Reviewing the Reviewers

Now and then like clockwork there will be grousing about the quality of reviewing in the field, especially in short fiction. Shouldn’t be a surprise that the talent pool in reviewing is somewhat uneven. Excluding reader reviews (see many online reviewers are also writers of various levels, and that talent pool is about as uneven as things get. Still, a little perspective may be in order.

Back when I was a new(ish) writer I did some reviewing myself here and there, mostly for the revived print incarnation of Tangent and (of blessed memory) SF Age. The latter was a paid gig, the former was not. In the case of SF Age the idea of getting paid to read was simply too amazing to pass up. I have no such excuse for the Tangent gig. I volunteered for that. And it was no easier to write a review for free than it was to write one that paid. In fact, in many ways it was harder. First Reader once found me at the keyboard muttering to myself, checking and rechecking a few lines of text in a magazine, trying to say something both accurate and useful within 100 words.

She: “Are you getting paid for this?”

Me: “No.”

She: Slaps me gently but firmly on the cheek.

Me: “What was THAT for?”

She: “A reality check. Yours just bounced.”

All by way of saying that I’ve been on both sides of the keyboard where reviews are concerned, and occasionally still am. Of course I don’t like bad reviews. Any writer who says they don’t mind them is bullshitting. But, unless the reviewer actually crosses the line and insults you personally (it’s happened), just shrug them off. In this vast sea of words, anything that draws attention to your work is probably a good thing, and reader reviews are the best of all, because they tell you how or if you’re connecting with your intended audience. If those particular reviews are a little rough around the edges, well, that goes with the territory. Yet reader reviews are really a separate category compared to outfits like Locus and the online review sites who do yeoman service to the field.

All that said, there simply aren’t enough good reviewers willing to volunteer versus the material to be covered. That was true back when there was no such thing as an online review site and it’s still true now. No small press can afford to pay the legion of reviewers required, so they take what they can get, and for the most part reviewers are a self-selected group. If this is a problem (is it?) then it’s one with a long and honorable tradition and no solution, so far as I can see. So ignore the useless reviews, learn what you can from the competent ones, and develop the ability to tell the difference.

Other than that, let it slide.

3 thoughts on “Reviewing the Reviewers

  1. Pingback: SF Tidbits for 4/13/12 - SF Signal – A Speculative Fiction Blog

  2. I must say, I am rather pleased with the fine-tuned ability I have developed over the decades for milking the essence out of any and all reviews!

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