Readers. I am writing reviews for readers. I hope to inform and thereby assist in their choice of books to purchase or borrow from a library.
But it’s not that simple. I review many books from small presses. Every title they publish is a financial risk. No book is going to be liked by everyone so it is vital that each book finds its appreciative audience. Reviews and the related buzz on social media matter, to get the word out that a book exists.
Then there are the authors who have poured so much of themselves into their creations. A negative review can hurt.
I don’t wish to hurt anyone.
But I am writing for readers. If I am not honest in my opinions then there seems little point in what I do.
Over the past couple of weeks I have been reading and then reviewing a book from a small press I do my best to support. They do sterling work and are well respected. I have read every book they have published and regularly sing the praises of many of these. I have purchased them for friends.
I was excited to receive the proof and eagerly set aside the time needed to read it. The book is big in size and scope so demanded a greater than usual commitment. The structure is unusual and it gradually became clear that the subject matter was negatively affecting my mental health. In crafting my review I took great care to be fair in my criticism and also to convey the style of writing. However depressing I personally may have found it, there will be readers who enjoy other aspects of its wide ranging ruminations.
I posted my review. I was politely requested to take it down until closer to publication, preferably after this date.
I am feeling conflicted.
In the hour the review was up I received a comment that it was ‘perfect’. This particular reader, who has pre-ordered the book, was looking forward to reading it for himself. I took from this interaction that I had in no way put him off. This is good.
I have since heard that another reader, who had shown interest in the Tweets I was posting as I worked my way through the pages, has requested a copy of the book. This is what I aim to do – to generate interest in a title.
I posted my review many weeks ahead of publication. My understanding is that pre-orders matter so this did not seem out of order. I have done it many times before.
I write for readers. What of those who may not enjoy the style of the writing? What of those who may be upset, as I was, by the clear depiction of how unremittingly awful the human race is? It is hard not to feel, although this was denied, that had my review been glowing there would not have been an issue.
Taking the review down for the time being was my choice. I remain unsure if it was the right thing to do. I understand the points made in the polite request but am concerned I feel too close to retain the detachment necessary. I fail readers if I do not provide an impartial opinion. I am wary of reviews from authors opining about books written by their friends.
Here is a short list of things publishers could clearly state to help reviewers if a proof is being sent out well ahead of publication.
- May pictures be shared on social media?
- May early, short impressions be voiced?
- After what date may a full review be posted?
I have no problem adhering to the same guidelines as other reviewers. I would have a problem if I were asked to act differently depending on my opinion. This is not what potential readers are looking for.
Blogs are not magazines or newspapers. I have no predecessor or editor to advise me or check my content. On one occasion I expressed an opinion in a review in a way that a journalist acquaintance contacted me to warn, in as friendly a manner as possible, could be problematic. I appreciated this voice of experience and changed my wording. It did not compromise the gist of the review.
The growth of blogs and shrinking of newspaper sales has changed the way readers seek out information. I work hard to provide useful content.
It is thanks to authors writing and publishers producing books that we readers have the vast choice and variety of literature to enjoy. I am grateful for every book I am sent.
I will not enjoy them all. Negative reviews can be useful if written with care.
My blog is my space to write and I feel fortunate that readers regularly seek out my musings. I value my autonomy.
I am writing for readers.