So, I initially balked at posting this entry. I did, in fact, post it a few days ago, then thought to myself, “Now that I’m published, am I even allowed to do things like this? Won’t that count toward bad press?” and opted to delete it. Then I realized something; there is actually nothing wrong with the blog post itself, but the negative perception others might hold towards it, if I don’t handle the subject matter with care.
To get to the point, I’m writing this entry because of something that recently happened. I won’t mention names, because I’m not interested in sending people on a witch hunt or throwing shade or anything of that nature; I just want to outline my experience, and my view on this unspoken thing when it comes to rating and reviewing a friend’s work.
Many of us have been there. A friend launches their debut novel, so in eager anticipation, we set out to read it as soon as we can. Only once we do, we’re hit with a moral conundrum–the book isn’t very good. It isn’t that the plot or characters don’t have potential, but the execution itself is lacking. Most readers come to expect that no matter how amazing a writer might be, there will be the occasional typo that slips through the editing net–but what happens when the typos aren’t occasional? What happens when nearly every page is filled with grammatical errors, technical faux-pas, and the characters prove to be two-dimensional and bland? How do we approach the subject with the writer friend without potentially sending them into a spiralling depression or a snarling rage?
For some, they might decide it better not to say anything at all. They might opt to refrain from reviewing the friend’s novel, or they might even lie through their teeth to spare said friend’s feelings. While the former was definitely something I personally considered, the latter is something I’d be intensely uncomfortable doing. Harsh truth or not, I prefer to be honest.
So, honesty is what I went with. I was highly diplomatic about it, even pulling my punches where criticism was concerned to ensure that it was clear my criticism was of the work itself, not the author.
It’s decisions like this that make me wonder if I’m masochistic.
Unfortunately, said criticism (even in the presence of praise), was not well received; not by the author, and not by one of their friends.
I won’t go into all the details, other than to say it wasn’t pretty. Moreover, both during my experience and following its conclusion, I came across others that had had similar experiences–not with the author in question, mind you, but with other authors (mostly indie, I’m sad to say), and other readers who had taken exception to their differing opinions. Suffice it to say, I took heart in knowing I wasn’t alone, and that things could have been much, much worse.
In any case, the point I want to come to is this: as a writer, if you put your work out there for all to see–be it posting it online or becoming a published author–it’s in your best interest to come to terms with the fact that you will receive criticism, no matter how talented or experienced you are. I’m not saying you’re not allowed to feel a certain way when you get those bad reviews. What I am saying is, you need to be ready for whatever comes, develop a thicker skin so that you don’t take it personally when someone criticizes your work. Because more often than not, when someone writes a negative review, it’s not the author personally they have an issue with–it’s the work itself.
Likewise, it seems some readers can’t distinguish that line either, as illustrated by the problem I shared above. Granted, there are people who make malicious reviews out there, who get personal and say nasty things about the author–and when it comes to those kinds of reviewers, I can totally understand being upset with them. But what people need to realize is 1) Not every negative review is malicious, 2) Automatically giving your author friend a 5-star review doesn’t make you a better friend than the person who took the time to construct a 3-star review illustrating the book’s strong and weak points.
To be clear, I’m not saying giving your author friend 5-stars automatically makes you a sycophant–but if you do give them a 5-star review, and you know, deep down, you aren’t being honest and you’re only doing it because you don’t want to hurt their feelings or deal with backlash from other readers, then you are providing a disservice to yourself, to the author, and to the reading community as a whole.
I don’t know when or why people decided true friendship was all pats on the back and praise: Friendship has a much more complex structure than that, and sometimes that entails brutal honesty (or in the case of leaving reviews, honesty and a sense of separation between both the author and their work, as well as the reviewer’s personal relationship with the author and the ability to be objective as a reader.)
What I do know is, I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid…and if you know me and have a less-than-stellar opinion of my novel, I don’t expect you to, either.
So, what are your thoughts on the matter? Where do you stand when it comes to rating and reviewing the work of someone you know? Do you do it, and if so, are you okay with being honest? Or would you sooner avoid it altogether? Feel free to comment your thoughts below.