Happy Friday, everybody. I’m just bursting at the seams with ideas lately; this one came to me a few days ago. I’ve been cleaning out my Twitter account (which, by the way is http://twitter.com/crimnos, please, follow me, I’d love to interact with you there) and I was creating a “Writers” list and debating whether to create a “Reviewers” list. This got me thinking…I know, shocking, right?…about the difference between writers and reviewers (or critics, if you prefer).
Once upon a time I think there was a clear delineation between reviewer and writer, at least an artificially clear one. Lord knows that I read some book reviews in the New York Times that were just as good as a lot of things that I’d read in books. I wondered at the time what kept some of those people from pursuing a career in writing books. Some did, but a lot didn’t. I guess because of that, I bought into the myth that if someone couldn’t write, they would review for a long time. Of course now I realize that, aside from being elitist, it’s just flat-out ridiculous. If you want to be a better writer, you need to be good at reviewing works and critically analyzing them.
So really, what is the difference between a writer and a reviewer? Not sure I can define that, because I’m not sure it actually exists. Definitely not anymore, if it ever really did. I spend a lot of time – and enjoy – checking out book blogs and discovering new, exciting writers, whether they’re writing fiction, non-fiction, or reviewing other works, and you can definitely tell the difference between a good reviewer and a bad reviewer, in the same way that you can tell with a traditional writer. A good reviewer can make someone’s story seem like poetry, even if the story itself is not so great.
Honestly, I don’t care about whether a reviewer is overly critical or effusive about a book. I don’t think that defines the quality of a critic at all. It’s more a question of their mastery of the language. A lot of the better reviewers read so much and have such good taste, along with a command of the language, that it really shines through in their reviews. I know this sounds like ass-kissing, but I don’t know any other way to put it. This is why I don’t think there’s much of a difference, and it’s why a lot of reviewers have such large followings, dwarfing even some very good writers.
Some of that audience can be credited to clever marketing or being in the right place at the right time, sure, but I’ve pretty consistently found that those reviewers who’ve been around for awhile and have a lot of readers have those readers for a reason: consistent, quality content. I mean, yes, I’ve found some obscure reviewers who are fantastic and deserve a larger audience, but most of those are new to the scene, and I have faith that given enough time and word-of-mouth, they’ll find their audience.
So, as a fiction writer, while the purposes of what we’re writing may be different, in the end we’re both kind of trying to do the same thing: trying to tell a story. I’m trying to tell the story that comes out of my head and the reviewer is trying to tell the story of the book. Hell, sometimes the story of the book is more compelling than the book itself. Look at something like Steal This Book, which, while fun, has a far more interesting back story in terms of the culture and times that produced it.
We need people to tell the stories of books. We can only do so much ourselves. There is a definite need for reviewers to help build the narrative of our works and the industry as a whole. If you’re somebody just starting out, whether a writer or a reviewer, I think there’s a lot to be gained by following a quality reviewer who just hasn’t broken through yet, even if just to chart your progress against how they’re doing, and who knows, maybe your book can be the one that helps them break through.
In short, I reject the old concept of ghettoizing reviewers as compared to writers. I don’t think the divide is valid, and I don’t think reviewers deserve that. So a lot of respect to reviewers who are out there working as hard as any one of us.
Oh, and a complete side-note. I wrote a piece about one of my hobbies, “Thrifting for Fun and Profit“, for my buddy Rob (or Crash Preston) to post on his blog, Distorted Zen. The post in question didn’t fit with the theme of this site, and we’ve been wanting to do a guest post exchange for awhile, so I figured why not? I encourage you to go on over there and check it out. Maybe you could pick up some tips on how to make some money by thrifting. Well, as long as you’re not practicing it in my neck of the woods.