Monday, March 25, 2013

It's kind of, well, unkind. Kindof. Or kindof not.

This is a reaction to a piece on Jessewave's, where Rick R Reed spoke about kindness. He called for civilized discourse in all things. and I'm fully behind that. However,  what is civilized can also be perceived as unkind, depending, and what an observer may just take as an opinion may be fighting words to someone who's much closer to it. I can only control what I say or write, I cannot control how others perceive it.

There are times when I can review kindly or I can review honestly. Honesty without snark is what I strive for, and at times I have asked experienced reviewers to read over posts to make sure I haven't stepped over the boundary. It may be that I've missed the mark at times. It may also be that the neutral statement of a negative opinion, as Anel Viz put it in the comments to Rick's thread, doesn't feel so neutral to someone. I am mindful that there is a person on the other end.

What Rick said except in one instance didn't set me off as badly as some of the commenters did, and much of this post is in response to them. What some folks are defining as kindness looks a lot more like protection from honest opinions. And is that actually kind? Because the truth is going to come out sometime. The truth can come out with civility, and that is the best one can ask.

Sometimes the most damning review is to summarize a couple of of plot points. Sometimes it's to quote a few lines of text. If the author's own words create the unkindness, then the reviewer is SOL. Walk on by isn't always an option. I have been approached for reviews outside of Wave's umbrella for whatever reason, and those folks get the option of not posting if I can't honestly rate at 3 or above, and they get that because it takes some courage to ask. Some people have taken me up on that. Others have said post. But at Wave's it's buffet rules--we touch it, we take it. I would have bailed on more than a few books had that been an option.

As did Val, I reacted to these words of Rick's: even if that output was utter garbage. It was still someone’s baby

No, this is not someone's baby. A brainchild unleashed on the world has to follow a social contract, which is: it provides something of value in exchange for the audience's limited resources of time and/or money. If it doesn't enlighten, entertain, educate, or provoke thought, it's already violated that social contract. And if it has, a signpost saying so isn't unreasonable. And it won't always be perceived as kind. I might spend as long writing a negative review as I spent reading the work, trying for something that sounds neutral and I HATE that. I have limited time on this planet, and someone's  book just sucked up an irreplaceable part of it. Who has been unkind here?

And yeah, it would be a whole lot easier to just read established names and not review, lest I be perceived as unkind. There are days when this seems like a very, very good idea.

In a review, no one is entitled to more than basic civility. A review isn't meant to provide writing advice to the author, though if it does that's nice. Should a review contain at least one crumb of praise? What if the one praisable thing is "It was written in complete sentences"?  The cries of "snark!" will ring out for that one, but there are books that are just that bad. The authors who write them and the publishers who offer them still want our $6.99.

A friend refers to the "include praise" bit as Suzuki reviewing, after the way she taught her kids to play violin. Seize on the one good thing and ask them to do it again, with a little tweak (to fix the total fail part.) That's fine, it's good teaching.

Reviews aren't teaching except by accident; they are an assessment of a finished product. And authors are not five year olds with miniature violins playing for mommy and teacher. Don't mistake a review for instruction, and don't mistake a reviewer for mommy who praises the smallest accomplishment. If it's being offered for sale, it has to meet that social contract and it's the reviewer's job to mention if it has or hasn't or to what degree. That  can be done without snark, but kindness is often in the eye of the beholder. Best I can promise is honesty.


  1. I agree, particularly the part about how our stories are not our babies. No, they're not. They're a bunch of words lined up on a page, or a screen. They're not babies, children, or our precious dreams. They're lines of words, and a lot of Authors-Behaving-Badly type drama has come from writers who don't get that, and who respond to comments about their books as though they were literally criticisms of their children. One well-known author stated that fanfic was literally like other people raping her children, which... wow, talk about uncivil. To say nothing of damned insulting to actual rape survivors. Fanfic is different from reviews, of course, but the mindset that led that writer to pitch a very public fit (making a very public fool of herself) is the same.

    I developed an adamantium hide about my work a long time ago, but I didn't always have one. Any writer who doesn't have one, who can't stand to read criticism -- even civil criticism -- shouldn't read reviews, period. Reviews are for readers, and writers who are upset by them should ignore them.


    1. I think the writers that are most upset by reviews are probably the ones googling their titles and haunting Goodreads and Amazon to see what's been said. Not sure there's any way to cure that mindset except by experience and exposure. Which in the case of that one author's comments, not sure can be done even then. I know which author and characters you mean, she ought to have some detachment by now.

  2. Well said, Cryselle. I saw the post at Wave's but didn't comment or read the comments section, mainly for my own sanity. The push/pull between authors and reviewers has been a contention for the whole 5 years I've been reviewing and I can't see it ever coming to any satisfactory conclusion.

    All we reviewers can do is take the finished product and write what we think, being as kind as we can. However, in the end it's about providing something honest for other readers or face being discredited ourselves. I can sympathise with your feelings for writing a review of a book you weren't happy with. I can identify with that sinking feeling you get a few pages in when you realise that it's unlikely this book will make the magic three star mark. No-one wants to write a very critical review, but if we didn't how would people know that their money would be better off spent elsewhere?

    Your reviews are always thorough and as a reader I appreciate your opinion so keep at it lady and chin up :).

    1. I'm glad to know you think I'm doing something right, because you were one of the reasons I started reviewing. There's even an old post around here where I was contemplating reviewing styles and talked about yours, so you have a tag.

      I didn't comment at Wave's either, because that would have been the first draft of this post, and this has been through 3 rounds of desnarking. I was pretty upset. When someone more or less comes into your livingroom and gives you the shaky finger, it's kind of hard not to think it was directed at you.

    2. I hadn't seen that post about me before and now I'm blushing! Thank you for your kind words.

      I was only thinking the other day how refreshing it was to see more reviewers at Wave's giving the lower grades. Certainly when I first reviewed for that site, I was filled with dread if I ever had to give a 1 or 2 star review - mainly because I'd had some bad experiences of being insulted by fans if I gave lower grades. I was pleased that more reviewers were giving the low grades because then it makes it seem more 'normal' if you get my meaning and therefore less likely to produce a reactionary response.

      This post by Rick, telling reviewers to stop being 'mean', was almost a step back to the way things used to be, and I hope it doesn't deter the reviewers from giving out those 1 or 2 star reviews.

    3. If the book earns a 1 or a 2, I think it will still get it. There's been a couple sub-3s at Wave's in the last few days. The torches haven't come out. Yet. None of them have been big names though.


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