Zenith, a new young adult sci-fi book by authors Lindsay Cummings and Sasha Alsberg, is getting destroyed by reviewers on YouTube. But these aren’t ordinary negative book reviews. These are videos where “BookTubers” (members of the bookish community on YouTube), some of whom are aspiring authors themselves, are panning the work of other popular BookTubers — and they’re not going light on the criticism. They’re attacking Zenith to the point of blatant mockery.
This kind of panning brings up a few questions. Is it right or even fair for creators to criticize the work of their colleagues? And what happens when the roles are reversed, and it’s their turn to be judged?
YouTubers vs. YouTubers
In his review of Zenith, YouTuber “InsaneReader” begins by sharing why he decided to pick up the book:
I am a writer, correct? I like to write books. My dream is to get my book published, and I’m a BookTuber. This person published a book, and they are a BookTuber. … I’m a BookTuber, so let’s say I’m getting my book published. What I would want to happen and what I would expect to happen and really, really hope to happen is to have members of my community embrace my book and support me. For me, buying this book, it almost feels like, well yeah, I would want somebody that watches my videos or somebody that supports me to buy my book, obviously.
So basically, it’s like transactional. I would like to buy somebody else’s book and support them so then someday other people might support me. And I’m not saying that in like the sense of, oh, if I don’t give these books good stars, nobody’s gonna like me. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying I would expect someone to give my book a chance.
And he does give Zenith a chance. He vlogs his reading of the book … and quickly begins to hate on it for the next 30 minutes. He clearly enjoys making fun of it.
And you can’t blame him. The book sounds awful, from the characters to the plot to the cliche writing. But his book review isn’t so much as a book review as it is a total and unapologetic slamming.
When is criticism not ‘respectful’?
Any reviewer is obligated to be honest — and should be. That’s their job. It’s far too easy for someone to feel pressured to give a good review or soften their opinion when there’s a personal connection to the creator, whether it’s because they’re friends or fellow creators.
“I don’t have any ill feelings toward the author[s],” InsaneReader says at the end of the video. “I could even say I like the authors in some regard. I’m not attacking anybody. I just personally wasn’t a fan of this book. If you’re gonna be somebody who liked this book or maybe didn’t like this book, either way, keep it respectful.”
And he’s right: He isn’t attacking the authors. He’s separating the creators from their creations; who they are as people does not equal the work they produce. “I think I tweeted this at one point,” he says, “but if you’re the type of person who sees that somebody doesn’t like a book that you like, and your first thought is to get mad or dislike a video or leave a mean comment, you are gonna have the hardest time existing as a human being on the earth.”
Just like he isn’t attacking the authors personally, he expects viewers not to attack him personally for his opinion … and likewise for the authors when they watch his video. There’s no need for hard feelings here.
But is InsaneReader “keeping it respectful”? There’s a fine line between offering a fair, honest review and going overboard into mockery for the sake of mockery. Granted, it’s easy to go overboard when there’s so much that’s awful to gush about. Books can be so bad that every page makes you roll your eyes and groan and want to complain to others about it. The bad parts of a book can pile up until everything appears bad and it becomes harder to distinguish whether you’re frustrated with something because it’s genuinely awful or if you’re nit-picking because everything else is so annoying.
And what happens when the roles are reversed? Say InsaneReader gets a book published one day. Would he be terrified that other BookTubers would tear apart his work the same way that he did someone else’s? Or would he hope that they would at least be “respectful” in their criticism? Where do we draw the line?
I’m using InsaneReader as an example here, but he’s not the only YouTuber who’s picked apart every little line of Zenith and ranted about how terrible it is. Others, like Jordan Harvey, have released similar lengthy videos — although I tend to think hers is a bit more analytical than indulgent, which makes it more useful as a look into amateur writing vs. quality writing and how you can learn from that. (She even has a video she recommends in her Zenith review about why Avatar: The Last Airbender does exposition so well, as opposed to Zenith, which doesn’t.)
What do you think? Is all the backlash against Zenith fair? Do people have a tendency to go too far in their hatred of something? Or should creators accept that exposing their work to the world can invite extreme levels of negativity, just like it can warrant huge fandom?