Reviewing Reviews

I just posted my tenth review and realized that a lot of them have been pretty negative. I don't feel like that was undeserved but I have started to wonder if I'm being too harsh? Is there an etiquette here, beyond write your response and keep it civil, that I'm not aware of? I like reviewing, it exposes me to new writers and I think it helps my own writing by forcing me to think critically. But... I don't want to be the WFG bully.

I know this sounds weird but would someone mind taking a look at a few of my reviews and giving me a review of them? Especially helpful would be someone who has, or wouldn't mind, reading the stories in question.

Keep one thing in mind when you write a review and you'll be fine - how would you feel if it was about your book? If the wording would be hurtful, change the wording.

But that doesn't mean don't criticize. Critique a work looking at ways it can be done better, so the author has a path to improvement - being fluffy when something is bad doesn't help people learn and it doesn't help readers.

There are some reviewers who have seen me as holding a high standard for stories, and my response is that a high bar helps foster excellence - and excellent work is the only thing that will help web fiction to be taken seriously. But no one reviewer has the power to decide what that looks like alone - if you're wrong about a review a fan of the story or another objective reviewer will balance out the viewpoint.

It has happened where a really negative review from a reliable reviewer will cause traffic to a site to increase because people want to see why the review was negative.

I've also had it happen that good writers will request that I review their work after a series of my reviews go up - and invariably their work is solid. When a reviewer's style is consistent, reliable and honest it attracts writers who take their work seriously and appreciate a solid critique.

Hand-wringing about whether you were mean in a review is the same as worrying if your fiction was good enough. The solution is the same - practice, write more, find your voice. People will listen when it is well-developed, but they can't correct it for you.

Practice and improve. If you think that you've been overly negative, write a few reviews for stories you actually like before doing another tough one. And with both, demonstrate your rationale. If you can give good reasons, then over time people will know where you stand.

For example, I'm up front about my biases. I will deduct a star for vampires, wizards, zombies, superheroes, or anything else that comes across as blatantly derivative or trendy UNLESS the writing kicks ass. Anyone seeing me give three stars to a vampire story then automatically knows that if they do like vampires, it is a four star story FOR THEM. If they hate vampires, they know to steer clear too. Consistency matters.

I haven't read the stories, but your reviews seem well reasoned and fair. I think it's just because like you said, you've been reviewing some older stories that may have been overlooked for a reason. At least you gave them a chance.

Seconding what Fiona said. Your review have always seemed solid to me. G. S. Williams was also right: you wouldn't be doing either the authors or the readers any favors by sugar-coating what doesn't deserve it. The important thing to remember about saying negative thing is that tone matters. As long as you're professional and polite, as long as you convey in a helpful manner what it is you don't like about a given story, you're doing your job well.

I do feel where you're coming from. I don't like to come across as a jerk either. Unfortunately, though, sometimes there's just not a lot that can be said in favor of a story. Being a reviewer is one area where Thumper's Maxim ("If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all"), while good advice generally, is counterproductive.

For what it's worth, I think you're doing fine.

Thanks for the support guys. I guess it was just that last one that made me nervous. I retread it after I was done and it just seemed mean. I've just spent some time rereading the story and I think my remarks were pretty well in line. Might just be the threshold effect, that was my first under two stars. I do need to keep GS's first statement in mind though. Critical isn't the same as rude.

I know that when I asked for advice on my site's layout, I would've been really upset if some of the feedback I got had been worded differently. As it was, I was grateful. Especially towards Wildbow, whose response was the "harshest" but also the most useful. I'm still not where I want to be there, I just don't have the web or artistic ability, but I'm a lot better off.

Personally, I find it harder to write critical reviews. Sometimes it's hard to put my finger on exactly what about a story didn't work for me. It's easier to just default to saying it was good, or not write anything.

I think I'm the opposite. If I don't like something then it really stands out to me but I can't always put my finger on why I like one good story over another.

I don't review something unless I like it enough to say something good about it (note that this is simply my own personal policy, not my belief on how every review should be). For the most part it's because I consider my fellow writers of all stripes colleagues and I find criticizing colleagues distasteful.

Oddly enough I don't find BEING criticized by colleagues distasteful. I just don't like DOING it. For example, Palladian pointing out the gender imbalances in Curveball was a Very Good Thing. I mean, I wasn't cheering out loud to learn that I'd done it, but I was grateful it had been pointed out to me so I could start addressing it.

I used to be a really, really mean media reviewer when I was younger and nowadays reviewing is still one area where I feel like I can get carried away and become too aggressive sometimes so I tend to hold back on criticism. That being said I actually haven't reviewed anything on here mostly because I'm still reading the few serials I do read and I don't know how much I should read before trying to review it. I also have pretty niche tastes in general so it is difficult to appeal to me. That's something I would try to set aside if I were to write a review.

I read the Mutants, and you said everything I would have said. As for the language of the review, I couldn't think of a better way to put it. Sometimes bad is bad, and you weren't an ass about saying so.

Personally, I don't mind criticism, so long as it's reasonable. If someone says "Why isn't this perfect? I only read perfect things." I'd ignore that. But if it's something along the lines of "Why is your preteen girl character talking like Conan the Barbarian?" I listen.

Thanks. I've decided to put a little more effort into picking which stories I review. Hopefully that will mean my honest response won't need to be don't bother any more.

I've tried very hard to randomly select stories, but I find if the description is uninteresting to me, (or worse, badly written), the rest of the story will follow, and I will be giving a negative. So I usually already avoid reading stories that would end up being negative by choosing from the description not to read.