24Dec

What Makes A Good Book Blogger? (From A Writer’s Point Of View)

I wanted to share some thoughts on why I think certain bloggers are better than others, especially from the perspective of a writer.

Some background.

A couple of years ago, only a handful of pro and semi-pro online sites and magazines existed, which reviewed SFF books. Those few controlled opinion. Now, the blogosphere has decimated that power (so far as review power goes). The sheer number of bloggers has meant that nearly all of those previously dominant publications no longer possess a stranglehold (as much as it was) on which books are perceived as good. Opinion is spread out across vast swathes of sites.

This is, ultimately, a good thing. You only have to be in the genre for five minutes to realise just how nepotistic the industry, like any other, can be (as an editor, it was a quick lesson), but the blogosphere has gone to great lengths to lessen that. In fact, nepotism is particularly an issue when people can make friends so quickly at conventions etc. Don’t get me wrong, there were some great sites that were openly honest and ahead of the curve (the fantastic Emerald City, for one), but there was, on occasion, a rather political nature to reviewing.

And how important are bloggers? Well, if imprints like Gollancz are inviting them along to shindigs as an equal to other industry professionals, then it’s clear to see publishers respect some of them very much. Moreover, I’ve personally experienced skewed sales towards online venues, which I can only assume came from the number of online reviews – the internet damn well works.

But out there, amidst all this new white noise, quality varies. Yes, like books and authors, blogs and bloggers can be amazingly ace, or shockingly shite. I don’t want to stray into literary theory, since that’ll turn the majority of readers off, but here are my thoughts on online reviewing today. And okay, let’s get the disclaimer of solipsism out of the way. What do I, as an author and an individual, wish reviewers should or shouldn’t discuss?

1) There are bloggers who use the right tools, and those who are tools. If you’re expecting page-turning romances, don’t read Gene Wolfe and complain that his books are not page-turning romances. They’re not designed to be, they never intend to be. Likewise, don’t approach an entertaining romp expecting philosophical ramblings if it isn’t meant to be one. I wouldn’t say ‘I don’t like beer on account that it’s not whiskey,’ would I? This is not a valid complaint to make – it’s stating the bloody obvious, wrapping it up as your main concern. Judge a book on what it is, and don’t project your hefty genre preferences upon it.

2) Slow and steady. An offshoot of the previous paragraph: slow books aren’t bad books. Get over it. And fast books can be intellectual too. Don’t make the pace mistake.

3) Prose & style. I’ve mentioned this before, but it needs flagging again. When people read a novel, and say that the ‘writing improved’ or the ‘second half was better written’, there’s a good chance they mean that they themselves had become used to the different style in which the book was written. The prose doesn’t necessarily change – the reader’s interaction probably does. And words are just there, on the paper, so if you think they’re bad, explain why.

4) The synopsis should remain on the back of the book. Please, don’t just describe the back of the book – that’s cleverly constructed marketing blurb, which has a secondary aim of making reviewers say what publishers want, and pushing all the right buttons. By all means give the blurb, but don’t make it the whole of your review. It’s lazy, and you’re then merely giving a reach-around to publishers. I certainly won’t link to it. Have your own opinion, write about what you got from the book.

5) Reviewers who are also writers (of the unpublished variety). It’s hard to tell, with some bloggers, just who is a struggling writer and who isn’t. It isn’t bad at all if you are, so you might as well be open about it. One of the things I got used to very quickly as an editor was not to approach a book with my own writing style in mind. So don’t read a book and criticise it by thinking, ‘If I wrote this, I would have done x, y, z differently’; or ‘The style isn’t like my own, so I don’t like the book.’ You’re not doing anyone any favours, least of all the writer, and it’s a tough realisation to make. You write, you think you could do better, of course. But be careful if this mindset takes over.

6) You can’t love every novel. Loving everything diminishes the power of what you say. There is no way of possibly knowing what is good or bad if you recommend everything. Do not feel pressured to do so by publishers – remember, by reviewing, you’re doing them a favour. And if as a writer I come across your review of my book, I’m not likely to think a lot of it if you’ve loved every single book out there. We’re egoists! We want to feel special. 🙂

7) Edit thyself. One thing that reviews don’t always receive on blogs is a thorough unbiased edit. So, once you type, put it down, revisit, rework, spell-check. You’ll get a lot more respect if your review isn’t riddled with obvious errors.

