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Book Reviews vs. Critiques: Consider the Source

Posted by Brittany Lavin on Fri, Jan 28, 2011 @ 07:00 PM

by L. Rochell

In this hurry-up world we’re creating, even in the writing and publishing industries, it’s becoming second nature to blend, mix, and otherwise smash together not only words, but their meanings and defined actions.

book reviews3Prior to the mid-20th century there technically, were no “reviewers.” Those who fancied themselves literate enough to offer a performance or literary critique usually possessed the background credentials to be taken seriously. They were a “critic.” Now, not so much.

Today, we’re still mixing and mashing, trying to create a “criviewer”—my fabricated word for one who fancies him or herself qualified—whether true or not—to comment on someone else’s work.

However, we’re not quite there yet—purists still believe that a reviewer presents an opinion whether that person has a solid or informed basis to speak from or not; a critique is offered by a critic who reviews a work using their particular expertise and a knowledge of the genre history in order to provide an informed opinion.

That said … there is nothing in the “Book Readers’ Handbook” about how to criticize an author’s “baby.” I use the term baby because it’s a running joke in the independent publishing industry that it can take about nine months to birth a book—and when it comes to the long-awaited happy event, your newborn may not be the best lookin’ babe in the mommy ward, but don’t anyone dare criticize her!

A vast majority of readers simply enjoy their chosen tome and relegate it to a shelf, or recycle it through eco-friendly channels. A limited number read it and share their thoughts in a book club or other social organization.

A growing group of readers, however, are taking to the Internet and loudly voiceing their opinions in review after review, leaving their often anonymous, pithy observations to help or hurt, as they see fit.

Some readers blog about books, and some with an imagined or real objection or empathy, may even contact the author. For the most part however, we don’t even know what’s being said behind our backs. If you have not yet created a Google Alert for your book’s title, you’ll never know. (Learn more and set it up: www.google.com/alerts.)

Authors, just as all creative artists, both crave and dread readers’ comments. Constructive critcism helps us learn and grow. But what of the malicious harangues that cut to the quick and leave us wondering how we could write such drivel?

Although constructive criticism is obviously preferred when it comes to our books, many who offer their insights are unfortunately, not helpful—there is an art to constructive criticism, just as there is to writing itself. Too many self-imposed experts weigh in with arrogant words of misdirected wisdom with no clue of how to make disparaging remarks in a supportive way: tinged with helpful advice or edged with words of enjoyable discovery in your baby’s pages.

Let’s face it—some reviews of our books are just plain mean. In school when mean girls used to criticize me, mom would say, “Oh honey, consider the source, and let it go.” There is a lot of wisdom in those words. Of course, I didn’t necessarily understand it then, but it has particular meaning now.

Not all reviews will of course, be glowing adulation for your story, poetry, or nonfiction prose. You will likely receive at least a few not-so-kind words that unfortunately, often weigh heavier on our hearts and hurt more than the rave reviews can make you smile. Try to consider the source.

With blogs abounding and “Write a Review” on every retail item’s page online, anyone with a computer can sling a few words of jubilant joy at having read your book, or with quick keystrokes crankily criticize without mercy. That does NOT make them a credible critic. Consider the source.

If you tried valiantly to score a traditional publisher’s contract, you might well know the throes of rejection. But when you believe in your book, just like with rejections, criticism without substance should be summarily dismissed.

Granted, it’s frustrating that nowadays a negative comment can remain visible to the world for eternity—one of the many vile pitfalls of the Internet—but with this new technology, we must also realign our approach to human behavior. If called for, you may want to contact the author to thank or discuss their comments. But in most cases, it’s often best to consider the source, and move on.

Resolve to:

“Accept the things you cannot change; courage to change the things you can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” Criticism of your book is to be expected. Constructive criticism should be welcomed. Know the difference and react (or not) accordingly.

Just like each and every word, each and every one of us is unique and serves a purpose in the grand scheme of things.

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Tags: self publishing, book reviews, book reviewers, self publishing companies

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