Sunday, 6 May 2012

MY THOUGHTS ON BLOGGERS vs AUTHORS, LET ME SHOW YOU THEM

Hi everyone! Happy Tuesday. I hope you all had a great, productive weekend and made lots of headway into your InCreWriMa goals (if not, no worries - we'll console you in the comments on Thursday).

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?!
Disclaimer: I'm not attempting to be definitive here. I have no ambitions of Saying All The Things and single-handedly producing World Blogger/Author peace. I just have all these...feelings. You know: conflicted, squirmy, put-you-off-your-icecream feelings, churning away inside, and I'll feel better if I spill them out onto the page. If you want clear-sighted wisdom, you might be better off seeking out the Dalai Lama, or perhaps Justine Larbalestier.

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!
They love to able to interact with and be taken seriously by people in the publishing industry. They regard it as a privilege to be part of this exciting and heretofore hidden, secretive world. They get excited about ARCs and swag and blog tours, and enjoy talking to authors personally. Generally these reviewers will have a positive attitude to books they review: they'll usually try to find something good to say, even if a certain book wasn't for them. They might only review books that they love and not mention any that they did not like or failed to finish. Or they may publish negative reviews, but view this as a sad, serious duty. They feel it's only right to treat authors and their work with a lot of respect, so they will, rarely if ever, employ snark or humour when they air their opinions.

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...
While still on the whole respecting authors and publishers, these guys take a more worldly view. They see the relationship between reviewers, authors and publishers not as a privilege but as a pragmatic arrangement, with all sides getting benefit from the exchange of books/swag and reviews/publicity. Some reviewers don't accept ARCs or swag at all because they feel like it encourages a sense of endebtedness that prevents them from being honest. They take their reviews seriously, but that won't stop them from snarking and using humour (including .gifs or photoshopped images) to make a point either in favour of or against of books which aroused strong feelings in them. If they feel that an author or publisher messed up in some way they will call them on it fiercely, and they post negative reviews without a blink. They don't believe it's their job to shelter an author's feelings by finding good things to say about their work: they believe it's their job to be completely honest and give readers their unadulterated, sincere reaction to books, even if they didn't finish them.

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...

AUTHORS

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!!!
WRITERS: YOU ARE IN THE RIGHT

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.)

62 comments:

Augenlasern said...

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Julie Cohen said...

I haven't had such Drama in my writing life, and I'm glad I don't because life's way too short. But I see it happening.

And, er, Zoe, that last .gif you've got there...? They're not snuggling. ;-)

Zoë Marriott said...

Julie: I've always managed to steer clear of it personally, but I've seen it happen to other ways too often (and when I say others, I mean writers AND bloggers).

I'm sorry to break it to you, but Tamaki-sempai and Kyouya-sempai are enjoying a platonic hug only in that .gif. Much to the disappointment of OHSHC shippers everywhere!

RK Charron said...

Wonderfully well written post Zoe. Thank you for taking the time to write and post this. Luckily I've steered clear of nearly all internet drama - life provides enough for me!
:)

CarlyB said...

This post is awesome, Zoe! It's the most balanced and sane argument I've seen from a writer or a blogger about all of this cray cray. Bloody good job I say!x

Zoë Marriott said...

RK: You'll probably plough into some sooner or later. Most of us do!

Zoë Marriott said...

Carly: Ooh, good. I thought I might annoy some people with this, but so far no one seems to hate it. I'm still not leaving my pillow fort, though...

Julie Cohen said...

Platonic hug. Er, if you say so. It looks very different from here...

Emma Pass said...

Very well put, Zoe! Personally, I'm trying to be of the mindset that there *are* going to be people out there who don't like my book, and they *are* going to say so, and I'm going to have to accept that. After all, I don't like every book I read, so why should they? Whatever stage of your writing career you're at, you have to have a thick skin.

Zoë Marriott said...

Julie: That's the point, my poor innocent girl. In Shoujo manga/anime the hero (that's the blonde there) always ends up with the plucky heroine. But despite the inevitability, they often take pains to fill the whole thing with yaoi subtext, in order to thrill the fans :)

Emma: I don't think you necessarily have to have a thick skin. I don't, really. I still feel a pang of distress whenever I see a bad review. It's more a matter of accepting in your own head that people do have the right to feel that way about your book - that they're not WRONG but different. If that makes sense? Not to think 'Oh GOD, they've got it all TWISTED!' and feel slighted by it, but to remember the way you've no doubt hated books you've read in the past (and how that would have made the AUTHOR feel) and realise that you and the reviewer are basically occupying the same space, only about different books.

Book Maven said...

This is the perennial dilemma of the writer, Emma (and Zoe) (no idea how to do an umlaut in a comment on a Mac). You DO need a thick skin for the reviews whether online or not.

But you also have to be sensitive in order to write convincing fiction.

My rule is never to comment on negative reviews. It's a mug's game. You won't change the reviewer's mind and however ill-judged you think their comments are, you diminish yourself by engaging in any kind of spat online.

Mary Hoffman

Lauren said...

Very interesting post! I mostly agree with you.

As far as I'm concerned, all published writing is intended to be read and commented upon. Including online reviews. A blogger clicks publish on their review post, and at the bottom of their post there'll usually be a tab encouraging you to leave a comment. I feel that reviews are one link in a chain of literary discourse. The blogger may not have intended the author to read their review, but in all fairness the author may not have intended their YA romance to be read by a 25 year old blogger.

