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All,

  This board is inundated with successful, skilled authors. But does that translate into the ability to objectively review another's work? Let me restate this...If Stephen King (somehow) read your latest book and called it garbage, would you be discouraged? Or if he called you a genius, would you start working twice as hard, confident in your ability to succeed?

  I'm not necessarily asking these questions as hypotheticals. I've recently been reviewed by Mr. The Writer and Mr. Only Reader. Essentially, Mr. Writer said I'm good, but not good enough. "Good enough" to do what exactly, I'm not sure. Mr. Reader said I have a bright future as an author. So the question is, do I value Mr. Writer's opinion, just because he's a writer, over Mr. Readers? Tons of follow up questions can follow, of course. My target demographic, genre, marketing techniques, etc...

  I don't know, maybe I'm over-thinking all of this. Maybe somebody who has wondered the same thing could PM me? Or maybe I just need more reviews? 

p.s. I have review-swapped before (in good faith), so those interested parties may also PM me.
 

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Writers, like readers, may be nitpicky about different things. You get a lot of "rules" thrown around about what you should and shouldn't do in a story, but most of it just boils down to style and preference. What feels bulky and drawn-out to one writer with a brisk style might feel just right to you, whereas a different writer might think you need to pad the scene. Sometimes they can have specific criticisms you can learn from, but without such specifics... eh.
 

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I just don't buy this idea of writers evaluating each other objectively.  I think when two writers tell each other that they're both the best in the biz, and their work is swell, there's something else going on in the background that we don't know about.  But when two writers rip each others' work to shreds and trade reviews of 'pathetic garbage, incorrectly formatted' and 'badly punctuated juvenile drivel,' then we know they're being honest and true to themselves and the code.  It's a competitive and pride thing and I don't recommend it.  
 

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I think many writers make terrible reviewers. We all know that when you know how something is made, or how it is supposed to be done (according to standards and practices) it is difficult to judge a book on what it is primarily supposed to be, which is entertaining.

I think a lot of it depends on what you want to from your writing. If I had to choose which reviewer to put more weight on, I would choose the reader (who does not write) as they are more likely judging it based on the story more than anything else. Everything else aside, it's all about the story.
 

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Reviewers are often people who can't be writers, especially in the fiction department. Critics of art are rarely artists themselves.

Listen to Hemingway:

"All the critics who could not make their reputations by discovering you are hoping to make them by predicting hopefully your approaching impotence, failure and general drying up of natural juices. Not a one will wish you luck or hope that you will keep on writing unless you have political affiliations in which case these will rally around and speak of you and Homer, Balzac, Zola and Link Steffens."

"God knows, people who are paid to have attitudes toward things, professional critics, make me sick; camp-following eunuchs of literature. They won't even whore. They're all virtuous and sterile. And how well meaning and high minded. But they're all camp-followers."

"Critics are men who watch a battle from a high place then come down and shoot the survivors."

In non-fiction it's something different all together. The best non-fiction writers are the one with their ideas together and solidly grounded in an ideological framework. Calling their reviews "good" or "bad" is a little too black and white, but they are certainly necessary. Peer review is actually the basis of progress in modern scientific knowledge.

Non-fiction reviews often pose whole new forms of thought!
 

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markobeezy said:
I'm not necessarily asking these questions as hypotheticals. I've recently been reviewed by Mr. The Writer and Mr. Only Reader. Essentially, Mr. Writer said I'm good, but not good enough. "Good enough" to do what exactly, I'm not sure. Mr. Reader said I have a bright future as an author. So the question is, do I value Mr. Writer's opinion, just because he's a writer, over Mr. Readers?
Just because the writer is a writer doesn't mean he can't be objective. I'd say that if both the reader and the writer are objective, then the writer's advice is likely more valuable because he can see what goes into creating the story, whereas the reader might see the entertainment value of a story, but won't necessarily see flaws in the writing, or be able to suggest ways to improve.

All of the best feedback/advice I've ever received about my writing has been from other writers, usually with more experience than myself.

I think maybe a couple of good question to ask yourself are, objectively speaking, what reason do you have to take either person's advice at all? And what reason do you have to take one person's advice over the other?
 

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Sometimes you get a great review and you feel so proud. Then you click and see what other books are also the "best books ever" as reviewed by this person. And ... oh, that book ... you come back to earth.

If anyone thinks you're good, you're good. If nobody thinks you're good, you just haven't found your target market yet.
 

