Wanted: A Little Backbone & A Lot of Opinion


Howdy, all!  It's Monday evening (ish) and I'm still alive.  *confetti and noise makers*  I trust that you are too?  If not I may never know, but I'll keep blogging just in case ...

I don't do many 'RANT' posts, because I'm a pretty laissez-faire kind of guy when it comes to the writing/blogging world.  Do what you do, and I'll do what I do.  Let the fates decide if any of it is worth the time we've invested.  However, something has been eating at me lately, and it seems to keep coming up in other blogs so I thought I'd throw in my thoughts.  


Do you read book reviews on blogs?  Better still, do you do reviews (of any kind) on your blogs?  Why do you read them, or why do you write them?  I would think it would be to give/get an opinion, or to share impressions of an experience so that others can have an idea of your perspectives and perhaps relate it to their own.  Is it to tell you how "awesome", "squee", or "frabjous" EVERY. SINGLE. BOOK. is?  Didn't think so ...


Points of Claire-ification, one of the blogs I follow (you should too :), posted a book review last week.  In the review, Claire (the bloggist) opted to change the format from the typical review in an attempt to bring a little flavor to a pretty standard blog feature.  I can't even begin to say how much I appreciated her efforts.  Why?  Because it told me that she was aware of the fact that 99.9% of the reviews out there are saying the same things.  What are they saying?  It goes something like this: 


"You have to read this awesome book!  If a unicorn and a rainbow had a baby it would TOTALLY be THIS book!  If that RainIcorn-book/baby had a bm it would TOTALLY be made of diamonds and butterflies!"       


You get the idea.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating for people to go out and torch books they hate on their blogs.  I'd just like to read something remotely balanced.  Sure the book might have been good, but wasn't there anything that didn't work?  Most of the followers of these 'writing' blogs are other writers and readers, so give us something to think about.  Heck, even the Bible has its faults; Genesis isn't exactly an opening chapter that ZINGS!  And don't get me started on Deuteronomy--talk about an info dump!  :)


Here's the real reason I'm complaining.  I think people don't review honestly out of fear.  Fear of ticking off a would-be agent or editor.  Fear of offending another writer or reader.  Fear of simply saying what they think.  


Is there merit behind such fear?  Maybe.


Just today I read two different (both fairly prominent) lit agent blogs that basically told aspiring authors to not post negative statements about other books, agents, etc. on their blogs.  To be clear, they weren't JUST talking about going postal; they were talking about simply being negative in tone or connotation.  


I think that's fooey.  If you're going to offer reviews on your blog, you should give an honest, balanced opinion.  If that means saying you just didn't get or enjoy it, so be it.  If an agent or editor can't appreciate an honest evaluation of one of their clients books then I'm not sure they'd make the best agent or editor in the first place.  


What say you?  Do you read the billions of reviews out there?  Do you think blog content can negatively impact your search for representation?  How much filter is too much?  Convince me that I'm a David Downer who needs to mind what he says.  


Sincerely,


Agent-less in Seattle  :)     

22 comments:

  1. I think you have some valid points, there. One of the hardest parts about being a blogger in a blogger's world is the fear of being potentially black-listed if you rip apart someone else's book, especially if they, too, blog. I don't think it's a bad thing, though, as long as you're being objective and fair, and not nasty. If you're just bad-mouthing the author, then I see a problem.

    Sincerely,

    Newly-Pittacus-Lore-less in Los Angeles :)

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  2. Totally agree, K. And I love the name!

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  3. I think the key is not being cruel, but being honest. I had a dilemma when I finished Mockingjay this weekend. I dreaded writing a review.
    I didn't think it was bad. I didn't think it was poorly written. I didn't hate it. It just wasn't my thing. My eventual review was a mock letter where I break up with the book. An "it's not you, it's me" kind of thing. I wasn't just trying to be funny, I was trying to make it clear that nothing is wrong with the book, but it's not for me. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
    I certainly hope I won't be banished for being honest about a book. :0) I appreciate the time and effort the author put into the book. I think it's a great concept, but I can't get all squeed out over a book I'm not crazy about.

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  4. Book reviews should be short and to the point.
    They should give you the highlights and stay away from the parts the reviewer didn't love.Publishing is hard enough. We're all in this together. No?
    Reality is... there will always be the attention seeking internet maniacs who will slander everyone if given a chance. There are people who are angrily voicing their opinions about Huckleberry Finn for goodness sake.

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  5. KO - Read your post and laughed my butt off! (And totally agreed with you, btw.)

    @ TDR - I definitely think you can take criticism too far. However, a review is a critique (in my opinion) and probably shouldn't omit the bad parts. If it does, it seems like more of a commercial. Which is okay, but it should be presented as such.

    I love writers and artists, and recognize that it is a highly subjective experience. Just because I love something doesn't mean others will see the value in it. Which is even more of a reason to clearly voice your true opinion (if you choose to share it at all).

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  6. There's nothing more frustrating than reading a great book review on a blog to only then buy the book and be totally disappointed. I now make a habit of checking customer reviews after reading a blog review.

    I agree. If blogs are going to offer reviews, they should be honest.

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  7. Thanks for the reference, EJ.

    I'm also tired of the rainibow reviews. And you know if I say I love something, I'm about ready to backflip through a macaroni for it. Case in point, my review of ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, where I turned into a blubbering fan-girl.

    However, even in fan-girling, you should say what absolutely rocks.

    It's tough reviewing a book that didn't gel with you. Especially if it's a book the rest of the blogospher is on about. But, publishers and agents are always on about the subjectivity of the business. It just wasn't for me is a valid comment. In fact, I recently read a book, and it just didn't do it for me. And I chose not to review it. Because there wasn't really anything I didn't like, the book just didn't hook me. It's like all those ppl out there who are not your best friends. There's probably nothing wrong with them. Still you don't like them as much as you like others.

