Writing Wednesday (6) – To Review or Not to Review?

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Welcome to Writing Wednesday, my weekly feature where I discuss my works in progress, project ideas, editing struggles, or anything else related to the world of writing. Feel free to grab my button and post your own thoughts on writing! Leave a link to your post in the comments and I’ll stop by.

A big kerfuffle hit around the blogosphere the last couple of weeks after a #YALitChat on Twitter developed into some well-written blog posts about whether writers should be reviewing books. Stacia Kane and Susan Dennard put up some great posts about the matter. Stacia also wrote some great follow-up posts. Some bloggers defended the art of writing negative reviews. Tabitha at Writer Musings and Izzy at My Words Ate Me have particularly thoughtful posts.

All of this talk really got me thinking. As a writer, the last thing I want to do is jeopardize my future chances of getting published, but this idea that I shouldn’t post negative reviews is a tough pill to swallow. I’ve really enjoyed setting up this book review blog and sharing my opinions. I feel like I’m doing myself and my readers a disservice by ignoring any books I read that I don’t completely enjoy.

So what’s a girl to do?

Well, I did go through Goodreads and delete books that I hated. Because really, what is the point? If I really despise a book, does that need to be shared? Do I need to go into the reasons I didn’t like it? I mean, if it’s a one-star book for me, that means there are no redeeming factors. I decided that in the interest of respect, I should get rid of those books. I felt bad about those really negative opinions floating around.

The tough area for me is the in-between. What if overall I liked the book, but I had some issues with it (my three-star reviews)? I don’t want this to end up as a blog that only celebrates 4 and 5 star books, because that seems a bit one-sided. I also don’t want to offend authors, agents or editors. Three star books are still books I want to recommend, I just had some reservations about them.

This is the very crux of the debate. At some point, you have to decide if you want to be a reader or a writer. Reviews are for readers, not for writers. A great analogy that one of the above posts mentioned was that Roger Ebert reviews movies because he is a movie reviewer and consumer – it’s his job. Nicole Kidman does not review movies, she makes them. It’s not appropriate for her to publicly judge the quality of other films or performances because that is not professional. That argument really resonates with me.

At this point in my life, I’m more of a reader. I’m reading and reviewing books not just as a consumer, but as a tool to help me learn more about YA writing. I want to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, so I can learn. So I’m considering changing my “negative impressions” section of my review template to focus more on learning opportunities or what things in the book worked for me as a writer.

But is that even more negative or pretentious? Do those thoughts even need to be shared?

If I can’t write reviews for fear of damaging my future career, I don’t know what to do with this blog. I’m still in the early stages of writing, I don’t have an agent, I’m not seeking an agent, and I don’t even have a finished manuscript close to being ready to query. Like I said, I’m still more of a reader at this point. I don’t have enough writer knowledge or tips to fill a blog right now.

For now, I’m going to continue reviewing. I’m going to be more cognizant of my tone and what I say. I’m going to try to lean as positive as I can. When I get to a place where I’m ready to even think about querying, I will address this issue again. Yes, the internet lives on forever, but I’m not likely to be the same person in a year or two as I am now, and at that point, I can change my perspective. I can stick to the positive recommendations and write more about the querying process.

The point of the whole debate, really, is to be professional. I can be a reviewer while I’m a reader and still be professional. When I’m ready to start moving forward as a writer, I can temper my online presence to suit the level of professionalism required then. And if I ever get so lucky as to get an agent and a published book, that online presence will have to adapt again.

Until then, I’m going to carry on and hope for the best. What do you think? Should aspiring authors avoid reviewing books? Does it matter if they are actively querying or submitting?

Weigh in with your thoughts!