Saturday, February 12, 2011

I'd ignored all the tweeting furor last week about the author who dissed bloggers until Jeanne weighed in on her blog--these day I'm not going out of my way to find the drama since so much of it seems to cycle around anyway. How many times does anyone need to read the latest version of the Bloggers are Unprofessional story? But of course once I followed Jeanne's link to the offending post I stayed around to read most of the 180 outraged comments despite the fact that I despise pink font.

(I don't care if you write romances or chicklit: proudly proclaim your pink pride with something other than the font, okay? Do you really want to cause the pink eye, eye strain in your readers?)

And then I read the reviewer's post that the author claimed didn't "quantify" why she'd called the plot predictable and the characters one-dimensional as well as all the following comments, including the ones by Anonymous, who seemed so emotionally invested in the book and in putting its detractors in their place that any reasonable person would bet a dollar to a doughnut that Anony had to be the author. By the time I clicked back to the author's blog, looking for additional comments there, she'd deleted them all.

Which of course was her perogative.

And I figured I'd wasted enough time on this particular brouhaha.

But I woke up this morning thinking once again about this:

Oftentimes, the people who set up these kinds of blogs have never written a thing in their lives, except maybe a grocery list. Most are avid readers who think they are qualified to review someone else's work. So it's very sad when they go about damaging the image of upcoming small press and indie authors with the rubbish they write.

and

Please bear in mind that writers work very hard at their craft and the last thing they need is a smartass who makes subjective comments because they don't know how to do anything else.

(Do you see what I mean about the pink font?)

I blog because I'm an avid reader, not because I've published poetry, fiction, journalism. Frankly, I think being an avid reader pretty much takes care of all the qualifications necessary for having a book blog, where basically we all share our thoughts and opinions on what we've read. There are bloggers who gush or snark or journal their way through a book instead of writing the traditional review and they seem to do very well for themselves. There are others who aspire to the Platonic Ideal of reviewing by carefully following the dictates set forth periodically by spokesmembers of the book industry. They market and brand and promote and network and they do very well for themselves, too. There's no right way or wrong way to write about books on a book blog; different approaches will lead to different audiences, that's all.

I don't know this for a fact, but I would assume it's the bloggers who don't have a writing background of some sort that are the most amenable to accepting an ARC from a self-publishing author. I know, I know, more writers are going that route and it doesn't carry the stigma that it used to, but still, it's a two-fold risk: the writing may be wretched, and even if it's okay and you provide a qualified review, the author may not have learned how to handle anything less than whole-hearted adoration with the necessary grace. Rowena reviewed The Other Boyfriend unfavorably three months ago and Sylvia Massara still hasn't gotten over it!

Massara is right on one account: there are best-selling authors who receive bad reviews. She glissandos over the fact that many of these bad reviews come from professional reviewers, though, not just the ones with the grocery list-backgrounds that she disdains, because she's clearly trying to make herself feel better. (There's no accounting for taste, people; that's why some crap books sell.) She also glides right over the fact that as a self-publishing author she's not likely to receive any attention from the professionals.

Sylvia Massara has gotten lots of attention from everyone else this week. This morning I decided not to be one of the bloggers swearing I'd never read any of her books because she'd made such an ass of herself--not that I blame anyone who's put her on their do-not-read lists. I decided to cut her a bit of slack; to separate the writer from the work; to be objective about it all. You know, the way Sylvia Massara wants us to be.

I downloaded the free sample of The Other Boyfriend onto the Kindle.

And I immediately felt as if I were once again in writing workshop, critiquing an early draft to a story. A draft where a person exclaims a full sentence in disbelief while simultaneously taking a deep drag from her cigarette [a group discussion would ensue over whether that's even possible and if it is, should it be left in if it drags a portion of the readers from the story]; where a character who's just requested that her best friend find a boyfriend for a third woman will assume that the subsequent "excited cry" of "Mike" refers to an unexpected mention of a karaoke microphone instead of an eligible male [question: is this supposed to be funny or a hint that the main character's kind of stupid?]. A draft wherein you will find sentences such as this: "It was at times like this that I wished I was a smoker like Monica so I could throw an ashtray at his head, in the hope that it would unscramble his brain and spur him into action so he could free himself of the ball and chain." Said ball and chain is also referred to as the "Singapore Hag," which undoubtedly would lead into a discussion of whether the writer wants her readers to dislike her main character for engaging in such name-calling, and if so, what could she do to make her more interesting, via the writing itself or the character's personality, so that the readers will want to stick with the story. Or, if she's supposed to be a character the reader likes and relates to, a suggestion to take that bit out.

In a writing workshop I'd be okay with reading a manucript of this calibre. I'd be interested to see the next draft, to see what improvements had been made. I'd be happy to be one of the first readers who questions everything in its construction so that once the story's ultimately finished and published no one would ever mentally question or reword how it is told. But I have no interest in reading a published novel of this same quality, even less in blogging about it in a way that puts the author's precious feelings above anything else I might have to say about it.

Book reviews are for readers, not authors. Whining about the ones that don't offer the writer "constructive criticism" when such criticism should have taken place before publication is simply ridiculous.

The only constructive criticism left to offer a writer after the book is published is this: Don't insult your readers. Don't dismiss their opinions as rubbish. Don't accuse them of malice because they didn't like your book.

Negative reviews can often lead other readers to pick up your book, readers who may like it--but not if you've managed to alienate them all through your unprofessional behavior.

17 comments:

Wendy said...

