Discussion | On Negative Reviews, Authors, Bloggers, and the Book Community

I’ve actually written part of this post a while ago and then abandoned it because I wasn’t happy with how it turned out so I’m going to try again. I don’t know if it’s just me being more aware of what’s going on in the bookish community or whether things are actually changing. Only weeks ago I talked about how things were going with the international reviewers and now it seems we’ve got more to talk about.

As an introduction, there are some incidents that triggered this discussion. And I initially wanted to discuss them in more detail, but I don’t want to make this a negative post, so I won’t. I’ve heard quite a few stories of authors attacking reviewers over negative reviews they’ve written. Over the years, I haven’t heard much about these kinds of incidents, but I’m well-aware that I haven’t been as attentive to them before.

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Discussion: Critical Reading: does it ruin reading?

Writing reviews about books requires me to think harder about why I like or didn’t like a book. I need to get my words out on paper and in a way have transfer my feelings to you, my readers. Often this is just really hard to do and might change my opinion on the book.

I have never been trained or teached how to read critically, except for maybe those Dutch and English literature classes in high school, but I can’t say I’ve learned much from them. So now that I’ve started writing more and more reviews, I am more required to think about why I think certain things. I need to argue why I love something, or hate something. My opinions can’t just be opinions anymore, they need to be grounded.

This is especially hard when I read books that I think are highly enjoyable, but not that good in quality. When I read a book I enjoy a whole lot, like: I could read it until 3 am and still not fall asleep, does it matter that the character development isn’t perfect? Or that the worldbuilding isn’t highly original? I rate most of the books I read mostly on enjoyment, how much I enjoyed reading the book. So when I read a book I enjoy reading so much and look back on it, I start thinking: why did I love it? When I then look back I think, it was fun, but: was there diversity? Maybe not. Was there a great tension span? Maybe not. So was it then good? Or was it not good?

This way of thinking always leads me to like the book less than I liked it while reading it. This usually happen when I am writing the review itself. I always start with thinking how much I would rate the book, then I start writing all of my reasons, and when I reach the conclusion and look back at what I wrote, my opinion has shifted. When I suddenly realize I wrote more bad things than good things about the book, I tend to lower the rating. 

To what extent is enjoyment important compared to the quality of a book? You would say both are important, but as someone who is reading the book, you can’t really distinguish your opinions. Should you then, when you’re writing your review, rate both separately? Or is that too much? I tend to be more on the “enjoyment” side of things, if I really enjoy a book, then I have a higher rating, partly because I think it was fun so why not give it a high rating, and partly because I hope others will read it as well.

Being critical in reading also changes my experience of reading itself, I get more critical about small things, and I enjoy some books a lot less than I might have if I weren’t so critical. And I am really wondering whether that is a bad thing or a good thing. On the one hand, I did enjoy the book less, but on the other hand, it means I value books that are really good more. I am more critical about characters, development, diversity and things like that, things that are really important to me.

I am basically writing this because I don’t know the answer to this question, so maybe you do. Maybe it’s just that I need to be more critical about the books I choose to read, or maybe I should just forget about the minor things that make it less enjoyable to read. It’s a bit like pretty much everything you do, once you’ve done it so many times, you get more critical about the little things, you want the level to be higher. Like: the more I draw, the better I want it to be to be considered good enough.

What do you think? Is it a good thing that I am (you are?) more critical when reading, or is enjoyment more important? Do you experience that when you’re writing a review, you’re more critical about the book, then when you wouldn’t write a review?

Discussion: Review Requests: yay or nay?

For those who are not known with the term review requests, this basically is the opposite of requesting ARCs. When you request an ARC, for example on NetGalley, you look at the synopsis of several books, decide which ones you like and you request them. Then you wait for the publisher to accept (or not accept, because that happens a lot too), and you can read and review it. Review requests are very different, instead of going to the publisher or writer yourself, writers come to you with their books. This means that whatever request you get, it can be very different from what you normally read.

Of course, if you get a request you don’t have to accept. I think my acceptance rate is quite low, about 40%. I have gotten about 18 review requests (give or take a little I haven’t actually counted) and reviewed 4 so far, 3 I have not yet reviewed. I guess you could say I’m not a professional and I haven’t had much experience, but I’d like to say a few things about review requests and whether it would be something you might like to do.

The Good

Help Authors – The first thing that comes to mind is the opportunity to help out unknown authors. Of course big well-known authors will not go find bookish bloggers themselves, usually, they take a simpler road using their publisher. Therefore, the authors that contact you will most likely be small indie authors, people who self-published their book.

Free books – Of course free books are always welcome (I would start a book orphanage if I had the space and money, save the books!).

Find new things – How vague I am, haha. What I’ve found so far in my ARC reviewing business is that I’m way more likely to accept a book when it’s handed to me than to go out and get it myself (especially if that means buying it). So genres that I’m lesser acquainted with, or usually wouldn’t read, I wouldn’t go out and buy. Now, however, when someone comes to me with an intriguing synopsis, even though it’s a genre I wouldn’t usually pick up, I am more likely to accept and actually read the book. This opens my mind to new books and genres, and you know what: you never know whether you’ll love it.

The Bad

Impolite emails – What I love about some authors is that they actually send you a personal message, telling you why they think their book fits your preferences or even something about your blog. Other authors however, don’t seem to have the decency to even put my name at the top of their email. If I get a review request like that, I am 99% likely not to accept, simply for the fact that if they didn’t put any time in it, why would I?

Not matching my preferences – I’ve gotten a lot of emails from authors talking to me about their non-fiction book, or historical fiction spirituality book, or who knows. I almost never read non-fiction, especially not if it’s about a topic I don’t know much about. In fact, a few weeks ago I got a request for a book about puppy training, and while we just got a pup, I don’t feel like I am the right person to review such a book. So saying no thank you, it is.

It takes time – Reading takes time, reviewing too. This is just a matter of priorities, if you have the time to put some extra time in your reading schedule or are willing to push forward other books so you can read the requested book, go for it.

Conclusion?

So while for Indie authors, book bloggers might be a great opportunity for some extra book reviews which would lead to more sales, it is not always a perfect solution. For me, it is fun to do on the side of reading ARCs from NetGalley, but I find myself giving priority to those ARCs opposed to review-requested books. Saying no to authors is something I sometimes struggle with, especially when they’ve written an elaborate personalized email about a book that really does sound interesting, and I simply do not have the time. It’s frustrating, but I push myself over that, because when I do decide to review a book it feels very fulfilling to know I actually helped someone get their book into the world and maybe someone else will enjoy it after me.

If you want to get review requests, what to do?

Review Policy – Review policies are there to avoid the annoying situations as described above. A review policy should consist of information about what your reviews look like, information on ratings and genres you enjoy reading. You can also state whether you for example only review physical copies. Authors that want to contact you can thereby see whether their book would match or not. Also, make sure that you clearly state whether

Enlist yourself – For authors to find you is not that easy, as far as I know, authors don’t go scouring the internet to find book bloggers. Since the beginning of November, I’ve been enlisted on a book blogger list, which makes it much easier for authors to find you. I have not a single clue which list it was (I’m slightly embarrassed about that), but if you’d like to enlist as well I’m pretty sure google can help you out. If you google “book blogger list”, I’m sure something will pop up.

Do you take review requests? Do you enjoy it or not? And what are your pro’s or con’s?

P.S. At this moment, I do not take review requests, since I simply don’t have the time.