Friday, May 04, 2012

Should I... or shouldn't I? Overcoming Book Review Guilt

I'm one of those people who second guesses nearly everything I do -- including how I write book reviews. I feel blessed to have been given a good-sized platform from which I can influence readers and promote quality Christian fiction and, even though I am afforded the luxury of having more than enough books to pick from each month, not all of them are books I would recommend people spend their hard-earned money to obtain. So... lately I've been doing my best to sift through and only pick out the titles that truly interest me as a reader and, if I feel the writing craft is sub par by chapter three, I decline the review.

So what does this mean for the books I actually DO choose to review?

It means my personal rating system is a bit tougher. The books that I review are all worthy reads and they're pitted against each other in a battle for supremacy. They're the really good books  measured against the really great books which are measured against the most incredibly awesome books. And those lines are fine and subjective. And, although we use "couples" here at Edgy Inspirational Romance, you may notice that when I transpose these same reviews onto other sites (such as Goodreads or Amazon) my star ratings are sometimes slightly higher. That's because not everyone on those monster sites understands how I roll.

So... if it's a badly written book... well, I'm not going to review it. I've done that... and it accomplishes nothing for the genre in general, the community, or for me as a reviewer (other than making me feel incredibly guilty.)

I'm an aspiring author myself. I know that somewhere down the line I'm going to get a review that's going to make me curl up in the fetal position, suck my thumb and revert to monosyllabic wails for a while. To write a review like that at this stage in my reviewing experience would absolutely drown me in guilt. And I refuse to crush an author's spirit with my honesty just because some team of editors somewhere decided their book was ready for publication a bit too early. Even if I felt justified in my criticism, which I have in the negative reviews I used to post in the distant past, I haven't been able to bring myself to do it for a long time (even though I've read a few real stinkers.) Let badly written fiction speak for itself, I say. I want to promote the good stuff.

As a service to those who come here for advice on which books are worth the dollars necessary to purchase, I can't not be honest; so... if I review a book, even if I give it only 3 couples, it IS worth the money. In most cases it only received that rating because it was weighed against the creamiest cream of the Inspy Romance crop.

I've found over the past year that I've given 4-couple ratings to novels which received resounding 5 stars from around the blogosphere and... I've got one coming down the pike that's on that track, which was the impetus for this post. I'll admit that a big part of me feels guilty for that one less star. But... reviewing is subjective and for me to give a novel 5 couples, well... I have to be absolutely blown away by the story, the craft, the characters... the whole of the work. My disbelief must be utterly suspended for the entire time I'm reading. I have to be satisfied with the ending, but sad that it's over because it was just. that. awesome. To get 4 couples means that I thought this was a great book -- a book encroaching on awesome that I will recommend to friends and, most likely, read again someday. 3 couples means I really liked it and I am glad I read it, but I don't feel particularly compelled to read it a second time. (But I AM GLAD I read it!) Receiving 2 couples, if I chose to give that rating (I haven't yet), would mean that the writing might have been good but the story just didn't resonate with me, there were too many bonnets & buggies  (you've read my Amish Fiction rants before, right?), or I didn't have a hard enough time putting it down. These reviews will rarely, if ever, see the light of day HERE (I do blog elsewhere.) 1 couple? Those novels will be declined by the time I make it to chapter three and they just aren't going to get reviewed by me in a public forum.

So what does this mean for the authors and books I review? It means I'm kind of tough... but I try to be kind. I want to be edifying of the work, the craft, the author, and the genre, but... I feel obligated to point out the things that bother me about story, craft, and character along the way. Yes, I'm tough. But I try to balance those negatives out with positives... actually I try to focus mostly on the positives... to give a pretty big-picture view of the novels I am glad to have spent time reading. If I review it here, consider it a recommendation!

I'd love to hear from all you Edgy Inspirational Romance readers on what you think of my revised reading standards. Heaven knows I'll be second guessing whether or not I should have posted this all day long.


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