Monday, September 14, 2009

Reviews and Comments

With thanks to Jennifer over at Et in arcaedia, ego, you really should read this article.

If you plan on sending me a book to review - read the article.

If you want me to critique your work - read the article.

If you plan to be a writer and send work to anyone other than your family or friends - read the article!

I have one difference from Josh Olson, the writer of the article, I will be happy to read your work, but I make no bones about being honest in my response. I say this because I've had a few writers who have taken umbrage with my responses. If you know what to expect from me, then it won't come as a surprise.

I'm not here to rip things to shreds. I'm here to try and help and to be honest. If you are the type of person to switch channels when someone starts pointing out festering boils hiding beneath layers of make-up and pretty cloth - then don't ask me to read your work.

If I don't like something - I'll say so, and still consider you my friend. If you don't like what I say and come back at me with childlike responses, that's okay, just don't bother me with your work ever again. I'm still willing to consider you my friend ;c)

I say all this for a few reasons, but the main one being people I know, or have met through the wonder that is the cybersphere, have asked me to read their work or review their book(s). And that trend is now increasing.

The first personally known author's work I reviewed was Shane Jiraiya Cummings in Gratia Placenti and then again Shane's efforts in putting together Black Box. Gratia is a class anthology put together, by invitation only, by Gill Ainsworth. At the time, I didn't know Gill and still rate the antho as one of the best I've read to date. For fans of short short fiction such as 52 Stitches, I strongly recommend getting hold of a copy of Black Box, but you'll note in the review, I still made mention of what I didn't like.

And it continued when I reviewed fellow AHWA member Alan Baxter. His response to my review of his first book RealmShift was somewhat downplayed (perhaps Alan can shed some light on how he felt about it). On his site he posted this short comment:

Overall a pretty good review – very thorough, well thought out and largely positive. That’s pretty much the best we can hope for in a review.

Yep - I was largely positive, but I did point out a lot of things I didn't like. Not just a bit here and there - there's quite a bit of it - see for yourself.

Then I sunk my teeth into Alan's second offering, MageSign. He was noticeably happier in his comment this time round:

It’s a good review, very thorough and honest. The best thing is that the reviewer decided that MageSign was an improvement on RealmShift and gave it 4 out of 5, which is always satisfying. If I can improve my craft with every book I write, I’ll be very happy.

You can read it here. Maybe Alan was a little happier as there is much less I have a go at here, but there's still a few things, and I don't think I'm overly backwards in coming forward. I can't ever remember being labelled a shrinking violet, and I'm only soft on the inside to me and mine ;c)

I've reviewed other books which are, or contain, work by people I know such as, Triangulation, Atrum Tempestas, Tainted, and Grants Pass. I have more on my desk such as Shadows, Olive Lemon, Jack of all Trades plus numerous zines containing stories from people I know. I'd like to think I'm honest in my appraisals. I'd hope I'm not straying too close to the bone with my comments. I hope people want me to continue to read their work and provide reviews they are happy to display.

In closing let me just say this, I'm not here to rip your masterpiece to shreds. I've been in crit groups where the sole intention of the critiquer was to be brutally honest to the point it was almost personal - and sometimes beyond that. I know sometimes I have crossed that line myself. I try not to now, but I'm guessing I still run it pretty close.

The difference here is that I look for everything I like and make sure to mention them. I do note all the things which really don't work for me as well, so in the end, you have a balanced and honest opinion.

So why mention all this? Because sooner or later, I'm going to read something by someone I know and I'm not going to like it, and I want the way I go about things to be out there for everyone to know beforehand. This has not been prompted by anyone's work I currently possess or am about to read - relax. It's only due to the fact that I have a large number of books and other things to read, and I know the people within the covers, and the knowledge that eventually, something won't sit quite right with me - and I really don't want to upset people.

Does that make sense?


