In the late 80s I had a friend who was an abstract artist.
His goal was to be a successful painter. He studied art, subscribed to every important creative magazine, and lived in a granny flat that was converted into his studio most of the time.
He once explained that the purpose of a review is to ascertain what the artist’s intention was, then talk about whether they reached their objective.
This definition of critique has stayed with me.
Now, let’s be clear. This is not a blog for me to take shots at people who’ve given me bad reviews. But to make my point, I’ll have to reference a couple. Fortunately, I’ve mainly had good reviews while some have critiqued aspects of my work which I’ve taken on board to help with my writing.
One aspect of writing queer lit is often people mistake ‘queer lit’ as Romance or Erotica. There are a lot of us out there who place queer characters front and centre in our novels in all genres.
And yet there are people who take a star off if we don’t include sex scenes.
They clearly mention this in their review. A downside to this is some authors are urged to include pornographic sex scenes in works that are out of place with the rest of the story, just to please these reviewers.
I actually had a blogger condemn the sex scenes in one of my books. The problem is, that book has no sex scenes. She wrote how badly written they were. She mentioned that high level sex scenes were promised in the tags, so she expected to be titillated. I checked the tags. Not one mention of any type of sex scene.
So, if it’s not meant to be there, it’s not meant to be there.
A blogger in Adelaide reviewed my first novel, Drama Queens with Love Scenes. It’s set in the theatre district of the Afterlife. He wrote about the opportunity I missed by not including major historical figures and making some sort of commentary about them.
He didn’t focus on the actual story much in his review. But the point is, that’s not the book I set out to write. There are two lesser known historical characters in that novel, but a commentary on history is not what it is. So why make that the standard by which to review it by?
Then there are those who simply don’t get what you write.
One of my novellas has a plot twist. It becomes clear that the main character’s ex is actually a ghost. It’s a story about grief, even though it seems as if this character is initially grieving over their break up.
Australian television shows have been using the return of a dead character to speak directly to whomever is grieving for them since the 1990s. We’re used to seeing this. Theatre has done this for centuries.
One reviewer claimed the character had mental issues because they communicated with their dead ex, totally laughing off the story. Or to put it another way, totally missing the point of the tale.
In an age of social media everyone is a critic.
But that doesn’t make everyone an expert. Not every book is for everyone, but when you write your review, ask yourself, did the author achieve what they set out to do?