Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Everyone's a Critic, Right?

That's right; everyone has an opinion about something.
Some folks criticize to correct someone and challenges them to help them grow.
Some folks criticize to demean and destroy.  Cue: Snark

But, there is a flip side to criticism - both good and bad.

But what IS criticism?

For reviewing purposes, I chose this explanation: The analysis or evaluation of a work of art, literature, etc.

That's a basic definition and it applies to reviewing. It's the part that takes a story to task for failing a reader at certain points. I admit, it can be incredibly hard to be a constructive critic. Human nature has a tendency to go overboard sometimes.

But the hardest part about being a critic and exercising critical thinking is when a reviewer is conflicted.

What puts a reviewer in such a position? To feel torn, or obligated? When they are asked to crit a friend's work - doesn't matter if it's about a book, a screenplay or a poem.

When a person is emotionally vested in a relationship, whether personal or professional, the ability of a person to be objectively critical is compromised and feelings oftentimes are in the driver's seat.

If you are asked to review a friend's book, do you? As a rule, the answer should be no. I'm not talking about a situation where you really don't want to read and review their book, but when you do want to. And along with that wanting to read their story and offer up your opinions, you run the risk of getting on your own emotional roller coaster - and it's not a pleasant ride.

Guilt will plague you.
Worry will haunt you.
Second guessing yourself will torment you.

Are you being too harsh? Will whatever you point out as 'wrong' hurt your friend's feelings? How accurate can your crit be if you are constantly trying to couch your suggestions so as to not hurt someone, or worse, make them angry? How fair are you being? No wait, are you being unfair? I think you can get an idea as to where this is going.

I guess a lot depends on the kind of relationship you have with the person whose work you are critting. If you are lucky, there's an established trust where the author has a thick skin and understands the vein in which the crits are presented thereby allowing you to honestly share how the book really affected you - the good, the bad, and the hilarious.

But, I believe one of the worst case scenarios is of a reviewer taking on a book to review for someone, and by virtue of feelings of obligation, duty, friendship or hero-worship, gives a glowing, gushing high-five write-up that whitewashes the whole book into a shining example of perfection, when it's possibly anything but.

That does an author a huge disservice.

I repeat, giving a carte blanche glowing review no matter what does not benefit the author in any way, except perhaps, ego. But that's ephemeral at best.

Another point about that practice, and let me be clear, is that it hurts a reviewer's credibility. The damage doesn't necessarily stop there either. If you review for a professional review site, it could compromise their reputation. If you give a book a top rating whereas all the other ones are much less, it calls into question the veracity of the review, and by association, the review site as a whole.
Now, before you jump all over that last sentence and remind me about reviews being opinions, let me explore that difference.

If a book is riddled with errors and blatant plot holes and objective points of criticism that would always and everywhere lower a rating in a review and THAT book still gets a glowing gushy top rating from you with absolutely no acknowledgement of the well known issues that have come to light in other reviews, then it stands out like Jeff Foxworthy at a mime convention.

Another compromising position for a reviewer is one who is a diehard, devout fan of an author or series.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with following a series. Nothing at all. If, and that's a big IF, the reviewer can step back from his or her fandom and view the book objectively. That means being willing and able to point out any inconsistencies or plot issues like they would have for any other book and not only mention them, but rate it accordingly.

As long as a reviewer can do that, then review away. Because let's face it. There is no way an author can consistently have top ratings or best book ratings for every single book in a fifteen book series without at least once or twice dropping the ball and falling through a plot hole, get confused on a head hop or create a character so flat, they don't even warrant the title of pancake. Authors are human too.
The bottom line?

Review with honesty.
Review with a pragmatic approach.
Review without guilt or pressure or perceived expectations.
Be willing to give constructive criticism.
Be willing to say no.

And if you can't say 'no', or are totally crushing on wanting to read that story, then do yourself and the author a favor.

Rate the book on how it really is, and NOT on how you think they'd want you to rate it.

All authors want to hear their baby is great. It's human nature. But as kids need braces to fix oral misalignment, so too do authors need to hear what doesn't work, so they can correct it and write a better scene the next time.

Yes, everyone can try be a critic. But not everyone knows how to, or when not to. And that's the difference.


Nancy G said...

Thank you for a great post. Several years ago, I won an ARC of a book from an author whose first two booksxi had read and reviewed, and about half way through I noticed a problem...she called the heroine by her sister's name. I e-mailed the author to thank her and mention this error. The book was three days from pub, and she was able to correct. From that point on, she sent me every rough draft to 'play ' with, and I immediately stopped reviewing her books for the site I review on. When I explained my reasons, she was very gracious and I have 'fixed' at least twenty of hers since. Do I review her books? Only on my own blog and I still try to be objective, because she would expect nothing less.

