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?