Monday, February 7, 2005

Reviewing 101

I was going to keep my mouth shut - but I feel the twinge of a rant escaping my lips, and while I already rambled over at Alyssa's blog, I thought why not rehash it here over at my vain little corner of cyberspace?

There is currently yet another reviews and reviewers debate going on in romance blog circles. I won't go link crazy here - but Alison Kent has been doing a nice job of keeping up - so why not visit her? Her blog is really cool, so you should be visiting her already.

I've been reviewing since 1999 and it never ceases to amaze me how much romance writers in particular get bent out of shape over bad reviews. I'm not sure if it's a women-shouldn't-trash-other-women thing or what - but there seems to be this opinion that we should all play nice. For what it's worth here is how I feel on the matter:

I have never trashed an author. Never. Oh sure, I've trashed a book - but I always stick to things like the characters acting stupid, the plot being ridiculous and contrivances you could drive a truck through. I never say, "This author wouldn't know how to write if a madman held a gun to her head and threatened to snap the neck of her pet kitten."

And really, what's my one review? The argument that one bad review on some Interent web site will adversely effect sales is just horse hooey. You know how many people never look at reviews? A lot. I see these people every day at the library.

As for qualifications, I can't speak for other reviewers, but here are mine. I've been an avid reader of genre fiction since I picked up my first Nancy Drew. I also am grossly overeducated, am a librarian, and spent the first 5 years of my professional life actively buying, following and breathing all adult fiction. Not just romance.

Of course, I also have my shortcomings. I won't begin to know every single scrap of information about certain time periods. It's the one reason I don't review traditional Regency novels. It's been my experience that readers who love the trad are fairly fanatical about accuracy. I never have been. If someone is called Lord SoAndSo instead of Sir SoAndSo, I really wouldn't notice. Even with my dusty degree in British history stashed in my spare bedroom closet.

My MO tends to be focusing on the characters. I'll buy into just about anything if I love the characters. Historical inaccuracies, plot contrivances, run-on sentences - you name it. If the writer can make me believe in these fictional people, I'll like the story.

On a couple of final notes, I just want to remind authors who b*tch about bad reviews to remember this one fact. Every author gets bad reviews. E-v-e-r-y A-u-t-h-o-r. Hell, even John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen got bad reviews. That makes for pretty good company in my opinion. No one will ever write the book that is universally loved. I'm fairly certain of that.

Also, a bad review is just one reader's opinion. One. And really, I don't think that my one little review is that important that it will effect the entire reading public. It won't. And frankly, it shouldn't. All I can do is point out why I loved or didn't love a book. It's up to the reader to make his or her final buying and reading decisions.

Also remember that reviewers are very passionate readers. For every book we hate, there are very likely a dozen others we love. Hell, we'll even gush over these books to anybody who will listen. I know I do, to the point where others are like, "Ok Wendy, we get it! You loved this book. Can you shut up now?" But no one ever pays attention to that. They only focus on the bad.

Case in point - LLB read and loved a book last year by Lucy Monroe. Hell, she even devoted a whole column to it. Unless I missed one, I didn't see any postings by authors anywhere on the 'Net saying, "Oh, did you hear about that book that AAR loved?" Instead, the focus continues to stay on "bad reviews" and how all reviewers are obviously morons who can't tell that suchandsuch a book is a true masterpiece. AAR continues to get slammed for posting negative reviews, but they literally have hundreds (if not thousands) of positive reviews listed over there that no one ever mentions. Same goes to for TRR.

Am I defending myself? Well sort of. I know I'm a reviewer, so that makes me the enemy. Even as a sensitive middle child I can live with that. But I like to think that I am fair. I like to think that I can explain my opinions in a clear and concise manner. And I don't like it when I'm accused of something I have never done. I read a product that is put out for mass consumption and offer my opinion of that product. Whether I love it or hate it, it's just my opinion. And as long as I live in a free democracy I will continue to offer my opinion. No one is forced to agree with me or even listen to me.

And that's the beauty of the thing isn't it?

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