How to write a book review

I don’t review books often, so if I do, it’s pretty safe to say I either loved them or had a huge issue with them. More on books with which I’ve had huge issues in a couple of weeks.

So here’s the thing. Increasingly, I feel like reviewing erotica honestly and fairly is becoming harder and harder to do. Erotica is a relatively small genre. Many erotica authors follow each other on social networks and interact with each other regularly. Many of us who read erotica are privileged enough to be able to interact with our favourite authors too, something which I think would be harder with many other genres. In short, erotica authors have the potential to be one of the most supportive, friendly and inclusive groups of authors out there.

But. As a reader, just because I interact with an author, just because we get on, doesn’t mean I feel obliged to review their book, or their writing, in a way that doesn’t dare to mention anything negative at all. If I like their writing, it’s almost certainly because it’s nuanced, intelligent and hot. If it’s an anthology they’ve edited, I think it’s fair to say that I’ll find some of the stories hot, others well written but not my kink or fantasy, and a few which don’t do it for me either in terms of hotness or prose. If I *really* like two or three stories in an anthology, I think I’ve got a pretty good deal – after all, those are the stories I’ll revisit time and again, and how many books on your bookshelf, even those which you enjoyed a lot, do you really go back to multiple times? I guess what I’m saying is that, if you’re intelligent enough to write beautiful and nuanced prose, you’re intelligent enough to recognise that a positive review with a handful of ‘not quite my things’ is not a negative review of your work. Not everybody will love everything you’ve written and that’s fine – good reviewing, that says what does/doesn’t work for the reviewer will ultimately make sure your book reaches the audience it was intended for all along.

And so you won’t find me writing uncritical reviews. It’s not my style. When I blog, I expect people to come back to me and be honest about what they do/don’t like and when I edit, in RL, I expect my authors to listen to my opinions, take on board the bits they agree with and to challenge the rest. I’m not going to start writing super critical reviews, not least because I think to write a fair book review you have to finish the book in question and if I really hate something it’s unlikely I will.

But I don’t think it’s unfair, either, to admit that you recognise that something is well written, but that it doesn’t turn you on. I don’t think it’s wrong to say ‘Femdom is not my kink, so x story didn’t work for me but hey, it was superbly written, so if that’s your thing, you’ll love this!’ Nor, if you really don’t like something, is it wrong to write a constructive review saying so – you’d do it for a restaurant, so why not an erotica anthology?

In short, whether we’re friends or not, I (or anyone else) am not obliged to shower your writing with praise. I’m allowed to be objective. After all, it’s your book, not your baby.

7 thoughts on “How to write a book review

  1. As a writer, I appreciate honest reviews – even when they’re unfavorable. Oh sure, the less-than-great ones are painful, but I’ll take real and painful over glossy and glorified any day. (And I may never be grown-up enough to admit my books aren’t my babies, lol.)

  2. Coming Next Week, honest criticism of ugly babies!

    Heh, no, I totally agree with you. No review is just as damning as a negative opinion as well. There’s a big difference between a well considered negative review and a nasty one, I guess, which is maybe what the people hitting out against bad reviews from insiders mean. I find the whole thing problematic – personally, a bad bad story can really … offend me. And when it’s beside mine in an antho it makes me think, god, is mine this bad too if the editor likes both? Or someone else loves the other and hates mine… it’s an odd thing… but this is life and subjectivity.

    Ideally, knowing our writers and editors should force us to be polite and measured in our criticism, but not untruthful.

    • Thanks lovely – I worried about this one after I’d posted it in a ‘I’m not published, so how the hell would I know what it feels like to get a negative review?’ but I figure, if you only want to hear good stuff, how will you know when someone really loves your stuff?

      (And you don’t need to worry about your writing being dragged down – i’ve only read a couple of your shorts, but both were excellent)

  3. Cannot agree with this post more. I was totally stunned by the personal offense authors have taken to my reviews, and as much as the supportive nature of this community is refreshing, publishing is still publishing. Criticism is urgent and necessary, always, for a genre to be the best it can be. As a newbie author I haven’t had the pleasure of having my writing eviscerated yet, but I’ll grin and bear it knowing that’s part of the job.

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