“Critical” review or “Negative” review – What the Hell?

thanks, wordle!

thanks, wordle!


Hello readers.

So lately I’ve been reading a lot of posts debating (and ultimately condemning) reviewing books in ANYTHING but a positive light.
e.g. – Chuck Wendig and Kristen Lamb to name a few–both people whom I follow and who give good advice.
I intend to expose the debate, register my opinion on the matter, then open the floor for discussion and, as always, let you, the readers make the call. This issue is one which affects all writers, but especially the future of this blog which, as some of the more astute of you may have noted, is titled ‘Don’t Read.’
Also, I’ll be announcing a contest soon, so stay tuned!

The general argument is that, since bad reviews hurt people’s feelings they deprive both the reviewer and the reviewee of possible literary relationships (that ‘Networking’ thing we’re all supposed to be doing) and the promise of awesomeness. Kristen’s first bullet point is “You never know who people know,” while Chuck goes on to explain that bad reviews prevent sales and take bread out of hungry authors’ mouths. Both explain that authors are viewed as authorities and their opinions are perceived to be of more value than your average reader/reviewer.
These are all valid points and both authors do a good job of expatiating them, so I won’t recap here–check the links above to get filled in on the debate. But they forget one fundamental thing:

Writing is not about the writer; it’s about the readers.
If you are a writer reading this, think back with me. Where did you start? What were you before you were a writer? Answer; A reader.
Yes, all writers started as readers, before catching the terminal illness known as ‘writerhood.’
Where am I going with this? Writers don’t write for themselves. If they did, they’d be called masturbators because that’s what they’d be doing: literary masturbation. Writers write for an audience and, whatever it may be, they depend on the readers to read their work and give it meaning through interpretation.

Now books can be expensive–even an ebook can cost more than a paperback sometimes–and readers who read a lot spend lots of money on books.
Bad reviews can drive away business from works and thereby deprive them of money. Lots of money sometimes. And writers have mouths to feed and may depend on that income to an extent. So Chuck states that to take business away from a writer whose book is lackluster is bad. Maybe.

What I wanna know is, who’s got the readers’ backs?
As I mentioned before, readers drop a lot of money on books–a brand new hardback can cost upwards of $30 (more in Canada)–and we’ve all fallen victim to hype and shelled out for that new release only to have it sit gathering dust on our desk or be winged back to our used bookstore because we didn’t like it.
And guess who loses money there? the readers.

For me, it all boils down to consumer advocacy.
We are all readers. We are all consumers. And we deserve to know what we’re buying before we lay down the cash. Who cares about whether some author gets his commission when I gotta choose between buying his book and dinner? I gotta eat too, you know. And so does every reader.

The e-publishing movement has changed the game on books by introducing the free market mentality and it’s shaping up to be one of the best things to happen to writing. Ask your high school economics teacher and they’ll back me up (big props, Mr. Reyna): COMPETITION is good. It leads to growth, product innovation, and it keeps costs down.
Authors competing for your dollar means they have to work harder to provide better quality writing. And this is even good for writers as well because, since readers have a boundless appetite for new GOOD books, the market can support an infinite number of good writers.
Negative reviews help steer readers toward good writing and help authors hone their fiction to get good reviews.

So people didn’t like your book, word of mouth spread, and now sales are down? Boo, Hoo. I got a solution for you: WRITE BETTER.

Now Chuck and Kristen argue that negative reviews by other authors are special; they state since authors have some knowledge of the craft of writing it means people take their reviews more seriously.
Why do dentists endorse toothpaste? Why do doctors tell you to avoid certain foods or brands? Shouldn’t the people who are closest to this field share their knowledge to help people?
Once again it comes back to consumer advocacy. Food products are required by law to disclose nutrition facts and ingredients right on the label. Alcohol tells pregnant women to stay away. Even cigarettes have warning labels on them required by law. Why? Because all three could contain things that are bad for you.

But books don’t have a governing authority deciding what authors need to disclose.

CAUTION: This book contains adverbs, speaker tags, purple prose, and could lead to narcolepsy. Do not read in public areas.

WARNING: This work of fiction contains 72% less than the daily recommended dose of plot. For cognitive health, plot supplements may be necessary.

DANGER: Personality prohibited within. All characters must have only one dimension. Authored Personnel only.

So someone’s gotta do it.

…and that’s my opinion, anyway.
But I want to know what you think. Leave me a comment with your opinion. Am I off the mark?

And be sure to check my follow-up post, where I’ll have a poll so you can help shape the future of this blog!
Should I stay the course and keep telling people what not to read? Or is it time for me to embrace a bright, positive future full of rainbows and gummy bears?

You decide–on the next post of DON’T READ!!


10 thoughts on ““Critical” review or “Negative” review – What the Hell?

  1. Book reviews are all subjective and thus anyone’s opinion is valid, no special training necessary! And the readers’ opinion is probably more valid than other authors, if only because the books aren’t being marketed to people who know how to write a book. They’re being marketed to people who know how to read a book; those people aren’t interested in the technicalities but in the storytelling. If you don’t like a book, give it a negative review. You owe it to your readers (who are presumably trusting your opinion because they have similar tastes in literature) to be honest.

    Basically, I agree with you. 🙂

      • I write when I’m frustrated with life or can’t sleep, but I’m not nearly disciplined enough to call myself a writer.

        I did take a fiction writing class at college. 🙂

        What about you?

        • I’ve written seven novels, but I just can’t stop editing them. I never feel they’re good enough to send to agents.
          C’est la vie.

        • I’ve heard that’s a common problem with art. (Also, I obviously just read your blog for the book reviews ’cause I just realized you have an entire section on writing.)

          I hope you get one published one day – also 7 novels! Wow!

  2. I’ve been a reporter, so I consider myself a writer; but a novel is whole different genre. Fiction v. Nonfiction is a matter of taste, the reader chooses. As a writer I am critical of what I read. Genre is irrelevant. I will judge whether what I am reading is well written or not. I can forgive, though rare, less than well written material if the information given is solid and useful.

    Writers need critiques. Readers want well written stories. Producers and publishers want to make money, so whatever is the current hot seller is the standard. I work hard to write well and like Ensis, I’m never satisfied. Based on that standard, I will critique bad writing when I review it.

    • It’s vindicating to hear another writer back me up–thanks for commenting!
      Also, sorry it took so long to respond–for some reason I wan’t notified about your comment until just now.

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