Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

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Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

Postby Regan Leigh » 03 Feb 2011, 20:57

I recently held a Twitter #QueryChat that ended in a debate about whether writers should take on the role of reviewer. That led me to ask my friend Susan Dennard (soon to be published YA author with HarperCollins) to write a guest post on the topic.

So should writers avoid being reviewers?

You can read her post here: http://www.reganleigh.com/?p=1999

To sum it up, she says YES. ;)

She made a lot of great points about why writers should be concerned about posting reviews vs recommendations. It came as a shock to many book bloggers I know. I'd love to pass on her awesome post, but also start a dialogue here...

Do you agree or disagree?
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Re: Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

Postby cheekychook » 03 Feb 2011, 21:10

I don't review books but I do review movies and I hold to the same rule. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. It's one thing to give a personal, private critique where you list the good and bad, and it's just the one person who is reading it (and can hopefully learn/benefit from your comments) it's another thing entirely to bash/trash someone's creative work in a public forum when what you're stating is just your opinion. I have actually gone out of my way at times to write in-depth positive reviews of films I've enjoyed just to counter negative (and unfairly harsh) critiques---and I don't mean counter them as in balance contradict them for the sake of contradicting them, I mean I've purposely explained the positive aspects I saw because the negative reviewers clearly missed or overlooked them or are making it sound like their negative opinion will be universally held by all viewers. All of this goes back to why I'm such a fan of the sandwich rule---if you can't of any nice things to say then you shouldn't publicly be offering up your scathing remarks either.

Question for your guest blogger: Does a positive review have to be a "perfect" rating? In other words if you're offering a review on a site where there are 10 possible stars and you have positive comments and enjoyed the work do you have to give it a 10? Or can you give it a 9 plus make your positive critique? It seems reviewing would lose all meaning if all scores had to be perfect in order to be posted.
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Re: Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

Postby polymath » 03 Feb 2011, 21:35

What kind of reviewer? I ask respectfully.

I categorize reviewers into purpose and intent genres;
Lifestyle reviewers
Journalism reviewers
Promotional reviewers
Literary reviewers
Vanity reviewers

Lifestyle reviewers are distinguishable by their cults of lifestyle personality. They promote themselves by their notions of presuming to speak for audiences' sentiments, when they by and large speak from their own sentiments. They tend to be more followers than leaders though, following presupposed fashionable mass culture trends. Lifestyle reviewers, like restaurant reviewers, make their bones finding fault.

Journalism reviewers meld aspects of lifestyle, promotional, and literary reviews, and sometimes vanity reviews. Fault finding, like with all journalism, ideally balances with approving reporting.

Promotional reviewers, of course, promote the product. Rarely will a promotional review find fault.

Literary reviewers speak to the artistic merits, intents, and meanings of literature. It is a no-no to find fault in a literary review. The concern there is mixed messages detract from a substantive point, thus dilluting the point with meaningless, probably contradictory digressions.

Vanity reviewers generally have little substantive to say. They advocate for family, friends, acquaintances, and favorite authors using shallow praise and empty flattery. At least they tend to avoid fault finding. Also known as astroturfing.

Creative writers will be well-served practicing promotional and literary reviews. Lifestyle and journalism reviews are art form specialities unto themselves. Anyone can do vanity reviews. Though there's outlets for them, there's no marketplace for them.
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Re: Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

Postby steve » 03 Feb 2011, 21:45

I'm dumbfounded.

Most every book review in the NY Times Sunday edition, the NY Review of Books, the Boston Review, and countless other newspapers, journals, and magazines is written by writers.

If that blogger hasn't noticed, straight reviewers are a dying breed. And publications have always, always used writers to write reviews. Great novelists like William Kennedy got their start writing reviews. I think that John Green guy did too.

If that blogger was talking about websites where people bash books out of spite, that's something else entirely.

But not write book reviews? Give me a break.

