I participated in a lively discussion today about book reviews, and how other authors approach the delicate matter of reviewing work that they feel is, er, wanting, to say the least.
Which got me thinking.
I don’t leave a lot of book reviews. Mainly because I don’t have nearly enough time to read, and when I do, it’s usually one of my faves, something that delivers the sort of read I want with dependability. And I don’t feel compelled to review these authors – there are usually hundreds, if not thousands, of reviews extolling their virtues, so I don’t believe my two cents is going to afford any additional illumination.
But I will occasionally review a peer. Only one that I can give 4 or 5 stars, though.
Why? It’s obviously not because I have any problem putting forth controversial opinions. It’s mainly because if I read 10 books, I’m lucky if 2 of them would rank that high. The rest will vary from 2 to 3 stars – I don’t bother reading the 1 star books more than a few pages. And I don’t want to leave 2 or 3 star reviews, because my dislike of a book, or my thinking that it’s okay but nothing great, isn’t a typical reader’s take. I’m extremely hard on my own writing, so I’m hard on that of others, as well, but the things I may dislike may have absolutely no relevance for average readers. If I dislike echoes and am particularly sensitive to them, or feel that the word choice is lacking, or that the pacing is plodding or amateurish, that’s the author in me talking, not the reader.
I liken it to the difference between a film student going to see a movie, and me going to see the same movie. The film student may deduct points for things like camera work, angles, lighting, composition…a whole bunch of crap I have no idea about, not about which I particularly care. I just know whether the film was entertaining, well done (meaning acted and written), and satisfying. So my four star review might be the film student’s two star.
My two star book review might be someone else’s four or five star. Because I’ll likely be dinging it for technical issues that are invisible to the average reader. And that’s not fair to the book, or to those reading my reviews. And also, it feels like a waste of my time, because I wasn’t set on the planet to tell others how I think their books suck. The marketplace will more than determine that over time, so I’m redundant in that process. Thankfully.
Writers tend to want to pick apart the work of others. It’s an occupational hazard. But I recognize that failing in myself, and try to curb it, and not allow it to ruin my enjoyment of a book I’ve picked up for pleasure. It’s tough to do. You can’t view everything through the eyes of an editor, and then just switch that off when you’re reading someone else. You can try, but it’s tough.
Anyway, that’s my elegant rationalization for why I don’t leave more reviews, or reviews that are less than four stars. Life’s too short. It’s also why I no longer accept books from my fellow authors. Mainly because I have a year’s backlog on my kindle now, but also because while people say they want to hear criticism, most don’t really want that. They want to be told the book’s good. So when someone like me comes along and says something like, “it read like it meandered – you should cut 10%,” they take that personally. And I don’t want to piss anyone off. Again, because life’s too short.
What do you think? As readers, do you want authors you respect to leave reviews, even if they’re scathing? And authors – how do you approach this kind of thing?