Wednesday, February 9, 2011

We Don't Owe You Jack.

I'm sure many of you are familiar with the big stink on Twitter recently about the author who called book bloggers who gave her a negative review "trashy" and "unprofessional." The author then went on a rant on another blog warning authors to avoid unprofessional, subjective reviewers- by which, of course, she meant bloggers. She then linked directly to the bloggers she was trying to blacklist. I read the review that pissed her off, and of course it was fine. The blogger even said the book didn't work for her, but that she was open to other stuff from the author. Obviously, this author is a whiny little child.

This makes me happy that all the books I review were written by people who are currently, and hopefully will remain, dead. I don't get nasty emails from Charles Dickens calling me unprofessional because I thought The Pickwick Papers was the big boring. Steinbeck hasn't left me snarky, anonymous comments because I thought the dialogue in East of Eden was unrealistic and distracting. Of course, this may change when I die and get to heaven. I have a sneaking suspicion that Charlotte Bronte is up there waiting to spank me because I didn't like The Professor.

Anyway, this angry author lady writes romance novels, I think, and I wouldn't ever read her books anyway BUT now I'm wondering how many people she has pissed off who would have been totally open to her work. So, generally speaking, her hissy fit is outside the realm of what I normally blog about but it has got me contemplating two things:

THING ONE- HOW IMPORTANT ARE BOOK BLOGGERS ANYWAY? Important enough that this author solicited a review and pitched a tantrum when the review wasn't glowing. Important enough that many of us- myself included, though my niche is limited- receive numerous review requests from authors and publishers alike. In her tirade, Angry Author makes repeated reference to "unprofessional" book bloggers, a term she never really defines. I assume she means "not paid" or "not working for the NYT." Here's the thing- most readers I know do not read the NYT. Most readers I know get their book recommendations from friends, family, and bloggers. Angry Author also seems to forget that book bloggers are first and foremost book readers- and some of the most prolific. WE SPEND MONEY. We then tell other people who trust us how to spend THEIR money.

That's the difference here between bloggers and "professional" book reviewers- we're personal. Readers trust us because they know us. We have conversations through comments, social media, and sometimes we even meet face to face. I talk to or hear from my favorite bloggers every day through their posts, through Twitter, through wherever. I don't talk to reviewers from newspapers or magazines. Even if I did- I don't trust their taste. I'm not saying that paid reviewers aren't important, I'm just saying that the relationships book bloggers develop with their readership makes THEIR opinions just as- if not more- important. So maybe try not to piss off the entire community, eh?

THING TWO: WHAT DO WE OWE THE AUTHOR?
As a classics blogger, I say we owe authors just this: not changing their work, an issue that has been discussed at length since the Huck Finn censorship deal.

Aside from that? Jack squat. Angry Author seemed to be under the delusion that reviewers are required to like her book or remain silent. Reviewers are readers, and readers are under no obligation to quantify or qualify their opinions about a book. If a reader doesn't like it, a reader doesn't like it. Just because that reader has a blog doesn't mean that reader owes an author 5, 000 words about why their characters are one-dimensional. Now, most book bloggers do not operate this way because who wants to read a blog that just says "This book was le suck, move on." People want to know why, and I want to tell you why because I like the sound of my own voice. Not really. It's because reviewing books is about the conversation. It's not because I feel like I have to justify my opinion to any author.

So what do you think? Just how important is the book blogging community? And do we owe the authors  a justification for our reviews? Do we owe the authors anything at all?

ETA: I purposefully did not link to Angry Author's rant because I don't want to give her more publicity than I absolutely have to. 

34 comments:

  1. I really have no idea how important book bloggers are to the publishing industry or individual authors, though I suspect as time goes on it might be significant.

    To the second question: I do think if you decide to talk about a book publicly, you owe the author honest, respectful discourse. It doesn't have to be positive at all, but I think we should think about having a conscience. No ad hominems or bloodsport. No name-calling or mockery. Civility doesn't mean you have to lie or mince words, but it does require you to remember that there are consequences to what you say.

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  2. Ape- You ARE my articulate conscience. Though it probably won't stop me from calling some books sucky Mcsuck suck.

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  3. My philosophy for my reviews-- I give my opinion. The whole truth of it. If I didn't like it, I just didn't like it. I pull out the good when I can but if I can't..well, author, you are shit out of luck. I won't be mean. I won't call you names. I will be constructive and point out what I didn't like and what didn't do it for me. I might even offer who I think might like it and maybe some links to some other opinions from other bloggers who had different feelings. Lying would just be wrong to avoid hurting an author's feelings.

