Why didn’t I review your book?

Why didn’t I review your book?

In a comment to a recent facebook post I made to highlight one of my new reviews, I received the following comment from Bryan Thomas Schmidt, author and anthologist:

“ How come you never review my stuff… I don’t care if you hate it, but please review it.”

This blog post arose out of my thoughts in response to Bryan’s question. The tl;dr answer is: “It’s complicated.” but for those willing to read on, please do so.
Time

“Time is the fire in which we burn” -Soran (Malcolm McDowell) , Star Trek Generations

On a recent SF Signal podcast, I talked with Patrick Hester, Sarah Chorn, Fred Kiesche and Rachel Cordasco about audiobooks. In the course of that conversation, we got to comparing books read total for the year to date, physical and otherwise. Sarah, of course, being a demigoddess of reading, has read the most, somewhere in the 160’s. Fred is similarly high, thanks to listening to a lot of audio fiction. Rachel is looking to read 80 books this year or so. Me, I’m around a hundred at present. I figure to hit ~110 by the end of the year. That’s a lot compared to the average reader, but its really a drop in the bucket compared to the books that come out in a given year.

Even with 110 books in a year, I can’t read everything, and I can’t even read everything I *want* to read when I read it. When a dozen books of interest come out in a month, I’m already behind the eight ball, and falling further behind all the time. I value long driving trips (as I mentioned on the aforementioned podcast) because it lets me eat up audiobooks in a way my day to day situation (short commute, work that doesn’t encourage deep listening) does not. Plus, in addition to reviewing and reading in my free time, I have other interests–photography, roleplaying games, computer games, adventures of all sorts.

MONEY

“What is the answer to 99 out of 100 questions?… Money” – Vanilla Sky

I can’t buy every book I want to own. Its economically impossible in my situation to do so, and I have other interests to pay for, as well as the basics of life. I buy a fair amount of books, but I cannot buy everything I want.

I can hear you now, though. “Don’t you, Mr. Big Reviewer, receive a fuckton of review copies?”

Yes and no. I receive a modest number of review copies. I know reviewers who get 5-10 books in a typical week. Me, I don’t receive a review copy of something every week. A pretty scintillating week can have me receive 3. Some publishers are much tighter with me than others.

“Mr. Big Reviewer, you in particular work for SF Signal. I know they receive a ton of books. So why didn’t you get the book that way?”

SF Signal (hello John. Have a bagel!) is very good to me. John is not independently wealthy, though, so going begging for review copies he has to spend time and money sending to me is somnething I’ve become increasingly loath to do. I have plenty of books to read and it feels like special pleading to ask John for a copy of something unless I really, really, gotta have it. There are some authors I do that for because I will read anything they write. (Hello Kate Elliott! Hi there, Martha Wells! My good friend, (Elizabeth) Bear, you know you’re on *this* list too). But I don’t generally ask John for packages of books much anymore.

So it is entirely possible that I don’t even have a copy of your book, or won’t for quite some time. I am not going to Klausner you and review a book I haven’t read.

INTEREST

“and the kidnapping of a Duke’s son is of interest”–The Count of Monte Cristo

While wide, I have a defined interest in my reading in genre fiction and every other subgenre of fiction and nonfiction for that matter. I’m willing to try new things, but there are things in genre that frankly don’t interest me. Ghosts, for example, are something I have near to zero interest in. I didn’t and don’t even use them much in Dungeons and Dragons games. There are a number of fine writers who I am sympatico with who have written novels with ghosts in them (hi Jaime Lee Moyer!) Sorry, its not to my taste, and I have no interest in reading said books. There are historical eras that really don’t grab my interest, either, if you’re talking history or historical fantasy. Its entirely possible your book falls into the areas of genre fiction I really don’t have much interest in reading.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY

“Good. Bad. I’m the one with the Gun” -Ash, Army of Darkness

In writing reviews, I am engaging in writing. It might not be the kind of writing that earns me a Hugo Award nomination (although I am certainly eligible). Its not the kind of writing that pays a single one of my bills, not even for the mocha frappucino at Starbucks yesterday. I do this for the love of doing it, because I like and love doing it.

