Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Coming Out of the Closet

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The question of whether there is a divide between authors and reader/blogger/reviewers has been discussed and debated here and elsewhere. To me it seems clear that it does, at least in some quarters. Some reader/blogger/reviewers, including some of my fellow bloggers here on Dear Author, have called out some authors for behaving badly. And some authors have called out reader/blogger/reviewers for being mean girls. Recently, Janet (Robin) blogged here about her own response to some authors’ reactions to the recent Cassie Edwards scandal, saying that “It felt to me (and still does) that there was a frighteningly easy shift into reader v. author discourse.”

But nowhere, perhaps, is the rift more evident than in the relative absence from the romance community of people who bridge the gap — those who are both writers or authors, as well as bloggers and reviewers.

I don’t mean to suggest that this hybrid is completely nonexistent in the romance genre. Authors HelenKay Dimon, Alison Kent and Stephanie Feagan all write reviews for Paperback Reader. Bam is a blogger and former reviewer who is now published. There have also been some unpublished writers who have reviewed for AAR, including Kathryn Smith, Marianne Stillings and Megan Frampton, all of whom went on to be published. And there are others as well.

Still, those are a handful of women out of a far larger number of published authors and aspiring authors. It is enlightening, too, to read Frampton’s comments on her decision to stop reviewing.

…I don’t think other writers would do anything close to an objective job in terms of reviewing their peers. I know when I was writing reviews AND fiction, an author told me I had to make a choice: either I was a reader/reviewer or a writer. If I continued to do both, I would face awkward situations and possibly snubbing, etc. in the authors’ community.

A little under two years ago, there was an interesting debate on this topic on AccessRomance All-a-Blog. In comment #43, author Leslie Kelly said:

…The romance fiction industry, despite the number authors, is an *incredibly* small community. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody talks. There’s a lot of loyalty between friends and catty backstabbing between enemies. Honestly, I think a reviewer-author can be shooting themselves in the foot if they rip apart the wrong book and offend that author and alllllll her friends. And, by the way, her editor! (Um, I have personal knowledge of this one. I know an editor who will NEVER buy a particular author because that author has publicly slammed the editor’s authors & basically said their books shouldn’t have been published. Uh, EXCUSE ME? You really think the editor who bought those books is going to buy you after that???)

If a good friend of NYT bestselling author A is ripped to shreds by author/reviewer x and someday author/reviewer x wants a cover quote, or wants to do an anthology, or a miniseries, or in any way interact with NYT bestselling author…hmm-what do you think the answer will be?

And in comment #47, author Julie Leto chimed in:

And I thought I’d mention here that unpublished writers or aspiring writers who trash published books are doing themselves a disservice. My editors read reviews…and those names stick with them if the reviewer has been unfair or cruel.

Leto went on to clarify her comments in comment #56:

I’m not talking about reviewing in general. I’m talking about TRASHING.

But since she also said (to author/reviewer HelenKay Dimon) “Maybe we’re talking apples and oranges. I don’t know…but maybe what you see as an honest review I’d see as an snarky attack,” and since author/reviewer HelenKay Dimon admitted in this same thread that “I’ve gotten hate mail, two of which I viewed as threats,” (comment #70) it is with trepidation that I make my confession here today.

Here it is: I write. I’ve been writing since elementary school, and in a variety of forms. I’ve written poems, plays, short stories, and movie reviews in the past, among other things; I currently write book reviews and the occasional letter of opinion here at Dear Author. But the reason for this post is that my current writing project outside of Dear Author is also my first attempt to write a romance.

Let me take a moment to also admit that trying to write a romance, and trying to write one well, is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted. What a humbling experience it is to come up against the limits of my abilities on a regular basis. It has a way of making me appreciate the effort that’s gone into each and every book that I review, whether or not that book works for me.

And here I come to the crux of the matter: I am an unpublished writer who is also a reviewer and blogger.

How did I come to be all these things? Well, I’ve been reading romances since I was thirteen. I cut my teeth on books by Johanna Lindsey, Rosemary Rogers, Kathleen Woodiwiss and Jude Deveraux. Later I discovered Judith McNaught, and later still, Mary Jo Putney and Linda Howard. When, in my twenties, I found Laura Kinsale, I was stunned by the power of the feelings that her books evoked in me. When I discovered Patricia Gaffney a few years later with To Have and to Hold, it was electrifying.

But as much as I adored some books, I was also beginning to feel dissatisfied with many others. At thirteen, just reading about romantic and sexual love was thrilling, but by my mid to late twenties, many of the books I found in bookstores were feeling very familiar to me. I was desperately craving something new and different, something satisfying, but trying to find it by picking up books at random at the bookstore wasn’t working for me.

And so, about ten years ago, I hit the biggest romance reading slump I have ever experienced. For about a year and half, I read mainly in other genres and, except for rereading those few romances I loved and waiting for books from a handful of authors to come out, I became jaded where most of the genre was concerned.

It was around this time that I discovered the internet. For a while, I hung out in a reading community where people mostly discussed books in other genres, which is what I was reading at that time. Then, one day, I found AAR, and soon thereafter, TRR. I can’t begin to say how wonderful it was for me to find these sites: wonderful because for me, they re-opened the world of romance.

Through the recommendations of their reviewers, and in the case of AAR, of readers on their boards as well, I was once again able to find new books I loved — able to discover new-to-me authors like Mary Balogh, Carla Kelly and Connie Brockway.

If it hadn’t been for those reviews, I wouldn’t have plunged back into the romance genre, wouldn’t have realized that there were so many more good books out there than I’d been aware of before. If it hadn’t been for reviews and for the book discussions that have kept me so engaged, I would not still be an avid romance reader today, much less trying to write a romance.

As the introduction to this opinion piece makes clear, I am aware that in the romance community the majority of writers, both published and unpublished, don’t speak publicly about books that didn’t work for them or that they did not enjoy, and do not write critical reviews.

Perhaps if I had come into the romance community with the intention of being a romance writer from the beginning, I would not have done so either. But when I first discovered the romance boards, I did not intend to write a romance, and at first, I also had no awareness of the negative perceptions that some people in the community had of readers who examined in public what did and didn’t work for them in a book.

In hindsight, I wish now that over the years, I had stated some of my opinions more courteously. But I can’t, and don’t, wish that I’d never put them out there. The discussions of books with fellow readers have become a huge part of my love for the genre. And it’s partly for the readers who I’ve met and befriended that I’m now trying to write a romance as well. Because it’s in large part this ongoing internet conversation that’s seduced me and made me fall in love with this genre all over again.

When Jane and Jayne approached me about blogging for Dear Author, I was faced with a dilemma. But ultimately, I decided to join Dear Author because I liked and respected Jane and Jayne, because I wanted to see what my thoughts on books would look like in a more formal format, and because I wanted to contribute and give back in the same way that review sites had given so much to me.

I believed, and still believe, that there is a difference between thoughtful, polite criticism and bashing, and the former is what I have tried to provide here at Dear Author. I don’t know if I’ve always succeeded, but I do know that I have tried.

I know that even thoughtful, polite criticism can sometimes sting the author whose book is being examined. But I also know that one can’t publish something, be it a book, a review or an opinion piece like this one, and expect everyone who reads it to love it. Even Shakespeare didn’t get universal approbation in his time. Why then should we expect everyone to say they love a book, or else to say nothing at all? Doesn’t an open, thoughtful conversation about our differences of opinion also have something to offer us?

I believe that it does. A well thought-out review is of benefit to readers, because it can help them decide how to spend their purchasing dollars, and make them aware of books they would not have known of otherwise. It can also, of course, be a source of publicity for an author.

In addition, having had my writing workshopped in writing classes and critiqued by fellow writers, I know that the process of having your writing examined for flaws as well as strengths can be difficult, but I also know that I have grown as a writer as a result of this same process. Reviews aren’t exactly the same thing, but (at least when some thought has been put into them) they’re also not completely dissimilar.

And finally, I believe that discussions of what makes some books stronger than others can help strengthen the genre as a whole. If the best books in the genre (and I am not saying I am the arbiter of what is best — that is something that is up to the entire community to determine; my role as a reviewer is merely to help keep that discussion rolling) remain read and in print, examined and discussed, then they can only influence and inspire new writers to attempt to equal those books.

Despite all that I have said here, I reserve the right to stop reviewing if I come to some fork in the road. If I find I simply don’t have the time, or that I no longer enjoy it, or if I get published and feel that it creates a conflict of interest. I’m not saying I’ll feel that way in the future; I simply don’t know how I may feel.

For all these reasons, I do not judge anyone else who makes a different choice than the one I’ve made. But I would like to encourage writers and authors to think about what I’ve said here, and consider the possibility of putting opinions of books out in the public eye.

I know that some authors won’t even say what their favorite books are when asked to name them in an interview, and for that reason, I’m glad every time I see a writer or author pipe up to say why she loved a particular book, or explain why some aspect of another book didn’t work for her. Because it makes me feel less alone here in the blogosphere, yes, but also because I truly think that this kind of conversation is the lifeblood of a genre, and that any time writers enter into these discussions thoughtfully, they are making an important contribution to the community.

In closing, I’d like to return to last week’s topic of ethics in blogging. The reason I’m disclosing the fact that I aspire to be a romance author isn’t because I’ve suddenly become courageous. It’s because I have two friends who are about a month away from being published for the first time. Sherry Thomas and Meredith Duran aren’t just my friends, they are also my critique partners.

At one time, I thought that I could, if I disclosed my friendship with them, and if another reviewer offered a second opinion, review Meredith and Sherry’s books (The Duke of Shadows and Private Arrangements, respectively). But as their publication date has neared, I’ve become more uneasy with doing so. It could be argued, I think, that I have a conflict of interest, and I don’t want my actions to reflect badly on Dear Author.

And so, I have decided not to formally review Sherry or Meredith’s books, and to disclose my relationship with them so that if I comment on the reviews of their books in the comment sections, or mention that I think both Sherry and Meredith are immensely talented (as I do) you can all decide for yourselves whether or not to take what I say with a grain or more of salt. It seems to me that transparency is the best way to take an ethical approach to the situation.

And now, let me turn this over to all of you. What are your thoughts on the possibility of a backlash to writers and authors who choose to review? Is it real or, as a friend of mine suggests, merely imagined? What are your thoughts on the role of the ongoing conversation about books? What do you think about unpublished writers as reviewers, published authors as reviewers, authors commenting on books, reviewers reviewing their friends, or any other topic that came up in this post?

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

143 Comments

  1. Charlene Teglia
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 06:46:08

    I don’t have time to add reviewing to my To Do list, all other considerations aside. I do discuss and recommend books I’m enjoying in my blog and online, and will continue to do so. If a book didn’t work for me, chances are I never got past chapter one so not much to talk about. I think people have to make up their own minds about what works for them, whether author, unpublished writer, reviewer, reviewing friend, etc.

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  2. Julie Leto
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 07:12:33

    Janine, since I was “called out” on my comments, I’ll clarify the point you quoted. I’ve really already said all I ever intend to say on the topic.

    A negative review and a trash review are two different things.

    A negative review, to me, sounds like this: “The plot devices simply did not work and defied a logical progression. Why would the hero hate the heroine simply because her eyes were blue? That made the hero too shallow for me to identify with and ruined the reading experience.”

    Trash review: “Oh, my God! This author is such a moron. She must be sleeping with her editor if this sort of trash is getting published! I could do it so much better. I mean, who could hate someone just because of their eye color? Pullleeease!!”

    Big difference!

    And if you’ve never read a trash review like that–well, suffice it to say that I have, in the blog of aspiring writers who are also very vocal not only about the fact that they write, but also naming the editor they are aspiring to write for. I just think this is very poor behavior.

    But it’s not the same as writing a negative review. I’ve gotten negative reviews here at Dear Author and maybe I’ve been lucky, but the reviews were not hateful. One particular that I’m thinking of actually brought up a very good point for me and I wished I could have fixed that aspect of the book before it was published, LOL!

    So I think an honest review, for an aspiring writer, is one thing. A “neener-neener” review is something else.

    And borrowing from Forrest Gump, “And that’s all I have to say about that.”

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  3. Nora Roberts
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 07:15:24

    Adding I don’t have time either for reviewing–nor the inclination. I want to write books, not reviews.

    I have no problem with writers–pubbed or not–who do. It’s a choice.

    But I will say another reason–way down the list from time and inclination–I don’t is I have a name. Whether you like my stuff or not, I have a name in the industry. If I don’t like a book, it’s my personal taste, opinion. I express it, and it’s public. It could very well influence a chunk of potential readers not to buy the book I didn’t care for. Doesn’t strike me as fair.

    I have, quite often, spoken of books I do like. I’ve actually done two reviews on request. Believe me when I say they were very hard work. I want to focus my very hard work on writing books.

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  4. Jackie
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 07:40:13

    Hey, as long as authors are still writing and publishing, what they do in their free time is up to them. If they want to do reviews, go for it.

    How they do their reviews, though, should be thoughtful. How’s the quote go? “The toes you step on today may belong to the person whose ass you kiss tomorrow.” Something like that… In other words, if you rip apart Author X’s latest book in a review, chances are you shouldn’t later approach that same author for a cover quote when she’s a bestselling author and your work is about to be published. I’m not saying pull a Harriet and automatically love everything. But if you’re an author and you’re going to critique other authors’ books, be thoughtful.

    And, in this spirit, if you’re a reviewer, and you become a published author, it’s possible that authors whose books you critiqued previously may not be overly helpful to you now. (Helpful how, you ask? Cover quotes, blog tours, cross-promotional opportunities, panels at conventions, name dropping during signings…the list, and it’s an ever-growing one, goes on.) That’s just how it goes. That absolutely shouldn’t stop you from doing reviews — if you enjoy reviewing, and you’re good at it, and you have a readership, please don’t stop! But yes, there is a chance it may bite you on the derrière when you become an author.

    As for book discussions/authors commenting on books — I love book clubs. Entire conversations about specific books…ah, bliss! Good times, people. I’ve found that when I participate in book clubs when they’re discussing my books, it’s helpful to me (talk about useful feedback: nothing beats a face-to-face review of your book, warts and all) and it’s entertaining to the book club members (they get the nitty gritty behind why I chose that character’s name, whether the demon queen is loosely based on my mom or not, and other little-known facts).

    Does there need to be disclosure when they review author friends? Dunno. Should there be? I think so — hard to do an impartial review when the author is on your List of Five.

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  5. (Jān)
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 07:43:51

    A thoughtful post as always, Janine. From what I’ve seen around the internet, I don’t think that most writers see writers reviewing as a negative. It’s all in how it’s approached. There are always the stray vindictive oddball characters who rip others’ books apart, they’re disliked and doing themselves a disservice by their attitude.

    But most reviews are done in a thoughtful way, and yours always epitomize that. I don’t think anyone could be upset for having their book considered as serious literature and treated with the respect you always do.

    I guess that’s the key. If a reviewer respects the author, even if disagreeing with how she wrote the book, then unless the author is one of the stray odd ones the reviewer will be respected in return.

    By the way, kudos to you for having the courage to do the right thing and letting people know your connection with the other two authors.

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  6. Anne
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 08:15:50

    Funny this topic should come up. I was just talking a friend about this yesterday. Well, to me, there’s reviewing and then there’s snarking/trashing. If you’re going to review a book you didn’t like, you can be constructive about it without tearing the book–and the author–to shreds. The only time I review a book that I didn’t totally like is if I’ve made a commitment to do so. Otherwise, I prefer to not review those books and just review the ones I enjoyed very much. There is no reason an author can’t review a book, particularly if they follow proper etiquette in doing so–respect those as you’d have those respect you.

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  7. Jennifer Estep
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 08:51:55

    I think authors can still be bloggers/reviewers for this reason — every author starts out as a reader. Love of books and stories is what drives people to write their own. Getting published doesn’t take away that love — and it shouldn’t take away someone’s right to comment on books/publishing/whatever.

    I bore my significant other to tears talking about books and authors and publishing. Having a blog lets me communicate with others about books, which are one of my main passions in life.

    That being said, blogging/reviewing can be a tricky tightrope to walk. You want to express yourself honestly, but you need to be professional too because you are an author. It’s a business like any other, with good days and bad days and consequences for doing something stupid and inappropriate.

    I agree with the others that there’s a big difference between reviewing and trashing. Calmly, rationally discussing what did or didn’t work for you in a book is completely different than saying an author is just stupid for writing such mindless drivel. I might not like a book for whatever reason, but I always, always respect the time and energy an author put into crafting it. To me, respect is what it’s all about.

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  8. Christine Merrill
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 09:00:46

    I think it’s more of a conflict of interest than a backlash. The more you write, and the more people you know, the harder it is for a writer to review a book and not have some kind of baggage. If you are in the habit of reviewing everything you read, will you go soft on your friends and stick it to your enemies? Give a slight edge to books edited by people you want to submit to? Be too hard on people who break your favorite craft rules? Or will you pick on them for mistakes you see in your own work, and are hypersensitive to, but that don’t bother other people?

    And if you do a negative review, dig a little too deep and slice into a vein on some author, are you prepared to have them do the same thing to you next week? It’s not so much backlash, as it is karma. Some negative criticism is only a matter of opinion. And some comments from another writer will boil down to “I wouldn't have done it this way,” which is true, but not particularly useful.

    As far as craft issues go, I’d much rather get and give honest critiquing before the book is published, than point out the flaws after it is too late for the writer to fix them. IMHO, it’s more useful to Beta read for a few people who you really ‘get’, than it is to review a lot of people whose work leaves you cold.

    I don’t see anything wrong with gushing when you really like a book. As long as the gushing is sincere. This is not because I like everything and think the world needs continual sunshine. It’s just that, if I loathe a book, I do not finish it. If I’m lukewarm on it, it’s probably only getting 3 chapters before it goes into the library donation box. I am busy, and impatient.

    The more I write, the pickier I get. My focus has shifted from pleasure reading to plot structure or weird trivialities. I get angrier than I used to, when I feel an author is wasting my time with a bad book. While it might be entertaining to go on line and vent my spleen, is it really fair to review someone on a day when I am ‘in a mood' and hate everyone, including kids and puppies?

    Frankly, I'd rather snark about movies, or Oscar dresses. I have no personal stake in those, but very strong opinions.

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  9. Shiloh Walker
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 09:01:04

    Janine, first off, good luck with your book. ;)

    My honest opinion is that reviews on Dear Author can be negative, they can be brutally honest and yes, a little harsh.

    But dissecting a book to pieces is a far cry from saying, “This book goes beyond sucking. The writer is a total waste of oxygen and her editor must have crap for brains to have published her.” This is trashing.

    Dissecting a book, critiquing it, is not trashing. They can certainly be hard to read, but I would hope most authors can recognize the difference between an honest review, even an honest review with some harsh insights, and a trashing attack against the author, the book, their editor, the cover art and their mom’s dog. I’d imagine that editors do recognize the difference.

    You may have authors holding a grudge over negative reviews that try to use this, poke at you, jab at you, etc, etc etc, but the sad fact of the matter is even if you hadn’t been reviewing before you started writing, chances are you’re going to encounter some petty types anyway. Writers are people and you’ll find the same pettiness among writers that you find anywhere else in life.

    The only thing is you can is just not let it affect you.

    Me, I don’t review books because I either enjoy a book or I don’t. I have no desire to explore just why it didn’t work, or why it did. But I’m glad there are reviews available from people who do just that. Helps me when I’m trying to decide what to buy or not.

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  10. Kathleen MacIver
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 09:05:37

    Congratulations on your writing! I don’t know if I’ll ever be published, and I’m beginning to think that I, personally, would rather keep writing as a hobby, than aggressively pursue yearly contracts… but the doing of it – even if only occasionally – enriches my life and gives me a bigger viewpoint on the world and the books I read. I’m sure you’ve noticed the same thing.

    I also feel that, if the reviews are all honest and stated politely, as yours always are, than you have little to fear from the community in general. I’ve been following this blog for about eight months, I think, and I’ve never seen a review that someone could rightfully get offended at.

    I also, agree, that it’s OFTEN the negative reviews (at least on Amazon) that I use to determine whether or not I’d enjoy the book. I, too, am suspicious of all 5-star reviews. What book is there that EVERYONE likes, after all? I must assume that there are people who aren’t going to like the books that I like… and it’s the negative reviews that often tell me which group I’ll be in on a particular book. I mean… if a reviewer says that they got tired of the couple arguing the whole way through the book, then I know I probably will, too. But if the reviewer says that they weren’t satisfied because the sexual tension built, and then the door was closed on the wedding night… I know I’ll probably like it, because that is MY preference.

    Keep reviewing as you all have been – politely explaining why certain parts of books didn’t work for you – and I think you have little to fear.

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  11. Sherry Thomas
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 09:07:33

    Janine, welcome out of the closet!

    I have always enjoyed your reviews tremendously, even when I don’t agree with them. I think you are one of the most courteous, articulate, and well-reasoned reviewers in the genre and that opinion has nothing to do with our friendship–your body of reviews speaks for itself.

    And I just want to say here that although Janine and I are good friends–our friendship long predates her tenure here at DA–and occasional critique partners, I do not know any of the other reviewers at DA very well. In fact, with the exception of Jane, whom I met briefly at RWA Dallas in 2007, I do not know any of them at all.

    And while Janine did critique my ambitious, unpublished manuscript about a half-Chinese, half-English girl martial art expert, and also more recently my sophomore book, she was not involved at all at any point in the writing or editing process of PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS.

    I would have loved to read what she has to say, in a formal review setting, about PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS. But I have nothing but respect for her decision not to review it.

    And once again, welcome out of the closet, Janine!

    P.S. I just noticed your new avatar now. LOL.

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  12. Jane
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 09:09:35

    Frankly, I'd rather snark about movies, or Oscar dresses. I have no personal stake in those, but very strong opinions.

    And conversely, I have more strong opinions about books than I do about movies (I was telling a friend that I didn’t watch the Oscars because they have no relevance in my life as I haven’t seen a movie in a theatre except for Ratatouille) or Oscar dresses. I am really entertained by snark and I do think that reviews, really entertaining well done reviews, are sort of literary piece in their own right.

    I think the trash/bash distinction is very difficult because some authors (not anyone who comments here) take any type of criticism as an affront. It is the ones who do not speak out who Janine might have more from which to fear. But, I do think that editors are business people too and if the work is good enough, I think an editor would likely overlook the fact that you might have been fierce about one of her books in the past.

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  13. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 09:13:27

    I don't have time to add reviewing to my To Do list, all other considerations aside.

    I’ve had less time for reviewing and blogging lately myself, and there’s a possibility that I will be taking on some extra work soon that will cut even more into the time I put into Dear Author, so I completely understand.

