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Last time I talked a bit about how I got into reviewing and promised this time to delve a bit more into the life of a reviewer. Or, to be more accurate, my life as a reviewer. Today I’ll talk about some reviewing experiences, how I select what to review, my own review process, and some of the issues that most reviewers face if they stick with the work for any length of time.
Most reviewers understand that their reviews don’t necessarily sway people. People are already leaning in one direction or another and use reviews to confirm what they already suspect. The second way that reviews are used are to validate a person’s experience. They’ve read the book, seen the movie, eaten the meal, licked the toad and want to confirm what they went through.
Given that, being a reviewer is kind of an odd experience. People do know your name but they don’t always know from where. Writers certainly know your name once you’ve been doing this for a while and will develop a kind of love/hate relationship with you. They want you to review their work but only if it’s going to be a positive review. Publicists want to drop their books on you but know if they give you a dog, you’ll point out that it barks. Even if a review is positive, writer’s and producers, and actors and publicists and others will often grab onto one single piece of negativity and project that forward. A good example of this is a book I reviewed where I thought the publisher played a bit dirty with page count by adding in a novella at the end of what was a good, but short novel. I mentioned that I thought this was deceitful to the reader since it was mentioned nowhere on the cover or the back of the book. Well, the writer evidently took that as a personal affront and wrote to the magazine in which the review was published threatening legal action (none followed), destruction of the magazine (this also never happened), and made any number of negative personal statements about me and my writing ability. This wasn’t enough though as the writer then immediately wrote a short story about a planet where the inhabitants were so primitive that all they had to trade with other civilizations were items crafted from their own excrement. The name of this planet? Sawicki. So, the Sawicki’s were evidently a bit backward in their culture and this was the point of the whole short story. Silly writer. Needless to say I don’t feel the need to review any of that author’s work any more.
I was at a cocktail party in Manhattan and happened to be talking to the science fiction reviewer for the New York Times Review of Books. He mentioned that he hated meeting writers because he felt it might bias him towards their work if they were nice people. I suppose the opposite would be true as well although you tend not to spend much time talking to assholes so maybe not.
These are issues that reviewers must deal with–being both a part but apart from the same process you are focusing on. Not always easy. Thank goodness the pay is so phenomenal.
I’m often asked how I pick what I review. For the most part I pick only from material that I am sent. Understand that I get a lot of books. (I’m reviewing mostly books now, when I was reviewing movies I got a lot of videos and dvds). I create piles based solely on publication date. I tend not to review series books unless I am reading the series. So, I won’t review book number three if I have not read the first two. These books get culled right at the start. There are certain authors that I tend not to like. I tend not to read their books, although I will slot one in now and then just to see if my tastes, or their writing, has changed. At some point books that are not gotten to quickly enough need to be removed from the pile because their publication date has passed. It’s a true thing that I have not read a book that was not a review copy in almost ten years. In other words I don’t buy books even though I read better than one a week. Other than that I pick books probably the same way everyone picks books, by how the book looks, how the blurbs read, who the author is and what I feel like at that point in time. I have a short pile of 5 or 6 books that I select from, a secondary pile with fifteen to twenty books in it and then, the last, and biggest pile. It does take a bit of effort to get out of that last pile and, if you’re attentive, maybe in some future episode I will tell you about bathroom books.
After that it’s just read, think, write. Over, and over, and over.
As a writer I do know many of the writers that I review. As a writer I also get reviewed. Oddly enough I hate getting reviewed. I find it painful to read a review of my own work. I take it very personally. I rarely go after the reviewer though. Most writers, although many won’t admit it, are affected by reviews and comments. Most are more affected by negative than positive comments. Human nature I suppose. And, yet, it’s all part of the business so none of us can avoid it.
Next time I’ll talk a bit about how the books actually get to me, publicity departments, blurbs, finding places to write reviews for, and maybe share another experience or two with you from the reviewing life. Until then, good reading and if you feel the need to review this blog, don’t tell me about it.