends or in a closed online group, but in a group like DorothyL, I'll watch what I say. I don't want anybody savaging my books in public, and I don't want to do it myself to other people's work. That kind of thing HURTS, and we should always remember that. If you can't say something nice, keep your mouth shut -- or your fingers off the keyboard.

Julia Buckley said...

Glad you're home safe and sound! Is there any flooding in Metropolis? I can't believe the images I'm seeing in Iowa. It's as shocking as the New Orleans flood. I'm starting to build my ark tomorrow.

paul lamb said...

I think every reader's experience with or reaction to a given novel is legitimate -- but only for that given reader.

I have generally not found reviews to be helpful to me. Oddly, the books that the New York Times loves are generally the ones I don't like at all. I suppose I'm just not sophisticated enough to appreciate the books they like, but I do think the writers there want to be seen as hip and wil love all of the "right" books.

Lonnie Cruse said...

Paul,

Great thoughts, thanks for sharing. Ditto, Sandy and Julia.

And yes, we're fine in Metropolis. The river IS up quite a bit. We noticed it when we walked at the park this week. Hope it doesn't get above flood stage. However, we got hit with a huge storm last night that dumped lots of rain. Whew. Took a bite out of the Superman Celebration.

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