Crazy Lady said...

Interesting point about reviewing series though. I've become a HUGE fan of a certain series over the last few months - read the first four in a couple weeks. Sometimes when you read so many in a row, it can become hard to be objective. Or you're so caught up you don't notice the problems.

Anyway... thought provoking post as usual my dear. :)

Astilbe said...

I like to take breaks from authors for that exact reason.

It's easy to start overlooking missteps if you're a huge fan of author X.

(Or at least that's the way my mind works. :) )

Jo Ann Hakola said...

It's no different than hiring a friend at work. I refused to because I knew they'd be angry if disciplined and I'd feel guilty about it. I'll read for friends, but I won't review their books.

I also don't review books I don't like. It might be subject matter, writing ability, it's just not my type, or the story didn't touch me. If that happens, I'll write to author and tell them that it's just not for me. If they ask why I tell them. Most times they don't ask.

Some self-published authors will challenge what you wrote in your review. I said I found a romance blooming two weeks after the women's husband had been shot in the line of duty when she's in a new town a little unbelievable. He assured it happens, he'd seen it once. I no longer review for him.

There are a lot of books out there; I don't need to read ones that don't impress me.

Sheri Vidal said...

I wholeheartedly agree. I do review on my own blog occasionally for a few friends, but I've also told them when I didn't like parts. I don't review stories I beta for.

Xeranthemum said...

Hi, Nancy!
Thank you for sharing. :)

It sounds like you've developed a wonderful working relationship with that author. Congrats!

&, being able to change a glitch in a book that close to publishing means it was possibly an eBook - that is the beauty of them - instant fix.

I think your choice of not reviewing for her was wise - it's almost impossible to review a book you already went through with a fine toothed comb looking for issues and errors anyway. It becomes work at that point - pleasurable work but still work.

Happy critting, Nancy!

Xeranthemum said...

Thank you, Crazy Lady!
Love your handle!! LOL

Aaah, yes, series love.

It does present its own special challenge. Mostly because, if it's a community type book that you are invested in emotionally, book speaking, it's really easy to pass off certain issues because the overall story arc and characters have you hooked no matter what.

It takes a certain level of discipline to remind oneself to review it as a NEW reader would see it, who wouldn't necessarily gloss over and accept something simply because they are notinvested in 'series love' as you are.

I have done that with Laurell K. Hamilton's books. I've read other reviews where the reviewer was blasting the author for all the eye color descriptions - it drove them nuts. Whereas me, I skipped along because I knew all that, loved being reminded because I just LOVED the characters to death ... and well, am guilty of the very thing I wrote about.

And that's why I wrote this post - to remind myself too.

Thanks for reading and seeing the value I'd hoped to share. :)

Xeranthemum said...

Hello, Astilbe!!

LOL - on the breaks.

It's smart and wise. Wish I'd had that insight when I read an author's books, a loosely arced 3 in a row series, a few years ago.

Doing it that way really made some things jump out at me that weren't good. If I'd had a break, and read them 8 months in separation, which equals their publishing, I would have had a better reading experience.

They were written as standalones, but they had to 'recap' some of the basic info. I hated the in-depth repetition and felt cheated. For me, they came across as fillers when in fact, I had to keep reminding myself to review each separately as its own book.

I guarantee you, I no longer binge like that for reviewing. Reading for fun? Yes. No more as a reviewer. So, WTG, Astilbe!

Xeranthemum said...

Welcome, Jo Ann!

I agree about the similarity to hiring friends. Sometimes it works out, but a lot of times it doesn't. So true.

And wow! You were challenged?!? I guess that ties into one of my sentences in the post about an author 'needing a thick skin'. Yours is a perfect example. Thanks for sharing that!

It was a tad arrogant of that author, wasn't it? I mean, just because he saw it once doesn't make it believable for EVERYONE.

One thing about writing a story, it has to have elements that many people can relate to and easily believe in. It allows them to connect easier to the protagonists. His comment gives me the impression he didn't know his audience.

"Because I saw it" wouldn't sway me either. Yes, fact is stranger than fiction, but readers who become fans do it because they experience a wonderful suspension of disbelief. Obviously, he didn't pull it off that time. And for him to turn defensive?
I wouldn't review for him either.

You have provided a beautiful tie-in to my post, Jo Ann.
Thank you!!!!

Xeranthemum said...

Ah, Sheri! A reviewer after my own heart.

Thank you for commenting and letting me know how you felt about my post's message and the choices you yourself have made. Hearing that from another reviewer means a lot.


daphnepurpus said...

I really enjoyed this and I was especially taken with your five "bottom line" points! That sums it up so well and I hope that I can follow them in my critiques. Thanks!

Xeranthemum said...

Thank you, Daphnepurpus!

That's why I do what I do, to help.