Bill & Ted’s Excellent Reviewing Rules

Some of you may know that in the last week or so I’ve been happily plugging my short story ‘Dressed to Deceive’ which is currently available to read for free on Inkitt. What I haven’t been talking about is the other side of that coin which is the huge amount of reviews I’ve been doing for other writers on the Inkitt site over the last few days, which is a subject I’m going to broach with you all today. (I’ve also been watching Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure but I don’t think that’s really relevant so we’ll skip past that bit).

Now, I’ve had a couple of questions from people about the issue of using online writer’s critique groups and, apart from the obligatory ‘Aren’t you afraid someone is going to steal your work?’ type questions, the main topic that people seem to be bringing up is the following:

What is your strategy for reviewing given that you are trying to get other people to review your work in return?

Now this is an interesting question and one that I think people have to answer in their own way. As far as I’m concerned, reviewing other people’s work on Inkitt or other critique sites is about two things:

  1. Getting people to reciprocate and give reviews to you in return
  2. Getting practiced at pointing out issues with other people’s work so that you can either do it to yourself when the time comes or know where people are coming from when they do it to you.

We’re going to ignore the latter for the moment (maybe I will deal with it in a later post) and concentrate on the former.

What it ultimately comes down to is this – you are giving someone a review with the intention of them doing the same for you. This means you have to ask yourself the question, ‘What do I want from a review?’

Do you want an ego massage? Do you want every flaw to be pointed out to you so that you can work on it? Do you want to find out if a particular plot twist worked? Do you want feedback on your main character who may be completely unlikeable but you can’t be sure because you are so close to the story that you’ve lost perspective..?

What do you want from a review of your work?

Once you answer that, the next step is quite simple. If you want an ego massage, then be equally complimentary to other people. If you want all the problems highlighted then by all means do that to someone else…

BUT, and there is a big but, always remember that you are playing with someone else’s passion and work. Just because you want your work ripped to shreds, it doesn’t mean that the poor bugger you’re reviewing wants the same thing. Whilst you’re happily ripping apart someone’s story, you may well be destroying someone’s soul. Likewise, whilst you are happily complimenting a story that you didn’t like, remember that that author’s expectation is now higher. As far as you’re concerned, you’ve essentially built them up for a fall…

And this is why writers need to be good reviewers. None of us really want to be told our work sucks but, by the same token, none of us (at least those of us who want to actually achieve some measure of success) want to be told that we are the greatest thing since sliced bread when no literary agent alive will touch our work.

So here are my hard and fast rules for being a good reviewer that, with any luck, might make you a better writer in the process:

  1. Be constructive – don’t just destroy someone’s world, give them a way to rebuild it.
  2. Be honest – if you don’t like something, it’s ok to say that. Rejection is a given for writers so don’t be afraid to be on the other side…
  3. Be consistent – don’t give a great review to a pretty girl for a sucky piece and then slam an old man’s masterpiece
  4. Be nice – if you’re already pointing out the flaw in something you don’t need to put the boot in for good measure, they’ll be disheartened enough as it is.
  5. Be opinionated – normally not a great quality in real life but in reviewing it is integral, just because every other reviewer gave something five stars it doesn’t mean you should feel obliged to.

And one final thing, not really a rule as such but I feel it should be noted…

Be excellent to each other.

At the end of the day we are all in the same boat. If you don’t like someone in general and you can’t trust yourself to be professional about it, don’t review their work – it doesn’t do anyone any favours. Simples.

Party on dudes!

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