Saturday, August 20, 2016

So What If I'm Screwing Up My Amateur Book Reviews?

A few days ago an article by a gentleman called Peter Derk came to my attention, entitled "7 Things That Are Ruining Amateur Book Reviews." Go read it and come back.

You're back? Good.

I want to start off by making the point, which has been made before, that amateur book reviews- the kind that appear on social media including blogs, GoodReads, Amazon, LibraryThing, etc., and including my blog, are just that- amateur. As such, they adhere to no particular standard, follow no particular rules and because there is no standard what there is instead is a spectrum. There are people who write beautifully composed reviews, people whose blogs are artful, visually pleasing and harmonious to the eye, people whose reviews are a little (or a lot) more emotional, scattered, even incoherent, and people whose websites are cluttered with GIFs, music, flashy things and doodads. And there is a lot in between. Part of dealing in the online reviewing world is accepting this diversity of presentation and expression.

Which is not to say you have to like everything you see. I have preferences and pet peeves; I am not, for example, a big fan of the GIF either. If you are working in a verbal medium like blogging, maybe try to express yourself in writing? Of course the web is also visual, and visual representations and shorthand can be a valid form of expression. It's just not my own preference. Blogs that rely heavily on GIFs are not going to be blogs I read, and I tend to just scroll by them on other social media.

Derk takes issue with excessive synopses and I agree that the ideal synopsis is a short one, but I don't mind a quick summary on GoodReads. Half the time when I'm on GoodReads I'm there for the summary. I may even looking for spoilers. Sometimes I'm reading reviews because I'm struggling with a book and want someone else's take on it to keep me going.  But even if all I want is the yea or nay, it's difficult for me to place the review in context without some kind of summary. It doesn't take much to do the job though; a book review is a book review, not a book report, so keep it tight.

Derk's point about free copies is really off the mark though. Getting review copies doesn't make me a professional reviewer. Publishing to a personal blog or to your account on GoodReads does not make anyone a professional, no matter how many galleys you get. Getting paid to review is what makes someone a professional. After nine years of amateur blogging I've come to believe that freebies are the grease that moves the gears when it comes to book blogging. Most bloggers more or less expect to get them to one degree or another, and publishers seem mostly used to sending them. But free copies are an investment and and publishers do expect a return. Most also understand that not every book is a hit with every reader, even when it comes to their biggest fans, and publicity is publicity. An honest, thoughtful less-than-stellar review shouldn't damage a blogger's relationship with most publishers. Someone smart might even find the feedback useful. But whining, babbling, swear words and other childish behavior might hurt.

That said, amateur reviews are amateur. People write them for fun, to record their thoughts, keep track of their reading, share with friends, or for other reasons of their own. I am certainly not writing expecting to be on par with the New York Review of Books or the New York Times. My reviews will not examine a book's place in literature, or offer an academic tone or lengthy analysis. If you want a NYRB review, read the NYRB. And you should, because it's a great magazine. And you know what else? You can read both the NYRB and book blogs if you want and get that range of perspectives. But it's unrealistic to hold regular people to an academic standard. Regular-people reviews, including mine, are messy, personal, and uneven, but also creative and often delightful. You're only going to drive yourself crazy if you expect anything else.

The rest of Derk's issues- not paying attention, linking out, and rating quibbles- strike me as pretty trivial. If someone on GoodReads links out, I don't often follow; if I'm on GoodReads I'm there to read what's on GoodReads (or LibraryThing or whatever). I link out too; I'll have a short summary review (opinion only) and then the link. Want to follow it? Great. Some of my LT pals do read my blog. No? That's fine too. As far as ratings, the only time I even notice a blogger's rating system is when it seems like they copied mine. (I have a unique system, and yes, I've noticed. But so what?) Otherwise I don't care. And the thing about rating a book before you have read it is just enthusiasm and I disregard those anyway. Which brings me to my final point. Sometimes as a participant in the Internet world you have to learn when and how to take things with a grain of salt. It's not all all that important.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

I totally agree with you, and also agree on not agreeing with his article.

Space Station Mir said...

Thanks for your perspective! Amateur reviews are not the same as professional, nor should they be; they fill different niches and should exist side-by-side.

Kate @Midnight Book Girl said...

Yes! I feel like he just doesn't get blogging community. Maybe he will now, or maybe he'll just continue to be irritated... it won't change how bloggers review, nor should it!