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The Resurrection of the Fan Culture. Is there room for both...

Penguin war

 

I came online in the 1990s. At that time, there existed really three avenues for finding romance books – Romantic Times, The Romance Reader, and All About Romance.  Previously I was involved in a book club of one.  I knew of no one else in my circle that read romances and I had a hard time figuring out what books actually were romances and which were big books that had relationships but everyone was really fucked up in them.  Worse, I had limited funds and limited access to a library.

What I knew of romances and romance authors before I discovered the online world was taught to me by the few issues of Romantic Times that I had caught a glimpse of now and then.  Romance authors were glamorous and lived in palatial spreads in Texas.  I was pretty sure that they lived some Dallas lifestyle complete with stretch limousines and personal chefs.

When I got online, I discovered that there were other people who read romances and that there was a world other than Romantic Times where people talked about books that they didn’t like as well as the ones that they did.  That was pretty revelatory for me.  What I didn’t realize was that romance authors weren’t used to people talking about they books they didn’t like either.  Back then the entire romance reading community was a fan culture meaning that the primary discussion of romance books was full of praise.

Publishers fostered a close relationship with readers by having authors pen “letters” to readers. Romantic Times never gave lower than three stars and even then, not to big name authors. Part of this may have been the result of those within the romance community feeling run down by those outside the community. Romance has always been looked at as a literary ghetto – where only the impoverished intellectuals and writers who couldn’t make it in the real literary world went to pen their lavender scented missives.

Fan culture has always had some thread of us against the world. You could see it back in the 1990s and you see it now, particularly with the indie authors.  Fan culture helps to grow a community.  It helps the creators within that community feel energized and empowered.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with fan culture.  I’m going to repeat this. There is nothing wrong with fan culture. Fan culture is important. It plays a vital role in the survival of a community.

But not every part of the community wants to be part of the fan culture and let me explain why.

When I first started getting online, I had been reading romances for about a decade but I didn’t have a book a day habit. I couldn’t afford it. I had my favorites – Garwood, Devereaux, Lindsey – and I waited anxiously to purchase or check those out from a library when I could. But many libraries don’t devote a lot of resources to romance books and because I had limited resources, I needed each book to be a good one and if I wasted a bus trip to the library on a book that wasn’t good or money on a book that disappointed me, I was SOL for that month.  I needed a place where I could get real critique, not such a paragraph summary in a fanzine or an author’s friend saying her bestie’s work was great. My pocketbook and my resources needed to make smart decisions.  Books were expensive and a luxury for me.  Every dollar spent at Waldens was meaningful. I fully embraced The Romance Reader and All About Romance because it did two things for me.  It made me take chances on books I wouldn’t have ordinarily read because I was financially unable to and it steered me away from books I knew I wouldn’t respond well to.

The ladies who ran these sites, out of their own pockets, did a huge service for me as a reader. I valued their honest opinions and yes, even laughed at some of their reviews as they echoed the frustration I had experienced in my own reading life.

As TRR and AAR grew, so did the discontent with these sites. Authors began to say that the negative reviews were taking money from their children’s mouths.  Authors compared their books to babies.  They cautioned us to be nice because if you can’t say anything nice then nothing should be said at all.  Authors worked too hard, they claimed, to suffer this kind of treatment.  The treatment, of course, was the negative review and the comments in message boards from readers to readers telling them to stay away from a certain book.

What was happening, though, was an amplification of conversations that were taking place in yahoo groups and emails and in-person book clubs. And the authors and readers began to fight. Authors didn’t want critical reviews and readers wanted the right to say what they did about the books themselves.

And then the tide turned. Many, many authors agreed that the review space was best left to the readers and that what a reader said wasn’t an indictment of an author but of the book.  The book wasn’t a baby because really, are you going to sell your baby?  A negative review wasn’t taking money from the table of a child any more than a positive review was putting money on the table.

Moreover, allowing critical reviews placed the romance genre on the same field as all other literature. Romance authors were tough broads who did not need to be cosseted by their fans.  They felt strongly that their work was as good as anything else being published and as such were subject to the same scrutiny as any other book, whether it be critically panned as many literary fiction works were or highly praised as a few literary fiction works were.

In a genre seeking respectability, embrace of criticism wasn’t only important it was vital.

