THE REVIEWER’S DILEMMA

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to really sit back and reflect on the impact my reviews must have on authors, especially after receiving my own very first not so great review for a book I’ve recently wrote and published.

I think the power a reviewer holds must be carefully wielded. It’s a fine line to dance upon when critiquing another’s work, especially a novel that, through my own experience, takes a huge amount of time and work to bring to a published book.  When I looked closer at the review, I noted a few things:

  1. The reviewer normally did not read my genre. (Trust me, after reading her romance novels, mine should shock the crap out of her, and it did, obviously).
  2. Should reviewers have many years under their belt as a seasoned “reader” as well as be a writer themselves so that they can appreciate the depth of the work they are critiquing? No, this doesn’t mean they can’t be 20 years old and be knowledgeable about the books they’re reading and reviewing. But they should like the genre they’re about to review, don’t you think? If you have no idea what a book is going to be like, and say, all you read is middle-grade books, taking the plunge into horror or supernatural/paranormal thrillers, may be asking for a shock or two.
  3. Thirdly, they should not be naïve about the ways of the world, or think it all goes away when you bury your head in the sand, or behind classics like Pride and Prejudice (which I also love too).  Going from Lizzie to serial killers like Ernest, is quite the stretch and I doubt the transition will be a smooth, sunshine and rosey one.
  4. Fourth, an understanding of what is expected in a ‘series’ should also be par for the course. If it’s a series, then not ALL questions will be answered in the first book, or, they would call that… a standalone. The first book’s job is to set up the series both with premise, setting, plot, and character development. If everything happened in the first book, then why create a series? Essentially if the author does this then, the story’s over after the reader closes the first book’s cover,  all answers are resolved, all  plot twists have concluded, so… what’s left for a series? Are we talking companions?
  5. And finally, the book makes you feel uncomfortable?  Well Hell! Great! It should if it’s in the supernatural/thriller genre, otherwise it would be called, oh I don’t know… romance? My book reads like a train wreck about to happen. You can’t look away even though you know what’s going to happen. It grabs you right in the gut, makes you hate the characters, you’ll become impatient with the Protagonist’s choices, and yup, when it’s over, it’ll leave you with frustration over unanswered questions… It’s not a bed-time story for kids. No! It’s not a Young Adult read so by God, don’t offer to read and review it if that is all you read. Please don’t, you’ll hate it, or it’ll hate you–make you suffer and feel all kinds of gross things by the time it’s done. And the guilt!!!! You’ll experience this is spades, because, guess what… IT’S SUPPOSE TO!

I don’t fear bad reviews, or even semi-not-so-great ones. It’s all part of the bizz. This isn’t my first rodeo, nor will it be my last. My books won’t be for everyone!  They are not all going to be dark and gloomy and gut twisting, but I write what I write.

As a reviewer, when I take on a book, or request a book from a publisher to review, or I’m offered a selection/a list of books to choose from, I do not pick books that I don’t normally read. For example: I don’t read lovey dovey, wishy washy romance stories, and most certainly, I don’t read YA romance (ughhh life is not about insta-love people!) Yak! See, I don’t like it, so I’m not about to destroy an author who writes these genres by getting my hands on their book to read and review. Why would I?

I stay away from them. I don’t like westerns either. My dad loved reading westerns, loads of them. We always had a box full of them in our basement that he’d read and re-read. He also loved science fiction and fantasy books, as do I. We’d swap books all the time, the sci fi and fantasy, not the westerns.  I don’t review westerns. I respect them as I do romance, but I know I wouldn’t give them the credit or discredit they deserve. I’m bias, so I avoid them at all costs. Of course, that doesn’t stop authors, publishers, agents from sending me these books. I end up passing them around to reviewers or friends I know that love them, or do giveaways.

I also don’t review poetry.  I am way too critical of poetry. I read it; I’ve even used it in my own work, but to review it… I would be brutal and I’m sure unfair in my critiquing. So I leave that to those who are better at it than I.  The rest of the genres in fiction, I pick and choose what I know will get a fair review, that doesn’t necessarily mean a good one, but it will be based on the above and critiqued fairly based on my experience as both a reader and a published author/writer.

Write what you know, know what you write. Great advice I once received from an outstanding author, Stephen R. Donaldson–my hero. I started writing because of him.  I’m what’s sometimes jokingly called a YingYang writer: my ying, is writing children’s stories; my yang, is writing supernatural thriller stories (adult fiction).

Why do I have two so very different writing backgrounds? I’ll save that for another article.

Reviewers, we authors cannot write without you. But please know the author, if even a little bit. Don’t just take the book to read, not if you intend on reviewing it later, without researching a bit about the author, a bit about the genre (especially if outside your comfort zone), and a bit about what it takes to write a novel.  You take on a responsibility when agreeing to review. You may hate the book, and that’s okay to say, really.  But don’t make comments about something that clearly shows you don’t know what you’re talking about, or that you shouldn’t be talking about it for obvious reasons (not what you normally read).  Of course, I don’t mean you need to break the review down like a book report. Gosh no! Well, unless that’s your style… then go nuts.

When I review, I don’t break everything down. I also don’t put words on a page I don’t mean. I do try to go half a review as a reader, and half as an author.  Often times, if the book is just not what I expected, or is so badddddd, I prefer to leave it alone, contact the author if possible, and talk to them privately. But that’s just me. That doesn’t mean I expect this from everyone else. They have their own style. If I don’t like a book, I’ve posted this, while trying to maintain a subjective position on the work. It’s a fine, gray line to teeter on, and often difficult to the point where I fall off, and step either way where I shouldn’t once in a while. No one’s perfect–not me, not other reviewers.

When I ask for an honest review, I want just that.  Quite frankly, saying that my book raised a wide range of emotions for you, twisted your guts, made you angry, made you hate a character… I jump for joy!  My book in this genre did what it was suppose to.

Those who understand the supernatural thriller genre will understand that statement.  Saying that my book has upset you because children in it die, when clearly on the back of the book it indicates that this will happen, well… what do you want me to say?

If you’re unsure, contact the author, ask questions. Most authors should appreciate this and be willing to fill in some blanks for you. If they don’t, then don’t read their book.
Of course, this is all my own opinions and advice. Reviewers out there come in all shapes and sizes and have their own styles and rules that they govern themselves by. We need them to voice their opinions, absolutely, please don’t stop. I would just like to see a bit more… what… a bit more of a business approach… hmm, not sure that’s what I mean… a little more insight and thought put into reviews that will show your words carry value and weight because they’re informed. Ya, maybe that.

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