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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

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.
beth_bernobich
Oct. 8th, 2010 12:43 pm (UTC)
My first attempt at a reply was long. Then I decided this felt too much like "author explaining her book" and cut it back to the polite minimum.

And to answer your other question, I will be at WFC.