Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On writing bad reviews

When I started reviewing books on the Internet, I never once thought that it might be a good idea to use a pseudonym. On one level, I no longer use a pseudonym because I feel it is like I am ashamed of what I am writing. On another level, I won’t use one because, in the past, I’ve had to defend that I WAS indeed the author of something written under a pseudonym and I just don’t want to go there anymore. However, as I have written book reviews for quite some time now, I am beginning to think that maybe a pseudonym would have been useful for when I have to write a bad review of a book.

Being an author myself, I know that reviewing books on a public forum places me in a position where an author unhappy with my review of his/her book would lash out at me via a bad review of one of my own books on Amazon.com or something. Yes, this kind of behavior is childish and unprofessional, but it can and probably does happen.

Also, as an author, I know how painful a bad review of my book can be. I work so hard on my books and take them through several edits, revisions and critiques until they are satisfactory. And my editors have worked their magic, as well, God bless ‘em. But a bad review of one of my books is inevitable – it goes with the territory – and I know it would be a little hard to swallow. Still, I respect that reviewer’s opinions. I won’t respond to bad reviews and I will acknowledge that you just can’t please everybody. Really, you can’t.

I hope that a certain author will think the same thing when my review of his book is posted online. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the book. At all. I TRIED to like it and I even actually pointed out the novel’s one strength. But I just didn’t like it, and so my review of this book is not a very positive one. In fact, I’m giving it one star when I turn the review in. But I hope that people won’t see that one star and think they should avoid reading that book. Reading my review will clue them in as to why I didn’t like it. I tried to be restrained with my opinions. I tried to still be nice even though I called his book “filth” and “brain poison.” I still felt terrible writing a bad review. I don’t like writing bad reviews. Believe me, if I had the choice of passing on reviewing the book in order to avoid writing a bad review, I would have done so. But I HAD to read this book because it is a print copy, and I HAD to review it.

If only I had that pseudonym handy….

This reminded me of the scene in that movie Ratatouille, where the food critic struggles to write his review after he learns the chef who prepared his food was a rat. What can we do? What do we say? How can we say it without hurting anyone or anything?

I really struggled with this. How could I write this review without making it seem like this book isn’t worth anybody’s time? And how could I say the things in my review that I wanted to say? This was a Hugo Award winning author, after all! Who was I to say such things about his latest creation?

But, I have to remember that it is my job to review the novel. To only share my opinions about it – and it is just ONE person’s opinion! I am not trying to say the author sucks. I am not trying to put him down or put down his other work. I actually haven’t read his other books and they may be good stuff! What I am trying to do is share my opinions of this particular novel. Not this particular author. Just THIS particular novel.

I don’t like writing a bad review. I’ve done it before and I felt terrible after the review was posted. (And that review was actually the watered-down version of what I REALLY wrote.) But I took on this role as book reviewer and, in some cases, there are times I cannot pass on reviewing a book which I find distasteful or unappealing. These are the times I must swallow that lump in my throat and share what I think about that book. Not that author, just that book.

Perhaps in future I would do well to review ebooks instead of print. At least in that case, should I want to pass on reviewing a book, I will be allowed to do so.

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