Guidelines for Reviewers: Treating Amateurs with Professionalism

From Fanlore
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Title: Guidelines for Reviewers: Treating Amateurs with Professionalism
Date(s): April 1981
Medium: print
Fandom: printed in a Starsky & Hutch zine
External Links:
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Guidelines for Reviewers: Treating Amateurs with Professionalism is a 1981 essay by Dyane Kirkland.

It was printed in Daily Reports #1.

first page of the essay

Some Topics Discussed

  • how to review a zine
  • the differences between reviews and feedback
  • the complicated world of fandom and allegiances
  • freedom of expression


One of the most difficult things for a fan to do is to review another fan's work in print. This is partly because of the kind of people involved in fandom; and partly because of the nebulous "something" we think we ought to use as the criteria for judging the work in question. There is nothing I can do about the KIND of people involved in fandom.

As a culture in it's own right fandom has developed into a highly complex society made up of highly complex personality types. The help I can offer is in defining the amorphous something with which we attempt to objectively define and present the work we are reviewing. The "zine" can be a novel by one person, or a collection of short stories by many persons, or any degree of hybrid between the two. It can have illos or not; be self-published or published by someone else; be a one-shot, an irregularly published zine, or be published on a schedule; mimeo, offset, [X]erox or whatever else. In any case, it does, or should, represent the writer's/artist's/ editor's very best efforts, and constitutes a valid entity of artistic expression. In this writer's opinion, EVERY story or piece of artwork is valid in point of existence. It is NEVER fair to set oneself up as arbiter of what should or should not be rendered in prose, verse, or art. Freedom of expression is MOST important, especially in encouraging new writers and artists within fandom. They have a right to put their vision on paper. They do not have the right to insist everyone like it! (And if they insist on going against the publicly expressed wishes of copyright holders, they will undoubtedly feel the heat from fans and copyright holders alike!) A reviewer should not undertake to review material they find offensive in some manner.

What this article attempts is a discussion of the general rules of reviewing, and the theory and mechanics of reviewing a general interest fanzine of any genre — that is, a zine made up of short stories, art, poetry, editorials, humor, and the like. The reviewing of a novella or fan novel is only a slightly different kettle of fish and can be dealt with in much the same manner as the general fanzine. Even though anthologies and novels are different in terms of needs in reviewing, there are many similarities.


In the case of reviewing a fan anthology, each of the major stories in the zine can be handled in this manner, with minor stories and vignettes receiving mention alongside. It is not practical to expect this type of exposition on EVERY story in a zine, certainly not on poetry, filksongs, and artwork!

One problem, not unique to the world of fandom, is that of a reviewer who is not qualified to review the work they have undertaken to review. If one has not read widely in many fields, in many types of subjects; if one is not familiar with poetry and art, classics and modern literature, and/or is not familiar with the subject matter of the zine in hand, they would be better off letting another do the reviewing. Reviews, as we will see, are a specialized art form, requiring knowledge of many facets of the writing and preparation of zines. The attitude that "I don't know about the subject, but I know what I like." is not a proper one for a review. It is a proper attitude for a LoC — a Letter of Comment to the editor/author/artist. A LoC is a statement of how YOU felt about the zine in question, what you liked and didn't like and your suggestions for the future. A review, on the other hand, is your considered opinion on the literary/artistic merit of a work, objectively considered with regard to the stated purpose of the zine.

The Review of fan work must serve a 2-fold purpose: to inform the fans as to the content and relative value of the zine — often an indicator to the zine buyer in financial straits as to whether the zine is worth the money he or she must pay for it; and also to educate the artist/writer/editor as to whether the work under review fulfilled the purpose for which it was created. Fan reviews are often muddled because the reviewer is often an artist/author/editor of another fanzine, and cannot sufficiently divorce him/ herself from his/her own idea of what the work should have been to make notes on what the work actually is.

"Style" is a word that defines the way an author writes; their use of the language to make their point. Obvious differences exist between the sharp, fast-moving prose of Sidney Sheldon and the stilted, archaic prose of H. P. Lovecraft; between both of those and the tense, modern but atmospheric prose of Stephen King. In reading them, one after the other, you would notice the difference. This is the essence of style — the WAY the author says what he/she has to say. There is style in art, as well. From the cartoon quality of a Gordon Carleton or Phil Foglio, to a more technically artistic yet still cartoony Kowalski, to the realistic art of a Faddis or Landon; you have a difference in the WAY an artist trans lates vision to reality. Sensitivity to style involves objectivity in dealing with it. It may not be the style that you, as an author or artist, would have used, but it is the style that you, as a reviewer, must discuss.

