Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my blogging and the reviews I put out there for books. Generally, I think I write pretty fair, honest reviews. I can count on one hand the reviews that I’ve written where my opinion of the book has been stellar. No matter my opinion of the book and/or its content, I try to include positive “Bonus Points” because let’s face it: no matter how bad a book is, there’s gotta be SOMETHING that you liked in it. (of course, this isn’t always true…)
My objective when I’m reviewing books is that I don’t want to completely poo-poo someone’s work. I know how hard people work on their books – hell, I know how hard I work on my own writing. I always try to keep in mind that this person (the writer) put in a good amount of time and effort to put forth this product. They made sacrifices to get it produced. Agents, editors, and publishers have also put forth a lot of work to put out this product for us to read. I feel that, for me, keeping this in mind helps me to write my reviews and blog posts, giving my respectful opinion of the author’s work.
Recently I’ve been getting requests from authors who have self-published their work, asking me to read and review it. Of course, I’m flattered that someone wants my opinion and help promoting their book, but what do you do when the book is, to put it gently, complete crap?
A while back, during my quest to send out my manuscript to agents, a friend asked me if I’d thought about self-publishing it. I’ll admit I had, but my opinion of self-publishing it this (and please know my opinion really means zilch outside of my own head): if no one is picking up your book there’s probably a reason no one is picking up your book. Do I know why I haven’t gotten a yes on my manuscript? Yeah… because it’s nearly complete crap – I say nearly because I have gotten some nibbles, but that’s besides the point.
So my question is this: when faced with a self-published book that you’ve been asked to review – and that you’ve agreed to review – what do you do when it’s no good? And I’m not talking about the plot isn’t your cup of tea or you don’t like the main character. I’m talking about grammatical and spelling errors; extremely weak plot or plot holes; flat, uninteresting characters. Do you criticize the work or do you critique it?
I had to look up the differences between these two words, criticism and critique, because, although I know their general definition, I feel like they’re used pretty interchangeably sometimes. The definitions are as follows:
Criticism: (1) the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything; (2) the act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of a literary or artistic work, musical performance, art exhibit, dramatic production, etc.
Critique: an article or essay criticizing a literary or other work; detailed evaluation; review.
So in other words, criticism is the act of doing something while a critique is the practice of this act. Fine. Good to know. But here’s how I see it: criticism is pointing out the faults while a critique is the act of pointing out these faults and offering suggestions to improve.
I know, I know… that’s not really what our definitions tell us. But just go with me here. When we review books that have been traditionally published, we criticize it. Sometimes we can’t find faults, sometimes we can. But we point out the faults of a finished product – if you see a misspelled word, for example, it’s not as if you can shoot the author or publisher an email and say “Hey, on page 174 I noticed that boiling was spelled bowling.” I mean, you can but it isn’t as if they’re going to recall all books saying “Sorry! Tiny mistake. It’s the BOILING sun, not the BOWLING sun. Our bad!”
But when you get a self-published book from an author, and notice these mistakes, does our role as reviewers and bloggers change from criticizer to critiquer? Should we approach these books from a different angle, maybe offering constructive criticisms or critiques on how to improve? Or should we treat them as any other book and offer our honest opinions, even if our honest opinion is the book is complete crap?
As someone who gets nerdily excited over getting to edit things whenever I see books that need some serious editiorial help I have to fight the urge to yell “Give me that and a red pen!” and attack it viciously. I feel my struggle with reviewing self-published books is that I want these writers to be the best they can be and point out what needs to be improved upon, but as a blogger who has been asked to review their work, my opinion is “Well, you asked for you…”
So what are your thoughts on this subject? Does our role change or should we treat these books like any other? Do you get faced with this dilemma and, if so, how do you handle it?