I don’t review everything I read–because I don’t like everything I read. I have a pretty high hit rate, but I’ve had stretches of books that just did not work for me. You rarely see reviews of these books from me. Reading and reviewing a book I don’t want to read, or reviewing a book I had a tepid or negative reaction can have mixed results at best.

The Willful Child, by Steven Erikson, is a book that I was eager to read, since I love his epic fantasy. My experience,however, was epically negative. It wasn’t just a meh response, it was a near-throw-against-the-wall book. I managed a review of it by treating it humorously (sort of in the vein of Justin Landon, who has (used to) review books negatively with giant dollops of humor.

Less successful is the case of Patricia Burroughs’ This Crumbling Pageant. My reading and review of TCP is a case of what happens when I read a book on request, don’t care for it tremendously, and write a review against my better judgement. In normal circumstances, I would have not reviewed it at all. Pooks begged me to, and I struggled to write a review of a book that fell on the lower end of the “meh” scale for me. It was no fun, I derived no pleasure from it, and I still feel bad about the entire affair. Pooks’ book is not the only one where I’ve felt bad about not liking the book of someone I feel I get along with, either.

It’s the mushy middle, though, that really is the mud of the Agincourt field that traps me, however. Its easy to write a review of something I love. I can manage to do a review of a really negative reading experience if I look at it the right way. But a meh book? Reviewing those are really hard. I have no enthusiasm to just grind out words and not a tremendous incentive to do so. I do want to support authors like Deliah S Dawson, who ask for reviews of everything they write, but if a book doesn’t resonate with me, its a slog and a word mine to come up with an acceptable review.

And that’s why I didn’t review your book.

Update: Rob Bedford talks to Justin Landon about these issues on the newest Rocket Talk Podcast

10 thoughts on “Why didn’t I review your book?”

  1. Yeah, I could write many versions of this post, and it’s entirely possible that I did 6 or 8 years ago. Though I no longer care. Given my schedule I read and review between 20 and 30 books a year. I easily receive 10 times that, and possibly a lot more once ebooks are counted. Then throw in the 1000 or so that are sitting around from previous years (these are the one’s I haven’t culled) I simply can’t read them all, never have, never will.

    So, I rarely even bother to read those inquiry emails that I get – sometime 5-10 per day. Especially if they are addressed to Neth or generically. Next, is that I only consider presses I’ve heard of. Yes, this is harsh and probably unfair, but it’s culling that I’ve got to do for my own sanity. It’s not that I won’t review for small/independent presses, it’s just they have to earn a positive reputation that makes it to my ears first. Again, this is for my own sanity and time management.

    And finally, no matter how big name an author is or isn’t, if they are even a little bit asshole-ish to me, that’s enough. I will not read/review your books ever. I have plenty of good books waiting to be read and not enough time to ever read them. So I won’t bother with author’s who aren’t professional and respectful to me.

    But them I’m just a crotchety old blogger these days, and a blogger who doesn’t blog all that much at that.

  2. Every author needs to read this blog post. And every reviewer who feels pressured or overwhelmed by the expectations they’ve put on themselves.

    My challenge I like to read a lot of backlist titles too (Brust, Czerneda and Banks, I’m looking at you). So for all the new titles fighting for space on my priority list, there are a good 20 older titles fighting for that same space. Many of the books that are mailed to me were unsolicited, and I sometimes feel bad that publishers are spending their $ on the shipping costs. I have read some of these unsolicited titles, but for the most part they are set aside as low priority.

    It’s all a matter of time, something that is in finite supply. love reading, but I can’t and won’t do it for more than a few hours each day. And I am not a fast reader. And It takes me anywhere from two to six hours to write a review. Do the math.

    I completely agree with Neth, that politeness goes a LONG way. I am NOT a shill or a publicist for your book, and if I get any inkling that someone sees me that way, forget it.