So, my top three bloggers, based on the above?

OF Blog of the Fallen, Speculative Horizons, and A Dribble Of Ink.

And in addition to what I’ve said, these are bloggers who question things, who aren’t afraid to have an opinion rather than just link to something, and aren’t afraid to learn more about the industry. And if they think something is bad, they don’t sound like some jaded industry hack – they actually go into detail on why the book didn’t work for them, constructively, without being dismissive to the author’s (and publishing team’s) efforts. Remember: If you try to make yourself look clever in your reviews by putting the work down, it’s likely you’ll end up looking like a dick – but if you’re at that stage in life, you probably won’t even realise what other people are thinking.

So there you have it. What do you reckon?

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

41 comments

  1. I can say that even though I’ve been blogging for over a year now, there’s still a lot for me to learn. Learning is still awesome, though, and I hope I never reach that stage when I think I know enough and let it get to my head; so thanks for the post – some very good advice here, folks!

  2. Thanks for the post Mark, it’s interesting to see what your thoughts are on book reviewers.

    The only thing I would slightly disagree with above is point 6. The main reason is that, as a blogger myself, if I’m not enjoying a book I just put it down and pick up the next. I’m doing it because I love reading – but I love reading books I enjoy and that usually means my reviews are, more often than not, positive.

    Is this wrong? Personally I don’t think so – the blogosphere is so diverse that there is pretty much a blog out there for everything. Providing the reviewer does follow the other points you mention it should be a constructive review. Granted, this doesn’t always happen (I know I’m guilty of this from time to time), but it is something that needs to be done for a review to have merit.

  3. Thanks for this blog entry Mark! I think you’re making excellent points. As a relatively new blogger (new to book blogging but I’ve been blogging in IT for a long time now), they make me think and I’ll probably remember them in the future. Obviously, I can’t be considered in the same league with Aiden, Gav or Graeme when blogging is concerned, mine is a very humble blog in comparison. That’s why I wanted to drop a comment about the “You can’t love every novel” part.

    When I read this part, a question came to my mind: Is this about not giving the highest praise to every book or being disappointed very much (not recommending a given book). I’m not nitpicking, please bear with me :). So I take it that it’s about being very disappointed.

    In essence I very much agree with it. However, in my mind, this assumes at least two things:
    1) the blogger is reading a lot of books
    2) the books that she’s reading are mostly not of her own choosing

    Unless I’m on vacation, I don’t read 1 or 2 books every week. I wish I could but with my current work load and other commitments, it hasn’t been feasible so far. I’m improving on it, though :). And up until 2-3 months ago, I didn’t use to get ARCs. Therefore I was choosing what to read based on on-line discussions (SFFWorld.com Forums) and other bloggers. So in a way I was “playing safe”. Then I decided to be somehow fearless 🙂 and started to read some review copies. I believe that experiencing variety may improve my judgment and appreciation in general (I mean variety within fantasy because I also enjoy reading about history, evolution, religion, etc). So I decided to change my attitude.

    However I can easily imagine someone not doing that because the main reason we’re reading a fantasy book is to have a good time and enjoy the ride. There seems to be enough supply of good authors and books to satisfy a reader reading with a moderate pace. Even though very rarely, I used to be disappointed about books, to a point where I didn’t finish them, when I used to walk into a bookshop without knowing what to buy. Nowadays, a reader with Internet access may continuously find suitable books to her taste without risking huge disappointments.

  4. Number one is actually a good way to get yourself in trouble as a reviewer. Sometimes it’s clear what a novel is meant to be, most of the time any attempt to capture what a book is meant to be turns into a ramble on how the reviewer perceives it. Or worse, what the reviewer thinks the author may have meant. Judging a book on what it *is* and what it is meant to be is not the same by a long shot. You’d think authors are being ambiguous just to make our job more difficult! 😉

  5. Thanks for the compliment, Mark. As for #5, I don’t think it’s exactly a secret now that I’ve long desired to help edit anthologies, especially for non-Anglophone translated fictions. Due I hope to being honest, inquisitive, and I guess outspoken, I recently was given that chance to help two of the best in the field. It’s going to be interesting to see how this affects my perspectives of stories during the 2010 reading period. I suspect I might end up a bit more mad than usual!