I think writers should avoid real life and live in plastic bubbles like John Travolta did in that movie, so nothing can pollute their delicate sensibilities.
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Re: Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

Postby cheekychook » 03 Feb 2011, 22:00

My issue with reviewers is that many of the people who write them seem to forget that they are posting their opinions. Reviewers who state their take as if it's fact and will be universally agreed upon by all others are far too prevalent. I can't stand that. I don't care if they're reviewing a movie, a book, a burger---it's still just one person's opinion. All too often it's one person wanting an audience to listen how cutting and "witty" they can be in their snarky synopsis of someone else's work. If you're reviewing with your personal response at least acknowledge that's what it is. If you like something say why, and be specific. If you hate something say why, and be specific. Reviewers who just like to hear the sound of their own voice/see their own words in print don't do anyone any favors, not the person they're critiquing and not the person who's looking to their review for guidance or insight as to whether or not to see/purchase/eat what's being reviewed.
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Re: Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

Postby polymath » 03 Feb 2011, 22:10

My aesthetic for reviews; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A thoughtless comment will be paid back in kind. However, some writers and not a few celebrities make book on dishing others on public venues. There's nothing like a contentious, scandalous controversy for creating free publicity out of hot air. And then oftentimes seemingly sincere, contrite public apologies and public all-is-forgiven makeups ensue so tarnished reputations are redeemed.
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Re: Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

Postby Mira » 03 Feb 2011, 22:57

steve wrote:
I think writers should avoid real life and live in plastic bubbles like John Travolta did in that movie, so nothing can pollute their delicate sensibilities.


Oh goodness. Could I? Pretty please? When can that start? Now? 5 minutes ago? Ahhhh, to be in a plastic bubble and avoid real life. So lovely....

On topic, boy, the internet is a strange and unfamiliar place. There's alot of pressure right now to turn it into a business environment - but it's important to remember, that's only one way to look at the internet.

For me, I'm trying to find the balance between not accidentally alientating people vs. being true to myself and honest about who I am as a writer.

For me, the bottom line - if it feels important - I'll choose my time, space and words carefully, but I'll be honest. If it's not important, I'm learning to focus on what is.

Does that make sense? I think that writers absolutely need to be honest and the idea that they could be scared into not speaking is horrifying to me - but on the other hand, it's also good to be thoughtful, to choose your words and time, if possible, without compromise, to be considerate and constructive - but still be honest.

So them's my thoughts - for now. :)

Interesting topic - thanks.
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Re: Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

Postby Guardian » 04 Feb 2011, 04:32

I agree and I also disagree with this post. I agree, because as a writer it's not my job to kill the career of someone else with a cruel review. I have better things to do and reviews are used to work vica-versa. People may get what they give.

But I disagree with a part in your post Regan... this one.
Boy am I glad I took down my negative reviews! Shortly after signing with NCLit, I got an insider’s view of what bad reviewing can do to you:

You won’t get signed.

Before I went on sub, my agents warned me to stay professional, keep my online presence calm and clean, and avoid negative reviews, comments — anything.

First of all, whoever won't sign you because you ever had or have an opinion about something, that's highly unprofessional. It's like: "Be a robot, you can't have an opinion, otherwise you won't get signed.". Now, if an agent can't handle a client and it's communication, i.e. a single bad book review prior of publication, or because of a personal, honest, but modest, normal opinion, that agent is absolutely useless.

Just like “talking bad” about a book can keep you from getting an agent, it will also keep you from getting a book deal.

If this is keeping someone to get an agent, back to the previous paragraph. Also who is going to determine what is "talking bad"? Them? What is the standard? Can we get a guideline for this at all? Is there a guideline at all? Of course not. So, actually this sounds as a poor excuse for something what some agents are unable to handle. What they forget, writers are usually good with words, better then the average reviewers.

And TRUST ME: editors may love your book, but hate your online presence — and that means you won’t get published.

First of all, they must sell THE novel in the first place, not our image. Of course a proper image is good for everyone, but this "hate your online presense" is also highly unprofessional, because who is going to decide what is good and what is bad? Them? Is it bad if you have a modest opinion? Is it bad if you're writing an opinion if someone is asking you about a subject? Of course it's not bad.

Trust me: agents google you.

We're also watching and googling them. So, what's the point? Agents are making black list about writers, but writers are also making black list about agents too. The problem is; writers are creating the sellable materials, the worlds, the novels, not the agents or the editors. That's what few used to forget sometimes. If a writer is on an agent's blacklist, that writer still has his / her novel to sell. If an agent is on a blacklist, that agent can say goodbye to his / her career.