In 2011, 50 Shades was published and it brought with it an influx of indie authors and indie bloggers. In a little over a year, many unique and interesting blogs have been created. Many of these new blogs believe that there are rules to blogging and reviewing. Only give out 3 star and above reviews. Do not provide a negative review.  Do whatever you can to promote authors. Be careful of the author’s feelings. In many circumstances blogs have become an extension of an authorial promotional team.  And that’s okay.  One particular popular blog states outright they are a promotional place only.  Others have notices in the sidebar that negative comments toward authors are not permitted.  They are signaling their  intentions to their audience fairly and openly.

But for those of us who believe that reviews are for readers and that the audience for our blogs is readers, the rules set forth by promotional bloggers don’t fit.

The problem is that for many promotional bloggers and those authors that have come to publish during this time period a critical review seems like a personal attack. It’s designed to bring down the author. It’s designed to ruin the author’s day/career/life.  And it comes as a surprise when these bloggers are told that reviews have nothing to do with authors.  Because for these promotional bloggers, the review is designed to either promote the book or provide helpful criticism to the author.

Let’s unpack.

1) Promote the book.  Promotion of a book isn’t the intent behind reviews here or at many blogs. It’s merely a by product.

2) Helpful criticism. I would never be so presumptuous to assume that my review can provide helpful criticism for an author’s writing. For one, maybe what works for me doesn’t work for 100,000 other readers.  Second, the book is already done. How can my views on it provide help to an author?  I’m not beta reading.  I’m reading at the end of the publication process. My opinion should mean squat to the author.

3)  Meaningful review.  There’s no question that in today’s world of algorithms and metrics driving discovery that numerosity of reviews matters more than the quality of them.  It’s better for an author to have 100 reviews with five stars than it is to have 10 really thoughtful, insightful reviews.  But for bloggers that give out nothing more than 4 or 5 star reviews, how do you actually amplify the signal to the books you really love more than others?  And if you say nothing about a book, does your readership presume you hated it even if you don’t even know about it or haven’t even read it?  And if you give out a range of 3-5 star reviews, doesn’t everyone know that 3 stars means it is a shitty book?  Who is to say that the 3 star review isn’t taking away food from a child’s mouth as much as a 2 star review or a 1 star review?

There are pitfalls to each review strategy and not one is superior to others. Not the “I’m giving it all positive reviews” and the “We are critical as hell here. Beware.”

4) Think of the author.  I don’t think of the author because I don’t grade a book on whether the author is old or young. Active or not active. Employed outside the home or writes for a living.  I don’t think of how long it takes to write a book or how much effort the author has put into it. Should I grade a book lower because it takes less time to write or because the author only spent three weeks on it? Should I grade a book by an author who is twenty on a different scale than an author who is forty? Should I ask the author if she had any personal problems while writing the book and then take that into account?   No, no, and no.  I can’t know all of these things about the author of the book I’m reading and reviewing. It would be impossible.  To take into account all of those things would provide highly inconsistent and even unfair grades.   In order to review all books the same, they have to be viewed in a vacuum.  The book has risen sua sponte from booklandia where it was tended by robots and other non sentient things.  To start thinking about the author when I write a review would result in havoc and it wouldn’t be fair to the authors or the readers.

Further, in the author reader relationship, the reader is the only one not making money out of the sale of a book. The blogger might get freebies. The author gets a percentage of the retail. But the reader gets nothing.  In this equation, the reader is always going to be more important to me than the author.  Because I presume that the reader works hard in her life, that she has struggles, that she puts forth the best effort she can in everything she does.  Her reward from me should not be a review premised on how I felt about the author but how I felt about the book itself.

There is room for the promotional blogger. I know that they provide a valuable service to authors and I have no problem with them so long as they are clear about their purpose.  But I would hope that those promotional bloggers make room for me as well.  And allow the blogs who do provide critical reviews the same courtesy.  We provide a service to readers and while our approaches may be different, our passion is the same. We both love books.  We just show it differently. And that’s okay.

 

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

38 Comments

  1. May
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 04:52:10

    Love when you talk about the good old day. When I found The Romance Reader, it was like I was a kid in candy store. It was the first time I could get an honest opinion about romance, which at that time I could only get by asking my friends. And that is the reason I will always support the website/blog that provide honest review.

    On other hand, I noticed a lot of ‘promotional blog’. I love it, too especially when they talked about the books that I already loved. I loved to be in place with like mind people.

    I think Internet are big enough for both groups. Just respect the differences. And if possible clearly distinguish the type.

    What concern me was something I read somewhere that if you want to ask for a review copy, you have to be nice (in term of nice opinion). For the website like Dear Author I don’t think that would be the problem for you to get a review copy but for the new review blog/site that may sway them to be a promotional blog because it would be much easier to get support.