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Dalya said:
Sometimes you get a great review and you feel so proud. Then you click and see what other books are also the "best books ever" as reviewed by this person. And ... oh, that book ... you come back to earth.

If anyone thinks you're good, you're good. If nobody thinks you're good, you just haven't found your target market yet.
Dalya's got it right, it takes all kind it's just a matter of finding your kind.
 

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A lot goes into your own view of yourself. If you consider yourself a great storyteller, and someone says that your craft is solid but your plot is filled with holes, that might seriously undermine your self-confidence. If you think you're original, and someone calls your work derivative and adds a whole list of books you haven't even read, that might make you doubt your abilities.
If someone praises you, and also praises the work of an author you loathe for lack of craft and storytelling ability, you will question the praise heaped on you.

I enjoy reviews, but I rely on my beta-readers to tell me if something sucks. My beta-readers are into the kind of books I write, but they are critical that I don't slack off and write something they regard as mediocre in regards to my abilities. Also, they know what I want information about, so their criticism contains the information that helps me improve my writing. A review by Stephen King saying that I suck without further information is worthless. As much as I'm interested in the emotional response of readers, I can only attach value to a positive or negative criticism if it's accompanied by a qualifying statement 'why' it is judged that way.

I'm biased myself, of course. A glowing review confirms my self-image, a scathing review is most likely sour grapes...  ;D
 

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Every single person who reads your book will read your book in a different way.  Give it to a thousand people and you will get a thousand opinions.

Listen to what they say, do what fits you best.
 

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There are so many ifs and buts to this topic that thinking about it too deeply will drive you nuts -- whether it's the opinions of fellow writers, Amazon reviews, blog reviewers, newspaper reviews, etc.

I think the only thing you can do is approach the art and craft of writing with good intentions. Concentrate on that and everything else is in the lap of the gods.
 

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:: Edit: I just expanded this reply into a blog post. Thanks everyone for the inspiration! ::

Anyone who has an "objective" response to your work can't possibly like it - what you create when you write, whether you want to or not, is art, culture; it can only be understood, interpreted, experienced, in context. This means that the only meaningful review is a subjective one.

That out of the way, there are (very broadly speaking) three types of commentary on written work:

1) the textual analysis. This gets as close as it is possible to get to being objective, by describing only the writer's techniques, devices, conceits. 'Author seeks to affect the reader using technique X.' This is dry and academic, but is essential to learn to do it if you mean to do the next type:

2) literary criticism. This arose in the mid twentieth century as a means of discussing and informing. Google F R Leavis for the background. Lit Crit does not seek to be objective but to place work in a broader cultural context. The aims of lit crit are what were essentially bastardized to create the literary review culture of the second half of the twentieth century.

3) book reviews. Book reviews are a comparatively recent phenomenon, which arise from a classroom exercise devised in the mid twentieth century in order to teach children the basics of critical sense. The first step is "I liked/disliked this book because ... ". That step, originally intended to awaken the critical sense, has the side effect of convincing the student that it is how he feels about the work that matters most in the review. In my opinion, he is right to think so, and all reviews should take this ultimately honest and somewhat biographical approach. If a reader can't give you personal reasons for liking or disliking your work then he is hiding something.

I don't think that writers have some magical knowledge, nor any specific technical knowledge, that makes them better reviewers. It probably makes them better at writing reviews but as story editors like me will tell you, content is not the same as execution. Ultimately, the purpose of a textual analysis is to examine writers' technique. This is of great value to the writer as well as the academic, because it helps him to get to become more conscious of himself and his habits. Literary Criticism is perhaps of lesser value to the writer; it is intended as a means of discussing writing, though, so it is a worthwhile study to those writers who seek to improve their work through writer's groups and fora, or working with a developmental editor. The purpose of a book review is to help readers to decide whether or not to try the book. That might sound pretty narrow, but it's a really big thing.

The most influential reviews reveal as much about the reviewer (if not more) as they do about the book. This information about the reviewer gives other readers a cultural context in which to gauge the subjective content of the review, and through this to form an expectation of what their own reading experience might be.

So, any review which takes the form "this book is X, this book is Y" is not a useful review. Any that takes the form "I like/dislike this book because" is both valuable and influential.

Going back to the OP: there is no such thing as "objective" evaluation of culture. Even style is chimeric enough that writers will feel differently about it. Being a writer, even a good writer, does not make you a good critic nor a good reviewer. Each of these is a different (though related) skill, and as in all such cases, practice, good examples to follow, good advice and more practice are what makes you good at it.
 

