Today I'm doing that thing again. You know. The thing where I cast common sense and the wise advice of friends to the wind and venture onto a topic that anyone with half a grain of sense would treat like a canister of highly radioactive material (don't even go near unless there's some kind of life-or-death-Tom-Cruise's-furrowed-brow situation, and even then only while wearing a full hazmat suit and using mechanical pincers instead of your actual hands).
Today, I would like to talk about this whole Authors vs. Bloggers debate.
|WHAT did you say?!|
I'm also well aware that there are many bloggers and authors who may read this post with puzzled faces of adorable confusion and say 'Huh? I've never noticed any of this! Where's all this going on?' My post today is a response to things I've seen bloggers and authors talking about on various comment threads and websites all over the place, and to several recent incidents of Internet Drama(TM) that have blown up and then blown out again. If it's all Greek to you? Well done; you've successfully done what the rest of us wished we could and steered well clear of all the angst. Go on your merry way and ignore my convoluted ramblings with a light heart.
So. This debate. Let me break it down a little.
BLOGGERS & REVIEWERS
Right now we have this vibrant, thriving, book blogging community on the internet. It encompasses book-review sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing and people's own personal blogs, and participants span the whole of the real world and might realistically be any age between eleven and ninety. This community loves to read, loves books, loves authors, and on the surface of things there really seems to be no reason why all of us shouldn't be skipping through fields of daisies together, holding hands and singing Justin Beiber's Greatest Hits (wait - is that kid old enough to have Greatest Hits? If not, we can just sing Kumbaya, I suppose).
But beneath the surface of the community there are deep divisions - essential differences in approach and philosophy which constantly cause dissent and even sometimes acrimony and hatred. In order to make sense of this, I'm going to talk about the two different kinds of bloggers you tend to find in the reviewing world (most reviewers, in reality, fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes - but this is just to illustrate my point).
Some bloggers regard authors and publishers and the whole book blogging world like this:
|Let's all eat cake. And be friends!|
These are the bloggers who are usually very happy to have an author for a chum, and who don't mind authors popping onto their blog and commenting on the reviews and features.
Bloggers on the other side of the divide look at publishing more like this:
|Oooh, this is going to be fuuuun...|
Bloggers in this camp tend to be wary of being too friendly with authors, and they feel a bit squinky and uncomfortable if writers pop onto their blogs and comment, even if the comment is positive. The author doesn't really belong there, to their mind.
Sometimes the most extreme of these two types of bloggers will clash because they have such opposing styles and ways of looking at the business they're dealing with. But the real reason why there's such a huge divide these days? Well, it's because of...
Obviously it's a bit harder for me to be objective here! But I'll do my best.
Basically: writers are now more active online than they've ever been before, and publishers are encouraging us to interact with and form working relationships with bloggers in order to help promote our work.
Quite often writers end up grativating towards bloggers in the first group that I mentioned, just because those guys are the most receptive and the most likely to be happy taking part in blog tours, etc. They can form real friendships with bloggers (the ones that are fine with this) in the course of working with them on, say, an interview feature, and then talking with them at a blogger event, and tweeting and emailing back and forth for a bit. This is hardly surprising, since most writers are avid readers and - look at that! So are bloggers. They already have a lot in common. For an author, getting to know bloggers who like you and your work means that you suddenly have a whole network of new people in your corner.
But not all bloggers can be - or should be - your friend. Not all bloggers can - or should - like your work.
And this, in my purely subjective opinion, is where the crazy starts.
(N.B. I'm aware that there have been authors who had a mental breakdown over a generally positive three star review. But those guys are usually so obviously unbalanced that EVERYONE backs away with wary looks, including other writers. I don't think those people are materially contributing to the Us vs. Them mentality I've noticed - they are outliers. So let's move on).
