Monday, September 22, 2008

Reviewing Books Online: Smart or Disastrous?

Once upon a time, long ago, I was just a reader. When I read, I did so for pleasure. Books I picked up would be chucked if they bored me within the first five pages or if they had elements that annoyed me. I didn't study these books. I didn't stop in the middle of a chapter and say to myself, "Holy cow, I just read eight pages and got sucked in - must reread and figure out how she did that!"

Back in those days, I didn't think twice about dissing a book that left a dent in my wall. Not online. Not in the midst of a group of readers. Nor did I think twice about gushing when a book was so good, I walked around with a natural high for an hour after.

In fact, I didn't think much of these until earlier this year. That's when someone told me I should keep my school reviews* to myself in case Someone With Weight happened upon them. After all, publishing is a small world, and if I detail all the ways I thought a book failed, I could end up going straight from the slush pile to the circular file.

I know most authors realize that everyone has different taste. It's a subjective business, and even a highly-acclaimed book will have detractors. When I'm published, I hope my skin is thick enough to read bad reviews so I can learn what does and doesn't work for the general public in my own writing. But I'd like to know what others think of this.

Do you believe your personal opinion of a novel and its shortcomings in a public forum can diminish your reputation within the publishing industry? Do you think this is only an issue with the Internet, or is it an issue that could affect us at a conference or a writer's meeting? What do you think when you read someone's review of a novel - and you know that reviewer is a writer, too?

*I'm required to blog my opinion of the books I read each term (my required reads), whether it's a genre novel, a craft-of-writing book, or a critical text. In these blogs, I write about what I learned from these reads. Even books I think are poorly written teach me something, so I have something positive to say in each one. But if anything about a book pulled me from the story or didn't resonate at The End, I list it.


Donnell said...

KL. Thought provoking post. I think would have to be pretty powerful or self-absorbed to think my one lowly opinion could influence a book; however, that being said, I don't think I have it in me to slam a book knowing all that goes into it. Praise yes. Slam, I'm not going to waste my time.

Laurie Wood said...

I think writing book reviews is a lot like judging contests. You look at the good with the bad, what worked, what didn't, and why. If you're professional and fair, why would any "industry" professional think negatively about your own submitted work? Personally, I don't "slam" either - and I'm also choosy about what kind of books I review so they're representative of me as a person and as a writer.