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  2. library addict
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 06:43:11

    I’ve checked a few newer blogs, but it’s difficult to read enough entries to decide which reviewers will or will not work for me. It takes time to get to know a blogger’s taste and how it matches up to mine.

    I like reviews where the reviewer states what does and doesn’t work and why. Tropes the reviewer dislikes may be just what I’m looking for. As we’ve discussed before no reader or reviewer is without bias. So being as transparent as possible is much appreciated.

    Despite the plethora of authors behaving badly in my time on the web, I still believe most authors threat their careers as professionals. Meaning they understand not every book will work for every reader and they never tell a reader she read the book wrong or that they obviously don’t understand their writing genius if the reader didn’t like a book.

    For every single autobuy author I have there is more than one books of theirs that didn’t work for me. Most authors understand this is just a fact of life.

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  3. Imelda Evans
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 07:00:52

    This is fascinating, Jane. I don’t have the history you do in the Romance field, so I didn’t realise that this was a new thing, this ‘fan culture’. Thank you for articulating it so clearly.

    I’m a writer and a reader and as the former, of course, I appreciate the idea of fans (don’t know that I can claim to have any yet, but I like the idea). But as a reader – and I was a reader first and remain one – it is VITAL to have review sites that offer honest reviews.

    Of course, I would prefer it if people always loved my books, but a considered negative review is valuable to me as a writer for the insight into the reading experience it can provide. I can’t read my books as a reader can. I can try, but I can never do it completely, as I know them too well from the other side. And (not that this is the concern of the reviewer) I actually think considered negative reviews aren’t even necessarily bad for sales. As a reader, I sometimes buy books that a reviewer really didn’t like, just to see if I share their opinion.

    I love what you and reviewers like you do. I want to know what you really think. And I value it because I can’t do it myself. Partly because it is an ethical and social minefield for me, as a writer, to review my peers. But also because I’m no good at it. I never have been any good at reviewing books. It is a real skill and one I respect and value too much in those who are good at it to cheapen it by my half-arsed attempts.

    I think promotional sites are fine too, as long as they make it clear. For me, when I talk books on my own blog, it’s with the stated understanding that I only talk about books I can rave about. But I would be very sad to see the demise of sites like yours. Long live honest reviews!

    Imelda

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  4. Elaine
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 07:04:49

    For a short while, several decades ago, I bought Romantic Times off the newstand. I quit when I realized that they essentially only gave As and B+s to novels. The magazine was only useful to me in so far as I could find out new stuff by my must read authors.

    Now, I mainly go to Amazon if I want to check out a new author. Regardless of rating, if a book has a certain number of reviews, I can usually tell whether it has a chance to work for me. If the book has a digital sample, I can also read it. Although I try not to be stuffy, I do require a certain base level of prose competence or the prose style will keep throwing me out of the story.

    This past week, I acquired another resource. My library has a lot of books in Overdrive, and I finally worked through all the permutations of sending books to my Kindle as well as reading epub formats on my iPad. I use the epub reader through the Overdrive app which is a little clunky to figure out to start, but is working pretty well for me now. If I see a new author I want to try, it’s a lot cheaper starting with an electronic copy since I am not even out the money for the gas for the trip to the library to pick up a hold.

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  5. DB Cooper
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 07:27:52

    Jane. This is one of the reasons I enjoy reading DA so much. Thank you!

    also, I really love it when you stop and say “Let’s unpack” !

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  6. Sirius
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 07:58:00

    Word to everything you said Jane – I also think that Internet has enough space for all kinds of reviews and blogs.

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  7. Jane Lovering
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 08:05:12

    I am an author. And I like 1* reviews.

    Well, I don’t ‘like’ like them, I don’t embrace them to my bosom and cosset them, they hurt like hell at the time when I get them, of course, just as it would if you called my child ugly. He may well be hideous, but only I am allowed to say that. But, to continue the child analogy, if my child actually is ugly, you should be allowed to say that he is, maybe, unlikely to become a cover model, or such, if that is your opinion.

    But, if you have given me a 1* review, you have read my book. You have disliked it, probably (given the 1*) quite a lot. But you have READ IT. You had a strong enough opinion of it to want to warn other readers away from the turgid mess you consider it to be. You also make my Amazon Reviews far more spread across the star-ratings, so I don’t look like an author who got all her friends to review and give 5*. You make me look honest. I don’t want to be pandered to by people who think ‘oh, she won an award, all her books must be terrific’ – not because they aren’t, obviously, but because I want you to think for yourselves about how the book makes you feel. If it makes you feel like throwing up…well… that’s your opinion.