Authors might be resigned (or tell themselves that they're resigned) to seeing negative reviews of their books. Reviews in which the blogger sadly admits that the story didn't work for them for some reason, that they couldn't empathise with the heroine or that historical fiction/fantasy/Dystopian just isn't the reviewer's bag. Those are the sorts of reviews that our blogger friends do occasionally write, after all. Reviews that the blogger is well aware the author and publisher may read, and which are sensitive to and considerate of the writer and publisher's feelings in consequence. Authors grit their teeth and mumble under their breath, but generally manage to avoid making idiots of themselves over reviews like these.
What writers are really not resigned to seeing, and what normally is the start of The Internet Drama(TM) is a different kind of review. One written by a reviewer who has no interest in what the author or publisher might think if they read it (the review isn't FOR them, after all) and who feels no reluctance about expressing their problems with or outright dislike of the book. A review that may (le gasp) snark, make jokes and outright mock the story. Possibly using .gifs of Tribbles humping.
Writers are not prepared for this. For someone making fun of their book like it doesn't matter. And so, often in a blaze of wild emotion, the author takes to their email or Twitter or Facebook and Says Stuff. They might just say 'Argh! I hate Teh Internetz today!'. They might take it further and make condemning comments about the quality of reviewers on Goodreads. They might go the full cray-cray route and provide a link to the review they didn't like. But in any case, the moment that the author responds to the negative review?
BATTLE HAS BEGUN
Straight away, people on the author's side of the divide will flinch from their pain and attempt to soothe them. And because this - authors publicly weeping over bad reviews - has now happened approximately 12,900,670 times before, and there's this sense of Authors vs. Bloggers online (why are bloggers so mean? Why do they have to attack books and rip them up like this?) their responses will usually be something along these lines:
'Oh, honey! It's OK, your book is wonderful! Just ignore that silly hater! Goodreads is full of trolls anyway!'
In their urge to reassure their friend, client, co-worker or fellow author, this person or persons have fired the first canon.
Reviewers, who, not surprisingly, are very active online, will catch wind of this. Word will spread quickly that YET AGAIN an author is dissing reviewers (surely not? Don't writers ever learn?). The link is RT'ed, posted on Goodreads, and suddenly reviewers appear on the scene defending their right to write honest reviews without being attacked and labelled a hater or a troll, thank you very much.
This skirmish will last for a bit. Then someone will attempt to pour oil on the troubled waters by offering some variant of:
'Why can't we all just get along? Why do we have to be mean to each other? Why can't we all just...Be Nice?'
Oh, look, that's not oil. It's lighter fluid. Whoosh!
Sometimes the author will calm down, look at this huge Internet Drama(TM) and apologise. Sometimes the furore will make them even angrier and the war will drag on and on and on until everyone's sick to the back teeth with it. But eventually the battle will finish and both sides will retreat to their own sides feeling bruised and battered and wondering: why does this keep happening?
And everytime, that Bloggers vs. Authors feeling just gets stronger and stronger.
The reviewers angrily ask themselves why writers can't get it through their skulls that reviews are for READERS not WRITERS. Why are they even reading reviews and hanging around on Goodreads to begin with if they hate honest reviews so much? Authors put their books out there for people to read and respond to - they presumably WANT readers to have strong reactions to their work. They don't have the right to just take it back and throw a tantrum when someone's reaction isn't all beatific smiles and gushy five star praise. Reviewers are consumers. They're the audience the writer is trying to win over! Why do so many authors think it's OK to treat their own customers like crap?
Writers angrily ask themselves why it's OK for reviewers to respond to an author's book, but not for an author to respond to the review. After all, reviews are for public consumption just as much as books are! If reviewers are all about honesty and freedom of speech, how come they come boiling out of their anthills to eat writers alive the moment one of them dares to mention their feelings about less than favourable responses to their work? Why do reviewers always automatically take a stance of hostility and hatred towards authors when authors dare to involve themselves in a debates about star ratings, or try to correct a reviewer who might have gotten their facts wrong? Aren't we all supposed to be part of the same community?
