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Saturday, 27 March 2010

Discussion: Let's talk about reviewing

I love Saturday discussions.

So reviewing then, this is why we are all here.
What then is the most important thing in reviewing?
Honesty, or at least it is for me. There is nothing worse than reading a review which is just a lot of politeness and not a lot of truth.

Opinions are valid. You can agree or disagree. It doesn't matter. What matters is having something balanced and fair to say. I hear from other bloggers, publishers and authors that what is important is the quality of the review.

Beyond honesty, people often mention this thing called a "Reviewer's Voice". I have read on various blogs that it can take years to develop one of these. I guess that can be true if you can't quite find what you feel about a book. Personally, I review from the heart. (Corny much?! but absolutely true) Why? That is the type of person that I am. I am a very passionate, happy-go-lucky and enthusiastic person and thus this is what you get from my reviews or at least what I intend you to get. (Does this sound like a CV??!) I do not try to be anyone other than myself when I review thus I think I have my voice. I'm actually quite fond of it.

When I think back to the reviews I've written, there are two which really epitimise my "voice". Firstly, the review I wrote of When I Was Joe by Keren David. I literally tried to type out my soul with that one and I am still proud of what I wrote. The second, is my review of Fang or rather the whole post that I did with reasons to love and hate Maximum Ride. That is still my voice and my passion but used in a very different way to create humour and also to laugh at myself for feeling so strongly about something of which the quality is questionable. I doubt anyone else remembers it to be honest but I do because it was a joy to write.

But there is another review which follows me now wherever I go. It is a review that had honesty and passion for an entirely different reason. I am no longer always thought of as The Bookette. I am the girl who wrote THAT review of Swoon. How do I know this? Well, it was mentioned several times at the online conference and not with derision but with admiration because I had taken that review as far as I could to the truth of the book and braved talking about the extreme level of its sexual content. Now my opinion is not shared by everyone and this is what I love about book blogging because we are all free to have opinions. I know some people worry about receiving mean comments from honest reviews but in my experience you gain nothing but respect by sharing your true opinion. Yes, not everyone will agree but that makes an interesting discussion.

So what is important to you when it comes to writing or reading reviews?
Have you identified your voice? What type of voice is it? Funny, sarcastic, professional?
Do you have one review that really captures your voice? If so, link it using the widget below and I will stop by them all and have a read.

This is where you have to be confident about sharing and not think by linking you are bragging. You are not. You are participating in a discussion about reviewing and voice.
So let's see those links and add your thoughts on reviewing in the comments lovely people.


Rebecca Herman said...

When it comes to reading reviews - I like to know what the book is about, and what the reviewer liked or didn't like about it. I like the plot description so I know if the book would interest me, since I am picky about what genres I read. I like to read both positive and negative reviews. There was once even a negative review that got me to read a book I loved because everything that bugged the reviewer was stuff I love in a book! So that's why I want to know the why, just saying Oh this book is awesome or I hated this book doesn't help much!

Lauren said...

I really like the way you've described your 'voice' as a reviewer. I think that enthusiasm and passion for books are two of the most important qualities in a blogger, and they're definitely qualities which have me coming back to your blog to read what you have to say about books time after time. I actually think of your reviews as really quite personal most of the time, too.

Re: my own reviewing voice, that's a toughie because I'm a bit of a split personality. Sometimes I'm snarky and light-hearted (for retro reviews), but most of the time I try to write reviews that are thoughtful and heartfelt. Maybe I have two voices.

There's no one type of reviewing voice that I think is 'best' though. As long as the person has enthusiasm and passion for what they're doing, I'm just as likely to enjoy a light-hearted review that has me laughing out loud as an objective and detailed critique. The main thing for me is that the person has *something* to say.

Becky said...

Rebecca - I agree I enjoy readingnegative reviews as much as positive and I have definitely been encouraged by some of the things some readers don't like to give a book a go. What is one person's pet hate is another person's cup of tea.

Lauren - I think that is true my reviews are rather personal. I think that is inevitable when it is your own reading experience but maybe some people write with a more general reading experience in mind. Interesting.
I love both your voices and that is a good point. Sometimes different voices or tones are appropriate for different types of reviews or blog posts.
Love your final paragraph - this is how I feel too. It is opinion that counts more perhaps than the format it takes. Great points.

The Book Bug said...

