Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Good, the Bad, the Published

Thanks, Kelli, for your excellent question. With reviewing, I do come across more mediocre books than I'd like. Some are chosen for me, some are from new authors I haven't read before, and sometimes a favorite author does a less than stellar job. I try to keep several things in mind while I write the review.

My first responsibility is to the readers. While I love supporting authors, if I tell people a book is great and it isn't, it only damages my reputation as a reviewer. That hampers my effectiveness when I praise a great book. Why should anyone trust what I say if I treat good and bad books alike?

All of my editors want my honest opinion of the book. They also have responsibility to the people who read their magazine or website. Two of the publications I review for provide reviews for church librarians, who will most likely not read every book they purchase. I don't want to mislead people to pay for a book they won't enjoy. And two of my editors have even complimented me for giving an honest review of a poor book.

I have a personal bias against certain genres and styles. I don't like most westerns, for example. To be fair to authors, I try not to review books I'm pretty sure I won't like. When I do review one, I ponder what a person who liked this genre would think about the novel. And I mention who would most likely enjoy the book in who I recommend it for. Age is also a factor. If the main character's a grandmother, that might be part of the reason I don't like the book, since I'm 21. But if the protagonist's a grandmother and I still like the book, that will raise the book in my opinion. Same with a western.

However bad the book might be, I have to remember that it was published. So someone must have liked it. This doesn't apply to self-published or POD books, though if I like one of those I'll give it a great review, considering some of the stigma those authors have to face.

I consider the author's history. Some authors continue to refine their writing. Others fall into a formula rut, letting their name sell the books while they churn out mediocre manuscripts. Some authors are brilliant, but this particular book is a dud. In the latter case, I don't want people to read an author's worst book and never give them a second chance. So I mention that it isn't as good as previous titles.

No matter how awful a book is, there's usually something the author did right, and I'll mention that in the review. With the book I talked about in the previous entry, I admired the author's use of in-depth description, something my writing tends to lack. I'll be sure to point that out in my review.

For a few examples of how this method has worked for me in varying degrees of quality, try the following links:

Only Glory Awaits
The Priest
Garden of Dreams
Leah's Way


Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with your review of "Only Glory Awaits." I am an avid reader and will not read a book that does not hold my attention. This book definitely holds my attention. Yes, sometimes the prose is stilted and sometimes the characters fall flat, but overall it is a good read and an inspiring story that should be publicized.

It is definitely as well written as a lot of books by published authors who consistently receive good reviews.

BookCafe said...

Thanks, Katie, for your blog about reviewing books. I've just recently signed myself up for HarperCollins Canada's new "First Look" program (this has been available in the USA for some time, but the Canadian branch just adopted it .. yay!), and I've been worrying about how to write reviews. I really WANT to, but I've been scared that I won't do it right. Thanks for some great tips! :)

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