Many book bloggers have made the switch to becoming an author. Here three authors – past and present Chicklit Club team members – explain how they have dealt with writing book reviews and judging their peers after making the transition.
Anyone who’s written a book will not only know the precise time of dawn at any given time of year, but also about the chocolate and caffeine addictions you have to break after you finish the book, the process of weaning yourself off wondering about what such-and-such a character would do in any given situation, and the fear that the rest of the world might not like your little munchkin book as much as you do.
Anyone who’s written a book knows how all-consuming it is, and how much that book means to the writer. How easy is it then for a writer to review books, going into the review process with the weight of that knowledge?
I was a reviewer with www.chicklitclub.com before my first book, Looking for Leon, was published. After I completed the editing process and all the other components that go into the publication of a book, I noticed I was looking at every book I read in a different light. Before, I read books and I either enjoyed them or I didn’t (the “didn’t” aspect was rare).
Obviously I analysed why I felt the way I did about any given book, and the results of my analysis formed the backbone of my reviews, but after I was published I definitely evaluated books in a different way. For example, I thought a lot about the type of genre (and sometimes sub-genre) the book was in. I’d ask myself if this book was written to suit a particular publishing trend that was popular at the time of release, which would lead me to ask myself if the author REALLY wanted to write THIS book, or if they were possibly influenced by outside forces in the creation of their latest offering. Before, I would have taken the book at face value and not considered the ‘What’s hot right now?’ element. As a reviewer, I enjoyed the process more before my newfound knowledge of the industry came into play.
Then there’s the fact that as an author reviewer, books by your author friends may well end up on your ‘To be reviewed’ reading pile. This poses something of a dilemma. Do you read them yourself or pass them on to a colleague for review? Is it possible to remain detached if you really like the writer of the book? Are you already positively predisposed to the book and it will therefore receive a better review from you? You have to very consciously put aside the writer when reading a book by someone you know for the purposes of reviewing it, which again is something that can detract from the enjoyment of the book if you have to work too hard at it.
I also know now that sometimes things happen to your book that are entirely out of your control. There may be a typo on your blurb, for example, but you never got to proofread the final version of it. Reviewing post-publication, there were a lot of things that I wouldn’t point out in a review even if they’d annoyed me because I know that such issues would probably reflect badly on the author even though it was more than likely the responsibility of someone else in the process to have sorted that out. Does that make my review incomplete? Would someone read my review and wonder why I didn’t point out that Sam suddenly became Sue in the middle of the book? Would the readers of my review wonder if I’d even read the book at all?
Nowadays, when I read a review of a book that I’ve read myself and I wonder why the reviewer hasn’t pointed out things that were critical factors for me, I remind myself that we all see the world through our own prisms. As with everything else in life, we bring our own experiences to any given situation – including book reviews. All a reviewer can do is to try to be as fair as possible when reviewing, and give THEIR truly honest thoughts on the book. And from a writer’s perspective, if someone doesn’t like your munchkin, that’s okay. The next reviewer might see something completely different in it.
Reviewing books is always a minefield. For book bloggers who have gone on to publish their own novel, it is especially fraught. There can be the perception that they may be currying favours with other authors, promoting books from their own publisher, dissing the opposition and no longer sharing their honest, unbiased opinions.
Some find they can’t review books publicly anymore now they have joined “the club”. It’s not just because they are too busy writing, it’s also because they don’t feel comfortable critiquing their peers, especially if the read has not been a positive experience. Some will only share their recommendations for books they love, and never mention the ones they loathe.
As a reviewer, what do you do when you don’t like a book, especially when the writer is someone you know or an online acquaintance? The last thing you want to do is hurt anyone’s feelings or have them unfriend you on Facebook or bash your book in return. But as a reviewer, you have a duty to your blog readers to not let these sort of considerations cloud your judgment.
I’ve seen this comment many times from authors after a negative review: Why didn’t the reader consider how much time and effort have gone into writing the book? A fellow author certainly should understand the struggle and couch everything in positive terms.
Yes, yes, I agree that all authors know only too well how hard the writing gig is, and how much of an accomplishment it is to just get to publication stage. But I disagree that this means you can’t be critical about a fellow author’s work.
When someone asks me what I think about the latest blockbuster movie, I don’t consider the time the leading man spent at acting school or how many years of experience the director has, or how much effort it took for the hair and makeup and wardrobe teams to transform the cast. My response is based on the overall movie experience – how it entertained and touched me. The same thing when asked if I’d recommend that new restaurant. If the meal wasn’t enjoyable, I don’t give extra marks just because it’s bloody tough being a chef.
So it’s hard work writing a book – that’s a given. But the question is: has the author produced one that I rate highly? How has their effort played out in terms of hooking in the reader?
The most important thing about writing a book review is you can’t consider the author or her feelings. You are not sharing your opinion for their benefit and providing a personal critique service. You are letting other readers know what you thought of the book and if it is something they should pick up.
As a reviewer I never, ever go into reading a book hoping I’ll find fault with it. Trust me, it disappoints me too when I don’t enjoy your book. But when I write the review, I can’t be worried about what you’ll think. I am not part of your publishing or promotional team. I am a reviewer with a responsibility to my readers to show what I think of books – both the good and the bad. Being an author means I can empathise with you about what it feels like to receive a negative review, but it doesn’t mean I won’t write one ever again.
After publishing Don’t Mention the Rock Star, I thought, like so many before me, that I’d find it difficult to pen unfavourable reviews. In fact I’ve found the opposite.
If your book has been through your publisher’s processes, then it shouldn’t be littered with grammatical errors and continuity problems. If you pressed publish after banging out your first draft in six weeks, then there’s every chance I’ll find your book underdeveloped and lacking polish. If you’ve truly worked your butt off, then your story shouldn’t be dull, predictable and full of plot holes and stilted dialogue.
So, I am sorry to say, I’ve probably become even more critical than ever!
Okay. So, I’ll admit that I’ve written some scathing reviews in my time. Mostly on Goodreads, where I’d rant and rave about annoying heroines, giant plot holes, missing quotation marks, or recycled plots.
I admit that sometimes I was mean. I admit that sometimes I was careless. And most of all, I admit that I never thought about the author personally reading my review.
That is, until I became an author.
That is, until I started reading my own book reviews. And let me tell ya, they aren’t always nice.
Oh my God. The first scathing review I got shocked me! I couldn’t believe someone could have such an intense, angry reaction to something I wrote. And what’s worse, sometimes reviewers feel the need to review me, rather than my writing.
It’s taken some work, but I’m really trying to not take it personally. I don’t like every book I read. Why should anyone else?
I’ve heard numerous times that there’s no such thing as a bad review. That even if someone rates your book poorly, even if they write 15 pages of how angry they are at your heroine/plot device/word choice/POV, it’s still a good review because you made them FEEL something.
So did becoming an author change the way I review books?
Yes. Absolutely. While I still come across books I don’t like, I try to keep in mind that a PERSON wrote it, and that same PERSON might read my review. So, I’ve made the following agreement with myself.
When I write a book review, I will:
1) Be honest.
2) Be kind.
3) Review the story, not the author.
I don’t always like every book I read. Just because I’m an author, it doesn’t mean that I’ll be dishonest and say that I liked something when I didn’t. But I’ve come to learn that I can say, “I wasn’t a fan of this scene or this character” or whatever in a way that doesn’t demean the person behind the story. We need to keep in mind that we’re reviewing a story, not a writer.