Friday, December 19, 2008

In Which I Actually Blog About Writing

Every so often, I wander over to the PA boards - one, because I'm nosy and two, because there is just so much misinformation handed out over there that it's almost like a field day to go and dissect the many myths bandied about over there.

Well, not everything over there is a myth. Some of it is just plain ignorance of how things work in publishing. And there is a lot of that over on those boards. To be fair, some of the ignorance is understandable, as there are a ton of newbie writers over there and some of what they have to learn just isn't going to be found on PA's message board. PA won't allow some of it and the rest, well when the majority of people posting over there believe such nonsense as authors are supposed to pay to have their books published - well, you can imagine how they answer any of the newbie questions.

And that brings us to today's post.

Reviews.

Now, the main purpose of a review - be it on Amazon or in Publisher's Weekly - is that it is for the reader. Not the author. Say it with me, Reviews are for the reader, not the author.

Now, as an author, I have to confess it's nice to read a good review. Gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling to know someone liked your book. Conversely, it's not so nice to read a bad review. They sting, even though it's not possible for everyone to love your words (and if I could figure out how to make everyone love my words, buh-lieve me, I'd do it!)

But in the end, those reviews, good and bad are there to inform the reader. Or the prospective reader, to be more precise. They are ego-strokes (or ego-flatteners) for the author, but that's about it. That's not to say those reviews go unappreciated, but I know they aren't really meant for me.

Now, my publishers take care of sending out ARCs (Advanced Reading Copy) to reviewers. I have no say in where they go or even if my books are reviewed. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to well over a year to receive a review. It depends on how busy the reviewer is, and whether or not your book is picked up from the reviewer's TBR (Too Be Read) pile.

There are plenty of well-respected online review sites, but there are also a few less-than-respectable ones as well - such as review sites who offer "fast-track" reviews, for a fee. Now, these reviewers promise to give an unbiased review, but I have to wonder how that's possible. If I've paid to have my book "fast-tracked", how happy am I going to be with that site if they've charged me and then give me a lousy review? How likely is it that I'm (hypothetically speaking, of course) going to return to that site with a future book?

So, to me, one of the golden rules of reviewers is the same as for selecting a publisher. The author should not pay for a review. Ever. At one time, there were rumblings about Kirkus (an extremely well-respected organization) was going to offer pay-top-play reviews - but I don't recall if they went through with it. Either way, I still don't know I'd pay them, even though a Kirkus review is considered primo.

Then there are the peer reviews. This is something you see all the time on the PA boards. PA authors offering to review each other's books.

Now, I'm sorry, but nothing can scream rank amateur like an unknown author reviewing another unknown author's book. Especially when said review throws about superlatives such as, "instant classic", and "a must-read" yet fails to give any information about the story, such as, the plot. Most of the peer reviews you find on the PA message boards are so vague that you need only change the book title, and wham-o! it can be applied to any PA book. That's not a review. It's an ego-stroke and nothing more. And that's all most of those PA-peer reviews are - it's rare to find a PA author who didn't absolutely adore the PA book he or she reviewed. Which is fine, I guess, if all you want is smoke blown up certain orifices. But it helps neither the prospective buyer (a review is worthless to me unless it offers up at least a smidgen of what the plot is, or even who the main characters are. PA peer reviews are famous for stating, "I don't want to spoil the story, so I won't tell you anything about it.") nor the author (we all want to know what you don't like about our stories. At least, I do. Tell me and I won't do it again - I hope.)

Just as a PA printed book does NOT count as a professional publishing credit, a PA peer review does NOT count as a true review. Trust me on this.

1 comment:

Marian said...

"So, to me, one of the golden rules of reviewers is the same as for selecting a publisher. The author should not pay for a review. Ever."

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always held reviewers* up to the same standard as I hold journalists and scientists, and that’s to place the truth or the facts above beliefs or feelings or personal gain.

"And that's all most of those PA-peer reviews are - it's rare to find a PA author who didn't absolutely adore the PA book he or she reviewed."

Exactly. I could count on the fingers of one, er, finger the number of times I’ve seen a PA author give another PA author a less-than-positive review, and you know how I scour that board. :)

Part of the problem is that other PA authors aren’t just other PA authors – they’re family. Family members (usually) don’t criticize your work; they love it and stick it on the fridge. So even if the majority of PA authors were experienced in spotting mistakes or suggesting ways to improve a story, they would be inhibited from doing so to a family member.

Heck, I’d feel bad about doing that to a family member. Especially if there was any chance the author being reviewed would get upset about it – which happens frequently with new and inexperienced writers, and sometimes with those who should know better too.

Ultimately, good reviewing is about placing neutrality and objectivity over one’s personal feelings for the writer or the publisher. There’s a great Writer Beware post where a professional reviewer says that she doesn’t want to meet writers she reviews, much less receive gifts of any kind from them. I wish more reviewers were like that.

Yours was a great post too, Kim. :)

*Reviewers, not recappers or merciless parodiers.