Rules for Reviewers

Before the end of the summer, I expect to participate in at least four blog tours. Possibly five, but just possibly.

So, with all this reviewing ahead of me, I’ve been thinking again of what makes a good review – the first principles, if you will. Here, then, are some rules for reviewers. First of all,

Tell the truth. There are people who, regardless of actual merit, give five-star reviews to the books of authors they like. There are far more disagreeable people who give one-star reviews to the books of authors they hate. And there are people who – if they dislike something, or even if they like it – cannot own up to the fact.

But telling the truth is a moral principle. It is also – less importantly – the foundation of good reviewing. Not all truthful reviews are good reviews, but all good reviews are truthful reviews. That is the nature of foundations: When they are right, it is possible that everything else will be right; when they are wrong, it is certain everything else will be wrong.

While you speak the truth, be careful that you always remember …

Authors are people, too. Feelings and all. So be kind. It is true, as Anton Ego said, that negative criticism is fun to read and to write. There is often a temptation to rant (which is easy), to be snarky (which is fun), to just slam something.

Lead us not into temptation. Oh, there are works that deserve to be slammed – works that are malignant, works that insidiously propagate falsehood, works that lead people astray. Even these are owed fairness. Be sure to acknowledge the good points and to be even and reasonable in expounding your criticism.

Books that are merely bad are also owed justice, and a dash of mercy, too. Bad art is not a sin. No one should be roasted for a mistake.

In sum, remember that authors are people, and write your reviews as if they may read them. You may be surprised at how often they do.

Next,

Even if you really do hate political thrillers, never criticize a political thriller for being a political thriller. It’s not just. It’s not even logical.

There’s an important line between subjective and objective criticism. To say that the plot is illogical is an objective criticism. To say it had too much romance is a subjective criticism; all that really means is that it had more romance than you liked.

Subjective criticism is important in a review; it helps the reader know whether the book in question is something he would like. The point is not that you shouldn’t include subjective criticism – you should – but that you should know it for what it is. Any criticism that has to do with personal taste should be very measured indeed.

So distinguish between what is subjective and what is objective, and weigh your words accordingly.

Though I could go on, here is where I end – with three rules for reviewers.

2 thoughts on “Rules for Reviewers

  1. Reviews get harder to write over time, I think… it was easier when I didn’t know so many authors or realize they would be reading my review.

    Writing a review for a book a friend wrote? Even if I made that friend online? Ugh. I turn into an enthusiastic-vague-hinter at my subjective opinion and forget objective criticism. Gone. My post tonight will be a good example of that. The truth – MY opinion of excessive sexual tension to the point of “enough already”! – will be in my review. I think if someone was not interested in that, they would see it. But if they like that sort of thing… they will only see enthusiasm.

    *sigh* It’s a watered down version of your post here, but… as a promoter of her books, it’s an acceptable version for me. I could just never review books I promote. That’s my policy, anyway. But it’s always there… sitting there… do I actually like their book? It was refreshing to find out I mostly did.

    It’s always a hot debate, how to review. Nice post.

  2. Thanks.

    It’s tough to review the work of friends. On my blog, I almost always review the work of authors I haven’t had contact with. Still, I know authors find (often look for!) reviews of their books, and there’s always a possibility that they will read mine. I try not to step on their feelings. That’s the challenge of it: honest but kind, kind but honest …

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