Friday, October 3, 2008

The Tension in Book Blogging, pt. 1

(I use my blog as an outlet for what I'm thinking and feeling...this post is based on something that's been bouncing around in my head due to several online forum discussions)

As you know, I love reviewing books on blogs.

When I first started doing that, it was mainly to share about what I was reading. Reading a book can be a very individual experience, but books often impact the way I think, alter my perspective a little, and I wanted to be able to share that. Additionally, I wanted to be able to enthusiastically share with others the authors that I love. For me it has always been two-fold...share my reading experiences and help promote my favorite authors.

I soon learned that people would send books to me to read and I was all for that experience as well! I've really expanded my reading horizons by accepting review copies. I don't regret doing it.

But accepting review copies brings a new dimension to the game. Often you have personal contact with the author. It doesn't take long to realize that many authors have their names on google alert. You are critiquing their babies. The hours of work they poured into the book, that you devoured in a few hours. The point is....when you post a review, you never know who is reading.

So I sort of adopted a gentle review policy. I will say why and if I don't like a book but I try to say it in the nicest terms possible. Truthfully, I enjoy something about almost everything I read, I'm an easy critic. I don't find it necessary to tear apart a book, though, I will say what didn't work for me. I hope this way that I am able to convey to readers who trust me whether or not I liked a book without crushing someone else in the process.

I don't know if this works or not. I don't generally read many negative reviews in book blogosphere land and I think that's because general population readers who blog either don't blog about the books they don't like or don't feel like they have to find things wrong with books in order to prove their own worth.

So part one of the tension in book blogging is the duty to your reader to be honest and the responsibility of knowing that anyone and everyone could be reading the review. Part two is coming....

In the meantime, please feel free to leave your thoughts on this below!

31 comments:

Word Lily said...

I think your policy is a good one; I've tried to maintain a similar philosophy.

Julie P. said...

I totally agree with you. Before I blogged, I was much more critical of books. Now that I have to write down my thoughts (and sometimes have contact with the author), I find that I try to find the upside to books rather than the weaknesses.

bermudaonion said...

I agree with your policy of being gentle - there's no need to be rude.

Smilingsal said...

I'd like to hear what you have done when the book would be a rip-off for the public.

Also, could you please darken your print? Maybe it's my computer, but I really have to lean forward and squint to read this blog. (I don't mean to offend.)

MissDaisyAnne said...

I agree with you, on my blogs I am as honest as I can be, but I am also not a critical type person, it is though rare that I read a really bad book.
I also have stayed away from the 1 through 5 rating system.

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I'm always honest in my reviews regardless of how I received the copy. I actually just dealt with this today on a blog tour for a book I couldn't particularly get into. I've had authors leave comments and say "oh well, thanks for reviewing my book." Some people say you should never write a negative review. That's all fine and well for print maybe, but I think it's fine for blogging. I recently update my contact page to explain to authors and publishers that I may not give a positive review, rather one that I think is honest to my readers. If I read it, I'll review it. If I give up halfway, I'll review it as well, but usually give it away to another blogger so the author has another chance with a positive review.

It's funny that you should mention this now. I just read a review over at Books I Done Read by Raych where she tore apart a book. She did mention how she received the book from an author and how the communication did affect how she blogged about it.

On another note, I Google Alert my name and blog as well. Love it!

Michele said...

I have struggled with this in the past. But I did write the negative review, saying what I did and didn't like it. I also included the why I think I didn't like it, if I knew. Like for one, the subject matter of the book - completely about the sex and drugs and nothing else imo, totally clouded anything else there might have been there versus just being part of the setting, if that makes sense. But I think we have a responsibility to ourselves along with the authors. The authors need to know the demographic to market their book to and if I'm not it, I'm sure there are others that are. Given the limited $$ to market, why have them waste it marketing to the wrong groups. And, maybe someone will read my review and get interested in the book just because of the very thing I didn't like.

Apparently I had alot to say. Sorry about that! LOL

Krista said...

