Monday, January 23, 2012

The Unwashed Blogger Masses: A Rant

I am AnimeJune.

And I am one of the unwashed blogger masses.

Let me explain. One of the most glorious things about the internet, is that is has given everyone a voice. Virtually anyone can start up a blog, give it a title, and start writing about whatever they please. Out of this has grown a thriving reviewer community - not just for books, but for about every product on the planet - plays, videogames, TV shows, movies, you name it.

Now, most artists and authors see bloggers as an untapped, budget-friendly goldmine. Give a few free ARCs away, have a reviewer give a positive review, and then another twelve bloggers will read that post and try the book themselves and realize they love it, and then that's twelve more reviews, with thirty bloggers reading those blogs and deciding to try the book themselves. And so on and so forth

The thing is, some authors have not learned how to deal with negative reviews. Writing takes an absurdly puffed-up sense of confidence - believe me, I've had it. So a scathing review out of nowhere can pop that bubble pretty damn fast, and some authors just can't cope. And, unfortunately, it is far easier to take out your rage on an "amateur" reviewer than it is a seasoned journalist who says the same thing.

There was an episode of Saturday Night Live recently, where Daniel Radcliffe plays an oblivious internet artist who "went to a school with no grades" and just assumes that everyone loves him. In the sketch, he attempts to draw Chinese calligraphy while simultaneously doing an Irish gig, and when he sits down, he blithely says, "I tried, and therefore no one can criticize me!"

I fear that there are a lot of authors who secretly feel that way - who feel, I actually wrote a BOOK, and therefore no one can criticize me! Who somehow believe that making it past the thorny tangle of agents and editors and slushpiles to join the ranks of the Printed Word renders one exempt from opinion. They have SURVIVED submissions. They have ENDURED revisions. Their experience with negativity is henceforth over, and they and their book lived happily ever after! I'm sorry, but that's not how it works.

Now, there have been quite a few kerfuffles recently in the YA and Romance communities about negative reviews, and I've even posted about the inevitable pattern these responses to negativity take. In a nutshell, these replies always follow along the same lines:
  • "You're personally attacking me!"
  • "You're a stupid loser poo-poo head who writes in her basement!"
  • "How many books have YOU had published? Thought not!"
  • "You're just jealous!"
  • "You have no idea how much work goes into writing a book!"
  • "All these other people on Amazon liked it!"
  • "Nobody reads your blog anyway!"

But what I've recently taken the most exception towards is Maggie Steifvater's post about what makes a review a review. It starts off reasonably enough, stating that bloggers should never make reviews personal (as in, make personal remarks about the author - their sexuality, personal life, number of cats, education, etc. etc.). That is 100% correct.

But then she starts to veer off:

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.

By now you'll have noticed the neat, little words she drops - "academic," "professional." Nice, clean, bland picket-fence words - so pretty and nice as they clearly separate "us" (the nose-picking, skinned-knee, orphan urchin bloggers) from "them" (the fair, thorough, prized and respected academic few, consuming their tea and cucumber sandwiches). And then, she goes on to condescendingly explain to us that we are not, in fact, true reviewers:

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.

You'll notice that this paragraph only mentions the negative blogger reviews as being "not reviews" - by the very nature of them being negative. No one ever takes issue with the "professionalism" of someone who writes a positive review. No one ever accuses them of being unqualified, or jealous, or tells them they write for a dinky little quarterly that nobody reads.

This post may be swaddled with reasonable-sounding rhetoric but at the heart of it is yet another author who reacts to negative reviewers by attacking their qualifications.

And have I mentioned how much I love it when authors accuse a book review of being biased? "How dare this reviewer express an opinion about a book in their book review! Opinions have no place in reviews!" A book review is the explanation of a bias - by reading the book, you become biased for or against, and a review is simply an explanation of how you got to that point.

Because of the Internet, everyone has a voice. But because anyone can do it, it allows people to diminish the voices of those they don't like. Just because we live in a society where everyone has the opportunity to perform a certain action, doesn't mean the action is meaningless.

Do you want to tell the new mother and her day-old infant that she's hasn't done anything that special? That literally billions of people, rich and poor, since the dawn of time have done the same thing a billion times over? Does that really diminish the importance? Or your child learning to read for the first time? Again - it's been done before. The vast majority of people in North America can already do it. That's not really an achievement or a special gift, now is it?

So I'm afraid author comments that the members of the blogger community are simply representatives of the unwashed, uneducated, common masses because we don't have the same literary gatekeepers doesn't hold a lot of water with me. We're the ones who do it for free. We're the ones who do it on top of our day jobs, in spite of our day jobs, staying up late, because we love it. Because we are passionate about books and reading. So who are you to say our voices don't matter - unless they say something that you like?


  1. I gave a little whoop of celebration when I read this! I completely agree with you! Right on Right On!

  2. Hear hear! Great post. I think authors need to take a 24 hour breather after reading a negative review of their work and realize they SHOULD NOT reply. I'll read a book after reading a negative review, but I will AVOID AN AUTHOR like the plague when they go off on this kind of ego trippy nonsense.

  3. I came here after reading your post on the Heartbreakers blog. I liked the post and when I read you were Canadian too I came to visit. The link to you on Heartbreakers is broken. Someone needs to go into the HTML and fix it. Not everyone will know how to read the URL and cut off the extra code.

    PS- Do you really need word verification? I need a damned spyglass to read this stupid thing. It looks like someone stepped on all the letters. Just tell me what they say and I will type them in.

    Damned word verification. I only wanted to let you know about the broken link. Two tries at reading this stupid thing and I still can't get it right. No good deed goes unpunished.

  4. Heh heh. She should read Mark Twain on James Fenimore Cooper!

  5. Right on! You've got to take the good with the bad! It is an opinion. When I read reviews, I just use them as one element that goes into my decision to buy a book. They can either accept the criticism and learn from it, or disregard it and move on. EVERYONE is entitled to their opinion.

  6. Great post! Agree with you 1000% Some authors only embarrass themselves with their words of non-wisdom.

  7. Rebs --> Thank you!

    Mepamelia --> Exactly. It's the knee-jerk response when they react without thinking that's usually so terrible. Most writers can calm down if they let some time get in between to give them perspective.

    Laura --> Sorry about your problems trying to upload comments to the site! :(

    Joy --> Gotta love Mark Twain.

    Shelley B --> and what they don't realize is, they can't change anyone's opinion by arguing. That doesn't work like a time machine and take them back to before the person read the book and got that first impression.

    KarLynP --> And the thing they don't even realize is, is if they didn't say anything, their reputation wouldn't be hurt one bit. Every author gets bad reviews!

  8. This is an awesome post. (I got here randomly by searching for the SNL skit you referenced for use in a post about Hampshire College and the fact that people only point out the idiots who come out of schools with no grades, rather than the success stories - but that's a rant of my own.) It may simply have something to do with the fact that humor and snark are extremely powerful tools, and in many ways a sharp, scathing, hilarious review is MUCH harder to ignore than a dry, dusty, "academic" negative review.

    But I especially appreciate the point you're making about how quick authors are to attack the credentials of bloggers when their OWN credentials as authors are exactly as tenuous. (Seems to me that rare is the professional, best-selling, multi-book author who takes the time to snarl at bloggers for being "mean," but maybe I'm not reading enough book blogs?) Just because you have a blog doesn't mean you have anything to say; it is ALSO true that just because you write a book doesn't mean you have anything to say...and at the end of the day, writers who feel like they must discredit anyone who puts out a negative review are simply demonstrating that they have no faith in the merits of their own work and its ability to stand up under scrutiny. Sigh.