Love this post. Since people keep telling me that my reviews are hialrious, I guess I am one of those funny reviewers. When I read my reviews I sometimes think wow, I can;t beleive I wrote that. Either I am really self obsorbed or I put all of ym soul into blogging too.

Becky said...

Chloe, I definitely think your reviewer's voice is a humorous one. I love that about it. Every time I visit the Book Bug I know I will come away smiling. Link one of your favourite reviews!

Mel (He Followed Me Home) said...

Great questions! I think I too write from the heart. I am no pro reviewer by any means but rather talk about why I like/dislike the book. I have to wonder sometimes for books that I review that are just OK, am I being too nice finding things I like as some commenters say, "great review, thanks!" OR "I'm going to check this out" - or maybe *gasp* they commented without reading?!

I don't think I really HAVE a voice yet :( One day! It would be a boring world if we all thought the same thing, so it's nice reading various points of view.

Becky said...

Mel, that's an interesting point about commenting. I think when we over burden ourselves by reading too many blogs we feel that a generic comment is better than nothing. I wonder how many people just leave a comment without reading. I personally think that is a waste of the commentator's time. A very interesting point.

Shweta said...

I haven't developed a reviewer voice yet (have I ?), I am not sure how much my reviews may change with time , but right now I review using the exact thoughts I feel about the book after reading them.

If I have liked it I will praise it like it's the best thing on the face of the earth. Because if it made me happy I think it deserves a chance to provide that happiness to some other readers as well. But if I have hated certain things in a book I will not hold back. I am sure no one will review a book they absolutely hated but if I found a flaw I will bring it out. It's my blog , my views .

As far as snarky comments go , I think we can handle them like mature adults. People have opinions and they are bound to differ. I wouldn't dream of recommending a book I had trouble getting through.I would try to defend a book I liked , if a fellow blogger trashed it but there is a way of doing it without getting personal and hurting sentiments. We need to respect a reader's opinion even if they aren't same as ours.

Honest reviews (even if they are caustic at times ) and thoughtful comments make reviewing fun and helpful.

Becky said...

Shweta, I always think of your reviews as very thorough and deep. I agree that time and practice can help a voice develop. LOL I do review books I actually detest because I always feel like I have to review now in order to be ready to read something new. I'm a little crazy like that.

Jill of The O.W.L. said...

I'm still working on the voice. Sometimes I write a review and then delete it all because I realize it's to formal and stilted. It's not at all how I would book talk it with my students. So that's what I try to do, review it like I'm talking to my students. I'm getting better!

As for what I like in reviews. I honestly like short reviews where is perfectly clear what they thought of a book. I can't read really really long reviews - I have book review ADD I think ;) As for the book summary, I don't read it unless I don't know the book at all. If I generally know what the book is about I skip it and go right to the review.

I told Juju's reviews because she alwasy gives the "kiddo" rating, so I know if it's one I could recommend to my students.

Becky said...

Jill - that is a really good point. It is so helpful when bloggers indicate what age group the book is appropriate for. I have never thought about writing a review as if I was recommending the book to a student. I try to think of my blog as a little separate from being a children's librarian because otherwise all I would do would be work. I don't mind long or short reviews. I think essay length can be a bit much unless there is something really *out there* to say.

Sasha said...

Really cool discussion. I enjoyed reading your aguement/opinion etc. I hadn't read your review of Swoon but I did just now and I actually thought it was very good. I think your reviews are great because you can really sense your feelings towards the book! :) I decided to linky my review of Breathing Underwater because I just loved that book! I think I have a acceptable reviewing skill but I definitely wouldn't say I was a really good reviewer. Anyways, thanks for the post :D x

Dwayne said...

This an awesome topic, Becky. It's one of those things I considered when I took up blogging. Personally, I think the most important rule I follow when blogging is getting every opinion, thought and considerations out of my system. If I don't say everything that I think I needed to get out in a review, I don't think I've done the review or the book for that matter, justice. It also ties up with yours, especially when you mentioned reviewing 'from the heart' (Okay, it IS corny, but who cares =p ). By really gushing everything out, I create a review that is as honest as I could possibly be. Not to mention I get really bugged if I don't.

