Friday, December 3, 2010

Maybe I'm the crazy one.

First things first. The winner of Jana's book is . . . 

Susan! Yay!

To be honest, it was DeNae first but since I happen to know that she already has a copy or two of this book, I did good old Random Number Generator again and it spit out Susan. So hit me up with your address and I'll send it to you, friend.

Next, I'm doing a book review. But I need to give you a little background first. Oh, who are we kidding? A LOT of background. (What, you thought you were reading someone else's blog?)

I started this blog with the intention of discussing my writing journey, and also reviewing books. I sometimes do those things but not a lot anymore. There are a lot of reasons for that but we'll just talk about the books. First of all, I think I'd get bored if I posted book reviews all the time because I'm perfectly happy spitting out a sentence or three on the books I read on Goodreads. So if you want to know what I think about books, go be my friend there.

Secondly, I'm a writer. I know it's inevitable that I'm going to get bad reviews, but I'm not looking forward to it. Why would I do that to other people? This is ESPECIALLY true of LDS writers, whether or not they write LDS fiction, because as Josi Kilpack says, we're in a very small sandbox and it behooves us to play nicely.

But back to when I first started my blog, a couple of people asked me if I'd review their books. I had met both of these people in real life, liked talking to them, and idiotically thought this would mean I'd like their books. So I committed to a date to be on their blog tour and set about reading the book in each case. Both times, I hated the book. And there in lay the quandary.

I'm a very honest person and I hope to be the kind of person whose opinion carries some weight because I make discerning choices. Like for example, all of my friends in real life know that if I say a book is good, it's good. They might not like it but it's probably at least worth the read. I'd like my blog friends to know that, too. Therefore, I only post reviews of books I really like.

So now I was stuck. I didn't like these books but had already committed to blogging about them. Generally, people say "I'd love it if you'd review my book" but they mean, "I'd love it if you'd review my book POSITIVELY." They don't really want you to tell the truth about what you thought. And when it's someone you know, you have to weigh your friendship or even cordial acquaintance against your vaunted credibility. 

I couldn't bring myself to say I liked either book. I just couldn't do it. But I was willing as a friend to help them spread the word by throwing up a picture of the book, a synopsis, and an interview with the author type of thing. It wasn't my favorite compromise because there's still an implicit endorsement there, but it was all I could think to do to preserve the relationships after already committing to do the reviews.

However, I'm smart-ish, and I learned. I have since been asked to participate in blog tours and my response is, "I'm willing to read the book but if I can't give the book a "B" grade or better, then I won't post about it, and I'll gladly pass it on to another reader of your choice at my expense who would be willing to review it instead. Can you live with that?"

This is what happened when Tamara Hart Heiner contacted me about reviewing her book Perilous. 

This is her first novel and it's a YA thriller about some girls who get kidnapped and have to make their way back to home and safety.

I didn't like it. So why am I posting a review when I'd have to grade this less than a B?

Because SHE TOLD ME TO. Seriously.

I emailed her and explained. "Hey, remember our little agreement where I don't really do reviews if it's below a B? How about if I just link to your cover, your contest, etc.?"

"No," she says. "If you don't mind, I'd rather just have the negative review." Then she posts this on her blog (I pasted it in word for word):

Now, on to another subject. I've had two people on my blog tour line up contact me and tell me that their reviews are less-than-stellar. Both asked me if I preferred to remove them from my tour.

Of course I told them I still want them on my tour!

We can all agree that for the most part, honesty is the best policy. Right? Blog tours are no exception. Here's the way I see it:

1) Like it or not, we all know that not everyone is going to like my book. Of the 40 people I have on my blog tour, if 35 of them like it, I'm thrilled. If all 40 liked it, I would probably think that someone was afraid to tell me what they really thought.

2) My book is NOT PERFECT. I'll be the first to admit this. I see the flaws. Others are going to see the flaws. Some people it's going to bug more than other people. I hope the majority of readers will turn a blind eye, but I am certainly not surprised when there are negative responses.

3) Negative reviews create controversy, and controversy creates interest. At least, I hope so.

Give it to me straight! When I get my first 1-star review, we'll have a consolation party!


Here's the deal. I'm a character driven reader and writer. I love a great character. I'm fairly indifferent about plots. If they kinda make sense, I can live with it if I'm really into the character. Tamara has written some pretty good characters, and I think she shows promise as a writer, but  . . .

I could not deal with the plot. Drove me nuts. Hole after hole after hole after leap in logic after hole. That's my beef with it in an nutshell. On her blog, she introduces herself by saying, "The book I started when I was 12, Perilous, is scheduled for release from WiDo Publishing on November 16, 2010." And to be honest, that kind of says it all. The writing is fairly polished, but the plotting . . . well, yeah. It didn't surprise me that the plot was conceived of at about that age. That's exactly what it feels like. 

