Maybe you’ve had this experience before—the thought that comes the exact moment after you hit publish:
What if I change my mind?
I’ve written a lot of book reviews over the last five years. Some books I’ve really enjoyed; others I wonder why I ever read in the first place (probably because I got them for free from one of the blog review programs). But for the most part, I’ve never felt a deep burden to go back and change a review once it’s written. Even so, every so often, the temptation strikes:
- when a book makes its way back into the reading pile and I notice something different about it;
- when other thoughtful reviewers raise concerns I didn’t even notice during my read through (either because I didn’t pick up on them or I was blinded by a nasty case of “fanboy-itis”); or
- when the review simply wasn’t very well written.
So what do in these situations? Well, there are a few things you need to remember:
1. Your review is representative of your opinion at the time it was written. This is just the result of time, and (hopefully) wisdom and maturity. Opinions change, writing abilities improve, convictions either firm or soften… it just happens. And when it does, you can change what you’ve written, but it doesn’t mean you have to.
For example, some time ago, I wrote a review of N.D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl. The first time out, it had a few catchy lines, but it was in dire need of a polish. In all honesty, even though I loved the book (still do, too), the review itself was kind of a mess. So I decided to rewrite it and republish it.
But poorly written reviews aside, there are a number of books I’ve reviewed over the years that, honestly, I don’t think I was hard enough on. I wasn’t asking the right questions of them, or I was filling in the gaps for myself. (Here’s one example that comes to mind.) But do I feel a burning need to revisit it? Not really. I’ve got enough on my plate to deal with than that.
2. The shelf-life is short, so you probably don’t need to worry about it. Book reviews tend to be very (VERY) time sensitive, and because so many books are published each week, the book you might have been sure was going to be life-changing may be collecting dust in a remainder bin right now. So if you wrote a review and you feel like you gaffed on it, you probably don’t need to sweat it. it’s likely no one’s reading it these days, anyway.
3. It’s never too late to publish a retraction or clarification. This really comes down to a matter of conscience. If you wrote a glowing review for one of Joel Osteen’s books and have recognized the error of your ways, it’s okay to fix it. If you wrote a particularly harsh review of a book that, after some more time and maybe an additional read, you realize wasn’t so bad, it’s alright to say so.
In other words, it’s never too late to say, “In 2011, I wrote that I believe Real Marriage was more good than bad. Upon careful consideration since reviewing the book, I no longer believe this to be true.”1
Changing our minds is simply part of life. Sooner or later, it’s going to happen to you. So enjoy it when it happens. Leave what should be left alone, alone. Change what needs to be changed. Just make sure you don’t lose any sleep over it.