Monday, February 10, 2014

Zen and the Art of Book Reviewing

(or why aspiring authors can and should review books, and how I found my own reviewing sweet spot)

Before you ask, yes, I've done this. Or at least thought about it. 
There’s been much hullabaloo in social media lately about reviewers. It’s like they’re at once publishing gospel, the ultimate court of public opinion and despicable trolls whose sole purpose in life is to crush writerly dreams.

But who are reviewers? Book bloggers, just people who read a lot and have a Goodreads account… some (but not all) are aspiring authors, which isn’t that surprising since if you want to be a writer, you have to read, read lots, and read in your genre—duh. And, you know, generally liking books and being passionate about them helps. So why is this whole aspiring-author-reviewing-books thing such a big deal?

I recently heard of an author responding to a mildly critical review by basically saying the reviewers are just jealous because they’re aspiring authors. Another time I got chastised when I said that an aspiring author has the right to be critical in a review like everyone else.

It’s a no-brainer why you might want to avoid being too critical in reviews if you eventually look forward to working with the editors who spent months working on these books, who were passionate about them and loved them enough to invest all that time. And I can see how it must feel from the author perspective: you endured all the hardships of the road to publishing only for some faceless blogger to tear your book-baby apart in a snarky review with enough gifs to cause an epileptic fit. With more and more people reviewing books, and more and more people writing… where does it all leave us?

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s awesome that there are critical reviewers out there. We need them. Readers need them, publishers need them, and aspiring authors need them too. For example, for years critical reviewers called out semi-abusive relationships in YA paranormal romance… and now we finally have books actually addressing those issues. (Meanwhile, the abusive relationships have moved on to NA romance and are thriving there, but that’s another rant for another time.)  If no one is critical of anything, we’d just stagnate in a mire of the same old same old. Critical reviews make readers notice things that may have slipped past them, question themselves, and hopefully demand better next time.

But the reason I’m writing this is because I found my balance. My mantra, my review zen. My goal in reviewing books, first and foremost, is not so much to denounce the books I hated but to share the books I loved. The amazing, wonderful, unputdownable, jaw-droppingly good books that I just want to wave in the faces of everyone I meet screaming Read this! Drop everything you’re doing and read this NOW!

…Obviously, I can’t do that, because that’s kinda psycho. So instead I do the civilized thing and write reviews for a blog. And connecting with people who liked the same books, or hearing from people who picked them up on my rec makes it worthwhile for me.

Sometimes, I admit, I feel like giving a harsh review, a mean review, even a snarky review. We all agree that not everything that gets published (or becomes a self-pub viral sensation) is good, or well-written. And some things are but they’re just not for me. So I stew in it for a bit, and then… I get over it, and go read something I will love. Call me na├»ve, but I believe that the good stuff always finds a way to the top while the bad gets weeded out. Ultimately, I trust in the power of the readers—be they bloggers, aspiring authors, or simply people who love books enough to sit down and write a review. Keep doing it, you guys. We need you.

Nicole River is a blogger, reader, reviewer and, yes, aspiring author (of YA horror and other dark, occasionally disturbing things). You can find her blog here or follow her on Twitter here.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. I actually review YA books for a major library journal and make it a habit to take the time to separate my personal taste from the merits of the work. Just because I don't particularly like it doesn't mean someone else won't. The more you review, the more you find you way to balance the good and the bad. As for aspiring writers giving critical and not always "Oh wow this is awesome" reviews, as a writer, I want them as a crit partner.