I have opinions, where should I put them?
March 16, 2013 1:52 PM   Subscribe

For the last few years, I have reviewed every book I read on Goodreads, just for my own edification. I read a lot. I have written a lot. Is there a better use to put this content to?

I'm not desperate to do anything in particular, but part of me feels like if I'm going to put all this effort into reviewing, either I or the world at large should be benefiting more from it. A couple of things I'm thinking about:

- I don't really want to port the reviews to some other aggregator (i.e. Amazon.) Amazon's review culture is super weird, and Goodreads is as good a home as any if they just need to live somewhere. Arguments to the contrary are welcome.

- I wouldn't mind figuring out a way to monetize this - via ads or whatever. Review copies are of less interest to me.

- I am an aspiring author, and I do not want to put myself in an awkward position re: potential colleagues should I ever get published. My reviews are very rarely negative, but it's still a weird situation to be in.

I have vague thoughts of putting up a review blog for just 4- and 5-star reviews and leaving the rest on Goodreads. Does this make sense? Is it worth the time? Assume I will be writing the reviews anyway, as that has been fun and I don't intend to stop.

Authors, publishing types, and reviewers are particularly encouraged to respond!
posted by restless_nomad to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
If your reviews tend toward a particular genre, you might want to see if you can get a gig reviewing for one or another established genre site. For example, in science fiction, The SF Site might be worth checking out. That would be an unpaid gig (unless things have changed since I was reviewing there, ten or so years back). But there may be other places that would pay you.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:58 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, right, that might be relevant - the vast majority of what I read is SF.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:00 PM on March 16, 2013


If I were you, I'd put together a package of my best reviews, write a killer cover letter, and try to get hired as a critic (online or off).

Also, I wouldn't worry about being too negative because of something that might happen in your nebulous future. People trust reviewers who know their craft, and providing your audience with detailed specifics--good or bad--gives people a reason to keep reading you.
posted by doreur at 2:09 PM on March 16, 2013


Step one: blog and monetize.

Step two: use blog as your clips and get paying gigs (they do not pay much, let me warn you right now, but still).

As for the "I might piss off other writers" I think "meh" about that myself. I have never written anything in a review that I wouldn't say to the person's face.

It does seem like a reasonable compromise to think of your personal review blog as a curated presentation of books you like, though.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:17 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I used to write human interest stories and book reviews for a small independent weekly newspaper. The pay wasn't great (steak dinners, some people got $30 an article). If you have any local publications, approach them with some samples.

And yeah, don't worry too much about offending other writers. Most writers are avid readers and even readers who don't write can recognize a good book from a bad one. Often, it doesn't even boil down to craft, but excellent story telling (i.e., Stephen King or Nicholas Sparks). As long as you're not getting all Bette Davis/Joan Crawford on someone, you should be fine.

You could also put them on a blog site and see if someone would pick them up for syndication or have you as a guest reviewer for more exposure.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:17 PM on March 16, 2013


Also, yay! I am looking forward to reading a review blog by you!
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:18 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't see how you can make money out of something you've already given away to the internet, permanently, for free. They're on Goodreads. If you can collect the best ones into a kind of press kit for your writing, and use that as a springboard for a new gig doing new reviews, that could work.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:00 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Put 'em on a blog!

I'd read your blog and make comments for the books I'd read too (also not too negative).
posted by jamjam at 3:03 PM on March 16, 2013


If you turn this into a blog (which I think is a good idea), I'd strongly recommend including a full range of reviews from 1 to 5 stars. Of course, it could still be more finely curated than your Goodreads reviews. If I see a reviewer who gives everything 4 or 5 stars, I feel like this person is more interested in being quoted in blurbs than in giving a warts-and-all assessment to help me decide whether it's worth buying. For instance, if you skim through some of the many Amazon reviews written by Newt Gingrich, they seem to be all 4 and 5 stars. This creates an effect where the whole starts to seem like less than the sum of its parts. You get used to how he calls everything extraordinary, fascinating, etc. If everything is extraordinary, nothing is.
posted by John Cohen at 3:18 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


As Guy_Inamonkeysuit points out, reviewing for online magazines is usually unpaid. You might find though that it stretches you in interesting ways. Here's another publication.
posted by BibiRose at 4:24 PM on March 16, 2013


Also, I wouldn't worry about being too negative because of something that might happen in your nebulous future. People trust reviewers who know their craft, and providing your audience with detailed specifics--good or bad--gives people a reason to keep reading you.

Disagree, as someone who has done this.