Well, OK. Let's tackle some of this stuff, shall we?
REVIEWERS: YOU ARE IN THE RIGHT
You guys are writing for yourselves, your friends, your blog readers. You're being honest, you're being passionate and yeah, you're having a few laughs: why the heck not? You shouldn't have to censor yourselves because you're worrying about the author's/agent's/publishers feelings. This is a business: writers/agents/publishers are supposed to be professional, and no matter how much their feelings are concerned with their work, that's not an excuse to act like a five year old whose best friend said their Play-Doh house was stoopid. It's especially not an excuse to mobilise all the other kids in the playground and wage a hate campaign against anyone who doesn't agree that the Play-Doh house is the best one-level soft sculpted domiciliary ever built.
You read a whole heck of a lot of books. You love books. You usually go in there excited and ready to be pleased. But sometimes you get sick of seeing the same crap repeated over and over in every crop of hyped up would-be-bestsellers. Misogyny disguised as romance. Designated Boyfriends and Passive Heroines. Horrible cliches. Bad writing. Predictable plots. Lack of diversity.
And no one ever admits this! YA writers (and agents and other publishing professionals) just don't seem interested in looking at their category as a whole and admitting that there might be problems there. If it weren't for you guys there would be no antidote to the hype-machine - and on a personal note, there have been times when finding a few snarky, honest reviews of a book that I thought was terrible, but which otherwise garnered only positive reviews, might just have saved my sanity.
All too often, when you guys try to discuss troubling trends or issues seriously, authors either play it off or turn on you. And then those authors hold grudges. Certain authors threatened to remember your name if you reviewed them badly, and do you harm further down the line if they could - and they then somehow tried to label this 'Taking the High Road'! And when you started asking yourselves if there was some kind of YA Mafia, Twitter exploded with YA novelists nearly peeing themselves with laughter and making jokes about horses heads and sleeping wit da fishes - but no one ever really addressed your concerns over the pettiness and sheer meanness of that Be Nice threat.
In fact, it seems like the whole YA industry is so concerned with this idea of Being Nice, of projecting an image of child-friendly harmoniousness, that no one is ever going to tackle the issues that lie beneath unless you do.
REVIEWERS: YOU ARE ALSO IN THE WRONG
But you know that oft-repeated phrase 'reviews are for readers, not writers'? Now, I can see where you're coming from with this, I really can. Unfortunately - I'm sorry, but...it's complete and total bull.
Seriously. Writers are readers. We read reviews all the time when we want to decide what books WE should read. We review books to our friends over dinner, we spontaneously tweet about how everyone should run out and get the book we just read because It. Is. So. Awesome. And let's not forget that bloggers with a different approach to reviewing send us emails of reviews they have written, or @reply us on Twitter with links. They *want* us to read them. Reviews are EVERYWHERE, yo.
There's this sense among certain bloggers (and some writers, even) that the best policy is for writers to put their fingers in their ears and sing 'la la la, I'm not listening!' when it comes to reviews. That we should wilfully pretend to have zero awareness that anyone's talking about us or our work - or anyone else's work! But not everyone wants to completely cut themselves off from critical discussions of books just because they got published. Many of us are able to read even quite snarky reviews of our own or our friends work without freaking out and creating An Internet Drama(TM). So please will you stop repeating 'Reviews are for READERS not WRITERS' all the time? You make me feel like I'm doing something wrong when I go looking for book criticism in order to learn from it. And I'm not. You're not my mommy and you can't tell me to stop hanging around on Goodreads if I don't want to, dammit.