    So, review honestly or don't review. That's where I stand.

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  8. I totally agree with you. Especially about Deuteronomy.

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  9. Hey EJ:

    I've done one book review in my whole entire blogging life. Getting ready to do another one. But the book is a torturous read for me. The subject is not my thing. Zombies. Bleh. Better yet. Zombie sex. Double bleh. The back stated it was about zombie romance...love stories...short stories. NOT. It's mostly smut without meaning.

    I bought it to do an interview and review for a friend. The story she wrote fit the description on the back of the book jacket. It was cute and clean. No dead people having sex with dead or live ones.

    Right now gotta go to my potty room and force myself to read it. Bleh.

    Anyway, contemplating how to handle the review of this thing. Thanks for your insights.

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  11. @ TDR - We agree on one thing: Unicorns and butterfly asses can save the world! :)

    That's going to come back to haunt me ...

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  12. I have to disagree with you, E.J. I don't believe a reviewer has to make a concerted effort to find something wrong with a book just to make their review "balanced." My two best reviews came from Publishers Weekly. One review had only one comment that could be considered even remotely negative, and the other had nothing but positive comments. Unbalanced? Nope. The reviewer just really liked the books. I also got excellent reviews from someone with whom I've never gotten along, so it couldn't be considered a personal bias.

    When I read, if I get caught up in the characters and story, I'm more likely than not to be oblivious to minor flaws. It's a sign of good storytelling. Having said that, however, the review excerpt you posted here is just plain silly.

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  13. @ Norma - Perhaps I wasn't clear. I wasn't talking about scouring a book to find faults. (I actually think I said that very thing.) That's more like a personal attack. I'm talking about offering up a critical analysis of a work. If your primary feeling after reading a book is positive, then by all means focus on that. I just know there are folks who post LOTS of reviews and never mention anything remotely unflattering. I don't consider those to be reviews at all. (Again, the word commercial comes to mind.)

    I'm not advocating for writers to tear each other apart, btw. We are all in this together to some extent. I just think there needs to be a little more care and thought given when throwing out the word 'review' on our blogs.

    Although it brings up a valid argument: should writers openly review the work of other writers? It seems it may be too hard to do without making it personal.

    The review excerpt was intentionally silly.

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  14. Good points. I do reviews, as you know, but I slant them towards the good examples an author sets for me.

    On the other hand, I do mention books that don't hold my attention ... which can happen for a variety of reasons.

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  15. Kay, you are without a doubt one of the BEST reviewers out there. You always relate it back to writing, and do a great job of explaining what works and what doesn't.

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  16. I think this may be one of the most balanced opinions Iv'e seen on the 'reviewing as a writer' issue. Great post!

    I was frankly dismayed to see that some agents wouldn't sign a writer who negatively reviewed one of their client's books. I mean...really? Can we not be a bit more mature than that?

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  17. Thanks for the blog post! It's nice to hear a dissenting opinion on this controversy. I'm usually such a goody-two shoes, never rebel etc, but something about this whole thing just totally rubbed me the wrong way. I don't like being stifled. Sure, I'm agented, and so far, my agent hasn't cautioned me anything about this...BUT, I do have to worry about editors who might see a review I have on Goodreads and not like it. What really blew me away is some people thought we ought not to have any 3 Stars reviews, which last time I check meant You Liked It, not that it sucked.

    My main thinking is if a book is good enough to be the next Twilight or something, I doubt any agent or editor is going to go, "Oh I could make millions on this, but that author has been an asshat on some reviews....guess I'll have to reject!"

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  18. Ahhh thank you for this. I'm sure I've read at least one of the blog posts you're talking about and have actually put my blog on hiatus recently (I'm an aspiring author) because of not being sure how to approach reviewing (in the past I've written respectful but critical reviews) after hearing how it could potentially ruin my relationships with agents/editors/authors. I'm still not sure what I'm going to ultimately end up doing - about my reviews and the rest of the blog where I freely share my opinions - but I'm glad to see someone else saying that it's okay to be honest in reviews/blogs.

    I think there's a huge difference between dissing a book and talking about it honestly, which seems to be what a lot of people are forgetting here.

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  19. I'm for the balance approach when reviewing books for a magazine that's going to be widely read and truly affect sales: I've never respected reviews that seem an excuse on the part of the reviewer to slice someone's work to ribbons. But I think you definitely need to be honest about a book's flaws. It's truly upsetting to read rave reviews and buy the book and find out it's a bummer. Still, I can usually find SOMETHING I like about the book, while being up front and honest about the book's weaknesses.

    However, with reviews on my blog, there is no issue, since I only pick books I like and want to share with others. I tend to be a cheerleader for those books, because they inspired the desire to let others know about them.

    BUT: In the case of a book you honestly found flawed (and said so), I don't think you should be afraid of the consequences of honesty. We writers are always advised to find agents or publishers whose tastes in books match the ones we write. So-o-o..., do you think you'd submit to an agent or publisher who DID rave about the book you didn't like? And would you, in fact, want a blurb from an author whose work you didn't respect or enjoy? It's a sorting process from both sides of the question, really.

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  20. YES. A thousand times yes. I whole heartedly agree with everything you said and most of the comments made, and it's a relief to see that I'm not the only one who feels this way.

    Thank you!

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  21. E.J. This post made YA Highway's "Big News This Week!" http://www.yahighway.com/2011/01/field-trip-friday-january-28-2011.html Congrats! And thanks for inspiring the review post, which also made the news.

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  22. Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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