What do you do when you’re asked to read something that you really don’t like?
Reviewing books that you like is easy, but what happens when you’re tasked with reading something that just doesn’t float your boat?
Do you give up halfway through or do you keep reading until the last page?
Ok, so wading through something you don’t like is hard but even harder is the task of writing a review that doesn’t sound as if you’re ripping the whole thing to shreds. Can a reviewer honestly write an article on something they disliked without it a) being dishonest and misleading to their readers and followers, or b) being so harsh and that it stunts a writer’s book sales?
This is a quandary that I’ve found myself in recently and one that I am not sure how to get out of. I know one thing for certain: I didn’t like the book, but how I go about dealing with that is another matter entirely.
My mother always taught me that if you had nothing nice to say about someone – or something – that it was best just to say nothing at all. While this is a wise adage to live one’s life by, it doesn’t help solve my problem.
As a wanna-be-published-writer myself, I can understand how hurtful criticism of your work can be. Much like a mother carrying her child, giving birth after nine months of toil, then the subsequent rearing of said child into early adulthood, writing a novel is much the same thing. No one wants to be told that their child is ugly or useless and by that same token no writer wants to hear that their story is…..well, a bit of a dud.
But if a reviewer does not make constructive criticism of your work, what are the use of reviews at all?
A writer – much like a child – can only learn from their mistakes and if they are not aware that they are making any then we are setting them up to fail. If a writer is not aware of their shortcomings, how can they ever hope to improve?
Perhaps it is in the way that such criticisms are worded that counts. Flaming or trolling a writer is unfair and uncalled for, yet the manner in which criticisms are articulated is one that is a fine line to walk.
How much is too much?
When reviewing, I always make a point of highlighting the areas which I believe worked well and were of benefit to the overall story. I only mention criticisms when I feel that they have such an effect on the story that I simply cannot overlook them. If the negatives are relatively small then I will gloss over them and concentrate on what did work, giving a good review of the book itself while recommending it to my readers.
When the negatives are glaring I am forced to debate whether it is worth me posting a review at all. I certainly don’t want to be seen as condescending, snarky or overly critical, but my own credibility would be at risk if I were to recommend a book that I didn’t believe in.
So what do I do? Do I publish the review and risk upsetting not only another writer, but possibly a publishing company too? Do I say nothing and let the author continue to think that their book has merit when I honestly feel that it doesn’t? Do I contact the author privately and let them know my criticisms in regard to their book and pray to God that they don’t smite me for it?
Perhaps many of you are screaming, “Don’t read the Goddamn book then!” but to that I would answer that I am nothing if not a stubborn son of a gun and that once I start something I like to finish it. Yes, I wasted several reading hours on something I didn’t enjoy, but I learned valuable lessons in regard to the kinds of mistakes that I would like to avoid when I attempt to get my own writing published.
I was once told by a close friend that I am perhaps too kind to be an honest reviewer and I suppose to a certain extent they have a point. I disliked the book but I certainly have nothing against the writer and in fact I would feel badly if I mentioned the aspects of the story that I didn’t like. It’s not for me to trample on anyone else’s dream, but I wouldn’t be honest with myself or the author if I didn’t speak up for what I thought was right.
Speaking up and doing what is right is somewhat of a double-edged sword. On the one hand I would maintain my integrity as a reviewer and writer, but on the other I would be concerned about coming across as too harsh or critical and somehow giving the impression that I know better or could do better than they have.
That’s not the point at all. There is enough room for each and every writer out there to have their work published and I would never want to be a part of crushing their dreams. I also believe that writers should help each other to learn and to grow and that honesty amongst peers should be valued. If I feel that another writer could learn something valuable, why would I keep it to myself?
Maybe some writers would in an effort to keep their competition at bay. I am neither competitive nor mean-spirited enough to do such a thing and would rather help a fellow writer out than pay lip service to them. No one wants to be told that you’ve found fault in their work, but maybe it’s not what you say but how you say it that counts.
I’d be interested to hear the opinions of others on this. Please feel free to leave a comment below: