Jul 3, 2009

Being a Good Critic

I recently finished a debut novel by an author who is receiving rave reviews from her readers. For the most part, I enjoyed the story and felt she did a pretty good job telling it. I even liked the characters and the unique ideas that formed the story. However, there were a few parts in the story where I wanted to smack her upside the head, or at least put the book down and stop reading. What on earth was she thinking? I won't say the title of the book because I certainly don't want to offend the author or her fans, and after all, I am only one person and my opinion really doesn't matter, right?

Anyway, I've been posting book reviews on my blog for quite some time and have enjoyed doing so. Some I've loved, others have been great writing, but just not something I would normally pick to read so didn't connect with and then a few were not well written at all. I think the biggest problem with me as a reader is that I'm a writer. I never used to pick books apart like I do now, but I've been reading for other authors and helping them edit and critique their works and find myself doing it when I read an already published novel. It's down right irritating when I can't highlight a section and make a comment in the sidebar, then send it back to the author with my suggestions and ideas. LOL

Am I becoming too critical of others' work or am I just learning so much about my craft that it's all starting to make sense to me now. I'd like to think all this nitpickiness will make me a better writer, but what if it's just making me brash and insensitive? When it comes to posting a critique, do I be honest and voice my opinion or do I be kind and uplifting, possibly recommending a book I found unsatisfying?

Let me know what you think. I'd love to hear how you handle doing book reviews or even recommending books to friends and such.


  1. I don't know. I know Candace Salima said at LDStorymakers that she just wouldn't review a book if she didn't like it.

    But I can say that knowing that you're a tough critic makes me very excited to send my MS off to you! I hope to have it ready for you to start to look at soon.

  2. Christine,
    I also learned about book reviews at the LDStorymaker conference. The presenter (or presenters) said not to associate your name with "snarky" comments. It's easy to get a reputation in the literary world. It must have been Candace. If she knows she won't like a book, she won't review it. That leaves her only reccomending books that she actually likes--an honest and pleasant activity.
    It's easy to be flip about comments and not take into consideration the long hours of love and labor that go into a novel. I've decided to take up the Golden Rule when I do book reviews because when I get a book published, I won't want anyone making unkind comments--I want everyone to love, love, love my book.

  3. Here's what I keep in mind - everyone enjoys different types of books. I absolutely LOVE stories with a romantic thread, but have a really hard time reading anything scary. On the other hand, there are lots of people out there who love reading scary stuff and aren't into romance angles.

    I would still review the book. When I'm in this situation, I just say what I liked about the book and what didn't appeal to me. If it's something I truly have an issue with & I feel strongly about, I will pinpoint that specific issue and go into details, but otherwise I don't get too specific and avoid being rude.

    If the book didn't appeal to me because of a theme I didn't necessarily enjoy, then I make sure to add "If you enjoy scary suspense novels, then you'd definitely enjoy NAME OF BOOK"

    I hope this helps. I understand your quandary. As we become better writers, it's hard to read something that isn't up to par or doesn't meet our expectations.

  4. Hi ya Chris,

    Great article!

    I ran into this problem once when I had promised to do a book review but it turned out I didn't love the book. A great friend and experienced reviewer told me to highlight the things I did like and then to do what Danyelle recommended by saying something like "If you like such and such style books than you might love this book." It's very diplomatic and doesn't put you on the hook for anything.

    As for being less of a good reader becasue you are becoming a more experienced writer, I think that's probably definitely the case! But it will all work for your good (and mine, cuz I do the same thing.) Now we'll know better what pitfalls to avoid in our writing, and what things we truly love!

  5. I think it's a lot harder to review a book than it is to read it. (Or even critique it!) The few I've done, I choose every word with care--not because I'm worried about being honest but because I want to make sure that I'm clarifying properly.
    Just came over from Ali's site and have to say, Christine, your blog is GORGEOUS. The header is to die for!! (Hope you having fun livin' it up with Karen and I'm sorry I couldn't make it on Monday!)

  6. I like all these comments...focus on what you like and not what you don't like, etc. I've not done reviews but from the reader's end, a bad review sticks in my mind probably more than a really good one. Don't know why that is. And from a writer's viewpoint, I think I'd prefer any review, even a bad one, than none at all!