    Honesty and reading the damn book. That’s all it should be about, surely?

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  8. Lori
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 08:44:09

    I’m finding that with the plethora of authors and author promotions on Facebook (still my favorite social media), the rule of ‘don’t think about the authors’ is suffering. There are so many of us: the small epubbed and self-pubbed writers who want to make enough from our writing to augment the day job that readers are being guilt tripped into becoming part of the author’s promo machine.

    Instead of putting the work out and letting it speak for itself (and whether your BFF thinks its the best thing she ever read, when it disappears into Amazon oblivion well then, cupcake, accept that your BFF might be wrong), the author culture is becoming this huge maw of read me! rate me! tell your friends! make me famous!

    It’s a bizarre state of mind out there. I heard someone bemoan DA as being mean over what I read as a positive C review. It wasn’t bad, it acknowledged some problems with the plot but also complimented it too. A C review from DA would probably make me swoon with pleasure.

    I’m glad of the reviewers who point out what doesn’t work in a book as well as what does. As a reader I appreciate knowing in advance what’s going to piss me off and what’s going to tickle my trope sensitivities.

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  9. Peggy
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 08:57:21

    I was very happy to read this post. Real people write books and real people read books. Library laws 2 and 3 by S.R. Ranganthan are 2. Every reader his [or her] book 3. Every book its reader. The flip side of that is not every book is for every reader. Keeping this in mind while reading negative as well as positive reviews helps me decide which of the readers at my library would enjoy which books.

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  10. Kazen
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 09:12:13

    Thank you so much for this post, Jane. I’m a fairly (okay, very) new book blogger and I’ve been struggling with questions like this. Do I want to use a rating system? How should I handle bad reviews? Will that change if I get an ARC from the publisher?

    I was waffling before but I’m sure now – my blog will be on the critical/readers’ side, not the promotional. I won’t shy away from posting less than stellar reviews. I will give each book the same treatment whether I got in from the author or from the library. Because if I’m not honest with myself and my followers, what do I have left?

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  11. Peggy
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 09:12:20

    Oh where to start. For Classic Harlequin how about The Warrendar Saga by Mary Burchell. A world famous conductor and his proteges.
    As to Emily Loring I have access to letters she wrote to the Maine State Library about her books set in Maine. It was so cool to find and read them

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  12. Kim (Mom on the Run)
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 09:58:42

    I went to RWA this year and one of the best workshops I attended was a talk by Jayne Ann Krentz and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. They were both very candid (and hilarious) about life as a writer. Someone asked them about how they handle bad reviews and they said they don’t pay attention to them unless they’re done by someone who actually knows how to review a book by looking at it critically. JAK said that SEP doesn’t let her look at Amazon reviews for at least one year after a book comes out and that they then discover that most of the 1 star reviews have to do with the high price of the book! With a gazillion options and easy one click access to books now, an honest review is like gold and I’ve managed to find a few gems because of a review by someone I trust and taste is similar to mine (I can almost always say that what Dabney likes here, I will also like).

    At age 50, having read romance since I was a young teenager, I’m pretty clued in to what I like and what I don’t. I appreciate honest reviews a lot more than sunshine and rah rahs, and those blogs have one by one been removed from my reader list. However, should I ever finish my outlined series of novels, I would too be thrilled to receive a C from a thoughtful review here at DA. Even if Jane says “it just didn’t work for me”.

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  13. Jayne
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 10:17:47

    @Kazen: Welcome to the blogging fold!

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  14. Jayne
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 10:20:00

    @Peggy: Sunita got me started reading the Warrendar novels and it’s been my busy schedule that’s kept me from finishing them but I’m glad to see you mention them.

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  15. cleo
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 10:27:08

    In a genre seeking respectability, embrace of criticism wasn’t only important it was vital.

    This is a really interesting overview – I’m relatively new to the on-line romance world (think I discovered first SBTB and then DA two or three years ago) but I’ve been a romance reader for almost 30 years. Reading sites like this have given me more critical tools to think about and talk about romance. I don’t usually bother defending romance to critics, but I do believe that while there’s some crap in romance (and a lot that’s fine but not to my taste), the good stuff is really good and worthwhile and is on the same level as the good in any other genre. But I wasn’t able to articulate that before I found SBTB and DA.

