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

Is the internet bringing us together or moving us farther apart?

Grand Canyon Previously I blogged about the reader/author divide. Since that time I have noticed an increasing mark between ONLINE readers and authors. Take blogger Indida.

When one of the first internet review sites started, The Romance Reader, it was a revelation to me. I never before had a central source that I could go to, for free, to get buy suggestions. The Romance Reader was followed by All About Romance. I think that AAR changed part of the romance landscape by allowing reader interaction. Reader interaction was closely followed by author interaction.

With the rise of romance readership presence on the internet came the author website which can be invaluable to the reader. There were email addresses for authors so that we readers could instantly contact them and say how much we loved their work. (and I guess, hate their work). There were message groups, mailing lists, online newsletters. The authors began to interact with readers and fans in a way they never could before. Up until a couple of years ago, I belonged to several yahoo groups with authors. I participated in chats hosted at their website or at places like Writerspace. The increased internet coverage, however, had a downside.

With the individual reader blog came the ability of anybody with the inclination (like us) to talk incessantly about an author in the negative. Stories of bad behavior refuse to die. Readers pledged vocally and perhaps, not so vocally, to refuse to buy certain authors. Personal details become fodder for mocking fans and bloggers (think LKH) or angering fans (Suzanne Brockmann’s in praise of gay men book). Author’s comments are parsed and reparsed. Motives are dissected. There is the reader backlash: How dare you question price, motive, or even plot.

I ran into a problem when I participated heavily with authors through chats and message boards. Those authors I followed closely and interacted with often began to have a distinct voices to the extent that I could not separate their voice with the characters in the book. The characters all started sound exactly like the author which ruined my ability to suspend my disbelief. It was either stop interacting with the authors or stop reading their books. I choose to unsubscribe from listservs and message boards.

I love author websites. I love blogs. While I was still participating in listservs and message boards, I loved the authorial interaction. And part of me can’t resist when an author does put her foot in her mouth as the fall out is like a bad accident. But I do remember those authors whose behavior has been questionable when I am at the bookstore.

For some of my long time romance reading friends, romance novels are not engaging them like they used to. Is it because of the ability to talk about the books in great detail leads to disinterest? To dissect them until they are nothing but nouns, verbs and adjectives? In the end, is all this interaction, this false intimacy created by the internet a good thing for either readers or authors? Is it bringing us together or driving us apart? Is the romance community better for it or do we suffer romance reader burn out sooner?

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

32 Comments

  1. Keishon
    Jun 12, 2006 @ 09:49:28

    I think the Internet interaction with authors is a catch-22: I like interacting with authors but at the same time, I can’t separate their persona from their work. There are some authors I won’t try because of their online presence. The less I know about the author, the better, it seems. I like having authors around to discuss their work, answer questions, etc. I don’t much care about their personal lives, however, or their politics, or their publishing’s woes because clearly as readers, we don’t have the same motivations. What interest me as a reader doesn’t necessarily interest the author or their bottom line. Just sayin. Great topic discussion as usual, Jane.

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  2. Shiloh
    Jun 12, 2006 @ 10:10:07

    People have lost their minds… that’s my opinion. :)

    I don’t see the point in sitting in my group or using my blog to wax poetic about how much i suffer for my art. I don’t see the point in trying to shoot down one genre over another and I definitely don’t see the point in insulting readers, which has become pretty popular these days.

    Some of the catfights going on lately are just plain ridiculous.

    I saw some of the fiasco over the ARCS being sold on ebay, and yes, as an author, it irritates me, but I’m more ticked off at the seller than the bidder. The seller generally knows they aren’t supposed to sell it and they don’t care. They make a profit off my work, they have no right. But the bidder a lot of the time doesn’t know they are buying something that wasn’t ever intended to be sold. They just want the book. And some of the ridiculous prices that are paid… well, if you have somebody paying $50 for a plain wrapped ARC, chances are they are a die hard fan and most die hards want the finished product from what I’ve seen. But regardless… insulting the readers? Uh…. well, I’m still fairly new to the world of publshing/writing/etc and I’ve made some mistakes that I really wish i could undo, but I fail to see how anybody thinks that insulting a reader is going to do a damn thing other than alienate people.

    How you conduct yourself as an author online can definitely have an impact on your career. For every person that emails an author and tells them how hilarious their b*tchy posts are, there’s probably an equal number, or higher, of readers that have just washed their hands of that author.

