Writers as Readers: Behind Book Reviews

Good afternoon, readers! I hope you’re enjoying the book review of Ken Floro III’s The Rising Wind that I posted last night. (My Top Ten Tuesday lists will resume next week.) And I’m gearing up to write the review for Waimea Williams’s Aloha, Mozart for tomorrow night. I’ll definitely be featuring Stephanie Fleshman’s Render next week; I’m not yet sure if I’ll be posting a review on it. (You can see my review schedule and other “upcoming events” on the widget on my right sidebar, for non-mobile users.)

While I frequently post reviews on this blog (just click on the “Reviews” tab at the top to browse), being an official reviewer for Novel Publicity Blog Tour has given me insight into reviewing on a semi-professional level. It’s really interesting to be involved with both ends of the spectrum.

The New York Times posted an insightful article today: “Are Novelists Too Wary of Criticizing Other Novelists?” It explored the camaraderie that writers often feel with each other, and it suggested that perhaps writers—fiction writers, specifically—are too lenient or too afraid to criticize each other’s work. I can understand this opinion…a little. But from my writing workshop, I learned that more often, niceties and flattery are foregone in the sake of Good Writing. Criticism is essential to improvement, and if writers REALLY want to be nice to each other, they’ll tell each other what they should work on. They’ll also tell the writers what they are doing right already–making “criticism” both sides of the coin, you see. A useful strategy is employing the compliment sandwich.

Stewie gives Brian a bad compliment sandwich on Family Guy. (Mobile users, click here to view the video.)

Even when work is already published, writers can learn from reviewers how to make their next work better. I think writers know this, and I think the ones who are serious about reviewing can deliver tactful tips. Of course, there’s always the flip side to this, which Nathan Bransford explores in his article, “Bullies on Goodreads.” I was flabbergasted to read how cruel some “reviewers” have gotten, using Goodreads as a cyber-playground from Hell and bashing writers as people, sometimes before the books have even been released. I wouldn’t even call them reviewers, honestly; I would just call them bullies, plain and simple. My point is that these articles represent two extremes in the reviewing world, but I think it’s easy to strike a happy medium between the two. I take reviewing seriously; I use my English B.A. to analyze, and I use my Writing & Publishing M.A. to critique. I don’t say this to be snobby; I say this because both took me a lot of work to complete, so I’m aware of the work that goes into investing into a book as both a reader and a writer–and I feel loyalty to both. My advice for all reviewers–as with most things in life–is empathy.

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2 thoughts on “Writers as Readers: Behind Book Reviews

    • Interesting. I hadn’t really heard much about that until I read these articles. I look at reviews on Goodreads and Amazon all the time, but I haven’t seen any of these horrible ones; I wonder if they target certain types of books. Hopefully they’ll become less common, not more. Did you know Amazon recently bought Goodreads? So they should have control over both. Time for some internet spanking! 😉

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