    Reading romance blogs dramatically expanded my reading horizons and I’m really grateful for that – I’ve discovered authors and sub-genres that I didn’t know existed because I didn’t see them in stores or the library. I like critical reviews – both because they help me find books that I want to read and because they help me refine my own thinking. My resources are limited too – both in terms of time and money – and I appreciate reviews that help me figure out where I want to spend my time and money.

    I can see the value in fan blogs, but they’re not as much my thing. I’ve noticed that fan sensibility in some m/m review blogs, but I didn’t know what it was. Now I do.

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  16. Shiloh Walker
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 10:39:35

    I beg you. Please don’t think of my ‘feelings’. I’m a big girl and I can handle my feelings all on my own.

    Eesh. This is one thing that grates endlessly on my nerves. If authors can’t separate their feelings from their work, they need to toughen up or move on.

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  17. Mandi
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 10:42:23

    Agree so much with your four bullet points. So. Much.

    Don’t ever, EVER think of the author when writing a review.

    If you want to only post positive reviews, that’s your right but in my opinion F or DNF reviews are just as important as A grade reviews.

    And as far as promotion – I definitely think there is room for both a promo blog and a critical blog. I also think the two can be mixed onto one blog. But I also hope the promo companies or authors who do their own tours realize – just because you offer the book in a promo package, doesn’t mean that I’m automatically going to like it. This is why I rarely do tours anymore. Just recently I agreed to do one for an author who I’ve liked in the past, and I ended up not liking her book. It’s just not worth it.

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  18. Melissa Cutler
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 11:00:19

    Great essay. I absolutely agree with almost everything said, and I agree with Shiloh Walker’s comment that we don’t want readers to worry about our feelings.

    Here’s my only curiosity: given this quote from the essay (which I agree with): “To start thinking about the author when I write a review would result in havoc and it wouldn’t be fair to the authors or the readers.”, which is a sentiment that has been expressed on Dear Author before, I continue to wonder about how the title of the blog came about and why it’s stuck.

    “Dear Author” is a great hooky title for a review blog, except that it infers that the reviewer is speaking directly to the author of the book being reviewed, which is in direct contrast to the statement above. I’ve always been curious about this because I know how strongly the reviewers at Dear Author feel about keeping authors out of the equation when it comes to book reviews.

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  19. cleo
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 11:13:09

    Another thought I have about this – I teach art and design at the college level and learning how to deal with criticism and feedback is a big part of learning how to be a visual artist or designer. I assume that it’s also part of learning how to be a writer, since the creative process is the creative process. Developing a useful critique culture is actually tricky – I’ve been part of many critique groups and I’ve taught many, many first-year design classes and it takes time and work to learn how to separate yourself from your artwork and how to give feedback in a way that’s actually useful.

    I’ve witnessed a lot of what you say happened in the romance community (as the critique culture was created) in my classrooms, especially with freshmen – students often come in wanting to cheer for everyone just for putting up something on the wall, feeling uncomfortable with any negative comments about other work, feeling disrespected by negative comments about their work. Most students eventually develop the ability to critically and respectfully evaluate each others’ work and the best students will actively seek out criticism so they can improve. Not all of them develop thicker skins, but most figure out how to manage their thin skins.

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  20. Willaful
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 11:22:18

    Terrific article! I’ll come back when I have more time and read thoroughly.

    I find it depressing and really unhelpful when I’m trying to get opinions about a book and all I find are page after page of blogs with all the same promotional material and nothing of value added. Just as with Harriet Klausner’s non-reviews, I have to wonder who reads it and what they can possibly get out of it. But presumably their audience exists and they do get something out of it. To each their own.

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  21. Jane
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 11:24:14

    @Melissa Cutler: Shorter answer from our FAQ:

    When Jayne and Jane first started the blog, they were going to write the letters to readers, like are in the front of many books. Dearreader.com was taken however but when we checked dearauthor.com was not. So that is how we came to write reviews in the form of letters to authors. The reviews, though, are really for readers. We don’t presume that an author would find our reviews helpful or useful because by the time the book gets to us, the book is done, published. The reviews, though, are meant to be conversation starters and are not intended to be read as literal letters written to the author.

    Longer answer: (actually more background). When Jayne and I started this blog 7 years ago, we were blogging for ourselves and five friends. We had no idea anyone else would read it or that it would be in existence 7 years later or that it would have 150K+ visitors a month. If I had known that, the blog name would have been entirely different. But by the time we had grown into something, I felt like it was too late to change the name.

