I used to be a ruthless reviewer, born of the time I spent writing entertainment columns for newspapers. Movies, music, books, and events all filtered through my personal tastes and scathing sarcasm, for the sake of humor and meeting a deadline.
When no longer a columnist, I continued to gush my very subjective love or hate in places like Amazon, Facebook, Google reviews, Citysearch or blogs, laboring under the delusion that I had some kind of qualification based on my college education, editorial experience and overrated sense of cultural savvy.
Now that I know how easy it is for a misspelled word to appear in print — regardless of the fact that ten different sets of eyes read it — or how difficult it is to strike a balance between “enough detail to satisfy the readers who want excessive description” and “not bogging down the story with things that don’t matter” … I’m not as critical as I used to be.
I am a kinder, gentler reader now. When I write reviews, I will say “This is well-written and the characters are likeable, but I’m just not into crime dramas” or “The novel is light-hearted, and I expected something a little more serious.” Rather than, “THIS BOOK SUCKS. WHY DIDN’T THE WRITER CRAWL INTO MY HEAD AND MAKE THIS BOOK JUST FOR ME?!? WAAAAHHHH!” Which is pretty much, when I look back, what I was really saying when I wrote negative reviews in the past.
I’ve had readers say they loved my novel Stellarnet Rebel and re-read it five times. I’ve had readers say it sucked. I’ve had 5-star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads. I’ve had 2-star ratings. There are fans who understand the characters so well, they’ve made observations that blew my mind and suggestions I’ve incorporated into the sequels. And I’ve had critics who tore the work apart.
Anyone can write — or draw, sing, make a Youtube vid, whatever. But sharing it with the public is an act of courage. I understand that, now. We should encourage that bravery. And, yes, critique it, but in a useful way, understanding that we all bring our own baggage and agenda to every book we read.
– J.L. Hilton