Tuesday, February 21, 2006

On Hating Friends' Books

A recent post on The Master's Artist last week got me thinking. Dee Stewart talked about a few different angles on review writing. One issue involves charging authors/publishers for a review. As a reviewer who's received only a book, advance reader copy, or a galley for most of my reviews, the thought of pay sounds wonderful. But how can you give an honest review of a poorly-written book if you're being paid by the author? The answer is, aside from a rare author who wouldn't mind, you can't. Essentially you're writing an ad for the book. If you had the option of refusing books you couldn't recommend, I wouldn't have a problem with this. It ties into the whole marketing vs. publicity debate. Since, according to a publicist, with marketing authors/publishers have to pay for placement, and with publicity they don't, you simply move from publicity to marketing.

The other issue involved reviewing friends' books. As a writer, especially in the smaller arena of the CBA, you're likely to meet the authors you review, whether it be through email, online forums, or a writer's conference. If I get a book published, I will belong to the ranks of CBA novelists whose books I praise or bash. If I hate a book and my review reflects it - what if that's the author who could have recommended me to her agent? Or what if an editor who also hates the book reads my review - will he remember my name for the future?

Getting even more personal - what about the authors I know now? I've reviewed books by Brenda Coulter, Chris Well, Deeanne Gist. Fortunately, I've loved them. But I also have T. L. Hines' debut novel Waking Lazarus sitting unread beside me. I've heard lots of good things about it. I've read the first chapter online. I've participated in his unorthodox marketing campaign. His publicist asked my editor to put it at the top of her Bethany House review stack.

What if I hate the book? Not just dislike certain aspects, where I can conch disapproving statements in praise for what the author did right, but outright throw-across-the-room never-read-that-author-again hate it? What do I do?

I know reviewing is subjective. Even the current discussion on The Writers View points to this - what some view as lousy, others love. People at Bethany House, a publisher I respect (despite their patronage of Gilbert Morris) loved Waking Lazarus enough to invest thousands of dollars into it. I'll probably enjoy the novel. I may even love it enough to stick it on my "favorites" shelf, along with titles like Forgiving Solomon Long and A Bride Most Begrudging (A Family Forever would be there too, Brenda, but now my mom's reading it). But if I hate it?

7 comments:

Camy Tang said...

That's tough. I struggle with this, too. But I try not to think about the "what ifs" in terms of how my review impacts any writing opportunities. I know that God's in charge of that. I just try to maintain both kindness and integrity in anything I write.

It's a fine line, but I also trust God to give me guidance and discernment about that. I think each writer needs to determine the boundaries of that line for herself/himself, because it'll be different for everyone.

Camy

Ruth said...

Excellent post. Got me to thinking about my thought processes when I write reviews. I really just try to be honest about how I feel about it, but I also try to keep the market and the intended audience in mind. Generally speaking I could HATE a book but there's a niche out there that would love it and that it could really minister to...and I don't want to lose sight of that potential (I am of course speaking of Christian fiction here). For example, I really can't stand reading Lori Wick books, but I know there is an audience for them that really enjoys and is ministered to by her work. I can disagree about the merits of that choice, or wish they were reading something that is in my opinion "deeper," but that doesn't invalidate their opinion either. Generally I think (hope) that I try to be positive...it's a pretty sorry novel if it's so bad that I can't even find the redeeming factor of identifying the potential audience! I also think (again, HOPE) that when I really love a book, and am really passionate about it that that passion shows in my review thoughts on my blog...as opposed to something that I feel only so-so about. I hope this comment makes some sort of sense when you read it...it's 7:12 am and I am operating on very little sleep. :)
I did have a question about your post, though -- when you talk about "your editor," is this your editor at the magazine job you mentioned 2 posts ago? Just curious.

Katie Hart said...

Thanks, Camy and Ruth, for your comments.

Ruth, the editor I referred to is the lady who runs Christian Book Previews, not my new editor. I've been working with her for a couple years.

And while I enjoyed the first several Lori Wick books I read, after a while I began to grow tired of her similar characters.

Dee said...

Most newspapers will not allow you to review a friend or family member's work. But I find more and more recently that that policy doesn't always apply.

I was an editor, reviewer and journalist before I tried to take my stab at novel writing. So some authors were aware of my mini-rep.:)

I don't review good friends work often. I do provide commentary or try to find opportunities to plug their work when I'm writing an article for a christian magazine.

Writing associates and new friends I have no problem reviewing their work without taking the review personally. And from my experience so far most authors have appreciated the review.

TL Hines said...

It's okay if you hate WAKING LAZARUS, Katey.

Just as long as you tell everyone you like it.

I'm just kidding, of course. But if you'll allow me to step into the confessional, this really is one of the nail-biting parts of publishing a first novel. After all, I WANT everyone to like the book--I want you, and everyone else, to read it, get something out of it, feel like it was worth the purchase. Even if 10 people like it for every person who dislikes it (and I'm not saying that will necessarily be the case), I still find myself worrying about that one non-liker. Why didn't she like it? What could I have done better? What can I do to make it better now?

Excuse me. I need to go bite my nails some more.

William G. said...

Katie, excellent post. You just summed up why I couldn't ever be a reviewer. Heck, I have a hard enough time just finishing books I like, much less reviewing something I didn't like.

Gina Holmes said...

I struggle with this too. My policy of not reviewing books that I hate helps but yikes, if I was being paid to review it and I hated it...Well I guess I'd be in trouble.

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