    Any author that implies that a reader owes it to them to buy their books, for whatever reason, needs to have their head, and ego, checked.

    Any author that lets out intimate details of her life and then wonders why some readers are suddenly turned off needs to get a reality check. Many readers are going to associate what they see when they are considering your book for purchase.

    On the flipside, as an author, I know how hard it can be to not take some fo the stuff we see online so personally. Before I learned the wisdom of keeping my mouth shut, I stuffed my foot in my mouth several times. Yes, some people saw my point, but others didn’t.

    Then I realized that it didn’t matter if people saw my point or not. Because in the long run, I wasn’t going to change somebody’s mind by going on a rampage. Whatever it is that has irritated you, best bet is to suck up it, forget about it, ignore it…

    Going on a rant about it will almost definitely bite you in the butt.

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  3. Bev (BB)
    Jun 12, 2006 @ 12:48:54

    For some of my long time romance reading friends, romance novels are not engaging them like they used to. Is it because of the ability to talk about the books in great detail leads to disinterest? To dissect them until they are nothing but nouns, verbs and adjectives?

    Now, see, I question this one because I’ve been involved in this online community for a decade or more now and have only seen this “dissection” actually happen once. True dissection, I mean, not simply reader recommendations/disagreements posing as something more than what they atually are. How can we possibly be burn out on something that isn’t happening?

    Not saying it should and not saying it shouldn’t. Just saying that I have to see it first to see the effects cause problems.

    What I have seen many times over the years is over discussion of “author” issues rather than the books themselves and I tend to believe that’s what’s coming to a head now. Why now, I’m not sure. Be honest, though, and ask yourself if you ever truly get tired of discussing individual books, old, new or otherwise?

    I don’t. Even when I’m personally in a reading funk and can’t figure out what to read next, I’m usually up for a rousing discussion of a old or new favorite book or plot or theme.

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  4. Robin
    Jun 12, 2006 @ 13:42:57

    Ooh, good topic.

    I am definitely in the camp of not wanting to know a whole lot of personal details about authors when I read their books, especially if I am a new reader (once I’ve established a relationship with the books, I have a much higher tolerance for the authorial persona and for holding the divide between book and authorial persona). Only one author has so seriously pissed me off that I have become turned off to the books, and several others have “inspired” me to purchase their books used rather than new. A few have even made me want to buy their books new based on graceful and gracious online behavior. But the vast majority have not affected my buying habits at all.

    My perverse hope about the electronic connections between author and reader is that they will demystify the artificial closeness that the Romance industry seems to foster. I think the overpersonalization of the Romance author is one of the critical factors in the genre’s continued isolation from mainstream acknowledgment as a serious area of fiction. So while on the one hand the Internet has, IMO, helped to promote this artificial closeness (the illusion that readers “know” an author as a person and not as a persona), I’m hoping that as more conflicts between authors and readers inevitably arise, that over time the shine will wear off the idea that authors themselves are separate, apart, and ‘special,’ and the apparent power imbalance will even out.

    As for the issue of book “dissection,” I always find myself shaking my head at this contention. For one thing, we all have different levels of analytic tolerance, and what seems like a relatively banal discussion to one reader will appear to be a systematic act of defamation against the author to another reader; likewise, what one reader considers dissection will appear to another as simply discussion. But beyond that, when I think of all the analytic attention that is paid to an author’s work on fan sites, the posts and posts and pages and pages of discussion on why one character did such and such or what kind of underwear another character wears, I get to thinking that the problem really isn’t one of over-analysis, but rather of perceived *criticism*. One of the really sad by-products of all this artificial closeness is, IMO, a de-professionalization of the author to the point where readers may feel as if they’re taking a risk by uttering anything less than effusive praise for an author’s *work,* their supposedly professional *product*. If I didn’t know personally that was true, I don’t think I would be able to wrap my modest logical reasoning skills around that idea. Although I’ve not read lots of different kinds of genre fiction, I’ve been struck a few times by the fact that reviews and comments that actually detail the reasons a book fell short seem even less welcome than those which are blithely and generally dismissive (and thus more easily dismissed?). I’ve always considered it kind of a sad irony that the Romance genre seems better situated to accomodate extreme fan adoration than even the most modest of criticism. And IMO, until the genre handles critique (which is different from criticism) with as much grace as it does praise, I think the divide between author and reader will see more like an intimidating battlefield than a friendly playing field.

