Previously posted April 19, 2014, at Brian Kaufman’s blog, Rabbit Hole Reviews.
A writer friend recently commented on Rabbit Hole Reviews, noting that the reviews were uniformly positive. I don’t think she was criticizing, but I may be wrong. Her e-mail came on the heels of my rejection of two novels for review, so I find myself wanting to write a post on reviews and how I approach them.
I have been fascinated by reviews for most of my life. Years ago, I fell in love with Straw Dogs (1971). The only reason I went to see the movie was because of Pauline Kael’s review, which called Sam Pekinpah’s work, “the first American film that is a fascist work of art.” That line of criticism and the art it (accurately) described are inseparable in my mind.
After struggling to find reviewers for my last book, I thought, why not write a review blog? And so I started Rabbit Hole Reviews. I write about books I love. My tastes are eclectic (weird) so I can talk about a wide range of stories.
But I won’t write a negative review.
I’m an author. I’ve struggled through multiple novels. Some turned out okay, and some crashed and burned and turned to ash. I know what it costs to give yourself over to a story. And I don’t care how a novel reads—I won’t blast it in a review. Scoring points on a clever turn of phrase doesn’t interest me.
Story #1: When I was in my late teens, I took a writing workshop class from James Crumley (“The Mexican Tree Duck”). One of the students, a senior at Colorado State, had a particularly sharp critical dagger. All semester long, she sliced and diced. The final week of class, she submitted her own work.
And then she cut class the day her story was critiqued.
Her work was awful. I did not participate in the public evisceration of her tale. I understood why she skipped out. I don’t care how unpleasant she was. When someone lies down on the stone alter, you are not obligated to cut out a heart.
There’s a legitimate counter-argument that points to the lack of honest effort and due diligence on the part of some writers. At Rabbit Hole Reviews, we publish reviews for small press and self-published writers. There are a lot of self-indulgent, poorly-written Indy books in print, either in paper or digital form.
But my mom would have a counter to the counter-argument: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Restated from a reviewer’s perspective—I’m telling you what books you might enjoy (not what books you might hate).
If you’re a close reader, you’ll spot a line in every one of my reviews that might be quoted. Writers and publishers need “blurbs.” And I oblige. With tens of thousands of books published every year, writers need some small edge to market their work. I make no apologies for my open support of their marketing efforts. If I enjoyed their book, it’s the least I can do.
Story #2: When my novel, Dead Beyond the Fence was released, a local writer (Larry Berreth) was kind enough to review the book. The quote I latched onto was, “Kaufman is the new king of the crowbar.” That blurb sold more copies of my book than I could have imagined, something for which I will always be grateful. Rabbit Hole Reviews is my attempt to pass that favor forward.
Do I like every book I read? Of course not. Some books suck. This is no surprise. Not every baby is beautiful. But every one of them is somebody’s baby. I’m pleased to review books that delight. And you won’t hear about the ugly ones from me, because you won’t know about the ones I don’t review.
Except for one.
Story #3: An author I met at a writer’s conference sent me a copy of his e-book, asking for a review. I didn’t think the book was well put together. I declined, saying the book “wasn’t my thing.”
He wrote back, telling me how lousy my last novel was, and how old and fat I was (I’m not fat). In closing, he explained, “Your a moron.” I didn’t bother to tell him that his poor grammar was part of the problem.
Brian Kaufman is the author of three novels, two textbooks and a series of horror novellas, including Mary King’s Plague. He owns and operates Dark Silo Press (a small horror genre press located in Laporte, Colorado). His review blog is Rabbit Hole Reviews.