What Writing a Book Taught Me About Reviewing Books #reading #writing #books #bookreview

I have a favorite quote that runs as follows:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.

Anton Ego, Ratatouille

For a kids’ cartoon, this is one of the greatest quotes on the state of The Arts (in general) that I’ve ever heard.  Having written reviews on various films (and to a much lesser degree, books), I can say: yes – writing a scathing review lends itself to a certain perverse enjoyment.  Moreover, I do tend to enjoy similar reviews written by others regarding works that I didn’t like.  Yes, I know.  I’m going to hell.

Then I put my butt on the line and wrote a book.  I have a much different outlook these days.

I have ripped up various authors in the past whose works I considered to be inferior, although I can’t think of an instance of doing so in written form; I usually saved such activity for movies, which have always elicited a stronger, more visceral reaction from me.  But in casual discussion (either spoken or written comments on social media), I certainly have let it fly.

Man, I think all of that is over, for the most part.  I will say, however, that I’m reserving my right to pull the knives out for anyone clearly writing from a cynical point of view.  I’ll give you a good “for instance”, here…

I recently learned of a practice (because this kind of low-level industry stuff tends to fascinate me) wherein romance authors are going back and revising already released work in order to fulfill an ever increasing series of specialized fetish niches.  It hadn’t even occurred to me that this was a thing that you can do, and yet, having published a book, I have found how easy it is to upload a new manuscript any time I felt like doing so.

The more main stream your romance story is, the more competition you have to get noticed.  The more specialized your subject matter is, the more you stand out.  You get more attention.  It’s easier for people to find the book and send money your way.  On top of that, there are the thrill seekers who find themselves drawn to the bizarre out of morbid curiosity and you can probably get a few bucks out of them, if you’re outlandish enough.

Now consider: Author A releases a standard boy-meets-girl story to fairly decent reception.  A solid little base of fans is built up, all of whom buy into the romance and, for better or worse, fall in love with the characters.  Maybe this is a stand alone book or maybe it will grow into a series one day.

Perhaps a year or two later, Author A realizes he or she can generate a lot more notice and money by turning boy-meets-girl into brother-bangs-sister.  Names and relationships are changed, a few scenarios are tweaked, and cover art is swapped out.  A flood of new readers looking for an edgier, more forbidden thrill come rolling in, yet meanwhile a small collection of diehard fans are left wondering what just happened to a series in which they have invested a significant amount of time, thought, and emotion.

It sounds as though I’m escalating this quickly, yet I can assure you that there’s a thick, hardened, cynical rind on the self-publish industry; this is only what I’ve discovered in my short time thus far.  These kind of shenanigans are totally legitimate targets for vicious reviews, as far as I’m concerned.  Unfortunately, I tend not to read this kind of material, so you’re not likely to hear it from me.

All that aside, a lot of the young adult romance/fiction that I used to revile (the Twilight series standing in here as the patsy) was, at some point, the hard work of a writer who was excited about telling that particular story.  It doesn’t matter if I enjoyed the work or not; that story is the representation of someone who worked hard to dream up and create a tale about characters that he or she loved.  It doesn’t matter if it has technical issues, novice writing errors, or issues in plot, or if it is fan fiction, or what reading level it is considered to be.  In fact, some of Hemingway’s best work was on the level of See Spot Run, for God’s sake!

That author felt a drive to create something, and he or she sat down and worked at it.  They didn’t try to get famous for duck faced selfies or get IG hits for flexing their ass muscles in the bathroom mirror.  They made a thing with their own hands, minds, and hearts.  They’re not to be ridiculed.  Whether we enjoy their labor or not, they are to be celebrated, especially in this, our most illiterate of ages.

For this reason, I will never write an unfavorable review for a book I dislike (nor will I write a favorable review for a book I dislike, for that matter).  The author simply bled too much to have a jerk like me rip it to shreds.  I’ll keep my damned mouth shut, thanks.

Film, on the other hand, is a diversion created entirely through cynical means: a marketable product produced by committee for the sole purpose of ensuring a strong return on investment.  Open season, as far as I’m concerned…

2 thoughts on “What Writing a Book Taught Me About Reviewing Books #reading #writing #books #bookreview

  1. This is an interesting phenomenon. I’ve also developed more sympathy for writers since dabbling in it just a bit myself. Yes, it is hard to do, and very hard to do well. But I don’t think that sympathy has affected my reviews much. If anything, I think I’m getting a little more thorough in conveying my opinion about a book I’m reviewing. Especially for indie authors, who I think NEED that feedback even more. I kinda feel like, if I’ve given their book a star rating, I’m sort of obligated to explain why I rated it the way I did.
    I don’t believe in giving a falsely positive review just because the author is new or self-published. That’s too much like a participation trophy. Nor do I think its fair (to them or to other readers) to censor or withhold my opinion, if its not positive. But the bigger issue, in my opinion, is that if nobody ever tells them what’s wrong with their book, they won’t know it. I feel like I owe them that honesty. That said, I can’t remember the last time I gave a book fewer than 3 stars, as I usually shop around for my next read and choose stuff it looks like I’m going to enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hear, you, man, and that’s well said. I’ll point out negatives in a story if I felt like the work was good overall; I’m not going to short someone a review because it wasn’t perfect. There are very few perfect books in existence.

      I don’t offer up reviews or opinions on books that I just outright couldn’t dig, though, unless specifically asked by the author, and then only in private. An author that asks indicates one that is genuinely interested in feedback. I don’t want to send it unsolicited. There’s too much potential for bad feelings or arguments; I don’t have any time for that.

      Thanks for your thoughts on this!


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