  1. OK, seeing as you used me as an example in that post it seems only fair to respond. :)

    As far as I'm concerned, as an author, once I put my work out there I have no right to tell people what to think of it. I always make my writing the best I think it can be before I let it go public. Often that's the only way it can or will go public!

    After that I always remind myself of that old adage: "You can't please all the people all the time." I just hope to please as many people as possible as often as possible. I at least want to please more people that I piss off!


  2. There's another old adage that's more writing related: "The reader is always right."

    If a reader interprets something I've written differently to how I intended, that's my fault. It doesn't matter what I want the reader to experience, or what I meant by a certain passage, the reader is always right. The way they read something and interpret it is their reality and there's no point in me saying, "But you don't get it! You don't understand my genius!" It was my writing that resulted in their interpretation. If that's not what I wanted them to think or feel then I need to learn from that and improve my craft.

    So, what does all this have to do with BT's post? Well, when I send out a book for review I'm asking for that reviewer's honest opinion of it. I'm not asking them to tell everyone how great it is. I'm asking to tell everyone what they thought of it, and I desperately hope that they think it's great.

    I've yet to have a really scathing review for either RealmShift or MageSign. I'm very pleased and humbled about that. It's become pretty evident from BT's review and several others that my second book is an improvement on my first. I'm really pleased about that too - it's much better than the other way around.

    Certainly BT had issues with a number of things in both books. He's right about that. Other people might disagree with him. They're right too. I genuinely mean it when I say that I'm happy if a review is overall positive and pretty much says, "I was a bit disappointed by this and that, but on the whole this is a good read and you should check it out." Obviously, the more glowing the review the happier I am, but anything that brings attention to my books without downright slamming them is invaluable as far as I'm concerned.

    BT's RealmShift review finished this way:

    "Still, it is definitely worth the time spent reading it as Baxter manages to work with an intriguing list of characters, throws a thought provoking explanation of religion at the reader, and keeps everything moving at a rapid pace, while making some nice observations about today’s society and those within it. I look forward to reading the second instalment, MageSign, to see where the authors goes from here."

    His MageSign review finished this way:

    "Baxter has delivered a book which is better than the first one, which was pretty good to start with. If this trend continues, I’ll be looking forward to the next instalment."

    Reagrdless of various issues he had with the books, these are the final thoughts that will resonate with people that read the review and they are the final thoughts of BT, regardless of any issues he had along the way. I'm really happy with a result like that. One day I hope to get reviews for my work that do nothing but sing the praises of my flawless novels, but I can't expect that from the outset. I can't expect that for a long time yet, if ever.

    And as for the things that BT raised as issues within the work, things that made his reviews a three star and a four star review rather two five star reviews, well, I've certainly paid attention to those. I've thought about what he said, why he said it and what I can do to stop reviewers saying things like that in the future. Sometimes a reviewers negative comments will reflect more on the reviewer than the writer - a person's personal preferences are often going to be at odds with mine. But it's my job to recognise the things that I can use to improve my craft and work at implementing those every time I write something. If I'm precious about reviews all the time and just huff and puff about these useless reviewers that have no idea what they're on about then I'll never improve as a writer.

    And I think that's possibly the longest comment I've ever left on a blog. In fact, I'm going to rework it into a post about reviews on MY blog! Thanks BT. :)

  3. ...but Olson really does come across as a bit of an a55hole...

  4. Olive would quake in her boots but it's hard to when they're made of steel and clamped to her knees.

    In my opinion, if a reviewer can't be honest then they shouldn't review. Go to it.

  5. I think that this was an excellent post from BT...and a great response from Alan Baxter (I purchased the books during the recent internet tour and look forward to reading them when I get some time).

    As writer we can get plenty of positive feedback from family and close friends, but need more 'honesty' from our peers. How else do we gauge ourselves?

  6. For me, my writing only started moving forward at a quick enough pace once my stories were starting to be critiqued honestly by my peers.

