#IWSG: For Whom Do I Write Book Reviews?

This entry is part 16 of 16 in the series Insecure Writer's Support Group

On the first Wednesday of every month, members of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (open to anyone and full of great resources and information for writers) post their answers to a monthly prompt on their blogs. Authors benefit from getting an insightful prompt for generating more blog content, and IWSG links all respondents, which is a way for writers to discover each other. Pretty neat!

December 6 question: Book reviews are for the readers. When you leave a book review do you review for the Reader or the Author? Is it about what you liked and enjoyed about your reading experience, or do you critique the author?

Hmm, I might quibble with the question itself. The first sentence of the prompt is a (proposed? presumed? pre-concluded?) answer to the second, and the third sentence assumes a false dichotomy.

But I think I can answer the spirit of the question this way: Neither. I write book reviews for myself.

Note that I make a distinction between reviews and providing thoughtful critique directly to an author that has explicitly requested it of me, the latter of which I think is a very useful practice that I am always honored to be asked to do.

The act of writing the review helps me organize my thoughts on the book’s contents and how it made me feel. The outcome is twofold. Firstly, composing the helps me summarize my own takeaways as a reader, which then leads to a reflection of what it makes me think of in my own life, what new I might have learned, and how I might be changed as a person. Secondly, the review helps me condense and package takeaways for my own writing, such as lessons to be learned in structure, pacing, character, or just interesting elements that might inspire something else I’m writing.

If another reader or the author happens to find the comments helpful too, that’s great! But it’s rare I ever post a review anywhere, unless explicitly invited to, or I really feel that I have something unique to say (for example as with my review of The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida). Another exception might be when I post “reviews” to closed fora of friends, such as on a shared Discord server, for the purposes of personal discussion.

Maybe this is cynical, but it seems that public reviews are so flooded by repetitive and substanceless postings, most of which I cannot tell whether they are real or fake (or just propaganda – “Hey! Everybody check out my friend’s new book! It’s amazing!”) anymore, I’m not sure what good contributing my own drop to the sea of endless internet comments really accomplishes.

As a reader, I can’t say I put much stock in general consumer reviews of books (or any other subjective medium). There have been so many occasions where I love a book (or movie) with lackluster reviews, or DNF a book that has stellar reviews, that I have very little confidence that they actually correlate well with my own enjoyment. Instead, I’ll take recommendations from friends and family who know my taste, or from curated sources that I’ve grown to trust over time.

And as a writer, while it certainly is a wonderful feeling to see people engaging with something I wrote, I doubt I would actually change anything about my writing based on any particular review, unless perhaps some criticism is very serious and pervasive. But if that were true, I would hope that I would catch such a problem well before publication — through multiple rounds of workshopping with writers, making use of beta readers, and seeking out independent editing.

TL;DR – Pretty convinced that 90% of online book reviews are useless. Accepting challenges.

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One Comment

  1. That’s the great thing about writing in general. It helps you organize your thoughts on a subject so you can more easily understand it. When we do that with reviews, we get more out of the story and it helps us think about its structure and elements to where it helps us improve on our own stories.

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