Monday 20 June 2011

In Review: When Does Being a Writer Trump Being a Reader?

Reading is something I've always done. I always have a book on the go, I panic if I don't have books lined up for after I finish, and I would truly hate to see the figure for the amount I spend on books in an average year. It might be so high that I get truly upset. And then I may have to console reading yet another book.

Now, I've just finished a book that I thought was truly awful. I'm not going to name the book or the author, because this isn't the place to do that. But it was bad. The characters were unbelievable, the dialogue unrealistic and the same 'jokes' were repeated a number of times so that, despite being from a respectable publisher, I suspect the book wasn't properly edited.

I went to the Amazon page for the author (this seems very involved for a book I don't like, right? But in my defence I was desperately trying to avoid doing some actual work) and noticed that there were only a handful of reviews for the book. Even worse, they were all five star reviews, which I suspect means that these people were friends of the writer. Not that this is generally a bad thing, but good friend reviews are usually diluted somewhat by those from regular readers.

I was going to give a review giving my opinion on the book. Not a 'This book sux!!!!!' review, but a constructive layout of why I didn't like the book, phrased as nicely as possible. Why? So readers wouldn't see an unqualified high review, a different opinion. The idea of having a customer review function is, after all, to find out what customers think.

But, I stopped. While there was a part of me that was saying that I had a duty to my fellow readers to help them by giving an honest opinion, I also felt I had a duty to the writer. My desire to give a negative review was not motivated by spite or jealousy. I am not so self-important as to think that my opinion is the definitive opinion on anything, there may be something about this book that I didn't get. I'm not saying this author doesn't deserve her publishing deal, because she does. She isn't a debut author, so I'm sure my review would not be the first negative review that she received. I just wanted to give my opinion to other readers, because I like to read customer reviews myself, and because I thought it might be good to give something back to the reading community.

But as a writer (albeit an unpublished one) I couldn't do it. I know how hard it is to write a book, even a bad one. I wouldn't lie and give the book a positive review, but I couldn't give it a bad review. I don't know this woman. When I read The Hating Game by Talli Roland, I decided that if I liked it I would review it, if I didn't I wouldn't. Because I know her online, I'd feel awful saying something bad about her book. But I would feel awful lying with a fake review. Luckily, it was a great book, so there was no conflict there. But with a writer I didn't know, what was the problem?

What about all of you? Do you review books, and do you find that being a writer affects your reviews? Which is more important, solidarity to the reading community or the writing community? And is it possible for writers to be full members of both?


  1. Hi! I followed you her from my blog. So glad I did. Your blog is stunning! :-)

    As for the reviews. I don't post reviews on my blog simply because I refuse to subject myself to the conflict of interest of wanting to appear a specific way to readers when my insides are dying because of what I read.

    So, I rather just keep my opinion to myself. Unless someone specifically asks for it in private.


  2. I hear you. Getting bad feedback is painful, and as a writer you can empathise, especially if you imagine it hapening to you. Don't think there's anything wrong with constructive feedback, though. Have you changed your blog design? Like Misha says, it looks really nice.

  3. Great blog, and I think that leaving an honest review of a book is one of the hardest things to do. And, therefore, I appreciate the critical reviews I have received, because the reviewers took time to really think about the book and offer constructive criticism.

    You are such a lovely person to hesitate on reviewing that poor book. I would say that going ahead and leaving an honest review with points for the writer to consider would be a help, not a hindrance.

  4. I can give a unbiased review for a book written by someone I don't know, or have no sentimental attachment to, but not if I know the person. If we're buddies, I tend to pad my review a bit. Instead of using "great" I use "mind-blowing." It may be a little bit of a stretch at times, but I've never regretted it.

  5. As a general rule, I don't do reviews--especially on my blog. It may sound lame, but I simply don't feel qualified. True, I do have opinions, and I'm entitled to them. But in the back of my mind I'm afraid someone will ask me to review their story. Fine, if I like it, but what if I don't? I have no problem offering honest (solicited) feedback in private. I simply cringe at the idea of doing it publicly and risk crushing a fellow writer who may still be as insecure as me, lol.

    ...and thank you so much for your kind words on my blog today... :)

  6. I don't give critiques of books because I know the road to publication is hard and long. Does that mean everything comes out perfectly in a novel once the author has secured a publishing house? Nope. Who knows the reasons certain things weren't caught. And who knows if my opinion differs greatly from other readers'.

