Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Can I Be Honest?

My need to respond to this makes me feel like a complete idiot -- let's get that straight right now. (g) There have been a number of people in the blogosphere who have stated they don't do negative reviews -- authors, readers, agents. I'll admit, every time someone says this, I feel a little ping aimed right at me. I take a long hard look at myself and the "negative" reviews I've done, and I start worrying.

Am I a degenerate who doesn't understand netiquette?

Am I just a mean asshole?

Do people shake their heads and tsk every time they see one of my less than favorable reviews?

Do they hate me??

Okay, melodramatic, I know, but there it is. That said, I'd like to defend my decision to write what _I_ consider to be honest reviews. Not positive, not negative...just honest reviews about the books I read. And this in no way is impugning anyone's right to limit their online reviews/discussions to positive reviews. I always say -- to each his own.

Okay...why my decision to write _honest_ book reviews?

Well, there are several reasons, actually.

1. I love books. I love everything about them. I love buying them with excited anticipation, reading them and falling into the world the author has created, and yes, I love talking about them. I become giddily excited when I fall in love with a novel and its characters...I want to tell _everyone_. Conversely, like all readers, sometimes I'm disappointed when a book fails to live up to my expectations. And well, it never occurred to me that it's wrong to talk about these situations. I'm not able to flip that switch, I guess.

2. Not giving honest reviews makes me feel like a liar, and I feel guilty when I try to sugarcoat things. Plain and simple. That said, I never want to take things too far. I did once, I realized it and took down the review. It WAS my honest response, but yeah...LOL. (You know the one, right? (g)) Anyway -- I will try to give honest feedback about my likes and dislikes, but scrounging around for something good to say about a book, just for the sake of saying it, is just...false. I'll admit to reviewing a couple of books that I absolutely hated -- but in the name of being "nice" said some things I didn't mean. It made me feel terrible and it doesn't happen anymore. Conversely, I won't pump up a book just because it was written by a friend -- that goes for published and unpublished authors.

3. I love writing reviews and having people jump in, saying why they do/don't agree with me. It's fun. It doesn't make me happy to say I didn't like a book (*cough* -- besides that one time. That review was FUN.), but it's a great way for me to express my excitement and/or disappointment to like-minded people. I know most of the people who read this blog are writer friends...can there be a better audience for discussing books? :) I'll be the first to admit that my reviews are totally skewed to my personal taste. I expect people to disagree with me--many of you have. (g) That's OKAY. The ensuing discussions are fantastic. On the other hand, there is nothing that makes me more stupidly excited than when someone says they bought a book based on the review I did. OMG..it's like Christmas and my birthday wrapped up in one. And if they loved it, too...EGADS. :)

4. For those people who read my reviews -- I want to be trustworthy. Whether or not you agree with the calls I make, I want there to be a trust level there that allows you to say, "Of course Jen likes that book! She liked that other crappy one that I absolutely hated. Gah, our tastes do NOT match up." Or the opposite. (I prefer the opposite. (g)) If I said nice things about an author just because I want to keep from offending them (for whatever reason -- playing nice, fear of losing a potential networking opportunity, whatever...), how in the world could I expect anyone to trust what I say? Especially when they hate a book I recommended for a myriad of false reasons. Yeah, that's just not cool.

And finally...

5. To be brutally honest, I've just never been able to convince myself that in the grand scheme of things, my little blog matters all that damn much in the world at large. I'm just one reader/reviewer. I have a modest following on this blog -- no earth shattering numbers that will sway the reading public. If an author stumbled upon a review I did of their book, I'd be stoked as all hell. Erm, to my knowledge, that hasn't happened yet. LOL. Doubt it ever will. (And that goes for the people I KNOW.) (g)

So yeah, THAT is why I write honest reviews. Speaking of which, I have three I need to write... two I loved, one I'm on the fence with right now... I'll let you know when I finish it.


Carol A. Spradling said...

Hi Jen,

I've also noticed these people who vow to only write positive reviews. My opinion of that is, why bother?

If I see a review from someone who will only say what the writer wants to hear, I feel cheated as a reader. If I wanted to read that type of review, I would ask the author's mother her thoughts about the book.

