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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Open thread - how/why/where/who do you review?

I apologise for my lack of productivity on my own blog over recent weeks. I have just finished my Xmas job and I am back home for the festive season which means I'll have more free time to read and write (I swear that YA book in progress has developed eyes to death-stare me with) and share my as always unwanted thoughts with you all. I got a great response on my last post so I have decided to make these open threads a regular thing. I'll try and get one up once a week so there can be lots of discussions about how you're all getting on with writing your own stories and we can console each other and procrastinate together like an Olympic team! It's my new years resolution to actually finish a first draft of something so I'll need all the support I can get!

But I thought this thread could be an open forum to talk about reviews. I write them, obviously, but I also read them a lot, especially on places like the incredibly addictive GoodReads. A well written review, be it positive or otherwise, can make or break a book and mean the difference between one sale and ten. I spent my Xmas job in a bookshop recommending YA books a lot of the time which I loved (how can you hate a job where you get to fangirl over Celia Rees books?) But there can be a lot of problems with reviewing. I recently read a post sent to me by Catherine Haines where YA writer Miranda Kenneally talked about being hesitant about giving negative reviews for fear of offending people, and went on to discuss the clique nature of the industry, something I've been vocal about myself. It made me think a lot about the way I review books. I've been called an over-vitriolic blowhard who rips off people like Cleolinda Jones (who I am a huge fan of and have communicated with several times on Twitter but I am certainly not ripping her off, and neither are the majority of internet critics.) and I've also read comments where people say that snarky reviews are counter-productive and they won't read them. Since I'm a self confessed snarky reviewer I took a moment to think about this and wonder if my reviews were doing what I want them to do.

I love books and I love young adult fiction. I've always stood by this statement, even when I'm being very sarcastic and mocking books. My original intention with my recaps of the original project was to look at the stories from a feminist point of view, critique what I saw as problematic and see how the genre has been influenced by the recent rise in popularity of things like Twilight. It was also my intention to be entertaining (believe me, that doesn't come naturally, I am not a funny person at all and really have to work at it.) I know a lot of people disagree with me but I think if you back up whatever you say with evidence then that's more important than the way you write the review. I called Hush Hush a whole lot of nasty things but I always backed up what I said with quotes and the like. With something like Hush Hush, where I was so angry at the relationship in the story being portrayed as romantic when it was clearly abusive and unhealthy, I can't help but worry at this compulsion to avoid offending people for fear of being shut out of the business just because you critique something.

I wrote a rebuttal to a YA writer who defended Hush Hush and called bad reviews a form of censorship (the writer of that post, who admitted to being friends with Becca Fitzpatrick, has since acquired an agent and deleted her post) because it was important for me to express why I said what I did about that book. The division between writers and fans has blurred since the internet became a major player in YA promotion and people are afraid to step on others toes for fear that it will ruin their own chances of future success. I have been directly told on more than one occasion that I will never become a published YA author because of my reviews. I never wrote my SP reviews just to piss off people, although I'm sure some would say otherwise, and I genuinely wanted to provide a strong, entertaining feminist critique of the genre because right now it still feels like the F word is a dirty one in this genre. I do give out good and great reviews and I actually enjoy them more because it's great to recommend books to others. I don't want to bubble wrap bad reviews for fear of wounding egos or something like that. I'm still amazed that as many people commented on the original Sparkle Project as they did. I'm thankful for every comment I receive, even the ones disagreeing with me. I've still got a lot of work to do on becoming a better reviewer and I hope you'll stick with me throughout the next year. But I will say this - if writing bad reviews somehow stops me from becoming a published writer, if it's more important to molly-coddle your BFFs than to critique genuinely problematic areas of a genre that has such an impact on a large, impressionable audience, then frankly I don't want to be a part of that industry.

Thoughts? Opinions? Want to call me a blowhard bitch to my face? Go for it!

I'd also like to wish you all seasons greetings, a very merry Christmas and happy Hogmanay! I'll leave you with my new favourite Xmas song. Warning; it's naughty!


