I was browsing over at Don’t Read, another book review blog that you should check out, when I saw Ensis’ post on critical or negative reviews. And then, when I was reading at Jenny Trout’s website, another blog post dealing with the same issue.
Both of them are addressing this post and this post, which state that authors shouldn’t negatively review other works. The first post, by Chuck Wendis, can basically be boiled down to “you might hurt the other author’s feelings” and the second, by Kirsten Lamb, says that silence is more powerful than a negative review.
I disagree with both. Now, I’m not a writer, and I’m certainly not a published author, but if you, as an author or not, are in the habit of reviewing books, you should review books honestly. This means that I should expect to see some books that you just didn’t like. People who publish books need to expect criticism (and yes, it hurts, and yes, it’s awful to deal with, but that is the price you pay when you produce a public work of art.) Some of that criticism will come from other, published authors. It happens. And it probably truly sucks. But that is part of the deal of publishing.
More importantly, and addressing Lamb’s point, you need criticism to improve. I guess Lamb heard the crickets chirping and immediately figured out the everything that was wrong with her novel? I’m not quite sure, but I find that most people can’t improve unless they know what’s wrong with their novels. There’s a huge difference between “my book sucks so hard no one’s going to review it” and “The plot’s a mess, the characters are so perfect they’re unrelatable, and if I have to read the phrase ‘engorged manhood’ one more time, I’m swearing off men forever.” One gives you something to work on; the other doesn’t.
And I have to say, while reviewing is all about opinions and thus no one needs any sort of qualification to do it, a successful, published author in the same genre will have a unique perspective when compared to a reader of your book. Both perspectives are equally valuable – you’re trying to get the reader to read your books, after all – but I don’t think the authors should refrain because someone’s feelings should get hurt.
(Or because someone might not buy the book. That is why people read reviews; to figure out which books to buy or not. If your book is good enough, and/or you’re lucky enough, you may be able to make a living off of writing. But most people can’t. And it is not other authors’ responsibility to make sure you get as many sales as possible. Rather, if they are reviewing books, it is their responsibility to their readers to be as honest as possible.)
Now, to be fair, there are some books that are just so awful that I won’t review them. 50 Shades of Grey is a prime example – it’s terribly written, portrays an abusive relationship, and is not at all faithful to the BDSM scene. I have nothing good to say about it.
And because of that, I feel like I can’t actually do a fair and balanced review of it. Just like if I loved a book so much, I found nothing to critically discuss in it – probably not a fair and balanced review and I probably wouldn’t write it. No book is so terrible that it has no redeeming features and no book is so perfect it can’t be criticized.
Reviewers have to have limits; mine is I won’t review a book if it feels like all I’m doing is bashing the book. Others have different limits. But honestly, if you review books, your reviews should always be honest, not constrained by the worry of what others might think. A review is only a good review if it’s honest.