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  22. Melissa Cutler
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 11:39:16

    Thanks for explaining, Jane. I was a romance reader long before I was a writer, and as a reader I love the blog and get lots of great book recommendations here. Keep up the great work.

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  23. Charlie
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 12:32:23

    I don’t read promo blogs (except when I don’t realise they are promo) but I do think there’s space for both. A promotional blog isn’t really any different to advertising and marketing, it’s all about being positive and trying to sell the book, and leaving out the negative. That said I’m naturally biased towards critical blogs. I think a discussion of what works and what doesn’t is important, no matter if it’s an extremely personal opinion or more objective. And negative reviews can make you want to read a book – a review that details an element I’d enjoy is gold as far as me buying the book is concerned.

    The only thing I don’t like is the thankfully rare idea that a person shouldn’t be ‘mean’. There’s nothing wrong with being negative, just as being positive is seen as a good thing.

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  24. Miss Reader
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 12:47:00

    When I write my reviews, I just write my reaction to the book–what interested me, what was memorable, what put me off, what I learned… etc. I’m not here to provide a critical, professional analysis. Neither am I thinking about the author. I’m mainly doing this for myself. If I can provide some insight or entertainment for other readers that’s great, and if they buy the books that I reviewed, that’s awesome. That’s my style, and that’s the way I want to blog.

    I don’t mind promo blogs. It’s just a different way to blog, and there’s enough room for all of us. But these rules about reviewing and blogging that have been floating around are nonsense and give me headache.

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  25. Andrea
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 14:36:47

    This is such a great article and has given me a lot to think about. In the future, I want to strive to think about what you’ve mentioned here.
    Thank you

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  26. Katie
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 15:43:49

    I frankly do not have the time to check out promo blogs. What freetime I have I prefer spending on reading a great story, or checking out reviews from blogs like yours where I can count on honest opinions. Personally, I also love goodreads, because it helps me research authors I would never try otherwise. I recently started reading books in the m/m BDSM genre which I love, but there are so many possibilities to this lifestyle I can’t wrap my mind around, that I check through ten different reviews on Goodreads just to see whether I might find some of them in the books. I often read the one and two star reviews first, because they let me decide better if I might like or dislike a book. I also have a short toleration span for authors behaving badly online, up to the point that I don’t read them anymore. The worst reviews for me are those in the C or three stars category. The books tend to be readable but boring. In my case I rarely have to say something meaningful in such a review and that’s, I think, the worst which can happen when you use to write reviews.
    Oh, and I can totally relate to you when you write about your early romance days. I started reading romances when I was 21 and picked up the book with the worst cover and title (book titles in German are way worse than in English). Fortunately, it was Julie Garwood’s Honor’s Splendour which turned me into an addict. Getting English books in 2001 in Austria was quite an expensive venture, so AAR and TRR were a godsend. Even back than I didn’t like Romantic Times. LOL

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  27. Jane
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 16:18:36

    @Kazen: Congratulations on blogging. Those are tough questions. I think that you have to decide for yourself what works best. It might be a mix of promotion (signing on for tours that you enjoy) and personal opinions. There are some people who give really kind and sweet two star reviews. I don’t know if authors feel the same way about them as I do (aka kind and sweet) but there is definitely less aggressive language that could be used in describing books one does not like.

    I also think you have to be prepared, if you do provide negative reviews, to have your ARC access limited. I’ve felt that some publishers and authors are weaponizing ARCS – either do this or don’t get a review copy. I’m okay with saying no to those folks even if it means we aren’t going to get our grabby hands on the next book we are excited about because if I become too beholden to ARCs then it is too easy to have that fear infiltrate my reviews and affect my opinion, even if I don’t want it too.

    In the end, I’d rather buy my own books than feeling like I’m in debt to the publisher or author. Another blogger asked me today if I ask authors for review copies and I told her rarely.

    I actually did, recently, request a book from an indie author who kindly sent me the book. Unfortunately I didn’t really love the book and I regretted asking her for it and wished I had just waited the month and bought my own copy.

    Sometimes having purchased the copy of the book you review feels very freeing.

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  28. Blythe
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 16:19:57

    Great, thoughtful column, Jane.

