Friday, July 8, 2016

#379 : Of "Brutally Honest" Reviews

DISCLAIMER : The write up below is strictly my opinion on the matter of reviewing in the context of books. At the risk of sounding rude, if you have a problem with the following write up, please live with it. You are entitled to your opinions and so am I. Also, this is going to be one lengthy post. 1660 words long to be precise.

My tryst with writing book reviews began when I was in class 9. We were asked to write a 500 word review of the book we borrowed from the school library. Before embarking upon the process, our teacher gave us pointers on how to go about writing a balanced review. She elaborated on various aspects of the story we needed to focus on while writing. She also taught us why it is important to maintain a positive tone and be polite when criticizing. That activity left a lasting impact on me. Given that I was surrounded by book worms right from a very young age, book critiquing seemed a natural and effortless thing to do for me. 

Technological boom in the form of internet opened up a lot of doors for me. The very concept of blogging became a boon for people like me who loved to write about the books we read or other simple mundane things of our lives. I started blogging when I was in class 11. The blog however didn't last long due my hectic schedule in college. Thankfully, four years of engineering passed in a blur and I joined my first job as an Automation application development engineer. With lot of free time in my hand, I started blogging again. That is when I discovered Goodreads. For fun, I entered a giveaway and won a book -  a book by a writer from USA, who shipped her book all the way to my house, here in India. I never gave serious thought about posting reviews in a public forum until I won that giveaway. 

On an impulse, I created a fresh new blog and wrote my first review - Sherrie Cronin's X0 @ Readers' Muse. I partnered with my best friend from school and started posting a 'reported' version of reviews which were actually conversations she and I had when we read books. Back then, I didn't know what reviews meant to writers. For us, it was simply fun to write about books. It's been 3 years, 1 month and 12 days since I published my first review and I have come a long way.

So here are few things I want to address, 

Reviewers get books for free so they end up giving a high rating - This was one accusation which was leveled against me by a writer and the CEO of a brand creation/valuation company.  

Yes, we get books for free. My inbox is filled with a minimum of 2 review requests per day. That's close to 60 books per month. I have a day job and also have household chores to do. I turn down more requests than I accept. Plus I do have other books I wish to read.

No, I don't give a high rating just because I got the book for free. I've been reading books since I was 6. I've been a member of the local library since I was 6. I'm 25 now. I've probably read close to 500 books ( as far as I can remember) with each book costing me anywhere between INR 20 to 25 plus a one time membership of INR 100.  Oh I forgot! I've also purchased some books. Do the math. I have absolutely no need to lust over free books by giving high ratings so that more writers approach me. 

Yet, I see more 4 star ratings on your reviews you ask? - Dig deeper. Read the actual review and re-read the first paragraph of this post. Who am I to "RATE" anybody's work? I hate the very concept of rating. It was instilled in my mind from a young age not to "rate" a person's literary work but rather only to comment on it. Thanks to publicity and money hungry sellers, the concept of ratings came into play.I give these ratings only for the sake of it. I give out a 3 or a 2 star rating ONLY if I really had tough time reading the book. 

You aren't being brutally honest with your reviews. You sugarcoat and are diplomatic. - A fellow reviewer/writer said this to me, verbatim. 

What kind of criticism qualifies to being "brutally honest"? If it means to criticize the writer personally and write things like "hrrible buk.bad writin.don't buy.writer is stpid", I'm not a game for this. What does one accomplish by criticizing a fellow human? A sense of superiority may be? I criticize the writing and not the writer personally. What difference you ask? There is a world of a difference between the both. By criticizing the writing, you give a constructive opinion and feedback. By criticizing the writer, you simply end up assassinating the writer's character.

As far the 'being diplomatic and sugarcoating reviews' allegation is concerned, I disagree. The English language is filled a lot of adjectives to describe things. Just because I choose to use polite and decent words to criticize, it doesn't mean I am being diplomatic or sugarcoating. "Trashing" a story by using the choicest of expletives is easy to do. Mocking the story is easier to do. It takes real skill to give out a constructive and positive criticism. Try writing one! Of course, to me it is the only way to write a review. That's how its been impressed on my mind from a very young age. 

