Friday, January 20, 2012

The Review Debacle

(I have a lot to say, so bear with me)

This has been going on far too long. I think every year there comes a time when the eternal debate of whether authors/aspiring authors should be book reviewers too comes up. This generally sparks off several more posts regarding reviews (blogger reviews, to be specific) and how positive or negative they should or shouldn't be. And it's alright to have these discussions. That's why we are human beings. We have the power to reason and discuss, test and explore new ideas. And every year we have some very interesting discussions on said topics, which leave us with greater understanding of things, even if our fundamental beliefs remain unchanged.

This time, though, something went wrong. Something spiraled beyond discussions and took on an ugliness of its own - where certain authors ganged up on certain reviewers, certain agents conspired with certain authors to rig the review rating system on Goodreads and Amazon, mudslinging and bitch-slamming in public took place - it's been one hot mess after another.

And it's been very, very disappointing. This is NOT the book world as I know it. The book world I've grown to love and respect is the one where writers and reviewers and readers co-exist in harmony - occasionally going to tea with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, engaging in Wildean witty banter, tipping their hats to each other when they gather at book clubs or pen clubs (where they brainstorm ideas. This doesn't officially exist by that name). There are differences of opinions, yes. As long as there will be people there will be opinions and everyone has a different opinion and everyone's entitled to it. But this is done with a respect for each other, with the thought that - 'Yes, I understand that's what you think about me/about this book and while I don't necessarily agree with you, I appreciate your thoughts'.

Unfortunately, that's the ideal. Which obviously, also makes it unreal. The ugly truth of it is that somewhere that line between public and private has been crossed and dirty linen is being washed in full view of the rest of the world.

I mean, look at us. I'm assuming (and rightly so) that we are all literature lovers here. And literature preserves the ideals of humanity. It's supposed to give us a better understanding of life. Supposed to sensitize us to people and their situations. Of all people, we, readers and lovers of literature should know that jumping at each other's throats is not the way to go about things. And creators of literature? You should know better.

My biggest dream is to be a published author. I want to hold a book in my hands, which has a shiny new cover and my name on its spine. A book that people will want to read and hopefully, some of them will love a little. Yes, that's what I really hope happens someday.

But you know what? I was a reader first. It's my love for reading, for books, that made me want to be a writer. I love talking about them, what they made me and didn't make me feel. What worked and what didn't work for me. Would I be reading it again or would I be putting it aside? I like the process of reviewing, evaluating a book and then interacting with fellow readers and getting to know their thoughts on said book.

But when someone tells me that by putting forward my honest thoughts about a book I may as well be killing off my future career as an author, that disappoints me. You're asking me to choose between my love and my dream. I ask you: WHY? Why does it have to be a choice between either? I understand that the writers of the books I don't fangirl over might become my colleagues when/if I do get published, so it might get awkward, but whether I deal with it by simply deleting all reviews I've written or not, is entirely my decision. If I'm not mistaken, whether or not I become published or not depends entirely on my own merit and not because I may not have liked a book by a fellow author and publicly said so. Unless there's a conspiracy of some sort brewing in the industry.

Which brings me to a post by a certain very well-respected author that saddened me a great deal. The author made some interesting points but it all boiled down to her perception that book bloggers aren't real reviewers. That, I vehemently disagree with.

Now, guys.
I understand where she's coming from. She talks about jerk-fests - personal attacks that come under the guise of reviews. That is wrong. That is just very, very wrong. Yes, we live in a free world (at least most of us do) and we are allowed freedom of speech (at least, till now) but that's NOT to be exploited. Reviews that go: "Oh jeez, I think this author wrote this book simply to annoy me! She should be locked up in an asylum and that goddamned book should be barbecued!" NO. That is NOT how book reviews should go, no matter how much you hate a book. Be snarky, yes, use funny gifs, have a good laugh - heck, yes, that's fine - but you cross the line at cruelty and meanness. I get that. And I'm totally against it.

But what I don't get is the distinction she makes between paid reviews and unpaid ones. Between how real the professional reviews (say, ones that appear in The Guardian and the New York Times and other literary publications) and how not real the unprofessional reviews (say, on Goodreads and book blogs) are. I mean, seriously? That's like saying that books that don't win awards aren't real books.
Blogger reviews are NOT all jerk-fests that take potshots at the author's personal life. NO. They probably comprise only 2% of the blogosphere. So clubbing every blog reviewer under the 'jerks' umbrella is biased and wrong.