Wow, I missed all of this somehow...but, like you, the rant about bloggers not knowing how to review when they post a negative review has gotten a little old with me. I find it laughable that anyone would think someone had to actually have written a book in order to give their opinion on it! I have a question...is this a self-published book? It looks like it can only be purchased in an electronic version published through Amazon's ebook system.

Bybee said...

I was once given a compliment about a grocery list I wrote.

SFP said...

Oh, Bybee, why does that not surprise me? :)

Wendy, I think all her books have been self-published, all as ebooks, and that the last one is also in a print-on-demand physical book format.

Nymeth said...

An excellent post, full of great points. I particularly appreciate what you said about there being no right or wrong way to approach blogging. It's something that should go without saying, but sometimes I feel that people respond to these controversies with alternate versions of what the role of a blogger "real is" which can be just as limiting in their own way.

Teresa said...

Great post! I'll admit I get extremely exasperated when I see people say that bloggers aren't qualified to share opinions because we (they assume) aren't writers ourselves. What does matter, as you say, is being an avid reader. Most avid readers get pretty darn good at separating the good from the bad and at knowing what they like.

And I love what you say about the variety among bloggers. I think that sometimes gets forgotten in these conversations. People (bloggers and writers alike) assume that the bloggers they know are representative of the whole of blogging. But we're not all the same--and that, in my opinion, is a very good thing.

Dorothy W. said...

Great post! Talk about bloggers' qualifications always annoys the hell out of me. To be qualified, a blogger needs a computer with internet access, and not even that, really, since you can blog from a phone or the library! What that means is that if bloggers want serious readers, they need to write well, but that's a different issue. I understand that it's hard for writers to read negative reviews, but it's part of the business of writing. I agree with your point that reviews are for readers, not writers. That's the end of the story as far as I'm concerned.

SFP said...

Nymeth: yes, I agree! I feel very frustrated at times by how bloggers themselves impose limits on how we are to write about books, how we are to conduct ourselves. I can understand industry folks trying to mold us to their liking, or authors, but I wish more bloggers would question whether our primary purpose is to market what they're most anxious to sell. Can't we just have a conversation about books and reading?

And I say that as someone with a real addiction to the just-published. I'm trying to get that under control this year. :)

SFP said...

Teresa and Dorothy, I'd imagine that most of us have been taking reading suggestions from non-writers for most of our lives. It's silly for people like Massara to carry on that this is unprofessional and a practice that no one ought to engage in. It's great fun to learn of a fabulous book from someone who's got the writing credentials and abiltiy down, but they can also do too good a job at selling you something that's really not to your taste.

I'd say over the last decade I've been more influenced by a nurse down in Florida than anyone else. She enthuses about books on a message board, not a blog, but I trust her taste and don't need more than an OMG, read this book from her for me to pay attention.

And mini-rant: if more people would read and write about the books that they truly enjoy instead of marketing whatever the publishers and publicists send their way, I'd have an easier time finding all the other bloggers out there with tastes that mesh well with my own.

Wendy said...

Thanks for clarifying how she publishes...I have to say that unfortunately my experiences with self-published authors have mostly been like this - they are very thin-skinned, don't accept criticism well, and often go off on bloggers who don't give them sterling reviews. It is why, in large part, I now rarely (if ever) accept review books directly from self-published authors. It is sad, because there are SOME self-published authors who are very professional and who are writing good stuff, but the bad apples spoil the whole bunch, as they say.

joemmama said...

Very well said!

Karenlibrarian said...

I think anyone who reads a book is entitled to an opinion -- if you're not writing for your readers, who are you writing for? She needs to grow up and realize that authors who live in glass houses should stay off the internet if they don't want to read bad reviews.

And that pink font is REALLY annoying.

Frisbee said...

Fascinating post. I don't tweet and knew NOTHING about this. Alice Hoffman did something similar a year or two ago, as did Alain de Boton (?). Tweets and blogs are just so fast. If this romance writer had had to write a letter to the editor in the days of yore, she might have had second thoughts. I don't know this author, but any review is probably better than no review for her. I did feel sorry for her when she said she "felt bad."

But bloggers should be able to say what they think because we're writing for ourselves. What a rumpus about nothing! Maybe she'll get more readers now, though.

Jeanne said...

I resisted the urge to respond to her jab about grocery lists with the old joke about fans wanting to read their favorite authors' laundry lists...

LifetimeReader said...

What a beautifully thoughtful post. One of the things I like best about book blogs is the very personal voice that comes through bloggers' posts. That makes blog reviews quite different from "professional" reviews--but that is the whole point!

Mike B. said...

Great post. Talk about misguided anger. If this author allows one or even a handful of poor reviews get her this upset, then I don't have much faith in her career. I know writers are oftentimes thinskinned, this is taking it too far.

Stefanie said...

I missed all the excitement on this one and I can't say that I am sorry either. Sounds like a writer who needs to work on growing a thicker skin. All writers get bad reviews and to make blanket statements about all bloggers or all critics is simply ridiculous. I really enjoyed your thoughtful post Susan!

Sarah said...

Well said! I've found the book blogging community to be a breath of fresh air. More and more professional outlets provide only positive reviews - not wanting to waste page space on reviews of "bad books" - so book blogosphere is one of the few places where readers can find an honest discourse on books and the reading life. To your point, there are different ways of reaching an audience and all metnods - blogs, traditional reviews, tweets - are helpful in getting books to the them. My heart goes to the author whose work came under fire, but the fact that bloggers have the freedom to discuss what is good and bad in literature in their own space in their own way is what makes book blogs so special, and so important.