It's not my duty to dole out positive criticism or "help" writers promote their books - This wasn't explicitly stated but was rather implied by a fellow reviewer. 

By writing a 250-500 word review you are not promoting a writer. There are plenty of books being published in a day. When you read and write a constructive review, you aren't promoting the writer. You are making their book 'visible'. Visibility and promotion are not the same. Promotion is when you full on recommend that the book is great and one must buy it. 

What do you stand to lose by giving out a constructive criticism?

or rephrasing it,

What do you stand to gain from trashing a book, describing it with horrendous adjectives? 

Cheap publicity. That's all you gain. Trust me, that's just impacting your own credibility and speaks volumes about the person you are. 

A writer once asked me what qualification I have to criticize his book. This very incident also happened to a fellow reviewer. The writer, in both the cases, had sent us their books. 

I don't.I don't have a fancy writing degree. In fact, I'm an Engineer by education and profession.Then what prompted you to send me your book? I've reviewed about 200 books on my blog, out of which 60% were books by people who sent me their books with a personal request. 40% were from blog tours. 120 people aren't surely lunatics to spend money on shipping books to a reviewer who isn't 'qualified' to review books. 

I could squarely end the debate by asking what qualification you have to write a book. I'm not here for verbal sparring. I'm not here to give a full length logical explanation to justify why I review. I'm rather good at debating. The accolades I have won so far for debating are testimony to it, but this is a debate I will refrain participating. You have a story to tell,so  you wrote a book. I have an opinion to tell about your book, so I put forth my opinions as a review. As simple as that. If you still want a proper justification, read the disclaimer at the top of this post. If you still don't get it, may the lord show some mercy on you.

Why do you do video hangouts or spotlights with writers? You are just trying to gain publicity at the cost of the writer aren't you? - Hasn't been asked verbatim but indirectly.

When I started reading books, I badly wanted to meet the writers and ask them things about the stories they wrote. Back then, one could only write a snail mail and hope the writer answers.E-Mail was just catching up and most of us didn't have computers only. Given that almost all books I read were either by writers who were from other part of the world or were dead, I was disappointed. 

Now that technology has crept in and made communication easier,writers are more accessible than ever. The first time I interacted with a writer online, I felt over the moon. Author Sherrie Cronin it was - It's been 3 years since our first interaction, yet every time I talk to her about her books, it's so heart-warming (Credit to her, she is an extremely nice person). Yes, the writer is just a human like me, yet the prospect of interacting and getting to know the person who created a whole world for me in the form of a story is more than just enticing. It's an exhilarating experience. 

Why On Air Hangout instead of a private chat? There are surely people who feel the same. This is just for such people.

On Spotlights - There are people out there don't know where to 'discover' books to read. This is for them. I post spotlights on my social media profiles only so my friends can try reading them. The author also benefits from this. It's a win-win situation for all isn't it? 

To sum up, reviewing is one activity which is close to my heart. I will continue doing it just the way I've always done. Negative criticism can't really deter me from doing what I love. However, I'm always looking to improve in expressing myself. Constructive criticism is always welcome :)

PS. If you've read this post all the way through the end, please do leave a comment.I appreciate your patience, I just want to thank you for it :) Thanks.



  1. Wow. That sums up everything I felt and feel about the book reviews.
    That aside, I envy you had a book review session at school. That is really cool..


  2. Yay! I read the post all the way through the end :P I find all your views valid. Reviewers/critics are people who are bound to be criticized as well simply because of what they do. They cannot make everyone happy, they are bound to disappoint one too many in their journey. I hope your 'critics' read this and get some enlightenment.