    I do discuss and recommend books I'm enjoying in my blog and online, and will continue to do so.

    I’ll have to check out your blog sometime, Charlene.

    If a book didn't work for me, chances are I never got past chapter one so not much to talk about.

    That is often the case for me too, at least with most of the books that would have gotten a D or an F from me had I forced myself to finish them. I have however given C reviews and even a few DNF reviews (to books that I got far enough into to be able to give a description of the plot). I always try to find the strengths of a book as well as its weaknesses and describe both in my reviews, regardless of the grade.

    I think people have to make up their own minds about what works for them, whether author, unpublished writer, reviewer, reviewing friend, etc.

    Oh yes, absolutely, which is why I said that I reserve the right to stop reviewing and that I don’t judge anyone for making a different choice. It’s completely a matter of how it fits into that individual’s life. That doesn’t change the fact that I would love to see more authors engaging in thoughtful discussions and dissections of books, though.

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  14. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 09:19:01

    There are a lot of things that can influence an editor against you and not all of them are the book in front of her.
    Track record is important because most publishers are interested in a series of books, linked or not, and they want to know the author is capable of doing more than one book a year.
    So reviewing and blogging history could actually help. It shows you can work regularly.
    But – there are so very many writers jostling for ever-decreasing publishing slots that many are terrified that if they do anything wrong, you’re out. It’s not true. I think an author with a point of view is a refreshing thing.
    I’m a stickler for historical accuracy (no! you cry. Who would have believed that?) and I know that sometimes my views aren’t received nicely. There is one publisher whose doors are forever closed to me. But in a polite way. Nothing is ever said, and if we ever encounter each otehr, it’s a cordial meeting. They do very well with their books, and the best of luck to them.
    Do I regret it? Not really. I do feel passionately that the history of my country deserves a bit of respect and as a reader, I love reading a well-written historical romance (the history’s spot on, the central couple are interesting and the story is believable and engrossing).
    Which is why I started writing. But that’s another story.
    I think your status as a reviewer could actually work for you. You review mine sometimes and you haven’t liked everything you’ve read, but that’s fine, because if you don’t like the book, you say why and the reason is always understandable (but I will still write what I do, sorry and all that, but I can’t please everybody all the time!) Those kind of reviews are great, because when the reviewer says she likes it, you know she’s telling the truth!

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  15. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 09:35:46

    Janine, since I was “called out” on my comments, I'll clarify the point you quoted. I've really already said all I ever intend to say on the topic.

    Julie, I didn’t mean to call you out! I apologize if it seems that way. I quoted you, Megan Frampton, Leslie Kelly and HelenKay Dimon because I wanted to frame my thoughts on reviewing as a writer in the context of what I had seen and read online.

    Actually the first draft of this piece was written without any quotes, but then I showed it to a friend who said that readers might not understand my trepidation about admitting to being a writer, and she suggested that I had to give that apprehension context. I thought that was good feedback, and I felt that using quotations would be the best way to frame my thoughts and feelings, because the words of several people have more authority than my words alone would have.

    A negative review and a trash review are two different things.

    A negative review, to me, sounds like this: “The plot devices simply did not work and defied a logical progression. Why would the hero hate the heroine simply because her eyes were blue? That made the hero too shallow for me to identify with and ruined the reading experience.”

    Trash review: “Oh, my God! This author is such a moron. She must be sleeping with her editor if this sort of trash is getting published! I could do it so much better. I mean, who could hate someone just because of their eye color? Pullleeease!!”

    Big difference!

    Thanks so much for clarifying. I really appreciate that. As I said in the piece, I always make an effort to put thought into my reviews and explain what did and didn’t work for me in a book. I don’t know if I always succeed, but I always make the effort.

    And if you've never read a trash review like that-well, suffice it to say that I have, in the blog of aspiring writers who are also very vocal not only about the fact that they write, but also naming the editor they are aspiring to write for. I just think this is very poor behavior.

    I have read the kind of reviews that you describe, but generally I see them on Amazon. I’ve never seen one on a writer blog, but I don’t doubt what you are saying. It does seem like foot-shooting behavior to name the editor of a book after giving it that kind of treatment.

    But it's not the same as writing a negative review. I've gotten negative reviews here at Dear Author and maybe I've been lucky, but the reviews were not hateful. One particular that I'm thinking of actually brought up a very good point for me and I wished I could have fixed that aspect of the book before it was published, LOL!

    I’m glad to hear that, because it shows that the review was thoughtful. I think that we all try to give concrete reasons why a book did or did not work for us. With that said, we also all have different styles of writing our reviews here.

    Thanks again for providing the clarification.

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  16. GrowlyCub
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 09:38:36

    I think this discussion cycles back to the general idea that women ought to be nice to each other; the argument that to be a ‘good sister’ one doesn’t pee on others in the ‘sisterhood’ (aka say something not positive).

    I find this regrettable, because that knee-jerk, all happy Harriet type behavior is not doing the romance readers and authors any favors in the long run and is part of the reason why we aren’t taken seriously by other, mainly male, audiences/the general public.

    In a more general manner, this is also reflected in the public’s perception of women – such as a woman shouting in a business situation being considered ‘hysterical’ or a ‘bitch’, while a male would be considered ‘strong’ or ‘forceful’. Women are considered peacemakers and not being conciliatory/nice is not properly ‘womanly’.

    Several people made the distinction that constructive negative reviews are okay, but not snarky ones, but what is considered constructive and what’s not is very subjective and everybody will have a different threshold when evaluating this.

    And quite honestly, I’ve seen authors get all nasty about constructive negative reviews, where not a word of snark or shredding/trashing was in evidence.

    I believe a reason why participation on at least one romance list has dropped over the years was a recurrent, on occasion acrimonious, discussion that erupted when readers who shared negative sentiments on a book were slapped upside down by, mostly, other readers for insulting the author’s ‘baby’ and taken to task for their ‘cruelty’ in voicing a less than gushing opinion.

    While I understand the dynamic of ‘if you are mean to me (as I perceive it) today, I’ll not be nice to you later on’, I have to admit I feel this attitude limits us by keeping less than stellar works published and taking up slots for better-written books by new or mid-list authors (Cassie Edwards, anyone? and I don’t mean the plagiarism issue).

    It was very interesting to see Janine’s journey, as I dropped out of romance reading in the late 90s due to the feeling that there was nothing out there for me to read any longer (I’m one of those dinosaurs who require character development and don’t like suspense, woowoo, humor, chicklit, women’s fiction, etc. plots). I read (romantic) SF (Lee/Miller, Asaro, Bujold) during that time and re-read old favorites, mainly Heyer, when I read at all.

    I just came back last June and am happy as a clam to have found that ‘loving feeling’ again (reading old Paula Detmer Riggs, Ruth Wind and Rachel Lee backlists originally, but now I’ve found new authors I love). Nothing like a 5 hanky read to melt the stress of everyday life away. As an interesting side note, I’ve found a lot of what I desire in the way of characterization and internal plot in some erotic romance/erotica.

    Incidently, the arrival/establishment of AAR on the romance scene coincided with my feeling that nothing worthwhile (to me) was being published any longer rather than resparking the interest as happened to Janine. I’m still not quite sure what actually got me back, but I’m very glad I am. :) I’ve read about 400 paper and e-books since then and can’t wait to read the next book in my TBR (I haven’t had one of those in about 10 years and it feels great! ;)

    In conclusion, I do think we need to police ourselves if we want to be taken seriously and that includes authors voicing opinions on books, because their opinions are given more weight (correctly or incorrectly so). It doesn’t mean that every author has to do it, but I wish we could get to a point where it’s not considered dirtying your own nest, if an author does it in a constructive manner and where Janine’s concerns about being a reviewer wanting to become a writer would no longer be necessary.

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  17. Ann Aguirre
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 09:38:59

    I used to do reviews. My decision to stop reviewing was two-fold. First, it was the time consideration. I wanted to write more than I wanted to read random books. The second reason? Well, honestly, reviewing is weird.

    Sometimes a book is so bad that if you hadn’t agreed to review it, you’d stop reading, walk away and forget about it. When you promise to write something about it, you’re forced to slog on. I’d rather pay my money and take my chances, so I have the latitude to call it a DNF and move on.

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  18. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 10:00:48

    Adding I don't have time either for reviewing-nor the inclination. I want to write books, not reviews.

    Yes, a lot of people don’t have the time or the inclination, and I completely understand that.

    I have no problem with writers-pubbed or not-who do. It's a choice.

    Thanks for saying that — it is good to hear.

    But I will say another reason-way down the list from time and inclination-I don't is I have a name. Whether you like my stuff or not, I have a name in the industry. If I don't like a book, it's my personal taste, opinion. I express it, and it's public. It could very well influence a chunk of potential readers not to buy the book I didn't care for. Doesn't strike me as fair.

    I see what you are saying. It’s hard for me to know how I would feel about reviewing if I were in your shoes.

    Still, I think that there would be an upside to being reviewed, even negatively, by a writer with a name in the industry. It would call a lot of people’s attention to the review and therefore to the book being reviewed, and might actually result in more, rather than fewer sales.

    Also, the autor being reviewed would have the privilege of receiving feedback (in the body of the review) from someone with expertise.

    Lastly, it would keep that conversation about books, and what makes them work or not work for readers, alive. And I think that conversation has tremendous value in and of itself.

    So I don’t think it would necessarily be a bad thing, though again, I understand your perspective on it too. There is a lot of responsibility that comes with having a recognized name.

    I have, quite often, spoken of books I do like. I've actually done two reviews on request. Believe me when I say they were very hard work. I want to focus my very hard work on writing books.

    LOL. I am sure your readers want that too! I think it’s great that you speak of books you like. I agree review writing is very hard work. For me personally, fiction writing is even harder work, and downright humbling, as I said above.

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  19. Terry Odell
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 10:23:18

    Another topic that hits home. Unlike Nora Roberts, I don’t have a ‘name’ ( someday, MAYBE?) but I do have friends and writing ‘associates’ in the industry. Both my RWA chapters offer incentives for posting reviews on line, and the requests come with the unspoken ‘give your buddies 5 star reviews’.

    I know there are those who create separate identities for Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and I think it’s so they’re not going to be connected to a review that may or may not be as honest as one done on a review site.

    On my blog, I state what book I’m reading, but I’m uncomfortable offering an opinion, because, as someone pointed out, we’re taught to be nice to each other. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who had Thumper’s words drilled into her from an early age …”if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” One author posted a comment saying, “Tell me how you liked the book.” I can’t answer that on my blog because I make it a point NOT to offer my opinion. If I say something nice about one book, does that imply I don’t like a book I don’t say anything about? Or if I say I love it to be nice, what does that say when someone picks up a book I said was great and they hate it? Will they decide they’re not going to read my books?

    Recently, I was in the position of having to grovel for cover quotes for an upcoming release. That, to me, was a really tough task, but one the publisher throws at its authors. While these weren’t true reviews, I hated putting people I knew on the spot. Maybe that’s one good thing about not having a name yet. Nobody asks me for quotes.

    When I was a reader, I didn’t mind posting my opinions. As an author, I’m not comfortable. (which is probably as close to Nora Roberts as I’m ever going to get.)

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  20. Robin
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 10:24:58

    I think the trash/bash distinction is very difficult because some authors (not anyone who comments here) take any type of criticism as an affront.

    This is why it still creeps me out when the whole “an editor won’t touch an author who has trashed another author in a review” thing comes up. It always sounds like a threat to me, and one that really makes very little distinction between responsible reviewing and so-called “trashing.” I don’t think it was that long ago that a certain very popular Romance messageboard had the wrath of many authors for critical reviewing. And the whole no-criticizing other authors thing also seems against the interest of editors, because I’d think their top consideration would be publishing marketable and solid books.

    I think this discussion cycles back to the general idea that women ought to be nice to each other; the argument that to be a ‘good sister' one doesn't pee on others in the 'sisterhood' (aka say something not positive).

    Is this unwillingness to review other authors’ work a Romance thing in particular? Because all you have to do is pick up the NYT Book Review to see that some of their most respected and prominent book reviewers are also noted fiction authors.

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  21. Kristen Painter
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 10:27:26

    When I read a book and love it, I’m vocal about it. I recommend it to everyone I know. I blog about it. I tell my chaptermates about it. I post about it at Romance Divas. I force it on my friends. Who later thank me.

    When I don’t like a book, I will often do the same thing BUT without naming the book or the author. I may use parts of the plot as examples, or reference certain unlikeable traits of either hero or heroine, but I refrain from using the author’s name or the book’s title, because I am also trying to get published. Additionally, as the person in charge of booking speakers for my chapter and many of the Authors of the Month for Romance Divas, ticking off an author is counter-productive.

    I do, however, sometimes review books under an alias. As I get closer to publication, my time for that lessens. I’ll never stop shouting about great books, though. Those deserve some noise.

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  22. Robin Bayne
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 10:32:27

    My experience has been the snarkiest reviews may begin with the reviewer stating “I usually detest this type of story, but decided to make an exception for this book.”

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  23. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 10:54:24

    Hey, as long as authors are still writing and publishing, what they do in their free time is up to them. If they want to do reviews, go for it.

    How they do their reviews, though, should be thoughtful. How's the quote go? “The toes you step on today may belong to the person whose ass you kiss tomorrow.” Something like that… In other words, if you rip apart Author X's latest book in a review, chances are you shouldn't later approach that same author for a cover quote when she's a bestselling author and your work is about to be published. I'm not saying pull a Harriet and automatically love everything. But if you're an author and you're going to critique other authors' books, be thoughtful.

    I agree with that, and I think it’s also good policy for reviewers who have no interest in writing fiction. Because as Julie Leto’s example of a review that had no thought put into it demonstrates, that kind of review is helpful to no one. It doesn’t give readers much sense of whether or not they are likely to enjoy a book, either.

    And, in this spirit, if you're a reviewer, and you become a published author, it's possible that authors whose books you critiqued previously may not be overly helpful to you now. (Helpful how, you ask? Cover quotes, blog tours, cross-promotional opportunities, panels at conventions, name dropping during signings…the list, and it's an ever-growing one, goes on.) That's just how it goes. That absolutely shouldn't stop you from doing reviews -’ if you enjoy reviewing, and you're good at it, and you have a readership, please don't stop! But yes, there is a chance it may bite you on the derrière when you become an author.

    Well, I certainly understand that in the case of someone who gave the kind of “trashing” review Julie Leto posted an example of.

    Still — this might be idealistic of me, but if an author has given negative but thought-out criticism in the past, I don’t think that it should come back to bite them on the derriere. I’m not saying it won’t, I’m just saying that there is something wrong with the picture if this is the case.

    This is just my opinion, but I think that we should all be mature enough to understand that to publish is to give something to the public at large, and that means that not everyone will love everything.

    According to one of my college professors, the audience at the Globe Theatre threw rotten tomatoes at the stage because they didn’t like the ending of Romeo and Juliet. And Shakespeare turned around and spoofed R&J himself in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with that Pyramus and Thisbe play-within-the-play.

    If the most respected writer in the history of the craft was able to accept rotten tomatoes with good-natured humor and self-deprecation, shouldn’t the rest of us follow his example?

    Again, it is probably idealistic of me, but I think that it’s petty to refuse to help a fellow writer on the basis that that writer gave one a reasoned but negative review. If they took the time to read the book and to think about what did and didn’t work for them, and to communicate that, then IMO they have been fair (and put a lot of work into that process, too).

    When I was in college, I was on the editorial board of the art-literary journal. I was also writing poetry at the time. We were encouraged to submit our stuff to the journal, but anonymously, so that our fellow editors would not know who the writer was when discussing whether to publish something.

    Once, I was pretty critical of a poem that later got published. I then found out that a friend of mine who was also on the editorial board and had been present at that discussion had written it. But I would never have known that she’d written it from anything she said or did — she never made me feel that I had done anything wrong by being critical of her poem. It didn’t change the fact of our friendship.

    By the same token, I also found out from another friend that someone else on the editorial board, who had been in my poetry writing class, not only disliked my poems, he also disliked me personally. This was not easy to hear, but I still voted for the same guy to become editor-in-chief, and I still encouraged him to submit a poem of his (which I had seen in the poetry writing class and really liked) to the journal. I still supported him in other words, because I felt that he was a talented writer and an insightful editor.

    Possibly this is easier for college students writing poems than it is for full-time, professional novelists. But nonetheless, I think that ideally at least, the same principles should apply.

    Good writing is good writing, and deserves to be recognized. Weak writing should not be praised just because the writer is a friend. Writing should be judged on its own merits, and nothing else.

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  24. Keishon
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 10:55:29

    Janine – I would think authors would make good reviewers since they know the craft but that’s me. As a reader, all I care about is finding good books to read and reviews are one of the tools that I use to achieve that. I can’t believe that most authors so far seem conciliatory about the issue of writers reviewing other writers. Interesting. There has to be one dissenter out there. [g]

    My mantra has always been that there is no such thing as universal appeal in anything. Every book I’ve loved has had flaws but I choose to overlook them because the sum of it’s best parts often outweigh the bad and are not worth discussing (for me) in a review. One thing I can’t help is my personal biases and experiences that enter into my review of a book and often I state that up front and I’m not a industry paid professional but a reader so I can do that. But then my review won’t mean much to anybody but me and the readers whose tastes align closely to my own. I’ve always thought that readers and authors put too much power into reviews. They offer (reviews) good info and publicity but often they don’t make the sale for me. I’m weird like that. I love reading the reviews here, I really do. They are all well crafted and often funny.

    So, good luck to you in your writing career, Janine and keep us posted on your progress!

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  25. Nora Roberts
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 10:56:19

    ~Is this unwillingness to review other authors' work a Romance thing in particular? Because all you have to do is pick up the NYT Book Review to see that some of their most respected and prominent book reviewers are also noted fiction authors.~

    I don’t know if it is or not–and I guess I have to be honest and say I don’t really care.

    I think a writer’s job is to write. The rest is choice. I don’t think a writer should be pressured or criticized for not writing reviews any more than I think a writer should be if she chooses to write them.

    Whatever her reasons for not doing so might be, they’re her reasons. And that makes them valid to me.

    I also suspect that those who do review are good at or at least inclined to analysing fiction. I’m not particularly good at it. Being able to write a story, and hopefully write it well, doesn’t automatically mean you can articulate clearly or entertainly or informatively about the ins and outs of someone else’s work.

    As for doing the author a favor by having it reviewed by a name, by someone with expertise? Myself, I don’t want to be responsible for providing another writer with feedback. Who’s to say I’m right?

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  26. Sherry Thomas
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 11:02:32

    It is the ones who do not speak out who Janine might have more from which to fear.

    Alas, there is that.

    But while I do worry a bit about how Janine might be received in certain circles, I do not think her reviewer status or her affiliation with DA will have any negative impact in the marketplace, when she becomes a published author.

    One of the things I realized from the Cassie Edwards affair is that what happens online stays largely online. Not the desired outcome in that particular instance, but in a reverse way, helpful to someone like Janine who is concerned about a potential backlash. Backlash there might very well be, but it will not matter much beyond its immediate unpleasantness.

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  27. Jaci Burton
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 11:07:24

    Since I write, I don’t have time to review books, but I do blog about books I’ve read that I loved, because I do still read (obviously). That being said, I know of several authors who also review and do a damn fine job of being completely objective and posting concise reviews about what they liked and what they didn’t like about the book.

    I think the problem for some authors as reviewers comes from perception. If for example I read a book and didn’t like it, then posted my review of said book on my blog, there are always going to be those reading that review who will think I have an agenda for posting that review–that maybe I have a dislike for that author, or for some reason I want that book to sell poorly. There’s always a perception of fierce competition between authors, and I really don’t have an answer for why that perception exists. So I tend to never post anything negatively publicly about a book I didn’t care for. And I’m fine with that. I love gushing over books I’ve loved, and I’m okay with not saying anything about books I didn’t care for. I’m not in the review business. I’m a writer who also loves to read and I’ll leave it at that.

    And congrats on your writing, Janine! I wish you the best of luck with it :-)

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  28. Lisa
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 11:25:16

    I strongly believe there is a difference between writing a review that is honest and professional and writing a review that is meant to entertain at the expense of the author. That is no different than cracking jokes in any venue just to get attention. Some say all publicity is good publicity but I am not sure I agree. Maybe its good publicity for the person creating the laughs and enjoying everyone laughing at their creation.

    I am not saying a bad review is not okay. One person will love a movie, a book, a restaurant for that matter, and another hates it. This is part of the joy of choices.

    Aside from that, I believe anyone with a big public following can impact opinions. People are easily influenced by others. That is how and why certain marketing strategies are put in place. That is how a buzz is created. However, if the bad comes with the proper dose of professional, and invites conflicting opinions, rather than makes others feel they are foolish for feeling differently, then I think that is when it becomes a positive experience for everyone involved. Even the author who had some who didn’t love their work. The platform can be the difference.

    Lisa

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  29. Jackie
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 11:30:46

    Again, it is probably idealistic of me, but I think that it's petty to refuse to help a fellow writer on the basis that that writer gave one a reasoned but negative review. If they took the time to read the book and to think about what did and didn't work for them, and to communicate that, then IMO they have been fair (and put a lot of work into that process, too).

    I absolutely agree with you. And in a perfect world, books would be judged on their content alone. But unfortunately, it doesn’t always work this way. Sad, but true.

    In terms of the writing end of things, the best advice I ever received was years ago at the International Women’s Writers Guild, from the keynote speaker, whose name I’ve totally forgotten (helpful, ain’t I?) — she finished her speech by saying “Never be daunted.” I pass this on to you.

    The best advice that I received recently was from author Martha O’Connor. She said, “Write like there’s no one watching.” Passing this on to you too.

    Best of luck, Janine!

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  30. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 11:31:12

    I don't think anyone could be upset for having their book considered as serious literature and treated with the respect you always do.

    I guess that's the key. If a reviewer respects the author, even if disagreeing with how she wrote the book, then unless the author is one of the stray odd ones the reviewer will be respected in return.

    I hope you are right about that, and about my reviews too, Jan. Thanks for all the kind words.

    By the way, kudos to you for having the courage to do the right thing and letting people know your connection with the other two authors.

    [Blushing]. Truth to tell, it wasn’t an easy decision for me, but I felt I owed it to our readers. And I didn’t want to feel that I was being secretive when commenting on these two books once they are out.

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  31. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 11:38:21

    There is no reason an author can't review a book, particularly if they follow proper etiquette in doing so-respect those as you'd have those respect you.