As for my voice, I haven't considered that at all. Since I just really blurt my reviews out, often they could end up gushy - like my review of Coffee House Angel and Hush, Hush - which basically turns me into a squealing thirteen year old. But sometimes, in reflection of the book, I turn serious. Like my review of Stolen - I loved the book no less than the previous two, but the feeling it enticed from me was so different from them that the review sounded...just different. I haven't really thought much about how I sound reviewing - in retrospect I see inconsistencies >.<

But then again I'm not willing to bend my rule - what's the point of reviewing if it's not honest and *cough* not 'from the heart'?

Just some of my thoughts.

Rebecca Herman said...

Becky - yep, in the case of the negative review which led to me reading the book and really enjoying it, the reviewer complained the romance was too sweet/cute/innocent, also the bad guys were too "evil." I love sweet romances like that so I bought the book.

I Want To Read That said...

I think I always tend to focus on the postives in a review and only mention the negatives if they affect my enjoyment in any way. I'm not sure if I have a 'voice' - I know I often read other peoples reviews and wish mine where half as good most of the time but without wanting to sound corny either - I just write what I feel about the book and hopefully people will then get a sense of what it's like and decide for themselves whether they would like it or not.

I think the main reason my reviews are mostly positive is that I don't tend finish a book if I'm not enjoying it and I don't want to review a book I haven't finished as I don't think that would be fair. But I worry that makes my blog slightly unbalanced as a result! I applaud those who can force themselves to read a book they are not enjoying to the bitter end and then write a review that still conveys all the things others may like about it even if they didn't. But I'm not sure I could do that.

As for reading reviews - I like to get a sense of the book from the review to see if it's something I'll like. I also like it when the blogger adds their personality to the review - whether through humour or snarkyness or just really beautiful writing! But I think you need to do what comes naturally - I don't think you can 'force' it - does that make sense?

Great post Becky:)

Kris (Voracious YAppetite) said...

Becky, you've really been pulling out all the stops this week! I've enjoyed what you've posted about; they are all relevant and important discussions. This topic in particular is important to me as a new blogger because someone in my life, after I told them that I planned to start book blogging, suggested that I should develop a blogging "personality." Easier said than done, IMO.

But at least that person's comment got me thinking and analyzing how I write on my blog. I realized that I have a natural tendency to be pretty plain and sterile when I write (aka boring), so I've really tried to make my "voice" more fun and relatable. I don't know if I'm there yet, but I'm working on it.

Reviews are the backbone of any book blog, so I definitely pay attention to how bloggers write their reviews. I prefer longer reviews over the one paragraph reviews because generally speaking, they'll be more detailed and I'll have more to draw from in determining if it'll be a book I'll like or not.

When I write a review, I will state whether or not I liked the book, but I also try my best to include what I think other people will like or dislike about the book. For example, if I liked a book but it's character-driven and lacks action, I'll say that. That way, hopefully when someone has read my review, they will have an idea of whether that will be a book they'll like.

Shy said...

Great topic. It is certainly something that I've been thinking about since the first month I start blogging *lol*

I don't think that I've already found my voice in term of reviewing. Sometimes I do wonder if my review is actually good or not and whether I've said too little or too much. Do you think that there is any way we could determine this? Or we'll need some constructive feedback from readers so that we'll know the things that need to be improved?

Becky said...

Sasha - firstly, I want to applaud you for having the courage to link a review. I am going to stop over and reread it. Reviewing is certainly something that is a skill but I wouldn't say there is a "perfect" reviewer because readers all have different tastes and so one style won't appeal to everyone. I think you should have more confidence in your reviewing ability. (Love your blog).

Dwayne - Yay you share my whole "reviewing from the heart" concept. I'll just say now that your review for Stolen took my breath away. I was mucho impressed. I wouldn't describing having multiple voices as inconsistency. I think it is more a reflection of your relationship with any one book and this comes make to writing personal, heartfelt reviews. They all come from the same place but they are presented in a different style. Versality is good (I think).

Sammee - I definitely agree that you shouldn't force a style. It should just really be an extension of your personailty. As you say, what comes naturally. If you are not comfortable reviewing things that you don't finish, then that is what works for you. As long as people know to expect that on your blog, I don't think it will be seen as biased or unbalanced. Have you thought about how this will work for review copies though? If the publisher expects something and you can't finish the book, are you you going to email them and say this? I'm not suggesting you should but I'm just being nosy and inquisitive!

