Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why I Don't Do Public Book Reviews

When I first dived into the online community, it was from the primary attitude of a reader. I joined a prominent reading forum and had a blast learning about new books, talking about books, and having the opportunity to meet some authors in Q & A chats. I even posted the occasional book review. I quickly realized something that made me pause and think. Having a writer review a story can sometimes add further insight and/or even injury to a book review because writers tend to know more things to praise or get picky about. I soon stopped sharing my thoughts in public places and this is why:

Reading is a subjective process. There will always be someone out there who hates or loves every book written. And considering only a fraction of the world's population is online for these kinds of reviews (I know more people who aren't connected online than are) it can twist general perception of a book for the writer who's work is being reviewed. They don't get to see or hear the opinion of the many others out there who have also read their book. Plus online popularity is a butterfly and often deceiving.

As a writer, I don't want reviews to backfire on me. Maybe I didn't connect with a certain book. If I write up a bad review online I always run the risk of alienating the author of the book. Maybe we might meet someday and maybe we might have become good friends. And maybe I'll end up loving the next book they write. Why should my personal views give anyone a moment of grief or build up the image of importance because I loved that one book? Of course, we all expect authors to react professionally to good and bad reviews, but we don't exactly live an ideal world the last time I checked.

 I'm also a very active beta reader. I see a lot of manuscripts. I refuse to write public reviews for anyone I beta read for. It's too sticky a situation. Plus, when I beta read, I make a point to shrug off my own subjectiveness in order to be an unbiased, technical helper. That way I can applaud a writer's achievements, even if I normally (as a reader) wouldn't ever pick up their book in published form because it's not what I enjoy reading.

People tend to forget public reviews (even from critics) are op-ed pieces. I'm not a confrontational type of person and would like to avoid either side of the drama. However, if I do absolutely love a book, I will mention it to others. I won't write a review, but I do enjoy using the power of word-of-mouth to help a book I believe in get more attention.

I do have a Goodreads account and I will rate books. No one should ever read too much into those stars I assign. A one star either means I didn't like the story or characters, didn't connect with the writing, or couldn't finish it because I lost interest. It doesn't mean all of the above apply. This is a reflection on my own reader biases. There are some writers I've given high stars to on one book and a one or two star on another. Subject matter in a story holds a lot of sway with me. For instance, I'm not into sex, it's just not enjoyable for me to read. That's me, being subjective.

I really don't read book reviews much anymore. Why? Because someone else's likes and dislikes are not the same as mine. I take note when someone says they really loved a book but then I need to go read up on the story for myself to decide if it is something I might enjoy as well. Book reviews are nice and all, but I don't need to know someone else's mind to make up my own. Recommendations are welcome, but I can't judge a book by its reviewer.

Anyone who's had me for a beta reader can vouch for this: I can take a manuscript apart piece by piece. When I'm in beta reader mode, I'm looking for flaws and strengths. As a reader, I try to turn the internal editor off. I want to sit back and be entertained or learn something. If I know I'm going to write a book review, that internal editor won't go quietly into the dark room on break. I have written a couple of negative reviews where that internal editor tried to play beta reader for an already published book. It's bad form. I'm not happy about that and it's very hard to take a review like that back once it's already public and being read. Plus, I realized that I hate reading scathing reviews. They're mean-spirited, and reek of personal opinion. They're also easy to write and we never know from what angle the reviewer is coming from. Maybe they consider that author or book a personal threat to what they write or believe in. Too often, a bad review from a non-professional, has a personal agenda behind it.

Some people love to write book reviews. Some blogs are entirely dedicated to that end. That's perfectly fine. It fills a niche for some readers. Please don't think I'm knocking down anyone who writes book reviews. There are people out there who rely on the popularity vote and only read books based on the book reviews they find. For myself, I haven't found reviews very helpful, and I hope no one wonders why they only see stars and no reviews on my Goodreads page. Back cover blurbs from other writers and industry professionals don't really do much for me either, as far as persuading me to read a book. They're usually generic sounding.

So there you have it. You won't find any book reviews from me. I give very temperate versions of my thoughts on books in a thread in my private group on AQC. Those mostly serve as "Yes, I recommend this book" or "No, this one just didn't do it for me." I do want to know about great new books from other people, I can just do without all the snark or gushing since they're subjective. I have respect for critics, professional or not, so please don't take offense when I say, "I'd like to make up my own mind, thank you."

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