When I read a review, I want to know what that particular reader thought. How did this book affect her, things like this? Granted, all of this can be done in a nice way. But to vow to never comment in a negative manner...I would count their review as useless.

This does not mean that a person should always include negative comments. If a person's book was full blown fantastic, say it. For crying out loud, SCREAM IT!!! But mean what you say. It all comes down to being honest.

I would respect an author's book much more IF the reviews fell in line. I know that everyone will have a different opinion. That's what I want to see. When that happens, I will be able to make an informed judgement before I buy a book. And if I should or shouldn't buy a book based on a review, I have to ask, what's the point in reviews to begin with?

Basically, be honest, but be nice. Surely, that isn't impossible.

Hélène Boudreau said...

I see it from both sides. If your philosophy is to post reviews on the books you _read_ , of course the responsible thing to do is to give honest feedback.

But if someone decides only to post reviews on the books they _love_, I don't see anything wrong with that either.

The blogosphere is amazingly self regulating. Good books will get good reviews from both kinds of reviewers and bad books will get bad reviews from those who post both, just fewer of them and less of a web presence over all. Sort of a reflection on the quality of the book, I guess.

Both approaches have their merits, IMHO.

Lottery Girl said...

I prefer honest reviews. Now I don't ever like anything mean or negative, but I do want honesty.

I think many people fear that if they are honest about much of anything on the Internet, it will catch up with them someday. We've all heard those stories of the silly people who blog about how much they hate their job, or boss, and find themselves unemployed the next day.

I was just having a conversation yesterday where we discussed the fact that you really need to watch what you say, lest you be "punished" later. Read a highly-touted debut book a couple of months back and thought it was mediocre. I had very specific reasons for feeling this way. Now, I haven't written book reviews on my blog. But I have considered that if I were to do so, and I wrote a review of this book, for example, would this person's agent take offense if I queried her down the line? Again, I would NEVER write anything mean, because it's not my style.

I want to genuine on my blog, and so far, I have been, but I haven't faced this issue yet.

Jennifer Hendren said...


Oh yeah, I think it's okay, too... I don't GET it, but it's okay. (g) I just hate being made to feel like I'm doing something wrong -- or that I'm somehow shooting myself in the foot for not liking...what...5 out of about 40 books? LOL. Oh well.


Jennifer Hendren said...


Yeah...honesty is the main thing. If you loved a book, great.. but if you say you love a mediocre book simply because that person may be a boost to your career someday...eh. (g)


Jennifer Hendren said...


See, I'm not sure you can be honest about not liking a book without saying anything negative. I mean..I didn't like this book is negative in and of itself. (g) But I know what you mean. *cough* Saying I would light a book on fire to save the world from it was a bit negative--hence the takedown. LOL.

I used to worry about the agent reading my blog thing... yeah, DA doesn't read 'em, so well..yeah, I stopped caring. (g)


Tara Parker said...


I personally can't stand reviews that are all happiness and gushy if the book didn't come close.

Be honest! Honest reviews are far more valuable than those that exist simply to blow sunshine up the author's @$$.

If, (big if, here) I were to ever publish a book, I would respect honesty over niceness - wouldn't you?

Jennifer Hendren said...


Absolutely. I think anyone who reaches publication is more than capable of handling negative reviews. Your skin will probably be a foot deep at that point. (g)

Not saying it would be pleasant -- hearing someone didn't like your story, characters, etc. never is. But goodness, I've heard it a bazillion times by now--and I'm not even on the shelves. LOL.


Tara Parker said...

I can't imagine that there is someone out there that doesn't like your story OR your characters. Dude, you aren't even *finished* yet!

Tell me where they are and I'll kick 'em in the shins for ya! (eg)

Now, I do believe that an honest review that has negative aspects should back those up with constructive points.

Just saying you don't like a story or characters is just as bad as a purely positive review - does nothing.

Jennifer Hendren said...


LOL -- well, I'd give you the peoples' names but I've killed them already. (big wink) Show them to say bad things. (G)

Thanks, btw. :)