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?