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How much critique to include when you reject a book for review?

Discussion in 'Marketing' started by BWFoster78, Nov 1, 2013.

  1. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    In general, I get a good response from authors when I take the time to give them blunt feedback on what I feel their failings are. However, most of those kind of critiques are prompted by a request for such feedback.

    On one hand, it's important to get feedback, and, as an author, I'll take it where I can get it. When I submit my book to someone and they decide not to review it, I'd love to know why. That's valuable information.

    On the other hand, the following exchange sounds cheesy to me:

    Author: Can you please, please review my book? I spent 3 years of my life perfecting it.

    Me: Sorry, I won't review it because it sucks. Here, in detail, is what you screwed up:

    What do y'all think? As reviewers, how do you handle this? As authors, what do you want?

    Thanks.

    Brian

    EDIT: Note that my blog averages less than one request per two months, so it's not like I don't have time to respond. I understand that there's no way someone like Pauline would be able to give much detail for every request she gets.
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2013
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    You've just got to make a judgement call.

    I personally consider it unethical to give somebody false praise, or to completely hide a negative opinion about something significant, but it's going to depend a lot on how strong the opinion is, whether you can deliver it with tact, whether the person appears willing to hear it, whether you have time to give much feedback, and how much you trust your own opinion of the book to be reasonably flushed out, objective, or representative of others.

    There's no good answer, except to say that I hope you find yourself somewhere on the honest side of the scale, and that you draft your critique with an eye towards "Here's how you improve."
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2013
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  3. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I don't think you have to worry about that! :)
     
  4. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I'm with Devor.

    I want to be viewed as a professional. A professional will understand this is a harsh business which requires thick skin. I would never advocate the doling out of, or receiving, pandering reviews or critiques. What good does it do other than artificially propping someone up & raising hopes or expectations beyond what is reasonable for the piece? Mind you, we're talking about writers who consider themselves ready for publication here and not some beginner learning craft & looking for guidance.

    I simply don't have time to weed through false praise. Cut to the chase and give it to me straight. In the long run, that honesty will help me far more than your concerns for my feelings. If the piece sucks, tell me it sucks...but tell me why. The level of detail is up to you. Sometimes simply telling the author the feeling you get from reading their work is enough, but I think authors who truly long to improve will always appreciate finer levels of detail. For myself, I value honest critique. It is a tool for improvement. I don't know about you, but I've learned far more from criticism than I have from praise. Give praise where praise is due.

    Be aware though, and I know you realize this, some folks who think of themselves as ready for publication cannot handle criticism. They want only praise. They expect it and rail against anything less. There's nothing you can do for that mindset. Recognize it for what it is, and move on. If they stay at it long enough, they may grow to appreciate your honesty. If you're overly concerned with feelings, they never have reason to question themselves. They may never develop the mindset needed to reflect on suggestions for bettering their work.

    Devor mentioned something very important...tact. You can deliver harsh news in a tactful and respectful manner, always. There's no need to be mean, although some will still consider it as such regardless of your approach. Again, there's little you can do for them. You cannot always guard against what people may infer from your comments. Still, remaining consistently tactful is a necessary element of being a professional, on both the giving & receiving ends of reviews.
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2013
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  5. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I don't think of the question as one of either giving praise or criticism as much as:

    Possible response 1 - I'm sorry. I cannot review your novel at this time.

    Possible response 2 - I noticed the following problems with the part of the sample that I read: (list). In light of these issues, I don't feel that I would be interested in reading further.

    I'm not sure if that is tactful enough or not? I wouldn't just say, "It sucks." On the other hand, I'm pretty specific in saying what they did wrong, and I think my opinion that it's not ready for publication comes through.
     
  6. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I think #2 is both tactful & honest. It's also respectful while offering the value of your opinion. #1 tells the writer nothing. I would find that response aggravating and dismissive.
     
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  7. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    T. Allen and Devor basically said everything I wanted to say. Try to be tactful when helping out other writers. I'm not sure being blunt or harsh is a good way to go about doing things. Maybe some like it as "tough love," but there's a way to be tough and honest without being disrespectful or dismissive to something someone spent a lot of time on.

    Yes, some people have thin skin and maybe need to toughen up, but telling them, "Sorry your book sucks and I got bored with it" is pretty useless advice. You can just as well say, "I think some technical aspects need work and your plot could possibly do with an outline to tighten it up. Here are a couple of suggestions (list)." This is still honest, but infinitely more helpful for someone who is obviously interested in constructive criticism.

    #2 is the much better response. Making a short list of things that you didn't like and brief suggestions on how to improve them seems the best choice. If you're going to offer a service and then basically brush people off if they don't meet your standards, then word may get around.
     
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  8. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    I very rarely explain just why I don't want to review a book. There are really only two reasons:

    1) I don't read that kind of book anyway, like vampires, paranormal romance, illustrated children's books (seriously; the illustrations were awesome, but it's not my thing), military sci-fi, etc.; or
    2) It just didn't appeal to me, for any number of reasons.

    In both cases, I say exactly that and no more. If they ask why it didn't appeal to me, I might tell them. Usually they're smart enough not to ask.

    Only twice I've explained the reason. One started with a whole chapter on the history of his world, the gods and so forth. The second chapter was a woman watching the sun rise, then killing a deer and taking it back to her village. There might have been a plot somewhere down the line, but I never found out. I told the author it was too dry. I never heard back from him :)

    Another one I stopped on page 2 because I'd already encountered three grammatical/punctuation errors. I thought it only fair to point out the problem, because it's so easily fixed. The author got it professionally edited (again!) and resubmitted, I read it and enjoyed it.

    I get some review requests that are auto-generated by marketing people: 'Dear reviewer, we're sure you'll love the stunning new thriller by...' No thanks. Those go straight to the spam folder. (Are you listening, marketing people? I don't even read them.)

    On the other hand, if I read the thing, they'll get a pretty detailed review.
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    The way that reads I can't say I blame you. Even if it's a mass mailing, they could at least use your screenname and be written in the author's voice. That sounds like a sham publicist company who probably bought a massive list of reviewer emails and has barely heard of the book they're selling.
     
  10. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    When I decide not to review a book, I don't go into why in much depth - just something along the lines of "I struggled with the same and have decided not to review the book". But I offer to give more advice - "If you'd like some feedback on what I struggled with in the part I read, let me know and I'll be happy to explain where the book lost me."
     
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  11. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    Exactly. The less personal and appropriate, the less likely I am to check it out.

    On the other hand, if the author has taken some trouble to personalise the approach, and it's vaguely in the fantasy ballpark, I'll go and check it out, at least. If they also show that they've read the submission guidelines (by only giving a short blurb and not an essay, and including a link to Amazon.co.uk), I know I'm dealing with a professional, so I'll read the sample in a positive frame of mind.

    It's not that hard, really.
     
  12. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Chilari,

    I think that this is an excellent way to handle it. Thanks!

    Brian
     
  13. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

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    Chilari's method is basically what I do.

    Something like, "I'm sorry, this book did not appeal to me. If you'd like more information on why I chose to pass on this, then please let me know. Thank you."
     
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