    Anne, I do agree with you on this and for that reason, I try to take a respectful tone in my reviews and to approach them the way I would want reviewers to approach my own writing if I were published — with honesty as well as thoughtfulness.

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  32. Meredith Duran
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 11:42:09

    Congrats, Janine! I know this was a momentous post for you, and I think you raise some interesting questions here.

    Certainly I hear people on the issue of not having the time or inclination to review. Robin’s point (that NY Times reviews are generally written by authors) also makes me wonder, do authors in certain genres actually feel professional/institutional pressure to review? If so, might the disparity between reviewing in different genres be connected (however tenuously) to the fact that different genres historically have had very different systems of publicity?

    After all, the romance genre developed during a period when reviews of romance novels were difficult to find. Mainstream publications didn’t review the genre, and the internet was not around to fill the void. And so, unlike fans of most other genres, romance readers in the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s had very few ways to factor formal (rather than word-of-mouth) reviews into their decisions at the bookstore. It makes sense, then, that the reviewer herself might have come to occupy a different position in the culture of romance fiction (and in this culture I include both authors *and* readers) than in other genres.

    I think the internet must be changing that, if only because, like Janine, I feel that AAR and TRR changed my reading habits profoundly (and sealed my love of the genre). But perhaps that only underlines my previous point. Up until I found those sites in 1999, published reviews were irrelevant to my decisions at the bookstore, because, as far as I knew, there weren’t any out there.

    P.S. As Janine’s crit partner, I’ve got to say — if you think her blog posts are eloquent and elegant, you should get a look at her fiction! :)

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  33. Jeaniene Frost
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 11:51:20

    Jaci wrote: “If for example I read a book and didn't like it, then posted my review of said book on my blog, there are always going to be those reading that review who will think I have an agenda for posting that review-that maybe I have a dislike for that author, or for some reason I want that book to sell poorly.”

    That about sums it up for me, too. I know I’ve already gotten some comments when I blog about a book I’ve loved that go along the lines of “are you just saying you liked it because you’re friends with the author?” There can be the perception – not always unwarranted, I’m sure – that authors are merely praising their friends and badmouthing their enemies when it comes to doing positive/negative book reviews. I’m already limited for time, so I don’t review everything I read. If I’ve really enjoyed a book, I’ll take the time to mention it in my blog. But I don’t blog about every book I’ve ever liked – again, it would take too much time – and I don’t blog about books that weren’t my cup of tea. I’m already answering concerns that I might be biased about the books I love; I don’t want to open the door into explaining my motivation about the books I didn’t love. When you’re a reader or a reviewer, motivation isn’t automatically suspect, as it can be at times when you’re an author.

    That being said, best of luck to you, Janine! And kudos for being so forthcoming.

    P.S. What a great name you have :)

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  34. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 12:00:00

    I think authors can still be bloggers/reviewers for this reason -’ every author starts out as a reader. Love of books and stories is what drives people to write their own. Getting published doesn't take away that love -’ and it shouldn't take away someone's right to comment on books/publishing/whatever.

    I couldn’t agree more and that is where I feel that while I don’t want to put pressure on any one individual to write reviews, I also wish that the romance community (not just authors but also their fans) would embrace thoughtful criticism in a more wholehearted way than it has so far.

    I’m not speaking of drive-by one star reviews that say “This book sucks, and the author is an idiot too,” but of thoughtful dissections of a book’s strengths and weaknesses in the eyes of the reader. That’s the kind of criticism that I want to see embraced because I think that kind of examination can be of benefit to writers as well as to readers.

    I think that the more authors and readers participate in such thoughtful conversations, the more free to engage in that conversation people will feel. I sometimes fear that there are readers and writers who would like to be able to share their opinions but who feel that they can’t because of fear of the possibility of backlash.

    And I think it’s up to the community as a whole to help those fears subside to the extent it is possible to do so. Each one of us who contributes to the conversation, whether it is by reviewing, whether it is by commenting on a review, or whether it is simly by being present on blogs that offer these kind of reviews, makes it easier for the conversation to exist. And the conversation serves the community, I honestly believe that.

    Now obviously, it is up to each individual to make his or her own choice about whether to enter into any conversation. And I agree with Nora Roberts that it is a matter of personal choice. It’s not something that should be required of any one individual, or that any one person should be pressured to do. It’s hard enough just to write a book, and more requirements should not be added to that job.

    But when much of the community avoids this kind of discussion, then the reverse kind of pressure comes into being — the pressure to keep silent. And that’s not good either. So while I don’t want to pressure any one individual to speak, I do want to encourage the community to keep the conversation rolling.

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  35. Kathleen O'Reilly
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 12:03:24

    IMHO, as an author, if you review books online, you should be very, very careful.

    I don’t review books very often, but I do enjoy writing about books on my blog that I’ve read and what works and didn’t work for me, and I try to be fair and balanced, but I admit I have snarked in the past. I never snarked about romance, because well, romance has been snarked too much for me to add to the snark-fire. However, there was one time I snarked on non-romance, and I have vowed never to snark again.

    Back in 2006, I read three books around the same time. The Curious Incident of the Dog In Night Time, an ARC of a now unnamed book (a sort of sex-pose), and Gone For Good, and wrote comments about them all in one blog post, sort of a ‘compare and contrast’. Parts of the unnamed book (namely Chapters 2-23) did not work for me, and sadly, SADLY, the USA Today decides to quote me on it. Yes, the one line out of my comments that they lifted from my blog was:

    “Chapter 2 through 23 made me go “ewww,” several times, and I considered washing my sheets.”

    Now, I am not a name (I like to think of myself as a stealth-author) so it was more a ha-ha-ha-ohno-whew! moment for me, rather than an ‘ohmygodmycareerisover,’ but I had those thoughts, and they were scary. I waited by the phone for the author of the unnamed book to call me and whisper vile, nasty things to me, but she never did. However, I learned my lesson. USA Today is listening, they are googling, and when you snark, they will find you, and plaster it all over their papers without telling you a dad-gummed thing.

    As a writer, or an aspiring writer, I say only one thing. Snarkers beware.

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  36. Marge
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 12:30:41

    Janine,

    Kathleen makes an excellent point, and I put this before you. If you give a review that criticizes another author’s book, you’re taking a risk. Let’s say you review Suzie Q’s new romance and you give a negative review to her book.

    You become a published author. You’re new, want to build your career. Suzie Q is suddenly now a NY Times bestselling author and she’s got a choice to help out a new author. She’s picking fellow authors for an anthology, and doing a book tour and a workshop at RWA.

    She has a choice between you and Molly B. Molly B is also a debut author and Molly B has never reviewed Suzie’s books.

    Whom do you think Suzie B will select?

    Human nature being what it is, she’ll choose Molly B. I’m not saying you can’t have a successful career as an author if you keep reviewing. But, you are taking risks and have to ask yourself if those risks are worth it. Reader reviews are one thing. But if you want to be a reviewer and an author, you have to consider all the potential problems that can arise. Some authors will be big enough to forgive critical reviews. Some won’t.

    And if you are serious about writing, when you become published, you’ll find there just is so much time on your plate. Would you rather spend it reviewing or in promoting your book and writing?

    Good luck to you in your writing. I applaud your honesty in this matter and wish you success.

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  37. K. Z. Snow
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 13:05:24

    This has been a dilemma for me. Frankly, I love writing reviews, opinionated hag that I am. But I would hate like hell either wounding or alienating fellow authors. So what I end up doing, particularly when I’m disappointed in a work, is writing a personal “vent” review that never leaves my computer. It’s a cathartic exercise with no unpleasant repercussions.

    On the other hand, consistently writing glowing reviews, a la HK, makes one look like either a suck-up or an undiscerning dimwit. If I’m really impressed by a book, I’ll usually tell the author directly.

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  38. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 13:18:25

    I think it's more of a conflict of interest than a backlash. The more you write, and the more people you know, the harder it is for a writer to review a book and not have some kind of baggage. If you are in the habit of reviewing everything you read, will you go soft on your friends and stick it to your enemies?

    To answer these questions:

    I am not going to review my author friends. But I do think both Sherry and Meredith are exceptionally talented and I will say so informally. Since I’m “out” now about my relationship with them, people can take my opinion however they want to. But it is not going soft, it is my honest opinion.

    (In both cases those friendships started because we had a similar taste in books. And since we have very similar tastes in reading, it’s not that surprising that I love their writing voices too.)

    Re. sticking it to enemies. As far as I know, I haven’t made any enemies. :) But in last week’s opinion piece in blogging on ethics, Jane mentioned that I regularly praise the writing of an author who has said some not-so-nice things about Jane. I am certainly not going to take the attitude that just because someone has been unkind to Jane, I should “stick it” to that person in a review. I love this author’s writing and so long as she keeps writing as well as she does, I will keep saying so.

    But if I felt so alienated by an author that I could no longer review her book on its own merits, then I would refrain from reviewing that author.

    Give a slight edge to books edited by people you want to submit to?

    I don’t generally think about who the editor is when I review a book. In the rare event that something like that does occur to me, I bend over backwards to judge the book on its own merits. And if a time came when I felt I could not do so, I would avoid reviewing those books.

    Be too hard on people who break your favorite craft rules?

    Putting on my writer hat for a moment, I don’t believe there are any craft rules that cannot be broken. The question is always how and why they are broken. Anything can be made to work, if a writer is skillful enough.

    As a reviewer then, the question becomes whether the writer makes me feel that I am in capable hands when I read their book.

    Or will you pick on them for mistakes you see in your own work, and are hypersensitive to, but that don't bother other people?

    Hmm. That’s a harder one to answer. I guess I don’t believe that just becasue I’m hypersensitive to a mistake, means that that mistake doesn’t bother other people. Maybe they aren’t conscious that it bothers them, but that doesn’t mean that their reading experience wouldn’t be even better if that mistake weren’t there. But one mistake won’t make me give a book a low grade. It requires a lot of flaws for that to happen.

    And if you do a negative review, dig a little too deep and slice into a vein on some author, are you prepared to have them do the same thing to you next week?

    I am not published yet so I can only project, but I believe that my answer is that I am prepared to receive the kind of reviews I give.

    It's not so much backlash, as it is karma.

    I see this word, “karma,” come up a lot in discussions of this subject and I have to admit that it bothers me, because it seems to me that there is often an implication that it is bad karma. I’m not saying that you are using it in this way, but I think that is how a lot of people use the word.

    It seems to me that there is often an unspoken implication in the use of the word “karma” that a well thought-out but critical review is like a bad deed for which we writer-reviewers will have to pay someday. And I reject that concept, because I don’t feel that I am doing harm to someone if I review their book critically, so long as I have also given it thought and am polite in the process.

    In fact, not only do I not feel that a negative but thoughtful review is a bad deed, I actually feel that it is a good deed.

    From my vantage point, there are umpteen authors clamoring for me to review their books. We get inundated with review requests at Dear Author. So are we really doing something bad to these authors if we give them an honest but possibly critical review that nonetheless brings their book to the attention of thousands of readers?

    If a review says, “This book had some good points, and here’s what I thought those were, but overall it didn’t work so well for me, and here are the reasons why,” then readers can often determine from that whether or not to buy a book, and often, more often than you might think, they will buy a book even if a review is less than glowing.

    Some negative criticism is only a matter of opinion.

    That’s absolutely true, and I am on the record as saying that a review is nothing more than one person’s opinion. In my reviewing, I often emphasize this by saying “I feel that _____ ,” or “It seems to me that _____ .” When other DA reviewers have reviewed the same book, I will usually include a link to those reviews and mention that another reviewer had a different opinion than mine, if that is the case.

    And some comments from another writer will boil down to “I wouldn't have done it this way,” which is true, but not particularly useful.

    I agree that such a review would not be very helpful either to writers or to readers.

    As far as craft issues go, I'd much rather get and give honest critiquing before the book is published, than point out the flaws after it is too late for the writer to fix them. IMHO, it's more useful to Beta read for a few people who you really ‘get', than it is to review a lot of people whose work leaves you cold.

    I think they are both useful, in different ways. Of course, it is always better for a writer to incorporate feedback before a book is published, but that is not to say that authors can’t also learn something from reviews after a book is published.

    But the main craft benefit I see to reviews is that they are available to the public, and therefore, if they have any insights to offer, they offer them to the entire community.

    Writers who are just starting out and haven’t published yet can learn from reviews and the conversation they engender. They can use them to find the authors who inspire them to greater heights, and they can use them to learn how to avoid some mistakes.

    An honest pre-publication critique can be enormously useful, but it is only enormously useful to the few people one can give that service to, rather than to an entire community.

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  39. Bethany
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 13:21:18

    “Both my RWA chapters offer incentives for posting reviews on line, and the requests come with the unspoken ‘give your buddies 5 star reviews’”

    This puts me in mind of the Avon FanLit competition I entered two Augusts ago. I wasn’t even going to enter–really, I wasn’t–because I had just started a new job. I had planned on reading and giving feedback because I’d won some awards for my critiquing skills in college, but when I read the first entry, a horrid, purple-y throwback to Adele Ashworth’s Winter Garden (the entry ended up in the Top Ten out of 500+ entries!), I knew I owed it to myself to write.

    I had never written in a competitive forum before and I soon learned that these sorts of online competitions have sneaky, sneaky rules. I got completely swept away for 6 weeks. Writing all day and night–which was incredible. I was like a machine–and loved every bit of it. The marketing part was slightly more complicated. I was so desperate to make the Top Ten each week, and subsequently, have Eloisa James and Avon editors read my writing, that I practically sold my soul over the internet. It became less and less about the substance and more and more about finding interesting ways to sell your writing–a very good crash on how to do well in the industry, but still. I found myself exchanging emails with strangers 10, 20 times a day just to get them to promise to give a 5-star review.

    There were message boards where accusations flew back and forth and if you offended somebody of literary merit (only within the competetion, of course), you could be sure that your story would be slammed by other writers with a series of .5 stars as punishment. It made me seriously rethink the world of romance that I thought I knew. I thought I was different, that I wouldn’t sucuumb to dirty politics, which is what I think book trashing amounts to (hence the relevance of my tangent). I never went so far as to deliberately mark down stories, but I went to some pretty desperate measures to get people to register with the site and vote for my stories–including a guest appearance at a writing class at my alma mater!

    Final Result: My final entry placed 23rd out of 500-something. Not too, too shabby for a first attempt!

    But I suppose that was why I was so hesitant about joining blogs for the first time after the competition. People–especially romance enthusiasts–are really cruel, which is levels below any of the snark on DA or SB. But I’m glad I did decide to start participating in blogs. It’s kept me writing and connected to the industry. To this day, I have no remembrance of how I discovered Dear Author, but I am truly thankful. Because it is posts like this, that aren’t afraid to deal with the very real struggles of writers that set your site above the rest. If I had to struggle in an industry that was all cute kittens (no offense!) and fake, happy, PC reviews, I probably would have thrown in the towel a year and a half ago. Likewise, I also could have given in after receiving my cold, hard slap-in-the-face of reality–that there is stiff, relentless competition in this business and that writing is only the half of it. But Dear Author gives me a refreshing daily dose of what I need to know–and what really matters, I think.

    I’m proud to be an aspiring writer along with you, Janine. And you can just give me a holler if you ever need a quote. I promise to give 5 stars!

    Bethany Allinder

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  40. Jane
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 13:53:43

    Bethany – what an interesting insider account of the Avon FanLit situation. I had heard that it was a voting mess at times and I can see how easily it would be to get caught up in that. I am glad that you are continuing to write though.

    I was thinking on this issue as I was walking to lunch. I don’t mind criticism of me as a blogger because I am not defined as a blogger. It’s just a part of my life. But I do get very defensive when someone criticizes the romance genre. I was reading a blog post the other day (and corollary comments) at a fantasy writer’s blog that was somewhat derisive of the romance genre. I had to sit on my hands not to comment and be combative in commenting. I do define myself as a romance reader and therefore perceive attacks on the genre as a personal attack on my intelligence and taste.

    I know that there are times that I have thought to myself – who is reading this dreck and why – but have come to the realization that those comments are insulting to readers and not really the work. No one likes the intelligence and taste to be derided.

    I think that is why some authors view reviews as a personal attack even when the dissection is of the book because the review is a slight to their intelligence and their taste. Perhaps in writing, the author and the product can never truly be separated for some because they are their writing.

    I also think that readers are a bit more perceptive than others give them credit for. Because if we were “sticking” it to an author, I think that can be obvious at times. Although, as some authors upthread have indicated (and I hadn’t even thought about before), an inaccurate picture can be drawn when an author posts a negative about a book. Ironically, though, because many authors have the policy of only talking about books that they like, I can’t really use their recommendations because I don’t know what they don’t like.

    I remember before starting to blog that I would rely heavily on AAR Rachel’s reviews (I am sad that she doesn’t review with any regularity anymore). Her tastes, both her likes and dislikes, so closely paralleled mine that when she took a journey outside “our” regular reading tropes, I gladly followed. So to be a trustworthy source of recommendations, the reviewer has to be reliable, meaning that if we step outside the box to “skewer” someone, we begin to lose our credibility and as bloggers, I think our most valuable capital is our credibility.

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  41. Ann Bruce
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 13:53:45

    The commenters here have said everything I would say (and I have already blogged about this topic ad nauseum elsewhere–and ended up receiving emails that should’ve went directly to my trash bin), so I just want to add my congrats and good luck with the book, Janine!

    And, as a reader first and writer second, I have to say if you decide to stop reviewing, it will be a sad, sad day because yours and Janet’s thoughtful reviews have gotten me back into historical romances.

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  42. Lynne
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 14:04:10

    I’m completely fine with reviews (and FanLit scores, for that matter) offered in good faith. It’s one person’s opinion about what did or did not work for her.

    But when reviews and FanLit scores are deliberately skewed up or down by the reviewer’s agenda or personal feelings about the author, then that’s heading into propaganda territory, IMO. I don’t like feeling manipulated or lied to.

    FanLit was…quite an eyeopening tour of the less appealing aspects of human nature. Yes, I met some nice people there, but I eventually to back away from teh crazy. :-)

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  43. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 14:05:44

    Janine, first off, good luck with your book. ;)

    Thanks, Shiloh!

    You may have authors holding a grudge over negative reviews that try to use this, poke at you, jab at you, etc, etc etc, but the sad fact of the matter is even if you hadn't been reviewing before you started writing, chances are you're going to encounter some petty types anyway. Writers are people and you'll find the same pettiness among writers that you find anywhere else in life.

    The only thing is you can is just not let it affect you.

    Yes, I guess this is what I will have to do. And if I find I can’t do it, I will stop reviewing.

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  44. K. Z. Snow
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 14:06:56

    Robin's point (that NY Times reviews are generally written by authors) also makes me wonder, do authors in certain genres actually feel professional/institutional pressure to review?

    I’ve gotten the impression this is particularly true for authors of literary fiction. It seems they feel a need to prove their erudition and “legitimacy” by publishing reviews and essays on a fairly regular basis, in respected periodicals.

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  45. Melissa Marr
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 14:18:06

    Thank you for this post. It’s something that’s been brought up a few times with author friends, so it’s interesting to read more thoughts on it.

    Personally, I don’t review books b/c I think there’s 1) a subjectivity issue (we all are), 2) time (I don’t have it), and 3) anti-negativity (a faith-based thing for me). I do endorse books in my blog sometimes, BUT if a book is written by a friend, I notate that in order to express that there may be a subjective issue with my endorsement. OTOH, I won’t recommend against a book b/c putting negativity out there violates my personal code of faith.

    As to backlash, I think there are some good points raised in the thread. I know authors who are holding grudges for slams made by other authors. I have heard comments from agents abt googling a prospective client to see what they’re like. There are murmurs I’ve heard that surprised me, but the short version is that long careers & long memories can lead to grudges.

    Personally, I consider trash-talking when deciding if I should read a book for an endorsement quote. I have a very limited amount of time to read for this and when I read trash-talking, mean remarks (abt ANY book, not mine in particular), I’m disinclined to put that author’s book on my TBR pile for possible blurbs. I google authors (if their books make it past my editor & agent). My personal anti-venom policy means I take the whole pkg into consideration before I put my name beside anyone’s book. No, my name isn’t that significant, but it’s MINE. Admittedly, the months Wicked Lovely spent on the NY Times and on other lists increased reading requests rather shockingly (which made me glad I had criteria in place already). But the bottom line for me is that I need to live by my ethics. Supporting negative folks doesn’t fit that code.

    I’d like to say thoughtful reviews are different, but sometimes I read reviews and wonder if the writer knows how s/he sounds. Attitude & tone don’t always convey well online. Some people have naturally funny voices, but others try for that and simply sound mean. Or maybe it’s just that my subjectivity matches those writers . . . Hard to say.

    JMHO, of course.

    PS Good luck with your writing.

    (Great topic.)

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  46. Ann Bruce
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 14:19:19

    I went to some pretty desperate measures to get people to register with the site and vote for my stories

    Bethany–I so feel you. I entered my first and last writing contest late last year and have vowed to never do so again because I didn’t like that I twice posted to email loops asking people to vote for me. I hate it when people expect you to vote for them just because you know them–and I did that very same thing. (Looking back at the posts on my web site and blog, I asked people to read ALL the entries and vote for the one(s) they enjoyed most, which didn’t necessarily include mine, so I can live with that.) When I pointed this out after someone brought up the topic, I was crucified because everyone thought I was smacking them and their tactics personally. (Really, sometimes it’s only about the poster and not the readers, people. And for the love of all things shiny, it was only a contest!)

    And, frankly, I looked at the contest as a publicity opportunity, stated so publicly, and was crucified for that as well. Apparently, not taking the contest as seriously as everyone else made me a bad person.

    (Yes, I know I need to use that filter between brain and mouth a lot more often to avoid FiM disease.)

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  47. JaneO
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 14:27:55

    I am speaking strictly as a reader, and I find reviews invaluable, especially reasonably lengthy and thoughtful ones like the ones at this site. However, sites that give practically everything four or four and a half starts are useless. The whole point of a review is to make distinctions.
    This does not mean that I only read books that get good reviews. Reviews that tell me why the reviewer liked or disliked the book give me an idea whether or not I will like it, and what the reviewer disliked may not make it a bad book. I remember reading a review of an Eloisa James book that complained about the multiple plot lines, which I loved.
    On the other hands, nasty reviews are fun to read. Nobody remembers Dorothy Parker’s good reviews, but who can forget a line like “She ran the gamut of emotion from A to B.” And the nasty ones are probably more fun to write too.When you think of a really snarky one-liner, it’s hard to resist.
    That’s probably one reason pseudonyms were invented.

