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Last week we talked about my job as a horror critic for Haunted MTL. And it turned out that I had more to say about the topic than one post alone could hold. So I’m back today with more advice for any aspiring critics.
Whereas last week we talked about the writing of reviews themselves, today I want to talk about building a career as a critic. Because there are things to consider that I never thought of before I started writing reviews. Some are pretty common sense. Some, I wish I’d understood sooner.
What are you going to write about?
When writing reviews, what you write about is as important as how you write about it. I can write the best review you ever read in your life, complete with witty quips, background information, and a detailed explanation of the content. And it doesn’t matter at all if it’s for a story nobody gave a damn about in the first place.
I find it’s worked well for me to specialize, but not strictly. I review just about all of the works of Ryan Murphy, for example. This allows me to compare and contrast his work, with a greater understanding of his career as a whole. Sometimes that means I’m hit with a massive load of work at once, like late in 2022 when The Watcher, American Horror Story, Dahmer, and Mr. Harrington’s phone all came out at once. Sometimes I have nothing Murphy-related to review, though. So I have a few sub-specialties. I review horror podcasts and true crime content.
However, this doesn’t stop me from reviewing other work. It’s based on what is trending, what is coming out soon, and what I think people might be interested in.
(By the way, if you are a horror writer and you have a book you’d like me to review, hit me up. I am currently accepting arcs.)
Keeping a professional relationship with creators
In the last post, I talked about reviewing bad works. I mean, really bad. And yes, it is my job as a critic to talk about bad work. It’s my job to explain why it’s bad. It is not my job, nor is it a good idea, to tell the creator that their work was bad.
Occasionally, I am sent arcs and screeners for upcoming works. These are always met with a heartfelt thank you. I do not care if the work is bad. I am happy they thought enough of my reviews to send their work to me. And, as a creator myself, I always want to treat them as I’d want to be treated.
If I don’t have the time, I’ll respectfully decline and suggest another critic from the site. If I do accept their work to review, I always make sure to send a follow-up email after the review is posted, thanking them again and providing them a link.
I never give a creator unsolicited notes on their work. I certainly would never tell them that their work was bad. That is rude, unprofessional, and frankly uncalled for.
You’ll notice that I’m also not badmouthing any of the work here. That’s just in poor taste. I did my review, I don’t need to drag a piece all over the internet.
The point is that I’m a professional. It’s important to keep a professional relationship with creators.
Creating trust with your readers
More important than my relationship with creators is my relationship with my readers. People who read reviews are doing so for one reason. They want to know if a book, movie, tv show, or podcast is any good. Is it worth their time? Should they read or watch or listen to this one over another one? And I always want to give the most honest answer I can for that.
This is why I am upfront when I get an arc or screener. This doesn’t impact whether or not I like something, of course. And I’ll never lie and say I like a show that I don’t.
I want people to know that I’m going to be honest with them. Even if I love a creator, I’m going to say if their work is trash. There have been some shining examples of bad work from good creators. There has been some work that I wanted to like, that I just didn’t. I am always honest about that. Integrity is essential for a critic. If you lose that, you lose your career.
I also don’t get into arguments online with people about content. Art is subjective as hell. Just because I liked something, even though I have very good reasons to like it, doesn’t mean everyone is going to. Just because I thought something was hot garbage, and I sure have very good reasons for that too, doesn’t mean someone’s wrong for liking it. Again, I am a professional. I need to act like one. Besides, arguing about art online is like getting into a shit-ball fight. No one has fun, no one wins, and everyone stinks.
If you have any questions about critic work, please feel free to ask them below. I’ll be happy to answer them as best as I can.