Monday, September 16, 2013

Thoughtful Reviews R Us!

Here is my history:

1. Started reading romance novels obsessively about fifteen years ago, participated on numerous reader boards.

2. Started a blog and reviewed romance novels for public consumption about five years ago.

3. Became a published author shortly thereafter...about four years ago.

4. Continued to read, review, blog, write, and publish.

So I started as a reader, I became a blogger/reviewer, and then I became an author. It never occurred to me to stop voicing my honest opinion about books just because I now write them. In fact, I think the reviewing community needs MORE authors to voice their opinions. Have I ever had back-lash? Yes, but minimal. Most authors are professionals.

Observations about bloggers/reviewers....

1. Some are reader-consumers who like to talk about books. They buy their own books, they have no ads, no sponsor spots, do not accept free ARCs, do not have any sort of relationship with publishers, authors, or publicists. There are very few of these left in romance. I call these "OLD SKOOL BLOGGERS"...their issues and concerns represent Joe Schmo Reader. Is the book too expensive? Is it available everywhere you want to buy it? Was it released on the promised date? Consumer issues.

2. Some blogs are a business. They have ads, paid sponsor spots, accept free ARCs, promote authors, participate in blog tours, do interviews and other promotional items. Since they get free books--months in advance--they have a different set of issues/concerns than consumer reviewers. They don't care about price, availability, or release date delays. They have business concerns: traffic to their site, getting promised ARCs on time, authors following through on blog tour details, etc. I call these "BUSINESS BLOGS."

3. And then you have everything and anything between these two ends of the spectrum.

Additional observations:

Some reviewer/bloggers have no idea how to write a review. They write something like "SQUEE! THIS IS THE GREATEST BOOK EVER!" It's a nice thing to say. It's an opinion about something. But it is certainly not a well-thought-out, well-written, critical review about anything. Nevertheless, they, just as any old consumer who leaves a review at Amazon, are entitled to their opinion, and can express it in any way they see fit.

Some reviewer/bloggers are well-educated, thoughtful, and present a critical, well-supported book review. They use examples from the text, they use terms like "character arcs" and "external conflict" and actually know what those mean. Not only are they familiar with this genre, but they are well-read enough in other fields to get the big picture.

And you get pretty much everything in between these two extremes.

Now, for the kicker.

Should authors review? Well, let's think about it for a minute.

Who would be the best possible person to understand craft issues, trends in romance, how to structure a novel, specific literary devices, etc? Maybe someone with a degree in writing? How about someone who is immersed in the industry? How about someone who writes books?


Hey! That just might work!

She would be on top of trends, understand the big picture, have a clue about pacing, conflict, character arcs, story arcs, and literary references. Since she's a WRITER, she might be able to WRITE a good review.


I am NOT saying that authors are the only ones who should be writing reviews. I've seen thoughtful, excellent reviews written by kids, teens, business bloggers, consumer bloggers, and even by someone's grandmother.

And I have also seen authors write excellent reviews. Not blowing-sunshine-up-someone's-ass-reviews, but critical, well-reasoned, supported analyses of books.

I have a huge amount of respect for authors who are not afraid to voice their honest opinions. I don't look at authors leaving honest (sometimes harsh) reviews as "spreading negativity." I look at it as someone who is an expert in the field of fiction giving a respectful opinion on a book. Period. That's what reviews are supposed to be.

I can't imagine someone more qualified to be a romance reviewer than a romance author.

Do chefs review restaurants? Yes.

Do artists review art shows? Yes.

Do writers review books in well-respected journals and newspapers? Yes. No one is questioning their motives or agenda. They are often the best person for the job, for obvious reasons.

Not every author is good at reviewing, or interested in reviewing. And that's fine. But for the writers who are passionate readers, who have an opinion and want to express it, I sure hope there is room for them in this big bunch of voices.

God knows I'm not going anywhere.

Loud and proud,


Unknown said...


Well said (er, typed)

<3 Penny Jr.

Julia Barrett said...

Wow! Everything old is new again! I honestly do not understand why on earth authors are not allowed-- by booksellers (Amazon) and by readers-- to write reviews. We know what we're talking about when we write a review and most of us are not sock puppets!

Blodeuedd said...

Anyone can review if they wanna, and however they wanna :)

I would hate to review in what I call the boring format, my style is free ;)

Penny Watson said...

Thank you, Penny Jr.


Penny Watson said...

Julia...I know. There are a few bad apples in the bunch, and the whole lot of us are forbidden from speaking our mind?

I call BS on that one.

Penny Watson said...

Blodeuedd---I also prefer "free-style" reviewing myself. It's light and airy and entertaining. :^)

Anonymous said...

The only reason I don't review books is fear. I admit it. I'm worried in case I piss off someone I may end up working with in future. Like, an editor who wonders why I panned one of her writers' books. But that's just something I have to get over.

