Reviewing Without Ruining

I hope the good reader will bear with me, as this topic is partly a rant as well as a cautionary tale. In another topic, I commented on the care one must take when critiquing another author's work, noting the harm it can cause to the fragile self image many authors have. There is another situation where thoughtless comments can do very real and lasting damage to a budding author's prospects - in doing book reviews.

I had an instance of this recently when another self-pub author published a comment on my book 'Deus Ex Machina' in its Kindle page on Amazon. Like many well-meaning amateurs (and we are all amateurs at this, even me) she let her diligence as an editor overcome her discretion. in essence, she mistook one of the stories in that book, in which a main character talks in White Trash 'vernacular' as being 'unreviewed and full of misspellings'.

Specific instances included him saying 'figgers' instead of 'figures', 'th' instead of 'the', 'fer' instead of 'for', and so on. I have discussed in another topic the use vernacular to establish a character's voice, something I do consistently in my work. However, this person misread that as 'unreviewed and full of misspellings'.

I don't suppose my personal pique matters in the Cosmic Scheme Of Things, but here is a case where her misperception is out there for all the world to see. Undoubtedly someone will read that comment in the future and decided to take a pass on this particular work for supposedly being amateurish. You can see the problem.

Ideally - and this should be a cardinal rule for everyone doing a public review - if you find what you think is a problem with a work, contact the author and let them know. We all know how easy it is to lose track of the details in a manuscript running 300 pages in a dozen or more computer files. I know from my own experience that having someone call attention to a major slip-up can be a life saver. (I once left several paragraphs incomplete in an early version of 'Diplomacy 1'. Oops.) True, the author doesn't have to accept your suggestions, but at least they'll know about it, after which they have no cause to complain.

Just as one must be careful not to quibble and snark in doing critiques, one must be doubly careful when doing published reviews on a public forum like Amazon. A thoughtless comment can cause real harm to an author's sales - and we all know how difficult it is to get sales in any forum. Practicing such discretion to help a fellow author is the mark of a true 'professional'.

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