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  5. Bev (BB)
    Jun 12, 2006 @ 14:09:46

    But . . . and here I’m basically thinking as a I type . . . why should the average “reader” be the one to “teach” authors to handle criticism? I honestly don’t get this one.

    Do I as a reader occasionally wish for a more in-depth discussion of certain books? Well, yeah. But frankly, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with the author of said book taking part in the discussion in the first place. What I’d really rather do is talk to other readers about the book, first and possibly last.

    I tend to think this is where the breakdown occurs and it’s a perfectly natural breakdown that’s been present all through the ages. I mean, in the past, most readers didn’t have access to most authors and they could say whatever they wanted about the books without worrying that the author was lurking in the next chair. The Internet has changed that and I’m not sure we’re handling the repurcussions well. I’m also not sure it’s solely a problem of romance but I’m willing to concede that the romance community tends to aggravate the problem rather than allievate it. Nowadays, we seem to expect the authors to take part in most discussions of their books, new, old and in-between, and then can’t figure out what to do with them in the process.

    Both ways.

    Why do we think it would be “natural” for an author to participate in a reader discussion of their own book?

    Conversely, why do we think it’s also “natural” for readers to be concerned with issues that are problems for authors/publishers ad nauseum?

    Why shouldn’t there be a perfectly normal divide between interests there?

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  6. Robin
    Jun 12, 2006 @ 14:45:22

    But . . . and here I’m basically thinking as a I type . . . why should the average “reader" be the one to “teach" authors to handle criticism? I honestly don’t get this one.

    Uhm, are you responding to my comment, because I didn’t say anything like this. In case you were responding to my comment, I’d just say that the whole criticism thing is about the genre, not just about authors. And even if authors aren’t commenting in reader discussions, they’re blogging and commenting in other places, sometimes defending themselves and their work against what they think is unfair criticism. IMO the “culture” of the Romance genre is terribly intolerant of a critical approach to its books (by critical I mean ‘thinking’ not criticism), and yet, ironically, I get the sense that readers are supposed to revere the author (I’m thinking back to the ‘Romance writers are so much more sensitive’ commentaries and the various assertions that readers aren’t qualified to authoritatively review books). Basically, I think readers should be free to critique and authors should feel free to write and do whatever else they want to do. I don’t think readers should be “teaching” anyone anything — but I do think they should feel free to critique books without fear of mass reprisals, either from authors or ‘loyal’ readers (which is I think the very point you are making, as well). And IMO if the culture of the genre continues to resist criticism and critique, it’s going to remain marginalized. Authors and reader DO occupy different positions, but I don’t think opposition necessarily means antagonism. Sometimes I like the input of authors on certain topics, because it helps me understand the various interests better and to revise some of my own unrealistic expectations or fortify some aspects of my more idealistic expectations.

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  7. Bev (BB)
    Jun 12, 2006 @ 15:36:48

    No, it wasn’t so much in response to what you were saying specifically, Robin, as generally in response to the topic Jane brought up. I just don’t get why it’s surprising a divide exists in the first place between authors and readers. I don’t get why readers expect authors to handle criticism well any more than I get why authors expect readers not to give it. Why are they even interacting on that level in the first place?

    This is not saying there shouldn’t be more in-depth critique of the genre on any level but rather that we’re mixing and matching the wrong audiences to the wrong material and expecting them to gel properly when I’m not sure they can. Match the right audience to the right material, though, and we might get completely different results.

    A curious thing happened when I read today’s post and comments on Romancing the Blog . that sort of pertains to this topic. A reader commented that she wasn’t an expert and my immediate reaction was to want to respond that after thirty plus years of reading romances I sure “feel” like an expert. I say that sort of tongue-in-cheek and sort of not at the same time. I mean, realistically, how many years of experience does it take to become an expert on anything? ;p

    Here’s the kicker, though. I didn’t post that thought then and there because I already knew the probable can of worms it would open in that forum.

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  8. Jay
    Jun 12, 2006 @ 16:08:45

    For some of my long time romance reading friends, romance novels are not engaging them like they used to. Is it because of the ability to talk about the books in great detail leads to disinterest?

    This is the precise reason I stay away from discussions like that. After a certain point it starts to feel like more work than I want to deal with. Generally I either want to squee and wiggle with others about a book or I want to be mean and nitpicky because the book has annoyed me just that much. But to discuss a character’s motivations and one action over another sounds way more like junior year english classes. I didn’t participate then and I sure don’t want to now.