Kris - LOL. What you describve as pulling out all the stops I call being rather neurotic! I'm in a zone of trying to focus my blog back on the things that interest me - like reviewing. If you're enjoying it, then I'm super pleased.
I too try to balance my own experience with a book by saying those people who it is targeted at or which writers it is similar too so people can work out if it would appeal to them. I really like it when people do that. My first reviews were probably in a more professional style than they are now. I do still aim for quality but I'm not sure I achieve it every time. Reviewing is definitely a learning curve.

Shy - Interesting question. I guess you could ask a blogger friend to give constructive criticism on some of your reviews. I am personally anti-survey and those sorts of things because I always think that it is my blog. It should be what I want it to be and frankly if it doesn't work for someone then they can unfollow me. That is not to say that feedback isn't helpful. E.g. when I was on the online conference we evaluated style and structure of our blogs. But it was more to see if it was missing anything like a search box or navigation bar. Perhaps ask someone whose opinion you value to give you some feedback or if you write reviews for publishers then you could also ask them... I'm not sure if that advice was helpful?

Jo said...

Great post, Becky. I have to say, There are several blogs I always go to, yours is one of them, because I trust the reviewers to give the best reviews they can, whether positive or negative. I know these bloggers won't lie to me about what they thought, but they will still that extra step to make sure I can make an informed decision about whether or not I want to read the book. It's also the passion and the enthusiam I love too; there are several books on my TBR pile that didn't appeal to me, and with blurb alone, still don't appeal to me, but as they fit into the genres I read, the passion and enthusiam for these books from other bloggers makes me feel they're at least worth a read, even if it ends up I don't like them. I prefer longer reviews myself, but I'm not against short reviews.

When it comes to my own voice, I'm not sure if I have one, or if I will try to get one? I don't know, it's not really something I've thought about, or something I'm concerned with. I do feel sometimes that I have a limited vocabulary (how many times do I say "awesome" and "amazing" in my reviews?), and I do tend to gush quite a bit, but I only write my reviews as I would talk about them in a conversation. I'm not going to try to write "professional" reviews, because I'm sure it would just come off fake. I may not have the best vocabulary, and my reviews may sometimes come across school girl-ish, but that's me, this is me, and I'm not going to change that to get some sort of "voice". I feel my passion and enthusiam shows through when I turn into a school girl and just gush on - there is a immature, child-like side to me that comes out when I'm excited about anything, so perhaps that is my voice. But it's not something I'm going to worry about.

(Though, I have to say, I'm with The Book Bug - sometimes I read over some reviews and really wow myself, I actually wrote that? But with eloquence, I do look up to you and Sasha!)

As to positive and negative reviews.. I do post negative reviews, but I do try to show the parts of the book I liked, or if there weren't any, the bits other people may like. I have had comments from an anonymous poster slagging off a review before, but I've re-read it, and I'm sure it's fair, and publisher thinks so too. I refuse to sugarcoat my reviews, I won't lie, but yet I won't say the words "rubbish", and (I hope, though I can't quite remember if I haven't) "boring". And I have to say, your review of Swoon is interesting, and makes me want to read it just to see what you mean. That's got to make a good review; when negative, you still make people want to read the book. :)

5minutespeace said...

I think we unconsciously have a certain writing style depending on our reasons for writing.
Up until recently I wrote reviews/posts just out of my own choosing from books I had discovered myself. Now that my blog is more established I review books for publishers/authors and I know in the back of my mind they will read my review when I have published it. For mass published books this is not a big influence but for the independent publishers and self published authors reviews like our affects them greatly and they might wonder why we bothered writing a review in the first place.
It depends who you want to write for. Are you writing for the publisher/author? or are you writing for your blog followers who trust your informed and honest opinion?

I think we constantly need to re-assess the situation in order to keep our reviewing process real and true to what we actually thought of the book. Because that's what comes down to it. Did the book stop you in your tracks, did you laugh, cry, question? That's what we must ask ourselves regardless of what/what/why we're writing.

Once again, a fascinating post by you and a very relevant subject.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I LOVE your reviews. I seriously value and prefer honesty. I commend you for having the courage and gumption to discuss the things in Swoon that you didn't like.

With my voice I try to balance my likes and dislikes.

Mel: Regarding commenting. When I say "great review" I mean I enjoyed your review but don't really have anything to contribute. It's my way of saying thank you and keep up the good work. I'm enjoying what I'm reading.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Honestly, if I didn't want honesty I could just read the back cover praises.

