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Thanks to y'all for the very thoughtful response to yesterday's post! It got mentioned on the Publisher's Weekly blog, so I am currently feeling famous.

However, I am now going to witter at you again, because some of the response in my comments and elsewhere made me think I was unclear. Or possibly, I just wrote A LOT and people began to skim. (This is understandable. I often write excessively long things. My editor weeps with you!)

So, a couple of things I wish to clarify.

1. Many other people write negative reviews, and I think that is a good thing! I cannot, because I feel guilty if I feel I've gone overboard with the mockery (which I always do) and I also feel guilty writing bad reviews considering the fact that I am a total wuss about reviews, and not being able to take my own medicine makes me feel as if I should not be dishing it out.

This is a personal decision and in no way The Only Possible Guide for Doing Things Correctly.

2. When I say I only write positive reviews, I mean I will only write a review if I love/very much like a book. (And sometimes not even then, because I am lazy, and never have enough time.) I do not mean I would ever lie and say a book is fantastic when I think it isn't. I would never do that. Books are much too important to lie about! If I say I like a book, I liked it. (Others may think a book I liked is awful: this happens. Many people think Ulysses by James Joyce is a great book. I disagree! Disagreements happen: this is not news to anyone.)

3. I review books written by my friends, by my critique partners, by friendly acquaintances, by people I don't care for all that much, and by total strangers. If I read a book and I liked it and I have the time and the urge to review it, I do so. I have both had the thought 'Oh, I don't like this person, I don't want to recommend their book' and the thought 'Oh, I do like this person and people know I do, maybe people won't believe I love the book,' and in each case I have recommended the books anyway, and I feel it was the right thing (for me personally) to do.

I am not saying I am magically the only person in the world born without prejudices. I have prejudices: we all do. Anyone can end up prejudiced by a book because they're having a bad day, or by its subject matter, or because of its cover, or for a hundred thousand reasons. But I try to be objective, which is as much as anyone can do.

I get that people are more wary of recommendations of books by friends of the authors, and I get why, which is why my book recommendations tend to have long lists of what I thought was awesome and why I thought so, instead of just being 'It's awesome! Buy it - I COMMAND you!' But I think feeling I can't write reviews of books by people I know is very close to feeling I can't write any reviews at all because I'm a published writer. (Rachel Manija Brown has a post about why she writes negative as well as positive reviews here, and raises other points of complication about being a published writer who writes reviews.)

Like anyone in any field, you tend to get to know others in your field. With writers you don't admittedly have a Communal Writing Office (I kind of wish we did), but you meet them at conventions and appearances and get to know them through their blogs and your blog and email and twitter. So - what if you write a review for an author's book and then you get to know them? Should you take it down? Maybe it's okay and you can leave it up, but you can't review any of their other books now you like them! Wait, that seems harsh... How close are you to them, anyway... Maybe if you avoid them for a couple years. Maybe if you wear a really big hat at the next convention...

That way madness lies. So to an extent you have to go: I trust my own judgement enough when it comes to books to be able to write recommendations regardless of whether the author is My Nemesis or my Great-Aunt Jemima. And the reader either goes, 'I trust SRB's judgement also!' or 'SRB is away with the fairies, I will never read a book she recommends.' Either way. Their personal decision, and my personal decision.

And Now To Segue To Something Slightly Different

So you may have noticed that I have said 'personally' 'for me' 'personal decision' and variants along those lines many many times in this blog post!

Which brings me to another point. When you're writing blog posts about being a writer, the longer you are a writer, the more what you have to tell people about your career is more personal experience than advice.

For example, the vast majority of those who are or want to be published have to write a query letter, so my blog post about writing a query letter contains some advice as well as plenty of personal experience. I definitely suggest there is a wrong way to do it. (My way involved setting fires, so I should know...)

Tobias Buckell has written a most excellent blog post about one's career becoming more and more individual here, so I do not need to repeat his points. Of course, I am in no way mid-career: I am a baby author with one contract, and who knows if I will ever get another! So I'm still very much at the start, but being a little way in does change things enough so that most of my rules are personal rules. They can't be taken, and aren't meant, as advice, because stuff that works for me will not work for everyone! Every writer I know does things slightly differently. (One starts books on chapter two. One makes collages for her books. One responds to criticism really calmly, thoughtfully and well. None of these ways make any sense to me. But they work for them!)

