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On reading and being reviewed

It's accepted wisdom that authors are not to respond to reviews. There's a good reason for this wisdom.

My first interaction with fiction was as a reader; I was an avid, almost devout, bibliophile. Books and stories took me to a totally different place. It was, however, an internal space, a way of reaching into myself and embiggening my sense of the world.

I have an entirely irrational attachment to books and to reading, and almost nothing can make me fall off the deep end of ranting like an adverse reaction to a book. I'm not capable of reading fiction at an intellectual distance, because if I'm held at a distance, I lose interest in the book. (The big advantage to paperbacks over ebooks? If you need to throw one across the room at a wall, you're not risking hundreds of dollars of technology in a moment of unfortunate reaction. Deleting files is somehow not the same.)

As a writer, I realize on an intellectual level that the books are not actually written to piss me off. That's just an unfortunate side-effect. As a writer, I also realize that some of what I write is going to piss off unknown readers, or bore them, which is possibly worse. As a writer, I realize it can be painful when someone dismisses -- or rages at -- months and months of hair-pulling labour and struggle.

But.

I want to be able to express the full range of reading experience. I don't want to be silenced when I can't stand something, and I don't want to silence myself, either. In some ways, arguing about the merits of a particular book or books is an extension of the reading of said book, for me.

And of course I can't do that when the author is involved in the discussion. Well, okay, I can, but it really is like publicly telling someone their baby is ugly and moronic. If I do want to be able to rant about my own experience, I don't want to do it so much that I'm willing to personally attack the author -- and if the author is standing right beside me, there's no way to separate them from their book.

Which is the reason I absent myself entirely from any discussion of any of my writing. I want readers to have the same freedom that I want as a reader.

However…

(You knew this was coming, because it always does).

It's becoming harder and harder in the age of social media to avoid certain things. For instance, GoodReads. I've never opened a GoodReads account because I'm afraid to see what every or anyone is saying about my books; there's no way for me to enter that discussion. I will actively search out my reviews maybe three times a year, but other than that, I try not to read them. If they're good, I worry that my current WIP will only be a disappointment; if they're bad, I feel like there's no point to the current WIP. Yes, I realize this is ridiculous.

I know that some blog reviewers are happy to have me tweet or post links to their review sites when they've reviewed my work because it might lead my readers to their site as a whole--but this is tricky when I'm trying to avoid reading and commenting on said review. A handful of times now, reviewers have emailed me links to their reviews, which clearly means that they wouldn't be upset if I read them, but even then, I'm not sure if they would welcome my response or not.

The thing is, I'm grateful when I find reviews. I'm grateful that people are reading the book and taking the time to write it up (whichever book that happens to be). Even if they didn't like it. And I want them to know that, but at the same point in time, I don't want to be a pressure or a lurking cloud of guilt.

So I'm wondering if the lines have blurred, if things have changed enough because there's just so much more communication, that it's permissible for authors to note the review, or acknowledge it without somehow being a damper.


Oh, and before I forget, I'm going to WFC in Columbus, Ohio this year. Yes, this is a bit last-minute. Is anyone else going?

Comments

( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
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hhertzof
Oct. 8th, 2010 01:52 am (UTC)
I'm going there for OVFF the weekend before, but decided I couldn't afford to spend the entire week there. One of these days we must meet up again.
vsherbie
Oct. 8th, 2010 02:01 am (UTC)
A review
My husband and I are currently reading City of Night out loud.
Tonight we got to Lefty's disappearance.
I cried, even though I've known it was going to happen for, what, ten books?
Now I'm looking at the rest of the pages still to go and thinking... Duster.. Rath..

There's a monster at the end of this book, and I don't think It's going to be Grover this time.
msagara
Oct. 8th, 2010 06:55 am (UTC)
Re: A review
Probably not Grover, no...

But if I did ever insert a Sesame Street character into one of my books, it would be OSCAR THE GROUCH, because he was my all-time favourite.

The scene which you mention, btw? It took me six hours to write 400 words of it. This is very, very slow for me, but--I had about the same reaction writing it as you did reading it.

Thank you :)
jovieve
Oct. 8th, 2010 02:02 am (UTC)
I'm not capable of reading fiction at an intellectual distance, because if I'm held at a distance, I lose interest in the book.

That's it exactly! I've been blogging on and off for several months, and while I can write easily about my reactions to film or tv, I can't write about the books I read. I just can't look at them objectively, because reading is too much of an immersive experience. (Firefly, too, actually, because I just climbed way too far inside that show.)

I'm also with you about throwing books across the room. Generally, books are sacred, but there was one... it was annoying chicklit with a whiny protagonist, and I was hanging in there, but when I got to the sentence "'Aaaaa!' I screamed, and swooned." I closed it and threw it across the room.