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7 comments:

duckgirlie said...

*Claps*

Negative reviews are usually more entertaining, anyway. Just look at Sex & The City.

R.R. said...

You're a "blowhard bitch" but I still love your fucking reviews.

I've shown a number of people your review on Shiver - let me tell you, it really helps to remind people exactly how cliquish and ridiculously childish authors (especially of the YA variety) can be.

NoelCT said...

The problem with a lot of "snark" reviewers is that they intentionally seek things out that can easily be ripped into. Though their reviews aren't of the written sort, the gang at That Guy With the Glasses are a good example of this, catering primarily to negative reviews that they can get the highest number of laughs from. This works for them, and I enjoy a lot of their stuff, but I personally prefer reviews that cut to the genuine heart of the matter in terms of "this is the stuff that works, this is the stuff that doesn't" and is more about informing people of the contents and style of a potential purchase than it is finding fodder for riffs.

This is what I get from your reviews, and strive for with mine. You don't recap and reveal the entire plot. You clearly lay out what works and what doesn't, even admitting good points in things you otherwise dislike. The snark is there, but comes when it needs to and doesn't overwhelm. And I really like the bit you've added of initial cover impressions, because that's how most people are going to discover these books, and it's a great way to start a review before opening it up and showing what's beneath outside appearances.

And as for insulting, I guess it's all a matter of the individual work. If someone does something mediocre or makes mistakes, calling them on it is fair and accurate criticism, but it shouldn't be taken to the point of personal insults. That's something one should reserve for works that aren't merely bad, but deeply repugnant to the critic's ideals. I've been there, as have you with HUSH HUSH. Sometimes a fight is warranted and you just have to ask if you're willing to throw the first punch.

I think the important thing is honesty. If you go in searching for nothing but snark points, then it becomes empty snark for the sake of snark. But if you go in open, and come out with an honest reflection of what it's about, what you thought was good or bad, whether or not you think others will enjoy it, then you'll have a solid review and will do just fine. As you have been doing this whole time. :)

Anonymous said...

I have a ton of reviews written of books I've read, but so far they're for my own personal use so I can remember exactly what I liked or didn't like about a certain book (Yeah, I'm weird). I've thought about polishing them and putting them online, maybe at goodreads, but haven't as of yet.

As for the "snark" community, I have to say it has taught me a lot. As an aspiring writer, it does intimidate me a little, but I would rather be aware of flaws in my writing than be ignorant. One critical review is worth ten glowing ones because critics usually give specific reasons for why they like or dislike something. A lot of stuff I've seen is not only entertaining, but thought-provoking.

Also, when I read a book that I think is absolutely terrible (Fallen, for example) but is stupidly popular, it's theraputic to see that there are other people who loathe it as much as I do. :)

fromthisgirl said...

Personally, I'm better at writing critical reviews more than anything because I can formulate my thoughts better when I know I'm having a problem with the character/plot/writing/etc. I don't care for reviews in which people basically say, "this sucks" without any form of back up, but I find that critical reviews, snarky or not (I prefer the snark) are helpful to me when considering a book. Heck, I love reading them *after* I've finished a book and need to see that I'm not the only one that thought it sucked.

Also, for a while now I've been seriously considering working as a book editor because the job seems ideal for me. I love reading, I love YA particularly, but I'm not a writer. I've found that I'm pretty good at looking over people's essays/short stories/first chapters and so on. It's probably why I enjoy writing/reading critical reviews and also as an editor I want to be able to offer better books for the public and not crap like Twilight.

So I say continue as you've been doing. I've had people snarl at me too for some of my reviews, but I ignore it unless it's actually constructive.

April (BooksandWine) said...

I love your reviews. You say things others are too scared to say and aren't cowed by the clique. That is awesome.

Simone Jester said...

Right on. You're very good at writing reviews. I read likely as much as you do, but I suck at writing reviews, even for books I like.

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