Do I think it's a wise idea for a (probably hurt and angry) author to risk their professional reputation by getting into a public argument with the blogger who wrote it? Nopes. BAD IDEA. But I also reckon that someone who is brave enough to write a snarky review, usually for laughs, should suck up any snark they get in return.

I should probably point out that I'm saying this as a former blogger. When I was blogging, I did sometimes feel uncomfortable with author interaction. It seemed like some of my blogger buddies were quite at ease being full-on author groupies, and others wanted to be viewed as objective reviewers, and personally I always felt a little tension between those two roles. I think it's really important that the blogger decides what they want to be, and then makes a concerted effort not to blur that line.

Zoë Marriott said...

Mary: Thanks for commenting. I do think we could all make the process a lot easier on ourselves and each other if we just stopped existing in this constant tug-of-war state.

The minute you feel yourself wanting to comment on a negative review, in a way, you've already lost that battle. You've already let that little voice in your head convince you that the reviewer somehow needs correction. That's where writers go wrong, I think. Not everyone who doesn't like what we write is wrong. Often negative reviews have things to teach us.

Rather than trying to develop a semi-permeable exo-skeleton that allows us to be sensitive, emotional, creative people - who somehow aren't hurt by negative comments on our work - it's much simpler and easier to say to yourself: 'Yes, this stings. Ouch. OK. Can I learn from it? Yes/No. Right. Now I'll move on'. It's acknowledging your feelings but without trying to dismiss the reviewer's in the process.

A fine line, I know.

Zoë Marriott said...

Lauren: That's a great, moderate viewpoint - that reviews are up for discussion, I mean. It's a POV that I've seen many bloggers disagree with vehemently. I think as a result of the constant drama, there are people who firmly believe that an author has no right to even read reviews and that they actually deserve to get hurt feelings if they do. Which is pretty extreme.

I think it's a shame that authors and reviewers can't have fruitful discussions about issues within the YA category (because, as you and I know, there are PLENTY). Sometimes the debates writers have can be too coloured with our desire to get on with our peers to be really useful. We need people to come in, tell it like it is, and shake us up.

Jim Dean said...

Fab post! I skew towards the positive end of things generally, but I love some of the snarkier blogs out there and get rather irate on the (thankfully fairly rare) occasions when authors get crazy about them.

Zoë Marriott said...

Jim: one of my absolute favourite sites on the web is Mrs Giggles Reviews. I've laughed 'til I nearly died reading her opinions on books. She reviews mostly romance rather than YA, but I know she gets a lot of flack too, and gets the same 'be nice!' stuff thrown at her. Makes me cross.

SisterSpooky said...

*claps*

as far as i'm concerned I like to give fair reviews and i've only read a very few amount of books I just didn't like but I always link to a positive review by someone else to show balance and rather give positives and negatives because what does a review accomplish if it's just all 'WAH WAH WAH IT'S SOO CRAPTASTIC'

The author and blogger friendship does make me wary at times but generally any author I've become 'friends' with online I've liked their books first and that's how we've started talking about we have the same sense of humour and likes/dislikes and then their next book I've liked too because they write what I like.

thanks for an ace read for a Monday :)

Cicely said...

Great post! I think I'm definitely one of the positive bloggers, but I do adore reading snarky reviews because they're so darn hilarious. But I think there are a lot of reviewers on GR that read so much YA and seem to hate all of it, and it's like they just do it to be horrible, and I just think if you hate everything that you're reading so much, why the hell do you keep on reading it?! But it also seems like the reviewers on there that generate the most hate from authors (in the few I've seen) are the more balanced negative reviews that give criticism in a non-offensive way, and I don't think it's fair that they get so much hate why they're just saying their opinion in a way that wasn't intended to cause harm (I think).

This is the most objective thing I've seen on all the drama, and I don't think you have anything to worry about as far as a backlash is concerned :D

P.S I love the Ouran gifs.

Lynsey Newton said...

Fantastic post Zoe and I agree with another commenter who saint was well balanced and the best article out there on this subject matter. Well done :)

Kat Kennedy said...

My criticism would tend to come in this form:

The saying, "reviews are for readers, not authors" I feel is being used in the wrong context here.

It's not that authors can't or shouldn't read reviews. Nobody would say that - unless the author then goes and attacks reviews.

The phrase refers to the fact that reviews, at least mine, are written for readers, not authors - and thus explains why I write them as I do.

Zoë Marriott said...

Laura: The thing is, some books ARE craptastic (for some readers). So if you read that book, you have to feel free to say that it made you feel that way, you know? And if the author comes after you, I'll feel free to kick their ass :)

Cicely: I knew you would appreciate my Ouran fangirling! And yeah, basically - we all have the ability to be asses from time to time, on both sides of the divide. But I think some of it is...habit? Almost like, you've gotten into so many dramas, not necessarily thru any fault of your own, that you have a knee-jerk reaction... It's a complex issue.

Lynsey: Thanks, hun. *Hugs*

Hannah said...

Ahhh fab post Zoe! Seriously. I wrote a post a little while back pretty much saying my thoughts on negative reviews.. and positive reviews. Fair but critical reviews are the way forward for all involved. Readers get the truth, authors get valid feedback, and nobody is attacked. Though by all means, nothing critical to say, gush away!

Liz Kessler said...

This is such an interesting post. Up to now I have been in blissful ignorance about all this (and long may my ignorance continue.) But I have a few thoughts on the issues here.

