I’m jumping right in to continue my thoughts on this subject, so be sure to read Part One first.
Sure, critical reviews posted in the open can sting an author’s emotions sometimes. I know from experience! But that comes with the territory of this kind of work. Once an author releases their writing into the public, it’s subject to public opinion. That’s part of what it means to publish.
Just because a writer writes doesn’t mean the writer has to become a published author. Writers can keep their writing to themselves if they wish, or only share their writing with people in their personal circles. Taking the added step of releasing one’s writing to the masses is a conscious decision. A choice. If an author can’t handle what comes along with that choice, both public praise and public criticism, then publishing is the wrong business for that author.
Now, I understand and appreciate the courtesy that some readers extend to contact authors privately with critiques of their books. That can be helpful especially to independent authors if there’s an immediate issue an author can fix on their own, like if a reader finds a typo or two the author’s editor missed. (If the author’s book is from a traditional publisher, though, there may or may not be anything the author can do about the typos. The publisher’s website may let you know how to report errors you find in their books.)
Of course, contacting an author privately is indeed a courtesy on a reader’s part, not at all an obligation. Also, readers who wish to directly contact authors with critiques should be advised that different authors react differently to such a gesture. Some authors will be grateful and take note of the critiques. Other authors will answer with something like, “Thanks, but I didn’t ask you to come tell me how to write. If you’re such an expert and you want perfect books, write your own.”
Not saying it’s cool when that happens, but it does happen.
Nevertheless, even if you do privately contact authors with constructive criticism at times, that’s not a substitute for balanced reviews. Again, your book reviews are for other readers, and those reviews will paint a skewed picture if you have points of criticism in mind but you never mention them.
Besides, the rise of independent publishing in recent years has brought about significant changes to the book industry. In some respects, that’s awesome. Traditional publishers only have so much time, interest, staff, and finance to publish what they can. And they’ll often leave only so much room to take certain risks, particularly when it comes to debut or unknown authors. Because even quality manuscripts get regular rejections in the publishing world, independent publishing provides an avenue to get a wider selection of quality books into readers’ hands.
However, the opening of this avenue also comes with drawbacks. For a long time, traditional publishers have widely been the judges of quality and the gatekeepers controlling the access between authors and readers. Now that more independent authors no longer need those gatekeepers to grant them entry into publishing, there’s no one stopping authors who publish poor or clearly unprofessional work.
With so many more books streaming into the market, honest book reviews have become all the more important. Yes, potential readers should get an idea of other readers’ subjective likes and dislikes. But in addition to that, book reviews (especially at retail sites) can inform others about the quality of the publishers.
No book on earth is perfect, no matter how it was published, and no book is going to suit every reader out there. Still, no method of publishing should be a free-for-all for shoddy work. Many authors, traditionally and independently published alike, are putting out high-quality books, and honest reviews play a part in helping to maintain high standards for publishing across the board.
“Okay… But, still, though. I was always taught that if I don’t have something nice to say, I should say nothing…and now I feel weird about this.”
Hey, now. Even with all this information about reviews, if you’re struggling, and if writing a critical review for a book will make you feel like a truly horrible human being, don’t do it. I wouldn’t encourage someone to violate their conscience. Maybe one day you’ll feel differently about book reviews. ❤
Nonetheless, praise and criticism play crucial roles in the world of arts and entertainment. For literature to thrive, for authors and reviewers to maintain credibility, and for the integrity of reviewing as a whole, there has to be a free flow of open honesty.
If too many reviewers shy away from ever voicing criticism about books because the reviewers are just trying to “be nice,” it ultimately does a disservice to fellow readers as well as to authors. You can be tactful and gracious while being sincere. If you’re a reviewer who genuinely cares about authors and fellow readers, then respect them enough to be honest with them.