If your ultimate goal is to be a fiction writer and not a critic, you should absolutely be thinking about this. I felt sure that my own reviews were thoughtful enough not to make a difference to anyone (and they were mostly just on plain ol' goodreads, too), but writers are a squishy sort. I have seen and heard writers go all retributive on sixteen-year-old goodreads reviewers. This is, of course, their problem, not yours--but it's still a problem that might impact your career. Imagine my surprise when my agent wanted me to ask the NY Times bestselling author I'd slammed for a blurb. Never thought that was possible, but, whoops.

Which isn't to say it doesn't sometimes work out. I'd negatively reviewed another bestseller years ago, and now we're supertight friends and critique partners--but there was a period of significant awkwardness and anxiety for both of us. How would you feel hanging out over beers with someone who knows you hate their book? Imagine as awkward as it can get. If you're successful, that's likely to happen. I mean, it's just awkwardness. No death threats (yet), but you still have to be made of sterner stuff than I was, and I thought myself pretty tough, you know?

Significant monetization isn't likely on a blog, unless you can somehow gain a very large readership. I never really managed, despite four years of trying. Payment in genre mags is likely to be low. I get paid twenty dollars a pop at Strange Horizons. Free books really are the most significant "payment" (and eventually they start to look like homework, but that's a rant for another thread).

Because book blogging--and reviewing--is really, really, really hard work. Once you start getting free review copies, there are certain expectations for behavior, for reliability, and for timeliness. I loved doing it when it was good, but it can be grinding and thankless, too. Which isn't to say that you shouldn't start a review blog, if you really love it. Just that it needs to be rewarding in itself, not part of a broader moneymaking scheme.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:51 PM on March 16, 2013


PhoB, I was hoping you'd show up, thanks! I would love to hear (privately if need be) about what monetization you were able to achieve.

One thing I should probably clarify/reiterate - I have enough content right now to post a review a day for about a year and a half. I'm neither worried about it becoming too much work nor interested in taking on reviews of stuff that aren't already on my (extensive) to-read lists. So applying to review under someone else's editorial direction doesn't really work for me.

I realized, too, that I have a moribund and not-earning-its-hosting-fees Facebook game review blog, and a series of blog posts rewatching the first season of Dollhouse in detail, so maybe I just need to make a generic review blog and schedule six months of content out and see how it goes. But the sensitive-author thing really does bug me. I'm not likely to need anything from Piers Anthony, but Lev Grossman is probably a nice guy in person and is someone I may very well end up at a party with one of these days.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:20 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lev Grossman probably wouldn't care. He's a reviewer, himself. But still, a lot of authors do, and you never really know who, and you never really know who you'll be forced to contact for a blurb someday, or sit beside on a panel. And you'd think that li'l old goodreads reviews wouldn't matter, but they do. Many authors read them and get butt-hurt. Sorry, authors! I count myself among your butt-hurt ranks, if it helps.

Monetization: I've made, in total, about $35 in Amazon referral fees over the course of 15 months, and (were I getting paid for them), would have made $80 reviewing for Strange Horizons, but I was an editor in another department and so didn't get paid. This is after four years of reviewing, and keep in mind that I was a top-five goodreads reviewer at one point, with a fairly substantial following for the site. But the site culture has shifted, and it's really hard to rise up the ranks without a gimmick.

Similarly--and one of my consistent frustrations about blog reviewing--the best way to get blog followers, and therefore advertising eyes and dollars, is to host give-aways and the like, which is quite an expensive proposal. Other methods include active participation in internet drama (meh). Certainly, if you don't want review copies, you're putting yourself at a disadvantage. My traffic shot up after I started working with publicists, because very few people google for reviews months or even years after a book is published. If you're planning on reposting old reviews, I have trouble seeing how you're going to hook readers that might lead to bucks. Particularly if they can find the same reviews on goodreads.

Also, I wouldn't worry too much about working under editorial direction. I've loved working with Abigail Nussbaum at Strange Horizons. If you want to write professionally, it can't hurt to get used to the input of a kind editor, anyway.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:33 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


PhoB's got it right on the nose about every aspect of endeavoring to become a book blogger in the sci-fi/fantasy scene. Should you gain any sort of following or notoriety of voice, you will end up meeting those who believe you have wronged them. (Or, and this is important, meeting those who have to work towards the best interests of both of you.) In fact, you yourself were once right outside my office, speaking to my co-workers. That's how small this industry can get.

Reviewing in an industry you eventually want to be reviewed within is an extremely tricky balancing act and with only so much time to get a potential reader interested in a new book, it's debatable whether you should even post a negative review. Wouldn't you rather spend time telling a reader about something that wowed you than waste that time revisiting something you hated?