  3. Glad I am not really alone! Thank you for reading it all the way through 😊

  4. Enlightenment is a big dream. I just hope they start to think.

  5. Very valid points! I got fed up with all the review requests though it is no where close to what you get. I have slowed down as I felt it was a thankless activity. I have been putting in time and effort and there is nothing in return. So, now mostly reviewing my own books and of authors who believe in me. Its just that I love to do this and that is the only thing that makes me hang on.

  6. Hang in there! It's not a thankless job exactly! There a lot of writers who are grateful for your reviews! So yeah! Hang in there lady! Keep reading and writing! Thank you for reading my article all the way through!

  7. I don't get 2 requests for review a day. :-) But I think that's mostly because seeing my blog, most will come to know I dance to the beat of my own drum. Even if I accept a book for review, I don't always manage to do it in the exact timeframe of 2 weeks, or 3 weeks or whatever it might be. let's face it, some books don't hold the interest as easily, and some don't make it any easier to write a review on, and as you rightly said, there are other books I would want to read. :) enjoyed reading the post and your points.

  8. Applause!!! Yeah, I read till the end and yes, I agree with you totally. But if you think this is going to reach the minds of those who are into reviewing only for marketing, please stop NOW. It's a waste of energy. They don't know the love of books :D

  9. *bows* Thank you 😊 they don't! Just hoping it will make then think!

  10. Sweet as honey and equally true.
    This needs to be said out loud. Good you did and I agree.
    I am unable to read the books I picked from choice because reviews are pending. So this post is good and makes me feel better.
    I am 40 now and been reading since I remember so that's that!

  11. Shree Janani, this is by far one of the most rank and honest posts I have come across. And I can't less agree with the points you have mentioned. Well articulated. Just discovered your blog. Wondering how I never did in my three years of blogging.

  12. Hi Shree -- What a great post! From an author's point of view you should know that contact with a reader you don't know is exciting as well. You were one of the first objective reviewers of my first novel, and I still think you handled your criticisms beautifully, even though we both have learned much since then. You are so correct that writing a review of someone's creation is not like writing a review of an appliance your have purchased. One can choose to ignore that fact, but why do so?
    I have also reviewed a fair number of books, many by first time authors, and I particularly like the point you make about criticizing the work and not the person. On the other side of the coin, I have received a few reviews over the years that I consider snotty, trying to poke fun for a few laughs or to seem cynically sophisticated to others online. Such hostility is painful to encounter, but to me it ultimately reflects poorly on the one doing it.
    For example: "some of the dialog didn't work well for me" is honest and helpful to other perspective readers. Examples are good. However, comments like "who the hell talks like that? Ever? No one that I can conceive of" seem like grandstanding for attention.
    Yes, yes, everyone is entitled to express their opinions in their own ways. However, just as I try to show courtesy when I drive and when I stand in line at the grocery story, I also try to show courtesy when critiquing the work of another. And, just as I appreciate basic respect from a store clerk or the head of a bank, I appreciate it in a reviewer, too.
    I hope that you will never let detractors coerce you into rude behavior to make yourself appear more objective. You are both critical and classy and that is a wonderful combination. Thanks so much for including me in your post.

  13. Thank you 😊 ah! I hope to say the same when I am 40!

  14. Thank you Sherrie! You beautifully articulated with the perfect example what ever I meant in that post! 😊

  15. Wow! This reflects me a lot. Wonderful write-up! :-) :-)

  16. Great post, Shree! Need more reviewers like you!

  17. How can I argue with this Janani? You covered all our thoughts. Well written. Sharing it on our FB page.

  18. Thank you Rubina 😊 Honored!

  19. i dont do book reviews anymore....ever since i realised that life is too short to waste on reading books i dont like to read or which dont interest me....i would rather re-read someone else who could hold my interest even after multiple reads

  20. […] the extent of the madness I subject to my tiny brain, please read these three blog posts – Of “Brutally Honest” Reviews , A letter to the nosy stranger &  An open letter to arm-chair […]

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