    The way I phrased it when asked:

    "Like I would if somebody had a really ugly baby. I wouldn't come right out and say that is the ugliest baby I've ever seen but I'm not going to be telling you to enter in a cute baby contest anytime soon."

    The discussion was here:

    http://thenextbestbookblog.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html

    But really..it's not my job to coddle an author. Not every book is going to be a winner for everybody. My blog is a place where my opinions run rampant. Isn't that what makes it different? Our OWN opinions about books and other things?

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  4. Well said, Amanda (and the Ape). It never fails to amaze me how often this happens. When this happened with another author, I took a look at her novels on my shelves and guessed I would probably never read them. Every time I look at them, I think of that author's hissy fit.

    Had to LOL at Charles Dickens sending you emails. Yes, there are some advantages to reviewing folks who are dead.

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  5. The funny thing is she went out and found the bloggers to review her book. They didn't seek her book out. At that moment she was happy to have someone look at her book. Once they admitted they didn't like it, she was all 'they set themselves up as reviewers.' Ugh!

    The customer is always right, they say. The reader is always right even when you think they are wrong because they spend their dough on the books. Even when a blogger is given a book, the blogger has to act like a customer because people depend on us to tell them how to spend their money. I agree with Ape that a blogger should be civil though. It's a balancing act.

    Yes, it is so much easier when the author is deceased but even then they have their rabid fans who speak up for them.

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  6. Along the lines of what Chris said, it's unusual that Angry Author reached out to bloggers to have them review her book and then got angry things didn't work out as she expected. If she believes bloggers aren't professional, why did she reach out to them?

    I think a book blogger owes the author the same thing she owes her readers: an honest opinion.

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  7. I think book blogging is the gate to readers in general. Like you said, most readers didn't read NYT because they know those professional reviewers might have different taste from them. But book bloggers are varied. Readers only need to search bloggers with similar taste to find out the book that suitable for them. I think most publishers recognize this potency and that's why book bloggers are quite important.

    I think book bloggers owe honest review and write it in respectful tone. Beside that, nothing else. I don't like bloggers who write good review to pleased the publisher so they could get free books, that's what I called unprofessional. Professional bloggers should write review according to her opinion about the book. But I also don't like bloggers who went bashing on author just because they don't like the book. It's one thing to give bad review for a book, but we don't have the right to judge the author based on it; unless of course, those authors are loser like Angry Author :D

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  8. I agree with Chris here. If she sought out the reviewer, then tough titty. If she didn't, tough titty. If the reviewer bought the book and complained about it, still: tough titty. Once you become a writer, you're open to criticism. If it's any good, it will withstand it. If it appeals to a mass population (but isn't very good), it will withstand it (see Twilight. If it's not any good and it doesn't appeal to a mass population, then tough titty.

    *deep breath*

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  9. Jamie- I agree- any review is, ultimately, a subjective opinion. That's the thing about literature in general, isn't it? Interpretation, literary criticism, and reviewing...it's all personal.

    Melissa- It's not the first time I've heard of this happening, which is why I was wondering about the importance of bloggers. Authors throw fits and piss off what could be their best audience. Not good business.

    Chris- Oh, I get the rabid fan emails. Usually they accuse me of irreverence...which...right. Sorta my thing. But when an author pitches a book, they should know that they're risking a negative review. It's a risk she was willing to take until now.

    Red- Exactly. Those bloggers were professional enough for her before they read the book.

    Lynossa- I agree, there's a line...a personal bash against an author is different than a negative review, and I would hope that most bloggers would avoid the former. But, while bashing an author personally is tacky, I wouldn't say we owe the author politeness. But honestly, I haven't come across a lot of personal attacks against authors in the blogging community- most bloggers are fine, upstanding folk :)

    Jenny- Well said, my friend! Actively soliciting opinions of reviewers leaves you open to...opinions. Silly Angry Author.

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  10. As a blogger myself, I am always honest and civil when it comes to reviewing a book. I also, almost always, find something about the book that I did like and comment on that as well as saying that the book didn't really work for me.

    Calling a blogger unprofessional and subjective is really unprofessional of an author, and let's face it, books themselves are subjective.

    I think that's why there are so many different styles of blogs. Yours which is mainly classics and dead authors, some are YA some of HF and some are just a mix of what strikes the blogger's fancy. That's why they are so important. You have easier access to them than the NYT.

    I guess what I find the most baffling is that to write is to be in a subjective business and Angry Author didn't just insult a blogger, she insulted a reader.

