Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Reviews - To Tell the Truth, Or Not

So one thing I am certainly slacking on is reviews of the publications I read.  I had told myself at the beginning of the year that I wanted to post more reviews.  I enjoy reviewing poetry and stories, I want to give a boost to the publications I read, and I like learning more about authors in the field.

BUT, and here is the but - what happens when something you read is perhaps not terribly impressive, or even (gasp) maybe something you don't actually like at all? 

I've often held back from reviewing material because I can't give it an honest two thumbs up.  Being a very modestly published writer and poet myself, I am sensitive to the fact that not everything I've written is composed of gorgeous and stunning prose with fascinating characters and a plot no one's ever conceived before.  I understand that it can be rough getting any exposure at all for one's writing, and then getting a ho-hum or even negative review would be disheartening.  Still, I would vastly prefer being reviewed in a constructive fashion that would allow me to improve, rather than to receive no notice at all.

But what has ended up happening is this sort of double standard - if I know someone is a well established, best-seller-type author, I write reviews that offer a 'What I Liked' and 'What I Didn't Like' sort of thing.  For authors that (seem to me to be) newer or are looking for exposure - I don't tend to write anything because I don't want to be dishonest or discouraging.  (After all, there are few pieces that are so universally fabulous that a review will be utterly positive.)

Wait.  Did you catch that?  So I am not writing about the people and publications that need it the most.  This conundrum needs a solution.  I'd like to spend more time on lesser known authors and smaller publications than anything else, but that's not what I'm doing.  Mostly out of fear.  I don't want to discourage or upset another writer, and I don't want to damage the reputation of a publication.  And I don't really know where I'm being a bit overly sensitive, and where I'm being really just the right amount of sensitive.

So what to do?  Well, research, naturally, being the geek that I am.  I just read a pile of posts on how to do online reviews of fiction, poetry, etc.  Many point out that one shouldn't be 'cruel' and that all criticism should be 'positive' - which is obvious enough.  But no one addresses the issue of how to write up honest reviews of newer writers and smaller pubs that actually help to boost those people, rather than bring them down.   (Maybe this means I should figure how how, and then write that post, hmmm?)

Oh, and by honest review I mean the bad with the good.  I could just write reviews about 'What I Liked' and leave the rest out.  But then someone might read an issue based on my review, not like the issue, and think my reviews are pretty useless.  Which they would be.

So what is your opinion, and your experience, with writing and receiving honest reviews?  Would you prefer an honest review of your work to no review at all?  How do you like to see critical comments framed?  Do you have a set of guidelines you follow when doing reviews, a creed, a statement of intent or some such?

Send some thoughts my way.  This is your chance to chime in - since I'll probably plow ahead with reviews to the best of my ability, and your stuff might be in there, ya know ...

Image Credit - photoxpress.com


Nicole Rivera said...

I've thought a lot about this myself. Typically when I add a negative of any sorts (wearing my kid gloves) I will start it off by saying that all reviews are subjective and what I don't like is something others, in fact, may like. However, that doesn't necessarily work if you wish to critique the actual writing, I guess.

I have toyed with the idea of doing a two sided review: the reader's review vs. the writer's review. Because, as I'm sure you know, once you get into being a writer yourself, you read books with a completely different eye. I figured, if I were brave enough to take it on in that way, fellow writers would understand "the writer's review" is similar to what I would do if they had asked me to be a beta reader or a critique partner. I don't know how well that would be received and it takes a lot of work, but it is an idea I have been tossing around in my brain.

J.A. Grier said...

That's a really interesting point - viewing from the perspective of a writer vs. reader; a critique vs. a standard review. My training is more in the lines of critique, really, especially for poetry. Some of those details may not interest a casual reader. I'll have to give it more thought - thanks for the comment!