    But for those reading this who are starting out as reviewers, the main point I’d add to Mark’s fine list would be an alteration of the old adage of “physician, heal thyself.” Can you turn both inward (questioning your own initial reactions) and outward (trying to understand another’s point of view)? If you can do this to some degree and work at the craft of constructing an appropriate vehicle for expressing your understanding of a book’s merits/deficiencies, there will be a new valuable voice to emerge.

    Oh, and it never hurts to treat reviews as being akin to writer’s guide. Study what works best for others, then adapt it to what suits you best. I didn’t learn how to review in a vacuum. I learned from 5.5 years of having to adapt to some rather demanding history professors who wrote detailed critiques of my 3-10 page critical reviews. I’m tempted to post one of those on-line, if I can find copies of those old reviews from 1992-1997, just to show an evolution in approach.

  6. I just started reviewing stuff on my blog, though wanting to was in the back of my mind from the start. I just reviewed Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s new novel Cadian Blood. It seems to have been well received. I think some of the points above are really aimed at the sort of people who will pay no attention to what anyone thinks.

    My reviews are based on a very simple premise, did I enjoy it. If so, why. And were there any elements that may have detracted from that enjoyment. If I really don’t like it I will always try to make clear why and highlight the fact that the feelings expressed are just that, feelings, that others may not share. The sort of people who just tear an author apart because they didn’t find what they were expecting are, as you said, tools.

  7. This is really interesting. I started blogging and reviewing (at Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood, linked there) about six months ago, mostly to help me think harder about what I’m reading, and with the eventual intention of becoming a critic as well as a reviewer. Your point 1 is what I’ve often had trouble with in the past, so one of the things I’ve been trying to do most of all is address what I thought the author was intending and whether it works in context.

  8. Thanks for the comments, guys. I’m glad that a couple of newer bloggers have posted.

    Mark: yeah, a fair point I suspect. I’m similar in that I’ll put down a book I’m not enjoying, so the public face might well be that you like every book. Perhaps varying the comments on how good books are? I guess that’s where a scoring system *can* be of some use, if you’re liking them all…

    BetweenTwoBooks: glad you enjoyed the post. And those are some very interesting comments there, thanks. I suspect I do mean that when talking about blog sites – people do read a lot of books out there. But yes, the internet really permits niches to flourish!

    Val: exactly so. And yeah, authors might as well have some fun confusing people. 🙂

    Larry: no problem. Yours is the blog most likely to prompt me into a purchase (though I’ve stopped myself from buying books at the moment). And yes, I think you’re open. That point was merely a – “just say so, get it out there”. And that’s a wonderful point “heal thyself”. So many reviewers could learn from that – it should be a mantra.

    Philip: I wonder if you’ll find that the more you blog, the more your attitude to books will change? Perhaps in a few months you’ll start looking at books in different ways? It’d be an interesting observation.

    Sam: the fact you’re tackling point 1 puts you ahead of some reviewers from the start, I reckon. Certainly as an author, it’s frustrating when people simply project other variables onto a novel.

  9. You make some excellent points. I’ve been reviewing books for a year or two now, more for me that anything else to keep a record of what I read.

    Each writer’s voice is unique. The older books such as War and Peace do take some time to get used to the verbage and style. Classics ultimately are slow reads, meaning they take more time. Same goes with some Science Fiction novels. They take time because introducing you to new worlds and again different verbage. I try not to fall prey to the “Pace Mistake.” I have a tendency to read very fast and have to force myself to slow down and digest the book. Otherwise I miss a lot and how can I adequately review the story if I’ve missed half of it. It’s not the fault of the book.