    I DO give positive reviews when I like a book though. It's the least I can do to thank the author for writing something wonderful.

  7. It's a tough one, isn't it? I follow the same policy as you: if I like it, I review it. If I don't, I might post that I've read it as a show of support, but I won't say anything negative -- or much at all. As a writer, I aim to support other writers and that is why I won't slate any books.

  8. I agree, that is a toughie! I don't think I could give a bad review because writing is so personal and just because I don't like doesn't mean someone else won't like it. I am a lot like you, I would NOT want to know how much money I have spend on books in a year or my lifetime. I don't use the library much because I tend to forget to return them on time. I love reading so much. Sometimes I think the best job would be one I read all the time, but then, if I have to read I may not like it.

    I hope you are having a great day!!!!!!


  9. I'm a reader and a writer, but I've been a reader much longer than I've been a writer. I know what I like to read and I like to think I know when I've read a good book.

    I never give bad reviews, simply because of the fact that I also write. There has to be something about the book that I liked, so I figure the writer would like to know that along with what I didn't like. However, I do give my honest opinion. If I really hate the book, I probably won't finish, so I don't post a review.

  10. No, I think you need to gnash your teeth a little and be more outspoken. Not for that writer's sake, or the sake of the community - although they all matter. For your own sake. This restraint you have described feeling when teetering on the Amazon site will likely have its equivalent inside you and in relation to your own work.

    "Be honest, and be ruthless," rock journalist Phillip Seymour Hoffman tells his young critic protege in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous. Remember, that young critic was Crowe himself. Look where the honesty got him. He ended up writing and directing.

    I've got loads of bad reviews, my whole life. Couldn't live without them. They're part of the process. Give it, take it. Don't teeter. Write what you feel about other people's work.

  11. I only do reviews. I don't have the skill to write a book but as a fan I'm happy to share my opinion of the good and the bad.

  12. I actually used to have a book blog where I posted about every single book I read, but I stopped it for this very reason. Now I only post about books I can honestly say I really loved. Now that some of these authors are people I "know" I just can't bring myself to publicly say anything less than 100% positive about their books, even if it is honest and constructive.

  13. I can honestly say that I have given a negative review for a book, but I made sure that it was constructive. If that author is truly aiming to continue writing and get better, sometimes constructive feedback helps. It's also helpful to the other readers that are interested in that book. They deserve to hear a good honest opinion. I'm sure that you can do it in a tasteful way. You're welcome to run it by me how you would review the book if needed. I think you should give a review for the book.

  14. i decided a long time ago that i only say good things about books. If i have anything negative to say, i keep it to myself or discuss it in person with friends and family. But that's just me. To each his or her own

  15. @Misha: Thank you! Yeah you're right, there is a conflict of interest isn't there?

    @Okonkwo: Yeah, I changed the design. I wanted something feminine enough for a writer of women's contemporary fiction, yet dark enough for paranormal YA. It's a good compromise, I think.

    @Alison: See, that's where I'm torn. Isn't constructive feedback a good thing? Not everyone sees it like that, though.

    @Emily: That makes sense. I think giving unbiased reviews if you're friends with the author is almost impossible.

    @JB: See, maybe that's part of it too. While I value constructive criticism, I hate the thought of adding to someone's feeling of self-doubt.

    @Alleged: Yep, I'm the same with good reviews!

    @Talli: I think that's the best way to go,

    @Heather: I've built up fines in the library so high that I could have bought the book many times over. It just doesn't work for me.

    @JL Campbell: I see your point. But, it would be hard to give any good feedback for this book, so it's probably better if I leave it be.

    @Graham: I can see the merit in what you're saying, but that's just me personally. I'm not a professional reviewer, so I think the situation is a little different.

    @Ricky: Honest reviews are necessary, and fair play to you for doing them. They're a great resource for readers. I'm just not sure if writers make good reviewers. Thanks for stopping by :)

    @Jessica: I think that's the best policy.

    @Krista: It's difficult to know what the best thing to do is...

    @Sarah: I think you're right.

  16. I wouldn't give a bad review. In fact, I try to stay out of that realm if the book is bad. I do believe in constructive criticism. If asked for my opinion, I'll give it. I think since the book is already published, it's a little pointless to try and give constructive advice. I think you made a good choice by staying out of it.