Reviews: a Minefield

Yesterday, when I was contacted by Dr. Charley Ferrer concerning the Golden Flogger nomination, I had a moment of squee, for a reason other than the honor of Consent being nominated. I totally fangirled. Because Dr. Ferrer is the woman who wrote one of the first non-fiction books I read about BDSM, called BDSM: The Naked Truth. She is the reason (among a couple others) why Ben and Gavin were born. So in my thanks for her emailing me about the nomination, I also thanked her for writing the book, that I found it incredibly useful and straightforward and it answered so many questions I had as well as sparking my imagination.

She responded with gratitude and said, “If it’s not too much trouble, would you care to write a review on Amazon for it?”

And I paused, like I always do when the question of me writing reviews comes up.

Because I don’t write reviews.

Why?

Because I’m an author.

I know there are those who have gone before me have been accused of many things with regard to writing reviews, including propping up their fellow friend authors, sabotaging others if they wrote something negative, or abusing their “power” because their word carries a different kind of weight than the average reader.

So instead, I’ve limited myself to the occasional book rec if I truly love the story.

But am I not a reader first? I fell in love with reading when I was four and crawled behind my dad’s recliner for some privacy, cracked a book, and went to town with it. My mother didn’t believe me when she found me and I answered her, “What are you doing?” question with a self-important, “Reading,” in a tone full of duh.

Look, I get the politics of it all. I understand a review I write can be mistaken for endorsement and not entirely genuine. But I’d like to think I could pen a review with enough reasons behind my rating to make anyone who stops to read it realize I was honest.

The truth is, I miss being able to debate books I did or didn’t like with people on social media. Yeah, I have a couple friends I trust where I can discuss things privately, but sometimes, if I love love love a book, I want to shout about it.

The last time I did that on my blog was back in 2012 after I read King Perry by Edmond Manning. I’d just published Power Exchange, and oh, my naïve heart was in love. Then I saw that this reviewing thing could lead to drama, and if anyone here has read even a tiny little bit of the archive of this blog (even this new one, with only 30 something posts as of now) you’ll know I am an anxiety sufferer, and drama is not something I seek out.

So I’ve stifled it. And even if it was a self-imposed clamping down of my opinion, I don’t want to stifle it anymore.

That’s not to say I’m going on a reviewing rampage, but if I’m moved to take the time and write a review, regardless of who wrote it, I will.

But to expand this a little bit, I’ve seen where others have cringed when an author gives a so-so opinion of another’s book. There are whispers, “They shouldn’t be saying that.” Depending on the loyalty of the second author’s fanbase, there could be retaliation. Bystanders whisper behind their hands, “That’s going to blow up in their face.”

Here’s my opinion on that: if an author thinks a book wasn’t up to snuff, and says so in a way that is constructively critical, does not say anything about the author as a person, and is not argumentative, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to without fear of a bunch of people raining vitriol on their heads.

I do not condone going after an author in any kind of personal way, whether they’re the reviewer or the reviewee.

Here are the things I consider an unreasonable review:

  • If you haven’t read, or attempted to read, the book, and give it either glowing or scathing ratings based off the opinion of something besides the book, i.e. the author, a friend’s opinion of the author, etc.
  • If a review contains spoilers and people who use reviews aren’t appropriately warned it does. GoodReads has a spoiler tag for a reason.
  • If the review contains anything about the author as a person. It is not okay to speculate on the author’s life based on the book they’ve written. Just keep it about the book and the book alone.

That’s it.

If you want to say you hate everything this author has ever written because it reads like it was penned by a kindergartner, go for it. If you want to say you’re the Annie Wilkes #1 fan of an author, do that, too. If you want to speculate about where a series might go (although that might be more fun in a discussion forum than on a plain ol’ review), please. If you have a reason for dissing a book’s every stinking page, do it.

Am I going to like it when someone says they hate something I’ve written and will never buy another book of mine again? No, that’ll kinda hurt. But I do not begrudge the reviewer their right to say so.

A few people have stated clearly they won’t read anything more I write after they read Consent. I’m sad to see them go, but I am never, ever going to say they don’t have the right to give that opinion. It’s not realistic to hope for 5 stars across the board. I want to make people feel with my books. Sad, disgusted, hopeful, tearful, awed, appalled, whatever the emotion. I like coaxing them all. If that means my books are not someone’s “comfort” read, then that’s entirely okay with me.

What else makes me sad is feeling like my opinion isn’t valid because of my vocation. Because I might taint something. Because my words are loaded.

Yeah, I know my words are loaded. But is that reason enough that I get no say at all? That’d be like me telling a reader they can’t give an opinion on a medical book if they’re a doctor. Or review a detective story because they’re a detective.

Or it’s like telling an author they can’t write about London if they’ve never been there. And I’m sure any number of you can see where this argument could lead, should I want to dredge up unnecessary drama. Nope. Not going there.

So the point of all this, regarding reviews, is, in my opinion, say what you think about the book. About the series. Please, if you feel strongly, speak.

But I have a voice, too. And I’m judicious enough to use it without abusing it.

So I wrote a review on BDSM: The Naked Truth. It’s nearly three-years overdue.

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5 thoughts on “Reviews: a Minefield

  1. I like your statement that if you feel strongly, speak up. That goes for negative reviews too. And, I believe everyone should follow what my co-worker tells her childern, “just don’t be rude”.

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  2. I literally cannot get over the fact that some people have said they would not read anything you write again after reading Consent. I don’t get it. I really have no clue who these people are & why they would feel like that. Did they not read the 2 previous books? I’m seriously flummoxed! Each to their own, I suppose. Really looking forward to The Anatomy of Perception ❤️😃

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  3. Oh my gosh – so funny you posted this right now! Just last night I wondered, once my own book is published, can I still write reviews? The fact that there is no proper person to ask should’ve been my first clue – that there is no ‘rule’ for this – nor does there need to be. And, to be honest, I think I am probably more qualified now, knowing what I know about writing, do to a review than I was two years ago. Now I at least know crappy writing when I see it – but chances are I would never leave a negative review. That’s just not ‘me’. If you can’t say something nice….and all. So, if someone is going to complain about me leaving KIND words about a book…. I’d say find something else to complain about that actually matters. In other words, unless your book really sucks, I’ll be leaving you a review. Ha. ;o)

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  4. I think you’re right. If you want to leave reviews, if you have an opinion about a book you want to share, you should do so. I’ve thought about this long and hard. I remember a discussion on some blog about this subject – I want to say a year or so ago. And I blogged about it myself around that time. I’ve written my thoughts on the books I read down for years. On paper I can probably go back fifteen years, online almost eight. I’m not going to stop just because I’ve now got two published books to my name.

    Besides, I like book recommendations by authors. If it’s an author whose writing style I like, there’s a good chance I’ll enjoy their reading taste as well.

    I made one concession though; I no longer grade books on my blog.

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