In talking about style, we must also mention the content of the story/novel/zine in question. A story that deals with sex can still be a valid story if there is something in it besides sex. Likewise a story dealing with violence, relationships, virtually any subject matter you can consider exploitative. A story that has as it's only object sex, violence, pathos, etc., is more appropriately a mood piece, a finger exercise, which is not to say it shouldn't be circulated among like minded fans if that is the author's/artist's desire. A prose poem, or mood piece, is a short short, much like a vignette, with the emphasis being on the mood or atmosphere created, and not on motion. A vignette is properly a short scene in which something happens. Unlike a mood piece, the character(s) in a vignette must change in some way during the scene described. It has happened at some time to every fandom, and yet it still bears mentioning: while the decision to publish the aforementioned types of material (sex, violence, etc., for the sake of same) rests with the author/editor/publisher, reviewing it can only be handled by someone who understands and approves (or at least does not disapprove to any real extent) of the material published. It is possible for the author's style to be fine, and the story to be terrible. This likely being an error on the part of the editor as well as the author

1. Read the zine cover to cover. If you can't bear to read it, don't review it! Keep paper and pencil handy to make notes on your thoughts as you read. Some prefer to read a zine through once and make comments on the second reading. Suit yourself.

2. If the zine is a first one for the editor, writer, artist, by all means say so in your review. It is also fair to compare this work with predecessors by the same author/editor/ artist, but NOT WITH WORK BY SOMEONE ELSE!! it's fine to say that Jane Doe's first novel was , published by , or that her first story, was in zine, whose editor was , but keep these remarks to a minimum, since you are not reviewing her first work, but the one you are reading now!

3. Pay attention to what is said in the editorials, introductions, forewords, editor's notes, etc. They are good guidelines to what the author/artist/editor was trying to accomplish. After all, you are reviewing what they created.


4. Such things as misprints, typos, missing or incorrect items should be mentioned only if it is obviously a case of haste and/or carelessness. If the zine is self-published, such remarks can be mentioned anywhere it seems appropriate in the review. If it is published by an editor/publisher separate from the author/artist, make critical remarks regarding the quality of printing, binding, cover, etc., in a remark regarding overall quality of the zine, NOT in a review of the author's/artist's work. After all, there may have been no typos in the manuscript the author submitted and the artist may have sent perfectly clean copy. Don't blame them if the repro is less than perfect and they had no control over such matters.

There are a number of ways to review a zine, all of them more or less correct. A good method, if this is your first review, is to begin with the zine in hand, and your notes you made while reading. Then tell us:

1. What is it? Give us the zine category (novel, poetry, anthology, etc.), the subject matter (all Star Wars, Starsky and Hutch, Trek, M.U.N.C.L.E., or mixed genre, PG, adult - R or X rated), publisher, ordering address and cost per issue and whether that is First Class or other mailing rate.

2. General remarks. Information on the 2 or 3 main stories, brief remarks on other stories, poetry, art, filks, what have you. On the main stories, tell us the name of the author, the genre of the story if in a mixed genre zine, give us a brief description of the author's style and how well written the story was. DON'T GIVE AWAY THE ENDING and DON'T TELL HOW YOU WOULD HAVE WRITTEN IT! After this you can tell us your impression of the overall quality of the zine, the reproduction, typing, proofreading, calligraphy, if any, layout, et cetera.

3. Did the zine achieve its stated purpose? Was it entertaining? Informative? Scary? Funny? Was there a good, or at least reasonable balance between lite and heavy material? Were there adequate illos? As you work, feel free to make judicious use of short quotes (to show style), historical (universe) data if you have any (i.e., SWARS universe timelines as with the THOUSANDWORLD universe), unusual facts, et cetera regarding the zine you are reviewing. Your review should stand alone as entertaining, informative and HELPFUL. When you review in print, you are no longer a spectator—especially in the realm of fandom—you are an active and functional participant. People will evaluate your words and, if they find merit in them, will accept your judgment. That kind of influence is a big responsibility, but it is also an exciting and fun challenge.

If you feel that reviewing is not for you or if you have a zine in mind that you simply can't review with an open mind, but you still feel you must make a statement, then remember that that is the purpose of the LoC. Editors need to receive LoC's to know if they are, indeed, achieving what they set out to achieve. You are not less helpful to them by writing a LoC than a review. On the contrary, not everyone can review objectively, at least not every zine that comes out. By being selective and reviewing only those zines that you can deal with in a mature and objective manner, you will come to be known as fair and professional in your reviewing manner. So, be honest, with yourself and with your audience; be objective while still fulfilling your role as critic; and be mature in your handling of your criticisms. What you must not do is to be afraid to make your opinions known, either in the form of a review or as a Letter of Comment. You have every right to your opinion just as everyone else has a right to theirs.