Thursday, January 02, 2014

Question: I reviewed that book, will you remember?

I have a semi-popular book review blog, and I'm often very honest in my reviews, sometimes quite harsh. I'm also querying my own novel. Will being overly critical of working authors hurt my chances for nabbing an agent?

(And don't let anyone who says otherwise fool you.  They're either not agents, or they don't want to look bad by telling you the honest truth.)

Here's why: I think my authors are the cats pjs.  If you don't think that, you're not only wrong, you have demonstrated you have no taste.

I'm not kidding here. That's really how I feel about it.  My guys are my guys and anyone who disses them in any form is unlikely to be someone I want to add to the team.

So, now that you know, what do you DO with that information.

First, and counter-intuitively I do NOT suggest you stop reviewing. Reviewing is a good way to make sure you are reading in your genre and that's important.  It's also a good way to hone your writing. All those words in blog posts add up and help develop both your ear and your editing skills.

Second, I suggest you make SURE that your reviews are well-written, and fair. It's entirely fair to point out plot holes, chronological mistakes or anachronisms.  It's entirely fair to point out clunky writing and sentences that are not deft.

It's NOT fair to say "I hate Ben Coes' politics so I hate this book" if you're reviewing Coup D'Etat (a book that anyone interested in how to put tension in a thriller should read.)

It's NOT fair to say "I hate this book cause the author was a snide SOB on Bouchercon panels and should move to France."

It's NOT fair to say "This book needed a better editor" because you don't know anything about what the editorial process was.

If you can support the position you take in your review with examples not assumptions, it's fair.  If you can't, don't use it.

Frankly, when I look at reviews these days, I'm most often looking for authors I don't know and for books from smaller presses.  You'd be doing the entire community a HUGE service by reviewing those kinds of books, and for that you'd probably slither in to my good graces and that's where you want to be if you're querying a novel.

Reviewing requires a delicate balancing act and doing it well makes it look easy, which it ain't. Don't think I think otherwise, ok?


Valerie said...

This is a really interesting post. I think your advice will go along way in making possible improvements to the blog. If her reviews were anything less than what you described, then they weren't reviews anyway, but simple opinions. Great post!

Chris Desson said...

This is a really good post for those who blog book reviews. I have some on my blog, but I've always tiptoed because I don't want to offend an author might wish to work with in the future. Never burn bridges, so they say. But I never thought about offending agents, publisher, editors, and so on. Thank you for posting this, Janet. Now, I'm off to read my old posts and do some quick editing.

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Terri Lynn Coop said...

I am slowly starting to add book reviews to the little newspaper I run. Honestly, I doubt there will be any bad ones. I want to celebrate and share good books with my subscribers.

Not a pollyanna by any means, but if a book is not to my taste or poorly written/edited, then it is unlikely I finished it. I do drop books.

For the rare time when I have to go there, I have my Amazon ID that has developed a rep for being a bit on the snarky side for both positive and less than positive reviews. But if I am putting it out there with my street name on it, I am doing it as a pick, not a pan.


Bill Scott said...


I scrolled down your book reviews and stopped when I came to a book I'd read — Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL. Personally, I would've rated the book higher than 3 out of 5 stars, but I didn't find the review to be harsh. (You having guessed some plot twists may explain the 3. I didn't see most of it coming, and I'm glad.)

I thought the review was insightful, and will read your blog for more reviews. I did take issue with this statement —
"This is a very polarizing book, and for good reason. The author spends a great deal of time coloring the characters, and then has them appear and behave completely differently from what you've come to expect."

For me it wasn't the author coloring the characters one way or another. It was Amy, the character, using her diary to color herself and others. Halfway through the book I still didn't know who to believe, Amy or her husband. Once the truth was revealed, I did believe they would behave that badly, only they did so much better than I could've ever imagined.

Anonymous said...

I'll have to check out Jim's blog...

I love the honesty in your answer Ms. Janet. Nothing like an honest shark! I will admit I was surprised and then you insisted you were serious. And I love that protective nature of yours for your clients. I've learned (and knew - somehow - common sense?) before it as affirmed that making negative comments for the sake of negative comments stinks. I sometimes do reviews on GoodReads. The only one I remember giving a one star I felt guilty about and later changed to a two star. But I still didn't like the book. (WHAT HAPPENED TO MY SISTER)

I've also vowed that anyone reading my blog will never, (and I mean never) read anything political. I write novels and I blog about my writing - and maybe a tidbit of personal stuff here and there. But the way I look at it is this...who cares what my political persuasions are if I'm writing a novel? Oh, I might comment on someone else's blog about something they are ranting about, but I will never post a political viewpoint on my blog. Yes I repeated myself. But I feel so strongly about that.

Anyway - Happy New Year - if I haven't said it before already!

Anonymous said...

argh. Hate typos...for what it's worth, I meant before it Was affirmed

Lance said...

Excellent information about your point of view. Thank you. I wonder if some of us aspiring writers think of literary agents as being in opposition to our goals, when you are ever searching for stories that you like and can sell. When you find one of those stories, you become a fierce advocate for the story and for the author. Wonderful.

John Jackson said...

I review occasionally, on Amazon. BUT - seeing as its always going to be very subjective, I don't post rotten reviews - after all - its only 1 man's opinion. If I know the author, I may comment directly to them. It seems kinder in a tough old world.

LynnRodz said...

Why France? We have enough...okay, never mind!