Read ’Em And Weep: Which reviews hold weight?

It’s commonly touted advice for writers to not read reviews of their work. Even if you’re good at handling criticism, it can still be discouraging to see people completely miss the point of your work. That’s inevitable—some people will get it, and some won’t.

That said, there are some review venues in genre that miss the point more often than not, especially when writers or stories are marginalized in some way. Knowing when to ignore suggestions is just as important as knowing when to take them. Ultimately, the goal of feedback is to get you closer to your vision for your story.

Here’s my brief and personal view toward some of the bigger names in reviewing. Others may find their reviews helpful, particularly if they like to focus on other aspects of narrative than I do. So please take this with a large grain of salt.

Four-panel comic of the same person shaking salt on food while saying “needs salt.” The last panel shows the character putting salt on a bag of salt. Maritsa Patrinos / BuzzFeed

Don’t Bother Reading

Tangent Online
https://tangentonline.com/
Tangent seems to be the name that crops up the most when people complain about gross misreads of their work. The vibe is pretty clear when you’ve been around for a while that Tangent isn’t all too friendly toward fiction with trans themes and other narratives that challenge the status quo and/or exist outside of it. Even their reads of stories that don’t miss the point don’t show much insight into the writer’s craft or the reader’s response.

Rocket Stack Rank (RSR)
http://www.rocketstackrank.com/
While RSR has broad coverage of a lot of short fiction, they’ve missed the mark a lot in the past, including egregious treatment of narratives with trans and nonbinary characters. Like Tangent, even the reviews that are on the mark are shallow reads of the work that don’t do much beyond summarize.

Goodreads
https://www.goodreads.com/
Goodreads reviews aren’t inherently bad. In fact, many of the reviews posted there are excellent. But it’s important to keep in mind that Goodreads is essentially a blog or social network. Many people post one-star reviews simply to be provocative or to try to tank an author’s rating for some arbitrary reason. Don’t put too much weight on them.

Amazon
https://amazon.com/
See above note for Goodreads, except the reviews are generally of a worse quality because people are reviewing books as products, rather than as books.


No Opinion

I’m unable to evaluate all the review venues in genre, much as I wish I could. This section includes a list of others I know about, simply for reference. Please feel free to contact me if you feel something from this list should be moved to “don’t bother” or “engaging.”

The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/books/science-fiction

Kirkus Reviews
https://www.kirkusreviews.com/

Locus Online
https://locusmag.com/category/reviews/

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
https://weightlessbooks.com/category/format/subscription/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction/

NPR Books
https://www.npr.org/sections/book-reviews/

The New York Times Book Review
https://www.nytimes.com/section/books/review

SFBook
https://sfbook.com/

SFFWorld
https://www.sffworld.com/

Tor.com
https://www.tor.com/tag/book-reviews/


Engaging Reads

FIYAH: A Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction
https://www.fiyahlitmag.com/reviews/
FIYAH’s reviews archive features in-depth commentary primarily on books by Black writers, though they also feature non-Black writers. Furthermore, reviewers disclose the areas where they aren’t qualified to comment on a topic, which I feel lends a sense of introspection and reflection to reviews. FIYAH’s statement of intent on reviewing provides insight into their process.

Quick Sip Reviews
http://quicksipreviews.blogspot.com/
Run by powerhouse Charles Payseur, Quick Sip Reviews (QSR) is an archive of short fiction and poetry reviews across genre. Although the comments are short, Payseur engages deeply with the work, going beyond summary to include his emotional and conceptual impressions of a piece.

Short Fiction Roundups by Maria Haskins
https://mariahaskins.com/category/short-fiction-roundups/
Like Charles Payseur at QSR, Maria Haskins provides brief reviews of short fiction that concisely sum up the narrative while also providing some of Haskins’ own impressions of the parts of the work that stood out to her. I’m pretty sure Haskins only reviews work that she enjoys (unlike other venues that try to have a more comprehensive view of genre), so the reviews are generally positive.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
https://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/
Usually reviews romance books, but also features the occasional science fiction or fantasy book. In-depth, enthusiastic reviews with a strong reader’s voice.

Speculative Fiction in Translation
https://www.sfintranslation.com/
Run primarily by Rachel Cordasco, Speculative Fiction in Translation (SFT) focuses on work from around that world that has been translated into English. The reviews consider the landscape of literary translation as a whole as well as the individual craft in each work.

Strange Horizons
http://strangehorizons.com/non-fiction/reviews/
The reviews at Strange Horizons aren’t all positive reviews, but they are all insightful, engaging, and in-depth reads of work across various media. You’ll find long-form reviews that bring in additional context to a piece and discuss how well the creator accomplished their vision for a work. (Disclosure: I have contributed reviews to Strange Horizons.)


If you decide to read reviews of your work, remember that the best practice for engaging with them is to simply not engage at all. A few words of thanks for a positive review are generally welcome, but do not harass or heckle reviewers themselves, regardless of how off the mark they might be.

Last updated on August 27, 2020.

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