Prompt 6: Reach-Out Reviewing

Goal:  Build your audience.

Strategy:  Reveal yourself as a reader.

Prompt:  Review a book you’ve read lately.

Okay, first, there’s a certain skill to reviewing and not everyone has it.  Most people will tell you to couch any bad things you have to say between two good things.  Most people will tell you that you should be more generous with praise, especially if you want good reviews in return.

I take an entirely different philosophy with regard to reviews.  It begins by considering your audience.  I don’t write reviews to communicate with the author of the book I am reviewing.  If that’s why you’re writing the review, then write a fan letter instead.  My philosophy is that you write reviews to communicate with fellow readers.  As a writer this form of communication can be especially valuable, because you communicate your values as a writer when you write reviews that are read by your readers.

Think of it this way:  If you read a book of poor quality, and you tell your readers it’s a good book, then you’re telling your readers that you don’t know a bad book when you read one.  So, why the hell would they trust you to write a good book when you write one?

I encountered this problem with a particular book.  I read a book with a MAJOR flaw.  As a writer, I didn’t want to trash the book, because it was an engaging story up until I encountered that flaw.  As a writer, I also had to be clear to potential readers (of hers and my own work) that I saw it as a flaw, recognized it as a flaw, and wouldn’t dare do it myself.

Reviewing a book to communicate your writing values to your readers doesn’t mean you have to be mean or nasty when you encounter a bad book.  You can choose not to review the book or you can find some way to couch it.  I’ve done both.

But it also means that you may have a reason to be honestly nasty, or respond in a way that a select group of others might perceive as nasty.  I’ve done that, too.  It won’t destroy you, especially—I should say, only if—you can support your nastiness and be right about it.

Sometimes, however, what you want to communicate isn’t nastiness at all.  You want to make an honest review that isn’t all praises, but is essentially promising.  This is the kind of review I wanted to be able to write for that first example, but couldn’t because it wasn’t true.  When I read LaMonte M. Fowler’s The Watchers of Ur: Cradle, I knew I wanted to write an honestly favorable review, because that’s exactly what the book deserved.  This is the kind of author I want to support and the kind of author I want my readers to know I support.

So, if you’ve read a book that help you show your readers what kind of writer you are, review honestly.

About Stephanie Allen Crist

Stephanie created and produces in answer to a call from God to use her experiences and gifts to help others. Stephanie is also the author of and two books that can be found on that site. Stephanie strives to share her love, faith, and talents in an inclusive manner to help others who know spiritual pain and who know the bitter taste of the dregs of despair.
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7 Responses to Prompt 6: Reach-Out Reviewing

  1. acflory says:

    I’ve discovered that writing reviews can reach out to people, but that was not why I began writing reviews, and it’s not why I keep writing reviews. I know you’ll think this is a flaw but… as with most of my writing, I write for myself first and foremost. It’s not that I don’t care about other people, I do, but I feel I have to be true to myself first otherwise how can anyone else trust me? So. I write reviews to share my joy about something wonderful I’ve read.

    I have a similarly selfish reason for not writing bad reviews. Even if every word I say is the unadulterated truth, a bad review just causes me too much stress because I empathize with the author too much. If a book is bad I just won’t talk about it, full stop.

    But sometimes a book is wonderful without being perfect. Then I have to review it, even if it’s harder for me to write. I wrote a review like that just this morning. It took over 2 hours to write. As a result I haven’t written a word of my own story today. But it was worth it because good indie writers deserve recognition.

    Yet despite all this, I still feel a bit guilty because you are also right in saying that readers deserve honest reviews. We do have a responsibility to readers, and by /not/ talking about bad books we are shirking our responsibilities.

    I guess if I was a professional reviewer I would not have the luxury of choosing which books to read and review. But I’m not a ‘real’ reviewer. I’m just a writer who happens to love talking about books, good ones. 😦

    • I did say that choosing not to review a book is an option. I’ve read some books that I’ve chosen not to review. Actually, I don’t review most of the books I read, because the motivation for me to review the book just isn’t there.

      The thing I want to say, however, is that everything you just said (aside from feeling guilty about not giving bad reviews) is exactly what I’m talking about. You are sharing with your readers the kind of books you enjoy, why you enjoy them, what they mean to you, ect.

      There are only two differences:
      1) You did not make a strategic decision to do this.
      2) You shy away from honestly reviewing bad books.

      The first one isn’t really a problem. It just means your instincts are sound, whether you have the marketing education or not. That’s a good thing!

      The second one is a matter of personal preference. I learned very early (I was twelve when I received my first rejection letter) that you need a thick skin to be a writer. I won’t shy away from that. You have more sympathy for those who feel the blows than I do.

      You also target a very broad, yet specific niche–indie writers. I don’t really make that distinction; I don’t identify with that niche and the culture that goes with it. For me, the decision to self-publish or pursue a publisher is a marketing decision, a business decision, not a cultural decision. You ARE a part of that culture. You do identify with that niche. And that’s cool. It means, however, that you will hold yourself to different rules, and that’s cool, too.

      All that being said…sure, write for yourself. To a certain degree, the best writing we do is the writing we do for ourselves first. But, before you post that review (or anything else), remember that you do have an audience and the audience is going to get more from what you say about another book than simply what you said. You are stating your values as a writer with the books you review; and one of your values is supporting the indie writing community.

      • acflory says:

        Hmmm… you’ve actually given me something to think about Stephanie. I do identify with indies, that’s true, however it never occurred to me that readers might think I hold indies to lower standards [maybe] than traditionally published authors. 😦 That was not a perspective I saw until now. Thanks for that, even though it disturbs me.

      • I’m pretty sure I didn’t say “lower standards” nor is that what I meant.

        Indie writing, as a cultural phenomenon, has different values than traditional publishing. For example, raw writing is better tolerated, even appreciated in the indie community.

        I’ll put it this way: Indie writing is counter-culture. Without the historical baggage (and sometimes with it), indie writers lean toward “anti-establishment.” What succeeds and what doesn’t within the indie community depends more on how those values are reflected than on the quality of the storytelling.

        Whereas, the publishing establishment values mass marketability. Wide appeal is more important than the quality of the storytelling. Traditionally published books are going to be produced for the widest possible appeal.

        I, on yet another hand (I’m a mom, so I can have three, right?), I value the quality of storytelling above all else, and lean heavily towards less popular, but more intellectually involved fare.

        The sum total is this: You are less likely to provide an honest but negative review of an indie author who fits within the indie culture than I am; when presented with such a scenario you’re more likely to opt out, because you support indie culture. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s simply another way to communicate your values. The differences in our values aren’t a question of right or wrong; it’s just different.

      • acflory says:

        Ah I see what you mean. I guess that is true, with regard to poor quality indie writing. But I pride myself on expecting great indie writing to be as good as the best trad. writing from my past.

      • And there certainly are indie authors who strive the level of quality we both hope for and expect. But, when they don’t, I’m more likely to call them on it and you’re more likely to be tactful.

        That says nothing about the quality indies can achieve or even your value of quality; it does say something about your respect for community and my, um, lack thereof, at least when it comes to the indie community.

        I’ll put it to you this way: If I’m reading something on autism, I’m going to focus more on the quality of the statements than on the quality of the writing, because in this case the statements are more important to me than the writing.

        Am I making sense yet?

      • acflory says:

        Mmmm… yes I see what you mean now. Bias for and against is a curious thing isn’t it?

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