I think the lines between writers and reviewers have probably always been a bit blurry. In the old days, before blogs, the reviews that we depended on were the ones in newspapers and magazines. Certainly in the world of children's books, many of these reviewers were, themselves, writers, and so the lines between reviewing books vs friendships with the authors were (and still are) probably quite difficult to define.

The difference is that in those days, the authors didn't have quite the same opportunities to answer back. Sure, you could write a letter to the paper - but you wouldn't. For one thing, you would have KNOWN how ridiculous that would look, And for another, your anger would have worn off before you got to the post box. Now, though, an author can read a review, and before their blood has even finished bursting through the top of their head, they can have bashed out an angry reply and posted it.

They will almost certainly have calmed down an hour later, but by then it's too late to do anything about it. The damage is done, the argument has begun, and even if they delete their post, a hundred people could have reposted it by that time.

I believe that the issue isn't really about our feelings. I believe it's about the way we express them - and that takes responsibility and restraint on both sides. A reviewer has every right in the world to hate my book, and has every right to tell other people how they felt about it. But as a respectful human being, I would hope that they would do so in as kind, balanced and honest a way as they could. The reviewer has no obligation to the writer or to their book - but no one should try to pretend that writers have no right to read them, or that harsh reviews don't matter and don't hurt.

In turn, authors have every right to be upset at a negative review. But we need to do the correct thing with that feeling - ie talk to partner, friends, family, dog - but do so IN PRIVATE. We don't have to have thick skins. We just need to express our thin-skinned feelings of betrayal and rejection appropriately. Not on twitter. Not in any other public forum. And NEVER EVER EVER on the blog itself. That way leads only to disaster, as various horror stories that quickly find themselves trending on twitter have shown us.

To me, it's about courtesy, common sense, honesty and respect. If we all manage to carry those things with us, there's no reason why we can't all share this lovely playground.

Emma Pass said...

You're absolutely right. That was what I meant, but I hadn't had enough coffee, lol. Of course you're allowed to feel bad about it - you wouldn't be human if you didn't - the same as when you're querying or on sub, and get rejections. What I mean by thick skinned is being able to handle the inevitable negative opinions of your work by keeping that bad feeling private, instead of lashing out publicly and spreading the bad feeling around. Because, as you say, people are perfectly within their rights not to like your stuff, just as you are within yours not to like theirs.

Zoë Marriott said...

Kat: OMG KAT KENNEDY IS ON MY BLOG. I totally love your reviews! Eee!

Ahem.

Um, on the 'Reviews are for Readers' issue...when that phrase is used by reviewers to say 'Look, this wasn't written for you and I'm not interested in your opinion of it, thanks, Writer', then I 100% agree. But I've recently seen it used (following the Shannon Hale 3-star Twitter debacle) by some bloggers as a way of saying 'Look, writers, reviews are not written for you SO YOU DON'T GET TO HAVE AN OPINION OR SAY ANYTHING ABOUT REVIEWS TO ANYONE EVER'.

Which, obviously, I don't think is right. So I've used the Readers Not Writers phrase here as I saw it used by those bloggers in that context. That Goodreads thread was actually the place where I finally decided, yep, I really need to say something about this because it left me wondering: why are we all so angry at each other all the time, and shouldn't we all give the benefit of the doubt a bit more?

I hope that makes sense!

Emma Pass said...

Exactly, Mary. The only person who comes out of it looking bad is the writer. It simply isn't worth it.

Kat Kennedy said...

And in that regard, Zoe, I would have to completely agree. I, too, found the Shannon Hale debacle a little frustrating.

I agreed with most else you said, actually.

I just needed to qualify that, because I don't write my reviews for authors, and your explanation makes sense.

But then, I'm one of those constantly embroiled in the drama.

Kat Kennedy said...

Lastly, thank you! I appreciate that. It is a nice change to being told that from an author!

I enjoy reading your posts, so thank you.

Stroppy Author said...

I agree - as authors we have to take negative reviews along with good reviews and just stand back from it all.

But there are negative reviews which are honest and reasonable (ie the faults really are there, or it is an honest opinion) and there are mean or absurd bad reviews - such as the 'this book is shit because the gay character isn't burnt' variety.

The latter are patently absurd to any sensible reader and so don't need to concern you. You don't *want* readers who think the gay character should be burned, so you don't care if the review puts them off. The review might even help to sell the book to people who share your own views.

Reviews of the latter type I sometimes copy onto my (private) Facebook page so that we can all have a good laugh at them (or people can commiserate, if they think I might be feeling vulnerable about it). Reviews that point out a genuine flaw are constructive feedback and are a good thing to get - even if painful at the time. Like having to take nasty medicine - it will do you good in the end.

Finally, though - reviewers are often anonymous and authors aren't. So it's not a level playing field. I don't like that someone who calls themself 'MrSnipes' or whatever can diss my book and not have to own up to his/her comments under his/her own name. It's like wearing a mask to be nasty to people in the street. Carnival all year in reviewer-land. Nothing we can do about it except use a pen-name, though.

Zoë Marriott said...

Hannah: Thank you for commenting. I have to admit that I do enjoy snarky reviews myself - as long as I agree with them! If I think the book being reviewed was really good (or if it was mine!) I hasten away. This is probably a character flaw...

Liz: My personal motto has always been that kindness is the most underrated virtue. Keeping that in mind has never steered me wrong in life.