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  11. I wish I knew who were you talking about. :) This whole Angry Author situation completely by-passed me.
    Regarding your question, I think we owe authors our own truthful opinion. And I'm pretty sure it's easy for readers of book blogs to get a feeling for how true blogger's feelings about a book are. If not, the readership goes.

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  12. My policy on my blog is that I won't review a book I didn't finish. I think that's fair, since I may be missing out on something. But life's too short to keep reading books I'm not enjoying, so there are quite a few DNFs in my life. That may make my blog look a bit Pollyanna at times, since I mostly only write about books I liked--since those are the ones I finished. So be it. Other than that, I say what I think, but mostly try to be polite about it, even when I'm critical.

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  13. Frankly, I don't think we owe authors a darn thing, other than basic civility. It's readers I blog for, and if I read a book that I think is not worth their time I will tell them so. Most of the books I read do not come from publishers, but I don't treat the ones that do any differently. If you choose to send your books unsolicited to book bloggers hoping to get word out about it, you need to be prepared for some of those words to be unflattering.

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  14. We owe the readers the honesty to say what we don't like about a book. A review that negatively criticizes a book but doesn't give any reasons is unprofessional, but if Angry Author thinks that a paid reviewer at a major publication is going to be less negative about her book, she hasn't read the New York Times Book Review recently. In my experience, bloggers are NICER about what we write than a professional reviewer, probably because we know the author can leave a comment.

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  15. The thing I try to keep in mind when reading book blogs is that the reviews are as much a reflection of the blog author's reading preferences as they are of the book being reviewed.

    For example, if a blogger writes a not-so-great review about a book by Haruki Murakami, but most of the blog is glowing reviews of books by Debbie Macomber...well, that tells me something. If however, the blogger has given three of Murakami's books a 5 Star rating, and this particular book a 2 Star rating, that means something as well.

    I expect and appreciate honest reviews, no matter how harsh it may be. I don't want to get sucked into reading a horrific book because some blogger was trying to appease an author.

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  16. Great discussion here.

    Personally, I stopped reading "professional" reviews a long time ago because a)they are often about books that I have no interest in reading and b) I often get the sense that these reviewers are afraid to give their honest opinion - either that or they are held back from saying anything too blunt due to contractual constraints, etc.

    Anywho, this whole episode with the author in question sort of reminds me of the premise of the British comedy show about acting called Extras in which there's a clear distinction between actors who act out of a passion for the business and doing good work and those who act just to be famous and to win the praise and admiration of a myriad of spectators.

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  17. Have you seen this? Thought it was interesting that an author you just reviewed has done something similar. http://www.observer.com/2009/media/alain-de-botton-sorry-about-angry-comment-left-critics-blog

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  18. I think it all boils down to respect - a blogger does not owe an author or publisher or publicist a positive review just for receiving a copy of the book any more than a "traditional" reviewer would. But they do owe those groups respect. This is not book-bashing solely to create controversy and more pageviews, or hating on an author just because we can. Negative reviews are fine as long as they are founded in something real, not generic spite.

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  19. I hadn't heard of this - but it's totally stupid. I'm not being paid for my blog, so I don't owe anything to anyone but myself. This woman clearly just wants the publicity and needs to get overself. Yawn.

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  20. I'm very clear in my reviews that I'm talking about my reaction to the book, not the technical aspects or anything like that. I give my honest opinion and people can take it or leave it. I try to be descriptive about what I did and didn't like, because like you said, no one just wants to hear it was good/bad, they want to know why you thought that. Sometimes the thing that makes it not work for one person is the exact thing that another finds brilliant. I think authors need to understand that book bloggers are their most realistic connection to their actual readers. If they don't like what we say, that's their problem.

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  21. I am like you in that I read old book so I don't have to worry about the author relationship. But I say bloggers don't owe anything. Any author putting her book out there needs to learn to take criticism.

    And *gasp* on your East of Eden thing. I loved that book! I didn't find the dialogue unrealistic either time I read it... How unprofessional of you to not like the dialog! lol

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  22. Instead of ranting about how unprofessional bloggers are (and take into account that I haven't read the article), why not take the opportunity to take their advise and work on getting better in the writing of the areas that they criticized (plot, dialogue, etc.)? That way you are making a positive out of a negative. Goody-two shoes way of looking at the situation I know, but its better than alienating everyone.

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  23. ...who are currently, and hopefully will remain, dead.

    You never know. I hear Abe Lincoln is back as a Vampire Hunter or something. Spooky stuff.

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  24. All I can really do is ditto what you have said.

