Monday, November 10, 2008

Is Honesty the Best Policy?

Last weekend I taught a course at Kennesaw College for the Georgia Writers Association. It was an hour and a half on “Being A Critic – For Fun, Fame and Profit?” You notice the question mark at the end of the title. That refers to the profit aspect.

I went through the whole history of how I, Jackie K Cooper from Clinton, South Carolina, became a film and book critic. It was a long journey full of wonderful coincidences and amazing mentors.

At the end of the session I was talking about what goes into a book review. I stated I always try to find something good in even the worst book and something not so perfect to add to a rave review. I always try to remind people this is just one man’s opinion and not anything more.

Having said this I added I always try to send the author a copy of my review. I usually “Google” them and find a website which will have a “Contact” me area. I then send the author an e-mail which states, “My review of (the book) has been posted to my website This review also appeared in my newspapers."

I have been doing this for ages and frequently get a note back from the author thanking me for the review. From these correspondences I have struck up a friendship with various authors. But friendship or not I still give an honest review of the books I select. This sometimes makes it a little awkward but I don’t think I have lost any friends over my reviews.

Recently I did have one friend tell me if I did not like his book just not to review it (or at least not have the review published). Still I think most writers agree with my attitude as a writer which is that any publicity is good publicity.

When I attended the Dahlonega Book Festival this year I was sitting with some authors and mentioned to them an incident that had happened with my book reviews. I had sent a notice of my review of a book to an author. It was a mixed review. I had found some things I liked and some I didn’t. Well shortly after I sent the notice to the author he responded with an angry message about it. He said if I sent him notice of a review that he should reasonably expect it to be a “good” review. He hardly expected it to be unfavorable, and that I was never to review any more of his books.

Of course I can review any book I choose to review but I probably will make a note to leave this author’s books off my desk. I thought his response was extremely thin skinned and touchy. But the authors who I told this story to had mixed feelings.

One agreed totally with me and said he had used my reviews to help improve his writing. Another said I should never send notice of a review unless it was a good review. She said that even mildly negative reviews can be terribly hurtful.

I don’t know if I am going to change my policy or not. I certainly don’t want to cause anyone grief by what I write but if I am not honest in my opinion of what use is it? I am lucky enough to have newspapers and other media like my reviews enough to pay for them. That makes me a professional critic per se. It doesn’t however mean that my opinion is any more credible than that of someone else.

I would like to know your opinion. You can e-mail me at and let me know what you think. I’ll be waiting to hear the pros and cons of doing what I do.


Jackie K Cooper is the author of five books, the latest being THE SUNRISE REMEMBERS. All five books have received rave reviews from the esteemed book critic Jackie K Cooper.


Anonymous said...

Part of the job of being an author is to handle reviews with grace. Arguing with reviews or treating the reviewer unkindly is bad form and just makes the situation worse.

I've seen authors address Amazon reviewers in the comment section or blog about unflattering reviews on their blogs.

Recently an author complained about one tiny criticism in an other wise glowing review.

No one likes bad reviews but if enough people read your books they are inevitable. Unflattering always sting a little for me but I never read them more than once or allow them to bother me for more than ten minutes. If I'm really feeling punk, I simply go to Amazon, and check out the reviews for some of my favorite books. It reminds me I'm in good company. Yes, even a book like TO KILL A MOCKINgBIRD can get a one-star review.

The Pulpwood Queen said...

My response would be this, with so many books in the world being published today, I would select only glowing books to read and review. No matter how bad the book, someone spent an enormous amount of time in writing their book. I am often reminded of the New York Times Review of Pat Conroy's Beach Music. It was not favorable, in fact it was downright mean. But for everything the critic criticized the book for, I found that was exactly why I love to read his books. His review was his opinion. I disregarded it but at the same time, felt compelled to write and state exactly what I just told you.
You are hired to do book reviews so why not just showcase the good ones. I had a reviewer in Canada review my book and told me even though I highly reccommended reading quite literary authors and Pulitzer Prize winners, my book was not in that company. I laughed as my book is about my life in books and promoting literacy. My intention in writing my book was to show the non-reader that reading could be fun. Not all books are literary, pretentious, but are fun romps of endless and delightful entertainment.
I am asked all the time to give an author a review of their book. I have no trouble being honest with them in person, but at the same time, I always keep in mind and reason the amount of work that went into such an endeavor. I keep my criticisms positive. I never review a bad book in public. There are just too many good books to focus an anything negative.
Just my opinion too, but I think I might misunderstand someone sending me a bad review. But certainly, send on the good reviews. Sometimes that is the only pay we get for all of our years of hard work and determination to tell our story!
Tiara wearing and Book sharing,
Kathy L. Patrick
Founder of the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs

Anonymous said...

I would tend to agree with Kathy. And it's great to promote books. As far as emailing or contacting the author to notify them about the review-- once you post a review with book title and author's name on your website or blog, the author will soon discover it [those who WANT to read their reviews, that is...not all authors do], because s/he will Google their name and title [or their publicist will] and your notice will come up. So I'd skip the step of contacting them, unless you are genuinely bowled over. Just one opinon.