Hmmm, interesting. I think I tend to be pretty harsh when I critique a book. Then again, I really loved In the Shadow of Lions and you didn't (or maybe it was someone else I read). Maybe it's because I tend to read mostly historical, romance, and chick lit that I'm more critical because I read so much in those genres and I know what is really good.
All that to say, even when I feel like I write a good review I've never had the author contact me (except when I posted what was on my night stand and I hadn't even read the book I had one author contact me).

Jennifer @ Quiverfull Family said...

I try to be straight up in my reviews, detailing the positive and negative points of a book. I can really recommend a title, yet I try to point out weaknesses as well so that readers are aware. I'm a both sides of the book reviewer I suppose. I did write a fairly negative review of One Extraordinary Day by Harold Myra but I just didn't dig it. I actually prefer writing recommendation reviews, but sometimes it just doesn't happen.

Actually, blogs that only offer happy, feel good reviews of every book irk me. How are readers to select what to read out of the wide array of choices available if every blogger just says 'Yep, it was GOOD!'

Not saying that you do this Amy! I know I've read reviews where you said you couldn't get into a book, or didn't like it personally :). Just a pet peeve of mine! I want the real goods!

ForstRose said...

I do my best to be honest in my reviews and if I didn't particularly like something that goes beyond personal taste I will contact the author about that directly otherwise I'll explain it wasn't my thing and why in the review. I also try to make my reviews teasers for the book this makes it easier when I am so-so about a book or can't get excited about it. It shares with readers what the book is abotu without giving spoilers and piques their interest if it happens to be their type of book.

Melissa

Monica said...

I DEFINITELY know what you mean. I try to start with praise and my initial response... then move into what the book is about. Then I will write either what I liked and why, or what didn't work, and why. And I usually like to consider how my feelings affect why I didn't like it, so perhaps I had trouble finding it believable (maybe a sci-fi story), but I mention that if you like the genre, it could work for you. Sort of a "use your own discretion" type review.

Ladytink_534 said...

Oh I'm always honest but if I dislike a book I'm never mean about it. Now movies are another ball game. The one I posted about yesterday made me so mad that I didn't really worry about being nice.

Chris said...

Yeah, I'm struggling with this at the moment. I'm still trying to tackle how I will approach it.

elizabethwillse said...

I think the key to writing a nice review of a book you didn't like is "This book will appeal to readers who like...." or similar statements. There's a reader out there for every book. Even if it's not me.

Nancy said...

I think by not writing negative reviews you may be doing both the author and the reader a disservice. I don't do book reviews but I sure read a lot of them, and it's always nice to have that honesty when a reviewer doesn't like a book. I may not even agree with a review, but there are books out there that people just don't like, even if it seems like everyone else does, so when everything is rah rah you start to wonder how honest the reviewer really is.

Sunny said...

Yes! I am the same way. I know I'm an easy critic and dont think it's constructive to be mean or bash if I dont like something. I think we can get our point across gently and let readers know if it did/didn't work for us and why, but also leave it open for them to decide if, even though I didnt like it, maybe they would. I feel that bashing turns readers off from making that decision. I know when I read a "bashing" review I'm more turned off to the book. But if I read a gentle review that says the reviewer didnt care for it (and why), I can still discern if maybe I'd like it even though they didnt.

Great post, Amy!

rjsbooklady said...

Well put! I agree that the tension exists when you're reading and writing about a book whose author you have contact with, and it's a great point that you never know who might be reading. I always tell authors up front that I review every book I finish, so my acceptance of their review copy in no way guarantees a positive review. When I have something negative say, I always try to balance it with what the books strengths are and to provide examples of both the positie and negative aspects. But if I really hate something, it probably doesn't get reviewed because I probably don't finish it--there's just not enough time to read bad books.

Lana said...

I review (or try to) every book I finish whether I liked it or not. Personally, I agree that honesty is more valuable for me as a reader and as a writer - and I hope the people who read my blog feel the same way. I try not to be mean because I know authors are real people and those are their babies.

But at the same time, they sent them out there into the publishing world. And the truth is not everyone likes every book. There are some books out there that it seems like everyone loves that I thought were really awful. And vice versa, of course.

So, I try not to be mean, I try to be honest about what just doesn't work for ME but may for others. But I also don't sugarcoat my reviews just because an author might be reading it. I guess I write my reviews so that they're not armor-piercing, but you may need a thick skin...