If the personal stuff helps you, I'm really glad! But when I tell you how I do things and why, I do it because I like chattering on the internet and I hope people find it interesting, not because my way is the one true way of righteousness.

So in summary - this blog is about my personal experience, other people's are different, and equally valid! And as an apology for writing two super-long blog posts about online book reviews in two days if you can think of general advice you would like and you think I might possibly be able to assist you with, or personal stuff you might find interesting/helpful, mention it in the comments! And I will do my best.


( 73 comments — Leave a comment )
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Aug. 31st, 2010 11:19 pm (UTC)
Would you happen to have a link to that query-letter post of yours? I'd enjoy reading it, especially if there are fires!

I don't want to ask too many questions about the business, as I'm sure once you get started it's relatively easy to find things/it's homework every aspiring something ought to do, but I'm curious about where you started as far as the publishing business, and also if there was anything you wish you had known prior to starting?

An unrelated question, but do you have any guilty ships in books? Characters you think you shouldn't want together for x/y/z reason, but can't help but root for? I'm also curious if there are any relationship ews (romantic, familial & friendship apply!) that turn you off in books/tv/etc? I don't know if that's what you were asking for, but there it is!
Sep. 1st, 2010 12:30 am (UTC)
Can't find, alas! May be down since the Great Journal Deletion By Cruel Hackers.

Guilty ships in books? *thinks* Not really - I tend to unabashedly ship who I ship, and want it despite any deep unlikelihood! I was reading Kelley Armstrong's Waking the Witch this week, though, in which characters Adam and Savannah are separated by eleven years, and he's known her in a friend-of-the-family capacity since she was twelve (she's now twenty-one) and I did feel a LITTLE ashamed to be charmed by it since significant age difference on that level is usually a turnoff for me.

Dudes being patronising to their partners is a surefire turnoff, though. Do not want!

I'm not sure I know what you mean vis a vis 'where I started'? I mean, I started knowing nothing, as everyone does, but writing books and wanting them to be published and slowly gathering information from friends, family, then the internet, then through an internship and friends in publishing. (This one wonderful former editor at Tor, Anna Genoese, taught me all I have ever been able to learn about the maths of publishing, and some of the first things I learned about editing.) But I may be misunderstanding your question!

I wish I had known that it is a good idea to have something firmly in mind for your cover, so you can ask for that. Which is not to indicate dissatisfaction with my covers! But at the time they asked me if I had thoughts, I (not a visual person at all) just gaped like a fish. And people I know who have had an idea that was then turned into awesome I feel they seized the opportunity better than me and my fishmouth!
(no subject) - mybluesunset - Sep. 1st, 2010 04:14 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 31st, 2010 11:31 pm (UTC)
This reminds me of that old debated post from the Huffington Post about female bloggers here - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-mccarry/faking-nice-in-the-blogos_b_551217.html.

In which she says that it's an inherent weakness of women to be apologetic in bad reviews, or not to review anything badly (?!?!), and in which I am ashamed of her.

I know a lot of bloggers who want to foster a positive atmosphere, so they only review books they like. Where women come in, I'm not so sure. When I review books, I'm super critical and not always nice, but I don't think that's ideal. I'd love if everything I read was incredible; sometimes, though, reviewing is my way to vent. But a lot of blogger are nicer than me, obviously.

Anyway, all that meandering is just to say to each her own, whether or not you're a published writer. And don't click that link if you are avoiding high blood pressure.
Sep. 1st, 2010 12:33 am (UTC)
If reviewing works for venting, awesome! My motto is if you wind up ultimately feeling better, you're probably doing something right.