At the same time, I do think there is a need in most fields for outspoken people who say things that the majority don't want heard. Reviewers and bloggers definitely fulfil that role in the YA category, where sometimes we're all so keen to say nice things that we don't acknowlege that problems even exist.

So I think a combination of fearless truthfulness with compassion would be ideal for everyone online. When I find a place where that kind of attitude is encouraged, I cherish it!

Zoë Marriott said...

Emma: Whoops - did I slip into lecture mode there? Sorry! Yeah, I think 'thick skin' means different things for different people, really. It's whatever allows you to keep writing at the end of the day, isn't it?

Kat: It is no lie to say that there have been times when snarky, honest reviews have been all that kept me writing. I'm serious.

I'd read one terrible YA novel after another, each one chock-full of misogyny and cliches, many of them HORRIBLY written, many more patent Twilight knock-offs, and I'd feel SO depressed about the state of my field, the category that I love and value so much. Online, I'd find only glowing reviews and gushing - and I'd start to wonder if there was any point in me carrying at all, since all my efforts to be a good craftsperson, and a good Feminist in my writing were apparently as nothing compared to a Hawt Stalker Boyfriend. I'd think: isn't there anyone out there who will admit that this book is rotten?

And then I'd find that handful of shiningly honest reviews. Ones that called the author out on all the points I'd hated. That asked, just as I'd been doing 'Why was this ever published'. And I'd think, well, at least there are some people out there who want more from a book than a Twilight-alike plot. At least there are some people out there who notice writing that is objectively awful. Maybe there is a point in me going on after all.

Plus, your blog makes me LOL 'til I nearly pee :)

Stephanie said...

Excellent post. I'm pretty sure I mostly fall in the Hikaru and Kaoru pile and I wave my flag proudly. I probably will never belong to the "Be Nicers" due to my reviewing style. It's just the way I am. However, I don't really take issue with an author commenting on my reviews, positive or negative. As long as they aren't commenting to call me a hater or a cow, it's fine. I've written negative reviews for authors I love and *gasp*, we still chat on twitter because it's totally possible to hate a book and love the author. I think sometimes people forget that authors are not their book.

I love authors, I love reading the YA genre and I want to see them do well. I write my reviews for other consumers and my friends. I'm not thinking about what an author or publisher may think if they read my 1 star review. That's not to say they can't read it, just read at your own risk. It's why I don't believe in tweeting negative reviews. It's one thing to have a strong negative opinion, but another to throw it in the author's face. At the same token,I'll tweet a positive glowing review to the author because I probably wanted them to know I how awesome I think they are and how their book made me die and go to literary heaven.

So, yeah. Long comment= I agree. Lol.

(Also, Ouran High School Host Club for the win!)

Zoë Marriott said...

Stephanie: So you're somewhere in the middle there, really - like most bloggers. Just like most writers are somewhere in the middle between going insane over a bad review and calling all their friends to vilify the reviewer and not being bothered no matter who says what about their work.

I think the majority are happy to get along, deep down. But these continual dramas do foster a sense of unease which I think is really sad.

Sarah Rees Brennan said...

This is a good and thought-provoking post! This may not be a good or thought-provoking comment, because my bank holiday weekend has been full of revelry and my head is now full of cotton wool.

BUT, that's never stopped me from blithering merrily away before, so here goes. I agree with a lot of stuff you're saying, but I also have nits to pick with some of it, so I will proceed in a jumble of 'Hear hears!' and 'BUT WAITS.'

The YA mafia thing--well, here is my first BUT WAIT. I did think it was hilarious, the idea that writers, a deeply divided and squabbly group who cannot organise themselves sandwiches, could possibly band against anyone. Same with the idea writers have 'cliques'--groups of friends like any other groups of friends... I think it's OK to say 'wow, seeing this kind of thing said about me and others in my profession is wacky.' Especially when it was said by bloggers who are friends with writers... are they a clique too? Is everybody in cliques? Is this Gangs of New York? I haven't seen many groups of bloggers without some writer friends--it's just an exception is made for those friends, whereas the writers who are not their friends shouldn't talk to them. (And people being friends in my opinion, always a good thing. Also people being honest with each other, always a good thing. I'm just trying to say that good lord this stuff is muddy and humans are complicated.)

It doesn't mean that people weren't engaging with actual issues as well. I tried to! I know other people did too. I know a lot of people came out and said that they would never never do anyone harm--that they couldn't, but wouldn't if they could--and I don't think that should be dismissed as 'nope, nobody addressed concerns!'

Though, hear hear on the fact there are troubling trends, and that many writers said dumb things. I'm just saying, it is even more tangled than that.

I will comment in a small BUT WAIT that people have sent nasty reviews @ me and other writers, so it's not just the positive ones that people send in a friendly spirit--and it is tricky to think 'reviews are for readers, I am an aloof unavailable ice queen' when someone has sent said review to you! (Though I try. I do try. Ignore, ignore, womanfully ignore, is my policy when someone does such a thing... even if they send follow-up messages asking what you thought of their uh, kindly message.) And of course if a writer does explode after ignoring fifty times, alas the explosion is all we see.

Hear hear on writers are allowed to have feelings! And that reviewers are too, of course. Margin for others' human error is what is missing here, I think, in lots of cases. Writers are, as you know Zoe, functionally crazy people at times. Always going to be, because their perspective's all off--a book to a reader is hours/days of entertainment, a book to a writer is months/years of labour and dedication.

