Should Reviews Be Written By Professionals?

March 6, 2023 Uncategorized 14

As an amateur reviewer myself, I was always going to answer “no” to this question from The New York Times prompts on cultural criticism. However, I am glad that both professional and amateur reviewers are writing online. These two types of reviews serve different purposes for me and I enjoy them both.

Professional reviews tend to feel more formal. They often use a wider vocabulary and range of references. They’ve clearly taken a lot of time to write. Many focus on more literary works (not always my favorite type of book to read!). I’ve also noticed that professional reviewers have a funny quirk, where books with titles that lend themselves to metaphors will be referenced by multiple critics. For instance, a book that has a musical reference in the title or themes will almost certainly be described as symphonic, discordant, or some other music related term in multiple professional reviews. I don’t often decide to read a book based on these reviews alone. I do like that they keep me aware of the latest books coming out though. As someone who enjoys essays and books on books, I also simply enjoy professional reviews as a genre of reading.

I think reviews written by us amateurs tend to be a little more varied, as we each bring our own goals and personal style to the endeavor. There are two types of blogger reviews I tend to love the most. The first shares some qualities with a professional review. The blogger engages with the content of the book and/or situates this book in the context of other published works. These reviews are also often of nonfiction or more literary fiction. They strike me as something that takes a lot of time and effort. I admire them a lot and would like to be able to achieve more of this style myself.

The other type of blogger review that I enjoy has almost of the opposite strengths. These are reviews by bloggers who bring a lot of personality to their posts. They might be funny or achieve a conversational tone that makes me feel like I’m hearing from a smart friend. They aren’t less well written than the first kind of review; the approachable, fun writing style is something I’d admire in a published novel. This type of review also focuses on one of the best parts of amateur reviews, which is the reader’s reaction to the book. When I’m looking for a book to read, I want to know what the reading experience is going to be like. This type of review is so helpful for learning that. I think I currently write reviews that focus on the personal, but my style is pretty plain. I wouldn’t mind bringing some of this more fun approach into my own writing as well.

Do you think professional reviewers bring something special to a review? Do you have a preference for reading or writing reviews with some of the qualities I talked about here?

14 Responses to “Should Reviews Be Written By Professionals?”

  1. Helen Murdoch

    Great post! I find that professional reviews often don’t resonate with me as I don’t get that “what did you really think” feeling from them. Maybe that’s why I enjoy the blogging world so much: I get to know the other bloggers’ tastes and personalities so I know if we like the same types of books or not.

    • DoingDewey

      That’s is a good point! I noticed that they feel more formal, but I do also come away with less of an idea of the reviewer’s personal opinion. It is really great to find bloggers whose recommendations you know you can trust because you tend to like the same thing 🙂

  2. Cindy Littlejohn

    I’m sure professional reviewers are more sought after by authors. But as a new author, I found myself seeking my reader’s reactions. I guess I needed them to help me build my confidence.

    Though I never thought about there being a difference, I guess I would also like informal reviews more than professional reviews. Maybe it is the confidence factor again, because professional reviewers actually scare me.

    But for my own quest for my next read, I trust the amateur reviewer more. Maybe because I think they are more like me.

    • DoingDewey

      I hadn’t thought about the author perspective on reviews and really appreciate you commenting! That all makes a lot of sense. I’d find professional reviewers more intimidating too.

  3. Jenny @ Reading the End

    I like a good professional review, for sure! But there’s something really helpful about hearing from a non-professional who I know and whose opinions I trust and understand — they’ll often get at things that professional reviews don’t, or emphasize personal taste when talking about why a thing didn’t work for them. That can often give me an ultimately better sense of the book!

  4. Harry Katz

    I like how you’ve categorized book review bloggers. I’m certainly in your first group but I’d like to lean a little more to the second.

    As for professional reviews. I sometimes find them pretentious especially when the reviewer spends too much time showing off their own knowledge

  5. trav

    The professionals certainly bring something needed to the conversation. Though I think they’re no longer the ‘taste makers’ they once were, I’m very glad they are there and I wish there were more of them. Having said that… there is something really fun about stumbling into a nest of book bloggers who are buzzing about a newly discovered book. It’s infectious energy that the professionally balanced reviews just can’t muster. Book blogging is so much fun. So while I do wish there was more book coverage in the world, I am so glad there are way more book bloggers and amateur reviewers than professional reviewers!

    • DoingDewey

      Oh, you make an interesting point about the relative number of bloggers and professional reviewers! I agree that having more professional reviewers would be nice. I’d love to have even more opinions on books to read and I wonder if professional reviewers might start to respond to each other more often if there was a larger community to talk to. Something I do love about book bloggers are the interactions and it would be fun to see some of that with professional reviewers too.

  6. Lory @ Entering the Enchanted Castle

    I think you make good points about both kinds of reviews. I agree that “When I’m looking for a book to read, I want to know what the reading experience is going to be like” — and generally I find that non-professional reviewers are more likely to be concerned with that and less with status, intellectual one-upmanship or judgment pronouncements.

    Professionals should of course review books that are about technical fields in which professional expertise is needed to evaluate their worth. But for fiction and nonfiction aimed at a general readership, I think that an intelligent lay reader can review it as well as a pro, honestly. There are so many book bloggers who are excellent writers.

    Robertson Davies called devoted, nonprofessional but highly literate readers and writers the “clerisy.” I’m proud to be a part of that group.

    • DoingDewey

      Lots of great ideas here! I hadn’t thought about books that require technical expertise, but that’s definitely an area where professional reviewers could be especially helpful.

      I’d not heard the term clerisy before, but I like it and am now going done a fun internet rabbit hole learning more about it 🙂

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