Micheal Stearns recently posted about reviews on Goodreads which spawned a discussion about book reviews written by writers, editors, and agents.
Is it damaging to a career to write negative reviews?
One of the comments made in the discussion really makes me sad.
Rita, the commenter, said, in part:
At the SCBWI summer conference an editor said that if “they” googled you and found you criticizing a book “they” had worked on, they wouldn’t take you on.
I don’t know if that’s an accurate report of what the editor said, but if this editor really doesn’t want me criticizing his books, I think he’s shortsighted.
What about the book you love, but it has some issues that need to be addressed? We just got done doing a tour for North! or Be Eaten and it got several rave reviews. But it also got some criticism.
I loved the book and I want people to buy it and discover this exciting new-ish author. But what if I gush about the book and don’t ever deal with the issue that made Bellezza give up on the book after 115 pages?
I posted today on my All About Children’s Book site about why I thought this book had a slow start. I’m not trying to injure the author or editor. I’m just discussing a book I liked but one I had some trouble with. In my review, I made clear that I loved the book and I wanted readers to stick with it, because it’s worth reading.
In discussing the weaknesses in the book, am I hurting the author or editor? Am I hurting my chances of getting published?
I can see refraining from trashing a book you hate. It would be better to ignore the book completely. I also try to edit out the sarcasm that often spills out onto the page when I’m writing my reviews. But if I can’t criticize a book at all, then I won’t be reviewing many books from here on out. I don’t often find perfect books. And if a book has issues, I think I need to address those.
I spoke with a publicist a while ago, telling her I didn’t want to review a book because I wouldn’t be able to give the book a great review. I liked parts of it, but it had some problems, I thought. The publicist asked me to review it anyway. She said she realized that every book was not a five-star book. And even the three-star books deserved some publicity.
Do you see that? If we no longer review the three-star books because we are afraid to say anything negative, we are withholding publicity from a book that other readers may really like and from an author who may be growing and worth following.
I hope the commenter on Michael’s site got it wrong. I hope that editor was talking about reviews that trashed books, not reviews that criticized books. Because balanced reviews sell books and gushing reviews don’t sell anything.
Or maybe the editor was just saying if he read that you didn’t like a book he edited, he’d know you and he wouldn’t work well together because you and he had different tastes. Maybe he wasn’t saying he wanted to punish people who criticized his book, but just that he wanted to work with people with a similar vision to his.
Does anyone know if the comment was accurate? Can anyone give me an exact quote or some context to the original statement?
What about you? How many of you are writing novels and hoping to be published one day? Are you afraid to criticize the books you review?
[edited at 6:30 p.m. to make clear that the comment that bothered me was made by a commenter on the Upstart Crow blog, not by Michael Stearns. Also read the comments on this post to see that another person at the conference did not interpret the editor's statement in the same way Rita interpreted it.]