    I think something that I’ve realized now that I’ve had some distance from the early days of AAR is that sometimes in our evangelical fervor we got more than a little self-righteous. It was hard not to be, because we felt like crusaders. We spent a lot of time explaining why critical reviews were necessary and okay. And people did some weird shit back then (authors’ relatives posing as new readers who’d made a fabulous discovery, early sock-puppeting, authors writing to publishers asking them to take us off their distribution lists, and the list goes on). But I think our fervor often carried over into criticism of sites that were unabashedly fannish, as if by their very existence they were adversaries who didn’t know how to do it “right.” I think eventually most of us grew up and realized that it was a big internet out there with room for all of us. I haven’t stopped believing that critical reviews are necessary or that sites or bloggers with a promotional agenda should disclose that and make it obvious. But I certainly acknowledge that we all have the right to dwell in Romancelandia.

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  29. Kate Pearce
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 17:48:14

    Quite a few years ago around 2004 when I started publishing romance there was a sense of community amongst reviewers and readers and authors, and I’d occasionally post a direct reply to a question on an amazon chat or a blog and that seemed to be okay. Fast Forward a few years and that changed. I made the mistake of offering a reader a book because she’d said she was thinking of trying me out, and she called me a stalker.
    Well that made me think.
    My book is a product, a review of my book is one person’s opinion of a product they paid good money for. That’s it. I don’t need to have any further interaction beyond that. I read all my reviews and just appreciate that anyone took the time to actually create one, good or bad. My job is to ‘communicate’, and no reaction, imo, would be worse than any other type of reaction.
    I love to talk about my books, but I only do that now on the forums I control, my website, my FB and Twitter and through email I receive. Anything else, anyone else’s platform is theirs and not meant for me.

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  30. Jennifer Lohmann
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 18:19:28

    I’ll give a second, third, or whatever number we’re at to not thinking of author feelings when reading a book and embracing critical discussions of books.

    There are many good reasons for encouraging critical discussion of books but mine is a more personal reason. I LOVE to talk about books. I love it enough that I run two books clubs and have to stop myself from starting more. Some of the book club discussions are right nasty about a book when everyone hated it and some are love-ins for the book. Discussion builds community and that community relies on everyone being able to say “I loved it and here’s why” alongside the person who says “I hated it and here’s why.” It’s fun. It’s enjoyable. It’s thought provoking. It calls upon you (as the reader) to assess your emotional reactions and, like reading fiction in general, to learn to see things from another person’s point of view, even if you don’t end up changing your own opinions.

    Critical discussion may not be appropriate all the time, but I would hate to think my author-self ever got in the way of the book-discussion-love my librarian-self promotes.

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  31. Susan
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 19:22:54

    I can understand that even tough-skinned authors might get hurt feelings over a review. As a reader, I’ve cringed over some reviews—the kind that mock and snark over every detail of the book for comedic effect, or that personally attack the author for inflicting their writing on the world. Ugh. Those are mean-spirited and unhelpful to other readers and authors alike.

    But. . . what’s wrong with a C/3-star review? I’ve given those ratings to books that, although not perfect, were perfectly respectable, solid reads. A C-rated book might not be a life-changing read, but it’s one I don’t (generally) regret having spent time/money on. So, what’s the prob? Especially if the reviewer has taken the trouble to articulate what did or didn’t work for her?

    And I’m seconding almost everyone when I say that a negative review isn’t an automatic deal-breaker for me. The reviewer might be complaining that there was too much sex or dirty language, they hated Trope A (which I might love), the book was too short/long/expensive, the 3rd –party Amazon seller didn’t send the book in a timely manner (oy), etc. We aren’t lemmings—I think all of us weigh reviews, the good and the bad, against our own personal criteria and take from them what we need.

    I joke that I grew up reading romances when they were still chiseled on stone tablets. I quit reading them in the late 70s or early 80s (!) when they generally took a direction I wasn’t much interested in. I don’t think I read another romance until 2005 when I haphazardly picked up an Amanda Quick book from a counter display at the bookstore. Amazon wasn’t new to me, of course, but I’d mostly used it for non-fiction/technical books. Suddenly there was a whole new world of romance books—and romance reviews. I had never even read a romance review before then. And if that wasn’t enough, I discovered that there were book blogs. And romance book blogs. It was all quite the revelation to me. (And my bank account has never recovered.) :-)

    This was a very long-winded way of saying that I appreciate the reader-centric reviews, and their analytical/critical approach, here at DA. I don’t always agree with them, but enjoy the different perspectives. Thanks!

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  32. Carole
    Aug 28, 2013 @ 02:06:14

    A big problem with the newer reviewers is they quickly learn that writing a ‘moderate’ 3 star review is a heck of a lot easier than writing a 1 or 2 star.