    As an aspiring writer or should I say non published writer, I would never presume to criticize the author’s style or voice. If I don’t like a book, it’s because I don’t like the story, couldn’t get into it or something just hit me the wrong way. I’ll shelve the book and go back to it another time. Will I review it anyway if I didn’t finish it. No. I’ll give it a second chance because I just might not have been in the mood for that particular book.

    100% agree with you on editing. I’m a proofreader by nature (background of secretary, paralegal and business owner) and there is simply no excuse for not editing. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to that. Even when reading books. I find a misspelling and suddenly I’m proofreading instead of reading the story.

    Great post, Mark and very timely. There are more and more bloggers reviewing books these day and they need to be aware that not only are they reviewing the story, but presenting an impression of who they are. If their blog or posts are riddled with bad language, snarky posts, misspellings, etc, they lose me.

    Enough for now before I get off on a tangent about swearing on blogs. Thanks for giving your point of view. It’s very much appreciated.

  10. Excellent points Mark. Thanks for making them.

  11. Solid points, all.

    I’ve not had any bad reviews, although, as has already been mentioned, I’m reading books I own. That is to say, I’ve gone forth onto the internet and vetted books before committing actual monetary resources on them. Since I read a fair amount, and insist on always having a nice line-up awaiting me, I need as much mileage from those dollars as possible. Such an effort is, usually, the combination of shrewd online shopping and exercising due diligence by investigating the work and/or author prior to any purchase.

    That having been said, I have started receiving (these past several weeks) books from publicists. Obviously, a time will soon come when I read something that is definitely not for me. A post such as yours helps remind that there need be no guilt associated, when fairly observing a works characteristics. Also, that being honest doesn’t equate to being ungracious, cruel or mean-spirited.

    Thanks,
    PW

  12. Aha, found the link I was failing on earlier – http://notesfromthegeekshow.blogspot.com/2009/06/ethics-and-enthusiasm.html

    Hal Duncan on the ethics of reviewing & criticism, and the different levels of critique. Dense (I don’t claim to follow all it) and fascinating.

  13. 1) Hmmm can you complain that a book is something that you didn’t expect? Sure you can. Can you be surprised by a book taking a turn you didn’t see coming? Definitely. Should you respect an authors intentions when reading a book? Maybe.

    A novel isn’t the writer and the writer isn’t the novel. It is something of itself. It is packaged and sold in a certain way as you’re showing with all the excellent cover postings.

    You can’t always blame a reader feeling like they’ve been mis-sold a book.

    Though as bloggers we do need to be questioning our own reactions and motivations but we also need to point out when things don’t turn out quite as we thought they would…

    2)… and along those lines there is a fine line between being slow and being boring. There has to be ‘movement’. I could name a perfect example where the main character did nothing but moan and whine for page after page. It happens to be James’s ‘Bad Book of the Year’. That isn’t to say that the character didn’t have a reason to be upset but the reader knows that and needs more. It is always show and tell and that book was a lot of telling. Showing is movement.

    And you’re right that fast doesn’t mean rushed. But there are rarely authors that need more adding rather than having included things that could be cut.

    This can come down to the quality of editing but ultimately we blame the writer.

    3) Can’t argue with having to get used to a writing style and is probably why readers are forgiving of writers they enjoy reading no matter what their flaws. This explains why I can’t now read Patricia Cornwell she changed from writing in 1st to 3rd person and spectacularly broke that connection.

    The danger is that you’ll be more forgiving and I’m going to have to flag my Jim Butcher reviews as such.

    In terms of blogging if this is your second or third visit to an author then you’ll probably be able to pin it down. It’s going to be harder with a first visit but a writers job should be to make that connection as easy as possible surely?

    Though it is ultimately going to come down to taste.

    4) Blurbs are a marketing tool and are supposed to be hooks. They can be useful when encapsulating a story – no point in reinventing the wheel – but if you can’t move on from that then you don’t have anything worth saying.

    5) I’m one of those – it comes up every now and again – mostly at NaNoWriMo time. Though I’m too lazy to struggle. I’m always in awe and probably less critical than I should be but it takes a lot to impress me.