The author also says:
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. 
Um, hello - WHAT?
So because they are informal, these are not reviews? I don't get it. How I evaluate is book is entirely up to me. And what's the deal about these being personal? DUDE, art is personal. Everything about art is personal. There can't ever be anything such as looking at a book 'objectively'. I mean, how can it? The way you respond to a book is entirely yours. You and I might love a book but on a deeper level, in almost all probability we love it for very different reasons. EVERY REVIEW IS SUBJECTIVE. It is personal, because it it about how I personally feel about the book. Irrespective of whether or not I mention the 'I' in my reviews, it's omnipresent. It would be ridiculous to suggest otherwise.

I realise it's very hard to let your book - your sweat and blood and tears - out there and watch other people take a swing at it, but that's what happens when you go public with your work. If you want the fangirls, you have to accept the non-fangirls as well. You are allowed to be secretly angry with them but don't lash out at them. Don't demean the bloggers who are putting forth a thought on your book because of their love of reading, irrespective of which way their opinions might swing. I stumbled upon this blogger's post while writing this. Go read it. It's more articulate than I can be at this point.

As for the reviewers, you're allowed to be honest. You're allowed your opinions. You're allowed to like or dislike a book (don't let anyone threaten you otherwise) but be careful not to turn that dislike into a personal attack. Don't. Do. That.

Guys. Look at us. We're Literature lovers. All of us. Lets not indulge in such pettiness. It's unbecoming and savage and puts Literature to shame.

We are all doing something we love. Bring on the respect, guys. And be a sport.

18 comments:

  1. What I don't understand is why people get so upset about other people's opinions. A book review is just an OPINION. There are book reviewers I read because I share their taste in books, and others I won't read because our taste differs. Does that make them a bad reviewer? No.
    Also, many of the reviews I read come from book bloggers. I have read several reviews for books that I disagree with, but I still go back for book referrals.
    A review is just an opinion, and I don't like to get too heated up over someone else's opinion. Everyone is entitled to it, but there should be courtesy involved. There's no need to throw mud!

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    1. EXACTLY. Differences of opinion are natural and understandable but all that public bitch-slamming is completely unacceptable.

      It's appalling that there's no decorum is being maintained in these interactions.

      Delete
  2. Oh, I saw that author's post too. Left a comment, and I think she got what I was trying to say. It's funny how when the world remembers their manners, things get talked about and cleared up... if only some authors realized that.

    Bee, have you seen Hannah Moskowitz's awesome post? It's much better than Ms. Stiefvater's, let me tell you.

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    1. Oh yes, I read that soon after Hannah posted it. She's awesome as always.

      She saved the dignity of a truckload of authors.

      Delete
  3. I disagree with Maggie Stiefvater on that account, and how sad that she feels that way about "unprofessional" reviewers.

    I think blog reviewers are some of the most influential reviews in the blogging community. They have hundreds of followers and they always promote their favourite authors and books.

    It's silly that she doesn't see them as actual reviewers because unfortunately for her, these "informal" reviews are the ones that sway the blogging community.

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    1. My point exactly. We're all here mostly to encourage people to read and we are being honest with our words.

      And where the YA community is concerned potential readers really don't care much about said 'professional' reviews. They would rather see a book being debated about on a blog and pick that up.

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  4. I saw Ms Stiefvater's post, and it saddened me. I mean, book bloggers are voracious readers, and therefore your target audience, so why undermine them like that?

    As for you, Bee? For shared dreams and opinions and being incredibly awesome for writing this? A standing ovation.

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    1. I may not be from the YA age-group, but I'm a voracious reader and I get my suggestions from book blogs and NOT the literary journals. So there.

      And thank you, Rida :)

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  5. Thanks for being so honest, Bee. I was upset by what's been happening too. I think you said it best, for both reviewers and authors:
    "We are all doing something we love. Bring on the respect, guys. And be a sport."

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    1. It is upsetting. I think this name-calling was the last thing we all expected from the publishing world.

      And thank you.

      Delete
  6. I think a looot of people forget, while online, that those names on the screen hurting your feelings (whether intentionally or not)? They're not just names on a screen. They are people too.
    People forget that. If you met this reviewer or this author on the street, would you say the kinds of things being said in these threads to their faces? Hell no.

