Friends and reviews – incompatible?

IWSGIt’s the first Wednesday of the month again and the time for another post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. This time, I want to explore the touchy topic – reviews.

There is an ongoing dispute on several book sites: reviewers vs. authors. Reviewers defend their liberty of speech, their license to express their opinions freely. Authors argue that their works shouldn’t be defiled in public. They scream that the reviewers are fools and don’t understand. Tempers rise. Insults fly. The online book community takes sides. As in many disputes, both opponents are right… and wrong.

I’m both, a writer and a reviewer, so I sympathize with both sides, but for this post, I chose to be a writer only. Recently, I watched an episode of my favorite TV show, Bones, where one of the characters, Clark, wrote a novel and asked his friends from the forensic lab to read it. He said: “You don’t have to compliment me. I want your honest opinion.” They didn’t like the book but couldn’t tell him the truth. They lied, complimented the book, and made him happy. Of course, he didn’t want an honest opinion. He craved praise. All of us, writers, do.

Like Clark, I want people to enjoy my book. I want good reviews. More than that, I need them desperately, because for a beginner writer, bad reviews are deadly. When I send my novel to reviewers, I’m holding my breath. How many stars would I get? How many faults would they find? Would they like it? Would they thrash it?

But the reviewers are not my friends. Unlike Clark’s friends, most reviewers wouldn’t lie to placate my sensitive writer’s ego. Just the opposite, they revel in their ability to critique smartly, use cutting words, and distribute their sentiments as widely as possible. Sometimes, reviewers are extremely harsh and they don’t care what wounds their merciless judgment inflicts.

There are a number of benevolent reviewers too, those who don’t write bad reviews. If they don’t like a book they don’t review it – a dream coming true for a writer. But not all are so kind. Most books have flaws, and the reviewers spot those flaws and expose them ruthlessly. They flaunt their honesty, but sometimes, the borderline between honesty and cruelty is hard to see. How about a little kindness? Surely, there is something good to say about any book.

As most reviewers wouldn’t compromise their integrity, even for a friend, I hesitate to offer my books for review to any of my online friends. I’d like to know their opinion, but only if that opinion is positive. Yes, I’m that pathetic. What if they don’t like it? I don’t want to put them in an awkward position, to jeopardize our friendship. Would I want them to lie to me? Of course! Like Clark from Bones, I hanker for adulation. Show me a writer who doesn’t. But I don’t want to force my friends to dissemble, and I couldn’t bear it if they trounced my book, so I don’t ask. The only reviewers I approach are those who don’t know me. And then, I wait for their verdict. They hold my fate as a writer in their hands. Maybe this time, they’ll like my book.

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5 Responses to Friends and reviews – incompatible?

  1. LG O'Connor says:

    Olga, Great post and so dead on! I only review books I’ve read and liked… Reviewing for friends is very touchy. LG

  2. ahtdoucette says:

    So true. And one of those things I think we all want to believe it’s not. I am not yet brave/good enough to even ask for honest reviews. Kudos for that too.

  3. kyrahalland says:

    I don’t request reviews from specific people (though sometimes I list my books on read to review posts on Goodreads), but if someone I know asks for a review copy I give them one. I like to get good reviews, but if someone doesn’t care for what I write, that just means they aren’t in my target audience. (My target audience is people who like my books 😀 ) I do get test reader feedback from friends. I tell them I want them to be honest and that pointing out the things in my story that aren’t working (and that’s how I think of it, not that it’s bad, it just isn’t working and needs to be fixed) is the equivalent of not letting me go out in public with broccoli between my teeth and my skirt caught up in my pantyhose.

    Of course, once you’ve had your writers’ group laugh at a love scene you wrote (and it wasn’t supposed to be funny!) that hardens you to a lot of criticism. So I have an advantage there.

    I prefer to give good reviews, whether I know the writer or not. If I have criticisms, I use the sandwich method – praise, mention the flaw(s), praise. Unless the book I’m reading is a read-to-review commitment, leaving a review is completely optional and if I can’t say anything nice, I choose to say nothing at all.

  4. Olga Godim says:

    Kyra, I love your definition of the target audience. I totally agree.
    As a reviewer myself, I don’t review books I don’t like, I often don’t finish them. If I finish a book, it means there’s something I like about it, so my reviews are mostly positive.

  5. As Kyra said, I don’t mind bad reviews either, but there are bad reviews and there are trolls, who only post bad stuff and getting personal (EG this person should do us a favor and commit suicide. Yes, I did read that on Goodreads.) Trolling is not reviewing, and should not be seen as the same.

    A reviewer capable of calling it as they see it (good or bad) should be revered, as their opinions can be counted on.

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