Nov 15, 2012
My policy on reviews, November 2012
The last time I updated my policy on reviews was in February 2011, and recently I’ve been thinking it’s time for an update because some of my thoughts have changed. This post is for anyone who’s interested in what I think of book reviewing — as in, reviews of my books, and me reviewing other people’s books.
On Reviews of My Books
Some things haven’t changed since I last posted about this: I still very much appreciate bloggers and readers taking the time to post their thoughts about my books on their blogs, Amazon, Goodreads, or anywhere else the internet might allow you to post reviews. I love the fact that people are reading my books and feel strongly enough about them to say something in public. Thank you for participating in the conversation about books, and thank you for talking about mine.
As an author, though, I don’t self-Google or purposely seek out reviews of my work. There are several reasons for this.
- In order to write creatively, I have to listen to my own voice. Hearing the voices of lots of other people discussing my work in reviews tends to drown out my own voice. So, I try to minimize those other voices.
- Even though it’s very gratifying and flattering to read positive reviews, it’s guaranteed that some folks won’t like what I’ve written. This is fine and unavoidable, but criticism tends to stick in my head a lot longer than praise. (I think this is pretty normal!) That criticism can be damaging to maintaining the mental creative space I need to write.
- By the time my books are available to be read and reviewed, I’ve long since finished working on them. Reading other people’s opinions on what worked or didn’t work is just frustrating because there’s nothing more I can change about the book.
- I firmly believe that reviews are for readers, not the author of the book in question. I’m not the audience for the reviews, so I don’t think it’s necessary for me to read them.
While I do have someone checking Google Alerts for me, and they will forward some especially good ones to me (which is fun! of course I love it when people enjoy my books), I don’t read the vast majority of reviews of my books. I don’t read the reviews on Amazon or on Goodreads, because I think those spaces are for readers and I don’t want to insert myself in their space.
Therefore, if you’ve written a review of one of my books, I’m unlikely to have seen it. If you want me to see it, you’re welcome to send it to me on Twitter, Facebook, or by email (mlo at malindalo dot com). But I do ask that you please remember the golden rule: Before you send me your review, consider whether or not you’d want to read it if you were the author.
I have had people tweet me reviews of my books that were actually quite harsh (many authors have experienced this; I am not alone), and I’m sorry to say that has made me less likely to click on a link to a review that hasn’t been screened by someone I know. That doesn’t mean you can’t write a harsh review — go right ahead — but I think it’s a bit cruel to send it directly to the author. So, if you hated my book … you really don’t need to tell me.
Additionally, I don’t respond to reviews of my book when you send them to me, other than to say thank you. Given all the drama that has happened in the past year (and more) about authors responding to reviews, I think it should be clear why I don’t respond to them. All I can say, again, is thank you for taking the time to read and review my books. I really appreciate it!
Like everything in life, of course, there are exceptions. I do read trade reviews of my books, which are usually sent to me by my editor. If I’m lucky enough to get mainstream media coverage, I’ll read that. This is partly because I think I do need to know what the gatekeepers are saying about my work, but also because these sources are much more widely distributed than most book blogs (again: there are exceptions!), and I want to make sure there are no factual errors in the coverage.
On Reviewing Other Authors’ Books
In the past, I’ve stayed away from reviewing other authors’ books because I felt that they were my colleagues, and it would be inappropriate for me to criticize their work. In the last year, I’ve increased the number of Recommended Reads posts I do, and while I don’t think they count as reviews, I understand that they nevertheless look a lot like reviews. I also reviewed a novel for NPR, which made me really nervous at first because I didn’t want to review a book I disliked. Luckily, I loved that book a lot.
Perhaps because I’ve been a novelist for a few years now, I’m starting to feel less constrained about reviewing other people’s work. I’ve been realizing it is possible to write a review of a book that involves measured criticism, yet avoids meanness. (Lev Grossman’s reviews at Time do that really well.) I do enjoy reading book reviews of other people’s novels, and I even enjoy reading well-thought-out reviews of my own books. It truly is interesting to see how other people interpret my stories.
Going forward, I’m going to consider writing reviews of other authors’ books. I don’t think I’ll do it very often, and my Recommended Reads will only ever be positive (otherwise, why would I recommend them?). But just in case, say, the New York Times ever invited me to review a novel, let me say for the record: Maybe. (OK, if it were the NYT, I’d probably say yes. But Salon or The Atlantic or something else? Maybe!)
Questions? Feel free to email me (mlo at malindalo dot com).
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