And yes, I realise I'm totally missing the larger point, but I may have to come back to that one when my brain is functional.
msagara
Oct. 8th, 2010 06:56 am (UTC)
And yes, I realise I'm totally missing the larger point, but I may have to come back to that one when my brain is functional.

I don't think it's really missing the larger point, though; you're commenting on something in the post itself, and in a way that makes me think about how I review. Hmmm.
rarelytame
Oct. 8th, 2010 02:09 am (UTC)
I understand why you avoid interacting with your readers in that way, but I just want to give you a flip side to it.

Some years ago, before I understood that authors could--would--find my livejournal, if I mentioned them or their books, I wrote an unhappy review of one of your books. You may not remember (and my livejournal was listed by another name back then) but you contacted me to thank me for it, and we exchanged a couple of emails, in which we discussed your Sun Sword books, which I loved.

Before that contact (which was kind and thoughtful, not confrontational, or threatening or negative in any way) you were just a faceless writer, and I was a disappointed former fan.

After it, you were a person. A person I respected and admired enough to want to try to support, even if it meant buying the books I didn't love, in hopes that your success would enable you to again write more of the books I did love. Which happened. (Also, it turned out I loaned those books I didn't love to family members, who then became fans, because they liked what I didn't.)

Contact with your readers can definitely be a good thing, even when you're contacting them about a negative review. You just have to be sensitive about the way you approach a person.

Of course, I have an opposing story, too. I no longer write up my thoughts on books anymore because another author posted a nasty reply to what was little more than a casual "This really wasn't the kind of book I enjoy." Really nasty, complete with a personal attack. Hurt feelings, I guess. So I've stopped talking publicly about books because I don't want to hurt the authors of books I don't love. I also don't buy any books from that author anymore at all, not even the ones I know I'd like. Because she became a person, too, instead of a faceless author--a hateful, unkind, unpleasant person, who I didn't want to see one dime of my money. I continue to recommend your books to people, and when I add that you were incredibly nice to me, too, that seems to make a difference. In contrast, I warn people away from the other author's books, and there are so many great books out there, I don't even have to say why. All I have to say is "Oh, jeez, that woman was SO unpleasant to me! Buy Some Other Title by Some Other Author, instead." And they usually do.

So, to some up what became an awfully long response (sorry!): if the lines have blurred at all, it's that the internet has made authors into "real people" for a lot of readers. They have made the world small, so we can get to know the people writing our books. (To some extent, anyway.)

I don't eat at restaurants where the waiters are rude to me, and I tip extra to the hair stylist who's kind and smiles at my son. And now I don't buy books from writers who are jerks. I don't have to. There are so many good books to read.

msagara
Oct. 8th, 2010 07:24 am (UTC)
Some years ago, before I understood that authors could--would--find my livejournal, if I mentioned them or their books, I wrote an unhappy review of one of your books. You may not remember (and my livejournal was listed by another name back then) but you contacted me to thank me for it, and we exchanged a couple of emails, in which we discussed your Sun Sword books, which I loved.

I do remember this! When Cast in Shadow came out, I was a little nervous about how people would react to it. I'd tried to use a different name so it would give readers a bit of hint that the books would be different -- but, well. Nervous. So I did actually go looking specifically for reader reactions to that book, and then for the reactions of people who had also read the West novels. Probably so I could grovel, which I realize is undignified.

And I could totally understand your reaction to the book, and I think I also wanted to say that I had no intention of giving up on the West novels -- so I did email you (although it took a couple of hours before I did because I'm always nervous about intruding on book discussions).

But I like reading other people's reviews or opinions of the various books in my genre. I like the discussions and the annoyance and the joy. So I dislike whoever the other author is on principle, because it means there's one less person talking about books on-line, and I do a lot of my reading/socializing/book discussion on-line =/
_ocelott_
Oct. 8th, 2010 02:12 am (UTC)
I don't mind if an author stops in to say "thanks for the review," regardless of whether I said lovely or nasty things. As long as you're not trying to tell me my opinion is WRONG WRONG SO WRONG HOW COULD I MISINTERPRET AND SAY SUCH MEAN THINGS, we're all good. (Yes, this has happened.) It's actually pretty common for authors to link to reviews of their work via twitter or blog, so I think that much has become pretty commonplace. If you'd like to thank the reviewer without inserting yourself into the conversation, you could always e-mail the reviewer. I've had a few authors do that.
jovieve
Oct. 8th, 2010 02:28 am (UTC)
It doesn't only happen with books. I saw an appalling play recently. It took all my civility not to get up and walk out of it. I reviewed it in my blog, and explained why it sucked. Someone involved in the show commented, yelled at me in all caps and then quoted every single solitary good review they'd ever gotten. I chose to find that hilarious intead of offensive.

