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I agree with your comments on how a reviewer should approach their task and certainly it should begin by being true to what appeals to them. Readers of this site come back because they trust that. No apologies necessary though it does feel strange to have such a negative reaction when you are almost always looking for the good. Thank you for your honest critique


Totally agree. I feel strongly that the best blogs are there to serve readers, to help them find the books they're most likely to enjoy. And a part of that is taking note of both the good and the bad in what we're reading.

Susan in TX

Well said! I think you do a great job of keeping your reviews fair and honest.

Dark Puss

Great to see a negatively critical review from you from time to time; I know we differ on how often you should produce those! I'll make one comment and that is I don't associate the word critical with either negativity or positivity. You say "If I'm critical in my writing about books it's not because I'm mean." Surely all your writing about books is critical isn't it?


Yes, you're right that 'critical' in its purest sense doesn't necessarily lean either way; in more colloquial usage (and, I see, the first of the dictionary's definitions) it implies a negative view.

Dark Puss

Is it really the first meaning given (not that I doubt you of course)? I try very hard to get across to my students/colleagues here in XXX University that we should always be critical and that does not imply that we take a dim view of their work or performance. Can you then suggest a more neutral word (than critical) to use?


Analytical? Appraising? Best I can do for now!


There is no use asking us if you have got the balance correct Cornflower.

It seems fair to assume we all like your style, otherwise we would have decamped long since!


I think that you are always fair in your reviews and if you do make not entirely favourable comments, give valid reasons backing them up, which is all anyone can expect.
I'm not an academic, just an enthusiastic reader, and I have also recently read books which would have been improved if they had been edited more thoroughly, or perhaps skilfully.
Not sure why this happens: is it caused by the speed of publishing today (certainly the speed of newspaper printing has led to far more typos than there used to be when processes were slower and had more stages where mistakes could be picked up and corrected)or simply a shortage of experienced editors?

B R Wombat

I often think books I'm reading could have done with better editing. Also proof reading leaves a lot to be desired, I find. Many highly regarded writers can barely write grammatically, much to my fury - so I'm a far more difficult customer than Cornflower and very much appreciate your considered reviews.

Dark Puss

LizF, I can think of lots of poorly written books that would have benefitted from better editing from earlier decades too! I think that books were also significantly more expemsive in terms of relative income than they are now. How much more would you be prepared to pay to have better editing?

Perhaps some publishers might like to comment, my remakrs carry no backing of personal experience in this field (except extensive experience of writing & editing editing scientific papers).


Re. errors, I'm reminded of my old days as a lawyer when we took pains to ensure legal documents were correct. When a draft deed, say, had been engrossed, that is, the good copy made, ready for signing, one member of staff would read the draft aloud, another reading the engrossment for comparison purposes as they did so. Labour-intensive and time-consuming certainly, but necessary for accuracy.

adele geras

I value your reviews enormously and think you do a grand job!! Keep it up. No apologies necessary!

Dark Puss

I assume that, quite correctly, you charged these hours of careful work to the client. As I said to LizF, how much more for books would you pay (on average) to ensure the quality of editing you would wish? Do you, with your knowledge of publishing in C21 literature area, have any insight into what the relative costs are?


I don't know, I'm afraid, but it would be very interesting to find out.

B R Wombat

We also did this checking in the accountants' office where I worked in the 80s to ensure the accuracy of typed accounts. In those days it was even done on the local paper - 2 readers were employed and I think this was their main job. I wonder if it persists?

Amanda Craig

I so agree Cornflower, and value your judgement because it's so scrupulous.

Would it be useful to know that writers work so long on a book that we almost all become blind to its flaws, typos etc? This is why a proper editor is so vital. Yet they are like hens' teeth. The ones who do the real work now are often ex-publishers, very poorly paid, with little confidence and no power. More and more novelists try to read each other in manuscript to get over this - but of course that is unpaid, and unprofessional. It's worse on many national newspapers, now largely subbed by those on work experience.


Thanks so much, Amanda - it's great to hear from someone on the inside. I can quite understand how writers' objectivity fails them when they are so close to their work, and how sad that what seems to be such an important part of the publishing process is being devalued or lost altogether.

Michael Faulkner

Cornflower, as so many people have said, we trust your judgement and follow your blog because you are honest and fair. It can't be roses all the time otherwise you would lose credibility. If you feel strongly about something - especially when you're talking about someone who is standing on their own success, rather than a new and perhaps more vulnerable writer to whom you might be tempted to give the benefit of the doubt - then you should probably tell it like it is. If writers can't take constructive criticism and grow the fabled thick skin, they won't grow - it's painful but true (spoken as a writer). It doesn't mean you have to be unkind - that wouldn't be your style - but don't worry, we can tell when you're not over-enthusiastic!


Thanks, Mike!

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