No throwing tomatoes. She said it, not me. I'm just confirming it. Because she insisted on it. The other problem is that this ends in a cliffhanger, which okay, is not my favorite thing but I don't mind as long as there's some kind of resolution for at least some of the major themes/conflicts in the novel before it sets up for the next installment. Here, it's so abrupt that yeah, there's some stuff that's "resolved" but with zero catharsis, ZERO, for the reader or characters and it feels . . . unintentional. Like maybe the author thought they solved stuff and didn't realize that they didn't. It's a major pacing problem. Super major.

That's all I'm going to say and I don't feel happy about having said it, but Tamara, my friend, if you're hoping controversy generates interest, I guess I'm handing you a gift-wrapped present. 

To the rest of you, I will say two more things. First, I'm not going to tell you what letter grade I would give this except to say "less than a B." Secondly, take my opinion with a grain of salt. On Goodreads, this book got a 4.64 with 11 reviews and on Amazon it has an average four star rating with five reviews. So either I'm crazy, because I don't see it, or they're all crazy. I'm willing to entertain either notion.

And btw, anyone who has read the book and wants to argue the point, fine. Rule #1, you can't do it anonymously. If I had to stick my neck out, you do, too. Rule #2, in defense of the plot, I will not accept the argument that it was written for 12-year-olds and the plot holes won't bother them. I won't accept that argument for a lot of reasons, most of which I'm way too tired to explain right now, but it all boils down to: that's a weak argument.

So there. I did it. I publicly said I didn't like a book of someone I kind of know. That was not fun. Tamara, I'm sorry, but I really did try to avoid this! Regardless of my opinion, I wish you great success because I definitely think you have talent. I think it just kind of got married too young to the plot of this book, but I have no doubt I'll see great stuff come from you in the future. As I honest as I was in my review, that's as honestly as I mean my assessment of your potential.

Okay, done. That was hard. And in case any of you were wondering, NO, I don't want an honest review of my book unless you LOVED it. My nerves can't take it.

I shall now and forever after return to my policy of not saying anything about a book at all if I can't say something nice.


LisAway said...

Not only am I never going to ask you to review a book of mine, I'm not even going to WRITE one, you've scared me so badly off reviews.

I really want to read that book now, of course. :)

And I'm kidding about the review. I would definitely want YOU to be the one I handed my book before I sent it to publishers.

Stephanie Black said...

I am SO impressed that Tamara would tell you to go ahead and post the review. In that situation, I'd be squeaking, um, never mind, it's okay, I don't want a review! Anyone who has that much courage and that much willingness to seek candid feedback, even if it's negative, will be very successful.

Jenny P. said...

You are so very brave. And so is Tamara. But really, you're both just grown ups. Because that is what grown ups can do - express opinions, even when they are opposing, be nice, and move on with life.

So, if my book is not picked up for publication, you want to read it to help me figure out why? (I've been waiting ten months. TEN. And still heard nothing back.)

Susan said...

Woot! I won the book. Can't wait to share it with my husband and kids.

I bet you're curled up in the corner with your arms wrapped around your head, just waiting for us all to chuck rocks at you. I can picture it now. Tee-hee. I don't think I could post that either. Not if I knew the person.

I'm feeling a little smug since you like my books. Because you are so very honest. And because of that you are trust-worthy, and that makes you invaluable as a friend and a critiquer.

Don't sweat it. Tamara will be alright. She's too pretty not to be.

Becca said...

I'm just being reminded why I like you so much. As a writer, as a blogger, and as a real-life person. Honesty. I'm all for it. (And really glad that you said nice things about my writing.)

Kristina P. said...

I think this is a great marketing idea, because honestly, it make me respect Tamara (and you, because frankly, I had put you in the Mario Lopez category of my life), and very curious about the book.

Love you! :)

Melinda said...

I'm the same way, I don't understand why people go to author's sites and rip them apart, I usually only post something if I loved it and if I really had a beef with something I try and say it in a respectful way. I don't think you were super horrible, she asked you to and you were honest! You're a good person Melanie, okay now I need to find you on Goodreads because I definitely want to see your other books!

I think Tamara's very smart, because I definitely want to read her book now! haha

S.A. Larsenッ said...

I agree with most of the comments that have already been posted. I give both of you a thumbs-up for honestly and integrity.

InkMom said...

I'm trying extremely hard to write a comment right now, but I keep deleting and starting over. So I'm going to can the diplomacy.