    Great post! And I do hope that reviewing books doesn't add you to some sort of sekrit-blacklist that will prevent you from ever being published. Because you're right, most writers are also readers, and it's nice to be able to share opinions on a book when you're done, and discuss it with other readers.

    Of course, there is a solution for that, I guess... Reviews under pen-names? <.<

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    1. Well said, Ellen, and thank you for dropping by.

      The idea of there really being a sekrit-blacklist is an unnerving thought. For the sake of preserving the integrity of the industry, I hope there isn't.

      Yes. Pen-names is an option. I know a few people who've resorted to that. Personally, though, I'm not a cheerleader of that because I wouldn't want to hide under a different identity to voice my opinions about a book. I mean, I'm Bee - book reviewer/aspiring author both - and I wouldn't want to suppress either identity just so the other can thrive. It's convenient, but I, personally, wouldn't want to venture that way.

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  7. I love the passion in this post! As a novelist, my mantra is, "Write the book I want to read." I don't care if I'm the only one who loves my book, but as its author, I damn well better love it A LOT!

    The internet has completely redefined the concept of privacy and/or what is personal. What people bring to the dialogue reveals their grace (or not) and their sense of respect for others (or not). There will always be individuals who bring ugliness to the conversation. That's just the way it is on a big, over-populated planet.

    Technology also is redefining the publishing world. And as self-publishing becomes increasingly accepted, I don't doubt that there are a lot of people upset by their lost power. That also can lead to ugliness.

    Wow. Thanks for the provocative post. Glad to have found you via Lydia Kang's site...

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    1. Thank you, Katie. Glad you found your way here.

      Isn't that why we all write a book in the first place? :)

      That's an interesting point you bring up. Self-publishing IS getting more and more popular day by day - and it's repercussions on the big guns of the industry does give room for thought. Hmm.

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  8. I am a new follower and I loved this post. I have read a few other post about what is going on, but I do not know enough about it to comment. I just have a personal belief that as readers we have an absolute right to our opinion of a book and a review is a review. I don't like bloggers or unpublished authors being ridiculed for reviewing. I also believe that a person can review a book that they do not like without attacking the author personally. I appreciate you taking the time to explain in detail this all out war that I keep hearing about.

    Glad to be a new follower.

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    1. Thank you for being a new follower, Melissa. Welcome!

      And you're absolutely right. Freedom of speech, remember? :)

      Delete
  9. Great post Bee, I was late to some of this bullshit and only recently checked out the author's post you mentioned.

    I was a little offended that my bookish thoughts weren't considered a "review". I put a lot time, effort and consideration into my reviews and while I'm totally against author bashing of any description, I do think we have the right to say that we like or don't like a book with a modicum of humour or snark. When I first started reviewing I did write a negative review that boiled down to "don't bother; I'd rather watch paint dry" I didn't attack the author but I found the book boring and I said so ... I'm entitled to my opinion. 4 years on I guess reading and reviewing the same book, I may word it a little more kindly but the gist would be the same LOL

    Reading the comments and replies after that author's post, the author wasn't intending to give the impression that our blogger/goodreads reviews weren't valued but unfortunately it wasn't worded very succinctly and that was the impression given.

    I know I don't care what the 'professional' reviewers in the major newspapers think of the novel that I'm going to buy. I care what some of my favourite, trusted bloggers think, how a particular book makes them feel ...

    PS I got your Secret Santa card early in the week, thank you so much. Love all your YA faves. The Sky Is Everywhere made my list too and The Hunger Games and I've got quite a few of the ones you mentioned on my TBR mountain :)

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    1. Ooh, Teddyree, I LOVE long comments!

      You're absolutely right. My thoughts on a book doesn't necessarily reflect my thoughts on the author. A negative review ISN'T a personal attack on the author. Heck, I don't even KNOW the author as such. It's just that the book didn't work for me. Doesn't mean that it won't work for someone else. Like I said, reading is subjective.

      Yes, I read her replies to the comments on the post and I realised that she probably didn't intend it that way, but I did not see her take the initiative to alter what she mentioned on the post. I mean, most people read the post not the comments, so maybe she could have added a footer and done the explaining in the post itself instead of in the comments section.

      And I'm so sorry about the card reaching you so late. We've got quite a few similar faves, I noticed from your card, too :)

      Delete

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