Hot-button topics abound in cyberspace, where everyday bloggers term themselves citizen journalists as we necessarily revise our definition of legitimate media.  But let's be frank, shall we?  WallStreetJournal.com ain't hiring every Joe with a URL and an ATM card to give financial advice.  It follows that not everyone who blogs about books can expect to be taken as seriously as folks writing for sites affiliated with well-established publishing and bookselling brands.

 
Yet some can. The digital soapbox offers an interestingly sticky wicket when we discuss effective genre fiction criticism, who's got the creds to be considered a reviewer and the age-old question of whether authors should respond to criticism they deem unfair.

Yes, though it seems hatched online during Web 2.0, brouhaha between authors and critics is nothing new, as Laura Lee Guhrke points out in her exceptional new historical romance, "With Seduction in Mind  ."

The novel's hero, Sebastian Grant, is incensed upon reading a review panning his play's opening night and attests:

"This critic calls my play rubbish, but his review is what belongs in the dustbin." (Guhrke, 16)

The "him" Grant is disparaging actually is Daisy Merrick, an 1896 working-class "girl bachelor." Daisy's found her often impolitic social skills -- and always judicious intolerance of sexual harassment - has left her unable to keep a job.  So when her publisher brother-in-law asks her to fill in for his theater critic, Daisy jumps at the chance. After all, she needs the gig, and now she'll be a "published author," her dream job.

Similar to some of today's online critics, Daisy doesn't write under her own name:

"Imagine the repercussions," she exclaims.  "Resentful writers would be coming to vent their spleen at the poor critic whenever they received an unfavorable review. (21).

Grant learns Daisy's identity from her brother-in-law, his publisher.  Rather than apologize for Daisy's shredding Grant's work, his publisher issues an infuriating directive: Daisy Merrick, with no appreciable writing experience, will edit the novel Grant has long owed his publisher!  And Grant, who once was the toast of literary Europe, is stuck mentoring Daisy's abjectly mediocre attempts at novel writing.

And therein lies the irony about the online "citizen critic": Often, readers not trained in writing or literary criticism offer valuable insight into what makes a novel work.  Of course, sometimes the inexpert reviewer mistakes for criticism the destructive itemization of perceived flaws, a bastardization of the literary review if ever one existed.

There's a great deal of astute commentary about romance fiction at sites and blogs, in user-generated comment boxes and right here at BN.com, where you can publish "reviews" of as many books as you'd like -- hopefully only those you've read. 

Once you've filled in the form and hit "post," just like Daisy Merrick, I'm pretty sure you're entitled to say you're a published reviewer, even if your name is "Anonymous."

'Cause, you know: Everybody's a critic.


What skills, background, etc., should a book reviewer/critic have to be considered legitimate or reputable? What do you look for in a book review?  Why do you enjoy writing customer reviews at sites like BN.com - or why not?

Read more about "With Seduction in Mind" in Eloisa James BN.com Review column, "My Brilliant Career!" James says WSIM is a sexy, funny and poignant take on what happens when a heroine covets a career that pitches her into a man's world.

Laura Lee Guhrke visits BN.com's Romantic Reads next Monday, Sept. 7!  Chat with the author about WSIM and her award-winning novels.

 

Comments
by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎09-07-2009 08:59 AM

Hi, Paula!  You absolutely do make sense.  A non-literary criticism review really is like telling your best friend about a book you like or vice versa. Don't you love when you meet someone and you think, "gee, I really like her/him; we have so much in common and like the same books/movies/music, etc.?"   That's pretty much what happens online when we find a site we like that pretty consistently we're in agreement with.  We become loyal and, heck, sometimes even become rabidly loyal and protective of the site operator/community gatherer.  Opinions are personal, and sometimes when someone dislikes/likes a book we like/don't like, depending on our nature, we can become offended. 

 

You write: I am not sure what to say about qualifications for reviewers. That's a toughie, no?  I'd extend your comment and ask, "Just what is a review?"  It's a label tossed about pretty liberally from comment-box assessments like here at bn.com, amazon, etc. to lit crit at the prestigious NY Times.  I don't consider my features/articles, etc. about books 'reviews' because, to me, they'd need to be closer to lit crit.  But I've worked for companies that termed my features specifically about books "reviews" and for brand consistency I term mine w/in my brand RBTB ''Feature Reviews."  Feature implying: Don't think this is literary criticism, it's a feature article/post about a book I think is great, as well as what the author does really well.  That said, I think there's a 'gravitas' attached to the term 'reviewer' that many folks want to own for whatever reason.

 

Generally, we term  a 'professional,' someone who's making a living doing something or perhaps simply getting paid to provide the service, right? We also could say a 'professional' reviewer is someone who sets a business-like standard for themselves and maintains that standard which happens often w/unpaid 'reviewers.'  But I will say that if a professional expects me to buy their product of any kind, I want to know who they are (Real name/contact info) and what credentials make them worthy of my doing so.  In re book criticism: We expect that from authors and should be willing to offer the same to them and our viewers, at the very least.

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎09-07-2009 09:21 AM

Hi, Stacy! Thanks for your thoughtful comments.  You write:

While I tend to veer away from most negative reviews, I must admit that there have been times that I've read them and have felt the issues with the story are valid concerns.  I would term them more constructive.  It's hard to write a negative review, though I have in 2 particular instances because I felt strongly compelled to do so.  

You've made a great point; there's a major difference between constructive criticism and shred-and-burn entertainment pieces termed reviews by the writer.  But again, it's about the taste of the online viewer, with whom they feel comfortable, how they define substance -- and how they like to be entertained.  Folks read NY Times book reviews for recs, to be sure, but they also expect a certain level of writing skill, substantive support of pros/cons of a book, and knowledge of literature and the area in which the novel being reviewed represents. They find those things entertaining.  

 

It's super that you've found favorite reviewers to lead you toward the books you love best.

by Author LauraLeeGuhrkeLLG on ‎09-07-2009 12:34 PM
Just popping in to add that in WITH SEDUCTION IN MIND, my goal regarding literary criticism was to show both the value of it and the sometimes painful reaction of the author when criticized. In the book, Daisy's criticism of Sebastian is brutal, but he knows deep down she's right. Daisy also learns as a critic the power and responsibility that come with it. Sebastian also gains from the experience. Criticism can really sting, and it especially stings when it's accurate, IMO. Still, all things being equal, I prefer personally unqualified praise and adoration. :smileywink:
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