Writing book reviews still makes me anxious (or, insecurity in the book blogosphere)

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,

Kathryn (“K-Specks”)

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!

8 thoughts on “Writing book reviews still makes me anxious (or, insecurity in the book blogosphere)

  1. jackiesreadingcorner October 23, 2019 / 3:55 pm

    Hi,
    I have had the exact same thing you have said on your post, I had never even heard of netgalley until May this year, I had to ask what it was. When I looked I requested books then set up a blog, only thing is I got a little carried away with books I asked for, and to my surprise got approved for quite a lot. I then had to sort out my blog site, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and to some extent i still don’t, I have been approached by several publishers asking for reviews, and a couple of writers. I think why do they want me?. I literally just write how I feel about a book if I love it you will know about it if I’m not to keen I will say so, but a lot of the time I will say that this is just my opinion. As reading is subjective, everyone raves about certain books that I have not even been able to finish, or I’ve thought did they read the same book as me! I don’t worry about stats anymore or how many people like my post on goodreads, yes it is nice for someone to say thank you, but I have got to the stage where I think I have given an opinion on what I thought of what I have read, if like you say it helps someone think this sounds good or this doesn’t sound like my kind of read then that’s fine. What I hadn’t realised is how much impact reviews can have on new authors, it can help them sell more books, get their name noticed, obviously it can also do the opposite. I have reviewed books by very well known writers whose every book have purchased and read, and I have read some debut novels that have been absolutely brilliant. All we are doing is giving our opinions. I do try and say why I don’t like something I’d I don’t like it, I would never slam or criticise the writer, if I don’t have anything good to say best to say nothing. Sometimes it could be I didn’t like any of the characters and for me they are important in a story, if you don’t like any of them then it’s hard to actually really enjoy a book. You want to feel what they are feeling, if an author makes me cry I think wow their words have really moved me, although sometimes I can cry at the silliest things. Lol

    I have only been doing this since June and there is still so much I need to learn and I want to work on my blog page but at the moment I don’t have the time as I have too many books to read, when I get a bit of a break I will maybe experiment with my blog and perhaps join in a little more with some of the meme’s at the moment though I don’t have a clue how to do half of their, but I will get there.

    All I can say is just be you, write how you want to write, and have fun. I think if this becomes a chore I would stop. At the moment it’s not so I’m ok, although I do have a huge pile of books I really want to read as well as all the ones I have from netgalley, I think I need to stay away from there for a while. I’m trying to get to 100 reviews I think I have about 18 or 19 to go to reach it.

    Great post though.

    Jackie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. confessionsofayareader October 24, 2019 / 10:49 am

    Writing a review was a super stressful thing for me. But then I realized that people didn’t care if my review was perfect. I ramble. All the time. I don’t plan them out. I write the way I talk. Publishers scared me. What if I hated the book (that’s rare)? Will they think my review sucks and then not send me anything else? It’s odd how much we think about every little thing when blogging. I think your reviews are great. Love this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathryn Speckels October 26, 2019 / 4:11 pm

      Thanks so much 😊 and honestly, I think rambling reviews that sound like actual talking are some of the most enjoyable ones to read–it feels more like a friend making a recommendation than like someone trying to sell me something.

      On a related note, about hating a book…I have wondered about that as well. I have only gotten one approval from St. Martin’s on NetGalley, ever. It was for The Grace Year, a while ago, and I didn’t love it–very lukewarm review. I’ve wondered since then if they’ve blacklisted me or something for not giving a positive review of the first thing they ever let me have…

      Liked by 1 person

      • confessionsofayareader October 26, 2019 / 5:40 pm

        I like to think that publishers won’t do that for one book. But I can see if they keep sending books to one person and never getting anything positive, that might make them say no more. They say they want honest reviews, but it’s hard to say. Some publishers are easier to work with than others.

        Like

  3. Kyra Quinn October 25, 2019 / 8:21 am

    I still get stressed out writing reviews on Goodreads. I’ve made it a personal “rule” not to review any books I didn’t enjoy, but I still struggle sometimes writing reviews of books I loved. Every fear you’ve listed has flashed through my head at least once. I have a soft spot for open endings, unreliable narrators, and anti-heroes, so the books I love don’t click with everyone. It’s crazy how much we torture ourselves with anxiety sometimes. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathryn Speckels October 26, 2019 / 4:08 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment! It is definitely reassuring to know other people have had similar anxieties (much as they suck). I’m also a huge fan of unreliable narrators and antiheroes, as well as darker fantasy, so I totally get what you mean about knowing your tastes may not click for everyone. It’s also really nice that you don’t review books you don’t enjoy–personally, I find it fun to rant about things I didn’t like, but it probably makes your mindset a lot happier to move on from them right away 😅

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ally Writes Things October 31, 2019 / 12:14 pm

    Omg everything you said about positive reviews is so spot-on and I totally relate! There have definitely been books where I love them and gush about them so much, and then later read other negative reviews that raise interesting and true points, and I feel kind of bad gushing about how much I loved the book.

    But like, I don’t feel the same way about negative reviews? If I dislike a book, that’s my opinion and that’s allowed. The same is true for positive reviews. It’s still my opinion and still allowed, but it feels different?

    I think it’s somewhat related to the whole “problematic” discussions. Personally, I think it’s okay to enjoy something “problematic” as long as you acknowledge the flaws. But some people get so caught up in the whole idea of perfection, and you can never enjoy anything unless it’s 100% problem-free, which will never happen. So we feel better/more justified talking about the negatives of a book rather than the positives.

    Anyway, those are just my thoughts. Sorry for leaving a novel on your post lol. But I really enjoyed this post and thought it was super interesting!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s