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  48. Jennie F.
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 14:33:59

    Janine, thank you for your thoughtful post, and congratulations on your writing! I do admire people who take on fiction writing, because I know it’s hard; in fact, tremendously hard to do well, IMO. I have never done much fiction writing (except in a creative writing class I once took), and any time I think about doing so, I end up dismissing the notion due to my profound laziness.

    As a longtime if not always vocal member of the online romance community (I started reading romance I think around 1994, and I would guess I was probably online by 1997), I have a little bit of a different take on readers v. authors, blogging ethics and writing while reviewing.

    I am one of those readers who feels that the fact that romance is a overwhelmingly female community really skews these issues. The directive to be “nice and polite”, the idea that criticism should always be “constructive” – I guess I just don’t get that, entirely. Ad hominem attacks on authors are obviously inappropriate, immature and rude. But while several posters have commented about reviews that essentially say “author x is a moron”, I really don’t think I’ve seen reviews like that at the sites I visit. What I’ve seen is more often along the lines of “author x’s characters are morons.”

    So – is that the same thing? Technically, no. But I can understand how an author might feel that it is. And I can kind of understand readers who liked author x’s book feeling kind of insulted. But at the same time, I feel like readers should be able to say that the characters are morons, if that’s what they think. I’ve never formally reviewed (except for the two joint reviews I’ve done at this site with Janine), but when I’ve informally reviewed a book I dislike for friends in an online group I belong to, I think it’s fair to say that I can be pretty mean. Why? Well, first, because I am trying to entertain my friends. I’m trying to be funny. Second, because crappy books piss me off. I’m a compulsive book-finisher, so I can’t just toss a book that’s not working for me. I have to at least skim to the finish. At that point, I may feel the need to vent a bit.

    I realize that a closed group is a little bit different than a community such as this where anyone and everyone can see what one writes. But a part of me still balks at the idea that I have to tone down what I want to say, for fear of offending. That I have to be “nice.” Again, I’m not talking about personally attacking authors. But the fact is, even though I am an avid romance reader (probably half the 70 or so books I read in a year are romances), I feel that there are a lot of bad romances out there. Not just “not my type of book”, but from an objective literary standpoint (as much as such a thing exists), poorly written, badly characterized, and stupidly plotted books. Which means, I guess, that I think there are a lot of bad romance writers out there. Which I fear may make me seem like 1) a bitch and 2) one of the “mean girls” that are talked about all around the internets.

    I will cop to 1), but have a problem with 2). I am not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. Again, when I’m mean about a book, it’s because I’m trying to be entertaining and because the fact (or my perception) that the book is crap pisses me off. I am not thinking about the author reading my comments, or a fan of the book reading my comments, and being hurt or offended. I’m kind of indifferent to both, honestly because: see 1) above.

    (As an aside, I wonder if anyone will take issue with my equating being mean with being entertaining. I don’t think it’s the only way to be funny or entertaining, and I don’t like being around people who are negative and mean about everything. But I also subscribe to the epigram “If you can’t say anything nice, come sit by me.”)

    But, back to you, Janine. I have always found your reviews to be thoughtful, polite and fair. So I don’t think you *should* have anything to worry about, if the romance community is fair. And I know that you are a highly ethical person, so I trust that you can successfully navigate the writing/reviewing waters. I also know you to be a passionate and eloquent defender of romance, and a champion of the books you love. I have discovered some great authors that I never would have tried without your encouragement. You deserve all the success in the world.

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  49. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 14:34:09

    Kathleen MacIver — Thanks for everything you said.

    Sherry — You are good for my ego. :)

    And while Janine did critique my ambitious, unpublished manuscript about a half-Chinese, half-English girl martial art expert, and also more recently my sophomore book, she was not involved at all at any point in the writing or editing process of PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS.

    I almost made this point myself in the opinion piece — that I had critiqued Heart of Blade and Delicious, but not Private Arrangements. I ended up deciding that this aside was better left for the comment section, but I’m glad to see you have made it. Just so people are clear when Private Arrangements and Delicious are reviewed here on this site.

    And in Meredith’s case, I didn’t critique that much of The Duke of Shadows, either — and that not as thoroughly as I have her more recent work. Which is why I initally thought I could review the books.

    Ultimately I decided not to review either book because I am close to you both, and because I think that readers will give more credence to someone else’s review due to that, anyway.

    Jane

    I am really entertained by snark and I do think that reviews, really entertaining well done reviews, are sort of literary piece in their own right.

    It is probably because I am an aspiring romance writer now that I am less comfortable with snarking than I used to be. I agree with you that a review is also writing, and in that sense, all reviewers are writers. I don’t want to censor any kind of writing, including reviews. But personally, I don’t think I’ll be doing much snarking here.

    But, I do think that editors are business people too and if the work is good enough, I think an editor would likely overlook the fact that you might have been fierce about one of her books in the past.

    The fact that Kathryn Smith, Marianne Stillings and Megan Frampton of AAR all went on to be published suggests that this is the case. In any case, I am not going to let the fact that I am a reviewer discourage me from writing.

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  50. Jennie F.
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 14:39:05

    That's absolutely true, and I am on the record as saying that a review is nothing more than one person's opinion. In my reviewing, I often emphasize this by saying “I feel that _____ ,” or “It seems to me that _____ .”

    I do this a lot when I write (also use “IMO”, etc.), and I try to be conscious of it, only because I think it’s a female thing, and I find it a little…submissive is too strong a word, and not quite what I mean. Maybe “self-dismissive.”

    Adults of reasonable intelligence should be able to read a sentence or a paragraph and discern whether it’s a statement of opinion or a statement of fact. Actually, I would feel less self-conscious about being a “mean girl” if other readers, at least, would take that attitude when someone criticizes a book that they like. You have your opinion, I have mine, no matter how scathing your opinion may be, I have enough self-esteem to not feel belittled by your opinion. (I admit this is a lot trickier for an actual author to do, but I do think authors should try to develop a thick skin, and if that’s not possible, avoid reviews.)

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  51. K. Z. Snow
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 14:39:20

    Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter who writes thoughtful, literate reviews, as long as they get written. It can only benefit the romance-publishing industry as a whole if both readers and writers are “educated” in what constitutes well-wrought, engaging fiction. DA, far as I’m concerned, is the standard bearer in this arena. (And, dayum, Janine, as much as I hope your writing career soars, your reviews will surely be missed!)

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  52. HelenKay Dimon
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 14:41:27

    Ah, man. My book releases today. Did you have to remind people why they should hate me today?

    Just kidding…well, except for the part where I do have a book coming out today

    Like Julie and some others have said, there is a difference between an honest critique and a nasty diatribe. If you review and write, you have to know the difference in your head, be clear about it and then be prepared for the fact that others don’t see the line where you do and that you’ll get knocked around no matter how you phrase things.

    I write reviews on a review site (although not lately since I don’t have time) for the same reasons I highlight other authors’ books on my personal website: because I truly love this genre, warts and all. Romance novels saved my sanity at a time when my job consisted of representing folks in horrific contested custody cases. I am forever grateful. Yeah, I’ve received a few threats, some odd and nasty emails and even an email from an enraged husband when I gave his wife’s book a good review. Still don’t understand that one. But I have experienced equal nastiness and gotten a 1 star review from a woman who visited my personal website and didn’t like a review quote I cited from Entertainment Weekly about someone else’s book. That experience taught me I can’t control how people perceive and react. All I can do is know what I do and why, not lose my perspective, take responsibility when I cause trouble even unintentionally and never forget that there is a human being behind every book written. When I forget any of that or get to the point where I feel good about not liking a book – something that has never happened because I want to love them all – then I’ll stop reviewing for good. It really is that simple.

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  53. Jennie F.
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 14:55:51

    And the nasty ones are probably more fun to write too.When you think of a really snarky one-liner, it's hard to resist.

    I often find I have more to say about a book I didn’t like than a book I did. Not just when I’m being nasty (about a book I hated), but say a book that ended up being a B- or a C, because it had some things going for it, but some things I really disliked as well. It’s easier for me to pick apart a book like that than to explain in detail why I love the books I love.

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  54. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 15:03:12

    Lynne Connolly -

    So reviewing and blogging history could actually help. It shows you can work regularly.

    I hadn’t thought of it in that light

    But – there are so very many writers jostling for ever-decreasing publishing slots that many are terrified that if they do anything wrong, you're out. It's not true.

    That’s what I was wondering too — if there could really be so many authors competing that any misstep would bar the door to publication. It does seem at times that that’s the public perception, whether or not it’s actually the case.

    I think an author with a point of view is a refreshing thing.

    Me too. I can think of one very opinionated author whose blog I read. Half the time or more I disagree with her opinions, and think they are pretty out there, yet I keep coming back to her blog because she has the courage to express opinions.

    I'm a stickler for historical accuracy (no! you cry. Who would have believed that?) and I know that sometimes my views aren't received nicely. There is one publisher whose doors are forever closed to me. But in a polite way. Nothing is ever said, and if we ever encounter each otehr, it's a cordial meeting. They do very well with their books, and the best of luck to them.

    Do I regret it? Not really. I do feel passionately that the history of my country deserves a bit of respect and as a reader, I love reading a well-written historical romance (the history's spot on, the central couple are interesting and the story is believable and engrossing).
    Which is why I started writing. But that's another story.

    It sounds like you are being true to yourself and your convictions. I am sorry to hear that a publisher has closed its doors to you for such a reason.

    I think your status as a reviewer could actually work for you. You review mine sometimes and you haven't liked everything you've read, but that's fine, because if you don't like the book, you say why and the reason is always understandable (but I will still write what I do, sorry and all that, but I can't please everybody all the time!) Those kind of reviews are great, because when the reviewer says she likes it, you know she's telling the truth!

    I think you are confusing me with Jayne. :) I have never read your books myself, but I know that Jayne has read and reviewed them.

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  55. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 15:14:46

    I think you are confusing me with Jayne. :) I have never read your books myself, but I know that Jayne has read and reviewed them.

    Damn! Sorry about that! In Certain Circles you’re all often referred to as “the Janes” and I really have to apologise for getting it wrong this time!

    I’d say – go for it and be yourself. The odds are that even if you’re published you won’t make the kind of money that will allow you to give up the day job, so you might as well enjoy the ride.
    And if you’re not true to yourself, sooner or later somebody is going to notice.

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  56. Jane
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 15:16:54

    Jennie – I hope you don’t lose your “voice” when you come here to DA because I’ve loved being privy to your private thoughts about books. I think that I have alot less trepidation when it comes to reviewing that Janine and deservedly so. I can’t see myself ever being published. I once joked about writing a self help book on dating based on romance books but that really doesn’t sound very much fun. I’d rather be reading and blogging.

    The review that makes fun of the book can be very entertaining and let’s be frank, some of those reviews are the most widely read here at DA but they aren’t done very often either. Because, if I can circle back, to do too many of them can make you lose credibility just as being too positive can make you lose credibility.

    For me it’s all about balance. Balance shows, more than anything, that your reviews are honest and not based on friendship, personal animus, or some other motivation. Janine’s reviews are some of the most thoughtful and nuanced here at DA and given that she is such a picky reader and that she gives so much careful attention to the critique of a book, it is meaningful when you get a review from her, no matter if it is positive or negative.

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  57. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 15:34:44

    GrowlyCub

    I think this discussion cycles back to the general idea that women ought to be nice to each other; the argument that to be a ‘good sister' one doesn't pee on others in the 'sisterhood' (aka say something not positive).

    I find this regrettable, because that knee-jerk, all happy Harriet type behavior is not doing the romance readers and authors any favors in the long run and is part of the reason why we aren't taken seriously by other, mainly male, audiences/the general public.

    I also think that the fact that the romance community is largely made up of women may be one of the reasons for the controversy that even thoughtful-but-critical reviews can engender at times.

    But I think another reason for it is the fact that romance as an entire genre receives so much criticism in the mainstream press. This leads to a tendency (not just among authors, but also among readers) to be protective and defensive of all romances.

    In the literary writing vs. romance writing debate for example, readers are often pressured to take sides. Most readers either uphold literary writing as inherently superior and deride the romance genre as a whole. Or else they say that romance is better because it’s uplifting and empowering to women and literary fiction is depressing crap. It’s harder to take the middle stance that both genres have strengths and weaknesses, and that you can find disappointing books and exciting books in both.

    Several people made the distinction that constructive negative reviews are okay, but not snarky ones, but what is considered constructive and what's not is very subjective and everybody will have a different threshold when evaluating this.

    And quite honestly, I've seen authors get all nasty about constructive negative reviews, where not a word of snark or shredding/trashing was in evidence.

    I too have seen this kind of defensiveness. I must admit now that being a writer myself, I can often see writers’ side of things too. Some of the “Authors Behaving Badly” pieces that have appeared here and elsewhere have sometimes made me feel as much sympathy for the author as for the reader, because I can see how easy it could be to have a bad day and say something off the cuff and have a reader go to town with it.

    But when it comes to reviews, even though I understand authors who take umbrage at criticism that they see as unfair, I ultimately think it is far more mature to understand that every reader is going to bring her own imagination to a book and have her own response to it. Not everyone is going to love it. And you will hear those opinions as well as others.

    It may be tough to hear this, but if you’re not prepared to hear negative as well as positive opinions, don’t publish. Because the very act of publishing is an invitation to readers to read, to question, to have opinions, and to engage their imaginations and have very personal and individual responses to the work.

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  58. Tumperkin
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 15:40:04

    There are two issues that have come through in these comments. The first is how a negative review should be expressed and the second is whether authors should review other authors’ books.

    On the first question, there seems to be a view amongst some commenters that a negative review is only fair if it is expressed in an objective and professional way. I don’t think it’s as simple as that. Julie Leto’s examples of fair and unfair negative reviews are perfectly correct so far as they go. But what if the comment actually read as follows (making the same points as are made in Julie’s example of a fair negative review but with a more snarky style):

    “The whole premise of the book was totally illogical! Why would the hero hate the heroine simply because her eyes were blue? The whole time I was reading, my hand was itching to slap this guy! I thought he was a total asshat. I couldn’t identify with him and that completely ruined the reading experience for me.”

    Is that ok?

    The reviewer isn’t calling the author an idiot and has clearly expressed her problem with the book. However, she has also mocked the hero and called him an idiot.

    I think that’s ok. Not only that – it’s much more entertaining.

    What if the reviewer then went on to point out that the author’s writing skills are poor and proceeds to give examples in support? Is that fair? It might be thought to be cruel. Particularly where the quotes are very bad. I think that’s ok too. After all, these are an author’s own words.

    Personally, I made a conscious decision not to post negative reviews on my own blog. There are a number of reasons for this but primarily it’s because I started blogging to indulge my love for the genre and I don’t regard my blog as a review site. However, I do write reviews that are published elsewhere and some of them have been negative. And you know what? I tried to make those reviews entertaining and humorous. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that when I am also clearly setting out why I found the book unsatisfactory.

    As for the second question – whether authors should post reviews – I think the question is not whether it is appropriate but whether it is wise. I can well understand authors deciding not to risk opening up a can of worms by posting reviews about fellow-authors.

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  59. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 15:51:39

    Ann Aguirre -

    I used to do reviews. My decision to stop reviewing was two-fold. First, it was the time consideration.

    Although I haven’t stopped reviewing, this is one of the reasons why I’ve had to cut back on the number of reviews I do. I am a slow reader and the reviews do take me a lot of time.

    I wanted to write more than I wanted to read random books.

    The difference between DA and a print review publication is that we don’t read books randomly. We usually only read the ones we have some reason to hope we will enjoy.

    The second reason? Well, honestly, reviewing is weird.

    Sometimes a book is so bad that if you hadn't agreed to review it, you'd stop reading, walk away and forget about it. When you promise to write something about it, you're forced to slog on. I'd rather pay my money and take my chances, so I have the latitude to call it a DNF and move on.

    I have given three (I think) DNF reviews here. I tried to make them as polite as I could, while stating the reasons I did not finish the books. I wrote an opinion piece about it, The DNF Dilemma. I was really torn over whether or not to do DNF reviews because I can see the argument that one shouldn’t review a book one hasn’t finished. On the other hand, forcing myself to finish a book I’m not enjoying would almost certainly only make me like it less, and make me cranky when I wrote the review.

    But reviewing only the books I finish would skew my grades completely toward C and above, and they already skew high. I ended up putting the question to readers and the majority were in favor of my writing DNF reviews. But even then, those books I don’t finish but read enough of to be able to write even a DNF review are very, very few, so there have only been three such reviews. And even when I’ve read a third or more of the book, those DNF reviews have been the hardest ones to write. They are not a full review of the book, but more an explanation of why I didn’t finish it.

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  60. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 16:03:01

    Terry O’Dell —

    Another topic that hits home. Unlike Nora Roberts, I don't have a ‘name' (someday, MAYBE?) but I do have friends and writing ‘associates' in the industry. Both my RWA chapters offer incentives for posting reviews on line, and the requests come with the unspoken ‘give your buddies 5 star reviews'.

    I know there are those who create separate identities for Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and I think it's so they're not going to be connected to a review that may or may not be as honest as one done on a review site.

    That is disheartening.

    On my blog, I state what book I'm reading, but I'm uncomfortable offering an opinion, because, as someone pointed out, we're taught to be nice to each other. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who had Thumper's words drilled into her from an early age …”if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.” One author posted a comment saying, “Tell me how you liked the book.” I can't answer that on my blog because I make it a point NOT to offer my opinion. If I say something nice about one book, does that imply I don't like a book I don't say anything about? Or if I say I love it to be nice, what does that say when someone picks up a book I said was great and they hate it? Will they decide they're not going to read my books?

    Thanks for being so honest. That is a tough position to be in. I understand your decision but I will say that I find that some author blogs make for bland reading because the author/bloggers are often reluctant to offer an opinion (whether it is about books or about something else).

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  61. Robin
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 16:17:10

    Certainly I hear people on the issue of not having the time or inclination to review. Robin's point (that NY Times reviews are generally written by authors) also makes me wonder, do authors in certain genres actually feel professional/institutional pressure to review? If so, might the disparity between reviewing in different genres be connected (however tenuously) to the fact that different genres historically have had very different systems of publicity?

    Regardless of whether or not pressure exists (and I think it’s arguable and situationally specific), I think there’s an acceptance in certain other creative communities of the importance and value of critical discourse and debate. And because I was raised in that environment, and feel passionately that the same freedom artists demand and rely on should be part of and valued in the community* around* these creative works, when I read comments about karma and conflict of interest and fears on the part of authors that they will be professionally dinged for not being Nelly Nice, it makes me feel like the top of my head is lifting off. I just can’t help but feel that there’s something terribly broken in a community where authors feel professionally bound NOT to engage in critical discussion. As I said before, creativity depends on a great deal of freedom, honesty, and adventure, and it’s hard for me to imagine these things flourishing when there’s such a terrible fear of reprisal for embracing the same qualities in a broader context. I think that to some degree the health and vitality of the broader community impacts the creative energy authors bring to writing (and vice versa). NOT that anyone should feel pressured to review or participate in book discussions. But that people feel restricted, that they seriously believe or can point to examples of authors being penalized for this is almost beyond my capacity for comprehension. It’s especially sad, I think, because I don’t think you get a healthier community through such repression (at least I’ve not seen one). And ironically, I think that an environment more friendly to critical discussion would eliminate the horrible indirect threats of retaliation for saying the “wrong thing” (whatever that is — the possibilities seem endless, sometimes). Having seen the effects of “if you can’t say anything nice, say it behind someone’s back and hope they don’t find our” that so often emerge from a more repressive environment, I can’t see a greater or higher value in such strictures.

    Anyway, I am so grateful to those authors who are willing to review and/or talk openly about books and about the genre — even if it’s only about their positive responses — because I believe this is slowly prying the door open for more people to participate in these kinds of discussions without fear and without such a strong taboo around civil but critical discussion (I’m resisting a corny analogy to the importance of free exchange to the welfare of democracy here, lol).

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  62. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 16:23:51

    Robin

    This is why it still creeps me out when the whole “an editor won't touch an author who has trashed another author in a review” thing comes up. It always sounds like a threat to me, and one that really makes very little distinction between responsible reviewing and so-called “trashing.”

    I think that even when they’re not intended that way at all, those kind of statements can have a silencing effect on many people who might otherwise post the kind of thoughtful reviews that most of us here appreciate.

    And the whole no-criticizing other authors thing also seems against the interest of editors, because I'd think their top consideration would be publishing marketable and solid books.

    It may be an example of short term vs. long term thinking. I absolutely agree with you that in the long term, embracing criticism can only strengthen the quality of writing in any genre. But in the short term, even thoughtful criticism can can sting and smart when it’s directed at a project one has labored on for months or longer. So what I’d like to see happen is a transition to long-term thinking, or at least, a balancing of long term thinking with short-term concerns.

    Kristen Painter

    When I don't like a book, I will often do the same thing BUT without naming the book or the author. I may use parts of the plot as examples, or reference certain unlikeable traits of either hero or heroine, but I refrain from using the author's name or the book's title, because I am also trying to get published. Additionally, as the person in charge of booking speakers for my chapter and many of the Authors of the Month for Romance Divas, ticking off an author is counter-productive.

    I completely understand your concerns, but I wonder what purpose a critical review that doesn’t name the book can have, other than allowing the reviewer to vent and maybe making it clear to readers that you don’t love every book? If the readers of the review can’t identify the book, then it doesn’t help them decide whether or not to purchase it, and it also doesn’t help the writers learn what does or doesn’t work in the book and why.

    I do, however, sometimes review books under an alias. As I get closer to publication, my time for that lessens. I'll never stop shouting about great books, though. Those deserve some noise.

    I think it’s great that you review, even if under an alias. And I hear you (and everyone else) about the time issue. Also agree about great books deserving noise. That is one of my favorite parts of reviewing — being able to let readers know about great books that they might have overlooked.

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  63. veinglory
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 16:32:06

    If there is a divide I am a sitting at the bottom of the chasm with my laptop and a latte. I have backed away from reviewing publishers I work with or people I know partly to keep clear roles. I review mainly self-published work.

    Emily (author and meangrrl blogger) Veinglory.

    p.s. if an honest review or blog post will spark a backlash, that is not a person/author/publisher I can respect and work with anyway. So far I haven’t lost any friends or publishers.

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  64. Christine Merrill
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 16:45:04

    I see this word, “karma,” come up a lot in discussions of this subject and I have to admit that it bothers me, because it seems to me that there is often an implication that it is bad karma. I'm not saying that you are using it in this way, but I think that is how a lot of people use the word.

    Janine, sad to say, if I were to regularly review things that I didn’t like, to prove to people that I am not just being ‘a nice girl’ it would definitely be bad karma for me personally.