The essence is: it's not an agent or an editor's job to moderate you in your private life and it never will be. You must act as a professional, that's true (See my first paragraph.). But whoever is trying to tell you how to live your private life, especially prior the first contact, otherwise you won't get a job, that one is living in a great illusion (And this is also a direct invasion of privacy and against freedom of speech.).
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Re: Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

Postby charlotte49ers » 04 Feb 2011, 06:11

The point, to me, is that you should treat it as you would any employment seeking situation.

I can't post on my blog negatively about my fellow teachers and expect to a) get a job if I'm looking for one, or b) expect no ramifications in my current position. Could you? That screams unprofessionalism and it's the same thing. If you want writing to be treated like a true profession, then you have to approach it like you would any other job you were pursuing.

Like Facebook. Does it stink you can't write/say/post whatever you want on there? Sure, but it's a reality. We can all have our opinions and shout them from the rooftops, but when it comes to the professionalism angle, there will be consequences.

I guess I get frustrated when the arts aren't seen in the same light as more traditional professions. I face this with my photography as well - people think they should pay what it costs me to print, or that they are in the pictures, so they should be able to do whatever they want with them (including scanning to their heart's content), or that it's not a "real" business, so they should be able to weasel whatever they can out of me.

This falls in that same vein. If more people treated it like they would any other business, there would be far less issues (much like the pirating discussed yesterday). We can dance and sing that a great book is all it should take, but it's just not that simple. Using my previous example, I'm a pretty great teacher if I do say so myself, but there are things I could do outside of the classroom that would halt my career and yes, blacklist me to a point.
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Re: Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

Postby Sommer Leigh » 04 Feb 2011, 06:28

This is such a hot topic these days. I've seen it discussed a lot and I think there is a pretty even split down the middle of those who say writers can do whatever they want and those that say writers shouldn't do reviews.

I personally fall in line with those that say writers shouldn't do reviews. I believe that the moment you decide to seek publication as a business and start treating writing as your career/future career, everything you do on the internet (and in real life to a lesser extent) becomes part of your resume. While a potential agent or editor isn't going to stand outside your living room window with a drinking glass pressed between their ear and the window, taking notes on what you think of tonight's episode of Friday Night Lights, they will most likely Google you. If they are considering you as a client or they are considering your book and you've handed them your website or blog address, there is a good chance they are going to check it out. So every thing you post is potentially part of your interview. You probably googled them afterall, right? And I'm betting part of your reason for choosing to query them in the first place is because of what you think of their online presence.

So what do you want them to find when they google you or check out your site? Do you want a potential agent to see you reviewed one of their other client's books and hated it and disected it for all the world to see? Awkward. Put it this way, if you were picked up as a client by that agent, would you tell their other client to their face how much they hated the book? Probably not. Then you probably don't want your review of them up for them to read either.

It's about putting your best foot forward and giving yourself the absolute best chance if you catch anyone's attention. Why work against yourself? Should writers hold their tongue? No. You don't lose your opinion when you decide to make a career of writing. But I think if you want to give yourself the best chance possible you should probably refrain from certain things, like reviewing books, until you have a stable, established career. I mean, you might one day get put on a book tour with someone whose book you tore apart. They know it. You know it. Do you really want that situation as a debut author? How would you feel if the situation was reversed?

I wouldn't say negative things about my real world boss on the internet. I think the same situation applies. Let the book review bloggers review the books. They can write negative reviews and not hurt their job possibilities.
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Re: Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

Postby cheekychook » 04 Feb 2011, 06:40

See that's the beauty of the internet. It gives everyone an equal opportunity to make a complete and total a$$ of themselves. There's a growing list of agents who I will not submit to because their tweets/blogs/otherwise google-able remarks are so off-putting they've made me realize we wouldn't be a good match. Is that a bad thing or a good thing? Some of each, I'm sure. What you put out in the form of tweets and blogs definitely defines you to people who don't know you through other means---whether it's a review, the way you describe your day, your life, your spouse, your latte, it's telling the reader something about you, and the reader is anyone who stumbles across it. People should give some thought to what they're writing and who might read it and what the words say about them before they throw caution to the wind and hit send. Even with care the prolific poster/commenter/tweeter will inadvertently offend someone or say something that is woefully misconstrued, but you still need to do your best to say what you mean and mean what you say and realize that your words about others speak volumes about you.
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Re: Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

Postby Guardian » 04 Feb 2011, 08:34

charlotte49ers wrote:Using my previous example, I'm a pretty great teacher if I do say so myself, but there are things I could do outside of the classroom that would halt my career and yes, blacklist me to a point.

