Saturday, October 6, 2018

Does being Critical in My Reviews Hurt me as a Writer?

Reviewing books and movies as a writer is awkward.  I'm a critical person with strong opinions.  These traits make writing and sharing reviews a natural extension of my blogging content creation.  It allows people to "get to know me" and provides entertaining/relevant posts.  People love to watch other's judge.

BUT, as a writer I always wonder what I'm supposed to do with books I didn't care for.  Do I write a scathing but honest review? Do I pretend I didn't read the book?  Do I lie?

Does it matter if I enjoy the writer but this one book or series of books was a flop?  I don't know the rules, it's all speculation.

Does writing a bad review close artistic doors on me?  Do I hurt feelings, appear snobby, elitist, or difficult?  Does having a positive review with critical elements also damn me?  None of my reviews are sunshine and roses.  Most of them acknowledge a pacing element, character inconsistency, or social concern I didn't care for in a work.  Does having any feedback for a writer make you "the enemy"?

They say reviews are for readers not for writers.  Except there are reviews I wrote more for a writer (not the writer the book) than for the reader.  I advise against cliche X or I point out the line the writing goes to hell or I suggest a stronger editor.  Little industry moments where I'm no longer speaking as a consumer but as a creator.  Sometimes I grandstand on a writer's social responsibility not to shoe horn certain groups of people into a role.

My policy on reviews has been to write them and post them, but only cross promote positive views.  I am at a crossroad in my NAWG Blog series where I feature the good writers on Kindle Unlimited. I want to cover a writer who has some amazing work but also some disappointing books.  I don't know how to cover her.  I want to gush about one series she wrote and the first three books of another series, but the other 6 books I didn't like exist.  From a good to bad book ratio she has a 50% rating BUT her good books are so much fun and her bad books are "meh" not offensively bad.  And I want to talk about that too, how sometimes writers swing and strike out.  An audience sticks around because your hits are so epic and we know a batter can't have 100% home runs, sometimes it's a swing and a miss.

Or I have another author I plan to feature who does an amazing job with a large ensemble cast and who did well in most elements of the books BUT I think how she portrayed the LBGTQ community is problematic.  Pros: she represented the community and the character's gayness was not a big deal.  I loved how she dropped in "yeah so and so doesn't like boys" in a medieval fantasy setting and everyone was just like "oh, ok then."  The society is still burning witches and afraid of women but if you're a lady who likes ladies, that's fine.  It was refreshing how much no one cared who the characters might want to sleep with.  Cons:  She killed the only gay man off, the "villain" of the piece is a manipulative lesbian, and the most "heroic" of the lesbians is only a lesbian because a past boyfriend beat her, when she finds the right man, she goes back to being straight.  Honestly, I don't think the author consciously plotted these elements out, it feels like unconscious bias, but am I not supposed to talk about it?  And I'm not saying that all LGBTQ characters have to be amazing, but she had four characters representing the community in a cast with twelve characters and all of them had cringe-y stereotyped baggage on them.  She made an obvious effort toward inclusion, which I applaud because no one looks at a medieval work and says "why isn't the LGBTQ community represented?", but the effort was undermined by an unintentional inclusion of stereotypes. 

It's stuff like this that makes me shy away from promoting fellow authors or digging into their works.  If it was me, I'd find the thought and attention flattering even if the conclusions highlighted some of my work's failings.  But other people are not me, and I've seen how what I thought was a positive highlight is viewed as a hit piece.  

I waste a lot of time and energy worrying over the pros and cons of sharing my thoughts.  And while I consider, I write other positive reviews and these two authors, whose works I like better than some ones I'm promoting, languish because I also have critical thoughts.

Talk to me.  If you're a writer, what is your review policy?  If you're a reader does a positive review with critical elements help or hinder you?  Does a review detailing writer minutiae disinterest you?  

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