    Not saying that all reviews are bad, or that all reviewers are evil. Just me. FWIW I find the reviews on this site, and a lot of others to be helpful, even handed, and fair. But I do not have it in me to be that kind of a reviewer.

    I reviewed for a year once, before I sold. I did my best to be fair, objective, and honest.

    Didn’t like it. Not doing that again. It was fine for books I liked, but reading things I didn’t want to finish made me crabby, and giving unbiased criticism was difficult.

    If I had the same opportunity now, on my own blog, where I am writing to amuse myself and entertain others? There is a 99.5% chance that I would go for the cheap laugh at someone else’s expense. Not always, but too often. W H Auden said “One cannot review a bad book without showing off.”

    Not true of everyone of course. But I suspect it would be true for me. Avoiding the negative in my case does not come from some overpowering desire to play nice. I’d just prefer, in those moments I go totally off the leash, to not leave a written record for thousands of total strangers.

    An honest pre-publication critique can be enormously useful, but it is only enormously useful to the few people one can give that service to, rather than to an entire community.

    While I think that reviews are useful to the whole community, and a great learning tool, I will argue that pre-publishing crits are good for the community as well. It gives the writer a chance to stop a mistake before it starts, and hopefully, raises the quality of the finished book that the community reads. It’s just harder to see the benefits to the community, since there is nothing to be gained by publishing multiple drafts to show progress in technique.

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  65. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 17:08:04

    Keishon-

    I've always thought that readers and authors put too much power into reviews. They offer (reviews) good info and publicity but often they don't make the sale for me.

    I think that’s true for many readers. I can, off the top of my head, think of three books AAR reviewers gave D grades to that were keepers for me. The reviews didn’t keep me from purchasing the books and in one case, it was the reader discussion that followed the D review that convinced me to buy the book.

    Nora Roberts

    I think a writer's job is to write. The rest is choice. I don't think a writer should be pressured or criticized for not writing reviews any more than I think a writer should be if she chooses to write them.

    Whatever her reasons for not doing so might be, they're her reasons. And that makes them valid to me.

    I agree with that, and I think that goes both ways. Whether any individual author chooses to review or chooses to refrain from reviewing, either way, she is entitled to make her choice.

    As for doing the author a favor by having it reviewed by a name, by someone with expertise? Myself, I don't want to be responsible for providing another writer with feedback. Who's to say I'm right?

    I hope you know that I was not trying to exert any pressure on you to make any different choices. I was thinking out loud about reviews by name authors in general, and my feeling that such reviews could make a positive contribution.

    Sherry

    But while I do worry a bit about how Janine might be received in certain circles, I do not think her reviewer status or her affiliation with DA will have any negative impact in the marketplace, when she becomes a published author.

    That is also good to hear. But that “when” remains to be seen… publishing being such a tough business, I would have said “if,” myself.

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  66. Meriam
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 17:09:32

    Robin

    I think there’s an acceptance in certain other creative communities of the importance and value of critical discourse and debate… when I read comments about karma and conflict of interest and fears on the part of authors that they will be professionally dinged for not being Nelly Nice, it makes me feel like the top of my head is lifting off. I just can't help but feel that there's something terribly broken in a community where authors feel professionally bound NOT to engage in critical discussion….

    You’ve perfectly articulated what I vaguely and uneasily felt about this topic. So I can only say of your post – precisely.

    Janine, good luck with your novel, but I do hope you continue reviewing.

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  67. Jill Myles
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 17:10:57

    Janine, I just wanted to say that it took a lot of guts to come out here and say this, and I applaud you and wish you luck with your book. :)

    That being said, I totally understand what some of the above folks are saying about authors being “Nelly Nice” and afraid to say anything negative. It’s because someone goes back to our journals and dings us on it.

    It’s very weird. My first novel got accepted for publication a few months ago and while it doesn’t hit the shelves until 2009, I’ve already felt a lot of scrutiny when it comes to my blog. I complained about one book’s marketing once (admittedly in a snarky tone) and was taken to task for it. I complained about a movie once – waaaay back in my posts – and someone went back and read my history and wrote me a nasty note about it. Each of those posts chagrined me and I went back and locked or deleted them.

    Because people don’t say “You’re wrong and mean, Mr. Author, but you have the right to have an opinion like me.” People say things like “You’re a horrible person and I’m never going to buy your book ever and I’m going to tell all my friends that I hate your guts!”

    And since this is a business where word of mouth is crucial, if you want to succeed, you do your best to be smiley and happy and NONCONFRONTATIONAL and above all, agreeable. And if that makes me boring to read, at least it won’t incite hundreds of people not to buy my book. :)

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  68. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 17:31:23

    Jaci Burton

    I think the problem for some authors as reviewers comes from perception. If for example I read a book and didn't like it, then posted my review of said book on my blog, there are always going to be those reading that review who will think I have an agenda for posting that review-that maybe I have a dislike for that author, or for some reason I want that book to sell poorly. There's always a perception of fierce competition between authors, and I really don't have an answer for why that perception exists.

    I agree that the perception of competitiveness is part of the problem. Not only does it have the effect you’ve described, but as Lynne Connolly said, the desire to be published at all costs also silences people because it creates that “One misstep and you’re out” impression.

    I sincerely hope that unpublished writers learn to become secure enough in their talents not to view themselves as easily replacable commodities, and that published authors learn to give each other the benefit of the doubt about the motives for negative reviewing. Maybe I’m naive and a large segment of the publishing business really is that cutthroat, but I’d like to think that most people don’t have ulterior motives and their opinions are based on the books themselves.

    And congrats on your writing, Janine! I wish you the best of luck with it :-)

    Thanks!

    Lisa,

    However, if the bad comes with the proper dose of professional, and invites conflicting opinions, rather than makes others feel they are foolish for feeling differently, then I think that is when it becomes a positive experience for everyone involved. Even the author who had some who didn't love their work. The platform can be the difference.

    I agree.

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  69. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 17:36:09

    Jackie,

    In terms of the writing end of things, the best advice I ever received was years ago at the International Women's Writers Guild, from the keynote speaker, whose name I've totally forgotten (helpful, ain't I?) -’ she finished her speech by saying “Never be daunted.” I pass this on to you.

    The best advice that I received recently was from author Martha O'Connor. She said, “Write like there's no one watching.” Passing this on to you too.

    I laughed out loud to myself when I saw this, because half the time I sit down to write, I give myself this advice. I certainly couldn’t write a sex scene worth a dime if I had to think about the possibility that someday my parents might read it. Still not thinking about that, LOL.

    I appreciate both sentiments very much. Thank you for passing them on, and for wishing me luck, too.

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  70. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 17:47:39

    Meredith,

    Certainly I hear people on the issue of not having the time or inclination to review. Robin's point (that NY Times reviews are generally written by authors) also makes me wonder, do authors in certain genres actually feel professional/institutional pressure to review? If so, might the disparity between reviewing in different genres be connected (however tenuously) to the fact that different genres historically have had very different systems of publicity?

    After all, the romance genre developed during a period when reviews of romance novels were difficult to find. Mainstream publications didn't review the genre, and the internet was not around to fill the void. And so, unlike fans of most other genres, romance readers in the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s had very few ways to factor formal (rather than word-of-mouth) reviews into their decisions at the bookstore. It makes sense, then, that the reviewer herself might have come to occupy a different position in the culture of romance fiction (and in this culture I include both authors *and* readers) than in other genres.

    Your comments are making me wonder as well if the mainstream reviewers’ rejection of romance as a genre worth reviewing is what led to some romance authors’ rejection of reviewers.

    I think the internet must be changing that, if only because, like Janine, I feel that AAR and TRR changed my reading habits profoundly (and sealed my love of the genre).

    Yes, I think the internet is changing things as well.

    But perhaps that only underlines my previous point. Up until I found those sites in 1999, published reviews were irrelevant to my decisions at the bookstore, because, as far as I knew, there weren't any out there.

    I remember those days too. I used to rely on back cover copy, the excerpts at the front of the books, and author blurbs for the most part. Oh, and when I was in college I discovered Publishers Weekly, and after that, I would wheedle it from librarians, some of whom made me read it at the ciruclation desk because they did not want anything to happen to their only copy of that month’s issue. Those were the days…

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  71. Lynne
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 18:16:53

    Jill, I’m appalled that you’ve gotten nasty notes like that. Some people obviously have way too much time on their hands.

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  72. Mireya
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 18:17:01

    Damn, the reply is all screwed up! Let’s try this again:

    1. What are your thoughts on the possibility of a backlash to writers and authors who choose to review? Is it real or, as a friend of mine suggests, merely imagined?

    I don’t think there is a backlash per se, at least no yet, but more voices are being raised against reviewers that trash books, irrespective of who the reviewer is (author, reader, etc.). Fact is that quite a bit of snarky reviews out there have gone way overboard. The novelty of those is also wearing out. I don’t think the backlash is against all reviewers but rather against a particular style that some seem to fancy. The issue with the snarky reviews is compounded by the commenters, who can turn a snarky review into an outright bash fest… which I am sorry to say happens quite frequently.

    2. What do you think about unpublished writers as reviewers? No problem from my perspective.

    3. Published authors as reviewers. I do have a problem with this. I do view it as a conflict of interest and some ethical issues come to mind as well.

    4. Authors commenting on books. No problem with this, as long as the comments, even if not positive, are not an outright bashing.

    5. Reviewers reviewing their friends. No. Again, conflict of interest and ethical issues.

    I do have very strong feelings as they pertain to the ethical issues and conflict of interest aspects of reviewing. I’ll keep them to myself though. I respect everyone’s choices so I’d rather keep it at that.

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  73. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 18:22:51

    Kathleen O’Reilly

    Back in 2006, I read three books around the same time. The Curious Incident of the Dog In Night Time, an ARC of a now unnamed book (a sort of sex-pose), and Gone For Good, and wrote comments about them all in one blog post, sort of a ‘compare and contrast'. Parts of the unnamed book (namely Chapters 2-23) did not work for me, and sadly, SADLY, the USA Today decides to quote me on it. Yes, the one line out of my comments that they lifted from my blog was:

    “Chapter 2 through 23 made me go “ewww,” several times, and I considered washing my sheets.”

    Now, I am not a name (I like to think of myself as a stealth-author) so it was more a ha-ha-ha-ohno-whew! moment for me, rather than an ‘ohmygodmycareerisover,' but I had those thoughts, and they were scary. I waited by the phone for the author of the unnamed book to call me and whisper vile, nasty things to me, but she never did. However, I learned my lesson. USA Today is listening, they are googling, and when you snark, they will find you, and plaster it all over their papers without telling you a dad-gummed thing.

    We (Dear Author) are often syndicated through blogburst and our posts appear on the USA Today website, and I believe Reuters’ website also. You can actually see this opinion piece here. So yes, I am very conscious of just how public my words here on this blog are and that may be one of the reasons I don’t snark.

    Marge,

    I'm not saying you can't have a successful career as an author if you keep reviewing. But, you are taking risks and have to ask yourself if those risks are worth it. Reader reviews are one thing. But if you want to be a reviewer and an author, you have to consider all the potential problems that can arise. Some authors will be big enough to forgive critical reviews. Some won't.

    I do understand that and it is not an easy thing to hear because I am the kind of person who, while I don’t mind if some people dislike my writing, have a harder part with people not liking me as a person, or holding grudges against me when it was never my intention to hurt them.

    But I also think that the only way to change the atmosphere so that authors won’t view critical reviews as something one has to be big enough to forgive, but rather in a positive light, is for more of us to write thoughtful critical reviews.

    And if you are serious about writing, when you become published, you'll find there just is so much time on your plate. Would you rather spend it reviewing or in promoting your book and writing?

    I think that is very possibly going to be the obstacle that stops me from reviewing someday. I suck at time management and have a hard enough time carving out time to write now when I’m not on deadline.

    Good luck to you in your writing. I applaud your honesty in this matter and wish you success.

    Thanks!

    Bethany,

    I was so desperate to make the Top Ten each week, and subsequently, have Eloisa James and Avon editors read my writing, that I practically sold my soul over the internet. It became less and less about the substance and more and more about finding interesting ways to sell your writing-a very good crash on how to do well in the industry, but still. I found myself exchanging emails with strangers 10, 20 times a day just to get them to promise to give a 5-star review.

    There were message boards where accusations flew back and forth and if you offended somebody of literary merit (only within the competetion, of course), you could be sure that your story would be slammed by other writers with a series of .5 stars as punishment. It made me seriously rethink the world of romance that I thought I knew. I thought I was different, that I wouldn't sucuumb to dirty politics, which is what I think book trashing amounts to (hence the relevance of my tangent). I never went so far as to deliberately mark down stories, but I went to some pretty desperate measures to get people to register with the site and vote for my stories-including a guest appearance at a writing class at my alma mater!

    Thanks for being so honest about this. I don’t know if you know Meredith Duran’s story of how she came to get published. She was in the Gather.com First Chapters contest and didn’t campaign for votes at all. But she still won the contest (the final stages were not judged by readers, though). I don’t know if this is typical, but it does show that politics isn’t everything, and craftsmanship also counts for something.

    To this day, I have no remembrance of how I discovered Dear Author, but I am truly thankful. Because it is posts like this, that aren't afraid to deal with the very real struggles of writers that set your site above the rest. If I had to struggle in an industry that was all cute kittens (no offense!) and fake, happy, PC reviews, I probably would have thrown in the towel a year and a half ago.

    Thanks Bethany. Is I said above, if it was all positive reviews out there, and no critical ones, I would not be reading much romance anymore.

    I'm proud to be an aspiring writer along with you, Janine. And you can just give me a holler if you ever need a quote. I promise to give 5 stars!

    LOL, Bethany. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I only want a 5 star review if you genuinely feel that my novel has earned it.

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  74. Nora Roberts
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 18:25:13

    I don’t want to engage in critical discussion of someone else’s work. I just don’t. I’m not afraid of reprisal or karma or backlash. I simply have no interest in discussing, in public, another writer’s work.

    My job is to write, and that should be enough. If I elect to engage in critical discussion, that’s my choice–and that’s fine. If I don’t. That’s my choice and that’s fine. Or should be.

    I often feel during debates and discussions on this topic that the writer’s choice is not always accepted by those who feel the critical discussions are–well, critical.

    I fully support those writers who choose not to engage because they feel there may be reprisals. There may be backlash. Why should they feel obliged to stand up to that if they’re worried about it? Writing the book is their job. Critical discussions are not.

    Choice. For whatever reason they decide yes or no. Want to–go for it. Don’t, there should be no apology, whatever the reason.

    If one believes there should not or will never be backlash–from the community or from readers–one is extremely naive. Of course there will be. It may not matter overmuch. It may not be so much as a bump in the road for the writer who chooses to review or engage in public, critical discussion. Or it may be a bitch slap of major proportions. People are human–for better or worse.

    I’m sorry, readers DON’T know what the ins and outs are in publishing. Why should you? It’s all well and good to say this shouldn’t be, but reality is a different kettle.

    Me, I don’t care. I don’t want to do it, am not equipped to do it, haven’t the time or the interest to do it. I’m fine with those who do. In fact, am often amazed and impressed with writers who take the time and have the skills to give a solid analysis of a book.

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  75. stephanie feagan
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 18:29:31

    When I decide on a book to review, it’s frequently chosen because it’s a new author, either a debut, or one I’ve never read before. I see it that reviewing old favorites is just too easy. Like shooting fish in a barrel. I’m 99% certain I will love any Mary Balogh I pick up.

    I can have a fresh perspective when reading something new to me. Every book I choose to read, whether for review, or not, I am eternally hopeful that I’ll be sucked in, blown away, forced to stay up late. Regrettably, that doesn’t always happen. Doesn’t mean the book sucks – it just didn’t make me sit back and wonder, “How the hell did she DO that?” If I know how she did that, it ruins it for me. Is it because I’m also a writer? Am I far more picky because I can see the framework behind the Sheetrock? Maybe so. Am I more gentle because I know how bad it sucks wind for your work to be criticized? Yeah, probably. But I prefer to believe I write a review to be as unbiased (as in, not a rah-rah! review just because I’m a writer who doesn’t want to hurt feelings)as possible, to give the reader a feel for what type of read this will be. Books are pricey these days and I like to know at least a little about a book before I buy. I assume other readers feel the same.

    I wish you all the best, Janine. These days, anyone who sticks with blogging, especially in such a popular venue, has my deepest respect. I gave up my own blog after a flame war broke out – directed at me. I’d been posting some frank, down and dirty advice to wannabe writers, and the last one I posted was a suggestion much like I’ve read here. Don’t publicly badmouth other writers – it can come back to bite you in the ass. Because of my treasurer position at RWA, this was evidently a ‘threat’ to those whose public opinions I disagreed with, and whoo damn, I never saw it coming. It still blows my mind. So I killed the blog – at least until I’m no longer on the RWA board – and now lurk about on others, like DA!

    You’re a brave soul – Rock On and Keep Us Posted on your Progress! I’ll be rooting for you!

    Stef

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  76. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 18:31:03

    Ann Bruce,

    The commenters here have said everything I would say (and I have already blogged about this topic ad nauseum elsewhere-and ended up receiving emails that should've went directly to my trash bin), so I just want to add my congrats and good luck with the book, Janine!

    Thank you muchly. I would love to read your bloggings on this subject — could you provide a link?

    And, as a reader first and writer second, I have to say if you decide to stop reviewing, it will be a sad, sad day because yours and Janet's thoughtful reviews have gotten me back into historical romances.

    Thanks again, that’s a huge compliment.

    Lynne Simpson,

    I'm completely fine with reviews (and FanLit scores, for that matter) offered in good faith. It's one person's opinion about what did or did not work for her.

    But when reviews and FanLit scores are deliberately skewed up or down by the reviewer's agenda or personal feelings about the author, then that's heading into propaganda territory, IMO. I don't like feeling manipulated or lied to.

    Agreed.

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  77. Jennie F.
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 18:40:50

    I see this word, “karma,” come up a lot in discussions of this subject and I have to admit that it bothers me, because it seems to me that there is often an implication that it is bad karma. I'm not saying that you are using it in this way, but I think that is how a lot of people use the word.

    That’s a good point. If one is earning bad karma for the negative things they say, are they also earning good karma for the positives?

    I think my bugaboo is the suggestion that criticism in reviews must be “constructive”. If I’m reviewing something, I’m doing it as a reader, not as someone’s critique partner. The book is already published. It’s not really my responsibility, I don’t think, to be “constructive”, or to help the author figure out where she went wrong (it would be rather presumptuous of me to try to do so, anyway, would it not?).

    I can imagine constructive criticism more in the review of a book that I liked but had problems with – when Janine and I did our dual review of “Tempted”, there were definitely positives and negatives for me, and I hope I was able to delineate those clearly. I suppose that’s constructive? In the event that the author happens to read my review and agree with my criticisms and make changes to her next book based on said criticisms? Again, it sounds almost offensively presumptuous of me to imagine that…but anyway. That’s what I would think of as constructive criticism.

    What kind of constructive criticism is possible in a book I really hate? “Dear Author, your book sucks, try sucking less”? “Dear Author, have you considered a different career? I hear the prison industry is booming, and guards are always in demand”? Because what it comes down to is, there are published authors I’ve read who I think have no real affinity or talent for writing and probably shouldn’t be doing it.

    (Yes, I realize the fact that the author got published means somebody disagrees with me. Probably many somebodies. Last year I haaaated a book that got a good review at another site and had a lot of positive buzz. I thought it was a bad book and didn’t understand what others saw in it. This is not the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last.)

    (Also, to answer the question frequently asked by mean-girl-haters: yes, I do think I could write a bad romance novel. I don’t think it’s that hard to write a bad romance novel. I’m sure it’s a lot of work, but I think I could do it. I have no idea if I could get my bad romance novel published; that’s a whole ‘nother area of effort and expertise, and I’m sure there’s some luck involved, too. But I can think of a plot. I can string together words to form a sentence. I wouldn’t need to worry about characterization or historical accuracy, if I were writing a bad romance novel. So I most definitely think it could be done, by me. I don’t know what the point would be, though, except possibly to shut the people up who always ask that question.)

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  78. Kristen
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 18:53:39

    Janine -

    I completely understand your concerns, but I wonder what purpose a critical review that doesn't name the book can have, other than allowing the reviewer to vent and maybe making it clear to readers that you don't love every book? If the readers of the review can't identify the book, then it doesn't help them decide whether or not to purchase it, and it also doesn't help the writers learn what does or doesn't work in the book and why.

    Ah, that didn’t come through clearly. I didn’t mean to imply I reviewed those books, simply that I might reference them in passing.

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  79. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 18:57:54

    Me, I don't care. I don't want to do it, am not equipped to do it, haven't the time or the interest to do it. I'm fine with those who do. In fact, am often amazed and impressed with writers who take the time and have the skills to give a solid analysis of a book.

    Next time I’m sitting up until 4 am with my daughter who needs to write a 1500 word essay on “A Streetcar Named Desire” that has to be in the next day (“Oops, Mum, I forgot, but can you help me?”) can I send her here?
    “Stanley – hero or villain? Discuss.”
    Ick. We said he was a bit of both. We discussed the play, then she wrote the essay. If only she hadn’t forgotten until midnight!
    It occurred to me that what we were doing was writing a review of a particular kind.
    When we were looking up the references, I realized that very few authors do analyses of other authors’ work. Through history they’ve sniped, banded together, condemned and praised, but rarely analysed and reviewed.
    So it might not be just a modern phenomenon.

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  80. Nora Roberts
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 19:03:04

    ~I think my bugaboo is the suggestion that criticism in reviews must be “constructive”. If I'm reviewing something, I'm doing it as a reader, not as someone's critique partner. The book is already published. It's not really my responsibility, I don't think, to be “constructive”, or to help the author figure out where she went wrong (it would be rather presumptuous of me to try to do so, anyway, would it not?).~

    This so nailed many of my problems with the term constructive criticism in reviews. I don’t care about your constructive criticism of my work, dear reader (or other writer), I care about my editor’s. And by the time you’re writing yours my book is published.

    Is your ‘constructive criticism’ going to change the way I write, or approach the next book? Absolutely not. Because I know there are other readers and writers who disagree with your criticism. It’s subjective. I may or may not agree. I may say: yes, you’re right, and I wish I’d done that better, or fleshed that out. Or I may say: you’re full of it. My opinion is subjective, too.

    I’m not looking for a reader to tell me how to write a book–though I am certainly interested in knowing what worked or didn’t for the readers who post reviews or have discussions on the work.

    But, well, it’s not your job to help me improve my writing or hone my craft. It’s my job–and my editor’s job.