Criticism is a useful tool, but most folks tend to forget that it is also a delicate tool, and the absence of criticism can be an important critique in and of itself. The more you review, the more you begin to see that an uninteresting book makes itself known through the lack of attention it receives.

I agree with PhoB that there's not really any need for you to post reviews of books that have long since hit the shelves. An essay on a topic contained within the story of that book could still work, but it would have to be very engaging and of a wider scope. And I would strongly suggest against scheduling anything further than a few days out. Writing in public is akin to following a conversation. You jump in if you feel the need, and you remain present otherwise. Putting yourself on autopilot misses that process.

Also, I wouldn't worry too much about working under editorial direction. I've loved working with Abigail Nussbaum at Strange Horizons. If you want to write professionally, it can't hurt to get used to the input of a kind editor, anyway.

I strongly second this for non-fiction writing. Another pair of eyes never hurts. Further, if you write non-fiction for a larger outlet at some point then you will be receiving editorial notes and you'll need to know how to quickly incorporate them into your writing. This is very much a required skill in journalistic/non-fictional writing.

Finally: Lev Grossman is indeed a great guy in person.
posted by greenland at 10:28 PM on March 16, 2013


Just to chip in on the negative review question: as a reader of genre fiction who has no aspirations to be a writer (or even to meet or socialize with them), the kind of insider, back-patting, convention circuit dynamic that PhoB is talking about is a turnoff, and it's most of why I stick to older books. I don't need every other review to be a Dale Peck or Hitchens style slashing assault, but I feel like the last thing I need is another positive-reviews-only blog where one writer is "curating" their favorite other writers.

I realize that many readers are exactly the opposite of me, and participating in fan culture is a big part of the experience for them. I'm not criticizing that at all, just saying that it's not for everyone. There are at least a few of us out here who would prefer a blog with a negative review now and then :)

Two examples of review blogs I really like, that are broadly positive without being too fannish, are here and here.
posted by pete_22 at 3:41 AM on March 17, 2013


There's no reason you shouldn't be working towards professional reviewing. Get off Goodreads and get moving. Certainly people have made the jump from blogger to critic.

It would definitely help if you had an active, engaging website. It doesn't even have to be—probably shouldn't be!—a "reviews" website. But a place on the Internet where you write, where people can understand what you are, is a perfect start. Then, with that in hand, you can reach out one-by-one to places that publish criticism.

No one wants to hire a book critic who's a wuss or a back-slapper or what-have-you. What is the point of criticism? (I do realize that's an open question; not always sure myself.) But more specifically: what is the point of reading criticism? What people—editors, really—want is informed and insightful opinion, opinions that advance an argument about writing and writers and the world.

(That being said... you're not TOTALLY wrong. I've been reviewing books for years and have a book coming out this year, and I know that there is one mainstream publication I'm not even going to send galleys to, as I made no friends there in being (needfully!) cruel to a book by a long-time staffer. But so what? Who cares! Everyone's friend is everyone's fool.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:15 AM on March 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just to chip in on the negative review question: as a reader of genre fiction who has no aspirations to be a writer (or even to meet or socialize with them), the kind of insider, back-patting, convention circuit dynamic that PhoB is talking about is a turnoff, and it's most of why I stick to older books. I don't need every other review to be a Dale Peck or Hitchens style slashing assault, but I feel like the last thing I need is another positive-reviews-only blog where one writer is "curating" their favorite other writers.

Wanted to come back to say that it's a big turn-off for a lot of us--most writers I know realize that their faux fannish gushing is not very useful to readers as literary criticism. However, it is also essentially inescapable in the industry if you want a successful career. Publishers like authors who are willing to tour with other authors, who are able to politely leverage connections for blurbs, and so on.

Again, that's not to say that you shouldn't do litcrit if you love it--I still pen honest, real reviews for Strange Horizons. But building a successful monetized blog is another matter entirely. If you're serious about your critical writing, the best thing to do is find a venue, print or online, where you'll be paid and professionally edited. But as someone who did the reviewing-everything-she-read-for-free thing on goodreads for a long time, sometimes I do wonder if that was worth it. I was giving my writing away, and creating a lot of drama and anxiety for myself, too. And while I loved my review blog, and it made me friends, it was an endeavor which was far more work than it was worth, for only intangible rewards.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:44 AM on March 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


How would you feel hanging out over beers with someone who knows you hate their book? Imagine as awkward as it can get.

Yeah, but how do you think readers feel when they read critics who seem to be driven by a desire to avoid akward encounters at cocktail parties with authors who are offended at receiving criticism?
posted by John Cohen at 11:59 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but how do you think readers feel when they read critics who seem to be driven by a desire to avoid akward encounters at cocktail parties with authors who are offended at receiving criticism?

