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Black Static


Reviewing: New Rules of Engagement

18th Feb, 2010

Author: Peter Tennant

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I am pushed for time at the moment, and so have decided to 'gift' you with a blast from the past. This, not entirely serious, list of rules for reviewers first appeared in an issue of The Third Alternative back in the day, though not exactly as posted here (some of the 'jokes' have got 'old').



Remember, books and magazines are a side issue. It's not about them. It's about you. Your opportunity to show the world at large just how clever and witty and insightful you are.

Believe, that to criticise is human, and that the critical faculty is what distinguishes man from all the other animals. To paraphrase one of those ancient Greek guys, the uncriticised story is not worth reading.

Let your personal philosophy be, In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth, and then he knocked up a couple of human beings to cast a critical eye over His work and tell Him if it was any good or not (PS God, don't give up the day job).

Find justification for what you do in Nietzsche's dictum, "It is not enough to have a talent my friends. One must also have your permission for it." Be inordinately proud of the fact that you can quote Nietzsche, and do so in every review.

Have lurid sexual fantasies about Dorothy Parker and think that the Algonquin Circle was a group of swingers.

If male and a reviewer, never pass up an opportunity to write Horror fiction off as 'misogynistic trash' or dismiss SF as 'toys for boys' nonsense. It will impress all the female readers with how touchy feely you are.

If female and a reviewer, always be prepared to have a right old whinge about all that PC crapola. The male readers will think you're one of the lads and want to take you out for a night drinking pints of Heavy and singing rugby songs.

Don't take it personally when someone calls reviewers egotistical and arrogant. They're only jealous because nobody asked them to do it.

If described as vitriolic, think that you're being complimented.

Be prepared to spend the best part of a week going through a magazine with a fine tooth comb in search of the solitary typo, and then use it as the lynchpin of your review.

Take a courageous stand against publishers charging outrageous prices for so called limited editions, until somebody offers to publish your 70pp novella Songs of the Stillborn and flog it at £40 a copy, at which point realise that price is not a matter critics should concern themselves with and if people are happy to pay through the nose for these things then that's their lookout.

When submitting stories to an editor never forget to mention that you'll be reviewing the next issue of their magazine in some far more prestigious publication. To the initiated, this is known as subtext.

If anyone has the temerity to point out that, apart from reviews, you've never actually had anything published, then sniff haughtily and inform them that your story 'Menopausal Zombie Housewife From Planet Hell' recently appeared on Tales of the Unappetising website and was well received by both readers; also that you've several slices of ur-fiction under consideration at The Gourmet's Guide to Grand Guignol.

Keep in mind that reviewers are sent loads of freebies, and also that it's a nifty way to score publication credits in magazines that won't touch your stories with a bargepole.

Never doubt for a moment your ability to tell a million selling author with a twenty year track record of success where he or she is going wrong.

When you see a book that you've reviewed sitting at the top of the Bestseller Charts then feel that, in some small way, you are responsible, regardless of whether the review was positive or not.

Make it your ambition in life to write something a publisher will want to use as a back cover blurb when the paperback edition comes out, so you can then tell people your work has reached an audience of millions.

Be prepared to champion the writing of some obscure and little known East European author, so that you needn't feel you're the only unrecognized genius in the world.

Remember that, according to Georges Polti, there are only 36 basic plots (a lot less according to other authorities), so the chances are if you describe something as unoriginal you're on firm ground.

Actually you should always describe a book or story as unoriginal and compare it to what's gone before as a way of impressing people with how well read you are. Slip something new past you? No way!

Bear in mind that reviewing is not covered under the Geneva Convention, so you don't need to exercise restraint. Editors might claim to welcome constructive criticism, but we all know demolition is the necessary precondition. Let your motto be, "Light blue touch paper and retire."

Nonetheless take great care not to offend anyone who might, at some future date, be in a position to publish your own work, or at least have the sense to use a pseudonym if you do. Pretending to be a member of the opposite sex is always tactically sound. You can justify it as trying to see another gender's viewpoint, and if the other gender doesn't happen to like all the stories you've praised in a gushing LOC to the editor then hey, that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

Finally, don't worry about stuff like getting your facts straight and being consistent. It's not as if anyone pays the slightest bit of attention to reviews anyway.



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