The Sunday Salon – Review. Can I use that word?

I usually stay away from controversial topics because I don’t want this to turn into a personal rant space where I complain about each and every thing that bothers me. Trust me, I can so easily go there, but I won’t. This week there were a few interesting posts that caught my eye about blogging, reviews, contracts, book hoarding, and it did bother me, more so than these things usually do and I thought well, why not give in this time.

The links that got me thinking:

Chris at ChrisbookoramaSurley It’s a Review…and Don’t Call Me Shirley*

Author Maggie Stiefvater’s blog The World According to MaggieThe Only Thing I’m Going to Say About Bloggers in 2012

Ana at Things Mean A lot – The Sunday Salon – On Writing About Books (she re-posted a link on Twitter this week and she’s such a wonderful writer I wanted to re-share)

April at Good Books and Good WineLegitimacy, Professionalism, and Book Blogging

Insane Hussein at Insane Hussein ReviewsO RLY: A “Contact” for Book Reviews?

First, I need to say something. I don’t get paid to do this — this is a true statement for most bloggers. I make no money at all by getting up early (some days) and posting here. I take time out of my days and nights and write about books I enjoyed (and sometimes not enjoyed) and share that information with others because I know there are others out there like me that truly enjoy a great story. I buy most — I’d say 99.5% — of the books I talk about here. I have stopped requesting books from publishers not because the books don’t look interesting but because I don’t have the time to read them and don’t like to accept books I can’t review. That is not a judgment of anyone; it’s a choice for me. I even put a note up on my blog in October of 2011 explaining this. Yet, a few books have arrived at my house I did not request. I’ll read these books, oddly one was a book I really wanted to read, scary how they knew that, but in the coming months I’ll continue to kindly explain that I’m not accepting books at this time.

I like the flexibility to read and review what I want, when I want. I’ve always felt that way and continue to believe that. This year I plan to read more classics and books I already own. Not accepting new books means I’ll be able to continue reading this way.

I’ll note I do reviews for the BookReporter website and will continue to do those reviews. I choose the books I review and I truly enjoy working with the people there. I am not paid for those reviews either but it does allow me to read books I’ve been looking forward to; which was the reason I started reviewing books for them. The publisher does send me those books at the request of the editors at the BookReporter. I note that in my reviews.

NOW, the point. There was a kerfuffle on some blogs over what constitutes an actual review and should bloggers use the term review. I use the term review on my blog and I’ll continue to do so. I have a system for my reviews and while not everyone may agree it’s the best way, it’s my way and it’s my blog so that makes it perfect. Okay. Some people believe a review needs to have a certain style, be more academic, have a certain structure, and that’s fine. Reviews of that nature are helpful. They can be incredibly insightful but they aren’t the type of reviews I write and I will not be changing my style to suit that. Not that anyone needs to know it but my style is this:

1 – Short intro if I’m feeling writer-ly that day

2 – Re-cap of the book

3 – What I liked/didn’t like

4 – Final thoughts

I write the type of reviews I like to read. I want information on the book but I also want to know why someone read the book, what they thought of it, what they liked, what they didn’t like. I don’t even mind spoilers (secretly I really love them though) but I try to stay from spoilery material because I know many don’t want to read it.

There has been a few arguments/disagreements/finger pointing (call it what you want as you can see I’m not feeling any specific term) about bloggers making personal attacks on authors and calling them reviews. I agree; these aren’t reviews. I don’t find them helpful and I don’t read them. But I do think it’s fair for a reader to talk about how a book made them feel. We all experience reading and writing in different ways and to take that away makes what we do in this community (talking about books we love, like, dislike) just boring. Sometimes a little snark is needed. I shouldn’t feel that because I didn’t like a book that I can’t and shouldn’t talk about it, especially if it was something I paid money for. I can do that in a fair and balanced way even if I didn’t care for it because I know there are others out there who did and can speak to its good points. And in each review, even for books I didn’t finish or like, I try to find something good. Writing is difficult and I don’t think a writer should be belittled because I didn’t care for one of his/her books. That does not mean that every review I write is going to be happy and full of rainbows just to suit someone’s feeling that because I’m not writing for an academic journal but on a blog that my thoughts are not valid/good enough/whatever.

It’s my space and I’ll do what I want with it which means when I write about a book, I will write about how I felt, what I liked, what I didn’t like, in the most fair way I can. When I don’t like a book, I will say that knowing that simply because I did not enjoy it that others out there did.

Here’s the thing, I’m buying these books with my own cash so I feel I can talk about them the way I want. I’m not out to hurt anyone’s feelings with what I publish here, I’m looking to discuss books. Something I enjoy.

Now, this, A “Contract” For Books Review?, is crazy. Like bat-shit crazy. A CONTRACT to review a book?! Who thinks of these things?! As I said, I’m not getting paid to do this. I’m buying these books (and thusly supporting these authors and publishing houses) with my own cash so why in the world would someone say to a person who would be willing (FOR FREE) to read an author’s book and give them all the rights to the review?

