There has been some renewed debate in the blogosphere around writers writing negative reviews, and as with all debates and questions out there, I thought I’d offer a few points of my own following on from what Megan and Sam have raised.
From what I understand of the debate: some bloggers who are both writing their own fiction and reviewing other people’s fiction, are concerned that writing a ‘negative’ review of any of their peers will damage prospects for publication in the future, damage relations with other writers. I’ve seen it discussed before and the question is always posed about what the reviewer should be doing, as in whether to write negative reviews or not, but never the role of those being reviewed.
I sporadically write reviews for this blog but due to how slow and unfocussed I am as a reader, don’t do it as much as I’d like, but I basically review all the books I finish reading both for people’s interest and as a kind of record of all the things I’ve read and what I think about them.
And I place a premium on being honest about how I feel about what I read, both for my own integrity but also as a mark of respect to those who I am reviewing. I am not interested in back slapping and false praise in the interests of everyone feeling good about themselves. This is just like when exchanging critiques of unpublished work and I think critical reviewing is essential to our growth as writers.
You just can’t improve as a writer if you can’t take on constructive criticism of your work and not fall into a mess, at least in public. Alan Baxter touched on this a few weeks ago.
As far as I can see, if a writer gets a ‘negative’ review from a peer and is pissed off, or takes some sort of action to hinder that reviewer’s publishing chances, that is the fault of the writer who’s working is being reviewed, not the person being honest about what they think. If you put your work out into the public for people to read, you need to expect that people are going to be open about what they think.
A great example of this is Tom Cho who actually quoted the most critical part of my review of his book Look Who’s Morphing when he linked back to my review. It’s the complete opposite to what I’ve seen elsewhere where all you hear from a writer is what good things people have to say about them.
Now there may be an issue with how someone writes a negative review. If you just write “The tale of the Bunnies by Bogus Writer was an absolute pile of crap” and don’t at least elaborate on why Bogus’ tale about rabbits was a pile of crap then the writer is pretty justified in being pissed of, though going to such lengths to ruin that person’s career appears to me to be a bit psychotic.
But I think so long as you are honest, constructive and measured in how you construct your criticisms; I see no problem, or even why you would have to call it a ‘negative’ review. I actually lean the other way and feel strange if I don’t offer something at least a little critical because no piece of literature, no matter how much I enjoyed it, is perfect.
To be honest, I actually think the extent to which bloggers claim writing ‘negative’ reviews is going to be met with damage to their own careers is overstated, but even if it was so, it is a blight on the writer being reviewed if they can’t take critical comment about their work when they’ve put it out in public for people to read and inevitably comment on.