So hear hear on Shannon Hale, I totally felt Shannon Hale and was deeply dismayed to see people mobbing her. 3 stars on goodreads is the middle amount of stars you can give (I always see it as five stars great, 4 stars good, 3 stars medium, 2 stars bad, 1 star bloody awful)--and while that is an absolutely fine and reasonable amount of stars, Lord knows many of the books I read are mediocre, nobody wants to hear 'mediocre' about their book. (Which doesn't mean that it's wrong to say. IT IS NOT WRONG TO SAY.)

My new book's not out till September and the only place I see reactions to it = goodreads, and I guiltily admit to lurking about goodreads hoping people will like it, and I admit to reading reviews in the three stars and lying on my floor staring tragically into the abyss. 'Everyone will think it's mediocre. I should have become a yak herder like Aunty Miriam wanted.' (If they are mainly-positive three-star reviews I spend my time moaning 'But whyyyy?' softly into a hearthrug.)

Sarah Rees Brennan said...

I would NEVER engage to complain, that would be gross, they have ENTIRELY the right to say 'mediocre' and indeed 'bloody awful' but I too have the right to lie on the floor and moan softly. And I think it's OK for Shannon Hale to moan softly and non-specifically on twitter, too... but she got it in the neck.

Even typing these words makes me feel mildly ill with trepidation. Will people now mark me 'never-read' and 'if she doesn't want three I'll give her one'? (Such worries made me, quite recently say 'thank you!' when a reader came and found me on twitter and said 'I liked your book!' I didn't say 'Uh, but no... you didn't...') I do want three stars, if the reviewer thought it was a three-star book! I would defend to the death (or, well, maybe the maiming, death is very strong..) anyone's right to give a book three, two or one stars, but golly, unspecific sadness about one's book being voted mediocre doesn't deserve people yelling at you. (Apparently I have many Shannon Hale feelings. I don't know Shannon Hale! I just... felt super bad for her that one time...)

I do not, however, feel bad for anyone who got personal.

Is it OK to target a specific blogger or get people to try to game the goodreads or amazon system? LORD NO! Moan away into the hearthrug and I'm right there with you, but the moment you actually do something, you're in the wrong. That is terrible author behaviour and I would never, and of course terrible author behaviour disimproves author/blogger relations. Don't let it get personal would, I think, be a really good rule of thumb for us all.

But of course it's tricky not to let it get personal--especially as, and again I 'BUT WAIT' you, ad hominem attacks happen all the time. From both sides of the fence, and it is always wrong.

I'll add also that of course online reviews aren't professional (mostly) but well, writers are told all the time that the internet is a new way to receive criticism, online response to a book is becoming more and more important--we're meant to take many of these reviewers seriously, and many of these reviewers want us to. It isn't the same as professional stuff, but nor is it the same as seeing someone who's 13 go 'that book sucked' on facebook, or Grandma Bessie. I, like you, try to take some of this stuff onboard and think about it, and being told 'take it seriously' and 'how dare you expect us not to say SORRY LOSER U FAIL' gives me a whiplash feeling sometimes. It is a delicate balance to strike, is all I'm saying--not that everyone online should be a hundred per cent professional all the time. (Lord knows I am not.)

Sarah Rees Brennan said...

I also think it would be awesome and very much needed to see people discussing feminism and misogyny and troubling trends in YA seriously (and hear hear on the fact that YA needs it) but I haven't seen that much of it. I have seen some, and it's great! (I particularly like one of the posters on ladybusiness. And if not for cotton-wool-brain, I'd remember which one...) I have also seen the language of social justice used to diss lots of ladies fictional and otherwise, and been very sad. (As you say re: Mary Sues, and here I am back to going 'Hear hear!')

One of my big BUT WAITS: I do think writers do discuss feminism and issues of misogyny in YA (you do, for one ;)) and I am thankful for those who do and think they are great, so I would not discount them soothly with 'YA writers just don't seem interested in admitting there might be problems there'! But of course, a writer targeting a specific book rather than a trend can be tricky (there are books I hate that are much more successful than mine, so would saying they're gross look like jealousy? Would there be jealousy? Yeah, maybe some...) and there is, I think, a space for way more blogger discussion of such things than there is. As I said, I'd love to see it.

The atmosphere of deep hostility between authors and bloggers is very troubling, but I'm not sure what to do about it. I mean, I do try to always be polite myself! But, okay, example time, and I hope this isn’t specific enough for an identification. It is not meant to be one, and I don’t want an attack. So I was on twitter (it was one of those days ending in y) and saw a blogger I follow discussing a book (not mine, not written by anyone I know) with another blogger, and one of them mentioned my opinion, and so I gave my 2 cents. We talked for a bit, fairly neutral, thanked each other for an interesting conversation and moved on. Later I saw one of the bloggers saying 'Sarah Rees Brennan said this... and of course I don't believe a word she says.'

... Talk about a slap in the face. I mean, what? Why on earth would a near-total stranger call me a liar? And it cannot help but make one feel really edgy about every pleasant or neutral conversation you have with bloggers for a while, because Lord knows what they're saying about you not-directly-to-you.

Basically, my conclusion on your conclusions, while I have some issues with details, is a really hearty 'HEAR HEAR': let everyone be human, allow leeway. And let everyone (not just reviewers) keep up the good work.

Zoë Marriott said...

Sarah: *Mumbling Into My Hearthrug* is now my official slogan. I may even get it put on a T-shirt.