I do think women are more socially conditioned to be nice (and more socially conditioned not to praise themselves too much, and to be more critical of other women than of men, and all manner of terrible things we absorb without being aware of, thanks society) but I will take your word on not clicking. ;)
(no subject) - mybluesunset - Sep. 1st, 2010 04:21 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Sep. 1st, 2010 11:21 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 31st, 2010 11:32 pm (UTC)
That Sarah, you know, awesome girl, you know.
Aug. 31st, 2010 11:35 pm (UTC)
this is only marginally related to your last post, because I was reading about how you cannot stop yourself from reading reviews even as I was posting about how the first half of Demon's Lexicon was doing very little for me, so here I am to say that I started Demon's Covenant this morning and that somewhere in the past oh seven hours I think I managed to put my dishes in the dishwasher, but I've spent the rest of the time being hopelessly absorbed in the book and flailing too madly to actually wash my dishes the rest of the time. IT WAS BRILLIANT, THAT'S ALL I'M SAYING. :-)
Sep. 1st, 2010 12:38 am (UTC)
Hey Jadey :) Off to answer the comment...
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Aug. 31st, 2010 11:47 pm (UTC)
All I know is that when a friend on my flist said she was looking for recs for good YA books for her kid, who was getting to the age to appreciate them, I was able to point her to your tags to find your review entries. I said you always go into fabulous detail about why you love a book, which made your reviews very useful. She didn't ask for "crit" or what not to buy, she wanted a list of recommendations. ::shrug:: So, there you go! Instantly useful journal entries, in addition to how much fun they are to read!
Sep. 1st, 2010 12:34 am (UTC)
*beams* Thank you very much for telling me! This whole discussion has led me to start calling them recommendations instead of reviews, though, since even though I do try to go in-depth and to point out flaws if they were significant stumbling blocks for me, they are overall recommendations, and if people want a mixed assortment I should not entrap them. While if people want recommendations, I am here for them. ;) And I hope the kid found many excellent books.
Aug. 31st, 2010 11:49 pm (UTC)
Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, we cannot be friends! ULYSSES is genius!

Now, if you had said ULYSSES was unreadable, I would have to agree with you. ;)

(I will put away the Joyce fangirl now, I promise.)

Aug. 31st, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC)
There is a difference between "this is good" and "I like it", which I keep in mind when approaching most of the modernist novelists.

(no subject) - thegreatmissjj - Aug. 31st, 2010 11:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Sep. 1st, 2010 12:12 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thegreatmissjj - Sep. 1st, 2010 12:16 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 31st, 2010 11:52 pm (UTC)

Regarding whether or not to leave negative reviews, I tend not to. I do think there is a difference between 'reviews' and 'critiques'. It may just be an imagined difference, but to me a critique is more 'official' and by it's very nature requires an in-depth assessment of said piece of writing. I would feel silly offering simply glowing accounts of how much I enjoyed a piece if I were critiquing it. I'd feel like I needed to do a proper analysis of character, pov, plot and all sorts of minor yet important aspects of the writing. In a review, I feel more relaxed about my assessment. I can write what I enjoyed and why, point out inconsistencies, make suggestions and I do it all while keeping it positive and never negative. I always begin with what I liked and end with complimentary comments.

Mostly, I don't write negative reviews. I don't like to get them and therefore, I don't give them. And I would hate to face people at a convention after having written them poor reviews. I pretty much don't comment on stuff I hate. In fact, I seldom even read things I hate. I pretty much know going in what it is and can tell in the first chapter or two if I'm into it. I have no problem putting it aside and moving on.

Sep. 1st, 2010 12:12 am (UTC)
You are a wiser reader than I! I have been known to read whole series I don't like, hypnotised like a snake by a snake charmer!

Edited at 2010-09-01 12:13 am (UTC)
Sep. 1st, 2010 12:08 am (UTC)
I am sympathetic to the individuality of one's writing career, believe me!

I sold my first kid's book in...uh...2006. So I'm not anywhere near mid-career either, but I already occasionally find myself saying things like "you probably shouldn't try to do it like I did it, nobody does it like that, it was stupid weird luck and circumstance and seriously, the odds of that working for you are nonexistent."

And it's hard to explain that, or you sound like you're being conceited--"Well, it wouldn't work for YOU!"--but Christ, I got my agent because a friend of mine who happens to be a bestselling author told an amusing anecdote about me at a romance writer's conference where she was sitting next to my future agent. This is NOT how you do it.

