USA Today Best of 2012

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Reviewers are not editors.

Forgive me. I'm feeling a bit soap-boxy today.

You see, I've noticed a trend in book reviews, particularly those done by upstart review sites and bloggers(many of whom are obviously trying to gain a following by being snarky): Book reviewers seem to think they are editors.

Now, I firmly believe an avid reader is capable of spotting typos, wrong word usage, poor grammar, bad spelling, and the like. And even the cleanest, most edited book will have an error or two. A 63,000 word book, which is rather at the short end of novels, has nearly 350,000 characters. That's a lot of opportunities for oopsies. Are errors okay? Not in my book (pun intended). But I've edited enough books--heck, I've written enough of my own and pored over them at the galley stage, only to crack them open a couple years later and see some blatant error--and I've read enough bestsellers with blips, to know perfection is elusive. And probably the average reader doesn't pick up on most of these mistakes.

So forgive me if I find it a tough pill to swallow, when a reviewer (who has at least one error in every review she's posted on her blog) makes some off-the-cuff comment about poor editing or "grammar challenges"--whatever the heck that means--in her book review. Or when a reviewer gives a book high praise, but says she was disappointed in the editing because none of the dialogue was punctuated (and it turns out she messed up by trying to read a PDF file on her Nook, which doesn't process formatting from PDFs correctly). Really? An author who is fantastic, and the editor of this otherwise wonderful book, both failed to punctuate any dialogue? No warning bells chiming? And yet the reviewer posts this opinion, without considering the consequences...

Consequences such as: the author is trying to make a living with her books. Saying this one is poorly edited will most likely turn off readers. Which affects the editor and also the publisher, who are also making a career of selling books. Which I'm finding in the majority of these cases, have been edited properly, but the reviewer (minus editing experience, knowledge, and the obvious IT skills needed to upload a digital book to a reading device) wants to convince others (and probably herself) that she's smart. That she could do a better job. When in fact, we can all see from her own errors in a 300-word blog post, is not the case.

Reviews are opinions. So reviewers should state their opinion about the book--the story, the characters, the pacing.

Spelling, grammar, and punctuation rules are cold, hard facts. Not up for debate. So unless the book is absolutely riddled with errors, reviewers should avoid commenting on editing. Clean mechanics should be a given, and if the editing is so poor that it detracts from the reading experience, then it merits a mention.

Just as publishing a poorly-edited book says "unprofessional," so does spouting off unfounded accusations about poor editing in a book review. I'd laugh if I saw the accused editor or author post a comment on the review citing all the typos the reviewer had made. But we all know how that would go over. Authors are supposed to sit on their hands when a reviewer steps out of line. No defending allowed...likewise, I'm sure, with the editors.

I'd like to stress, the "good" review sites know not to go there--they recognize the publishers they work with employ competent editors, so they review a book based on its content. In the end, I think that's what we're all looking for in a book review. Right?

Editors know they'll always find errors in books. Always. And the rest of the world (the non-editors) seldom notice the errors. So why would we need a book reviewer telling us a book has them?

Piper Denna
Romance is sexy!


Sutton Fox said...

Well said!!

I've found my ereader to miss grammar sometimes, and if I go back and look at the actual .pdf, it's there.

Honestly, knowing how hard it is to write a book, I won't write a review if it's bad. ;)

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Margaret Taylor said...

Well done Ms. Piper. I tend to glaze over those types of reviews, if you must know. The moment they start talking about editing - or lack there of - I move on.

But that's the Author in me and I know, from years and years of experience, no one's perfect. As you said, even the Big Name, Best Sellers miss things now and again and as long as it doesn't detract from the overall story, I could care less.

Kristina Knight said...

Thanks for the candor, Piper! :) And I agree - content reviews are what I'm looking for as a reader (and writer, too).

Susanne Bellamy said...

I've had this experience with a reviewer whose own grammar was inaccurate in her short review of my book. Yet she commented that there were "grammatical challenges" in my professionally edited novel.

I'm a senior teacher of English; I know my grammar and I know my editors know theirs too. There may have been odd typos we all missed, but I'm certain the grammar was not "challenged"! If only reviewers would comment honestly on the stories they read and leave it at that.

Annie Seaton said...

Well said, Ms Piper!