Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Value of Honest Criticism

I have this intention in my writing life, when I encounter the work of another independent author I look to offer them a review of their opus. Reviews are useful for lots of reasons; people do actually read them on marketplaces like Amazon. They help get potential readers to at least glance at the book on offer. They are important.

It is because they are important that they should also be both honest and accurate. I am not of the persuasion that just because someone has put something into the public domain then it is fair game to be shoved through the mincer regardless of how this might hurt the feelings of the originator. The best criticism is constructive by nature. It is not enough to just post “this is crap!”

Just recently I finished a couple of books and wrote critiques for both of them. They were both works of historical fiction but I do read other genres. In each case when I went to post the reviews on Amazon, to whom I attach no blame whatsoever, I found that someone had posted very uncomplimentary reviews.

Although the writers were not the same the content of the reviews were similar in spirit, that is, they both awarded a single star and rubbished the writer’s efforts. In my opinion this was uncalled for, not least because it is totally unhelpful, in fact all it seemed to do was allow the post-writer an opportunity to vent their spleen. About what? About a book! Not a contentious book, nor one that was offensive. In both cases the books in question offered the reader an interesting tale set in the early medieval period.

Now a critic can talk about plot construction, the use of language, style, accuracy, syntax, character delineation, the engagement of the reader. Indeed, that is what a critic should do, but it takes a degree of skill and training to do this effectively; a bit like writing a book actually. The two one star posts did none of these things. They nit-picked without example, expressed personal opinion as an argument, offered no encouragement, and concentrated on the negative. They were not useful.

For a new author such critiques can have a far greater impact and lasting resonance than the actual weight of their content deserves. Such is the nature of the writer’s art that what we put out there is personal and sometimes it is difficult not to feel such barbs as a personal attack also.

I sincerely hope that the critiques that I post are both helpful and encouraging to new authors and prospective readers alike. It is easy to be cruel in this world but it does not take that much effort to be honest to someone who has taken the time and trouble to put their heart into their work.

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