Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Citizen Critics?

Hey all,

It's time for another guest blogger. Today I have the honor of introducing Meg Benjamin, a fellow Samhain author.

When she isn’t writing, Meg spends her time listening to Americana music, drinking Colorado and Texas wine, and keeping track of her far-flung family. She recently retired from twenty years of teaching writing, Web design, and desktop publishing.

A friend told me she knows she'll always have a good laugh when she reads Meg's books and I can't wait to see for myself when I try out her Venus In Blue Jeans.

And great writer and if this blog is any indication, a heck of a blogger too! Let's see what she has to say about a hot topic. Reader's reviews! Take it away, Meg!!!!!


Ted Allen made an interesting point in Food Network Magazine recently (yeah, I read it—I like to cook). A reader had asked if she should post a bad review of a restaurant on her blog since she hadn’t liked her meal there. Allen suggested that if she was going to become a restaurant critic, she should undertake the kind of rigor that real restaurant critics practiced.

First of all, she should visit the restaurant more than once before passing judgment (some restaurant critics visited four or five times). Then she should make sure she knew something about food and cooking. Maybe she didn’t like the way the lamb kidneys tasted because she didn’t like lamb kidneys: that’s not exactly the restaurant’s fault. Finally, she should keep in mind how hard it was to run a restaurant. Although that might not be an excuse for consistent lousy service or terrible food, it might be an explanation for an off night. In other words, he suggested that if she was going to take over a critic’s job she should try to have a critic’s qualifications.

I thought of that the other day when I stumbled onto a discussion of readers’ comments on some of the bookstore sites around the Internet. Several authors were sharing horror stories about having gotten rave reviews from the reviewing sites and then having gotten slammed by a “citizen critic” at a bookstore site. Frequently the citizen critic review would be the only one up there, and the author would be left wincing at the thought that readers would only see the negative and have no idea that the book was actually well thought of by others.

Now one of the great advantages of the Internet has been the ability to see how other people have reacted to things you’re thinking of buying. Were people who bought that car satisfied with it? Was that DVD player actually a good buy? I’ve been known to make decisions about which appliance to get based on what users have had to say about them. The thing is, though, when you complain about your experience with an appliance, you’re usually talking about something concrete. The slow cooker was too small for a pot roast, for example, or the timer didn’t work well. When you talk about a book, you’re talking about something a lot more subjective. Did you like it? Why or why not?

And this is where Ted Allen’s advice comes in. If you’re going to be a critic, you have a responsibility to look at the book the way a critic looks at it. What was the author trying to do? Did she come close? Where did the book succeed, and where did it fall short?

When you come to a book, you’re always bringing your personal preferences with you. Maybe something about the hero turned one reader off. Maybe another reader doesn’t like serial killer plots. Maybe yet another reader hates first person narrators. Those are all personal reactions. Perfectly legit, mind you, but personal. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the book itself is bad, just that that particular reader didn’t like it. An honest review needs to make that distinction.

Am I saying citizen critics should knock it off? Not at all. It’s liberating for readers to be able to post their reactions to various books. But it’s also easy to be careless, to toss a book aside and then trash it on Amazon—maybe too easy. And it hurts to see several months’ (and sometimes years’) work dismissed in a couple of lines. I guess I’d like to think that citizen critics take their duties seriously, and that they give books the same consideration that a professional critic does.

And if all else fails, maybe they should consider Thumper’s maxim: “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.”


An excellent blog, Meg, and one I heartily agree with. I'm sure we all have seen the reviews that were nothing but smoke and nastiness, but there are those, professional or not that are insightful and helping to the reader.

So, what do you think? Tell Meg all about it in the comments below!

If you want to know more about Meg, check out her WEBSITE. You can follow her on /meg.benjamin1">Facebook MySpace and Twitter Meg loves to hear from readers—contact her at

She writes about South Texas, although she now lives in Colorado. Her comic romances—Venus In Blue Jeans, Wedding Bell Blues, and Be My Baby, all from Samhain Publishing—are set in the Texas Hill Country in the mythical town of Konigsburg.

I'll be back on Friday with a short reminder of where I am in my travels. Check on back and see Where in the World is CJ England???? And if I can't comment, know it's because I have no way to do so. Internet is going to be spotty in some of these places!!!

Hugs to all,
CJ England
Follow Your Dreams

1 comment:

Phylis said...

Great blog and I agree most definitely. Don't think I could be a consitent critic. I would put to much of my reaction into the review. Thanks for sharing Meg! Good luck CJ on your travels! Enjoy!