Posted by: chartroose | November 20, 2008

Booking Through Thursday — Honest Reviewing

Here’s today’s BTT topic:

I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the book just because I got a free copy of it.  However, some authors seem to feel that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a positive review.

Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it?  Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?

I haven’t participated in BTT much at all lately since I tend to enjoy doing my own thing.  This subject is important, though, because one of my favorite blogging friends experienced some trouble recently when she posted a negative review of a self-published book.  The author was not happy, and slammed her with negative comments and lawsuit threats.  I’m sure nothing will come of this, but it sure did scare a few fellow book bloggers!

When I started this blog, I had no idea it would become as widely read as it is.  I started it as kind of a personal book diary, and my expectations were very low.  Almost right away, though, a couple of other newbie book bloggers discovered (and promoted) me, and as they went on to even bigger fame in our blogging community, I was able to carve out my own little niche here at “Bloody Hell.”  In just a few short weeks after establishing this site, I was contacted by a popular author to review one of his books, and there were also a few e-mails sent to me by other established writers thanking me for the positive things I had to say about their novels.  What a shocker!  Authors and agents read book blogs, and they read them more often than you or I are aware of.  I’m constantly receiving inquiries about reviewing this or that novel, and some of these inquiries are by writers I’m familiar with.  So, this is the point I’m trying to make:  even if your blog is largely unknown, you must ALWAYS be aware of your audience.  I can almost guarantee that at some point in your blogging career an author is going to read YOUR critique of his novel.  I admonish you to be very careful about what you say.

This doesn’t mean that you have to lie.  Knowing that posting negative reviews might present problems for me in the future, I developed my own simple rule about reviewing ARC’s, etc.  Here it is:

If I don’t like the copy I’m supposed to be reviewing, I’ll let the author/agent know.  There have been a couple of times where I’ve been told NOT to post a negative review.  This works out well for everyone because I don’t have to review a book I dislike, and the author’s reputation isn’t tarnished.  It’s as simple as that!  I think books that have already been published are fair game, but keep in mind that undue negativity may lead to negative consequences, even if the novel has been published for a couple of years.

Also keep in mind that you’re dealing with people’s egos, and egos are fragile.  You wouldn’t want someone to tear your work to shreds, especially not in a public forum.  If you absolutely must review a novel that you don’t like, tactfully let your readers know that it didn’t appeal to you.  Tactfully point out some of the reasons why it didn’t appeal to you.  Keep the review short and move on.  Your readers are smart people; they’ll know what you’re trying to say.  You can’t go wrong if you do this, and no disclaimers are necessary.

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Responses

  1. Good response – my thoughts are along similar lines, especially regarding what you said at the end.

  2. My blog also began as a place to keep notes on what I’m reading, so I like to write about whatever I read- even those I don’t like, or don’t finish. So if a publisher prefers I would withhold a review when I dislike a book, then I won’t accept said book. I always let them know ahead of time this is my policy.

    But I do agree with you that it’s very important to be tactful when letting other readers know why I don’t like a book. My goal is to let others know what the books I’ve read are like- not hurt an author’s feelings or offend them.

  3. I see a reviewers obligation being much more to the reader and potential buyer of a book and much less to the author.

    Anyone that write a book and puts it out there…that is publishes it…has to be ready for criticism. Otherwise, maybe they should just leave the copy safely in a drawer, where no one can say bad things about it.

    I have no desire to give a bad review…but bad is bad.

  4. Your reading time is important–mine is. And, if I spend time reading a book, I am going to review it. I will not forfeit my right to write about what I choose. I will not allow any author to tell me NOT to post a review. I’m looking forward to reading your comment on my post.

  5. You know what I was offered the other day? A book about how John Lennon sold his soul to the devil. By someone who is apparently Charles Manson using a pseudonym. Who can’t spell or use punctuation or make sense at all. Obviously I am not going to read such a thing, or even respond to the email, but the problem is that sometimes the blurbs they send us make the book sound ok, and then it comes and it’s horrifying. Like the memoir I read by this mother who had two “mentally ill” kids, but before she had them all drugged up on psych meds so that they started doing crazy shit, the “mentally ill” qualities they displayed were things like being mildly introverted. What can you do with that? You don’t write a review saying you think it’s the mom who is mentally ill. So I just have a disclaimer on my contact form saying send me all the books you want, but I might not review them at all.

    So that’s my answer to this question, not that you asked! I only review a book if a) I can finish it and b) I can think of at least a couple nice things to say.

  6. Thanks for visiting my blog. I enjoyed reading your answer and I agree with you. 🙂

  7. Nice thoughtful response, chartroose.

  8. Well said! I think it’s cool that you’re willing to not post a review as well. 🙂

  9. You’re as wise as Heloise!

  10. Thanks everyone! I know there are vastly different opinions about this subject.

    I guess I’m kind of old school. I subscribe to the “Bambi model of etiquette.” There’s a part in Bambi where Thumper says, “If you can’t say nothin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” Out of the mouths of babes (or baby rabbits)!

    Oh, and Dew–When I receive really awful crazy books like that, I refuse to even finish them. I’ll let the author know that I will not be reviewing his/her book under any circumstances. I’ve been lucky so far, I guess, because none of those crazies have given me a hard time about it.

    Heading over to caite and Sally’s blogs…

  11. One of the good things that has come out of this tempest in a teapot last week is reading everyone’s opinions and reading how they approach reviews. Believe it or not, it has changed how I view certain blogs now. Because I am, first and foremost, a reader and I look for my next book on other blogs. So during this whole thing I’ve tucked away in the back of my mind the kind of reviews that I respect (and value as a reader) and although I won’t stop visiting all my normal “haunts,” I have changed whose opinions on books I respect and whose I kind of don’t any longer.

    It’s weird how something as simple as an over-emotional author led to this for me…it’s been enlightening.

    You posted some good thoughts here.

  12. Interesting. I don’t see a difference between blog reviews and newspaper reviews, and for me that means no author automatically deserves a good review and I’m not going to keep a negative review back just because it might hurt someone’s feelings. I strongly believe in the need for honest opinions, positive and negative, about everything. Then readers can sort out what they want to believe and who they want to trust. Authors can’t do anything but complain if they don’t like the review they got, and I think reviewers should be prepared to ignore these complaints. The thing is to be honest about your opinion as a reviewer. If I feel that a blogger isn’t being honest, I’m out of there. The truth is, though, that I’ve never come across that situation.

    I don’t see myself communicating with an author or publisher except to say that I accept a review copy. After that, the relationship is over except for the review itself or unless I get a comment on the review. But I don’t think there needs to be any negotiating about the terms of the review — publishers know they are taking a risk when they send review copies out. It’s part of the business.

  13. Great response!

    And Dew- I had that same offer. I just hit “delete” and moved on. I’m amazed at the kind of books I’m sometimes offered!


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