Sunday, January 11, 2015

Why I Don't Review Books

As an aspiring author, I try to do all the right things. The main thing is to write, and to improve my writing. That always comes first. But you're also expected to build a platform. You're supposed to make yourself into a brand and interact with the wide world out there. Build a website (check), start a blog (check - you're reading it right now!), go on Twitter (check) and Facebook (check), review books on Goodreads (UNCHECK). Reviewing books is something I've had problems with.

It's not that I don't read - I definitely do. It's not that I don't have opinions about books - I have opinions about everything. But I find myself conflicted over the real purpose and values of reviews, and how authors reviewing authors fits into that world.

For me, the validity of a review for anything comes from the fact that the reviewer doesn't have any material interest in the product. I need to believe that they have no reason to be partial, one way or the other. Otherwise, how can I trust what they say?

All authors have an inherent interest in other authors. There is a certain truth to the fact that books are competition for each other. I wouldn't expect Pepsi to give me an unbiased opinion of a new Coke product. But lots of folks in the writing game take a different view - that we are all coworkers, that authors have a tough go of it and we all need to support each other. That's how I feel. But once again, that leads to bias. I don't look to a Google Maps engineer to give me the real lowdown on a new Google Phone product.

And beyond just authors, anyone involved in the publishing industry may have ulterior motives for what they say about a book. Agents supporting their agency's clients, editors talking up a friend's project, publisher knocking a self-published novel. I've seen all of that happen and don't know if it's true opinion or otherwise motivated. There's the appearance of possible impropriety, even if there isn't any actual wrong-doing. They may be completely honest and totally fair. But if I don't know them, I don't know if that's the case. And if I were to put my own opinions out there, I would just be adding to the confusion.

Besides, if I were to review books in general I would have to give negative reviews. I enjoy most of the books I read but I also find things that bother me in almost all of them. It's part of the writer's critical eye. If I censored that out (because I don't want to be critical of my fellow writers) it would undermine everything positive I said.

So I stay out of the review game except for a few exceptions. If a book is wildly successful I feel free to criticize it knowing I can't do any damage. If it's a book I love and I feel there are useful things to learn and discuss from a book, then I might bring it up here. But I'm not comfortable with reviewing in general.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I'm really not sure I'm right about it. I've heard some good arguments from others who choose to review. They feel it helps their readers get to know more about them, that as authors they have good insight into what makes a book good or what is lacking. Valid points. And their reviews don't bother me in the least (reviews should never bother anyone - we're all free to ignore those we don't want to give credence to for whatever reason). Everyone gets to make their own choices here.

And I do like the anonymous nature of statistics when looking at the overall ratings of a book. That gives me the opinion of the masses - an opinion I rarely agree with on anything, books included. But I'm also quite likely to read a book that gets rave reviews just to find out why other people like it so much, even if I know I won't. So review sites can be quite useful in that way, at least for me.

When choosing what books I read for enjoyment - that I only trust myself. I know what type of books I like. I'm good at picking out from reviews the information I want to get. I'm good at deciphering back-cover copy and reading a quick excerpt to judge the style of a book (from the middle - never trust the beginning of a book). I also have a few people out there whose opinions I have come to trust, so I'll listen to what they say a little more closely. But in the end, I try to let the book stand on it's own, and make my own choices for what lands on my bookshelf. I urge others to do the same.

No comments:

Post a Comment