I thought, being a reviewer of books, that I should write a post that covers the DOs and DON’Ts of critiquing a creative piece whether its books, comics etc. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while but felt particularly motivated after Saturday’s Blogger Meet Up. I got into awesome discussions with other book bloggers as well as publishing representatives on the topic of honest reviews (both positive and negative).
These tips are what creative writing students at my university (and I’m assuming at other institutions that house creative writing programs but with some variations) are expected to adhere to in order to make the workshop aspect of the course a more respectful and safe environment for creativity.
1. Mention at least one positive aspect of the piece
It’s rare for a book to not own at least ONE redeeming quality. All of the books that I’ve read and reviewed, had at least one good thing about them whether it’s tapping into something to get people talking about a subject such as sex (Fifty Shades of Grey) or that the first half of the book was really compelling (Beautiful Disaster). Both of the books that I’ve mentioned were books that I disliked for many and very similar reasons but I finished them. They got me reading and I bring this up even as I warn people away from them.
I don’t think it’s fair of people to just state that a book is bad without giving any solid reasons and I feel that it’s just as unfair to not give it the props (no matter how few) it deserves. These authors, no matter what your opinion is of their work, got their books written and I believe that’s the hardest part of the whole book making process.
Getting you to believe yourself enough to finish.
2. There’s a difference between “Honesty” and “Malice”
Can’t think of anything nice to say? Be honest but be civil about it or otherwise don’t say anything at all. I’ve seen people attack a book/story like they were ripping a chunk of flesh like a hungry Zombie. It’s understandable that there are books that you really don’t like but being mean will only turn people away from you and your review and ignore anything insightful you might have written/said.
Also, it’s okay to give a bad review but please offer some substantial reasons for your dislike. Publishers and other readers always appreciate an honest review and reviews that seem to just gush without any particulars can have the same effect as negative reviews with no real points to it.
3. Don’t attack the author
Even though as writers we put pieces (sometimes everything) of ourselves into our works, it doesn’t mean judging or critiquing a book equates to attacking the author. You can talk about them in the context of the book like referring to their writing style, the decisions they’ve made through character depictions, story/plot etc but NOT who they are as people.
I haven’t encountered this on any blogs or even in my creative writing class but I have heard horror stories from others. So please. Don’t.
These are the main DOs and DON’Ts of critiquing that I can think of right now. I’ll add to it as I remember but don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you have anything else to add. 🙂
A. A. Omer