I Want To Read That said...

I've been wondering about what to do about review copies if I really don't get on with the book. Emailing the publisher sounds like a good plan - at least then I am being upfront with them? I'm really don't think I'd be any good at reviewing something I had to force myself to read. I think if it became an issue and I found I needed to read every review book even if I hated it I would have to reconsider receiving review copies. I think it would make reading a chore and I'd hate that!

I do wonder if publishers expect you to review every book they send. I mean, if a publisher had sent you 6 books and you reviewed 5 of them does it matter that you didn't review 1 of them? I'd be really interested to know what the consensus is on that.

Okay - I've linked to a review I wrote recently that I tried really hard on :)

Jennifer G. said...

Great post!

I've been writing reviews on GoodReads for a long time, but I tend to really find my voice only when I feel strongly about a book. I've had people comment that they appreciate that I spell out exactly why I dislike a book, because what's a turnoff for me might be a turn-on for them (dystopian lit, anyone?)

I recently wrote what I consider to be my best review, and I think what worked there was that I found the "hook" in the book that enabled me to connect my thoughts, my feelings, my review, and the book all together. I don't know if that makes sense, but I know what I mean. :-) Now that I know how that worked for me, I hope I'll be able to find that hook and make it work for me more consistently. Although I'm a little upset with my husband for asking, "Did you really write this?" after reading it! Yes, I did! Every word! :-)

Becky said...

Aren't discussion posts the best? I love reading reflective comments that get me thinking.

Jo - I am with you on this. I love enthusiasm in a review. I don't mind gushing adoration if you fell in love with a character. I do expect there to still be some sort of anaysis on other things to though like plot or quality of writing. Btw- I never feel your vocab is reptitive. (I'll let you in to a secret. I spend a lot of time with a thesaurus. My thesaurus is massive and I am seriously in love with it.) And truthfully, I'm lazy sometimes and think hmmm...this will do. I try to keep those days to a minimum and if the author sent me the book rather than the publisher, I make a bigger effort to write a quality review.

5 Minutes - You make such a great point. The audience for the review can impact on the style in which you write it. I always think the audience are the people who read this blog so I don't factor in publisher sent copies to what I write. I do make a more conscious effort to write a good quality review if the author sent me the book direct. Is this a little unfair to the publishers? Maybe. I think of the cost involved for the author and so I think they deserve more attention.
I also agree that we should be self-reflective and always evaluate what we are achieving. I think too much though.

Juju - Mwah! Thanks for loving my reviews. As with the whole "great review" thing, I guess it is good to know that people enjoyed reading it even if they have nothing to add. I always want to know how many people actually read it. I do wonder how many people lurk without ever saying hi!

Sammee - Publishers certainly don't expect you to review every book they send. I know this from several people. Jo (Ink and Paper) has spoken with Simon & Schuster about this while on work experience. Jenny (Wondrous Reads) has also said that publishers don't expect everything to be reviewed. Keren David - from her work on newspapers has also told me this. So I guess maybe we should all just relax. Or pass the book on to someone it would appeal to and ask them to write a guest review. More content for your blog and in a way it gives the publisher a better chance of good publicity.

Jennifer - Isn't it just the best feeling when you posta review and you just know it is the best it can possibly be? It doesn't happen often but when it does it is like magic. Husbands are funny creatures. Sometimes mine comes home from work and says "I checked out your blog today". It has a spelling mistake but I really like your review of so and so. Makes me laugh but also helps me get rid of those typos. Now, I'm going to check out the linked reviews.

Alyssa Kirk @ Teens Read and Write said...

Sorry I missed out on this one earlier but great post. I do my best to be honest and my voice tends to be sacarstic, Jake is the quirky humor one, and Gregory just goes from the heart. All of the 'voices' tend to reflect our personalities.

I loved your Swoon review - as you know (wasn't that conference fun?) - and I always appreciate your honesty and heart!

Becky said...

Alyssa - Lovely to see you. I wish the conference had gone on longer. It was so great to be able to discuss so many different issues relating to YA with both new and experienced bloggers. Can't wait until next year. And thanks for your comment. It made my day.

Shy said...

Hi Becky!
Those advices were indeed useful. I also talked with Shweta earlier regarding to this and both of you were right in saying that I should write the reviews the way I'm most comfortable with. Thanks Becky for answering and clarifying these things for me =)