The Pitfalls of Being a Reviewer

Being a reviewer isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Sure, anyone can write “That manga sucks”, or “This manga totally rules!”.  But to thoughtfully read a book and then put down into words not just your feelings about the book, but do it in an interesting and intelligent way that people will want to read is a lot harder than it sounds.

Being too subjective: Yes, I am writing a review and giving my personal opinion about the title.  But at the same time, I don’t want to go all “fan girl” either, and just go on and on about how much I like the title.  I want to give enough information for readers to have a basic idea what the title is about, while at the same time expressing my likes and dislikes.  If I really like a title, I will go on more about what I consider it’s good points, but it’s hard some times not to become a cheerleader for a title.  That’s appropriate for a blog post, not a review.

On the other side of the coin…

Heckling a Book: Not all manga out there is going to be great literature, and sometimes I’ll have to review a book that is just plain bad.  And I’m going to have to tell my audience it was bad.  But making fun of the book isn’t the way to do it.  A snarky remark here and there is fine, but when the entire review does nothing but bad mouth the story, and/or art, and says nothing constructive about it, then IMO, it ceases being a review.  I know nothing I say can change the book, but leaving people with a completely negative feeling about a book just isn’t right.  My intention is to inform and entertain, not turn into Dennis Leary.  Leave the ranting to the blog post, not the review.

Worrying about the the Publisher Will Think: I get review titles from publishers, and sometimes I find myself falling into this line of thought.  “What will the publisher think when he/she reads my review?  Will they be mad I didn’t like it?  Will they stop sending me review copies?” It seems kind of silly I know, but it does pop into my head sometimes, especially if I didn’t like the volume.  But then, I have to remind myself, the reason I got the review copies is so I can give my honest opinion of the titles.  It’s promotion to the publishers, since good or bad, they just want the titles seen by as many people as possible.  But to me, I feel it’s important that I give my full and honest opinion of a book, not just what I think others want to hear.

This is perhaps the hardest part about writing reviews.  Writers want people to read their work, and if they think someone, either audience or publishers, won’t like what they think, they might be less honest and more what they think the readers want to hear.  This leads me to my next point.

Pandering to an audience: When writing a review, I don’t believe the writer should be thinking about what the audience or publisher will want to hear.  This leads to all kinds of problems, especially since you can not make everyone happy.  That review you write about YAOI manga for the fujoshi may strike a wrong chord and raise the ire of an anti-YAOI fan, and put you into a position you probably don’t want to be in.  It’s easier to just be honest and write what you think.  It’s also easier to defend your writing.  Some writers may feel they have to do this to get their reviews published.  While I have sympathy for writers getting paying gigs, I’m not buying the magazine or whatever just to read what you think I want to hear.  Your other readers probably aren’t either.

Scoring: There are lots of different opinions about using scores.  What scale do you use?  How many?  Should you make up your own?  Or should you use on at all?  Different sites will have different criteria and scales.  The way I see it, is a score is there to let people see at a glance whether or not you liked the book, without having to search the review.  Yes, doing that will get people to read the whole review, but I don’t want to force people into reading my writing.  Either they like what I have to say and how I say it, or they don’t.  And sometimes, seeing a score will spur someone into reading a review they might not have otherwise.  If someone doesn’t like a book you do, they usually want to know why.  But then, as a reviewer, you have put all your thoughts and feelings into a number or letter, which can be difficult.  What makes a 6 better than a 7?  Is this closer to a C or a B?  I like using a scoring system, as it’s less ambiguitous, and the reason I started writing reviews is let everyone know what I think about a title or volume.

I’m not going to say I don’t fall into some of these pitfalls.  No matter how careful or conscious I am of my writing, I’m sure I’ve been guilty of some of these problems.  Especially if I’m evanglizing a title, or think a volume has been wronged.  But I at least try not to go to far to one extreme or the other.  Everything in Moderation, even reviews.

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