    I don’t feel a review or an analysis of a book has to offer constructive criticism–in fact, I wish you’d keep that part to yourself. Give your opinion, say what worked or didn’t for you and why. Which is why I very much enjoy the reviews on this site, as they do precisely that. But don’t think I care one whit when you tell me how to ‘improve’ my craft.

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  81. Liv
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 19:06:15

    I think it boils down to this: there is the way things should be, and then there’s the way things are.

    Reviewers should post their opinions – the good and the bad. But, as Nora (who knows a hell of a lot more about this than I do) said above, anyone who thinks they are reviewing in a vacuum is being terribly naive. Reviewers, being human, are influenced by a host of things: past experiences, personal preferences, emotion, reason, etc. And those reviews are, in turn, influential. They have impact in the real world – or why would anyone do them?

    When a reviewer is also an author, her experience, thoughts, impressions, friendships, hateships as an author are going to influence her reviews. It can’t not. I just don’t believe a person – however nobly they try – can completely divorce herself from her experiences.

    And those reviews are going to influence her life as an author. Every profession has this. The people who get ahead are the ones who know how to network, how to build productive professional relationships, the ones who don’t anger the wrong people, who don’t piss where they drink. You can deny it, you can rail against it, but it’s just the way it is.

    ETA: this isn’t to say that if you’re an author who reviews you won’t get ahead or will somehow ruin your career – just that the potential for negative career impact is there.

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  82. Tessa Dare
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 19:47:03

    Oh, this conversation is calling to me in so many ways. Okay, I guess only two ways.

    First, the Avon FanLit thing: I was one of the winners in the Avon FanLit contest (my login was TessaD). *waving to Bethany and Lynne* Yes, there was a fair amount of nuttiness and gaming, but there was also a lot of camaraderie and learning and fun going on. Several of the participants – including those who placed well and those who didn’t – have gone on to win other contests, get agents, get jobs in publishing, and/or sell books (myself included). Many friendships were formed, and more than a year later, many of us who met through that contest keep in touch and support one another on a daily basis via various loops, blogs, critique groups, etc. I’m not trying to contradict anyone’s experience, just point out that there was plenty of good along with teh crazy.

    Secondly, and more to the point of this post – I used to review children’s books for a trade magazine (School Library Journal) when I was a full-time librarian. As a result of that experience, I can appreciate that thoughtful, in-depth reviews require a lot of time and effort on the part of the reviewer. I also think that reviews are most helpful when the reviewers are a subset of the review audience. Does that make any sense? For example, SLJ reviews are all written by practicing librarians in the field, who share the same collection needs, budget constraints, etc. as the librarians who are read the reviews and use them to make decisions about which books to purchase for their libraries.

    For this reason, I don’t think I’d be a very good reviewer of romance novels, for the general reading public. I bring a whole different set of standards and values to my reading experience than I did before I started writing in the genre, and what particularly delights or bothers me now might not delight or bother anyone else. (I know this because they were things that didn’t delight or bother me until a few years ago.)

    So I don’t review books on my own blog or Amazon, but when a book I’ve read recently brings to mind an interesting question or helps me with a point of craft, I blog about it. And sure, I also plug friends’ books when they come out – but I think it’s always pretty clear that I’m shamelessly plugging. :) I’m certain I could never review a friend’s book objectively.

    Just because I don’t do it, doesn’t mean I’m saying it can’t be done! I’m sure there are writers who can switch hats and keep reviewing from a reader’s perspective. More power to them!

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  83. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 20:03:18

    Jennie -

    I am one of those readers who feels that the fact that romance is a overwhelmingly female community really skews these issues. The directive to be “nice and polite”, the idea that criticism should always be “constructive” – I guess I just don't get that, entirely. Ad hominem attacks on authors are obviously inappropriate, immature and rude. But while several posters have commented about reviews that essentially say “author x is a moron”, I really don't think I've seen reviews like that at the sites I visit. What I've seen is more often along the lines of “author x's characters are morons.”

    So – is that the same thing? Technically, no. But I can understand how an author might feel that it is. And I can kind of understand readers who liked author x's book feeling kind of insulted. But at the same time, I feel like readers should be able to say that the characters are morons, if that's what they think. I've never formally reviewed (except for the two joint reviews I've done at this site with Janine), but when I've informally reviewed a book I dislike for friends in an online group I belong to, I think it's fair to say that I can be pretty mean. Why? Well, first, because I am trying to entertain my friends. I'm trying to be funny. Second, because crappy books piss me off. I'm a compulsive book-finisher, so I can't just toss a book that's not working for me. I have to at least skim to the finish. At that point, I may feel the need to vent a bit.

    I realize that a closed group is a little bit different than a community such as this where anyone and everyone can see what one writes. But a part of me still balks at the idea that I have to tone down what I want to say, for fear of offending. That I have to be “nice.” Again, I'm not talking about personally attacking authors. But the fact is, even though I am an avid romance reader (probably half the 70 or so books I read in a year are romances), I feel that there are a lot of bad romances out there. Not just “not my type of book”, but from an objective literary standpoint (as much as such a thing exists), poorly written, badly characterized, and stupidly plotted books. Which means, I guess, that I think there are a lot of bad romance writers out there. Which I fear may make me seem like 1) a bitch and 2) one of the “mean girls” that are talked about all around the internets.

    I will cop to 1), but have a problem with 2). I am not trying to hurt anyone's feelings. Again, when I'm mean about a book, it's because I'm trying to be entertaining and because the fact (or my perception) that the book is crap pisses me off. I am not thinking about the author reading my comments, or a fan of the book reading my comments, and being hurt or offended. I'm kind of indifferent to both, honestly because: see 1) above.

    I think styles of reviewing come down to a personal choice, too. I don’t feel comfortable snarking here at DA, but I do not want to censor anyone else from reviewing in whatever style they choose to since a review, too, is a form of writing that creativity and the writer’s personality goes into.

    But this is where being a writer probably does affect my reviewing — in my personal discomfort with snarking. Especially since here, at Dear Author, the reviews are written in the second person and directed at the author.

    I still feel first and foremost that reviews, even DA’s reviews, are for readers, not authors. I agree on that point. But it would also be dishonest of me to say that I’m not aware that authors will be reading my reviews. Perhaps if I were writing them in third person, I could shut that thought out completely. But in second person, no. I’m honest when I write my reviews, but I look for the polite way to say what it is that I felt while reading the book.

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  84. Sunita
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 20:13:13

    Janine, I wish you much luck and success with your fiction writing. I have greatly enjoyed and benefited from your reviews here and your comments elsewhere, and even when I don’t agree with your bottom line, I love reading how you got there and thinking about how we differ.

    As usual, Nora’s comments make me think. Why isn’t “constructive criticism” more useful (let alone welcome) in romance novel reviewing? I can think of a couple of reasons. First, writing for the entertainment and pleasure of the reader is a bit different than writing within a literary tradition with a goal of contributing to and perhaps challenging that tradition. Boundary-pushing literary fiction doesn’t have to sell well to be influential, whereas boundary-pushing genre fiction can get swamped by more traditional work, and the author can get dropped by the publisher unless it sells.

    The second reason is the one Nora gave, that the book is already out there. One of the really weird things about publishing a book is that it usually represents the point at which the writer is done with the project, but it is the beginning of the readers’ experience. So a writer is always known best for their last book, not their ongoing project (unless you’re George RR Martin).

    With academic writing, post-publication reviews and critiques can help the direction of the larger debate to which the author is contributing. But with genre fiction, success hinges on making a connection with the reader, which can happen in spite of style and craft. I know that some authors respond to reader feedback and alter aspects of future books in a series, but my impression is that the results are mixed.

    Discussions of authors reviewing each others’ work often use lit fic as the comparison. But isn’t that the exception rather than the rule? In most other creative fields (painting, sculpture, dance, architecture, film, etc.), critics are not working producers of the art and working producers are not critics.

    Do authors of other fiction genres review each other the way lit fic authors do?

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  85. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 20:13:28

    I do this a lot when I write (also use “IMO”, etc.), and I try to be conscious of it, only because I think it's a female thing, and I find it a little…submissive is too strong a word, and not quite what I mean. Maybe “self-dismissive.”

    Adults of reasonable intelligence should be able to read a sentence or a paragraph and discern whether it's a statement of opinion or a statement of fact. Actually, I would feel less self-conscious about being a “mean girl” if other readers, at least, would take that attitude when someone criticizes a book that they like. You have your opinion, I have mine, no matter how scathing your opinion may be, I have enough self-esteem to not feel belittled by your opinion. (I admit this is a lot trickier for an actual author to do, but I do think authors should try to develop a thick skin, and if that's not possible, avoid reviews.)

    Again, this is the style of writing I feel most comfortable writing these second-person reviews in. If the reviews weren’t addressing the author, I’d probably be on the same page with you. But since they do address the author, I write them as if the author, as well as readers, were reading them. I don’t withhold any of my opinions of a book but I do phrase them in that “I felt that…,” “I thought,” “It seems to me…” language.

    I’m not saying that this is something all the reviewers here should be doing — just that it’s the style of reviewing that works for me. And yes, there is something humble about it. But it captures something that I genuinely feel.

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  86. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 20:24:25

    HelenKay Dimon

    Ah, man. My book releases today. Did you have to remind people why they should hate me today?

    Just kidding…well, except for the part where I do have a book coming out today

    I think I’ve probably reminded some readers, at least, why they should like you. Let me just take a moment to say that if you hadn’t been writing reviews for paperbackreader, I might not have had the nerve to review for Dear Author. Your reviews as a published author gave me courage, and I really look up to you and the other Paperback Reader reviewers, since you all do such a classy job of reviewing.

    Like Julie and some others have said, there is a difference between an honest critique and a nasty diatribe. If you review and write, you have to know the difference in your head, be clear about it and then be prepared for the fact that others don't see the line where you do and that you'll get knocked around no matter how you phrase things.

    Probably true.

    Yeah, I've received a few threats, some odd and nasty emails and even an email from an enraged husband when I gave his wife's book a good review. Still don't understand that one. But I have experienced equal nastiness and gotten a 1 star review from a woman who visited my personal website and didn't like a review quote I cited from Entertainment Weekly about someone else's book. That experience taught me I can't control how people perceive and react. All I can do is know what I do and why, not lose my perspective, take responsibility when I cause trouble even unintentionally and never forget that there is a human being behind every book written.

    Thank you for those words of wisdom.

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  87. Leslie Kelly
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 20:38:03

    Janine–congrats and kudos to you for being so forthright about this. From where I’m sitting, having read many of your reviews, I think you’ve done a great job being professional and keeping focused on the book and why it did/didn’t work for you.

    Like many others here, I don’t have a problem with reviewers, and I don’t have a problem with authors who review, but, as somebody up there said, they really just need to be aware that there could be repercussions. Not that there will, not that there should be, but there could. That’s all.

    FWIW: I occasionally review books at Plotmonkeys, but only ones I want to recommend and get people talking about. I have little reading time and it’s very precious, so I don’t finish books I don’t like.

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  88. Jia
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 20:44:02

    Do authors of other fiction genres review each other the way lit fic authors do?

    I’ve seen writers within the core SF/F genre do so on occasion. Sometimes in a polite, critical manner. Sometimes in a not so polite manner. But either way, very rarely have I seen suppression of dialog when it does occur. At least when it comes to fiction. I don’t think I’ve ever seen comments telling people to be “nice,” but perhaps I’m wrong and my experience is not the norm. I’m sure other people have other impressions, based on their own experiences and encounters.

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  89. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 20:49:04

    Jennie -

    I often find I have more to say about a book I didn't like than a book I did. Not just when I'm being nasty (about a book I hated), but say a book that ended up being a B- or a C, because it had some things going for it, but some things I really disliked as well. It's easier for me to pick apart a book like that than to explain in detail why I love the books I love.

    I wonder if that’s because when we fall in love with a book, it’s such a magical experience that we feel swept away emotionally, and analysis becomes more difficult. Whereas with a book that doesn’t capture our imaginations to the same degree, it’s easier to notice the things that keep the reading experience from being completely successful.

    Still, I think that a good reviewer should be able to articulate what it is that makes them fall in love with a book, too.

    Lynne Connolly

    Damn! Sorry about that! In Certain Circles you're all often referred to as “the Janes” and I really have to apologise for getting it wrong this time!

    That’s okay. We sometimes refer to ourselves as the Ja(y)nes, too.

    Tumperkin

    On the first question, there seems to be a view amongst some commenters that a negative review is only fair if it is expressed in an objective and professional way. I don't think it's as simple as that. Julie Leto's examples of fair and unfair negative reviews are perfectly correct so far as they go. But what if the comment actually read as follows (making the same points as are made in Julie's example of a fair negative review but with a more snarky style):

    “The whole premise of the book was totally illogical! Why would the hero hate the heroine simply because her eyes were blue? The whole time I was reading, my hand was itching to slap this guy! I thought he was a total asshat. I couldn't identify with him and that completely ruined the reading experience for me.”

    Is that ok?

    The reviewer isn't calling the author an idiot and has clearly expressed her problem with the book. However, she has also mocked the hero and called him an idiot.

    I think that's ok. Not only that – it's much more entertaining.

    What if the reviewer then went on to point out that the author's writing skills are poor and proceeds to give examples in support? Is that fair? It might be thought to be cruel. Particularly where the quotes are very bad. I think that's ok too. After all, these are an author's own words.

    This sounds a lot like what Jennie F. said upthread, so see what I said to her in comments #83 and #85.

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  90. Robin
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 21:22:54

    Do authors of other fiction genres review each other the way lit fic authors do?

    I don’t know that the reviewing thing is universal, but I do think some other genres are much farther ahead in the general genre discussions. SF, for example, although that might be in part because the genre has traditionally been viewed as social critique itself.

    I don't want to engage in critical discussion of someone else's work. I just don't. I'm not afraid of reprisal or karma or backlash. I simply have no interest in discussing, in public, another writer's work.

    And you shouldn’t have to. But you do engage in quite a bit of general critical discussion about the genre and the industry. Author – to – author reviewing is just one part of the equation, IMO (and critical doesn’t equal criticism). And really, I haven’t seen that you’re particularly impressed with any suggestions that you shouldn’t vocalize your opinion on any given topic, whatever it may be. ;)

    Still, I think there’s a world of difference between making a truly free choice not to participate in certain discussions and feeling afraid to. Many people don’t choose to vote, but we try to ensure that they have the freedom to, because if they didn’t that would be something wholly different. IIRC you were not so impressed when Anne Stuart spoke out about her publishing experience. To me, ability of both of you to speak your opinions *is* critical, and not just for ignorant or naive readers with no books to sell or well-established authors who aren’t worried about alienating their publisher and/or editor.

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  91. Robin
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 21:44:49

    I don't want to engage in critical discussion of someone else's work. I just don't. I'm not afraid of reprisal or karma or backlash. I simply have no interest in discussing, in public, another writer's work.

    Are you referring to readers here? Because if you are, then I think you make a good point about how readers can sometimes be strong enforcers of the ‘don’t say anything’ culture, and that authors are understandably cautious when it comes to alienating readers, especially outside the covers of their books. It doesn’t change my frustration with the overall culture of silence, but it does make some sense out of the concern some authors might have about making themselves a target for readers.

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  92. Jill Sorenson
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 21:53:36

    I wish I had time to read everyone’s comments word for word, because this is a great discussion! Coming in late, and a little blind, I have a question and a comment for Janine, both of which I hope haven’t already been covered. If so, oops, my bad.

    Being a reviewer for Dear Author might give your career as a published author a boost. It’s good exposure, and if readers like your voice, they may go out and pick up your book. The duality may work to your favor rather than your detriment.

    Also, when your book comes out, will it be reviewed here?

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  93. Julie Leto
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 22:00:19

    Janine, I don’t mind being “called out!” I don’t say anything publicly that I won’t stand behind! I know it’s sometimes risky for an author to have a strong opinion on a public blog, but what the hell? I’m opinionated. Anyone who has met me knows that, LOL! Honestly, I wasn’t angry or anything about being quoted. I appreciate your opinion on this topic very much and I was glad I was able to clarify what I meant, because if memory serves, during the original discussion, I wasn’t able to make my point very clearly.

    I appreciate your trepidation here, I really do, but I think you’re okay as long as you are as upfront and honest as you were in this post, which I’ve no doubt you will be. This kind of thoughtful regard for your own career is admirable and I hope you achieve the success you aspire to.

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  94. roslynholcomb
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 22:22:13

    I think I would make a lousy reviewer. For one thing, I really have no interest in doing it. If I really like a book, I have no problem with posting about it on my blog and telling everyone how fabulous I think it is. Indeed, I usually can’t shut up about it. Otherwise, I can’t be bothered.

    As an author, I think I’m looking for different things in a book than I did when I was simply a reader. I just blogged about this. Recently I’ve been on a sentimental journey through my keeper shelf. This was particularly poignant as I lost my keepers in a move several years ago and have gradually been rebuilding it. Anyway, some of the books stood the test of time. Others simply didn’t survive my more objective and discerning eye.

    As a writer I see things that a typical reader would not, and I don’t it would be fair for me to nitpick through someone’s book pointing out things that most readers don’t really give a damn about.

    I will continue to enthusiastically promote those books I like, but I can’t imagine ever reviewing books that don’t appeal to me.

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  95. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 23:12:57

    Robin,

    Regardless of whether or not pressure exists (and I think it's arguable and situationally specific), I think there's an acceptance in certain other creative communities of the importance and value of critical discourse and debate. And because I was raised in that environment, and feel passionately that the same freedom artists demand and rely on should be part of and valued in the community* around* these creative works, when I read comments about karma and conflict of interest and fears on the part of authors that they will be professionally dinged for not being Nelly Nice, it makes me feel like the top of my head is lifting off.

    I was very much raised to analyze, question, and reason things out too, and that may be why I too see critical discussion as something that has its own inherent value and that can be a vital resource to a creative community.

    Having seen the effects of “if you can't say anything nice, say it behind someone's back and hope they don't find our” that so often emerge from a more repressive environment, I can't see a greater or higher value in such strictures.

    Nodding here. I think that when people can’t express their feelings openly, those feelings often come out sideways.

    Anyway, I am so grateful to those authors who are willing to review and/or talk openly about books and about the genre -’ even if it's only about their positive responses -’ because I believe this is slowly prying the door open for more people to participate in these kinds of discussions without fear and without such a strong taboo around civil but critical discussion (I'm resisting a corny analogy to the importance of free exchange to the welfare of democracy here, lol).

    I am very grateful for that, too.

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  96. Nora Roberts
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 23:20:47

    ~But you do engage in quite a bit of general critical discussion about the genre and the industry. Author – to – author reviewing is just one part of the equation, IMO (and critical doesn't equal criticism).~

    Here we disagree as I don’t see discussing issues and the genre as part of the same equation as critically discussing a specific author’s particular work. One is issue, industry, another is opinion on a work.

    I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it, just that’s it’s not the same to comment or voice opinions on the industry, on issues such as plagiarism or trends in cover art, what have you, and to give an analysis of another writer’s work.

    I would never see these as part of one whole.

    I think on your second question/comment you copied the wrong portion–or I’m just not understanding what you meant. But I will say, certainly, there can be reader backlash–here, there, anywhere–if one writer criticizes another writer’s work. Especially from fan of the writer being criticized.

    So, to engage in reviewing or critical discussion of a work has to be a choice. And that choice should be respected–for whatever reason the individual writer makes it.

    I don’t feel the culture of silence, and I guess can’t understand your frustration if it exists. Reviews are for readers, first and foremost. Reviews are plentiful. Critical discussion among readers is plentiful. Why is it necessary for writers as a group to publicly review or critically discuss other writers’ work? It doesn’t lend the opinion more validity–it’s still one person’s opinion.

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  97. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 23:30:19

    Emily Veinglory,

    If there is a divide I am a sitting at the bottom of the chasm with my laptop and a latte.

    I love that image.

    Christine Merrill,

    Janine, sad to say, if I were to regularly review things that I didn't like, to prove to people that I am not just being ‘a nice girl' it would definitely be bad karma for me personally.

    Not saying that all reviews are bad, or that all reviewers are evil. Just me. FWIW I find the reviews on this site, and a lot of others to be helpful, even handed, and fair. But I do not have it in me to be that kind of a reviewer.

    Thanks for explaining. In that context, I can see why you feel it would be bad karma for you. I’m still not crazy about the word karma in the context of reviews though, because I think that in principle at least (if not in reality) a well-written review should not be equated with a bad deed. But I understand that that’s not what you were saying.

    While I think that reviews are useful to the whole community, and a great learning tool, I will argue that pre-publishing crits are good for the community as well. It gives the writer a chance to stop a mistake before it starts, and hopefully, raises the quality of the finished book that the community reads. It's just harder to see the benefits to the community, since there is nothing to be gained by publishing multiple drafts to show progress in technique.

    You’re absolutely right. My bad — I take back what I said.

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  98. Janine
    Feb 26, 2008 @ 23:52:08

    Meriam, thanks.

    Jill Myles,

    It's very weird. My first novel got accepted for publication a few months ago and while it doesn't hit the shelves until 2009, I've already felt a lot of scrutiny when it comes to my blog. I complained about one book's marketing once (admittedly in a snarky tone) and was taken to task for it. I complained about a movie once – waaaay back in my posts – and someone went back and read my history and wrote me a nasty note about it. Each of those posts chagrined me and I went back and locked or deleted them.

    Because people don't say “You're wrong and mean, Mr. Author, but you have the right to have an opinion like me.” People say things like “You're a horrible person and I'm never going to buy your book ever and I'm going to tell all my friends that I hate your guts!”

    Wow. I’m so sorry that happened to you. And horrified that even a complaint about a movie would cause someone to say that — and on your blog, too.

    Mireya,

    2. What do you think about unpublished writers as reviewers? No problem from my perspective.

    3. Published authors as reviewers. I do have a problem with this. I do view it as a conflict of interest and some ethical issues come to mind as well.

    If I get published I will revisit the question of conflict of interest and ethical issues. What I mean by that is that I will listen to my conscience on the matter. It may be that for me, being published will create a conflict of interest or bring up ethical issues that will be too difficult to deal with. But I don’t believe that it necessarily does so for every author who reviews, and I don’t question the honesty of reviews just because the reviewer happens to be an author as well. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and believe that they are being honest unless I have some strong reason to feel otherwise. All of this is just to say that while I believe that there are authors who feel the need to recuse themselves because conflict of interest is an issue for them, and that those authors are wise to do so, I don’t believe that all authors must recuse themselves.