Ah, so many very good points! Even though my post was long enough to use as the route for the London Marathon I still ended up missing out loads of subtleties that should rightfully be there! Because of course many writers DID respond to the YA Mafia thing and many writers (like you, my lovely!) talk about Feminism and other issues. But it never quite seems to make a dent, does it? The feeling among reviewers seems to be that not *enough* of us are tackling these topics, either in our work or when we blog and talk about YA. Hence people refusing to believe your honest comments because: 'Huh, writers never tell the truth - all they care about is Being Nice. Everyone knows it!' But the thing is that actually there are quite a few of us, when I come to start naming lovely writer pals in my own head. But it's all so scattershot because, as you point out, most writers can just barely remember to change into the good pyjamas when they know company is calling. No matter how many of us take a few days out of the year to discuss Feminism, misogyny, worrying book trends, author behaviour (yada yada) it's always going to be an individual, disorganised sort of thing, and as such is unlikely to make a huge impact on the PERCEPTION that authors as a whole have clammed up on serious topics. Woe!

And just as there are outlier writers who behave terribly badly online and embarrass everyone, so of course there are terrible reviewers who Tweet 1-star reviews at you with a LOL, having apparently made up their mind that you are not A Real Person, but a cybernetic amalgamation of the spare pieces of half a dozen PR officers, editors and ghostwriters, and as such, cannot have any real feelings. Combine those with the ones who swarm on quite inoffensive comments from writers, or set up threads or even blogs in which they (gleefully) make ad hominem attacks and even personal threats against certain authors that they've taken a dislike to, and you can see why so many writers DO hide away and refuse to do anything which might lose them the protection of the Great Writer Herd. Why on earth should they put on a suit of armour and brave the slings and arrows when all they wanted to do in the first place was to scribble awesomecool stories on paper and maybe get paid for it?

Your points on cliquey-ness are also v. true. As someone who was targeted by the worse kind of cliques at school and horribly victimised by them, I find the idea that a group of writers who like each other and enjoy hanging around with each other are a 'clique' quite laughable. When they surround you on your way to biology, drag you bodily into the girls bathroom, strip you and then half drown you in the toilet, THAT is cliqueyness. Groups of friends with common interests = not the same thing at all.

Thank you for commenting lovely Sarah! You have made me look at the things in different ways, which is always a valuable gift :)

District YA said...

Awesome post Zoe!! I can see you really have thought long and hard about this and your post really is well balanced. Its definitely made me think about my role as a reviewer in the bookish community!

I don't tend to write hate filled reviews as there 9 times out of 10 is something I enjoyed about all the books I've read. That said if I really did hate a book I don't think I would have it in me to be a bitch about it.

I shall definitely forward on your post and hopefully everyone will take note :D

cleolinda said...

To summarize what I was saying on Twitter, in case it's helpful--I do think it helps to view "reviews aren't for writers" as two separate issues. Reviews are totally useful for writers (of their own books and of other writers'), and of course writers can have feelings about those reviews and vent to friends/colleagues. That's one issue. The other is that responding to them publicly has an entirely separate effect--freezing conversation. Even when people involved with movies say POSITIVE things about stuff I've written, you still kind of sit back and go, "Oh. Crap. Who else is watching? What can I say NEXT time? This thing I want to say that isn't even terribly snarky and no one else would think was mean, will it hurt their feelings?" It's not just about confronting a single negative reviewer--it makes everyone in the entire room want to clam up. That's where the boundary is, IMO.

(The other thing that gets me, "Don't say anything if you can't be nice"--you know, simply not mentioning a book isn't the same as saying you didn't like it. For all the reader knows, you just never read it. And not mentioning an unsatisfying reading experience at all seems to be the logical conclusion of "Be nice," since even three-star reviews, like you said, get angry reactions. "Nice" doesn't mean the same thing to everyone who wants niceness. So you get that chilling effect again.)

I don't know. There are--as you pointed out--so many different issues to negotiate.

Zoë Marriott said...

District YA: Thank you! I'm kind of overwhelmed by how positive everyone seems to feel about this - I expected to get blasted at least a few times.

Cleolinda: That chilling effect is the reason I hesitate to ever drop by review blogs that have mentioned me or comment on reviews of my stuff (even with positive remarks). But I've had a couple of blogger friends say: 'Why U No Like My Blog :(?' because they don't feel that way at all and felt a bit hurt that I didn't respond to them at all in their blogging space. So I dunno. Play it by ear, I suppose, and don't intrude where you aren't invited.

Emma Pass said...

Zoe, I didn't think you were lecturing at-all - I just hadn't been as clear as I thought I had (like I said, not enough coffee!), so I wanted to clarify. :)

This is a such a fantastic post. One of the reasons the YA blogging/writing community is such an awesome place to be!

Ems said...

Can we please make this required reading for the entire book community?

Very well said.

Debra Driza said...

Zoe, this is an excellent post. It also saddens/stresses me that the blogger-author relationship seems so volatile these days. I agree that while we do see a few people behaving REALLY badly sometimes, those are usually the outliers. I think the vast majority of both authors and bloggers are decent and cool and don't mean to be petty or cause mayhem or the massive Internet Drama (TM). But books whip up strong feelings in reviewers, and reviews whip up strong feelings in authors...and sometimes we all get a little nutty when we are overtaken by that kind of emotional tornado.

<> THIS. This would be my ideal as well. But I'm also okay knowing that others have different ideals (and, in the interest of full disclosure, I might have laughed at a snarky review before...I CAN'T HELP IT--SOMETIMES THEY ARE SO DARN FUNNY!)

