Friday, October 14, 2011

Everyone's a critic

Me included. When the drunk writers get together, we talk about books we've read, what we liked about them and what we didn't. We are critical, but I like to think we mostly focus on what we loved, rather than what didn't work. I read several review sites on a regular basis and most of the time the reviews are well thought out and lacking in personal bias.

And as writers, I think we all understand, that the decision to publish is partly putting your work into the world and getting that feedback, good and bad, and hopefully finding a way to mine the useful from the bad. I do honestly think it's part of the process of writing to publish.

But then sometimes I want to whine, why does no one understand how hard it is? I read a review today that basically said, book was OK, but not great. And my first thought was how does a writer absorb that? And I know it's not a reviewers job to tell us how to fix our books, but seriously, where do you go with that?

Writing is hard work, coupled with a ridiculous self-awareness of the words we put on the page, and throw in a little magic for good measure. It takes equal measure working everyday and being absorbed into the work, and finding other outlets to inspire creativity. As a critic I can easily see the great when I'm reading, but as a writer what takes the good to great feels magical.

And that's my whine for today. Great is really freakin' difficult and so for today, I'm celebrating the good books, because those authors are one little measure of magic away from great, and who knows, maybe it will happen in the next book.


Eileen said...

And let's face it, one person's magic is another person's mulch. It's all so objective.

The mean-spirited review is part of why I'm no longer participating on Goodreads. First of all, I didn't realize how public my reviews were. I thought they would only be shared with the people who were my friends (or whatever the Goodreads equivalent of that was). Then to top it off, I read some reviews and while I'm sure they were accurate representations of that person's opinion, some of them were kind of nasty.

Oh, and here's my Passage update. I'm about halfway through and totally wrapped up in it. This middle section is SO much better than the first section. Once I got who was who straightened out a little, I was ready to roll.

Anonymous said...

Eileen, I finished it.... all 700 pages of it. And you're right, it does get better and then better. The end parts were really tense. I think you'll enjoy it, although I still have beefs with parts that had almost zero logic, but small quibbles.

Maureen McGowan said...

I rarely post reviews or rate books on Goodreads. I think for an author to do that it's too much like sh$$ing where you eat. I've read a lot of rants about Goodreads lately, but my author self thinks it's awesome. I don't think of it as a review site though. I think of it as social networking for readers. Let them at it. Having people discuss books has got to be a good thing in terms of keeping reading popular. I'll lurk.

Eileen said...

Good point, Maureen. I just don't think I can participate. I didn't know there were people ranting about it. I'm glad I'm not the only one who was having a problem.

And one more note about The Passage. Did you love the part with the Watch Captain who loves her some romance novels and the reasons she loved them? That part started and I was braced to feel angry, but no! I felt kind of honored!

Stephanie Doyle said...

For Goodreads - I only ever make a comment if I loved the book. I would NEVER critique anyone's work publicly.

Wait... except for Stephanie Myers. I have critqued her. But there has to be an exemption for the mega famous.

The real truth is I can't keep up. I'm tweeting a little, facebooking never and showing up on Goodreads now and again.

Eventually I'll get around to adding Google in the mix...

Oh and can someone tell me what YELP is?

Simone St. James said...

I love Goodreads. I love it so much I think I must be on a different site than everyone else, because I read so many great, thoughtful, literate reviews on there.

I use it to check out new-to-me authors, and for in-order lists of series. Even the 1-star reviews are instructive ("too much sex"? Sounds good to me.)

What Maureen said about it being a social network, not a review site. It's more like listening in to the conversation at the next table. Which I always do :)

Also, Sinead - I am so feeling how hard it is to write a book right now. I am in the last 20k of this first draft and it's like giving birth to quadruplets.

Eileen said...

Simone, I want to be on your Goodreads.

Steph, YELP is a site where people review all kinds of things. Restaurants. Mechanics. Stores. Unless I have it confused with something else . . .

Maureen McGowan said...

Simone, I've read lots of well thought out and well written reviews there, too.

But lots of others that skew decidedly the other way. :)

The rants I've read are along the lines of: goodreads staff should police who can review or make sure they've actually read the books, or make sure reviewers don't say anything mean...

That, to me, is holding the Goodreads community to a higher standard or the wrong standard. Kind of missing the point.

Most people on goodreads aren't professional reviewers. (all though I agree some are good enough that they could be.) But many are just saying "I loved this." "I hated this" and yes, sometimes the reviews are: 1 star. "This book is bad because the title is stupid." and it's clear they didn't even buy or read the book. But my attitude is, "Who cares?"

I love Goodreads too. I think it was largely responsible for the little bit of buzz my books got. But I only post reviews or rate myself when I loved a book. And don't even do that consistently because I don't want writer-friends thinking I hated their books because I didn't rate it... I'm super inconsistent and sporadic as a participant. But love scanning the reviews and seeing suggestions/comments about books from "friends" there.

That said, I find it hard to be an active participant as an author and they are VERY sensitive to authors who try to use the site to promote books. (Other than the things Goodreads has defined as such, like the giveaways and "talks" etc.)

Maureen McGowan said...

Oh, and to Sinead's point in her post... yes, another reason I don't feel comfortable reviewing books I didn't like is that as a writer I know how bad it can hurt to read bad reviews and how hard it is to write a book and get it published... So why dump on that.

Stephanie Doyle said...

I'm not going say I love it when someone trashes my book...but I have to admit sometimes they make me laugh.

I remember someone on one of the HQN sites going on and on about how much she hated this one book. I mean the passion she felt in her hatred... made me kind of happy I did something to get her all worked up.

My favorite bad review on Goodreads was someone giving me 1 star and saying something like... "You've got to be kidding me."

Again - probably should have hurt but it just made me chuckle.

Maureen McGowan said...

Yeah, I'm not so zen about the bad ones. I've stopped reading them, mostly. But I'm fine, in principle, with an online gathering place where people can post whatever the heck they want about a book.

Now, if a "professional" reviewer said something like "you've got to be kidding me" or "pure crap" or... I should look up one of my actual one star reviews, but can't face it right now... then that would be different. But on Goodreads or Amazon I'm okay with it. Maybe even more on Goodreads because it's supposed to provoke discussion.

Eileen said...

I'm not zen either. I try to avoid them, but they hurt when I run across them.

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