Review Watching: Dangerous Waters, Don’t Go Near

I keep my Twitter-feed open while I work at my day job. You never know what might pop up. Most Tweets are mundane (like my own regarding my craving for horseradish), some are hilarious (Texts from Last Night, or my daughter’s arcane musings as a hipster in San Francisco), but mostly I use Twitter as a writing reference. Lots of good articles on these Internets, you know.

Oh. And I *discreetly* stalk agents and authors.

So this Tweet recently pops up. Truer words have never been spoken.

Amy Boggs@notjustanyboggs 7m A reminder not to respond to reviews. Once your book leaves your hands, it’s no longer solely yours. You can’t control how readers react.

Thinking about reviews is a timely subject. While on my quick trip to Colorado, I finished two novels, one by an author-friend, the other a random novel I picked up at Barnes and Noble, one with a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge on the cover. (I’m such a sucker for these covers. Authors should slap a photo of the Golden Gate on every cover, no matter what the genre, and I’d buy the book. Yeah. Math for Dummies with a photo of the Bridge on it-priceless.)

Once home from my voyage, I did the Goodreads thing and logged that I’d read the books and also gave my reviews. I rarely have time for words, but I make use of the star ratings. While there, I scrolled down to read the reviews of other readers.

Okay, so I’m clueless, or perhaps just too busy to peruse the entirety of the Goodreads web site. Or maybe I never noticed that readers were writing such comprehensive reviews. Tons of readers, dozens of reviews.

Each book had both huge fans who wrote glowingly of great story lines and meaningful social situations, and those non-fans who panned the book in question, saying that the characters were shallow or the proof-reading was flawed, or something else didn’t appeal. Blah, blah, blah. While it’s interesting to read what others think, their opinions will not sway my opinion of the author or the book.

(It’s actually amusing. Like reading the comment section of the Huff-Po Political Page.)

In fact, I have purchased books because they’ve gotten bad reviews. Largest case in point: Fifty Shades of Gray, although I’ve also purchased other books simply because someone else hated it. I guess I need to see for myself. Besides, every book is worth something, even if it’s horribly written. The author obviously put in time, effort, and energy into producing a novel. To me, even a self-published e-book is worth a spin, if you have the time to read it.

I know my own book and my past articles have reviews. I’ve read them, but I don’t take them to heart. Like Ms. Boggs says, once your work leaves your hands, it’s no longer your baby. It’s sprouted wings and belongs to the masses. If every sharp word from a reviewer causes a pang, perhaps you should consider a different calling than writing. As authors, you certainly don’t want to get dragged into a shouting match with a person who has penned a bad review on your baby. Smile, take a deep breath, and walk away. Silence is golden.

That’s my wise word to the author. For readers, I would weigh each book review carefully. What appeals to one person might not appeal to you, and vice versa. Don’t judge a book by its review.

Watching reviews is like watching the white waters of a swollen river. It might be pretty, but you don’t want to go near. If you’re a writer, write something else; if you’re a reader, pick up a book.

 

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What to Do When You’re Asked to Review but You Just Can’t

Life is good. Not only do I write, but I also read. And not only do I read [a lot], but I write reviews, especially if the story is a particularly moving one. Since I’m kinda-sorta known for such things, my email inbox is full of requests to read and review. In addition, I’m on some publicist’s mailing list at Simon and Schuster, and I get free books in the mail.

I know. It’s like Christmas every day.

Unlike bona fide book bloggers, I don’t review everything I read. Biggest reason? I can’t read everything; there’s just not enough time in the day or days in a week. My To Read pile is more like a To Read mountain – Mt. Everest sized. It’s not just the requests I’m sent; every once in a while I’d like to read something that I picked out.

I will not write a bad review, even if the book deserves it. No matter how unsavory the material, I know that someone spent a lot of time and energy in writing. You can learn something from even a bad book.

My time is limited because I also have these things to write… that’s what takes up the lion’s share of what little free time I can scrape up. I feel panic and horror if I can’t write on a regular basis. Sometimes I have too many things on the Real Life agenda, sometimes I’m sick, sometimes it just doesn’t work out, but either way, a churning in the pit of my stomach reminds me that I must continue on.

As it happens, every once in a while I come across a book I just can’t get into. One that sticks out in my mind and that I will mention here only because the author isn’t going to suffer any ill effects by my opinion is 50 Shades of Gray. I downloaded the trilogy months ago, and I still can’t get through it. Sometimes I’ll be sitting in a doctor’s office, open the Kindle app on my iPhone and take a peek. I can absorb about a screen’s worth of words before I have to put it away.

Why, you might ask? Especially since the rest of the world seems enthralled with this epic tome of sex, bondage, and perversion?

I guess my tastes in books run counter to the masses, just as my taste in movies, food, and TV shows. Plainly put, I just can’t get into some books. If I’m not hooked in the first couple of chapters, you lose me.

Currently, I have a couple of requests on Kindle and a couple of physical books I purchased that are similarly problematic. With a purchased book, you can give it away or relegate it to the base of your To Read mountain, and hopefully get to it sometime after retirement and shortly before death. You never have to face the author.

But when someone emails you because you’ve reviewed their friend’s book and they want a return favor, or you have a personal tie to an author, it’s different. It’s especially difficult if you know the person, either well or casually. I know my book, Virtually Yours, isn’t perfect, but I’m not touting it as the next great American novel. It’s a fluffy, fun beach read. I’ve received mixed reviews on it, but I figured bad reviews into my calculations when self-publishing — the format is not ‘usual’ and there are a lot of characters. Some do, but many people just don’t get it.

As for my own rules, I try to be kind when reviewing. A clue or two for writers: when a book is fraught with grammatical errors, when the characters are unlovable, or when there are multiple points of view in one scene, it’s difficult for me to process your work, much less enjoy it, much less review it.

In my case, if you don’t see a review, cherish the fact that silence is golden.