Wednesday, January 19, 2011

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

Once upon a time, I was at a high school theater festival. In between shows, I got to chatting with someone from another school. We get to talking about some of what we'd seen that morning, and he asked about a certain show. I said what I thought: "I thought it started out strong, and I liked the premise, though I thought it got a little ridiculous towards the end. A bit over the top." The guy nodded thoughtfully and said, "I'll tell my director."

Face, meet Palm. You two can be friends.

Yep, I was talking to a cast member. (In my defense, people look different from more than 30 feet away. I just didn't recognize him.) (By the by, dude, if you're reading this, I really do apologize for that.)

While I didn't say the meanest things I'd ever said about a show, I know I didn't couch them the way I might have if I'd known I spoke to someone who worked on the production. After all, you put your heart and soul (or at least a hecca ton of sweat and tears -- and possibly a little blood) into a show, if someone criticizes it, it's gonna hurt.

What's this got to do with writing? I've been seeing a lot of talk on the blogosphere lately about reviews and commenting on books on blogs.

Talking about books on blogs is like being me in that auditorium. As far as you know, you are always talking to that guy from the show. Agents, editors, authors, friends of any of the above could be reading your blog. And, I know, people always say that you can't talk what people say about your work to heart -- and I've definitely a proponent of not taking things to heart -- but that's no reason not to be polite at the least.

As Ratatouille says "We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so."

So, while it might be fun to go making fun of people, and while, in the privacy of my own head/home/secret underground cave, I might rage against the heinousness of whatever book I just read, I try to keep that stuff off the blog.

Because I learned that lesson in high school: Everything you're looking at it something someone spent a lot of time and effort on, and yes, sometimes they are standing there, asking what you think of it.

How do you feel about publishing reviews on the internet? Do you put them on your sites? Good and bad alike?
How do you feel when you read a negative review on a blog, even of work that is not personally connected to you?


  1. This is the exact reason I started Book Wars. I wanted to keep track of all the books I was reading this year but really didn't want to do individual reviews.... so, instead, on Mondays I list all the books I read that week and say ONE good thing about them - it doesn't matter if I have five great things to say or I have to dig really hard to find that one good thing. I say only one good thing about each book and then at the end, I pick my favorite of the week - which is the book that, out of all the ones I read, I'd be the first to recommend.

    I haven't liked all the books I've read so far. I've actually seriously hated one of them...but I'm not stupid. I know I might meet these authors one day or have a chance to align myself with the publisher of the book...

    If a blogger emailed me privately about any of the books, I'd give them a more balanced review but for something so public.... you're right, for all I know my blog could get back to the actor and I wouldn't even know!

  2. I don't review books on my blog, and only read a few blogs where reviews are given. I have one person that I follow who gives excellent reviews (not always favorable, but always done in a professional manner.) I trust her taste because I've read the things she's suggested and she's been spot on with my likes/dislikes.

    As far as writing negative reviews, I shy away from doing that myself. And I'm ashamed to admit that I rarely take the time to praise the books that I really love.

  3. I agree whole-heartedly with the 'If you can't say anything nice' philiosophy. Someone once challenged my stance by saying that there was no balance if nobody wrote negative reviews. I countered by saying that the lack of positive reviews spoke volumes about the quality of the work, and accomplishes the same purpose. :)

  4. I review books on my blog, but I try to be as positive as I can about what I read. So far I've only come up with two stories where I found something seriously wrong with them. In that case I tried my best to write my opinion in a supportive manner, instead of a snooty or holier-than-thou one. I might pull my punches a bit, but at the same time I value being honest. I may say what I didn't enjoy, but I also make it a point that these are my opinions, and others may not share them (Twilight is an obvious example - though I don't ever plan on reviewing it on my blog).

    I think that's one of the major differences between book bloggers and professional reviewers. Though there are no doubt exceptions, most book blogger reviews are about as valuable as a review on Amazon. Sure, they're usually spiffed up a little more, and might have a bit more length, but they're essentially an every-man's opinion. They don't have professional credentials to do what they're doing, they're just spouting an opinion of what they liked or didn't like.

    Professional reviews, on the other hand, are expected to be more educated and formal. They are either dissecting a book's literary merit or trying to get the masses to buy it. They're paid to do this, so they're expected to know their stuff.

    Don't know if I said anything useful, or if I just rambled...but there it is.

  5. I can relate to the "palm, meet face" moment. I've had plenty of those!

    As far as book reviews, I'm very careful about what I say. I'll be honest with my rating (1 star, 3 stars, 5 stars, etc.) but when it comes to detailed comments, I try to only name the positives. Writers are sensitive souls, after all, and I'm no exception.

  6. Melissa -- I think Book Wars is a brilliant idea, and I marvel that you can read enough books in a week to pull it off.

    Melissa G -- It's okay. I honestly don't praise half the books I love nearly so well as they deserve. I don't think anyone really does.

    DL -- I hear you. My parents used to always say, even if you don't speak the language of where you are, go to the place with the most reviews, because even if you can't read the reviews, clearly a lot of people went there. Clearly, if a book's got a lot of talk about it, it's inspiring some intense responses.

    Vicki -- That's true. None of us has gone pro in the review category (that I know of). That's totally okay, as far as I'm concerned. You can't do everything professionally.

    Shelley -- Hi, thanks for dropping by. I think you've got a point about the stars. I, personally, think a star rating is less hurtful than a detailed comment, just because hearing an "I didn't like it" seems less bad than a detailed list of what was wrong. But that might just be me.