Sunday, January 3, 2010
Reviewing Book Reviewers
For most writers I know a good top pick review is the cherry on the cream of the cake. After months of hard work and much agonizing on their part, because yes, authors want to please their readers and win new ones, so they write the best story they can, and someone - hopefully a stranger – finally gives their creation a thumbs’ up. The resulting lift to the spirits reassures the author that she can write a good tale that people in general can enjoy.
But what if the review is negative? It’s not easy for an author to shrug off a really negative review. It’s like giving birth to a cherished baby after a difficult labour, and somebody you’ve never met tells all who will listen that the baby is ugly and worthless.
Let’s take a quick look at what I think should go into a review – and what makes a reviewer credible, and what doesn’t.
Firstly, a review is based on the reviewer’s ability to read, on her personal taste, and her understanding of language and comprehension of it. One-word comments like “Horrible” pasted next to a book, especially if it’s misspelled should make it obvious that the reviewer has no credibility whatsoever, and can’t write a paragraph, let alone read a whole book, understand it and make any meaningful comment on it.
So why would a dedicated reader take any notice of such reviews? It stands to reason that, whatever the genre, the author has reached a certain standard of penmanship that has attracted a publisher. This might have taken several years of hard work to achieve. The average is ten, I’m told. Also, the author would have spent at least six months working on the reviewed book. Dismissing it as rubbish with one word that took all of half a second to write is downright mean and an insult to the author as well as her editors and publisher. It also robs the reviewer of any real credibility.
From a reader angle, when I read a review I expect to learn about the story line and motivation of the key characters in the reviewed book. The reviewer’s opinion is taken into account, of course, but generally I like to form my own by reading the book myself. I can’t stress enough, that for most books - one size does not fit all.
Good reviewers are usually dedicated readers, and have reached a certain standard in the understanding of language, be cognizant of the different elements of character development and story plot, and be able to comment lucidly on those, without indulging in cheap shots or being deliberately offensive.
There are some excellent reviewers out there who present a fair and honest review, and who work for credible sites. There are also some excellent reviewers who work independently. When I send my own work out, it’s to sites or reviewers that handle my writing genre, and who have earned a good reputation.
Not all books will suit all readers all of the time, or will receive a top-notch review. Most authors understand that, but from what I hear they do appreciate it when the reviewer demonstrates a little expertise, and dare I say it – pride in the way they present their reviews.
Most novelists learn through hands-on experience, that a good novel encapsulation in the style of a synopsis, review or book blurb is hard to write, and an art in itself. A good review takes just as much crafting as a short story, and the credibility of the reviewer relies as much on the review they present, as does the novelist on the book they produce.