Here's the dilemma: I'm reading a book that I want to review. It is not a good book. It is poorly written, unimaginative and dull. At best it's a short story, because the basic idea is good. The editing is also questionable. I think that, given how hard many aspiring authors work to produce something good, and how much attention we give to following the advice from industry professionals and published writers, this book is insulting and really taking the piss. It should not have been published in its current form and is, in my opinion, about 50% of the way there. The only upside of this is that I didn't pay for the book, it was given to me.

My problem is that although I feel the need to point out its failings, I'm not sure if I ought to. Perhaps my time would be better spent reviewing (and
reading!) something I like. And surely beauty is in the eye of the beholder and people's tastes are not all the same?

Yes, both of the latter are true, but in this case it's not about taste, it's about poor workmanship. I will quote two examples from this book to demonstrate my point, but I could easily quote or more.

Quote 1
The following comes from a long passage where an FBI agent is describing a fight with a vampire:

"...he picked me up by the neck like I weighed nothing and threw me down onto the ground. I started shouting questions at him, asking him to tell me about himself. For some astounding reason, he stepped back and started
answering."

So we're supposed to believe that at one moment the agent is being nigh on
murdered by a vampire, and in the next - and with no explanation whatsoever they're having a nice chat. Really!? Call me demanding but I want the writer to explain this dramatic turnaround. In fact the story can't proceed without being explained. I think this is should have been picked up in the editing process at the very least (where were you editors?). My main question here is, why doesn't the author bother to take the time to fill in the missing details of this sudden change of events? It should IMPOSSIBLE not to describe because you know your readers are going to ask themselves the same question. Then there's the 'For some astounding reason' sentence which the author assumes lets her off the hook of explaining what's going on. If the author can't be bothered to spend the time writing a few hundred words to explain what happened, then why should I bother reading on? Because you've already proved that shoddy workmanship is ok with you. It is not ok for paying customers.

This 'can't be bothered to explain' trick is used many times throughout the course of the book.

Quote 2
Much later in the book the main character is at a gathering of vampires for a ceremony where, not surprisingly, reality is a little challening:

"Candles floated in the air of their own volition, just like in the Harry Potter movies,..."

This starts well enough but then 'just like in the Harry Potter movies'? How lazy can you be? First there's the assumption that the reader has seen any of the films, secondly why doesn't the writer exercise their imagination and supposed writing skills rather than using graphical shorthand? The book is riddled with this sort of thing, all of which should have been picked up by the editor.

Critical Failure
Because I've been caught on the horns of this dilemma, I've asked other writers what they think about critiquing poor work, most prefer to ignore it and instead review books they do like. A few months ago I read another writer's blog about the same issue. Her attitude was that she didn't want to give a bad critique because she didn't want to create negative feelings within a close-knit industry and among people she may need at some point in her career. She is not alone in the POV, and I understand where she's coming from. It's hard enough to become a published/successful writer as it is without creating waves that may bounce back of distant shores later in life and slap you across the face.

On the other hand, we've a right to our opinion and to point out shoddy workmanship to others who might be tempted to spend their money on it, only to find out that it's crap. They should at least have the opportunity to know other people's opinion before they buy.

But we shouldn't live in fear of stating our opinion: that is not good for us as individuals or for our society. In fact, because of our moral obligation to be honest to ourselves, I'd say we're almost obligated to state our opinion.

Writing this blog has helped sorting my thinking out: I will be writing a critique (assuming I can reach the end before death overtakes me). And I will be as balanced as I can be, using examples to back up my comments, which is what I owe the author and publisher. It won't be a hatchet job. But I won't be holding back either, I owe that to everyone considering buying the book and all of the writers who sweat and toil to produce the best work they can.

If we don't take a stand against what we see as poor work, then we are allowing the lazy authors and quick-buck publishers to get away with literary murder. And while I know not all books are meant to be high art (and I love many things that could easily be called low-brow such as B-movies and pulp fiction for example), I don't accept that work that sinks to this level of mediocrity should be published, ever. To do this insults all writers and readers, and the memory of others, such as Mary Shelly and Bram Stoker, who were masters of this genre. While many of us may never achieve their level of excellence as writers, we should aspire to. If not, then there's no point in calling ourselves writers, we're just painting by numbers.

If that's what you aspire to, please don't bother. It's hard enough to get published as it is without having you cluttering up the slush piles.