It did, however, take a certain level of bad to get me to post a review like that. For most things, I try to be much more even-handed. A play may not have been my cup of tea, but I know that a lot of work and effort went in to it, I know it's hard to get people out to the theatre, and I don't want to harm someone's livelihood.

And I think I'm wandering off the topic again. I should really just go to bed. :)

(no subject) - rowyn - Oct. 8th, 2010 11:54 am (UTC) - Expand
msisolak
Oct. 8th, 2010 02:24 am (UTC)
I can't review books that I don't like/love. I figure word of mouth is what my favorite books need to survive and I will contribute my share that way. Besides, there are far too many books out there to focus on the not-so-good and most of the time, I don't want to relive my pain via a review. (Don't ask me about D. Brown. I still have horrors over TDVC and how I continued to turn pages despite his infodumps, wooden characters, and--oh. I said I was not going there. Never. Mind. But it really, really ticked me off. :P)

I'll be at WFC and hope to meet you there!
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catvalente
Oct. 8th, 2010 03:37 am (UTC)
I'm going!
msagara
Oct. 8th, 2010 07:28 am (UTC)
Great! Are you very booked up, or do you have free time to try to get together?
(no subject) - catvalente - Oct. 8th, 2010 01:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
beth_bernobich
Oct. 8th, 2010 03:51 am (UTC)
I had the very odd experience yesterday of a reviewer contacting me, not only to point out his review, but to ask what I thought of it. I sent back a brief, polite reply, of course. But the exchange puzzled me a bit.
msagara
Oct. 8th, 2010 07:29 am (UTC)
I've had three of these, and I have responded (although I admit that once I start, brief is not my strong suit). One turned into an interview. But yes, it seemed a bit odd in that many reviewers often feel strongly about an author's non-presence.
(no subject) - beth_bernobich - Oct. 8th, 2010 12:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
mtlawson
Oct. 8th, 2010 04:14 am (UTC)
I have an entirely irrational attachment to books and to reading, and almost nothing can make me fall off the deep end of ranting like an adverse reaction to a book. I'm not capable of reading fiction at an intellectual distance, because if I'm held at a distance, I lose interest in the book.

Yes, this. I'm not one for throwing books at a wall --I shudder when I see how my kids have "loved" their Harry Potter books to death-- but I get emotionally invested in novels. I've even been known to put a novel down for months at a time because I see the train wreck coming for the characters, and I can't bear to watch. For me, if I can't connect with the story, it doesn't work for me.

And of course I can't do that when the author is involved in the discussion. Well, okay, I can, but it really is like publicly telling someone their baby is ugly and moronic. If I do want to be able to rant about my own experience, I don't want to do it so much that I'm willing to personally attack the author -- and if the author is standing right beside me, there's no way to separate them from their book.

For this reason alone I don't post reviews. If you see my comments in various places, you'll know some of my likes and dislikes, but I don't officially review what I've read. It's like of like having someone find out that I read SF/F and they ask, "What's good?" You can reply by trying to qualify what they like and suggesting something similar, but I've found that people who ask me that question are looking for a snap response. That drives me nuts.

Of course, I do have opinions about what I read, but I don't like to trumpet them in public. I have a lot of respect for people who work hard at putting prose on the paper, and I don't like to demean their efforts by an LJ post that could easily be taken out of context.

So I'm wondering if the lines have blurred, if things have changed enough because there's just so much more communication, that it's permissible for authors to note the review, or acknowledge it without somehow being a damper.

I think it does become harder in the internet age to keep that distance. You can't help but see the reviews (or the star rating) on places like Amazon when you visit, and the line of separation between author and reader/fan blurs to the point of non-existence. (Hell, look at this response right here.) At the same time, we can't put the genie back in the bottle, so we have to find our own ways of coping.

Oh, and before I forget, I'm going to WFC in Columbus, Ohio this year. Yes, this is a bit last-minute. Is anyone else going?

This is going to drive me bananas before it's all over. No, I can't go because of finances, and this is probably the closest WFC or WorldCon is ever going to be to my physical location (only 120 miles up I-71). If you get the chance and you like German food, I hear Schmidt's is really good.
barbarienne
Oct. 8th, 2010 04:32 am (UTC)
::raises hand::

I haven't been to a WC or WFC in a couple of years, so this will be a real treat for me.
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mizkit
Oct. 8th, 2010 12:55 pm (UTC)
It's in San Diego next year? *saves pennies*
karenmiller
Oct. 8th, 2010 07:58 am (UTC)
The problem with interaction, I think, is the muddying of the waters. Reviewers must be free to state opinions without currying favour, and writers must be free to write what moves them the best they can without trying to earn brownie points.

The risk of it getting ickily incestuous and mutually self serving is way too great, imho. Nod and smile in passing, I say. And go no further than that.
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