Maybe most important of all: please, stop telling us how we should feel about reviews, OK? I understand that seeing newbie bloggers, and your friends (maybe even yourself) get attacked by authors and a hoard of their friends and yes-people over and over has made you feel so wary that now the second an author impinges on your personal space you hit out as hard as you can. But please just stop with that shizz about how 'authors should just get over this!' or 'authors shouldn't pursue publication if they can't take criticism' or 'writers should toughen up and grow a thicker skin', will you? If an author says that 3-star reviews make them sad, that's not them attacking YOU. That is them expressing their own feelings, which they are allowed to have.
When I saw a review trashing my most recent release for daring to feature a transgendered character I got cross and I vented to my writing group. I didn't mention the reviewer's name or link to them, and half an hour later I felt better and got over it. But I needed that half hour to be allowed to be honestly distressed and to get some sympathy, because I'm human. Reviewers don't always have to take every expression of an author's feelings about a bad review as an attack on them and their rights. What's more, you don't have the right to try and silence authors when they express their feelings about getting reviews: we're entitled to free speech too, so long as we're not trying to take yours away.
You don't have to Be Nice with me. You officially have my permission to BE NASTY about my books if you feel they warrant it (not that you need my permission). But don't tell me how to feel about that, please. If I want to read every buggering review ever written about every book I've ever published and then cry myself into a soggy snotty puddle on my teddy bear that is MY BUSINESS.
No, I shouldn't pop up on your blog and try to inflict equal suffering on you. But you shouldn't try to minimise my feelings or my right to have them, either. That's exactly what those authors did to you, so you already know it sucks donkey rear-end. Just stop it.
|Did he say 3 Stars? MY LIFE IS OVER!!!|
You guys are dealing with a heck of a lot of pressure when your book comes out, and I know that. You've dedicated hours, days, weeks, months and years of your lives to creating this story. You've more than likely made other sacrifices too - financial ones, ones concerning commitments to your friends and family. Your book is important to you and you know that it's the best you can do - your heart and soul is in there and you're allowed to want to know how people respond to it, and feel emotional about that. You're allowed to get angry when you see someone dismiss your heroine as a Mary-Sue when you are extremely-very-bloody sure she is NOT, thanks very much. Particularly when you look at the reviewer's other reviews and see that she calls EVERY female character this! AND SHE CLAIMS TO BE A FEMINIST!? How come the only books she reviews positively are ones written by men or with male main characters? What the Heck?
Sometimes reviews will even seem to be attacking you personally (maybe because they disagree with your stated religious beliefs, or don't like the other writers you hang around with online) or offering statements about your motives in making certain choices in your writing that are not only utterly unfounded but extremely insulting. You know you're not supposed to respond to this and, just barely, you manage not to.
But you are human, after all. So you go and vent a bit to a friend online, maybe on Twitter - and the next thing you know, everyone's wagging their finger at you like you were a toddler. It wasn't like you linked to the review or tried to call the reviewer out - you just said that sometimes Goodreads gives you a headache and you wish people would stop Mary-Sueing all over the place. Now there's a Goodreads thread about it and they're all putting your book on a Do Not Read list? Gaaah! Why do reviewers treat you like the enemy all the time? Do you really have to watch every single word you say?
You should be given a little more leeway to express yourself online if you want without being labelled A Bad Author. After all, you didn't give up your right to free speech when you signed a publishing contract, and if reviewers are allowed to express their feelings, you are too. Sometimes it's that or just explode in a messy heap of guts. It's funny that reviewers will condemn YA authors for not speaking 'honestly' about the work of other authors in their category (for example, if writers chose to only review books that they liked on their blog) but then get on their case when they're honest...about how bad reviews make them feel.
WRITERS: YOU ARE ALSO IN THE WRONG
Unfortunately, when you signed that publishing contract, you did become a paid professional, and that comes with certain expectations of professional behaviour. It might not seem fair, and often people who should be encouraging you to hold to that standard will act like it doesn't matter (for example, agents who have shown up on blogs or on Goodreads to 'defend' their clients work) but I'm sorry, it DOES. You have to act like a grown-up online. Cry and wail and get upset in private all you want, but don't take that internal upset online and try to hurt a book reviewer with it. Just what do you expect to achieve? They're not going to change their minds because you go and tell them off, are they?