    ‘Twelve’ is a book I just don’t get, for example, and it is what it is. Would I wonder how to improve it and use that against it? Not really but sometimes you can’t help it. It can be the fault of the writer forcing their characters to do things out of character then you do question the skill and the motivations of the writer.

    6) Ha! This is a contentious point. I’m with Mark and BetweenTwoBooks. We choose. If I’ve read a book to the end then it usually has merit – though the only book I can think that lost me at the end and I still reviewed in full was ‘Path of Revenge’ and I do unreview a few books where I’ve got far enough in to them or have enough thoughts that some sort of comment would be helpful.

    I’m thinking of adding back some sort of scoring system and re-jigging my reviews next year as I do have too many positive reviews on the blog. I agree that it is hard to gage when your public face is all positive and you don’t see the piles of half-read books that are threatening to kill you at any minute.

    But then we as bloggers get complaints if we comment on unfinished books as people wrongly believe that knowing the whole story is the only way of judging a book. You can’t win. Maybe if someone paid us for reviews and we were forced to read a book to the end. Would that help?

    7) I’m taking this onboard this year. My motto is going to proof-read it twice! Or more don’t rush a post just to get something on the blog…

    Good points you’ve made. Lots of things to think about.

  14. I can’t agree with point 1. I don’t think we can ringfence books into little subgenres and then deny reviews from the outside this narrow position. Take this to an extreme and we would disallow criticism of a book because it can only be assessed on the basis of it being a terry-goodkind-pastiche-involving-kind-old-mentor-in-a pastoral-setting-with-side-romatic-subplot, and this would of course be absurd. To use an analogy from film I think it is legitimate to complain that a new noir cop film is not as good as “LA Confidential” – even if it was intended only to be a romp – because LA confidential was both entertaining and complex and laden with important issues. It was in effect a benchmark. There will always be benchmarks that books will be compared to – and there will always be passionate beliefs about what a genre is capable of – and thus legitmate disappointments when some books offer less.

  15. Gav – I’ll get to your points soon!

    Chris – I couldn’t disagree more with your argument. Genres are marketing categories – things to help readers define the general type of books / settings / stories they might like. Your approach to a book should remove any of this – if you read a book with expectations/presumptions/instant references in mind, then you are, essentially, fucking up with what the author has spend maybe years working on before you’ve even cracked open the book.

    Plus – what’s to say your benchmarks are complete crap to others? What you think is good, probably isn’t to hundreds of others, and vice versa. Let’s not pretend any one view is gospel.

    Of course, in literary criticism it is always good to place things in context, amongst others, but that’s something else entirely, and an area that most online reviews aren’t about – they’re not lit crit, they’re commercial book reviews for the most part.

  16. I would agree with most of what you say. I don’t really know if I’m a “good” blogger, but I think the most important aspect of reviewing a product is to say why you liked or disliked the book. I also think it’s important to be fair & respectful. Previously, when I reviewed a book I didn’t like, I would sometimes be needlessly unkind. I have tried to stop that, and now when I point out the aspects I didn’t like, I try to make it as clear as possible what bothered me, and whether I think that would bother other people.

    It’s so easy to blog now, and it’s so anonymous that I think people tend to forget that the person on the other side of the review can see it very easily. So for me, one of the most important things about a good blogger is being respectful of the book, the author and your audience.

  17. Mark,

    There is a set of benchmarks in any art form. There is never complete agreement of course, but when you get a bunch of people together who are passionate and knowledgeable about something a set of works will emerge that most agree represent the finest. This even has a special term: a canon (defined as “A group of literary works that are generally accepted as representing a field”).
    A fantasy book is simply a fantasy book – subdiving them into smaller sub-genres does not change that… and I would have thought that both readers and authors would expect, even demand, that books are judged against some of the best in the field.
    But hey I guess I’m the crazy one for thinking fantasy could also be literature – and not mere commercial enterprise.

  18. Thanks, Aarti – absolutely, respect is essential, too – something forgotten in an age where people can hide behind their computer screens.

