Friday, January 1, 2010

Rating Books

Happy New Year!

It's said that whatever you do on New Year's Day, you do the whole year through. I'm trying to choose wisely and do those things well.

What are you doing today?

On one of the online loops where I lurk, they are currently listing their top and bottom reads for 2009.

First, I'm impressed that people actually keep lists (I'm lucky to make a list for the grocery store), and second, the sheer volume of books people read astounds me.

I've learned through readers on these loops that tastes vary widely. A book one person treasures may be a DNF (Did Not Finish) for someone else. Even among people who generally enjoy the same authors.

When I look at their list of favorites for the year, I'm interested and engaged. If I see the same book mentioned on a few posts, I'll make a mental note. If I hear it mentioned somewhere else, it goes on a list I keep of books I'm interested in checking into.

But when I look at the lists of the worst-received books for the year, something inside of me clinches up and I feel a bit like someone picking through dirty laundry. How awful for those writers. And even worse, what if one day my name is on that list? Ugh.

My skin has gotten more thick when it comes to critiques and rejections. But readers? That will require a whole new buildup.

CR: Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais.

It's all better with friends.


  1. I think that's what scares me the most. I've been reviewing books and gotten to know several people who do reviews. When/if they ever review mine, it will hurt more if they hate it.

    Plus a lot of the people who rate things on sites like Amazon can be so hateful with their comments. There aren't many jobs where your performance is open to public ridicule.

  2. What I'm counting on when that time comes (because it surely will if I become published) is the community of writers who hold each other up when someone falls to the bottom of the pit.

    Many writers don't read their reviews. I think there might be something to that, but I'm not sure I'll be able to resist.

    When I review books, I try to always find something positive, but I am honest with things I found wrong—in my opinion. If I didn't like the book at all, I don't write a review. Call me a wuss, but I'm not about to take away someone else's dreams, or minimize their accomplishments. Who am I to do such a thing?

  3. I sort of make a habit of only reviewing books I genuinely like. If I think a book really stinks, I will tell the author it is just not for me. And I really mean this.

    Which goes back to what you said about one person's DNF is another #1 pick. I've learned this weel from the submission process. One editor's "languid and literary" is another's "too fast paced."

    I think as writers we can accept negative opinions of our work if we genuinely know we did our very best with the piece, worked to the utmost of our abilities, and still not everyone is going to like it.

    Excessive vitriole--where it veers into what feels personal--is I think just inappropriate. A good reviewer can critique a piece without ddescending into insult or nastiness. This may be where the line between amateur reviewer and professional is drawn, or perhaps not. Isn't there some NYT reviewer all writers live in fear about? (I should be so lucky as to be slammed by the NYT someday). And didn't Kirkus have a reputation for being awfully, well, finicky?

    I think I'd just like to have something reviewed--good or bad, at least I moved somebody to share her thoughts!

  4. The very fist difficult review I ever did was for an author who went through PublishAmerica. It was also my first exposure to non-traditional publication. The bones of the story were there, but it needed a lot of work. And I basically said that in my review. Once again, it wasn't my place to steal another writer's dream, but I felt I needed to honor my commitment ot review the book, and be honest because someone might actually make a buying decision based on my review. (All of the other reviews on Amazon for this particular book were 5 stars. Mine was not.) I was terrified to see what dragon I might have unleashed. She actually emailed me to thank me for my honesty.

    I think I'll be talking about rejections in my next post, but your example of "languid" vs. "too fast" is a perfect example of what we get in this business.

    If you haven't read Dean Koontz's RELENTLESS, it's a great story about a writer and a powerful critic. I wasn't enamored with the ending, but the concept was brilliant.

    Writers often lived and died by Kirkus, which honestly I never fully understood. But then, I've never bought or not bought a book based on a Kirkus review. At least to the best of my knowledge.