Okay, folks, time to talk blogs and recommendations and big-time insecurity. I started writing this ramble a few days ago and realized that maybe, just maybe, some of y’all have had similar thoughts from time to time. And, as yesterday marked my 50th post here (!!!), this seemed like an apt time to wax philosophical.
See, I love writing book reviews, both for myself (helps me consolidate my thoughts on a book and remember it better later) and for others (because maybe my thoughts will help you pick up your next favorite, or avoid a book that would waste your time?). But there is a certain sense of unease that comes with writing reviews (and blog posts, but mostly reviews). Part of it is imposter syndrome, and part of it is a sort of fear of the perception of strong personal opinions, and both kind of suck, but they’re not entirely unexpected, either.
Let’s break them both down. As a former speech team kid, I try to present things in a problem/cause/solution order, so bear that in mind as we go along. I’m doing my best to diagnose what leads to the anxious mindset around reviewing, as well as reasons to counteract that thinking. Maybe they’ll be helpful for you?
1. Imposter syndrome
Earlier this week, I was messaged by a publisher about a novel they have that was released as an ebook earlier this year and will be released in print in a few months, asking if I would be interested in reviewing it for them, and saying they would approve me for it on NetGalley if I was interested. (I checked, and it is not a “Read Now” book; it actually requires approval.) The book has around a thousand ratings on Goodreads already, with an average of 4.3 stars, and the plot does sound really interesting. And yet here I am, stressed out–and not just because I am drowning in a sea of things I want to read.
Why, you ask? Simple: this is the first time a publisher has contacted me directly, unsolicited, about reviewing a book for them, and I feel weirdly underqualified for the task. Yes, I’ve been reviewing regularly for months and am quite comfortable with. Yes, I studied English in college and know a thing or two about writing. Yes, I love doing this. Still…these are people who think I am worth REACHING OUT TO. They think I’m a worthwhile investment of their time. But am I really?
Let’s be clear: I’m not a huge name in the book world (maybe someday…). I have under 200 followers on this blog, though I get a good amount of interaction with most of y’all. My Goodreads reviews average between 15 and 20 likes, though a couple have gotten upwards of 30. I’m not a professor or a teacher or a librarian. I don’t work in publishing (though it would be so cool if I did…). My reviews aren’t always elegant and sometimes are rife with odd metaphors, references to other fandoms I belong to, and commentary on random things from my personal life. Am I qualified to do these things?
Early in my NetGalley days, before I even had a blog, I thought, “I got approved for this huge title with only one or two reviews on this site under my belt…and other people say it usually takes a few months to start getting accepted! Did I just scam my way into their good books (pun intended)?” Even now, I’m sometimes surprised at how many I can get approval on. In theory, maybe they like that I write long, thorough reviews. But maybe they just think that long = good and that I’m better than I really am.
I guess, in a world where people obsess over their stats and there are so dang many of us out here in the book blogosphere (and that’s not even counting the Bookstagrammers, the BookTubers, and the frenzied mob of YA Twitter), it gets really easy to play the comparison game and doubt the quality of your own work. If I wrote seven paragraphs and got 20 likes, while someone else wrote five sentences and got over 100 likes, surely I’m doing something wrong?
But here’s the deal: every review has value. People are going to come at books from different angles, with different backgrounds and tastes and experiences. Some might be #OwnVoices reviewers, lending a critical perspective to very personal topics. Some might be reviewers who typically read other genres, who can speak to whether there is crossover appeal. Some might be literature geeks who will discuss the book’s literary or intellectual merit. And, conversely, some might have no academic interest in the book and can speak solely to whether it is actually an enjoyable/entertaining/emotional read.
Not every reviewer is going to be writing for Kirkus or the New York Times or Publisher’s Weekly. That’s okay. Personally, I prefer the commentary of fellow readers in a colloquial blog style to the ultra-dense buzzwords of a conventional review article. I just have to remind myself that, in fact, plenty of other people do as well. My reviews hit their own demographic. My recommendations go even beyond the blog, into platforms like Facebook and my day-to-day conversations. So forget the numbers. Dammit, my reviews are good enough to get a little attention. Worrying is not a necessary corollary.
2. Good reviews: bad idea?
First, I want to make it clear that I have nothing against reviews with strong feelings. In fact, I find them among the most interesting to read. My fear is in my own reviews, especially strongly positive ones.
I know, I know, you were thinking I would be afraid of upsetting people with negative reviews. Frankly, I don’t care nearly as much about those. If I didn’t like it, yeah, I’m going to say so, and I’m going to tell you why. There’s also a nice sense of solidarity that emerges between people who dislike the same book, particularly if it is a popular one.
My concern is with rave reviews. If I love a book, of course I want to gush about it. But I’m always afraid that my glowing words will end up being a problem. What if I praise a book for how it handles a specific topic, only to have others insist that it did a terrible job? What if I read too deeply into something that was actually really mediocre and surface-level? Or, worst of all, what if I get someone’s hopes up about a book and they end up not liking it? What if I’m the one who sets them up for disappointment??
Of course, I can’t control someone’s perception of the books they read. We all have different tastes. Things I love might be unpalatable to others (for instance, I love fantasy that is dark and gritty, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea). But there’s still always that nagging voice: what if someone who usually trusts your opinions still hates it? And what if their dislike ends up hurting the author and the book?
There is obviously a logical counterargument to that last one. If I liked the book and thus want to support it and the author, then regardless of whether someone who takes my recommendation actually likes the book, they did end up reading/buying it. Their review will still generate buzz, their dollars are still going to the author’s pocket, and their purchase is still going to count toward the author’s sales numbers to help in negotiating future contracts. A good review simply cannot be a problem for the author, or really for the reviewer (unless it’s a positive review of a book that is actually awful and YA Twitter decides to attack you, but fortunately, I steer clear of that platform!)
There’s also the fact that asking “what if” is a good way to drive yourself crazy. Just write your thoughts. Connect with others you can fangirl (or fanboy, or fanby–is that a good term for enby fans?) with, and if someone doesn’t like the book that you loved, either they’ll be polite about it (in which case you don’t have to worry) or they’ll be a dick (in which case they’re a troll, and you shouldn’t feed the trolls). Either way, you’re not trying to “convert” people to love the book. You have your thoughts. They have theirs.
And one more thing: remember this when you read others’ reviews, too. Don’t be a dick if someone liked a book that you didn’t. Discussion is cool, but rudeness isn’t. You probably already knew that, but I’ll add the reminder that, on the other side of that review could be a very nervous amateur critic, hoping someone will like the thoughts about words that they just tossed into the void of the internet.
What do you think?
Is this just a “me” problem? Anyone else get stressed about things like this when writing reviews? Do you get annoyed when a highly-recommended book isn’t as good as someone told you it was? And for real, looking for honest opinions, are there things in my reviews (or any reviews) you would like to see more–or less–of?
Until next time,
P.S. Sorry if this post was a tad long and/or negative and/or lacking in colorful visuals–I’ll be back with more standard content tomorrow!