Thursday, June 2, 2016

Reviewing books? Who needs it?

Recently I wrote a very positive review of a first novel for an online magazine. It contained some "spoilers." Actually, I don't believe that "spoilers" necessarily spoil a book for readers. Many reviewers reveal some of the plot as part of their analysis of the book.

 Generally  editors accept the necessity of some spoilers in a serious, thoughtful review. Years ago I read a review of Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women, in which the reviewer mentioned that the two young men with whom the central character gets involved were two sides of the same coin. At the beginning of the novel there is no indication that the central character, Dell, will ever have a boyfriend, let alone two! Rather than spoiling the story for me, the reviewer's comments stirred my curiosity, kept me reading and helped me to understand the theme better.

The author whose book I recently reviewed sent me several emails. Normally an author wouldn't do that. The first was innocuous enough; she asked me to let her know when her book arrived. I did. Then a few weeks later she emailed me again to ask how the review was coming along. I reported back that I had sent it to the editor who hadn't posted it yet.  

Then, soon after it was posted, the editor emailed me saying that the author felt the review contained too many spoilers and had edited it to remove them. The editor was willing to post the edited version if I approved.

I too have been a new author, and I too have sought reviews in the hope of selling books.I have never complained about a review to an editor, though, not even  when I was mystified as to what book the reviewer had actually read, because it sure didn't sound like mine.

 I consider it unprofessional of a writer to demand that a review be changed.  In the case of one sloppy review that missed the point of my novel, I didn't demand a do-over and I certainly didn't revise the review to suit myself. Other reviews were about a book that was recognizably mine,  and I used the most positive ones to publicize my novel.  

What the author did, essentially, was use my review as a framework for creating a review that she liked. I have often wanted to self-review my books, but never thought I could get away with it. Clearly I lack imagination and initiative. 

On one previous occasion, I was asked to change a review. In that instance, the author was an acquaintance of the editor and was a hypersensitive member of a minority group, so I made the changes she wanted, but I will never again read or review anything she has written. And in this second instance, I also said O.K., because I'd already spent enough time thinking about that ****** book. 

The moral:  The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Or, whining brings results.

Reviewing books? Who needs it?

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