Monday, April 27, 2009

Reviewing Responsibility

This post is inspired by this post over at Rachelle Gardner's blog.

Lately I've been more proactive in making contact with recently published authors in an effort to gain new books for me to review on HorrorScope and here. In talking with one such author it has become apparent I need to do separate posts for each review (including separate posts on this blog with the links in, to make them easier to find), and a separate post for my review scale (this might be moved to my website and a link placed here on the blog. This will make it easier for me to maintain.)

My latest review, of Alexandra Sokoloff's The Harrowing, is posted here on HorrorScope. You'll also find recent reviews for Promise Not To Tell by Jennifer McMahon and Envy the Night by Micheal Kortya. Of course these, and all my other reviews can be accessed from my review page.

But enough about me. The reviews highlighted by Rachelle show how appalling many reviewers can be, so I thought it might be time to revisit what a reviewer should be trying to achieve.

Any reviewer needs to remember that their number one responsibility is to be honest without being hurtful. You are providing a review, you are not a critic - and this is not a critique. The easy way to remember is a critic is an arsehole who likes to be critical, nobody wants that label so don't do it. A critique is where constructive feedback is provided to a writer.

You are running interference on the reader's behalf. It matters nought if you know the writer. If you are not able to give an honest opinion of someones work for fear of upsetting them, then decline to do a review. Amazingly, I've done, what I've considered, harsh reviews in the past and authors have only picked out the good bits and ignored the rest. Fair, honest, and thorough are common descriptions of my reviews. I couldn't care less if the words, excellent, good, crap, or terrible are associated with them, as long as honest makes the list.

Being a writer help, I think. No book, regardless of how badly written or put together I believe it to be, should be resoundingly ripped apart in a review. A writer somewhere out there has invested countless hours in its creation. Editors have done their bit, and then publishers, etc, etc. It takes a lot of people to get a book onto the shelves and therefore, if it doesn't appeal to you as a reviewer, that doesn't mean it won't appeal to others. Yes, you are to give your opinion, but you should also have a broad an open mind. I've read a few books which I haven't liked very much. Anything which gained a 2 or less on my scale would fall into this category, and yet, I try to be honest and open minded in my view. I tell those who read my review what the good points of the book are, and I tell them what the bad points are - and why I think it has bad points. You must provide reasons, not just slander the book because you can.

If the book is considered in most circles as a classic, like the examples in Rachelle's post, then try to understand why, do some research before you make a fool of yourself. If you do the research you will be able to make comment on why others thought it was good, and then mount your counter arguments as I did here with The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. You'll note I mentioned a longer review to come - well it never did. But you'll also note, I mention lots of good points about the book, and quantify what I considered the bad points.

In the end, a reviewer must remember a couple of points. Your first responsibility is to the reader, not the author, but in doing so, you must be honest in your appraisal and not just scathing of the author's work (or overly profuse in your praise for that matter). Have tact, learn diplomacy, and find good and bad points with the work, and report accordingly - particularly if you didn't like the work (there is always something good to say about something, even if it's just a nice cover.) Balance and honesty need to be the words to live by.

Good luck.


  1. Very insightful. I think the 'net has made it very easy to be nasty in reviews. I think the balance you call for is needed.


  2. And then I go and break my own new rule and provide three links in the one post on recent reviews - slap my wrist - again.

  3. I've just discovered your blog through circuitous means. I don't usually read horror but could be persuaded. You have good things to say.


  4. Hmph, if a book is truly badly written, I reserve the right as a disgruntled reader to say whatever I like about it, no matter how nasty. If I just didn't like the book, though, that's different, and everything you said applies. Tastes differ, but bad writing is bad writing. (But then, I'm a bit of a grouch.)

  5. Sorry about the delayed welcome - but welcome to musings Nora, nice to have you here and thanks for the comment and compliment. We do but try...