    1 or 2 star and you really need to defend your points.
    What exactly was wrong with the story?
    What did the characters do that was so annoying? etc…

    3+ stars and they figure the author will be happy enough with the rating and not read too much into what the actual review says. (I guess this is linked backed to ‘feeling beholden’ to authors for giving them free stuff)

    At the beginning I was terrified to give out negative reviews. A few years later and I just don’t care anymore. I would feel terrible if I gave a crap book a good review, and then someone with limited funds purchased it and they felt like they wasted their money due to a recommendation I made :/

    Or, hey, we could all just take the easy way and just use a bunch of silly .gifs in our reviews instead of actually WRITING what we did or didn’t like about a book. (Gotta love Goodreads)

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  33. JB Hunt
    Aug 28, 2013 @ 10:43:39

    Another reader’s honest reaction to a story/style/character is incredibly valuable to me. Dear Author consistently provides that — along with insightful critique, a lot of heart, and occasional guffaws. Bravo!

    ReplyReply

  34. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Linkity looking forward to a long weekend
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  35. Rachel
    Aug 30, 2013 @ 13:30:13

    Very interesting discussion. I’ve also come across review blogs where if people don’t like something they just don’t mention it/don’t review it (as compared to giving positive promotion to everything). I don’t find that helpful at all – if there are no negative reviews, how will I, as a reader, figure out the reviewing “voice” and whether it matches my opinions? I personally only read actual reviews, and only from sites that post both negative and positive. And I pay special attention to who is doing the reviewing (if it’s more than one person). Reading is personal and not everyone is going to like the same things!

    I do think, though, that there is something behind “think of the author” – not that you should think about the book as the author’s baby, or that you should think of the circumstance of how the book came into being. But that people should remember that you’re reviewing the book, not the author as a person. Any review that has a variation on ” oh my god this author is so stupid” is out the door for me.

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  36. Rachel
    Sep 04, 2013 @ 23:46:19

    I had no idea the romance community had such a long established online presence or had fostered in the early days such a positive environment to coddle their authors. I’d always assumed that the authors who wrote romance were strong, daring women who weren’t afraid to talk about subjects that others in the literary community shied away from. And I’m glad to hear that these early pioneer bloggers were able to bring more honesty to the feedback in that genre.

    I am somehow who happens to be a positive reviewer, but not because I consider myself to be a promotional book blogger, though I do enjoy promoting authors I wish to succeed. But my time is very limited, especially now that much of “free” that time is spent blogging, and I prefer to only read the books I enjoy reading. If I set aside a book at page 10 because it’s not something I want to spend more time reading, I don’t feel I could give a fair review. I’ve read well over a thousand books in my lifetime so I know pretty quickly what I like and don’t like.

    If that makes me a bad reviewer so be it. If someone thinks my voice is somehow less worthy because they only hear me sing a book’s praises that’s fine, too. I read books and share my opinions because it’s something I enjoy doing. If I wanted to slog through three to four hundred pages simply to share an alternate viewpoint to appease my blog readers’ curiosity, then I wouldn’t be reading for me and I wouldn’t be reading for the sheer enjoyment of reading.

    I don’t write my reviews for authors or publishers. I don’t necessarily write them for readers either. I write them for me, to share my thoughts and feelings about the books, point out what I enjoyed or didn’t enjoy. So perhaps I shouldn’t be calling myself a reviewer or a blogger for that matter, but I’m not sure they’ve come up with another label.

    But I say there’s definitely room for critical reviewers, those who offer both positive and negative reviews, discuss a book’s merits and its drawbacks. I very much enjoy well-written negative reviews as they are often helpful in allowing me to decide as to whether a title is something that might interest me. It’s often the negative reviews that will get me to buy a book that I’m on the fence about if the reviewer points to things in the book that would appeal to me as a reader.

    And I have no issues with promotional blogs. While I only promote books and authors I stand behind, I don’t have any issues with bloggers promoting for other reasons. It’s fairly clear if one spends a few minutes poking around on a site as to whether their focus is promotion versus something else.

    The book blogging community feels very small at times but I think there is room for everyone. The online audience is vast and everyone has their personal tastes and having variety allows those online readers to find blogs and reviewers that suit theirs.

    Fantastic discussion post.

    ReplyReply

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  38. Kazen
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 12:19:06

    @Jane: Thanks so much for these tips, especially how buying your own copy feels freeing. Living in Japan my ARC access is limited so I may as well embrace it and avoid “weaponized ARCs” all together. While I suspect I’ll be grappling with these issues for some time (it sounds like everyone does!) I like the road I’ve set out on. Thanks again!

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