I have a dear friend who is a writer, also at the start of career, has a few publishing credits, well known in the geekosphere. She is often convinced that she is doing it wrong. She asks me how I do things, and I tell her, and then she worries because she's doing it differently, and then I worry because maybe I'm doing it wrong. (For example, she asked me how I pitched stuff to my agent. I looked at her and said "I say "I have this thing I've been fooling with. Can you find somebody to pay me to finish it?" and then send her half a book." She grimly made another martini, because apparently she sends a list of quick book pitches, and then we both drank heavily because her way wasn't working and I was suddenly paranoid that this was absolutely the wrong way and I was writing a lot of unnecessary half books.)

You do it like you do it. There's probably a lot of wrong ways, but I'm not sure if there's any actually RIGHT ways that are righter than anything else.
Sep. 1st, 2010 12:19 am (UTC)
'Strue! And I hear both you and your friend's woes! My ways have been weird ways too. I only queried one agent! That was a crazed thing to do, but I don't want to say 'don't do that' and come off as 'Oh well, it only worked because I am SO FABULOUS.'

The circle of worry is a horrendifying one. I worry all the time because people do things differently - and if their books are more successful maybe I should - oh but that doesn't work - okay, reboot!
Sep. 1st, 2010 12:50 am (UTC)
I have this issue right now. I wrote, like, 95% of a novel. And then realised the way I'd set it up didn't work and I needed to redo it from scratch. The thing is, I really love it! And want to put the effort in to get it right! But. It is so demotivating! Have you ever done anything like that, or on a smaller scale? How do you persuade yourself to sit down and sort out those edits?

Also, do you often get several stories floating around in your head at once? How d'you pick which ones to feed and which to feed to the dustbin?
Sep. 1st, 2010 01:01 am (UTC)
A: Yes. I wrote Demon's Covenant three times entirely from scratch. It was horribly intimidating to have to look at the blank page again. However, I did have the motivating factor of 'My publisher will sue me and/or not pay me if I don't give them this, and if it was terrible I would've done an awful thing to all my readers and hate myself. (Also if it was terrible, my editor would have done something. She is a very wise lady.)

However 'They will sue me or cut me or something' though good motivation, is not always obtainable! Really you just have to have faith in the work and force yourself, no matter how unpleasant it is at first. Making a plan for exactly how you want to do it helps you both cut up the task into manageable chunks, though, and avoid going wrong again. And good luck!

I get several stories floating in my head all the time. I let them float, and the ones that wind out to the end in my head I consider from many angles, and sometimes test on hapless people, and wind up working by instinct half the time. I don't start unless I know where I want to end, but I have an awesome writer friend who thinks that's nuts of me, so as ever your mileage may vary.
Sep. 1st, 2010 01:28 am (UTC)
Well, personally, I'm glad you write recommendations rather than reviews of books, good and bad. I'm quite capable of finding books I don't enjoy on my own; I like to have someone whose taste seems similar to my own pointing out what I might like. Ever since you covered Robin Hobb's series, I've used your suggestions to populate my library/amazon lists!
Sep. 1st, 2010 03:24 am (UTC)
I do tend to approach reviews of authors' friends books with a slightly larger grain of salt, but only because I think it's a lot easier to love a book (or a short story, or anything) by somebody you like a lot, because you recognise them in it. You get to know their kinds of characters and turns of phrases, and it prompts a rush of affection on top of regular readerly appreciation. Doesn't mean the readerly love is invalidated. You should always review books you love :)
Sep. 1st, 2010 03:53 am (UTC)
True on the easier, but I'm not sure about a lot easier: again I do consciously try to divorce myself from the author while reading! I remember one book written by an author I'm friendly with, in which practically the whole book was written like an in-joke - the way you talk to your friends and never to acquaintances because they'd think you were cuckoo - and I got the in-jokes. But I was hugely dismayed by how incomprehensible the book would've been if I hadn't: I could not enjoy the book, despite understanding it. I was like 'this is not well-put-together, sadness!'

And one gets to know every writer's types of characters and turns of phrase after a while, if you like them enough to stick with them. Which is actually an interesting thing to realise - that being familiar does enhance the experience immediately, rather than having to wait for a few books for that enhancement. (Of course - you have to like what they're doing in the first place. Sometimes there is the sad realisation that you may never like any of a friend's books!)

