I’m sort of a public figure so people send me books to review or to write endorsements for. I also trade books with other authors and I receive books directly from the publishers to review on Facing North. I’m always happy to help other authors extend their publicity reach. In this noisy world, every little bit helps.
But I rarely – very rarely – give bad reviews, and that confuses some people. That’s not to say that I lie when I review items. I never lie. The simple fact is, if I really, truly don’t like something, I won’t post a review of it. I’ll pass the book on to someone else who is likely to enjoy it more than I do and let them write up the review. If you’re shaking your head right about now, please allow me to explain.
Here’s the thing: Like everyone else, I have my own particular tastes. I may really dislike a book that you love, or vice versa. If I just can’t manage to finish a book, if it grates on my nerves or simply disappoints me, that’s all about me, not the book. There’s a lot of well-written stuff out there that just isn’t my style. And I don’t want to put a dent in someone else’s hard-won patina just because what they wrote doesn’t suit my taste. I know from personal experience how hard it is to build up a following as an author, and I simply refuse to make anyone else’s uphill slog even harder than it already is.
Now, most of the time, I really enjoy the books I read for review. I have a wide range of tastes and it’s really quite rare that I find myself flipping a book shut and thinking about who I can give it to for a more positive review than I could muster. And every once in a very great while I encounter a book that has some real problems. It could be poorly written (hire an editor, folks, it’s worth the investment) or it might contain dangerously inaccurate information. In that case I might warn people about it through a review, though I'm more likely to quietly contact the author and give them the opportunity to put a better quality, revised version out there. But that sort of situation is honestly very, very rare. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to deal with something like that in the decade and a half I've been 'out there' as an author and reviewer.
If you’ve spent any time at all on Amazon, you’ve discovered that there are plenty of people who will criticize any and every book they can get their hands on, just because they can, often while making personal attacks on the author. I guess some people get their jollies by putting other people down. Call it cyber-bullying if you like, but it’s not helpful. It tells me a lot about the reviewer and very little about the book. My reviews often include critiques of aspects I think the author could have done better or that might be stumbling blocks for some readers, but let’s face it, nobody (and no book) is perfect. I like to focus on the good stuff whenever possible.
But if I just don’t like a book, or if I disagree with the author’s opinions, I’m not going to hop over to Amazon and let ‘er rip. My grandmother taught me better manners than that. You know what I mean: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.