Friday, March 30, 2012

Critique Vs Review: a writers showdown

I got some disturbing news at my writer's critique group this week and it had nothing to do with my chapter submission. During an off-topic conversation, one of the members commented that she worried about what I would say about her next submission. When I asked about this she said my Goodreads reviews were harsh.

Well, there's no point in denying it. I can be critical when it comes to reviewing published work. You can check out my reviews here if you're interested. Outside of live performances, books are the only artform you pay for before knowing if you'll like it.  You'd never buy a painting sight unseen and usually you hear a great song on the radio before downloading it. But with books, you fork over the money and hope for the best.

This is the mindset I have when reviewing books. As the author you are asking readers to pay for a certain level of entertainment, education, or what have you (depending on the kind of book you write). As the reader I expect to be entertained, educated, etc. When I'm not, it feels as though I bought a non-refundable box of chocolate covered rocks. Sure the picture looked good, but rocks aren't edible.

I'm sensitive to the fact that authors pour their blood, sweat and tears into books.  Shoot, I'm a writer, I get it. But the emotional investment an author made doesn't change my expectations. I'm sure Kim Kardashian worked really hard on her song Jam, but that doesn't mean we should go easy on her or even try to pretend that her song contains any artisitc merit whatsoever.

**On a side note, if you haven't heard this song yet, please stop right now and click the link.  It really is atrocious.**

My group member's comment about my harsh reviews didn't bother me, except she assumed that being a harsh reviewer would make me an unforgiving critiquer. That really upset me.

 I see a very obvious line where these two things don't meet. When I give a critique my mind is always aware that this is a WIP. No one asked me to pay to read this draft. The writer knows the work isn't ready for public consumption yet. My goal then is not to steer away innocent readers, but to help the writer get to the best story possible.

I would never, NEVER, blast someone in a critique. I will give you the honest truth, and that means sometimes saying that it's not working for me. This is always dished out hand in hand with a why. Maybe my point is valid, maybe it's not. That's for the writer to decide.

So how do you draw the line? Do you critique with a different eye than you review? Do you like Kim's new single? Let me know!


  1. I have a no negative review policy. I won't review a book I didn't like. In fact I remove it from my Goodreads page all together. Yes, I've done this. Why? As a writer, I won't be negative toward another writer. I can't. That's just me. However, I think readers are entitled to their opinions. As long as reviews are backed up and not just a one-star with no reason, I'm okay with it. Still, I myself wouldn't do it.

    On the critiquing side, I do give a lot of feedback. A lot. I believe critiques should help the writer, so I'm going to say what works and what doesn't. A pat on the back with no feedback because the critiquer is afraid to hurt the writer's feelings does no one any good. I want comments from my CPs. I want areas I should and need to improve. That makes me a better writer.

  2. I'm with Kelly on this. That's why I rarely post reviews at all. That said, someone's got to do it, and it is good to read a review of something I can't decide whether to buy or not. I can pick out the scathingly vicious reviews from the fair but harsh ones. A peer workshop is a different animal, yes. My fellow authors rely on my honest revision suggestions.

  3. I agree with you. A review is "after the fact" - and as a reader, we assume that there has been some sort of vetting process (beta readers, writing group, editing, proofreading, revision - something!), and that what we are reading is a polished version of the story. We want to trust that the writer will respect our time.
    A critique of a WIP is something else completely - we are part of the process, engaged in building the best version of the story. And, again, there is the issue of trust - but this time, the writer is trusting us to help them!
    This is such an interesting topic and discussion. Enjoyed the article and the comments.


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