US vs THEM

Writers vs Reviewers. If you spend any time on social media following authors and book bloggers, you see this cropping up. The most recent in a long string of us vs them is here at Booksmugglers but it’s certainly not the first and will more than likely not be the last.

I have problems with all of it, but most specifically the divide. We’ve set up an online narrative where book bloggers and reviewers are in one corner, and the authors are in the other, both of them ready to duke it out at the slightest hint of provocation.

See. I don’t think the divide is that simple. We are all of us at the end readers (and if you’re a writer who doesn’t read than please consider a new career). More importantly, we are all of us at the beginning, readers. This is why we are here – we love words and stories and characters and language. We immerse ourselves in fictional worlds and lives. We have a common ground.

And I think this is where it becomes hard as a writer to separate that love of reading from ourselves as producers of art. We are no longer just consumers. The review becomes personal to us, even though it shouldn’t be. It’s hard not to see a negative review of your work as not being about *you* personally. I have often sat and torn books to pieces with my friends, both before and after taking up writing. I meant no malice to the authors themselves – in a sense, they didn’t exist. The author was an abstract. The book was the thing. If a plot was dumb, a character too stupid to live, the language dreadful, my friends and I would discuss these without thought to the person behind them.

Suddenly, I’m that abstract, that author, and you know what? It’s hard to pretend that the author doesn’t exist as a human when you know they do. I still love and hate books, but I’m a lot more comfortable discussing online the books I love, than harping on about the ones that annoyed me.

So what does this have to do with book blogging – am I saying that all reviews should be nice? That criticism must be couched in hearts and flowers? Not at all, but that we all need to remember that there are humans on the other side of the divide we’ve drawn. And sometimes you just hate a book because it pings every button on the OMG HATE THIS list, but there’s a way to say that which isn’t mean girl posturing.

The same goes for writers – this isn’t about YOU any more. If a book blogger lists every flaw they found in your book, they’re not making a comment on you as a person (although sometimes they might be – but then you have to ask why you’re being called a misogynist or a racist.)  They are critiquing your art. They are saying, I HATE THIS. And you know what, they’re totally entitled to it. It’s not as though because you’re a writer everyone has to love what you make.

As a writer, you get to deal with this in different ways – you can have a conversation, but going to a negative review and telling the reviewer they’re wrong wrong wrong and here’s why is probably not a good way to start a dialogue. You can pretend all reviews don’t exist and not read them at all (often the best and safest choice), or you can engage in a non-confrontational way, you can talk outside of the context of reviews, you can learn from what reviewers post and ignore them if they are nonsensical (and some really are 🙂 )

However you choose to deal with the weirdness that is reading reviews of your own work, and even if you feel slighted and hurt by what is said, you still need to remember that reviewers are also humans. They have tastes, loves and hates, personal experiences that inform their reading – all of which are different to yours. Think of those times you’ve eviscerated a book you can’t believe actually got published, think about how many people love that book and what aspect of it is connecting with readers. And then think of the human faces behind this reviewer/writer divide.

We can still have critique, analysis, discussion, reviews. We just need to learn to navigate this online, where the temptation to lash out at a perceived insult is so easily enabled by the wonder of social media.

Anyway, I’m interested to see how you cope with the open conversation that’s come up with book blogging, tweeting and goodreads. As reviewers, as writers, and sometimes as both. Is there a way we should be behaving, or is all this prescriptive social guidelines thing just nonsense?


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11 Thoughts on “US vs THEM

  1. I’m in the nonsense camp. I feel authors can reply to reviews as long as they are level headed in said replies. It goes without saying that the reviewer should be level headed in their criticism as well. Starting a war of words when the reviewer didn’t like a book or parts of a book doesn’t achieve anything and reviewers getting personal and nasty in their reviews to only generate hits are also stupid and not worth responding to.

    If the reviewer took something from the book and the author responds that he meant something totally different that can only lead to debate which is always a good thing. It would lead to the parties understanding different aspects to the story that they maybe haven’t even thought about.

    Each blogger has their own ideas about what they like and what they allow on their blogs. That’s fine and right. The blogger can delete comments to his heart’s content, and authors could mail/message the blogger asking if they can take part in the discussion. But I do not think authors should feel they can never interact with their fans or reviewers. That’s half the fun!

  2. As a blogger I now tend to be less snarky on Twitter/fb/my blog when speaking about an author who’s following me or that I’ve spoken to. It was easier to be vicious when I started blogging because I hadn’t started interacting with anyone in the field and I was so distanced from the people whose work I was criticising. But following authors’ blogs and twitter feeds humanises them, gives you an idea of the person and the thought processes behind the work. That doesn’t stop me from writing negative reviews when needed, but I reserve the snark and outrage for the most egregious offences.

    As far as being seen as human by an author I reviewed: in my reviews I always try to make my personal preferences and biases clear. Eg. I love this kind of plot, I hate it when characters do that, I’m so tired of this trend. I do this mostly so that my readers have a better idea of whether they might agree with me or not. Now that you mention the author perspective though, I hope it would also give them more insight into my reaction to the book, or soften the blow of a negative review.