Bookchronicle said...

When I created my blog I decided that I was always going to be honest. In part this is because I have the most respect and take the most enjoyment from fellow bloggers who are also honest.

But when I was asked by an author/publisher to read a book... It does change things. My policy is to only accept books that I would read anyway AND I usually warn the author/publisher that I am honest. If I hate it, I'll say so and why.

Jackie B. said...

Though I am not a book blogger/reviewer, I am an avid reader of all types of books and blogs and reviews. I feel honesty is always the best policy. If you don't like a book just say so. You do not have to be rude about it. Even if I read a negative review on something, it does not always sway me from reading it. As they say, different strokes for different folks. I am one that cannot stop reading a book even if it does not appeal to me. As a matter of fact, it just makes me want to read it faster so I can move on to something I enjoy better. So if I have read something that does not appeal to my tastes, I have no problem telling my friends or writing a blog comment about it because I have spent my leisure time to actually read it. Like you, I would not intentionally try to be rude because I admire all writers for their efforts, but they must realize everyone has opinions and they may not always be congruent with their own.
Thanks for letting me express my thoughts on the subject.

Amy said...

Wow, thanks for the feedback everyone! It looks like this is something we all think about.

I also don't see the point in not being honest. Maybe what I'm trying to say is that it's all in how you say it!

I think I'll save more of my thoughts on this for a future post.

blueviolet said...

I understand what you're getting at here. There's something to be said for constructive criticism, no need to hurt people's feelings.

S. Krishna said...

I definitely agree with this - I try to be much gentler since I've started accepting review copies. That being said, if I don't like a book, I'm not going to lie.

Lezlie said...

I like your style. My general rule of thumb is to figure out who *would* like a particular book. What I may have not like about a book might be something that another reader loves. I try to pull out a positive aspect and focus on that.

Lezlie

Literary Feline said...

I struggle with this too, Amy. I believe honesty is the best policy, but it's in my general nature to be nice when doling it out even if its negative. I've been really lucky this year and have enjoyed everything I've read so far--no unfinished books and nothing below a 3 star rating (which means "good"). I suppose some people might think that suspect, but I won't rate a book low if I don't think it deserves it.

Jena said...

As my blog was initially intended for a small audience--my teacher/librarian/grad school (English geek) friends--and as a log for keeping track of what I read, I do write negative reviews, but I try to be critical and not unnecessarily cruel. I don't sugarcoat a bad review, and I can be brutally honest, but I try not to be rude about it. But then there are those books that just bug me because they somehow ended up in print, wasting paper and my time with tempting whispers of the book being worthwhile. Then, when I find nothing redeemable about the book, I find it hard not to get snarky.

Icedream said...

I know it's difficult. I have actually had an author contact me because I rated his book 3 stars. Truth be told, I was being very generous. I think your review policy is a good one.

Meghan said...

I try to do the same thing, honestly. I don't want to steer people in the direction of a bad book, so I won't recommend it and will discuss what I think is wrong with it, but I do try my best to highlight the good parts of bad books. There is almost always something redeemable about them. That way, if readers have different taste in books than I do they can still see if they'd like it and I can avoid hurting feelings.

Jeanne said...

No one has said this yet, but it seems obvious to me that the answer to this dilemma is to choose and buy your own books. Otherwise, the conflict of interest is kind of like when doctors used to dispense medicine, isn't it?

literatehousewife said...

I try to be as honest as possible with my reviews without being unkind. If I felt I couldn't, I'd stop accepting books from authors all together. I never heard of this Google Alert thing. I'll have to check this out.

Anna said...

I agree that honesty is important, along with being polite. I think writers understand (or they should) that not everyone is going to like their books. But there's no need to bash someone's work, that's just not nice. I went through this recently with a book I was obligated to review. It wasn't great, but it wasn't horrible either. I made sure (or tried to) focus on the positives and be honest about what didn't work for me. The author actually emailed me and thanked me for my comments. Of course I felt bad that she'd seen what I'd written, though I didn't bash the book, but at least she took what I said in the spirit in which it was intended.

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