And I do love some books; I'm not all about the hate! ;) Well, not really.

Here's the thing. Time and time again we see "We must only say nice things about people!" and I'm like...uh...aren't authors also readers? If I spend money on your work, I have the God-given right to an opinion on it. If someone doesn't like that opinion, they can suck on a bag of festering dicks.

So there.

Mature thought: (RARE!) As authors, we're told to brace ourselves for people having opinions on our work that we may not like. These reviews may give us BAD FEELS.

And yet...we're not supposed to say anything bad about other authors' work in case...they get BAD FEELS?

So basically, everyone has freedom of speech except us.

The people who make shit up for a living.

Liberty said...

Penny, as usual, your blog (and your honesty) is refreshing.

Heidenkind said...

Great post, Penny. :) A "code of silence" is generally not a good idea in any profession. Writers are (or should be, although you'd be surprised by how many people I meet who say they're writing a novel but don't read books) readers. We love books, we love and are inspired by GREAT books. No, the viewpoint of an author isn't the same as the viewpoint of an average reader; but it is one of the viewpoints that needs to be a part of critical discourse.

Penny Watson said...

Scarlett, you know what I think? Nice is over-rated. There is a well-known mystery author I follow on Goodreads. She is a fabulous writer and I respect her as an author. She reviews everything she reads, and she is a harsh grader. She is very matter-of-fact about the whole thing, no drama. I read this book, it was good. I read this book, it was bad (and why).

I respect the hell out of her!

Penny Watson said...

Thanks, Liberty!

Penny Watson said...

Tasha...yes! We need lots of different perspectives on our genre. Young girls, mature women, authors, lawyers, bakers, candlestick-makers. The more perspectives on the books, the better.

Christi said...

Love, love, love this post!!! As someone who followed pretty much the exact same career/reading/reviewing path as you, I love this. First and foremost, I am a reader who LOVES books. That's why I review. When I read a good book, I want to share it with the world...or my fellow readers who follow my reviews.

And yes, I am an author, but I try not to write my reviews as an author. The only time the author thing comes into play is when I'm trying to figure out why a book didn't work for me....and because of that, I think reviewing has made me a better author.

But I completely write my reviews in fangirl/reader mode, not author mode. PLEASE no one ever judge my writing skills by my reviews...LOL! I read 400 books/year and write 4-6 books/year. As such, my reviews are put together in one pass...just thoughts and many times...simply gushing about what I liked about the books. I did mention I LOVE books, right??

Great post, Penny!

Anonymous said...

Being nice sucks a bag of cheesy donkey dicks.

That is all.

Anonymous said...

Super touchy concept here, Penny, but an important one to consider. Good for you for challenging the notion that authors should not give negative reviews of other authors' work. I've heard this, and I am perfectly double-minded on the issue.

I tend not to post reviews that might discourage a person from buying a book. That gives me "bad feels". My comfort zone is more along the lines of supporting authors whose work I adore. I guess I'm in the if-you-don't-have-anything-nice-to-say... camp, though occasionally, I'll contact an author directly and let them know I have some constructive feedback for them if they're interested.

That said, I have mad appreciation for reviewers who DO tell it like it is, even when it's negative/constructive. These thoughtful, intelligent souls keep me from spending $2.99 and 10 hours on something I will not like in the end. Bless them!

I think every author/reviewer should have their own code and stick to it. It's a good idea for anyone posting anything online to have some sort of goal & code in mind before they "go public" with their opinion. What do you hope to gain out of posting? The enlightenment of others, 100% enthusiastic acceptance, a simple chance to share what you think, to encourage dialog? Answering that question will help a person anticipate potential negative reactions. That goes for anything (blog posts, emails, promotions, etc.), not just reviews.

If you have a strong opinion, chances are, you're going to invite criticism as well as support for your opinion. It's just how it is. I'm DEFINITELY not suggesting it's not worth it. I just hate to see a well-intentioned reviewer blindsided by folks who question their motives or bad-mouth them for their opinion. It's not fair, but it's how this online community seems to work.

As for authors being some of the best critics, ain't that the truth! Who better to judge than someone who has studied the craft of writing and is passionate about it. I've learned so much from reviews of my work given by other authors. An author review is gold to me, whether it's positive or negative.

Penny Watson said...

Hi Christi! I know you and I did the same thing, right?

I like this: "reviewing has made me a better author"...and I think the opposite is true, too...writing will make you a better reviewer!

Penny Watson said... just had to get the word "cheesy" in there, didn't you?

Penny Watson said...

Hi Jessi! Great comment! You are so absolutely right about doing what is best for you/in your comfort zone, and thinking about this for everything you post on-line, including blogs, FB/Twitter updates, reviews, etc. When you rock the boat, you get some back-lash. Some folks are okay with that, and some get anxiety. So, it's not worth it if it stresses you out.

Thanks for the awesome comment!