    5. Reviewers reviewing their friends. No. Again, conflict of interest and ethical issues.

    This is why I decided not to review my friends, but again, I don’t believe that it would create a conflict for everyone. I see authors giving cover blurbs to their friends all the time, and I don’t automatically suspect or mistrust those blurbs simply because of the friendship between the author of the book and the author who gave the blurb.

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  99. Robin
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 00:02:48

    I think on your second question/comment you copied the wrong portion-or I'm just not understanding what you meant. But I will say, certainly, there can be reader backlash-here, there, anywhere-if one writer criticizes another writer's work. Especially from fan of the writer being criticized.

    The point I was trying to make is that the fear of reader backlash isn’t what is usually discussed when authors talk about backlash for reviewing each other’s work. It’s the editors and other authors. So seeing how authors might have trepidation about alienating readers is something I need to keep in mind in this discussion, because that makes a bit more sense to me, even though I wish it weren’t a reality.

    I don't feel the culture of silence, and I guess can't understand your frustration if it exists. Reviews are for readers, first and foremost. Reviews are plentiful. Critical discussion among readers is plentiful. Why is it necessary for writers as a group to publicly review or critically discuss other writers' work? It doesn't lend the opinion more validity-it's still one person's opinion.

    It’s ALWAYS one person’s opinion. I don’t know if I can explain where I’m coming from if you don’t see the links I do between authors talking about specific books and talking about the genre or the industry in general. To me it has nothing to do with constructive criticism or instruction or anything like that — it’s all about seeing the genre and the craft of writing through someone else’s eyes and possibly gaining a deeper insight into a book, a motif, a trope, the genre as a whole. It’s about creating a common culture and language. It’s not even reviewing, per se, although I have to say that I LOVE reading author reviews of books, because I enjoy seeing what other people value in a book or in the genre, and discussion of the craft of a book from a craftsperson offers some unique qualities. Those insights help me deepen and adjust my own insights and thinking; they’re fun for me to read and make me appreciate reading even more. If that’s not your bag, then I doubt what I’m saying will offer any value, but for me it’s a fundamental part of how I’ve been trained and why I love books, and I don’t know if I can make it sensible to you, anymore than I can explain how it’s not just about authors doing x or y rather than z or q, but about a set of somewhat abstract cultural values. It’s like trying to explain why I love reading food blogs and cookbooks and wine reviews — if you’re not into cooking, baking, and food, it will seem like a chore, but to foodies, it’s part of the culture and art of food and wine.

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  100. Janine
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 00:06:41

    Stephanie Feagan,

    Every book I choose to read, whether for review, or not, I am eternally hopeful that I'll be sucked in, blown away, forced to stay up late. Regrettably, that doesn't always happen. Doesn't mean the book sucks – it just didn't make me sit back and wonder, “How the hell did she DO that?” If I know how she did that, it ruins it for me. Is it because I'm also a writer? Am I far more picky because I can see the framework behind the Sheetrock? Maybe so. Am I more gentle because I know how bad it sucks wind for your work to be criticized? Yeah, probably. But I prefer to believe I write a review to be as unbiased (as in, not a rah-rah! review just because I'm a writer who doesn't want to hurt feelings)as possible, to give the reader a feel for what type of read this will be. Books are pricey these days and I like to know at least a little about a book before I buy. I assume other readers feel the same.

    I really appreciate your reviews, and those of everyone at Paperback Reader. The only complaint I have about the site is that it’s not updated as often as I would like.

    I wish you all the best, Janine. These days, anyone who sticks with blogging, especially in such a popular venue, has my deepest respect. I gave up my own blog after a flame war broke out – directed at me. I'd been posting some frank, down and dirty advice to wannabe writers, and the last one I posted was a suggestion much like I've read here. Don't publicly badmouth other writers – it can come back to bite you in the ass. Because of my treasurer position at RWA, this was evidently a ‘threat' to those whose public opinions I disagreed with, and whoo damn, I never saw it coming. It still blows my mind. So I killed the blog – at least until I'm no longer on the RWA board – and now lurk about on others, like DA!

    I’m sorry that this happened. I hope your blog returns when you’re no longer on the RWA board. In the meantime, I will enjoy your posts here at DA or wherever I see them.

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  101. Janine
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 00:26:12

    Jennie,

    I think my bugaboo is the suggestion that criticism in reviews must be “constructive”. If I'm reviewing something, I'm doing it as a reader, not as someone's critique partner. The book is already published. It's not really my responsibility, I don't think, to be “constructive”, or to help the author figure out where she went wrong (it would be rather presumptuous of me to try to do so, anyway, would it not?).

    I can imagine constructive criticism more in the review of a book that I liked but had problems with – when Janine and I did our dual review of “Tempted”, there were definitely positives and negatives for me, and I hope I was able to delineate those clearly. I suppose that's constructive? In the event that the author happens to read my review and agree with my criticisms and make changes to her next book based on said criticisms? Again, it sounds almost offensively presumptuous of me to imagine that…but anyway. That's what I would think of as constructive criticism.

    I agree that it’s not the job of a reviewer to try to help the author figure out where she went wrong or to critique the book. I agree that to set out to lecture an author on what to do better would be presumptuous in the extreme. But that doesn’t mean that an author can’t take something constructive away from a well-written review.

    In last week’s discussion of ethics in blogging, Kathryn Smith made this comment:

    I remember Mrs. Giggles slagged me a couple of times for my characters thinking too much. Because of that I started being more aware of doing that in my work. I think I've cut a lot of internal dialog out of my prose now and I have Mrs. G to thank for it! So, even if a review is negative in tone, that doesn't mean something good can't come out of it.

    And in comment #27 of the Access Romance All-A-Blog post that I linked, Alison Kent said this of reviews:

    I want to hear what may not work for a reader. I've had a couple of comments recently on one of my books that made me stop and realize that I had *not* executed a plot point as well as I should have. That's constructive to me. It helps me become a better writer. I would never put a book out there and think there was nothing about it that could be made better. Of course, it's too late once it's on the shelves, but still it's helpful for what I write down the road.

    I don’t see this kind of benefit to writers as the purpose of a review, but I think of it as a positive side effect that can happen sometimes.

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  102. Robin
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 00:27:12

    I have to say that I LOVE reading author reviews of books, because I enjoy seeing what other people value in a book or in the genre, and discussion of the craft of a book from a craftsperson offers some unique qualities.

    I just want to expand on this a little bit and say that when, for example, I read Janine’s reviews, because she is a writer herself, a lot of times she picks up on things I don’t — aspects of language or structure, for example, that she notices from the perspective of craftsmanship. Those insights always give me something new to consider or appreciate about a book, and that’s really valuable to me as a reader. It doesn’t matter to me if those insights come in the form of a review or or discussion in general, but the fact that authors are in fear or talking about specific books in the genre in anything but the most general and/or glowing ways saddens me. I’m not angry at those authors who feel that fear; I’m just frustrated that circumstances exist to make them feel that way. And I second Janine’s enthusiasm for Paperback Reader. It’s one of my favorite sites, even though I tend to lurk over there.

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  103. Janine
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 00:38:49

    Kristen,

    I didn't mean to imply I reviewed those books, simply that I might reference them in passing.

    Thanks for clarifying.

    Nora Roberts,

    I don't feel a review or an analysis of a book has to offer constructive criticism-in fact, I wish you'd keep that part to yourself. Give your opinion, say what worked or didn't for you and why. Which is why I very much enjoy the reviews on this site, as they do precisely that. But don't think I care one whit when you tell me how to ‘improve' my craft.

    As I said to Jennie in the previous comment, I agree with this. The fact that authors like the ones I quoted sometimes do take something constructive from a review doesn’t mean that I think it’s a reviewer’s place to tell an author how to improve her craft.

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  104. stephanie feagan
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 00:41:24

    …at Paperback Reader. The only complaint I have about the site is that it's not updated as often as I would like.

    It’s all HelenKay’s fault.

    Stef, ducking and running

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  105. Janine
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 01:02:12

    Sunita,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    As usual, Nora’s comments make me think. Why isn’t “constructive criticism” more useful (let alone welcome) in romance novel reviewing?

    I can think of a couple of reasons. First, writing for the entertainment and pleasure of the reader is a bit different than writing within a literary tradition with a goal of contributing to and perhaps challenging that tradition. Boundary-pushing literary fiction doesn’t have to sell well to be influential, whereas boundary-pushing genre fiction can get swamped by more traditional work, and the author can get dropped by the publisher unless it sells.

    I am confused. Are you saying that “constructive criticism” is more useful and welcome in literary fiction reviews than it is in romance reviews? Because it seems to me that if anything, the opposite is true. I took Jennie F.’s comment, which resonated with Ms. Roberts, to mean that Jennie felt stifled from posting her negative opinions of books by the calls for “constructive criticism” from posters on romance boards. And my impression is that where literary fiction is discussed, there is actually more freedom to review negatively and not so much emphasis on making reviews constructive.

    I don’t think there is any more emphasis on constructive criticism in the New York Times Book Review than there is in Romantic Times, myself. The reviews at the NYTBR are longer and more in depth than the reviews at RT, but I don’t think they are any more constructive.

    Discussions of authors reviewing each others’ work often use lit fic as the comparison. But isn’t that the exception rather than the rule?

    I don’t believe so.

    Do authors of other fiction genres review each other the way lit fic authors do?

    I believe it happens in science fiction, crime/mystery fiction, and mainstream fiction as well as literary fiction. Possibly horror fiction too, since I remember seeing, many years ago, a review by Anne Rice in the New York Times Book Review. Several of the major mainstream print publications that review books (like the NY Times, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, etc.) use author reviewers so I think it happens in just about any genre those publications are willing to review.

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  106. GrowlyCub
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 05:28:41

    Since I seem to have been the one that mentioned the ‘constructive criticism’ that has sparked such animosity, let me clarify that I used it to mean exactly what Nora distinguished it from: “Give your opinion, say what worked or didn't for you and why.”

    In other words, I consider constructive criticism (as in ‘the story did not resonate with me since the heroine’s actions seem to be illogical and counter to her character description throughout the book’) to be the opposite from snark or venting a la ‘the book sucks, the author is a moron and I hope they die’.

    It’s naturally entirely possible and from the reaction even likely that I misused this word combination. If so, blame it on the fact that I’m not a native speaker.

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  107. Nora Roberts
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 07:09:21

    Here’s part of the deal for me–and maybe I’m just Ms. Crankypants. Awhile back there were lots of calls from the readers for writers to blog. Why doesn’t she blog–we want to hear what she has to say. Then a lot of readers seemed to feel there were too many author blogs, and they didn’t really care about author blogs. Except the ones they did care about.

    I see this question re author reviews pop up from time to time, and there’s a lot of I want to hear what they have to say. Why won’t they review? I’m pretty sure, as Ms. Crankypants, if there was a sudden influx of author reviews, there’d be the complaints. And questions.

    Is she reviewing this because she’s pals with the author, because her editor asked her, because (in the negative case) she’s in competition, doesn’t like the writer in questions–and right down the line.

    A lot of readers don’t like cover quotes from author to author–and suspect them.

    I don’t review because of all the reasons I stated upthread–but I could certainly add this to the mix.

    I guess one of my questions is when is it going to be enough? Just how much is a writer supposed to do for the reader? Write the book, keep an informative, easily navigated and updated webpage, blog/don’t blog, comment on blogs/don’t comment, hold contests, do give-aways, upload free stories, review, discuss.

    It seems like a lot. What I’m saying is after a point–which for me is write the book and have the webpage–it’s about choice. A writer shouldn’t feel obligated or subtly–or overtly–pressured into doing more than her job because some consider it good for the community or interesting to readers.

    Those who want to do all or any part of the above, thumbs up. But for those who don’t–whatever their reasons–same goes. Thumbs up.

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  108. Nora Roberts
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 07:17:56

    Growly, I’m sorry if it felt like a was picking on you. Constructive criticism in this context is a hot button for me. I’ve read many reader comments over the years that basically say: She can’t handle constructive criticism, or I’m offering constructive criticism.

    My response? Who asked you?

    Reviews I consider an entire different matter. They’re opinions. It’s when that opinion crosses over to suggestions on how the writer should write, what they should write, how they could improve.

    I once got a two page critique–unsolicited–from a newbie author, citing pages in my book and how she believed I could improve–which she hoped I’d take as ‘constructive criticism’. And I thought: Who the hell do you think you are?

    I get this sort of thing, and I’m sure other writers do as well. So, apologies to you–the phrase seems to set me off.

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  109. Nora Roberts
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 07:45:25

    Robin, I can’t speak for everyone–and can’t really speak for myself clearly in this case as I don’t review. But I’d think reader backlash would be a bigger concern than editor/colleague backlash. Now, if a writer publicly trashes another writer’s book–I’m talking trash–I can see the editor taking note. On a very real level, she’s also being trashed, so why wouldn’t she think twice before buying a writer who goes on record bad-mouthing a book she worked on?

    An honest, thoughtful review? This book didn’t work for me because, etc? I don’t see an editor getting her panties in a twist, unless she’s already prone to twisted panties. Same for the writer, imo.

    But a lot of readers can and do get pissed when one of their favorites is criticized–even thoughtfully. We’ve all seen it. A writer who chooses to review will certainly have to deal with some of that.

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  110. Julie Leto
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 08:28:06

    Reviews I consider an entire different matter. They're opinions. It's when that opinion crosses over to suggestions on how the writer should write, what they should write, how they could improve.

    I once got a two page critique-unsolicited-from a newbie author, citing pages in my book and how she believed I could improve-which she hoped I'd take as ‘constructive criticism'. And I thought: Who the hell do you think you are?

    Yes, Nora. Yes, Yes, Yes! I have critique partners and I have a fabulous editor…two, actually…one for each publisher. I don’t need readers telling me how to “improve” because honestly, they’re readers, not writers. They can have an opinion on my writing, of course. That’s their perogative. But even if they are a writing teacher, they should keep “constructive criticism” to themselves unless specifically asked. If for no other reason than because craft issues can be as subjective as anything else in the creative arts.

    So I agree that if one writer wants to review another writer, they should go at it from a reader’s perspective. I would never, ever presume to tell another writer how to write or how to craft a novel unless they specifically solicited my opinion…and even then, I normally only critique for very close friends with whom I’ve developed a strong sense of trust. I’ve stopped offering “critiques for sale” even for charities for this very reason…it seems awfully presumptuous of me. I’m not an editor.

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  111. Shiloh Walker
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 08:46:19

    An honest, thoughtful review? This book didn't work for me because, etc? I don't see an editor getting her panties in a twist, unless she's already prone to twisted panties. Same for the writer, imo.

    But a lot of readers can and do get pissed when one of their favorites is criticized-even thoughtfully. We've all seen it. A writer who chooses to review will certainly have to deal with some of that.

    And this is a huge part of why I don’t mention books unless I enjoyed them. Even if it was just okay, I don’t really discuss it. A girl I know made mention on a popular author’s group, said something along the lines of It was okay. I didn’t like it as much as the others in the series, but I did like it well enough. Negative? Nope. Insulting? Nope. Not even critical.

    But you wouldn’t believe the lynching she got. If she’d been a writer, she would have lost some of the readers in the group just because some people were just outraged. She had insults thrown at her, her intelligence questioned, some people attacked her off the list. All because she didn’t adore a book.

    Frankly, speaking as a reader it’s not worth the hassle. But as a writer? It definitely isn’t. Especially considering that my opinion is just that. Mine. Books I’ve hated others loved and vice versa. My opinion doesn’t amount to that much and I don’t need the headache that would come if I listed some popular books that I really didn’t care all that much for.

    I’m not even entirely sure how much of this boils down to the advice Thumper’s mama gave him. Because too often, people get attacked just because they didn’t agree with others in whatever group. It doesn’t have to be trashing or even negative. If it’s not glowing, that’s just as bad as an insult to some. And liking a book others didn’t sometimes gets the same feedback. Too much of the ‘clique’ mindset I so hated in high school. We’ve seen this to some degree, I’m pretty sure, on Dear Author. A popular author’s new release get gets an average grade but ‘okay’ isn’t good enough for some.

    Regarding editors, not one of the editors I’ve worked with strike me as the type to get in a twist because somebody didn’t enjoy a book written by one of their authors. As long as the review wasn’t insulting. If the review focuses on the book and the flaws, instead of how stupid the writer is and why on earth did she sell anyway, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if that dissuaded an editor from buying.

    But it’s not even just that she might have gotten a backhanded insult. For an author, trashing a book is unprofessional. I’m not talking a thoughtful critique or even a snarky review. I’m talking ‘reviews’ that masquerade as insults, or attempt to be all biting wit and all that comes across is insults~insulting the author’s intelligence, the editor who bought, focusing on all that crap instead of the book? It’s not professional and how a person presents themselves online could be indicative of how professional they are to work with. It’s that image thing again. For an author, it matters.

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  112. Keishon
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 08:52:18

    Nora:

    I guess one of my questions is when is it going to be enough? Just how much is a writer supposed to do for the reader? Write the book, keep an informative, easily navigated and updated webpage, blog/don't blog, comment on blogs/don't comment, hold contests, do give-aways, upload free stories, review, discuss

    All I want authors to do is write your book and promote your book, period. As a reader, I’m not interested in authors who blog about personal stuff and the writing process (I mean some things need to be remain sacred) but other readers enjoy that. I only care about your work, that’s it for me. But in the end, it’s the author who has to draw the line to say when enough is enough. Readers can be a demanding bunch. I can completely understand where you’re coming from in terms of people offering you constructive criticism because once the book is out, that part of the process is over. Readers either get it or they don’t and explain why and that really should be it.

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  113. Shiloh Walker
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 08:56:42

    My two cents on constructive criticism… I don’t like it, but I can take it just fine, providing nobody tells me what I should have done differently.

    I know there are things that don’t work for readers, but it worked for the author, otherwise the book wouldn’t have gotten written. As much as I’ve hated some books, I’d never tell the author how to write it. It would be like me going into a different doctor’s office and telling everybody working there how they should do things.

    There is no ‘one’ way to anything and trying to tell somebody how to do it different isn’t the same thing as constructive criticism.

    Constructive criticism is explaining why there’s a problem and what might have prevented it or helped. It’s not going in and saying this is wrong, and you need to try this next time.

    I can read a review on my books from Mrs. Giggles, have her laughing her tail off and I can take away a decent amount from that review, even if it stung to read some of it. I can improve on that, and more, I want to.

    But the few times I’ve read a review where somebody implies I should have done this over that…eh, I usually don’t even finish the review.

    This is just my two cents, for what it’s worth.

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  114. Nora Roberts
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 09:13:25

    ~But in the end, it's the author who has to draw the line to say when enough is enough.~

    You’re absolutely right. In fact, I’m speaking on this topic next month at my local chapter’s retreat. Hopefully humorously, springing off the more unusual reader demands I’ve gotten. This past Christmas a guy wanted to buy me–literally–for his wife, for a day. He really didn’t understand why I wasn’t for sale, so to speak. It was kinda sweet, and kinda creepy.

    But another writer might’ve found it a charming idea, and agreed. It goes back to choice.

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  115. Robin
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 10:46:57

    GrowlyCub, regarding the term “constructive criticism,” I don’t think there’s anything wrong in you using the term. It’s just kind of a catch-all that means different things in different contexts. It can refer to the critique one gives a writer during the drafting process, or it can refer more generally to critical exchanges that are intended to be productive and not bash sessions. So depending on how someone relates to the term, their response might be different.

    And this is a huge part of why I don't mention books unless I enjoyed them. Even if it was just okay, I don't really discuss it. A girl I know made mention on a popular author's group, said something along the lines of It was okay. I didn't like it as much as the others in the series, but I did like it well enough. Negative? Nope. Insulting? Nope. Not even critical.

    But you wouldn't believe the lynching she got. If she'd been a writer, she would have lost some of the readers in the group just because some people were just outraged. She had insults thrown at her, her intelligence questioned, some people attacked her off the list. All because she didn't adore a book.

    Which brings me full circle to the point I started with, that the cultural resistance to anything other than the praise of a “true fan” is a destructive rather than a constructive quality, IMO. I know it’s “the way things are,” and I don’t expect authors to rise up and challenge the status quo, but I do surely hope that there will be a cultural shift over time. Because every time people start talking about why Romance doesn’t get respect, I come back to this issue. Maybe one of the reasons people care so much about respect is that there’s a general lack of self-confidence within the community that is illustrated in a generalized antipathy toward *evaluation* of books and genre tropes. Yes, I understand where the defensiveness comes from, and I don’t think it’s going to change overnight, but I wonder, sometimes, if lit fic, for example, commands a certain level of cultural respect because there’s a self-confidence *within* the community of lit fic authors and critics — a basic acceptance that the books matter and that they deserve critical attention and debate.

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  116. GrowlyCub
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 11:15:58

    Robin,

    thanks for the explanation on constructive criticism! I was starting to wonder since most commenters were clearly using it in a different manner from me.

    While I understand that changing the status quo (real and/or perceived negative repercussions for readers and writers alike if they comment on books in a less than glowing fashion) can be a daunting enterprise, I still hope that we can eventually get to where this is no longer a concern – one conversation at a time.

    I feel occasionally stifled on the list I manage because of what happened there in the past, when flame wars erupted about ‘how dare you insult this author’s baby’. On at least one occasion in the last couple of months I did not post something critical about an author because I didn’t want to have to deal with the possible repercussions. And that made me mad even as I decided not to post.

    I find this self-censorship endlessly frustrating (and it’s not just me either, many of my friends have mentioned doing it as well), because the whole point of having a discussion group for readers is to discuss what does and does not work in different books and to see why something that didn’t work for me, worked for somebody else. It’s the sharing of our different (world) views that I find intriguing and it seems in the romance community this is not only not prized but by many actively seen as ‘dirtying your own nest, not being supportive enough, mean’, etc.

    The ‘rabidness’ seems to have gotten worse over the 6-7 years I did not actively participate in the romance community.

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  117. Jackie L.
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 11:23:12

    As a reader, I would prefer not to see my favorite authors discussing other peoples’ books. Because if I disagree with them, it might hurt my tiny feelings. But as a romance fan, I happen to believe that parts of the genre are written well enough to withstand criticism. So I’m glad you reviewer guys have the time and the energy to point this fact out.

    In my own field, I was shouted (figuratively, of course) off a discussion board. Now this board is supposed to be limited to doctors and mid level practitioners only. (It is the internet, how can one ever be certain?) It was a discussion of obesity.

    I made a crack that I was delighted to find the diagnosis for my own condition at last. I am a bulimic who is too lazy to make myself puke up. (Non purging bulimic.)