  3. I hear ya on all these points. I recently reviewed The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu on Goodreads in one of my shortest reviews to date. Part of that was short of time and better than nothing, but another part thought id said mostly what was needed. Maybe the brevity was more justified because it is book two in a series. I saw the link on facebook for his new book deal and essentially wrote my review as the text of sharing it on my wall. I don’t think I’ll do this for every book I read, but it felt like a different take on reviewing that may reach people who don’t read Goodreads or amazon or blogs for reviews.

    I wish I had had time to be on that podcast, most of my reading these days is via audio books.

  4. I totally understand this. I’ve got two novels to read for blurbs, three novels to read for award consideration (I’m one of the award judges), two novellas to edit, a novel to finish writing, then another short story and a chapter to write before the end of the year.

    I do write reviews. When I receive the book. When I have time. When I like the book enough to spend that time talking about it. It makes me appreciate it all the more when someone does take the time to write a review of one of my projects–on Amazon or GoodReads or a full on blog post.

    So, thank you for the work you do. I appreciate it and read all your reviews.

  5. Great post. I completely agree with all of this.

    I’m a slow reader, and I don’t devote a lot of time to reading in text. The vast majority of my reading is in audio and that’s filled up consistently with short fiction podcasts, so audiobooks just aren’t really on my radar. I try to read the Hugo noms every year, but rarely get to them all. All told, I might read 3-4 novels a year.

    Generally if I want a review copy, I request one directly from contacts at the publishers and so far I’ve generally gotten a postiive response to the request. Sometimes these contacts send me unsolicited books. I’ve asked them what they’d like me to do with these books when I don’t think I will have time to read them. They said it was acceptable for me to give these books away, so I just give them away to local genre-loving friends who express interest and who promise not to give them back to me.

  6. A very well-reasoned post, Paul. But that’s what we’ve come to expect from you. While any author/editor is working hard to get their books into the hands of reviewers one must realize posing certain questions in a public light doesn’t always shine the light on the subject you hoped it would. A private exchange between the reviewer and individual hoping to have their work reviewed is probably the best way to ask such questions. This way no parties are put into a publicly awkward and initially defensive position.

    Quite frankly, many of us reviewers receive a significant quantity of books to review; we have many choices of our own books to read. This isn’t our job, it is something we all do because we enjoy doing it. With all of the stuff to read out there (either that we already have or are seeking to acquire for whatever reading purposes – review or non-review), when certain light exposes certain cracks, it just makes narrowing down what to read all the easier.

    In other words, what Neth said.

    Interestingly enough, rumor has it a certain podcast and guest on the podcast conversed about a subject not too dissimilar to what you’ve echoed here.

    Excellent point Andrea: “My challenge I like to read a lot of backlist titles too (Brust, Czerneda and Banks, I’m looking at you). “

  7. WE’RE FIGHTING, PAUL. THIS IS A FIGHT.

    Kidding. I’m always grateful when someone gives my books a try, even knowing that they might not resonate. Good or bad, reviews are a gift, and I totally respect those who write them.

  8. I take forever to write reviews. Part of that is definitely the time issue, which is kind of intentional at this point (running a podcast that conducts interviews kinds of sucks your time away from doing other things). The big time suck is the writing process, though. I just take forever. And it’s not because I don’t know what to say; I *know* what I think about a book, but I can’t seem to find the right way to say it because I overcomplicate everything. I hope that means the reviews I do write are good, but hell of I know. I’m not as prolific as the other bloggers out there, so I don’t get as much attention (probably for good reason).

    Anywho. Good post, Paul 🙂

  9. Excellently written, my friend. I actually have to commend you for the amount you DO review. As you know, I used to review pretty much everything I read (or at least tried to – averaging around 160-200 books a year makes it tough). But it got to be a slog. And then I’d start to feel guilty when I didn’t review X book or Y book, because it didn’t seem fair to the author to not put in my two cents. So I’d get incredibly far behind in my reviewing (Me, an ostrich? Never!) Reading this reminded me that no one is counting on my reviews, and if I don’t review something, oh well. I’m still trying to get back into the scene, but I’m going to not expect more than I can give.

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