June 7, 2012 Leave a comment
I’m reviewing books at the moment. It’s a challenge. Not because I don’t know how write a review, but because before I even sit down to read the book, I have to figure out whether I am the best person to write the review for it.
Those who know me personally will know that I am a fairly straightforward person. I say what I think. In fact, sometimes I only become aware of what I think when I hear the words coming out of my mouth. Writing at least provides me with a slight buffer between the thought occurring and me presenting it. I can consider the reviews I’ve written (at least I can now that I’ve learned not to review straight into the online forum, but rather write it out in Word, let it sit, then come back to it and post sometime over the following few days), before anyone else reads it.
When I first agreed to take on reviewing books, it did not occur to me that I would be required to engage in a degree of ‘reading between the lines’, or have to navigate the myriad of motivations behind the author’s request.
I thought, as some might, that having a book reviewed meant receiving honest (albeit subjective) feedback on technical aspects of the writing, as well as character development, plot, narrative flow, and if necessary, grammar and structure.
Reviews serve a dual purpose. They can offer constructive criticisms that give the author an opportunity to develop the work and build on their writing skills, particularly early in their writing career; and they provide prospective readers with an orientation to the work. No matter the experience level of the writer, reviews give an invaluable opportunity to continue to develop as a writer.
Reviewing, as with reading, is a very subjective thing. What one reviewer likes, another may hate. But one would assume that a reasonable reviewer is able to recognise a strong narrative and/or a quality piece of writing, even if the story line is not their cup of tea. One would also assume that authors seeking reviews do so with the expectation that the reviewer will be honest and give constructive (if not always diplomatic) feedback that the author may not necessarily like.
I guess it depends where you are on your writing journey as to what your understanding of the reviewing process is. Now I know I’m making a huge generalisation here, but my recent reviewing experience suggests that perhaps there exists a code of which I am not familiar.
When a writer says: “I’d love you to review my book ______. Could you publish your review on XXXX site when you can?”
They really mean: “I want you to hit 5 stars and write a few bland sentences saying what a fantastic book it is. Oh and you don’t have to spend time reading it. I just need the review.”
When they say: “I don’t need to study writing, I’m just a natural writer.”
They really mean: “Ignore the fact that the manuscript is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors and that the plot is unidentifiable or missing, I don’t care about that. My arrogance will carry the book and make me a motza.”
But when they say: “What gives you the right to say my main character has no depth or substance? Who are you to tell me anything about my story? You don’t know anything about the character or story, you’re just the reader.”
… Um… okay… ? I’m just the reader? Well yes I am…
* Oh and if you want me to review your book, don’t ask me to do it if you are not prepared to receive honest constructive feedback. It’s a waste of the many hours I put into reading and considering all aspects of the book. And I’m getting cranky. The crankier I get the less diplomatic I tend to become. Be warned.