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[personal profile] renay posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
A few weeks ago I read On Reviews by [personal profile] forestofglory and began thinking more critically about how I use reviews online.

I don't read a lot of reviews from strangers unless the reviews are obviously critical, have low ratings that lead me into the review, or are Did Not Finish. I suspect some of this is because it's much easier for people to talk about and explain what they didn't like about a book. I know my narrative kinks and the sort of characters, story beats, and plots that I enjoy, so if they get cited during a critical review without hitting any of my DNWs I'm immediately adding that book to my to-read list. It's been the greatest tool in my book-finding arsenal.

On the flip side, it's really difficult to talk about what a book did right and how much we love it sometimes. This is especially true with me because I worry about devolving into keymashing love and failing to say anything of substance. People need a little to go on, and I'm not sure flailing around and screeching, "READ THIS NOW!" on Twitter is very effective (unless you are [personal profile] spindizzy, because for some reason she trusts my judgment).

With my blogging friends, though, I'm invested in what they thought about a book, because very often I'm really familiar with their taste and their reactions will give me a good indication of whether I like the book or not, whether their reaction is positive or negative. It's harder to do that with strangers. Friends are great! Finding book bloggers with similar taste to yours take some work, but it's worth it. \o/

At Lady Business, we tend to write long, analytical solo reviews that don't really do much for people who haven't read the books in question, especially people avoiding spoilers. I am definitely guilty of it; Jodie is better at doing it than I am. Ana is the The Queen of contextualizing the books in ways that don't spoil the story for readers. I have long envied her skills in this arena. Part of why we review the way we do here is just because that's how we write about things we've read and we're often doing this for ourselves first and foremost. It's work writing about things in a way that doesn't spoil them, because spoilers have such a wide array of meanings to different people.

On Dreamwidth, the culture of book reviewing hasn't really matched the culture of book reviewing elsewhere as far as my own experience. All communities have their quirks, but Dreamwidth's culture is definitely more personal, intimate, and less focused on what I think of as standard review structure, one book to an entry. That does happen, but round ups are much more common. Much of the book commentary I see via my reading list and network comes in the form of reading recaps (a list, with a few books commented on under a cut depending on if the author has anything to say), Reading Wednesday posts (I love these so much and wish I read enough to do them), and a bigger emphasis on talking about the undercurrent of works. For example, there will obviously be discussion of plot but it will dig into more specifics than a review on Random SF Book Reviewer Site would. There's also the very basic formats of Title, 3-5 non-spoilery sentences, simple rating format or a list of book presented and it being left to people to ask in the comments if they want to know what the reader's thought.

It's all very different to what I'm used to over in the book blogger hobbyist space (which is not the greatest description; they don't have a claim to the term book blogger, but I'll roll with it for now). We often model our reviews after that structure. But I wonder how worthwhile that is in the long run. Is it more accessible than the types of book sharing/discussion I see on Dreamwidth? Sometimes I do really wonder if I wouldn't be better off focusing on reading more stories, and then doing column-style summaries like Sleeps With Monsters does sometimes, or like I see in pro magazines or online newspapers. Part of our mission here is to read and talk about women and non-binary folks, and give their books attention so other people can find them in a noisy environment. But this is complicated by the amount of time it takes us to put together a formal review and whether or not people even read the review due to how we structure our reviews and the content we choose to include in them. I wonder if that format is just a little bit inaccessible, and then exacerbated by the fact we don't use ratings.

(I'll never use ratings. Ratings are hard.)

Some of this is also related to feeling very tied to a specific review style, so going back and forth depending on the book(s), the context, and the time I have available will be bad for actually getting eyes on the books I want to promote. This is definitely a weird thing that comes from the Blogger community specifically that I internalized while I was active over there, and it's silly. But I was active over there in a time when BUILD YOUR OWN BRAND AND STICK TO IT was very popular. I have a serious mental block on just doing whatever I want to do and formatting entries whatever way the wind takes me. I would love to just do whatever format feels right for me on the day I decide to throw some words down, but as per usual, I worry.

ME: This'll be fine. It's a little different, but it was fun!
ANXIETY MONSTER: Think about it this way: What if it isn't? What if you change things and people never take your recs again because they liked the old reviews better?
ME: Oh.
ME: *rewrites everything*

Then I also worry about review copy: do publishers/authors expect their books to be covered individually at all times when in comes to fan reviewers on blogs? I'm not sure. N.K. Jemisin does a NYTimes column; there was Dark Visions and Science Fiction. Sunil Patel has launched a column in Lightspeed that's excellent, too. But is this style kosher for non-paid reviewing? In some cases it's way easier, and more accessible to readers, to use 300-500 words each about several books and get the word out, versus using 2000 words about one, which takes longer, covers fewer authors, and may spoil the whole experience of the book if not handled correctly.

This navel-gazing brought to you by a lady who reads S L O W L Y and wants to read more, but knows that means writing less (and therefore not being considered as important as more active blogs by dudes, covering dudes, sob) and continues to be put out by her lack of superhero speed reading powers.
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