    Chris – the key thing for you to remember is that it isn’t up to you to decide what is or isn’t literature. But are you suggesting there’s some utilitarian approach to what constitutes good literature? Is Dan Brown good literature then? What about the other extreme, that of the teenager’s bedroom, where nothing popular can possibly be good? It’s a futile debate to delve into, ultimately…

  19. Chris,

    The problem with saying ‘a fantasy book is simply a fantasy book’ is that you haven’t held up an example to illustrate what you what you mean.

    I can’t compare The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien to Storm Front by Jim Butcher. I could argue that both are brilliant examples of fantasy but I wouldn’t be taken seriously for comparing them to each other. They just aren’t the same.

    The reason for sub-genres is that they lay down a set of conventions that readers and writers consciously and subconsciously expect.

    Unless you are a very clever writer you play with those conventions at your own risk – or at least you play with them after understanding them and why they work.

    I’m not sure that the finest of something is the most enjoyable. I’m a fish & chips boy. I like the odd posh restaurant but not as everyday eating (not that I eat takeout everyday either).

    Actually writing is like that. It’s rare to find Michelin-star writers and when you do they are rarely as comforting and fish & chips when you want to know what you’re getting and you know you’re going to enjoy it. A Michelin-star is something special and to savour but not everyday.

  20. That’s a nice analogy Gav.
    But it sums up my core concern … that if Fantasy fragments into ever smaller sub-genres, where reviews are reduced to mere assessments by fans of whether a book succeeds as a commecial product, one that fits neatly into its designated pigeon-hole…. then nobody will ever discover that there’s an alternative to fish and chips.

  21. Cool, a post about review blogs. As someone who has a review blog myself, I simply must comment with some very clever point that somehow shows how my blog is better than most and deserves to have been listed in Mark’s post.*

    *No slight is meant to all the excellent points above (or the not so excellent) and their authors, I just needed to make a smartass observation about how this is pretty much what always happens when someone gets a bit introspective about review blogs. And I’m entirely aware of the irony that surrounds this post – it amuses me, but I’m like that.

  22. Mark,

    Just wanted to say thanks for the post and you have provided me with some words to live by. I make some of these mistakes some of the time in my own reviewing (the problem with being prolific means sometimes my reviews are less than quality for any one or more of the reasons you list) and I should take your advice about being careful and thoughtful more to heart than I sometimes do.

  23. Neth – maybe I should make a clever blog post reviewing your comment! 🙂

    John – glad you found it useful. All I wanted was to get people thinking about the content of their posts, often being on the other end of such posts! Larry has it right, most of all, when he asks, “Can you turn both inward (questioning your own initial reactions) and outward (trying to understand another’s point of view)?”

  24. No worries Mark – it’s looking like I’ll probably devote a full blog post to this later this week.

  25. What makes a good book blogger?

    Peruse my blog and check out what I do. Do the opposite. You’re good to go!:P

    Patrick

  26. I always try to be critique towards me. I try not to fool anyone, just to be honest about the readings I have. I know that I enjoy the vast majority of my readings, but I read and blog from passion and therefore I tend to choose books I believe that will be on my liking. Still, when I find something I don’t like I say it nonetheless. Or I hope I do. I also believe that I have to have my own voice and try to have new things on my blog, to do something new too. I don’t know if I manage to do it every time.
    I also think that without passion we cannot achieve anything, therefore as long as I will be passionate about my blog I hope I will do a good job about it 🙂

  27. I followed this discussion until now. It is interesting. I read mostly fantasy. I don’t have a blog. I’m a contributor only. I write reviews from time to time. That means I’m far beyond to be a professional reviewer. So why I write “reviews”? The answer is simple: I like to share my opinions about books I like !. Why should I buy, read and review books where I know I won’t like them? That doesn’t mean that I’m not honest with the books I read.
    And I write a summary mostly in my own words. I do this because I also expect as a reader of reviews to get to know what is the book about.
    And I prefer a summary written by the reviewer himself.
    I started to experiment with different kinds of summary. Did you ever try to write one sentence summaries? It is a really good lesson.
    Here is one example:
    “Two men, even brothers, struggle for one woman in a steampunk world including sleuth. ”
    This is my summary of Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti.
    As there are different kind of writers there are also different kind of reviewers. And to be honest I don’t want to miss diversity.
    I neither want to read/write reviews on a dissertation level nor on a Harriet Klausner level.
    I want to read/write reviews who explain to me why it is worth/not worth to read a book.
    Conclusion:
    I will never reach the level of
    OF Blog of the Fallen
    Speculative Horizons
    A Dribble Of Ink

    Therefore my advice:
    Don’t read my reviews
    BUT I will still read your books and hopefully enjoy them as much as I enjoyed to read Nights of Villjamur.

