Musing on different things I do

Out of the blue this week I was asked to critique a story for someone I really only know through frequenting the same reviewing circles over at ASIF!. When I queried why she’d made this request, the response was because I’m insightful in my reviews. Now, first of all, I am flattered 🙂 However, it got me to thinking, because to my mind, there are very different methods involved in reviewing, critiquing, and editing and I wonder if others find the same thing. While some of the skills are similar, you are really doing very different things, and I’m not sure being insightful in one makes you good at another…

For me, reviewing is made up of a few different parts. Firstly, I am not working for the benefit of the author. While many authors do seek out an read reviews of their work, I sincerely doubt many of them are going to read any criticism I might make of their work and decide to completely change that aspect of their writing! That’s not what it’s about. Reviews are for the benefit of other readers, essentially, and I think my job as a reviewer is to try to articulate what I liked or didn’t like about the book in such a way that gives the potential reader the option to agree or disagree with my opinion and make an informed decision about whether to seek the book out for themselves, or not.

Critiquing IS of course for the writer. But it’s a very different beast to editing. When I’m critiquing someone’s work, my goal is to point out areas that don’t work for me as an informed reader, and to applaud bits I really like and that make the story awesome. In a critique, I may suggest that I find a section overlong or dense, but I won’t make specific suggestions for changes. When I’m editing though, I’ll draw red lines through words, lines and sections, and ask for rewording of specific bits that bother me. I think the main difference for me is that in a critique, I’ll make general suggestions to offer guidance to the writer of where I see problems with a story, but when I’m editing, I’m working with the author to tweak out the best possible story for the publication I’ve already bought it for, and therefore I will be far more specific and definitive about what changes I want. It’s still a give and take situation, but it’s far more concentrated and detailed, for me.

I think I use a similar skillset for these things – of course spelling, grammar, punctuation and the like are important for all, as is an educated idea of what makes a story work. But they are distinctive disciplines to me.

I’m interested to know if others look at these three things differently as well. Of course, we all review, critique and edit differently, but is there a correlation between them for you?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Musing on different things I do

  1. Anonymous

    ‘zaktly!
    I was also thinking this morning that there are two kinds of book reviews. There is the slightly dry review, written for a review site which gets free books from the publisher. It’s a review where the first paragraphs are likely taken up by a summary of the first half or so of the book, followed by a few paragraphs of first, the likes, and then the dislikes. You make recommendation as to who might enjoy the book. In general, this type of review is rather values-neutral, and assumes that everyone will have their own opinion. I read these reviews to find out what the plot is about, but I’m a bit wary of the likes and dislikes section for the reason below.
    The other is a ‘what I really thought’ review usually posted on private blogs for friends. I find these reviews much more genuine, since the writer has paid for the book and has no obligation to write in values-neutral language so that some site will continue to receive free books. In other words: I feel that if a reviewer hated a book, he/she can’t say so in the first type of review, but will say so in the second type of review.

    • Anonymous

      I dunno. I get most of the books I review from the publisher, and I will say if I don’t like it. But I’ll always say why, because I know that unless it’s simply terribly written (and I honestly don’t get many of those), it’s usually not actually a problem with the book, but it’s something I personally don’t enjoy.
      I’ve even reviewed a book I didn’t finish in the past, because I thought life was just too short to waste on it, but I made it clear the aspects that made me give up on it. I know there might be people out there who will still want to read it, even though I was negative about it, because the bits I hated are the sort of thing they like!

  2. Anonymous

    I agree that the three are related, but use different forms of expertise and focus on different stages of the writing and reading process.
    A critque, I think, is part reader response, part writer response, taking into account the author’s level of expertise. It is a sharing of knowledge in the form of praise, criticism and suggestions aimed at improving not only a piece of writing, but the skills of the writer as well.
    Editing is focussed solely on the work, organizing it into a coherent and well-structured whole, making it shine. The writer has the right to accept or ignore editorial comments, so they are still part of the equation.
    Reviews are reader responses often influenced by writerly and/or editorial expertise. They are appraisals of the finished work, aimed at potential readers. Having sold (or in some cases, donated) their work to the big wide world, the writer is assumed to be present in name only.
    As for reading reviews of my own published work:
    Even though reviews are meant for readers and not writers, I’ve found that although negative comments do sting a bit, there is often something useful to be gleaned from them. At the very least, they are good for thickening the skin 🙂 and are reminders that people’s tastes differ and there’s no pleasing everyone. At best, they have pointed out an aspect of my writing that needed attention. It’s never an easy fix — but writing is far from easy anyway — and there’s never a single answer as to how to go about it. But a hint here and a hint there from sources of different expertise all add up towards getting me closer to my goal of being a better writer.

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