    At first I was furious and horrified by the post, but that quickly turned to serious amusement. Angry Author clearly has no idea what a review is: it is subjective (even if written for the NYT). And no one is more qualified to review a book than a reader. Having an opinion about something - a valid opinion - is not limited to paid professionals.

    Ultimately, she came across as overly sensitive, pissy, and ignorant (in my opinion).

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  25. Ugh - no one wins in a situation like this. Both sides have valid complaints - writing a review that includes unsupported assertions is, by any objective measure, poor writing - whether they're in a amateur book review or a professional essay. Yes, book reviews are subjective, but you still have to explain why you think what you do. Your opinion is only valid if you can explain why you think so. And as Ape says, keep it sophisticated.

    So the writer may have a right to be upset. But railing against ALL amateur reviewers is poor form, probably to a greater degree. You're right - a reviewer doesn't owe an author anything, except a fair assessment, positive or negative.

    I also have no idea how important the book blogging community is. I just do this for fun.

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  26. That author was infuriating. If she wanted to complain about someone that was truly bitchy about her book, fine. But the review wasn't bitchy (at least from my POV), and she was disguising her boo-blogger-bashing as a "warning" to fellow authors. The REAL authors value the opinions of ALL the reviews of their books, good and bad. As long as there's more good than bad, then they're doing just fine.

    As a reviewer, I don't feel like I owe the author anything. If I didn't like your writing, sorry, but I'm not going to sugar-coat my sentiments when I feel a book blew. I'll try to pinpoint exactly what I felt didn't work, and I'll give credit where I can. Otherwise, I review books because I enjoy it - not to feed the egos of authors.

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  27. this whole thing kind of reminds of back when i ran a lit zine. a guy submitted a story, i rejected the story, he sent me an email about what a joke my zine was and how no self-respecting author would ever submit his work to it. but he had just sought out my magazine and submitted a story, right?...I'm not going to approach the question of whether book bloggers are important to publishers or authors (cause who knows, at this point)...there are just some people who don't understand that that sort of negative email, or a ranting blog post, can only discourage people from reading their work or offering constructive criticism.

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  28. I owe the readers of my blog honesty in return for them taking their time to read my reviews. I owe authors my opinion presented in a thoughtful and respectful manner. That's it. I won't tell them their book is a big steaming pile of monkey crap but I will come out and say if something in the book isn't working.

    What I don't get is why the author doesn't realize that they will get farther by keeping their trap shut and just letting that one bad review go. Yes, bloggers do have influence with other readers but its not like we have the clout Oprah does-destroying or elevating careers with our glowing endorsements or critiques. A pox on Angry Author for such bad behavior!

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  29. I'm honest. And I don't always finish horrid books. Sometimes I do because I just need to know how the horror ends. But if I don't finish a book I generally don't post about it, unless I was given the book for review and promised a review and then I just honestly say it wasn't my thing and I couldn't finish it. But I'm honest and I won't lie about my taste in books to make anyone happy.

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  30. I think the problem is that a lot of authors - especially newly-published or indie authors - would rather get positive publicity rather than constructive criticism. You know... since the amateur reviewers have received a free book to be reviewed, the author feels it's just mandatory that they should be positive about it.

    But the reality is that professional reviewers - unless they have been expressly commissioned to write a positive review in the form of an advertorial - do not write laudatory reviews for every book that they have been solicited to read. I mean, I've seen loads of honest negative reviews in all sorts of professional publications. If anything, writing honest reviews that do not pander to the author's wishes is a sign of professionalism.

    I do feel for new authors who get negative reviews - they've spent so long working on a book, only to see that readers don't like it. But I guess that's really just how it is.

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  31. Honesty is the best policy when reviewing a novel. Authors should be open minded and mature enough to accept each review, the good and the bad... It's unreasonable to believe that everyone who reads your book will love it.

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  32. Having participated in a Writers' Workshop for years, there's one thing I know - we don't all like to read the same sorts of things. The same piece that one person enjoys will be a piece that another person dislikes. I agree that respect is required, but insincere praise is not.

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  33. I don't know any reader who's going to read one negative review and ditch a book. A negative review often makes me want to read the book for myself. However one author hissy fit will probably put me off completely.

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  34. EXCELLENT post. Really enjoyed this, especially your comment about Charlotte Bronte waiting to spank you.

    I completely agree with the importance of the book blogging community -- people generally connect more with the writers of book blogs and thus get to trust their opinions more than they do with an author at the NYT book review. Very unwise of any author to piss off such a powerful community.

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