  7. I intend to write and publish a gothic paranormal romance novella *hope, hope*. Nothing would tickle me more than you suffering through than grumbling that my love match has about as much combustible chemistry as dry toast. Funny . . . ;-)

    You are brave and noble soul.

  8. Critiqueing an unpublished work is a lot different from reviewing a published one. Critiques should be given honestly but with encouragement for the things the author did right. Reviews--well, once it's out there, it's fair game. A bad review may hurt, but if that's how the reader felt, that's how the reader felt. The only thing that really drives me insane is people who critique a published work as if the author is just waiting to make another revision. It's published. Revisions are over.

  9. I expect works I send out for critique to be ripped to shreds. If some of it works, fantastic. If I goofed and missed the mark, let me know so I can fix it before I potentially ruin my chances with editors in the future. Once it is published, I hope I am happy with it (and the editor is obviously happy with it) and I will see where I can improve, but no hard feelings.

    Great post.

  10. All I want to ask is...will you read my script? My mom said it's really, really good.

  11. Alan - thanks for stepping up and giving your opinion on this one - much appreciated. You raise some great insights and some very interesting points.

    Don't worry about the length - I've written way longer...

    Anton - Olson does sound like a dick. There are better ways to communicate, but the underlying reasons behind the article and for why he doesn't read amateur work is justified. Personally, I hope if I ever 'make it' that I can still set time aside to read unpublished writers' work.

    Cate - I'm sure Olive has nothing to worry about. I haven't found a piece of yours I haven't liked at least a little. Most of it I adore.

    Alan W - You'll enjoy the books. I'll be interested to hear your comments after.

    Ben - gather those you trust to you and never let them go. People you can work with honestly are hard to come by.

    Bec - You had better send me a copy to review - hell, send me copies of everything to review.

    KC - you're right, but I try to look at published works in a similar light (only without any suggestions for improvement). As a writer, I know how much work goes into producing a manuscript so nobody, regardless of how bad the end product turns out, should be completely dumped on unless they have a track record for churning out dreck and self publishing it without regard. I think it should be possible for a careful reader to find something of value somewhere in the work - sometimes it's very hard to find, but it's usually somewhere in there.

    Jamie - you and I are too much alike, my friend.

    Aaron - sure I'll read your script. I'm sure your Mum has great taste and anything written by you will probably blow me away anyway. ;c)

    In the end - I hope everyone is now aware that I'm happy to review their work and will provide an honest and, hopefully, impartial comment when I'm done. Everyone should now also be aware that the final comment may or may not be what they wanted but will be phrased as best I can with a positive tilt to it. And lastly, you should all know that anything I write about your work is not a personal shot at the author.

  12. Makes perfect sense to me. Great post.

  13. *nod*

    I love thoughtful reviews. I'm well aware that my work has flaws, and though highlighting them hurts like hell, in the end it helps. Even a one-star review, carefully crafted, gets a thumbs-up from me as I quiver on the floor :-D But I'll admit right now, I do grumble to myself, just a little, about the less-thoughtful reviewers who don't acknowledge where their comments might be subjective (eg "the swearing ruins it" as opposed to "I found the swearing distracting"). Meh. So I'm grumpy.

  14. This was an awesome post, BT. I really, really appreciate the honesty (and hey, I was in Grants Pass-- I am officially allowed to have an opinion... er, right?), and I would hope that any writer would. Because frankly, that gives me more awesome stuff to read. I really liked Alan's response, too, as I feel it conveys exactly the spirit I look for in a writer worth watching-- as in for his/her entire career.

    And I agreed with Anton's as well, actually. I kind of shy away from things that display a certain crassness, and that's right up there. But the sentiment he conveys, yeah. I'm there, and empathize with the guy.

  15. Thanks BT.

    Alan Davidson - thanks for buying the books. I hope you like them and would love to hear your thoughts.

    I'm pleased to see that the general consensus is one of growth rather than one of stubborness.