A Review By Any Other Name…

I have noticed a trend in book “reviews”, especially by independent bloggers such as myself: they aren’t reviews so much as puff pieces: PR-worthy paeans of praise for prose that is possibly putrid.

(that alliteration just rolled off my fingers. Yay, me!)

Seriously, folks: I was a professional (read: paid by legit publications & recognized as such) book reviewer for some years. While individual writing style may vary, a proper review always–ALWAYS–includes the good and the not-so-great things about a book. And make no mistake, there is always something not-so-great about even the most bestselling and/or popular book.

I would never have gotten even one review published had I just focused on how great (or not) I thought a book was; that’s how I learned to write a review, by having my drafts sent back and rewriting them to accurately reflect concrete, objective issues in a book versus my personal feelings about the book (there is a difference, but people often confuse the two under the guise of a “review”).

The people who paid me wanted balance, as that balance was what lent legitimacy to the reviews by both authors and readers alike. And yes, I have caught hell from authors when a review wasn’t as glowing as they’d prefer (“What…what do you mean, you didn’t like XYZ in my book? How could you find fault in it? Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews loved it! It’s on the NYT Bestseller list! It’s got over 500 five-star ratings on Amazon!  HOW DARE YOU?!”), but in the end they had to (grudgingly) admit that while the review wasn’t to their liking, it was at least fair. Plus, if an author is a true writer who wants to further hone his or her craft, the constructive criticism is necessary for future growth.

(if you’re a writer and you can’t handle folks telling you your writing sucks in some way, you’re in the wrong line of business.)

There is nothing wrong with giving a shoutout to an author when you’re digging her or his work. Our egos thank you for it. But keep it real and call the praise-only blurbs what they are: acknowledgements of fandom better suited for personal blogs and big-ups on social media, rather than a “(professional) review”.

Thanks for stopping by.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Christine
    Aug 27, 2015 @ 16:33:04

    I have chanced upon blogs where the review is literally just a blurb about what the story is about and then a couple sentences saying “it was great. Loved the story!” Those are frustrating because you can’t tell anything about the book. However, I do like when people include their personal feelings about a book they’ve read, especially if the writer and I seem to have the same taste in books. It helps me get a better feel for whether it is worth checking out. There is a time and a place for both professional and book blog reviews. I tend to prefer the more personal feel to book blog reviews and I think a lot of people find them more approachable (hence the success of Goodreads I’m sure). To each his own, but you’re right there is a difference between the two. I think it depends on the writer when trying to decide whether that difference is a negative thing.

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  2. Constance
    Aug 27, 2015 @ 13:29:21

    I feel you.

    I try to point out the good and the bad when I do book reviews. And If it’s a book I can’t be honest about, I won’t review it.
    But everyone has different standards.

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