I wasn’t going to write this, though I’ve wanted to write this for a long time. Still, I put it off, I don’t know why. Perhaps because I didn’t want to speak up and piss people off, or perhaps because I was afraid of unleashing a storm of negative criticism against me.
Yet, I feel it’s time to say something about book reviews. And honesty. And really, let’s be truthful here: Are the majority of those glowing reviews warranted by glowing books?
Last night as I was browsing Twitter, I came across a link to a writer’s book review. I was tired but wasn’t ready to go to bed so I thought, sure, I could use a quick read.
The site was a small review site but that didn’t put me off since some of the best reviews originate from small and selfconscious beginnings.
The review, of course, was positive. In fact, it was so positive that it almost squeaked. I had my suspicions, though, because while it glowed it didn’t feel authentic. The writing felt forced, as if the reviewer were trying too hard.
Then I scanned down to the bottom of the page and read the book’s excerpt, and my heart sank.
It was sloppy and clunky. I hate to say that a piece of writing is sloppy but I counted over six typos, misspellings and grammatical mistakes in the first three paragraphs alone.
Because of the subject matter I at first thought, oh, this was written by a sweet little old lady and I felt a bit endeared as I imagined her sitting in an armchair wearing a frayed cardigan sweater and doggedly typing away.
Except it wasn’t written by a sweet old lady. It was (according to the author’s photo and bio) written by a 30-something woman who has wanted to write since childhood.
No sweat: We’ve all wanted to write since childhood.
But there are no shortcuts. If writers expect readers to put down their hard-earned money for a book then writers need to produce quality products free of careless mistakes and clunky wording/pacing/character interaction.
I get that talent varies among writers. I work as an editor. I know that talent is not equal, that some are born with a seemingly innate writing voice while others have to struggle through every page.
Still, authors needn’t write a literary or even sophisticated fiction/nonfiction/poetry book. But they do need to take steps to ensure that they’re putting out a polished, finished product. If their grammar skills are weak, they need to hire a copy editor. Everyone, in my opinion, should hire a copy editor; there’s no excuse for not having professional eyes review a manuscript before releasing it out to the world. (In fact, I’m sure I’ve made my share of grammar mistakes in this post and if I were expecting people to pay money to read it, I’d hire a copy editor to skim it before I posted.)
I realize that there is no perfect book and mistakes happen and no matter how many eyes read through a piece, it’s inevitable that some mistakes will fall through the cracks. I don’t mind this. (In fact, I just came across a typo in a Margaret Atwood novel I’m reading and I felt a little bit endeared: Why, I thought, she’s just like me. Though of course she isn’t: She’s Margaret Atwood and I’m basically a nobody.)
More and more it seems that the online book review culture has evolved into a pat on the back for writers more than informative sources for readers. As an author, this bothers me. While I do want 5-star reviews (who wouldn’t?), I also want accurate and honest reviews that relay impartial and objective and yes, realistic, information on the quality of my work, its strengths and weakness, what works and what falls short. After all, isn’t that reviews are all about?
Another post on the same subject: I love this post Bad Reviews Suck, and Why I don’t Care by author Rachel Carsman Thompson in San Francisco Book Review. What I especially love is that she includes a section titled “Authors Behaving Badly,” (I think she stole this from my novel title, hee, hee). It’s something we as writers need to read, and remind ourselves: To act graciously when bad reviews happen and to also, when reviewing other’s work, treat both author and book with respect while still adhering to honest opinions. (Way to go, Rachel, you are my new writing crush.)