I read the first of my slate of Rita books that I am judging and started the second. Rita? Who's she? It's the Romance Writers of America annual award for best books in each sub-category (as defined by them/us).
I am finally a Published Author with RWA! Well, I'm "Provisional" so far. When I earn their minimum on a single book, I'll be big-league. Still, I'm published, I entered, and this is exciting for me. I know some authors are jaded and worn out by judging the Rita, especially when books they don't think are any good are finalists or even win.
I'm not allowed to say what books I am judging or tell anyone what I think of them. All I can say is that I have books from several categories, not including my own (a short historical novel). I have heard of some of the authors, but not all. None are my friends. Some are from big presses, some from small, and at least one is self-published.
And I hope that whoever is reading my book is having a reaction like I'm having to the second one I'm reading. One of: hmmm...I hadn't heard of her before, but if this keeps going well, I'll check out the rest of her series.
And that is all I will say on that.
But on judging in general? I tend to be a little too honest in my Goodreads and Amazon reviews. I'd rather give 3 or 4 stars and say what did and didn't work for me than five stars and claim everything was great. It's not like I have people hanging on my every word, but I like to think I have integrity. Since publishing, I've tended to tone down my reviews: I'll give three stars, just with no commentary. I don't write a review for everything I read, so I hope it's not too noticeable when I'm just being "nice."
Whoops, just gave away all my secrets...
I know some people don't like Smart Bitches Trashy Books and some of the less "nice" reviewers because they tend to say what they're thinking, good or bad. They occasionally post what they term "F+" reviews for things that were so awful that they're funny. They take reviews from their regular reviewers and from others that are long rants about how stupid a book or a particular trope or the attitude of some critic is. Odd thing is that because they say what they do and don't like about a book, they have sometimes boosted an author's career by panning their book--because what their reviewer hated was something a reader loves.
While I don't want them to rant on my book like that, I have to point out that they also gush about other books. They've brought several new authors to my attention over the years. I'd like to be one of those authors.
But most importantly, the Smart Bitches, especially Sarah, one of the founders (the other dropped off long ago due to time constraints and there are others "on staff" now), has been an advocate for the romance genre. They make me laugh, make me think, call out the haters, and advocate for us all (or at least for the ones who don't make them snark or puke or whatever).
And when I--and they--say we didn't like a book and explain why, I think it demonstrates that we expect books to be well-written. If it means that I am not "nice" enough, I'm sorry. It only means that I had problems with the book, not that everyone will. If we sit back and everyone remains "nice" about romance novels, no one will ever take any of us seriously. We have enough of a problem in that regard already.