Anyone that knows me well enough knows that I am very opinionated and will verbally tell anyone that will listen what I think is wrong with something. This usually results in some funny comments as I run on about how such-and-such item is junk or how awesome something is that no one cares about. This naturally evolved into me writing reviews of the music I listened to, along with the occasional movie. These reviews were not the best constructed in the world, and they could be very amusing.
About a year or so ago I was given an opportunity to have one of my book reviews actually published. You know, on paper with ink along with other pages with ink and bound together into a magazine. I thought it was awesome, but let me tell you, it wasn’t easy to get there.
Since I’m an aspiring writer, I seek to become part of a community of people that thrives heavily on the relationships that form. Editors and writers and publishers cross paths at some point, whether it just be through email or through an in person meeting at the Nebula Awards. But you can be rest assured that they all read one thing – reviews. The author wants to know how their work was received, the editor how their author is faring, and the publisher need to know if printing further works from their author is worth their time and attention. Careers can be made or broken by reviews.
A well written review will explore the positive and negatives in a story. It will be balanced and show how the good and the bad weigh in evenly and make a complete story. The review will also explore how the story fits into the existing genre, how it changes the rules or how it blends in perfectly, becoming one with its genre. But most of all, the review will NOT do harm to the story or the author.
I don’t care how much I read or learn, I may not always understand what an author intended in a story. Does that make the story inferior? No, it doesn’t. Unless, of course, the story is so dreadfully written that it makes no sense at all. Even then, you don’t go off on it. You just say “Perhaps I’m not the target audience for this story.” You get the point.
Reviewing a story based on spelling errors and grammar mistakes is amateurish. Unless, of course, you’re reading a book that is filled with grammar and spelling problems enough that it destroys your ability to read it. Most reviewers are working with Advance Reader Copies (aka ARCs) that are filled with spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and in some cases, entire pages missing, so in those cases we cannot even mention it because its not the finished work. The ARC for Andrew Mayer’s The Falling Machine was page after page of bad spelling, incorrect words, and jumbled up grammar. But I couldn’t judge it on that, since it wasn’t the official release (which, by the way, is much better).
Blowing something out of the water merely because you don’t like the formatting of the pages is also not the reviewers job, unless it also detracts from your ability to read it. Once again, chances are good you have an ARC, so what you have and what may be on the shelf upon release may be two different things.
In all my reviewing, I’ve read some really bad stuff. Many times I had to force myself to finish the story so I could write an honest review. You can’t review something you’ve only read half of. Some of those awful stories actually turned out better at the end, too. It’s considered unprofessional to half-read a story and then review it, and worse, comment on a public forum about the problems with the story when you haven’t even read it all the way through. Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind only came together at the end of the book, so if you only read half of it, of course you would think the story is weak.
Now, if all you want to do is review stories and have them posted to websites and the like, then do what you want. However, if you want to pursue a writing career, and you are using reviewing as a springboard to get your name exposure, then you need to be politic. If you write destructive reviews for years, and then one day decide to try to get a book of your own published, think about what might happen. The editor may see your name and think “Oh, I know who this jackass is,” and just issue a rejection notice without even a look at your manuscript. An author who may have liked your work and would help you promote it may remember you bad mouthing their book and look the other way.
Remember, doctors are to do no harm.
Likeeise, reviewers should do no harm.
Because you never know who might actually be paying attention.