And no, us writers can't complain that a review isn't 'professional'. Even if the writer of that review was unfailingly snarky and used comical .gifs of Tribbles humping to make our story a laughing stock. Because guess what? 99.99% of the time, bloggers are not professionals. They're not getting paid (no, ARCs don't count. They just don't! Look, if you don't get it, I can't explain). Reviewers do this for free, and while many of them take it very seriously, it is, effectively, a hobby. Do you expect Grandma Bessie to 'be polite and professional' when she takes part in her hobby of strip poker on a Wednesday night? I didn't think so.
And here's another truth that is spikey and hard to swallow. Unless a reviewer makes an ad hominem attack on you personally (something which is generally frowned on within all parts of the blogging community)? THEY CANNOT BE WRONG.
Shocking, I know. But think about it for a minute. There's no universe in which you dismissing someone else's feelings as worthless and invalid is OK. If someone reads five pages of your book and it made them so angry and infuriated that they refused to read another page and then wrote a three page long rant against it? They are right. Their feelings are theirs. You're obviously not going to agree with them (and Hell, if they're ranting because you didn't burn the gay character, maybe they're objectively out of their tree too) but that doesn't mean you're allowed to move into their reviewing space and attempt to erase their feelings from the internet. Especially not using a hastily gathered gang of pissed off friends and followers, as some writers have done. I'll put your book on *MY* Do Not Read list if you try and pull that crap.
The simple fact is that books are written to be reviewed. That's what Goodreads and LibraryThing are for. But reviews are not like books. Reviews are not written to be reviewed in their turn. Yes, they're put out there for public consumption, just like a novel, but bloggers don't ask you or anyone to pay to consume them. As you're an author, they'd probably rather you DIDN'T consume them. Just because there's a comment trail on that blog post or Goodreads review, that's not an invitation from the reviewer for people (including you) to come along and tell them they are wrong, wrong, wrong. Why are you intruding on this place, their place for reviews, with your not-a-review comments?
Go away and cry yourself into a soggy puddle of snot on your teddy bear if that's how you feel. You have that right. Ask for sympathy in non-specific terms - you have that right too. But don't be yet another author who starts a flamewar because they couldn't respond to criticism any other way than with public meltdown. Don't be yet another author who persecutes and devalues the very readers - the passionate, dedicated, searching for excellence readers - we should all be supporting and valuing the most.
|Passionate readers are our friends! Snuggle them!|
So what it comes down to is that I think we all need to ease our trigger fingers OFF our derringers and stop trying to make each other shut up all the time.
WRITERS: If you can't stand to read a negative review without going into public meltdown then stop reading reviews. If you can, and you want to, then do; but confine any comments you make in response to YOUR space and YOUR feelings, and never, ever, ever name reviewers or link to negative reviews or make obvious references to comments in reviews that will allow your friends or readers to figure out who you're talking about. Reviewers that get attacked because you called them out directly or indirectly will have every right to get a wee bit cross with you.
REVIEWERS: If you can't stand to see authors bitch about how bad reviews make them feel, unfollow them on Twitter or stop checking out their blogs. Writers are human too, and they are allowed to have and express their feelings in their own spaces on the internet, just like you. Unless they call you or a friend out either by name or in such a way that it's clear they're giving the reviewer's indentity away in order to cause a backlash against them, or they write darn stupid posts urging reviewers to stop being honest and start being 'nice'. Then you're free to go to war.
Other than that? Keep up the good work.
And those are my thoughts.
(Why yes, I have illustrated this entire post with images from Ouran High School Host Club. I thought it might lighten the mood.)
(Oh, also - this is actually Tuesday's post. But I'm posting it today because I expect to get a bit of discussion in the comments and I'd like to have the time to respond.)