Weeks back, it may have been last year, I’m fuzzy on time lately (I blame lack of sleep) about publishers getting pissy with bloggers who weren’t publishing reviews in the timeframe that publishers thought they should and that they would stop sending people books for review. K, so let me think about this. No, I’m not going to think about this because it doesn’t deserve what little my brain currently has to offer. When I’m doing something to help you out, please don’t tell me how you want it done. It doesn’t make me want to help you. It makes me want to ignore you. If you want to ignore me, I’m OK with that. I write for myself and for those people out there who read me (I thank you, I really mean that, thank you for reading.) and I talk about what I want to talk about, not what someone else prefers. I will not change my style to accommodate someone with a different viewpoint than mine.

There’s a lot of talk about the book blogging community and what it should and should not be. I’ve been doing this for, let’s go with about three years so I’m still sort of new, and the reason I started was because it was a fun place to share ideas and learn about and discuss books. I still think that’s true but there seems to be pressure from outside trying to change what the community is. My plan is to ignore that and be what I am. I’m not trying to please everyone. I can’t and won’t even try. I’m just being myself.

So, that’s all. Carry on. I’m sure you’ve all got better things to do today. 🙂 And thanks for sticking with me till the end of my rambling, really long post today. I feel I should give you a prize for that. Gold stars for all!

PS – I just wanted to thank everyone that stopped by and left a comment. They were all very thoughtful and I agreed with everyone 100%. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to answer them personally but I appreciate your thoughts and I know others do as well.


8 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon – Review. Can I use that word?

  1. A really good response to all the review controversy lately. I agree with you. I think for an author to infer that all bloggers write non-reviews is very demeaning not just to bloggers but to all readers. It’s as if to say you can’t have a valid opinion unless you’re paid to do so. I know this isn’t exactly what was said, but to me it just feels that way. Bloggers are after all readers.

    Many reviews by bloggers may not be of the ‘professional’ standard but they are still reviews. It’s just semantics in the end. So to dictate to people what they can call a review or not a review is just silly and doesn’t really gain any respect from me.

    I do agree about the snark. Some snark can be good – if it’s well written but quite often what you see is not of that type. Snark in my opinion should be subtle and just a little barbed, but not vicious.

  2. Very interesting stuff you write about today! Good food for thought!
    I find 99% of the books I select to read are directly from reviews, thoughts, feedback etc on the book blogs I follow. Sometimes I even select a book to read from someone who did not care for it because their ‘review’ was filled with great, helpful information about the book. I value their insight and input and appreciate their ‘take’ on it.

  3. I totally agree with everything you had to say in this post, especially your reason for not accepting books for review. I don’t accept books for review either, and I’m not at all saying anything against bloggers that do. In fact, I wish I could! But I don’t really read that much, compared to most of the book blogging community, and I don’t want to put extra, unnecessary pressure on myself to read and review certain books by a certain time. It’s the same reason I stopped joining challenges. Like you, I’m enjoying reading what I want, when I want. I’m just trying to keep this blogging thing fun.

    I try to stay as far away from the drama, too. I’m just going to keep doing my thing, reading great (and sometimes not so great) books, sharing my thoughts on them, and joining in on discussions with other people who appreciate a well told story. Seems simple enough, right?

  4. Aw, thank you for the kind words. I’ve actually been drafting another post about it, since obviously I have strong feelings about this subject 😛 But yes, I agree that you have as much right to use the term “review” as anyone else. What people sometimes seem to disregard is that the term is used quite flexibly even in professional circles. Not all paid reviewers use the same format, and yet we refer to these *very* different pieces of writing as “reviews” without giving it a second thought.

    Attitudes towards partnerships with publishers and review copies among bloggers seem to range from complete subservience to an alarming sense of entitlement. I like how you look at it – your points are sensible and to the point.

  5. I’m also reconsidering accepting books for review. There are certain publishers and promoters that I enjoy working with, and I’m happy to read a book if an author has made an effort to chat with me on Twitter or to be a part of my blog, but I’m beginning to say no to all other requests. I’m simply receiving too many things in genres that I don’t enjoy, or things that aren’t suited to the theme and style of my site. I make a promise to review books that I’ve *requested* to review, but not necessarily those that arrive on spec. Perhaps Netgalley is the answer to my woes.

    (And that contract? Oh my!)

  6. Great post and thanks for those links, some of which I’d seen and some of which I’d missed. The way I see it, as I just said on Christina’s post (sorry, lack of sleep so just cross-commenting here):

    Just because we don’t review what some people find important doesn’t make them non-reviews. Bloggers review and critique gender, race, class, sexual identity and more in books, as well as the writing and characters and plot and etc. How is what we do not ‘reviewing’? Our posts are our thoughts and assessments. Hence, a review.

    That is my two cents on the whole issue anyway. I prefer our “reviews” to the professional stuff that is always biased to white, heterosexual, cisgender males. We embody, together, such a wide range of positions that we can recognize so much more than they do.

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