Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book Reviewer's Hell- Or What to do when the Book sucks

This is not a pleasant place to be. I have a book to review, I was approached by the author and I agreed as it is within my genre and the premise sounded promising. And then I started to read it. I found myself gripping the book to stop my hands from pulling the pages out. The characters are completely clich├Ęd, the action ridiculous without any lead in and deus ex machina was thrown about like rice at a wedding. This is only about 4 pages in- and the book is huge!

Never mind my urge to help edit the thing (which should have been done long before print) and make it a better book. Already there is chicken scratch in the margins and post-it notes marking problems.

I scratched my head over this and tossed and turned all night. It's great to review a book that is wonderful, or at least has some high points. Perfect PR for authors that are busy marketing themselves and their work. But when a book is this bad, a review, at least an honest one, is going to hurt the book, not help it.

The only thing I can think of to do is slog my way through the book (I'm going to need a freaking excavator if it continues on this way) and when I'm done, write the review and offer it to the author first, allowing them to make the decision of whether or not I post it.

What do you think? Is that the way to go or do I just post the review regardless?


Anonymous said...

I think that is very generous. I work in the car industry by day and by submitting a car for review you open up the possibility of negativity on the off chance that, overall, it will be well received.

You need to decide whether your obligation lies with the author's reputation or warning readers of a book that will leave them disappointed and possibly feeling ripped off.

If I ever submit my novel to you, or any other critic, I will beg honesty above all else.


Aoibheall said...

I am also a book reviewer, and when the review is particularly bad, I offer it to the author first. I offer my review as a sort of critique - even though the book is published, one assumes that the author is writing another work and that the observations you provide are something that the writer can put to work in their next book. And I've always phrased it in terms of "opportunities to strengthen your craft."

Shannon said...

I agree that as far as my own work goes, honesty is what I want, that's the only way to improve. But not every writer wants to have the truth, especially in a case like this where it is a self published book.

Cait said...

I'd send the review to the author and let them make the decision like you said! It must be awful to be sent a book and not enjoy it

Phoebe North said...

But when a book is this bad, a review, at least an honest one, is going to hurt the book, not help it.

For what it's worth, this is actually not borne out by marketing studies. In terms of sales, the worst thing you can do is not talk about a book at all--books with mixed reviews fare far better than those with none, or very few only-positive reviews.

A good (as in "effective") negative review illustrates the tastes of the reviewer clearly enough, and provides enough textual evidence, that it will actually help with sales. I regularly rely on reviewers with disparate tastes from mine to help me determine what to buy--because they're so clear with why certain elements matter to them, and those elements are different than what matters to me.

(I honestly think effective negative reviews are kind of an art in-and-of-themselves. The booksmugglers and Dear Author blogs are great examples of respectful, honest reviewing that includes negative reactions.)

I've been in your place before, earlier in my reviewing career. It happens less now because I have so many books to review. These days, I'm more inclined to just stop reading something that's terribly bad, in which case I won't review it. However, sometimes I still find a book I don't really like compelling enough to finish, or I decide to finish and review a bad book because I know it will lead to interesting literary criticism.

The best solution is to decide how you'll deal with these problems in the future. There are a lot of options--state that you have a blanket policy of positive-only reviews, state that you'll review anything, even if you hate it. The benefit of an explicit review policy is that you can refer authors to it when they send you review requests, so that they know what they're in for.

Shannon said...

Thanks Phoebe, that is great advice! I will check out those blogs and see how they handle a negative review. More than that I will put up a policy on how I review books, that is an especially good tip.

Thanks for all the feedback, it's good to know that even a negative review is helpful to the author as far as PR goes.

Phoebe North said...

No problem, Shannon! I think it's hard because a lot of writers still don't like negative reviews, but they can be valuable for both selling books and for starting discussions.

One thing I've discovered is true, though--agreeing to review a book isn't a contract to torture yourself! I felt the same way that you did, at first ("Oh, God, I said I would review this and it's terrrrrible!") and ended up wasting a lot of time on books I hated. I think it helps to let authors know that you can't guarantee a review in exchange for a review copy. Life's too short to waste it on books that suck! :)