This one is a little bit of a ramble, so let me apologize in advance if my thoughts are less cohesive than normal.
I had a little bump in the road to my writing career this weekend, and I debated a bit about whether or not I should post about it. You see, something happened that I hadn’t considered (though in retrospect I suppose I should have), and I was afraid posting about it might be viewed as whining. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that this is exactly the kind of thing I think aspiring authors should be told, and that’s what this blog is all about. After all, “This is me, Learning the Professional Side of Writing”. I will take the luxury of assuming that you wouldn’t be reading my blog if you weren’t at least a little interested in what I have to say on the matter.
So here’s my latest little nugget of wisdom – don’t review your peers’ books.
Maybe you’re out there reading this, shaking your head, and wondering whatever made me think otherwise. Or perhaps this is as novel a concept for you as it was for me. Let me explain where it comes from, though.
I have a GoodReads account, and an Amazon account, and I have gotten into the habit of reviewing everything I read. Until now, I thought of it as a way of maintaining a connection to the reading community to whom I hope to one day present my own works. Unfortunately, something that I honestly hadn’t considered turned up this weekend and smacked me in the face. (Yeah, life has a way of doing that, doesn’t it?)
Like many other writers out there, I have been a member of several writing critique groups over the years. I participated in unpublished author competitions, was a member of several online critique groups, and three “real life” groups. I developed a reputation for constructive, but brutally honest critiques, and was very often complimented on it. Many writers value these critiques. It is how we grow in our craft.
But here is something I didn’t take into account – a review is not the same as a critique. A critique is something that fellow writers share with one another in an attempt to better themselves. It is done in a private forum, before the work is presented in its final form.
A review, on the other hand, is a public examination of the end result. It is placed out there for all the world to see, after the author says “Hey, here is my baby!” When viewed that way, the differences are pretty obvious, so I am ashamed to admit that I completely missed them.
For the aspiring author, posting reviews can be a no-win scenario. If he presents a four or five-star review, he will be seen as a brown noser, looking to curry favor from those more successful than himself. If he presents a three star review, he is nothing more than a reviewer attempting to denigrate the work of his peers without being too obvious about it. If he dares to present a one or two star review, he will be seen as egotistical or presumptuous, passing judgment on his peers.
Simply put, an aspiring author cannot afford to be seen as being critical of another artist’s work without running the risk of being viewed as either arrogant or conniving. And it isn’t necessarily the authors who will object. Successful authors attract followers, and those followers can take things personally. Followers can be very passionate about what they like and dislike. I know I can be, so why should anyone else not?
So you will notice I no longer have my list of “Books I’ve Recently Read and Reviewed” in the sidebar. Nor will I be showing my “Books I’m Currently Reading” over there. Instead, I now have a bar of “Some Books I Recommend“. The only books I will list there are those that I have read and can wholeheartedly recommend to fellow readers and writers as either handy reference books, or books I can point to and say “this is what I want to do when I grow up!” They are not all five-star books (or at least, I didn’t give them all five-star reviews), but they are nevertheless representations of the level of writing and storytelling to which I aspire.
I will also be looking into whether or not I can “privatize” my GoodReads account so that I can continue to add to my personal reading goals without publishing my reviews to the public. If I can’t, then I’m afraid I will have to simply delete all my reviews and allow the account to languish. I would hate to do that, since GoodReads presents a simple place for me to track progress on what I’m reading against my self-imposed goal of reading twenty-five books this year. But it is by its nature, a book review site, and as such requires that you rate the books as you complete them. And I believe I just covered those particular pitfalls.
This is a valuable lesson to those of us who are trying to break into the biz. Reviews are not viewed the same as critiques. Think of it as a corollary of the rules of Professionalism. While we may always think we are being professional in our dealings with others, we have to take into account that there are people who will view our comments differently. There is simply no way that presenting a review on the work of one’s peers will not be viewed negatively by someone, somewhere.
So I’ll have to stop doing them. Period.
In the meantime, to anyone who feels that I may have slighted them or their favorite author in any way, I sincerely apologize. That was never my intent.