Like Sarah, I find the idea of the YA Mafia to be slightly cray cray...even though I know other writers who believe it's a valid concern. I just think that, you know, writers are human (mostly)and humans tend to gravitate toward other humans (gasp!) BUT...not always the same ones, and that's where some of the issues arise. Everyone feels excluded sometimes and while it's a bummer, it's also a fact of life. Personally, when I see a close-knit group of authors, I tend to believe they're tight because they went through the querying ropes together or debuted together or questioned their editors' sanity together during that one-thousandth revision or questioned their own sanity together during that long-ass tour where sometimes only three people would show (and two of them only bc they thought Stephenie Meyer might be there)and NOT because they are planning to stomp the spines of All the Other People with their badass author shoes (bc, srsly, YA authors have some of the most insanely awesome shoes ever) on their way to world domination.

...and clearly this is the point where I go in search of caffeine. But again, thank you for posting. Just having this kind of discussion out in the open makes me feel better.

Debra Driza said...

Oops! That < > in my comment wasn't supposed to be fill-in-the-blank, but rather this quote from Zoe (though, fill-in-the-blank could be amusing):

"So I think a combination of fearless truthfulness with compassion would be ideal for everyone online."

Saya said...

I just, uh, wanted to comment on the (fridge?) brilliance of using OHSHC to illustrate it all.

Tamaki et al. ftw! XD

NicoleL said...

I hope this comment adds to the conversation.

I think this is part of the larger problem of we don't know how to act on the internet because most people haven't taken the responsibility to say these are the rules that apply to my blog and that has extended all over the internet. Some people have a really strong commenting policy like John Scalzi saying this is acceptable, this isn't, this is my blog, my rules apply. And then some don't, like Slate or most news outlets or youtube, and you get people saying truly awful things about people personally. Anil Dash has a really cogent post (warning: swearing) about taking responsibility for your part of the web "If your website is full of a*** it's your fault" that I think has a lot of bearing on the situation.

Not that I think this exactly is happening in what you are talking about specifically Zoe, but I think it's part of a continuum. I think more people need to take responsibility on all sides. Bloggers for instance could say right on their site: Authors, please comment on my reviews. Or, authors beware, I don't really want you commenting on my reviews, so comment at your own risk. And if you don't want comments, then shut off the comment thread. For authors I think this is a little harder unless we're talking about their own blogs, where they could say, I'm the kind of person who doesn't read any reviews, or please tell my best friend about your review because it's too hard for me to read them myself, or I welcome all reviews, negative or positive, or If you want me to comment on your review, please let me know. I'm not as sure what to say about when authors get ambushed, on twitter or some other forum, but I do think you shouldn't say anything online that you wouldn't say to someone's face and that you have to factor in that tone is really hard to read in a short string of characters.

A Backwards Story said...

*hugs*

I think you addressed this in just the right way; your points were completely rational and addressed both sides.

I think I'm more "Let's all eat cake. And be friends!" than I am "Oooh, this is going to be fuuuun..."

I love working with publishers and authors to create fun features and look "inside" the making of a book.

If I can't say enough nice things about a book, I won't review it. For example, I'm currently debating whether or not to review a book I finished last night. I don't mind pointing out a couple of things if I can say enough positive things in return. As long as there's balance!

Megha said...

WHY. IS. IT. THAT. ALL. MY. COMMENTS. GET. DELETED!!!

ANYWAY. I had written, summarised: I try to be not too harsh in my reviews, I'm sure there's a good side to each book, but I'm also honest about my thoughts on a book. I think it's okay for a writer to feel upset if their work is being LOATHED (of course), but harsh criticism is something they should be able to accept :)

Kaye M. said...

Zoe, can I just say that I love you for using Ouran High to illustrate your points? :)

I think (I hope) that I'm a fairly balanced reviewer. I do have authors that I speak with on Twitter/comment on my blog or follow me and I consider on a friendly basis, but I don't let that stop me from writing a review stating what I didn't like about it - it's harder, but it has to be done.

I don't like hammering out bad reviews, especially if I've read all about the author and they are really sweet (heck, most authors are awesome people) and I'm always worried that they'll take it the wrong way or think I'm just lashing out.

I did have a brief bout of drama last year when I wrote a brief review of a certain debut, with plans to go back over it and fill out about exactly why I didn't like it. The author took matters into his/her own hands and took my review (knowing that it was a teenager, mind you) at face value. He/she posted it on their blog and their followers proceeded to write very nasty things about me. I didn't even know until a friend linked me. Another friend had a similar experience with said author, and suffice it to say that neither of us want to support him/her anymore.

I think that if we (bloggers and authors) can both stick to being polite and not letting our own desire to cause drama/be snarky cloud the waters, it would be a so much better experience on both sides.

So yes, I suppose I'm in the "eat cake and be friends" corner.

For me especially, I have serious aspirations of joining the author side of YA. I don't want to muddy up relationships or hurt someone else, only to have it bounce back to me in some freaky version of karma, know what I mean?

Let's keep it fun.

Dalya Moon said...

Well-put, and I agree that everyone has a right to feel how they want. I support their right to comment as well, on either side. I have my own personal rules of, ahem, "conduct" that I make myself adhere to--rules set in place long before I see something that makes me want to break my rules about commenting. :-) But just because I have these rules for myself doesn't mean I don't think other people can go on and say what they think. I've seen a lot of incredibly unfair comments on both sides, and I do my best to help mitigate these skirmishes ... and the best I can do is turn around and not add fuel to the fire. This is the internet. I've been on some other forums that make the book blogger/author community look like a rainbow-colored box of puppies.