So another case of one's mileage may vary, as ever, and at least I have Stated My Policies with a perhaps insufferable clearness. ;) (Also I was glad you liked Warrior's Apprentice!)
(no subject) - blindmouse - Sep. 1st, 2010 04:05 am (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 1st, 2010 04:09 am (UTC)
I just wanted to say that although changing POV between LEXICON and COVENANT certainly threw me, I had no trouble with it and (maybe I am not an "attentive" reader) I did not feel your style change. For me you were writing from first Nick's mind and worldview and then Mae's which accounted for the difference... I doubt this is making much sense. And had I not had Nick's POV first there is no way I would have enjoyed COVENANT as I did knowing the characters already and how Nick relates to them and thinks about them. When I first heard Mae was to be the narrator I was shocked and "How can that work?" And then I heard Sin was to the narrator for book three (and after accepting I was not going to get Alan as a narrator and weeping bitterly)I said "Just trust Sarah, self. See what happened last time?"
Sep. 1st, 2010 04:34 am (UTC)
I wanted Alan as a narrator too! And then I realized that that might create some serious issues for building suspense and making surprising twists because Alan tends to be the one who Knows Everything.
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Sep. 1st, 2010 07:03 am (UTC)
Personally I love your book recommendations (well except for one author but I wont get into that), I always look forward to them. I think this is mostly because I love your writing style, and I at least think that what you recomend book wise compliments with your style of books.
I hope all the negative commenters in your last book post dont turn you off from reviewing, because your recommendations have introduced so many great authors, like Sarah Cross, Saundra Mitchel and Karen Healey.
Because it can be so hard to find good books, at least I think so, because one there is now so much to choose from and generally the book blurbs and covers (to me at least) all seem to look the same and read the same especially in YA.
One example Hush Hush and Fallen, reading the blurbs they sound exactly the same (troubled girl, mysterious boy who isnt nice to her and oh wait Love interest) but and not to diss Fallen here, Hush hush was just so completely different to Fallen and to me worked the plot line ten times better. Fallen however had a much prettier cover :)
Sep. 1st, 2010 10:03 am (UTC)
Im sorry I just realised how that first line would come across, what I meant was that there was one book series your recommended that I was very meh over and didnt agree with your review on. But hey theres always one person who doesn't like a book.
I hope youd didnt read that as an attack, Im very big on don't write on the internet what you wouldn't say in real life.
(no subject) - sarahtales - Sep. 1st, 2010 11:15 am (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 1st, 2010 08:13 am (UTC)
Just something that I didn't see posted in the comments to your previous post or this one (but I was skimming, could be wrong) but a negative review doesn't always mean a negative reaction. I've read reviews of books, movies, music that have said things along the lines of 'I didn't like *this*' or '*this* detracted from the plot' or plain old 'it was rubbish because *this*' and I've thought 'hold on a sec. That's all stuff I like. I'll give it a go!'

I've also read reviews that have made the subject sound so terribly bad that I simply HAD to read it to find out for myself.

And with people who review often, and sometimes compare one book to another 'if you like Book X, you'll LOVE this!', I often find that can be more negative - what if I really hated Book X? If that's the opening line to a review, I'll probably scroll rather than even reading the rest, because I assume that I'll hate this book too.

I think what I mean is that negative reviews can be just as helpful to me in encouraging me to read a book as positive ones (not that you should start writing them though XD)
Sep. 1st, 2010 08:51 am (UTC)
It's gotten to the point where scanning a bookshelf, I'm starting to see people rather than books. Not all of them are friends -- some I only know online -- but even with the ones I don't know at all, even with the dead ones, I'm very aware that the names on the cover refer to actual people, and that's really influenced my behavior. For my own part, I feel awkward criticizing books publicly because I never know when I will encounter the person behind the name, so if I stopped making public recommendations for them because I might be biased, I'd pretty much be left not talking about any books other than my own. And that's boring, so.
Sep. 1st, 2010 11:20 am (UTC)
I feel people would hatchet me on Day 46 of Me and My Lovely Books, The Step By Step Guide To Me! And I would deserve it. ;)

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