So, some of you might have noticed there is Anger in the Blogosphere lately over author-blogger interactions. If you don't know about this, get a cheese danish, skip this post, enjoy your blissful ignorance. I heartily wish I could join you. If you do know about this, you probably already have firm opinions. Basically what it comes down to is that authors are screaming at bloggers/ Goodreads users for negative "reviews" (more on the quotation marks in a bit), and bloggers are screaming at authors for being unable to take criticism and acting unprofessionally. There are subplots to this rabbit hole, but that's a good start. I wasn't going to say anything about this, but then the Guardian did a fairly ridiculous article about the contentious relationship between the YA blog world and authors. When mainstream media is talking about it, it becomes my business.
OK, I want to talk a bit about reviews. This may seem a bit rudimentary, but stick with me. A review is an unbiased, careful look at a book — basically it is a little academic paper. It involves an itty-bitty thesis on your opinion of the book, surrounded by tiny supporting sentences describing the strengths and weaknesses of said book. Every month, dozens upon dozens of these reviews come out in professional journals. Because they're fair and thorough, they're prized and respected in the publishing world. Authors celebrate positive pro reviews. They sigh and learn from negative pro reviews. Publishing houses bend over backward to send review copies to these journals in time for a timely review, because good reviews can make or break a book's success with libraries and booksellers.
And these reviews are hard to write. I recently reviewed a novel that I'm not going to tell you about for a journal I'm not going to reveal (it's not out yet) and I have to tell you, it was hard work (unlike my quick and flippant book recommendations I post here on the blog). My opinion was important, yes, but even more important was getting the essence of the book across in a few short paragraphs. The better I define the strengths and weaknesses, the more useful that review is really going to be to a reader. In the end, my opinion is nearly secondary — I should've done my job well enough that the reader can decide for themselves if the book is for them or not. Because a review isn't for me. It's for other people.
So, that is a review. Let's talk about the negative "reviews" that authors have been lashing out at. They often involve animated gifs, swearing, and snark. They're often quite funny. But here's the thing, though. When a blogger writes a biased, hilarious, snarky rundown of a book they despised, he/ she is not writing a review. They are writing a post about a book. I'm not saying that bloggers shouldn't write biased, hilarious, snarky rundowns of books. I'm saying that those rundowns are not reviews. Bloggers who regularly write them cannot expect to garner the same respect and treatment from authors that pro reviewers or non-pro reviewers do. They can't expect authors to read their posts and learn something from them. And they cannot expect authors to not take it personally. They've made it personal.
How personal? I’ve gotten "reviews" that question my parenting prowess, my sexual frequency, my literacy, my intelligence, my relationship with wolves (take from that what you will, they did), my loveless marriage, my personal appearance, and, my absolute favorite, how I have chosen to write the current book the way I did in order to cash in on trends or because my publisher told me to add in something commercially useful (love triangle, sex, no sex, sequel, no sequel, longer, shorter, faster, slower . . . )
Folks, that's just being a jerk. Doing it to be funny, but still, it's unprofessional and it is not a review. And everyone knows the difference between a negative, but even-handed review and a jerk-fest. Because not only bloggers can be jerks. When a professional outlet puts out an unprofessional review, there's uproar all over the internet, because the difference between a review and a scathing editorial whinge about a book is, when push comes to shove, obvious.
Ultimately, the reason why I find the Guardian article to be incorrect is because YA authors don't have a problem with online book reviewers. There is rarely any drama over the dozens of bloggers who write hundreds of great reviews every month, both positive and negative.
I vote we move away from the kerfuffles and back toward the books in 2012.
ETA: On the other side of this post on bloggers, I should also add: Authors, please don't be jerks to bloggers or authors or puppies. The end.
*FURTHER ETA: I'm happy to discuss this in comments, but please do read my replies to previous comments to see if I've already answered your question/ clarified. This applies to most every question about whether this post is about blog reviews being inferior to pro (paid) reviews (it's not), whether it's about me believing negative reviews are bad (it's not), whether it's about me thinking book reviews shouldn't have an opinion in them (it's not), whether it's about me questioning the validity of anything that cannot be called a review in the strictest sense (it's not). I'm not impressed by folks turning this post into me being negative about the blogosphere. Like I said, I'm happy to discuss, but please read the post in the spirit it was intended and then read the comments. Thanks.
**FURTHER FURTHER ETA: I need to say that this post is NOT a direct response to that Guardian article — it's been pointed out in the comments that that casts the post in a different light. It was merely a catalyst for me to jot my thoughts down about it. I in NO WAY want to encourage any author to engage with any sort of negative reader response, be it review in a journal, review on a blog, scrawled Sharpie on a public bathroom wall. I will be the first to say that, as a newb writer, I replied to a negative review once, and I have regretted it ever since. NOTHING GOOD CAN COME OF IT.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
The Only Thing I Am Going to Say About Bloggers in 2012