This topic has been brewing in my brain for a while now. A while back Roni Loren wrote a blog post called Book Review Debate in which she explained why she didn’t write bad reviews for books and why maybe other authors should consider not doing so either. There was a great debate that followed in the comments (which unfortunately seem to have been lost in a blog conversion.)
I agreed with her points, namely:
1. The writing world is SMALL.
The writer you one-star today may be the writer…sitting next to you at your next writers’ meeting, may one day share an agent/editor/publisher with you, may be someone you have to do a workshop with, may be someone who’s asked to blurb your book, etc.
A lot of the commenters disagreed with the stance as a whole, saying it lacked integrity not to give a negative review if you thought a book was bad. But it occurred to me that, in light of the above, posting a bad review as an author, is a bit like posting job reviews of your co-workers on the announcement board and signing your name to it. Sure, you’re owning your opinion, but you’re probably shooting yourself in the foot too. And for what? If they’re a bad employee, your one personal opinion isn’t the only thing that will clue others in to this. Let their boss, their clients, etc., be the ones to point this out, not you as a person who may have to work with them on an important project.
And yet, as my blog has evolved, I find myself writing more and more reviews. Why? Quite simply because having guest judges for 5MinuteFiction ties in so well with promoting a fellow author. But I’m not going to promote someone unless I know what I’m promoting. Which means I read their book. And we all know that reviews on the major sites where readers make their purchasing decisions (Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, etc.) is the lifeblood of new-author promotion. So if I’ve read the book, and can give it a good review, then it’d just be selfish and shortsighted of me not to do so, right?
So what’s the problem?
Well, it’s the not-so-good things about the book.
See, I review self-published books more than anything else. And I don’t care who you are, unless you were insanely lucky and snagged a great editor and the perfect crit-partners for yourself the first time around, your book will have problems. In my experience, the right editor and crit-partners are generally things you find after you’ve run through a few of the wrong ones. And that means putting yourself out there.
I found mine through the process of querying agents and small publishers. I had to expose my work to enough people over a long enough period of time, that I finally made those connections. That’s not the only path, but most people aren’t going to find the right team until they’ve survived the wrong one, which for self-published authors, often means after their first book is already out.
So I have your book and I really enjoyed it. I want to write you a good review because that’s what I’d want you to do for me and because you deserve it.
Do I ignore the weaknesses, pretend I didn’t see them, and write only about the good stuff?
I don’t think I can. For a lot of reasons.
- I usually don’t trust reviews like that anyway, especially if they’re an unknown author self-publishing and all they have are glowing reviews. I’m pretty much going to assume that all the reviews are written by friends and family and I can’t trust them to give the whole truth.
- Is anybody else going to tell you? If not, how will you know in order to improve the next time? Granted, this one can be handled by offering private comments, which I almost always do.
- I’m also putting my own professional name and reputation behind your book if I give it a good review.
And, here’s where it may get selfish, but I don’t want other authors and readers thinking I can’t tell good writing from bad. I may have enjoyed your book in spite of the cringe-worthy flood of adverbs and telling, because the plot, or character development, or whatever was just that good. Another person may not have the tolerance to handle that and may throw the book away in disgust and then resent me for leading them to believe that it had no major faults.
Neal Hock wrote a great guest post on The Writing Bomb that talked about the author risking their reputation by self-publishing a book with glaring errors or weaknesses. I 100% agree with this. But I think it goes farther than this. I think it risks my reputation too if I don’t at least acknowledge that, while I recommend the read, it does have drawbacks that one reader might consider a deal-breaker even if another doesn’t care that much about them. At least I’m giving them the information, as I see it, to make an honest assessment and informed decision.
To a lesser extent, a post by Chuck Wendig, Putting the Publishing Cart Before The Storytelling Horse, made me think of this topic. In a large part because the authors who are loudly denouncing the publishing industry from experience, and claiming that anyone not self-publishing is making a terrible error, are ones who have already gotten to the point at which they have a quality editor and the industry know-how and writing chops that their self-published works won’t have this kind of problem.
Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about typos and poor grammar. Quite frankly, I won’t finish a book that’s an egregious offender in those areas to have a review to write of it.
But if on the balance sheet I think your book was a good read, and you’re a good writer who will quit making those mistakes eventually, I want to help you promote it! I want to review it and tell others to read it.
But I have a career to think about too.
Thus my conundrum. Is it important as authors to maintain your professional integrity and list the bad with the good? Is it not important enough to readers or worth it for you and you should pretend the bad isn’t there? Should you just not write reviews at all? What do you think?