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