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Writer’s Craft #123 – Reviews and Drawing the Line

June 3, 2013
Barbara Galler-Smith

Yes, that is a TARDIS on my necklace.

Barbara Galler-Smith lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She’s an award winning author, a long-time member of Edmonton’s largest speculative fiction writers group, The Cult of Pain, and co-founder of a group designed for emerging speculative fiction writers called The Scruffies. She’s also a Fiction Editor for On Spec: The Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic. Along with US writer Josh Langston, she’s the author of The Druids Saga— an historical fantasy epic trilogy: Druids (2009), Captives (2011), Warriors (release date August 2013).


Reviews and Drawing the Line by Barbara Galler-Smith

I never review books I don’t like–mostly because I haven’t time nor patience to finish them and because I haven’t that bent necessary to let me say with utter impunity in public, negative things about writers that could effect their sales. If I were a carefree columnist book reviewer, I would say exactly what I thought, and damn the torpedoes, but that’s not me.

However, that doesn’t stop me from privately amusing myself and my writer friends with scathing comments about some of the best sellers in the world. Do you think it’s okay to vent privately about some “average writer’s success with a poorly written book”?

There is, however, a firm line separating private thoughts and public ones.

I hate anonymous reviews mainly because I think it’s cowardly to anonymously slam a piece publically, even it’s awful. Own up to your opinions, then have the courtesy and courage to put your professional name to it. The best reviewers address the best and the worst of a piece (those stand-bys of plot, character, theme), and forego clever or pithy slams suggesting the work is mediocre in spite of its financial success.

So, I review books I like. That way, it’s easy. For professional reviewers who don’t choose the titles they must review, I imagine the task is harder.

So, how do you remain respectful while criticising something? Do you try to balance positive and negative? Do you slam books you would never choose for yourself such as historical when you love zombie adventure, or paranormal romance when you read only military SF for pleasure, just because you don’t like that kind of book? Where do you draw the line?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Satima Flavell permalink
    June 3, 2013 6:32 am

    The first book I read on critcism – more than 50 years ago now – rendered up this gem: ‘A man is a better critic than you are if he finds in a work something of beauty that you have missed’. Making allowances for the sexist language that was the norm in the 1950s, I have made that my lodestar – if I can’t find something good to say about a work, I keep my big mouth shut and my hands off the keyboard.

  2. June 3, 2013 7:17 am

    Bravo, Barb! I agree whole-heartedly. If a reviewer is going to criticize something, it should be done in a respectful manner, no matter who the writer is, big or small. Thanks for this post.

    • Barb Galler-Smith permalink
      June 4, 2013 8:45 pm

      Thanks, Susan. This essay is a lot “nicer” than the first one I wrote <G. ( And of course the minute I saw it, I realized I left out a word! <G. )

      The same respect should also go to any comment on any piece of art or craft–critique in a group, class, etc. I went to an art show at the senior centre today–some pieces were amazing, some less so, but all the artists and artisans who contributed to the show had accomplished something wonderful–they tested themselves and put it out there. I admire both their bravery along with their craftsmanship.

  3. June 3, 2013 9:17 am

    Now that I have two books out, reviews and the quality of reviews has become much more important to me. I’m fortunate that most of the ones I’ve received have thrilled me.

    But I know from my own struggles just how hard it is to publish a book of the quality we think we write, so I prefer Thumper’s advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” And if I do choose to point out something the author needs to know, I work very hard to make it respectful, and to write it in a way that others won’t use it as an excuse not to buy the book.

    Because that’s what I’d hope for from others who review my work.

  4. Steve Turner permalink
    June 3, 2013 6:53 pm

    Very timely, thanks for this. Jost posted the following on my facebook page showing people accepting just a couple of dollars to post fake terrible reviews. The instigator of the trolling campaign is probably a writer rejected for the anthology and one of the malicious posters admitted she was a fellow writer! –

    This is a bit of a worry for those wanting to put books up for sale on Amazon and get an honest review – this lady (see link below) put together an anthology of Malaysian authors retelling local fairy tales and discovered that someone had paid a number of people to post 1 star reviews, lies about the book content including gross profanity, poor binding and print quality, bad writing, and some plain old abuse (including anti-muslim rhetoric). One of the authors in particular came under attack, so obviously has an enemy, though the editor thinks it may also be a writer whose story was rejected for the anthology.

    Amazon was no help, stating that negative reviews (even obviously fake ones) are not against their terms and conditions so they could not do anything, even though the editor pointed out that only 6 paper copies had been sold and as the ebook version was still unavailable she could prove that none of the reviewers was any of those customers, so not one of the reviewers could have read it. There were more reviewers online than customers who had bought the book!

    She managed to track down some of the reviewers (one of them a fellow aspiring writer in the US!!!), who admitted they had been paid for their reviews and all admitted they were supplied with the bad comments already written for them – they then took the bad reviews down and apologised, after being threatened with legal action. All claimed they usually only accepted money for positive reviews (I’ll bet!) but did regularly post fake positive reviews for money.

    Only after this was all exposed with emailed confessions etc from those confronted, Amazon finally cooperated and took down the rest of the 1 star reviews where the posters could not be traced and approached.

    The real culprit behind it all, willing to pay others to trash this book, remains hidden in cyberspace, making sure they left no online traces. Some people…

    The Carpet Bombing of Readings from Readings 2
    http://thebookaholic.blogspot.com.au/

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