OP seems to define herself primarily as an author, not a critic.

Anyway, it's fine not to like author/critics who by necessity must tip-toe around the social complications of being both (though there are many excellent critics you might therefore want to avoid--Lev Grossman among them), but I felt it prudent to speak honestly about the awkwardness one encounters when wearing both hats. It might not be the type of thing the public loves to hear, but the reality of the situation is that the publishing world is much, much smaller than one suspects before you're in it. As I've said, this isn't a warning to not review, or to only review positively. Personally, I do neither. But it's an important aspect to consider before professionalizing yourself both in criticism and in fiction.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:21 PM on March 17, 2013


Just to chip in on the negative review question: as a reader of genre fiction who has no aspirations to be a writer (or even to meet or socialize with them), the kind of insider, back-patting, convention circuit dynamic that PhoB is talking about is a turnoff, and it's most of why I stick to older books

There's a difference between being a critic and an author/critic. Critics are beholden to no one and there's plenty of room in the world for people who do nothing but review books. However, being an author as well makes it tricky.

You can be completely honest and say somebody's book made you want to throw it against the wall, repeatedly, and then set it on fire. But you're kind of looney toons if you think the author of that book is going to invite you to an incredibly prestigious and important event over which they have sole control. There are plenty of authors who have said nothing about them (it's not just the people who fawn who get in, you see,) that they can privilege over you.

You have no control over what your publisher wants you to do, or arranges on your behalf. So enjoy the car ride sitting across from your colleague, whom you called didactic, flobby and useless. Imagine the exciting chemistry you'll have on a panel in front of hundreds of people when you're seated next to someone you said had never had a single unique idea and published the same gruel-shaped book again and again.

Authors do not work in an office with each other. But they are work colleagues nonetheless. Most authors can take a thoughtful negative review, though it might sting and you won't want to be besties with the reviewer. But nobody wants to deal with somebody who attacked their book AND their body of work AND their worth as an author. You wouldn't expect to get a letter of recommendation from a boss you called shrill and unappealing to his face, either.

As a critic you can and should say anything you like. But as a critic who plans to be an author-- I recommend reviewing books outside your genre. That way, you'll never be put in the position of writing a letter to an author you called a talentless hack, to ask them to write a cover blurb for your debut novel.

BTW, all examples in this post are real examples culled from real authors. And the first example is how I personally learned this lesson the hard way.
posted by headspace at 1:56 PM on March 17, 2013


OP seems to define herself primarily as an author, not a critic.

No, her question is about "reviewing." That means being a critic. They're synonyms.
posted by John Cohen at 2:11 PM on March 17, 2013


No, her question is about "reviewing." That means being a critic. They're synonyms.

No, the third point of her question is specifically about being an author aside from being a critic.

- I am an aspiring author, and I do not want to put myself in an awkward position re: potential colleagues should I ever get published. My reviews are very rarely negative, but it's still a weird situation to be in.
posted by headspace at 2:16 PM on March 17, 2013


Do not make me get all moddy in my own thread, guys.

PhoB is, incidentally, correct - I don't see myself as a critic necessarily, and I only call what I write "reviews" because that's what Goodreads calls them. They're really just personal reaction pieces, working through what makes it tick from a writer's point of view as much as from a reader's. More like the sort of stuff on tor.com rather than magazine reviews - I don't have any particular desire to read only new books or try to influence what people buy.

One of the things that this thread has helped me identify is that I am increasingly twitchy about having my substantial body of writing go poof on me, Google Reader style. That's a consideration completely separate from monetization or audience.

But the other thing that's becoming clear is that it's kind of naive to assume that because I'm only reviewing on Goodreads, that I'm in less danger of pissing people off. I know some authors don't read Goodreads reviews, but some definitely do, and putting up a blog is only going to change the situation incrementally. So that may be more of a consideration in how I write than where I write.

(I am amused to learn that Lev Grossman is a reviewer; I only picked him because his book is one of the relatively few that I have actively loathed recently. Most of my reviews are positive-ish because I read books I think I will like, and after all these years I've gotten quite good at picking them out.)
posted by restless_nomad at 2:42 PM on March 17, 2013


Well, with the news that Amazon is acquiring Goodreads, I think I'm going to go ahead and put up my own site. Thanks for all the advice, y'all! (It'll be on Projects when it's live, of course.)
posted by restless_nomad at 1:16 PM on March 28, 2013


My new site is up!
posted by restless_nomad at 2:56 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


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