  28. Thanks for this Mark – as a pretty new blogger it has given me a lot to think about. Points 6 and 7 are already issues that prey heavily on my mind when writing my reviews.

    Re. 6: As I have been writing my reviews I have been very conscious that most of them are glowing – no 1 star reviews from me so far. I think this is partly that most of the books I have reviewed so far have been bought with my own money, and I am pretty careful with how I spend it so I generally buy books that I am fairly sure I will like.

    Re. 7. I agree completely. I have tried to make this a priority for my blog, as it is aimed at promoting books for boys and I therefore feel that I have a small responsibility to set a good example and ensure that it is free from spelling errors, etc. and have been very embarrassed when I later re-read it and spot a glaring error! I have read several blogs about books for kids and Young Adults where the blogger very obviously rushes their writing and (I am guessing) rarely proof-reads and edits their own work. I occasionally get the feeling that some reviewers rush their reviews just to be the first person to get a review online – I prefer to mull over my feelings about a book for a while before I start tapping away on my keyboard.

  29. My problem is that I haven’t read a bad book yet. Or one that left me wanting. I’m still reading though. We’ll see if I find one soon. 🙂

  30. Had another thought – I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on including a rating as part of a book review. My personal feeling is that without formal, published criteria then any form of rating (e.g. 4 out of 5, 3 stars, etc) can be misleading and/or prone to subjectivity. It may also cause my blog readers to take less notice of my written feelings and just use the rating as a guide to whether the book is worth reading. Looking back through the reviews I have posted on my own blog so far pretty much every one of them would be a ‘4 out of 5’ or ‘5 out of 5’, thereby being of little use to readers of my blog.

  31. J. W. Coffey – that’s not a bad problem to have. 🙂

    Darren – thanks for your comments. Personally, if I was to review books (and I’ve written one or two casual ones on this blog), then I wouldn’t bother with numerical scores. I think it might actually discourage people from paying attention to the content of the review. You could always make a summary paragraph, such as used by James @ Speculative Horizons.

  32. Hi edifanob! I guess everyone has their own preferences, and tastes for what works for them. And that’s the good think about the blogosphere – readers find the blogs which suit them best. That’s what makes it good.

    But as long as anyone who reads questions their own approach to books, then surely that’s a good thing.

  33. For those who want to read a 2008 iteration of this sort of meta-discussion, here’s a link to a post of mine that collects comments on reviewing from authors and critics. All things are made new again, huh? 😉

  34. Great post, Mark. I agree with all of your points. I’ve seen a little defensiveness out there as a result of the post, from bloggers. Which just proves your points are valid, in my opinion.

    Here’s my own post on reviewing. Don’t know why comments are closed.

    http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2008/03/29/reviewing-books/

  35. Nice post, Mark. Thanks for the insight.

    I started reviewing just because I love books and wanted to let people in on the good news. I’ve gradually come around to criticizing books I didn’t think were well-written or had other problems, but I’ve strangely found that much more difficult to do (most people seem to think that writing a bad review is easier than writing a good review). I think, too, that the more reviews I write, the better my critical faculties get, so that my prior “default to like” is no longer so default, if you know what I mean.

    Good choice for your favorite three book blogs, too! Hope after a lot more practice and more reviews I someday wind up in someone’s blog post of best review blogs.

  36. On point #3. I had a guy come up to me at a signing to say my book got better as it went along and wondered if my editor knew this, implying that it was all written in some linear fashion and I never took a second look at page one. He sauntered off, satisfied he’d just thrown me a lifeline, while the other writers at the event dropped their jaws as if they hadn’t really heard that.

  37. Very good points! I liked reading them.

    Cindy