Shelver 506 said...

I think I agree. I say "think" only because it's a very long post and I'm still digesting, but so far it's all settling right.

I tend to just try to avoid as much drama as I can anyways. If I like it, I'll say so. If I don't, I'm not going to bother wasting space on a book I'd rather not promote. And if it falls somewhere in between, I'll try to be as objective as possible.

Julie said...

Great post! I spotted this on YA Highway. I've been blogging about books since 2010. It started as a hobby and have enjoyed every minute of it. I don't get paid to write reviews on my personal blog, but I still feel it's important to remain professional and constructively critical.

Reviewers and authors have every right to share their opinions. However, I've seen scathing reviews on Gooreads that made me gasp. If I saw someone trash my book on Goodreads or their blog I would feel downright miserable. Yes, I would just say (to myself) "you're mean" and some other choice words and walk away. But it's human nature to defend our territory! We want to say something back, but just don't do it on Twitter with a hashtag.

On the other hand, I've seen bloggers go overboard in the other direction. I'm talking with the OMG's and exclamation points. I want to say take it down a notch. I'm glad you like the book but...did it propose to you in Paris, or something? It's fantastic that people love books this much, but I think professionalism still comes into play.

Personally, I write funny reviews with jokes or a little snarkcasim(TM) in there. I feel if we voice our opinions in public (and the internet is public) we have the responsibility to be honest, trustworthy and fair and most of all to not look like a dolt...to our readers, to the writers and those in the publishing industry because words are power.

Cara M. said...

Word.

Though even when I'm just a reader and I read a review being all 'I cannot believe that there was a positive portrayal of a transgendered character in this book, it is so not appropriate for young adults!' it makes me ragey enough to want to start a flamewar on the author's behalf.

(If a positive and loving depiction of a minor character is so offensive to you, what would be a good depiction? A creepy evil trans character? Dying for her sins? Because that's so much more appropriate for kids.)

Sorry, needed to vent. :)

whispering words said...

Simply put - I think this was a brilliant post! You've really taken all sides into account and I agree with your final points that rather than stirring up a conflict between authors/bloggers, avoidance is just the better option.

PS. I love the ouran anime but have you checked out the live drama? its only ten episodes but the cast and everyone are just awesome in their roles! :)

Nicola said...

I love this post! I think I fall firmly in the middle as a blogger. I love me some snark (especially when I need someone to make me feel better about not liking the Next Big Thing) but I also don't believe that reviews are only for readers. I feel sad when I see an author devastated about bad reviews but I also think they need to find a better way to vent than calling out the reviewer.

I don't have a problem with authors commenting on my reviews. As long as they're not attacking me, it's all good! Authors are like celebrities to me so it's pretty exciting when they engage!

I do feel annoyed when some authors suggest that we're just reading books to trash them. I love reading so much and I'm always upset when a book lets me down.

And Shadows on the Moon just made it's way to the top of my to-read pile. :)

Kate Traylor said...

The YA world is SCARY! Thank you for this, though-- a very sane look at a very "high school" kind of behavior.

Shanella said...

What a great post! To be quite honest, I didn't realise that this was a thing! I mean ... I've heard mumbles here and there but I never took it seriously.
I fall on the side of blogger/reviewers, and I have spent countless hours wondering whether a negative review might affect an author. I'm not blind to the fact that someone might stumble across my reviews and take offence, so I try very hard to be scientific about my reviews ... it's very difficult and I'm sure I've failed quite a few times.

Something I have noticed, especially on Amazon - even if a review is objective and not splashed with hair pulls and head bangs, as long as the review is negative it tends to garner more "not helpful" hits. I wonder what the general thought is on this!

LianneLavoie said...

This is a great analysis! I've never actually gotten involved in any of this drama, but I do occasionally indulge myself by watching it while eating popcorn and chuckling to myself. And while I do tend to see the bloggers as being in the right for the most part, you're right that there is some silliness on both sides.

~Lianne, a blogger who squees with joy when an author talks to me or I get an ARC in the mail, but also enjoys a good gif. :)

Lesley said...

Even though this post was written a while back, I just also wanted to point out that when blogger-reviewers are making fun of authors' work, they should be careful. If they have the picture of the book cover in their review, they're violating copyright law, and they can get sued. Negative reveiws with book cover images (that they didn't ask permission for) are especially not protected under fair use. I recently read a post by an author who got sued for a google image she'd used in her blog: http://www.roniloren.com/blog/2012/7/20/bloggers-beware-you-can-get-sued-for-using-pics-on-your-blog.html

Anyway, blogger-reviewers should also make sure they don't exaggerate about things that happened in the book, even if they're just joking. They might get sued for libel.

Lesley said...

Even though this post was written a while back, I just also wanted to point out that when blogger-reviewers are making fun of authors' work, they should be careful. If they have the picture of the book cover in their review, they're violating copyright law, and they can get sued. Negative reveiws with book cover images (that they didn't ask permission for) are especially not protected under fair use. I recently read a post by an author who got sued for a google image she'd used in her blog: http://www.roniloren.com/blog/2012/7/20/bloggers-beware-you-can-get-sued-for-using-pics-on-your-blog.html

Anyway, blogger-reviewers should also make sure they don't exaggerate about things that happened in the book, even if they're just joking. They might get sued for libel.

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