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I wrote book reviews for a website before I started writing my own work. I'm no longer a good judge of a book's merits. I can tell you if I liked it, but my critical eye has changed from the perspective of a reader to one of both a reader and a writer, and it makes me a much worse reviewer.

Just one case, of course, but it's helpful to look at how your ability to review a book changes as you make the transition from reader to writer.
 

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My 2 cents.  It seems to me that when writers review other writers work, they want to find an example of a violation of a "writing rule" so they can say "gotcha."  But sometimes rules are broken for a good reason, and it works.  The non-writer reader is fine with it.
 

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Hugh Howey said:
I wrote book reviews for a website before I started writing my own work. I'm no longer a good judge of a book's merits. I can tell you if I liked it, but my critical eye has changed from the perspective of a reader to one of both a reader and a writer, and it makes me a much worse reviewer.

Just one case, of course, but it's helpful to look at how your ability to review a book changes as you make the transition from reader to writer.
As long as you keep it personal, keep it in your gut, your reviews should still be helpful. After all a book's merits are what you liked about it. I suspect that if I were technically critical of Wool, my remarks would make it seem like a rather dry, cerebral work, whereas what I liked about it, what appealed to my gut, wasn't the skilful crafting, but the engaging characters and the overall feel of affectionate classic SF. And that is what I would want to put in a review. If I was doing a book report for my Eng. Lit. Prof., she'd probably get the impression that I didn't like it all that much; if I was doing a lit. edit for you, you'd probably get the impression that I felt there was still a lot of work to be done (if I was doing my job properly!).

It's a matter of matching the method and approach to the purpose, and as it is all too natural for all of us working in letters to straddle disciplines, it is all to easy to mix them up.
 

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Two things occur to me. First, writers are probably as varied as readers in their tastes, and it's hard to put yourself into the shoes of someone who has different tastes and judge whether a particular work that doesn't appeal to you will appeal to them. And differences of taste matter even within genres -- it's not just that Ms. Hard Sci-Fi doesn't like chick-lit and can't review it effectively. Second, book reviews aimed at aesthetic quality may or may not be good predictors of commercial viability. Plenty of writers who might be judged "good but not good enough" sell an awful lot of books. So if you get that "good but not good enough" feedback, well, "good but not good enough" for what?

Soooo, I don't think I give more credence to reviews written by writers just because they're writers. On the other hand, I do give more credence to reviews that seem thoughtfully critical and detailed, whoever wrote them, and it does seem that those detailed, thoughtful reviews come more often from other writers. Not sure where that leaves the matter.
 

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brendajcarlton said:
My 2 cents. It seems to me that when writers review other writers work, they want to find an example of a violation of a "writing rule" so they can say "gotcha." But sometimes rules are broken for a good reason, and it works. The non-writer reader is fine with it.
This.

There is nothing that has ever been written - no matter how critically acclaimed - that wouldn't be picked apart by a writing group if they read it without knowing its origins.
 

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Dalya said:
If anyone thinks you're good, you're good. If nobody thinks you're good, you just haven't found your target market yet.
And there's your free daily dose of Dalya wisdom (I just need a word for "wisdom" that starts with D and I'd be in alliterative heaven).

Do you write for writers or readers? Critics or fans? All/none of the above? I write for myself; I publish for readers; I adore my fans; I ignore my critics (unless they're extremely witty or brilliant or fascinate me with their five paragraph essay on why I stink). I commiserate with and learn from writers. (All of this is on a good day, of course. On a bad one, I'm crying in my cereal and contemplating selling real estate.)
 

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ingrid avluv said:
"Critics are men who watch a battle from a high place then come down and shoot the survivors."
Freakin' LOVE this quote.

I think I'm good at critique, but lousy at review. I can take a piece of writing, and give precise feedback on what I'm experiencing as a reader, where there are lapses, where thoughts don't flow, where the visuals are vivid or unclear, etc...But I can't say what makes the story work or not work and why. I can only say I liked it or I didn't.
 

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I'd released a book last year that beta readers loved. The first review that came in was from an indie author who blasted the book. Of course I was horrified that I'd just written a steaming turd. Then reviews started coming in from readers who LOVED the book. I also started receiving emails from those too shy to leave reviews saying the same. Is it the best book ever? Course not, but the experience certainly left a bad taste in my mouth.
 
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