    I received death threats (kid you not) from people who are supposedly themselves physicians. I should know that obesity is a disease and that I have no control over my weight. I was advised that I need to have obesity surgery as that is the only treatment. When I said I’ve seen the surgery fail, I got the all caps comments flying my way. Then I said, well, since I’m not obese, merely extremely, extremely overweight, I don’t qualify for surgery. I was told I could have nothing to say about obesity since I am merely a chunk wad. But I lost 80 lbs and I was obese before that weight loss.

    Losing weight is impossible they shouted.

    Nut bags.

    I’m done with that discussion board. Too disillusioning to think they might actually be MDs.

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  118. (Jān)
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 11:23:41

    The ‘rabidness' seems to have gotten worse over the 6-7 years I did not actively participate in the romance community.

    Growly Cub, it has. I don’t know what list you’re talking about, but I remember when RRA-L was started, and the discussions were free and honest and open. But in the last 7-8 years or so everyone backed off from that because fans (and a couple of authors) got insulted and angry when books weren’t liked, often taking it as a personal insult. Which is really ridiculous. At DA things seem more rational.

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  119. GrowlyCub
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 11:42:07

    Jan

    :) The list I am managing on Yahoo happens to be the successor list to the one that Kara and Leslie administered.

    We still have things going for us, but as you said, everybody pretty much backed off from the neat discussions we used to have. I just couldn’t let the list die and feel it still has something to offer that’s different from the myriad other lists out there.

    Unfortunately, I was unable to get the Kent archives released to me, so all that history on the romance community is gone (around 15 years or so). :(

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  120. (Jān)
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 11:56:18

    GrowlyCub, I didn’t know someone started up a new RRA! I lost track of RRA-L toward the end. I’ll have to look it up. :)

    I can’t believe the archives are gone! There was good stuff in there, and I would use them to get the feel for older titles. That’s too bad, because it showed how authors and readers could review and discuss things honestly without people getting bent out of shape.

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  121. GrowlyCub
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 12:03:28

    Jan

    I lack imagination so kept the name. Putting ‘rra-l’ into the search at Yahoogroups will spit us right up. :)

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  122. Janine
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 12:31:00

    Leslie Kelly, thanks.

    Jill Sorenson,

    Being a reviewer for Dear Author might give your career as a published author a boost. It's good exposure, and if readers like your voice, they may go out and pick up your book. The duality may work to your favor rather than your detriment.

    That would be very nice, and it is interesting to hear because it’s such a different perspective than most of the ones that have come up in this thread.

    Also, when your book comes out, will it be reviewed here?

    LOL. First I have to finish my book, and sell it! Right now I’m a long way from that. So we in the DA review group haven’t discussed it at all.

    But, to answer the spirit of the question, since the other Ja(y)nes are my friends, and since I feel it is better for me not to review my friends, I would not expect the Ja(y)nes to review my book. I imagine that if they wanted to do so, they would feel ethically bound to disclose their relationship with me. I think they would have that option, but I can certainly see why they might prefer not to review me at all. Perhaps the best solution would be to invite one or more guest reviewers to review my book here. The Paperback Reader reviewers, maybe? I can dream, can’t I?

    In any case, it would be a good problem to have! There are no guarantees of my book being published to begin with, and I have a long way to go before I feel it is ready for submission.

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  123. (Jān)
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 13:00:08

    Janine, I wouldn’t review a friend either. I will however pimp for you. ;D

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  124. Janine
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 13:06:12

    Julie Leto,

    Janine, I don't mind being “called out!” I don't say anything publicly that I won't stand behind! I know it's sometimes risky for an author to have a strong opinion on a public blog, but what the hell? I'm opinionated. Anyone who has met me knows that, LOL!

    I appreciate that and also appreciate the opinions you and others have voiced on this topic and on other topics, both here on DA and elsewhere. As you say, it is risky, especially for authors, but sometimes even for readers. But it is also the only way to have a meaningful discussion of anything.

    Honestly, I wasn't angry or anything about being quoted. I appreciate your opinion on this topic very much and I was glad I was able to clarify what I meant, because if memory serves, during the original discussion, I wasn't able to make my point very clearly.

    I’m glad to hear that.

    I appreciate your trepidation here, I really do, but I think you're okay as long as you are as upfront and honest as you were in this post, which I've no doubt you will be. This kind of thoughtful regard for your own career is admirable and I hope you achieve the success you aspire to.

    Thanks!

    Stephanie Feagan — LOL!

    Nora Roberts,

    I guess one of my questions is when is it going to be enough? Just how much is a writer supposed to do for the reader? Write the book, keep an informative, easily navigated and updated webpage, blog/don't blog, comment on blogs/don't comment, hold contests, do give-aways, upload free stories, review, discuss.

    It seems like a lot. What I'm saying is after a point-which for me is write the book and have the webpage-it's about choice. A writer shouldn't feel obligated or subtly-or overtly-pressured into doing more than her job because some consider it good for the community or interesting to readers.

    Those who want to do all or any part of the above, thumbs up. But for those who don't-whatever their reasons-same goes. Thumbs up.

    I agree with that and I never meant to imply otherwise with my opinion piece. It’s a personal choice, not an obligation. But in the same way I don’t want authors and writers (myself included) to feel pressured to review, I also don’t want anyone to feel pressured not to do so.

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  125. Janine
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 13:18:08

    You're absolutely right. In fact, I'm speaking on this topic next month at my local chapter's retreat. Hopefully humorously, springing off the more unusual reader demands I've gotten. This past Christmas a guy wanted to buy me-literally-for his wife, for a day. He really didn't understand why I wasn't for sale, so to speak. It was kinda sweet, and kinda creepy.

    Oh. My. God. The mind boggles.

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  126. Janine
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 13:24:41

    Losing weight is impossible they shouted.

    I’m so sorry that happened to you, Jackie L. But it also goes to show, I think, how irrational people can become in a community that does not allow dissent.

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  127. Devon
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 14:46:08

    Just wanted to add my best wishes to you on your writing journey, Janine.

    There’s a lot of interesting discussion going on here that touches on a number of issues–possible conflicts of interest for writer/reviewers, constructive criticism vs. reviewing, the proper role for authors and readers, the good old trash review vs. thoughtful review. Discourse, critical and otherwise, is a tricky thing on the net. What one person intended to say is quite often not how others interpret it. That can be seen even here, and the conversation has been quite rational. But different people definitely see things like “snark” vs. “critique” vs. “Mean Girls” vs. “entertaining writing” differently.

    It suggests to me that, yes, entering the reviewing game as a author can be fraught. I think that the reviews of a plain ol’ reader might not be held to the same scrutiny as an author. Your honesty and forthrightness will help you. Hopefully no one will accuse you of agendas or whatnot. Maybe the fact that since you were already known as a reader/reviewer will help protect you. I’m overstating it a bit with the “protect” thing, but I’ve seen some ugly thrown around in the past plus two years. And often the nastiness was based upon comments that I interpreted very differently. To the point where I wondered if I had read the same passage as others.

    Keep on keepin’ on. I’ve enjoyed reading your reviews.
    Keep on keepi

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  128. Janine
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 15:05:35

    Thanks, Devon.

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  129. Karen Scott
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 19:26:39

    I don't think there is a backlash per se, at least no yet, but more voices are being raised against reviewers that trash books, irrespective of who the reviewer is (author, reader, etc.). Fact is that quite a bit of snarky reviews out there have gone way overboard.

    I’ve been looking for good snarky reviews for months. Can anybody point me in the right direction? It may be that I haven’t been blog-hopping as much, just recently, but I haven’t seen a snarky romance review for ages. Where are all these legions of Snarky Reviewers hiding?

    Anybody name me more than three SRs in Romanceland?

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  130. Karen Scott
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 19:49:55

    It seems to me that in RomLand, if a reviewer writes 100 gushing reviews, and 1 moderately snarky review, nine times out of ten, it’s the snarky review that people will read and remember.

    The fact is, a lot of authors find it beyond difficult to take any kind of criticism, but when that critique comes from a fellow author, I think that perhaps some of them feel betrayed.

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  131. Nora Roberts
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 20:44:17

    ~The fact is, a lot of authors find it beyond difficult to take any kind of criticism, but when that critique comes from a fellow author, I think that perhaps some of them feel betrayed~

    True enough, but not actually what I was getting at. Some people are just too sensitive, imo, or too SERIOUS. But there can be problems with author to author critiques–on a much different level than reader to author.

    A year or two ago, I read an interview with an author who snotted all over an established writer in the same genre. He’s old and tired, I’m fresh. He doesn’t do proper research, and I do. He’s crap, basically and I’m gold. I found it so unprofessional, the comments, the slap him down to build me up that I thought: I’ll never buy a book you’ve written, you arrogant asshole. This was not Romance, certainly not what I’d call critical review. It was chest beating. And you’d invariably get some of that with author to author review. Human nature rears its head.

    I haven’t read that many author to author reviews in Romance. But I have to say from what I have seen, we sure do it better than this jerk did.

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  132. DS
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 20:45:54

    In SF&F, Fantasy, mystery and horror most published reviews I have read are nearly always by author-reviewers– and they also have longevity. I will occasionally refer back to Anthony Boucher’s reviews of mystery novels and he died in 1968– I had to look that date up and noticed that he had also been awarded an Edgar for his reviews. I’ve been trying for a week to find a statement made by Theodore Sturgeon and I keep being distracted by his comments on writing sf although a lot of what he reviewed is long forgotten.

    But one difference I have noted is that romance authors are (must be?) prolific. C. J. Cherryh is considered very prolific in the sff arena–she writes approximately two books a year. She also writes a blog about her daily activities that I read religiously although it’s mainly very mundane– skating lessons, allergy attacks and where she and her friends ate dinner. What looks to me like the grueling publication schedule a lot of romance writers have would prevent casual reviewing or criticism (in the literary sense).

    I also wonder about the romance publishing schedule because it seems that being able to produce books— not necessarily very good books– is highly prized by romance publishers whereas you don’t hear about it so much in other genres.

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  133. AAR Rachel
    Feb 27, 2008 @ 21:22:23

    Hey, Janine – we have discussed this a little before, but here are my thoughts as a reviewer and a(n unpublished) writer, for what little they are worth.

    First, I think the internet makes everything seem more connected than it really is, though certainly there are incidents that plenty of people are aware of and won’t forget. However, I really think publishing comes down to money, and if an editor thinks she can make some from your manuscript, it won’t matter if you’ve slammed every writer in the biz, hither and yon. Unfortunately, not much of this money will make its way back to you, at least not at first, so if you’re writing, you have to do it because you enjoy it tremendously.

    A few years ago I wrote a book, a regency-set historical, with my sister. We had a riot writing it together; it was a great experience and brought us closer together. Throughout the process of writing it I worried that my online name would proceed me and I would not be able to get it published with anyone who made the connection between AAR and me. And in the end we didn’t publish it, but mostly because it was too long and too complicated and because we, in our ignorance of British legal history, made a blundering plotting error that resulted in a massive rewrite and a happy ending that was perhaps a bit untraditional (it was either that or set course full sail ahead into Historical Inaccuracy waters). We sent out some queries, got a few rejections and one “I’d be glad to read another manuscript from you, but this one is a no.” And because my sister had another baby and I was going through a full course of infertility treatments and another script was not forthcoming, we decided that was good enough. Maybe sometime in the future, another book would be born of our mutual imagination, but we could be grateful for the good that came of this one. Last year I threw it up on Lulu.com just to get it in real book format for my own personal bookshelf. That was kind of neat. Ah, technology…

    Another salient point was my own speculation that perhaps my skin would be too thin for publication, that in truth I could dish it out but not take it. Who knows? While I don’t think the book=baby comparison really works, it’s hard not being defensive about anything of your own creation. And writing a book takes hours and hours and hours of yourself. It’s very personal. Hours more, even, if you make a hideous historical blunder. The daily wage is minuscule. I really believe you have to LOVE doing it to make it worthwhile both from a money standpoint and an artistic one. Especially with historicals. I know there are writers who approach writing like a business and do support themselves, but what they are producing is, in fact, product, not art. Which is fine, but not what I wanted to do.

    Getting back on track, I know that for a least one AAR reviewer writing reviews and PPP entries helped her get published; it didn’t hurt her efforts at all. And as for the idea of Romance publishing being like a sorority where you love your sisters, put your all into the house and then get helped up by those that went before you – I think that’s myth. Writing is pretty solitary. Writers may interact with each other socially, in person and online, but there is no Solidarnosc at work. No heaving together for the betterment of the whole. Only individual striving. There may be a handful of authors who could get you elevated or blackballed, but they’re probably too busy to notice one newbie get published. I’m not in RWA, but from what little I’ve heard/observed online, the atmosphere is seldom altruistic.

    Basically I think if you have a style that an editor thinks will sell and a little bit of luck, as well as the time put in, you can do it regardless of whether you write reviews online or not.

    As far as whether writers can review and reviewers can write, I think the combination is possible. Reviewing is writing – thinking about what you’re reading, really examining it, and then writing it down, hopefully in an interesting way. Personally, I find it hard NOT to write about books I love or that tweak me in interesting ways. It builds up in my head, what’s going on in those pages, and I have to get it out. However, as I was in the process of writing, I found it getting harder and harder to read with enjoyment because I would get sidetracked by all these issues of craft to the point at which I found it difficult to get into books because I was looking at everything so critically. I missed reading for enjoyment. And in the end, I found I valued reading and writing about what I was reading more than coming up with new stories, so that was where I decided to put my time.

    Of course now I have much less time to read or write, and I’ve had a challenging time finding books that wow me, so I’ve been less active as a reviewer (Sorry, Jane!). But that may be just temporary. Time will tell.

    In any case, good luck with your writing. I’d love to read whatever you’ve done when you’ve done with it.

    Best – Rachel

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  134. Janine
    Feb 28, 2008 @ 11:21:21

    Karen S.,

    I've been looking for good snarky reviews for months. Can anybody point me in the right direction? It may be that I haven't been blog-hopping as much, just recently, but I haven't seen a snarky romance review for ages. Where are all these legions of Snarky Reviewers hiding?

    I don’t blog hop that much so I am probably the wrong person to ask. I sometimes see snarky reviews on Amazon, though.

    Nora Roberts,

    A year or two ago, I read an interview with an author who snotted all over an established writer in the same genre. He's old and tired, I'm fresh. He doesn't do proper research, and I do. He's crap, basically and I'm gold. I found it so unprofessional, the comments, the slap him down to build me up that I thought: I'll never buy a book you've written, you arrogant asshole.

    I have read interviews like that too, and I wonder if perhaps an interview is not the best venue for criticism? For one thing, the author is at the mercy of the interviewer, who may edit their words. If the interviewee says some positive as well as negative things about a fellow author, perhaps only the negative things will end up in the interview. Also, in an interview, the interview subject is asked to talk all about himself, so interviews can make their subjects seem self-centered or navel gazing even when there’s no criticism involved. I imagine that being interviewed by the media is an art onto itself.

    DS,

    In SF&F, Fantasy, mystery and horror most published reviews I have read are nearly always by author-reviewers- and they also have longevity. I will occasionally refer back to Anthony Boucher's reviews of mystery novels and he died in 1968- I had to look that date up and noticed that he had also been awarded an Edgar for his reviews. I've been trying for a week to find a statement made by Theodore Sturgeon and I keep being distracted by his comments on writing sf although a lot of what he reviewed is long forgotten.

    It sounds like you have some wonderful books in your collection. I would love to have an anthology of reviews by romance authors, with each author reviewing a favorite book and explaining why it is a favorite. I think that would be a treasure trove, and it wouldn’t even require anyone to write a negative review.

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  135. Janine
    Feb 28, 2008 @ 12:06:45

    Rachel,

    A few years ago I wrote a book, a regency-set historical, with my sister. We had a riot writing it together; it was a great experience and brought us closer together. Throughout the process of writing it I worried that my online name would proceed me and I would not be able to get it published with anyone who made the connection between AAR and me. And in the end we didn't publish it, but mostly because it was too long and too complicated and because we, in our ignorance of British legal history, made a blundering plotting error that resulted in a massive rewrite and a happy ending that was perhaps a bit untraditional (it was either that or set course full sail ahead into Historical Inaccuracy waters). We sent out some queries, got a few rejections and one “I'd be glad to read another manuscript from you, but this one is a no.” And because my sister had another baby and I was going through a full course of infertility treatments and another script was not forthcoming, we decided that was good enough. Maybe sometime in the future, another book would be born of our mutual imagination, but we could be grateful for the good that came of this one. Last year I threw it up on Lulu.com just to get it in real book format for my own personal bookshelf. That was kind of neat. Ah, technology…

    It sounds like you had a very good experience writing this book, even though it wasn’t published. I think that sometimes the process of writing can be its own reward.

    Another salient point was my own speculation that perhaps my skin would be too thin for publication, that in truth I could dish it out but not take it. Who knows? While I don't think the book=baby comparison really works, it's hard not being defensive about anything of your own creation. And writing a book takes hours and hours and hours of yourself. It's very personal.

    I agree that, from an emotional standpoint, it’s very hard not to be defensive. But from a logical standpoint, it’s simply not rational to expect only praise and no criticism. The book has not been written that everyone has loved and no one has criticized. Even the Bible gets picked apart by some, and that’s the most venerated book in the western world. It’s tough, I’m not saying it’s not tough, to hear criticism. But it’s also a sign that the book is reaching readers, that it’s making an impact, that it’s ciruclating in the world. Which is what the goal of being published was about, no?

    As far as whether writers can review and reviewers can write, I think the combination is possible. Reviewing is writing – thinking about what you're reading, really examining it, and then writing it down, hopefully in an interesting way.

    I think that’s an important point. Even a reviewer who isn’t a novelist is still a writer.

    Personally, I find it hard NOT to write about books I love or that tweak me in interesting ways. It builds up in my head, what's going on in those pages, and I have to get it out.

    Yes, that happens to me as well. I love to discuss books. It’s very hard to shut up about them.

    However, as I was in the process of writing, I found it getting harder and harder to read with enjoyment because I would get sidetracked by all these issues of craft to the point at which I found it difficult to get into books because I was looking at everything so critically. I missed reading for enjoyment.

    I am lucky, I think, that for the most part I still enjoy books very much. And when I don’t, I can usually judge that from a couple of chapters and then I don’t read further and don’t review those books.

    Of course now I have much less time to read or write, and I've had a challenging time finding books that wow me, so I've been less active as a reviewer (Sorry, Jane!). But that may be just temporary. Time will tell.

    Like Jane, I hope you will return to reviewing more actively, because I really enjoy your reviews. I think they were a big factor in turning me on to Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s books.

    ReplyReply

  136. DS
    Feb 28, 2008 @ 16:58:52

    Janine, some books, but also magazine files and xerox copies of things I read and liked as far back as when I was in college– I seem to have the hunter/gatherer gene. I used to buy a copy of every nonfiction book about sf and fantasy I could find, as well as reading fanzines which were low-tech (all too often mimeographed) blogs.

    Maybe romance skipped a stage and that left readers (depending on their other fandom experience) with different expectations about how authors interact with fans and other authors– that’s not say that there haven’t been notable feuds. If you have a chance you might pick up Camille Bacon-Smith’s Science Fiction Culture. She’s an academic who has also written some good horror/fantasy.

    I just searched and you can find a decent sized chunk of SF Culture on Google Book Search if you feel like sampling it.

    ReplyReply

  137. Nora Roberts
    Feb 28, 2008 @ 19:30:29

    ~If the interviewee says some positive as well as negative things about a fellow author,~

    Janine, I think you’re very sweet–and I don’t mean that in a snotty or snarky way. Sincerely.

    Nora

    ReplyReply

  138. Janine
    Feb 28, 2008 @ 19:33:09

    Thanks. :-)

    ReplyReply

  139. sherry thomas
    Mar 02, 2008 @ 10:51:30

    Nora Roberts:

    Janine, I think you're very sweet

    That is the absolute truth.

    Janine bends over backward to be fair to the authors and the books she reviews.

    ReplyReply

  140. heather (errantdreams)
    Mar 17, 2008 @ 14:03:54

    I seem to have done this whole thing backwards. Rather than being a reviewer who wants to be a writer, I was a freelance writer (about 14 co-authored books, horror genre) and gradually transitioned to reviewing, which I found, much to my surprise, that I preferred.

    I agree that it’s dangerous to try to review and get published at the same time. You risk offending the people whose favor you need to court, and you risk that situation biasing your reviews.

    I always try to be polite when I don’t like a book, although there have been two or three exceptions (out of 600 reviews, to put that in perspective) where I loathed a book so much that I was really hard on it. My feelings were just so strong that it wouldn’t have been honest to do otherwise.

    I’m rather curious about people’s feelings on positive vs. negative reviews in general—something I blogged about last week. I always try to be very open-minded with respect to the books I read and even try to note when something I don’t like would probably appeal to others. That said, though, for every author who has thanked me for a fair (yet not entirely complementary) review, there’s at least one who has sent me hate mail for daring to dislike even a tiny aspect of an otherwise amazing book that I said wonderful things about.

    So yeah, if you are in a position where you have to worry about offending other authors and editors, it might be best not to review. But if you’re polite and honest and open-minded and don’t mind that you’ll inevitably burn a few bridges, then do what you want, even if it’ll make a few people mad.

    ReplyReply

  141. Rhyanna
    Apr 07, 2008 @ 01:26:23

    HI, i have not read an author to author review, i don’t get the magazines that run those.
    However, i feel that if an author doesn’t want to, doesn’t have the time, then they don’t have to, and should not feel obligated to have a blog, update it daily, etc.
    Readers read the books they do because the Author SPENDS Time writing them.
    It is nice to know every once in a while what an Author is doing, or will be appearing.
    But personally i would rather they be writing their next novel so that i can read it.
    That may just be me and i hope to become published this year, but i am sure other readers would agree, they would rather have their favorite author writing books.
    Blessings.

    Rhyanna
    http://childrensbookwinp.ning.com/profile/Kressalyne
    http://lion_sheart.tripod.com
    Keep the Light of Hope Alive, Smile and Pass it on.

    ReplyReply

  142. On the Moral Status of Snarky Reviews « Racy Romance Reviews
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 18:32:02

    [...] facts wrong, not insulting their appearance, etc (that would be a “trash review” as Julie Leto wrote once.). I also know for sure that respect for authors is consistent with writing a very critical [...]

  143. Should You Review A Friend’s Book? Arguments For and Against a Common Practice | Racy Romance Reviews
    Jan 12, 2009 @ 17:45:32

    [...] paragraphs of Janine’s wonderfully thoughtful and wide ranging post in early 2008 at Dear Author on the ethical dilemmas faced by author-reviewers: The reason I'm disclosing the fact that I [...]

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