    I have no problem with authors interacting with review and reviewers, although this may be because I’ve almost only had positive author feedback. What I think would be really interesting would be to have an in-depth discussion with an author who disagrees with me. Not vitriolic backlash, obviously, but an engaging debate on creation vs. consumption and what influenced the various perspectives. It’d be great to talk about, for example, how an author constructed the MC to be a charming hero vs. why I saw him as an asshole or an idiot. I love having those discussions with bookish friends so why not with the author? We could both learn a lot. But I imagine that’s not likely to happen, given how authors are discouraged from engaging with their critics.

  3. “It’d be great to talk about, for example, how an author constructed the MC to be a charming hero vs. why I saw him as an asshole or an idiot. I love having those discussions with bookish friends so why not with the author? ”

    I would *love* to do this, but yes, I think it’s tricksy – you never know if people are going to react well with that kind of thing or if the discussion will veer into argumentative territory.

    I think these kinds of conversations can happen, but perhaps outside of a review space. Perhaps an open discussion about certain character types, or whatever, inviting authors to comment? I don’t know….

  4. Yeah, I can see how delicate it is, considering, for example, The Book Smugglers’ opinion on author feedback. I imagine authors would have to be very careful and level-headed too – your book is your baby so it’s must be easy to overreact to something or have difficulty seeing it from another perspective.

    Inviting an author to comment could be interesting… I wonder if I can do that somehow. Although that would be quite a tricky thing to. What if I invite a psycho? Hahaha.

  5. I think authors should avoid taking criticism of their book personally if they can, unless it IS personal. And if the reviewer is getting personal, you can look at what they said and conclude that it is biased and inappropriate. If they say something about your material that’s inaccurate, or misleading, or states a personal opinion as if it’s objective truth, you can also just shrug and say “that person’s understanding is incomplete,” and ignore it. If they offer legitimate criticism (even if it’s snarky), great. It might be upsetting, but there’s no need to only believe and embrace the reviews that love you.

    As an author, I’m struggling a bit with the idea of how to offer opinions on others’ work. I’ve written tons of reviews, but haven’t connected them with my “author” accounts. I would like to get more involved with review and book communities, but I worry that they’d think I wasn’t authentically involved if I didn’t share reviews, and I also feel it’s a bit cheap to only offer my thoughts if I liked a book. It’s quite a dilemma. The outside world sort of sees authors as in competition with each other, and assumes if we diss each other’s work then we’re trying to hurt each other professionally, but authors are natural allies of each other because our readers become our peers’ readers when we write similar stories.

    I think reviewers should indeed do their very best to remember that the author is a person (and only comment on the author as a person if they are referring to something the author has actually done), but should not avoid being honest just in the name of sparing the author’s feelings. Even non-personal criticism can hurt, but if reviewers just do their part in not twisting the knife, authors can still learn from what they say.

    • I used to…not so much review books as blog my thoughts about them, but I’ve stopped doing it unless I love a book. As a fellow author, there’s just too much potential for drama (and worse, if the author in question is big and childish enough) that it’s easier for me to just say nothing.

      And half the time the books I hate are the ones that garner ecstatic reviews on goodreads, so *shrug* it’s a taste thing, and subjective. I’m not doing critical analysis so it’s not worth my time to antagonise those people (even inadvertently).

      Like I say, I think everyone finds a way to deal with the transition from regular-reader-person to reader-author, and that whatever you choose is valid as long as you’re not resoting to idiotic behaviour when you do.

      • Yeah. I just added a Goodreads account to my list of author sites and I recognize that it just needs to serve a different purpose from my other book reviews. I don’t really hold back (though I don’t think I’m mean either) in the reviews I’ve posted independently of my author sites, but you’re probably doing the smartest thing by not offering critical analysis. As an editor, I generally prefer to get paid to do that, so I might as well just have fun and stay positive.

        • When I started on goodreads (pre-publishing days) I was fine with using it as a place to record my thoughts baout books. Nowadays I simply use it as a record of what I’ve read. In fact, this year I stopped giving stars, especially when I realised that me giving a book 1 star because it did nothing for me wasn’t exactly fair as a review of that book’s strengths and weaknesses.

          I’m happy to rave about books, and since I only do it for books that I genuinely love (I am so not interested in that “i’ll 5 star your book if you 5-star mine” nonsense) if I rec something, it’s an act of sheer enjoyment. 😀

          • Yeah, I get that. And I’m a pretty picky reader, too–I don’t give great reviews easily. (Probably just my editing background talking there.) But I want to be involved with other readers, and discussing books has always been one of the ways I get to have that experience. I write books, but I never want to stop being a reader and talking to other people who have read what I’ve read. I think Goodreads is usually a good place to find those similar people, find similar books based on their recommendations, and learn the kinds of things people in your genre are saying about their favorites and not-so-favorites. I think it just might be a good plan for me–with my slightly snarky tongue–to remember that I’m not lying by omission if I decide it’s not worth the potential drama to go into detail about what I think.

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