Yes. This is the difference between professional and unprofessional. You DO know what you can do and what you should avoid, just as in life itself. But cutting the writer away from the public one way or another is also not a good solution, especially if the writer is being threatened by not getting a contract, because he / she is writing book reviews (Regardless I still say, it's not our job, but other writers are not me.). Being isolated would create a nice harmless illusion about you. But an illusion is still an illusion. Restricting writers on this way, telling them what they can write in their very own blogs or anywhere else, prior they would contact with an agent is also highly unprofessional. Writers are not children and agents are not their parents.
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Re: Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

Postby charlotte49ers » 04 Feb 2011, 09:14

But what I mean is what I write on my personal blog could be exactly what causes me to lose my job or be unhireable.

The same thing with writing. In a sense, the agent/publisher is our employeer. My boss isn't my parent, but you better believe I would be held responsible if I posted how I hated a fellow teacher's methods on my personal blog despite how strongly I believe it. That would hold true even if said teacher wasn't employeed at my current or desired school.

That's my point.

You're essentially talking about your current or potential co-workers if you do book reviews (positive or negative). An agent/publisher who represents the author you choose to shine in a negative light isn't going to be pleased, just as someone who is not related to that author may look at your decision to post and question your professionalism (much like my example before - posting something negative about a teacher at a different school).

Book reviews have their place (obviously), but if you are trying to be employed in the field you should consider what you post as part of your job interview, like mentioned in another post. It's not stiffling your rights as a person, it just boils to plain old professionalism and your desire to be employeed in the field.

If you aren't related to the field or have no desire to ever be, then its a moot point. But we're not talking about the average Joe, just writers as reviewers. I think we often forget that it's a job, just like anything else.
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Re: Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

Postby Guardian » 04 Feb 2011, 09:46

Yes, I agree with you.

The same thing with writing. In a sense, the agent/publisher is our employeer.

But this is not entirely true. We're creating a sellable product when we're writing our novels, then they're selling it. It's a symbiosis and there is no true employee / employer connection between us and them. If you're a writer for hire, yes, you're an employee as you do what others, usually the publisher is telling you. But if you're writing your own product and selling it via an agent to a publisher, there is no true employee / employer connection.

Selling a novel is also not a job interview, rather a product pitch, especially if you're speaking with an agent and you're trying to sell your very own product. The reason is: the 10-15% what they're going to get after our sales (Agents). If the agent or the publisher would pay us from the beginning to the end of the development, yes, there would be an employee / employer connection. But here, it's not existing. It's a rather a working symbiosis (Well, in most cases.).

If you aren't related to the field or have no desire to ever be, then its a moot point.

Yep. There is a thing, called as professional etiquette. You may violate it, then you can see the result as you'll have more enemies then friends. Or you're keeping the etiquette and there will be no problem (Etiquette is my primary reason to be against the reviews made by fellow writers as, just as in every profession, there are also envy people who is rather trying to kill your career instead of building their own. Writing a review can be a great weapon in a writer's hand. In this matter the agents and the editors are right. The only thing what I don't like is the presentation as it sounds as a "blackmailing".).

So, I can understand them, I agree with them, but I don't agree with this Big Brother "we do know who you're, we're watching all of you" method at all.
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Re: Should Writers Avoid Being Reviewers?

Postby charlotte49ers » 04 Feb 2011, 10:23

I think it's just one of those things where you have to do what feels right for you and then cards fall where they fall, you know?

I think times are changing so much with the internet, visability of authors separate from their books, etc. as to why it's becoming an issue now, as opposed to when reviews were usually only seen in print format (newspapers, magazine, etc.). Online presence is uncharted territory in a sense. :-/
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