I am grateful for your unfavorable review, because now I know that I don't want to read the book. There. I said it! As I've said before, I have had a lot of difficulty suspending my disbelief lately -- with fiction and with movies and television as well. Plotting and pacing are, for me, essential elements to a good read and now that I know those are the problems you've pinpointed in this novel, I know that I will avoid an experience that would most certainly end in me banging my head against the wall in frustration.

That said, this review was great for Tamra's reputation (as a person, not a writer), but maybe not so good for her book's sales. And isn't that why we (not me, since I have written a big fat NOTHING) do book tours -- to promote sales? Unintentionally, you have pushed my thoughts into an avalanche regarding the balance of honesty in portraying yourself and what you've produced with the need to self-promote and actually get said product into the hands of the consumer. I think part of the reason I haven't really written anything substantive yet is because the business of doing it seems so corruptible. I may also be corruptible. And I don't want to go there.

Way long comment. Sorry. And also I just tried to call my sister so I can read her this before I publish and turn myself into a virtual pariah to be pilloried and cast out, but I can't find her. She's who turns me into a nice person, so, um, yeah. Sorry I'm so rude.

Karen M. Peterson said...

Thank you for your honesty. I'm with you. It is SO hard to have to write a negative review. I had to do it for a book I was sent by a publisher and I felt bad, but it was necessary. And a lot of people still liked that book, which proves that reviews may help people making a decision but they're unlikely to ruin a book's sales completely.

Kittie Howard said...

Hi, I'm dropping in from Tamaara's blog. She provided the link.

I haven't read her book, honestly hadn't thought about doing so as there is sooo much on my plate right now, but, after this review, I'm going to find time to read her book.

You said that her characters were fine, that you didn't particularly care about a book's plot, then went on to diss her plot. This makes no sense to me.

What really confused me concerned all the backdrop as to how you came to review the book and so on. I mean, why? A book review is a book review (and one person's opinion at that.)

Aubrey said...

I gotta admit, I kind of want to read it now, just to see what I think. And you both deserve an award for bravery above and beyond the call of duty!

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

She is brilliant because I SO want to read this book to find out if I agree with your review or not!

TerryLynnJohnson said...

Stopped in from Tamara's blog to see what all the fuss was about. Love you review. I'd be surprised if everyone loved the book, tastes differ so much (case in point, there were actually bad reviews on goodreads for Hush, hush)
I would now love to follow you on goodreads, but couldn't find your button! Well done with this post. Kudos to you both.

Stephanie Faris said...

My respect for Tamara increased SO much after all of this. What a big person to want the criticism. But you know what? She will learn from this and be all that much better a writer for it. Heck, if my first book had seen the light of day, there wouldn't have been a person out there with something good to say about it. And I started writing it when I was 25!!! But a huge amount of the enjoyment of reading is sucked out of us when we start learning to write. We end up KNOWING why we don't like something and it sucks. I sometimes miss the days when I could just sit back and let the author take me on a journey.

Hillary said...

I loved this post.
I loved the honesty.
And I love Tamara. :D
I know her pretty well and have been following her tour soaking up everything I can about her book I have not read it yet and am anxious to do so.
Among all the reviews so far, the good and bad, the only thing that makes me nervous is the ending. Everyone comments on that. Everyone I've heard has also said she has good characters, so, we shall see!
In any case I'm still excited.

Carolyn V. said...

I am also really impressed with Tamara for letting the bad reviews out there.

And so grateful for the honest review Melanie! It's good to know there are people out there whose reviews I can trust.

And now I have to totally get that book so I can give my two cents. So I guess that made this a great review!

The Lovely One said...

I think your review is kinda funny, and it makes me want to read the book now, so Tamara was right to have you post it! You're creating interest!

Unknown said...

Believe it or not, "no publicity is bad publicity" really does carry some weight, so you've helped her, at least with the bottom line.

And if I ask you to review my book, I'll expect glowing or nothing, sister!

And, if I don't get Jana's book, then can I at least have a wooden bowl? (hee hee!)

L.T. Elliot said...

I respect both of you for your honesty. It takes a lot of integrity to tell it how it is and I appreciate that--especially as a reader interested in new books.

Arlee Bird said...

I'm here from Tamara's blog. I admire both of you for the decisions made here. It shows Tamara's integrity in being willing to accept the bad and yours in being willing to be honest.
That's enough for me to start following your blog!

Tossing It Out

Rachelle Christensen said...

Wow! I found you from the link on Tamara's site and this proved for a fascinating read. I appreciate your post and think you and Tamara both have the right idea. People do have a ton of varied interests when it comes to books and there's always something that can be tweaked and improved in our writing.