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  9. raine
    Jun 12, 2006 @ 21:14:35

    I confess I’m pretty new to these ‘interactive’ sites.
    I must also confess that I’ve been stunned by some of the things I’ve read there.
    If I’m a reader, I can hardly be surprised to learn that authors are human, and have very human faults–including bad days, bad attitudes, pms, business problems, etc. Putting ANYONE on a pedestal is usually a bad idea. Personally, I’d rather have their work speak for them anyway.
    But mostly I’ve been stunned by the behavior of some of the authors. No, you don’t have to like the questions and criticism being directed at you. And if you want to explain your work–or yourself–in a civilized manner, do so. If you can’t handle it, don’t participate, or hire a promo person to take care of things for you.
    Maybe it’s because I’m so new to this business, but I have a hard time believing some of the exchanges I’ve read on some of the boards. Respect should work both ways.
    Something about that old line, “familiarity sometimes breeds contempt”??

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  10. sybil
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 00:52:51

    I am with jay. I want to squueee and be happy or moan and bitch. Blogging about a book I have read takes me much less time than an AAR review where I have to think out what caused those sqqquueees or bitching.

    But I can’t bring myself to get worked up over hating a book for too long, if at all. And I can’t see posting over and over and over and over beating the same thing into the ground with an author or reader. One I am too lazy for that and Two it is just my opinion.

    So trying to make an author see how their books sucks in 100 or less posts just goes over my head. And I always try to remember for every book I hate there are two people behind me to lurve it, hug it, squeeze it and call it george. I am right in hating it and they are right in loving it. Or the other way around, at least I think so…

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  11. Tara Marie
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 08:18:12

    The internet is somewhat of a double edged sword. On one hand it offers so much info about any author or book, and on the other hand it can offer too much info about any author or book.

    I think most readers can relate to Indida’s rant, because at one time or another we’ve probably thought the same things. Shiloh’s attitude is probably the safest bet for any author. In the long run it’s safer to rise above the frays. It’s poor judgement on an authors part to think “attacking” readers will bring in fans.

    And, we as readers probably can be more sensitive to authors in that we don’t need to hyper-analyze and pick apart every detail of a book. When I see this going on I cringe and wonder if we’re in English Lit classes or reading romances for pleasure. There has to be balance between reading with a red pen marking mistakes and writing in the margins and Harriet K’s “I love everything ever written.”

    And, in someways the internet is very disillusioning, who want to see authors and readers behaving badly. Nobody needs to witness the complete meltdowns, hurt feelings and bad behavior.

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  12. Shiloh
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 08:38:35

    When I see this going on I cringe and wonder if we’re in English Lit classes or reading romances for pleasure.

    I gotta be honest… I can’t get into analyzing books period. No matter how much I enjoyed a book, or didn’t enjoy it, picking it to pieces, trying to figure WHY it struck me the way it did… eh, that’s more work than I want to put into my entertainment. I read to relax. Not to improve my analytical skills… ;)

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  13. Jane
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 08:43:39

    Ironically, or not so ironically, I think it is the author availability that lessens my internet experience in romance. By that I mean, I have a hard time separating the authorial voice versus the character voice. I had been on the Cherry list for – almost since the inception – and after Bet Me came out, I kept hearing Jenny Crusie say those lines over and over in the book. Min was JC. or JC was Min. Min was not simply Min.

    I wish I could participate in discussion groups and listservs of the authors like I used to, but for my own reading enjoyment, I can’t.

    And, I think that the stripping away of the mystery of the writing process, of how an author thinks, plots, writes, etc. takes away the magic of a book.

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  14. Tara Marie
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 09:22:38

    No matter how much I enjoyed a book, or didn’t enjoy it, picking it to pieces, trying to figure WHY it struck me the way it did- eh, that’s more work than I want to put into my entertainment.

    Exactly, I either love it, like it, am okay with it, or hate it. I can come up with an explanation, but sometimes it’s more work than I have interest in. I love the Ja(y)nes because their better at this than I am.

    I think that the stripping away of the mystery of the writing process, of how an author thinks, plots, writes, etc. takes away the magic of a book.

    I don’t visit many author sites or blogs for this reason. And, in some cases I’d rather the author remain a mystery too.

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  15. Tara Marie
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 09:24:15

    their better

    I swear I thought “they’re better” but my fingers typed “their…”

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  16. Jane
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 09:29:31

    I don’t know that we are any better at parsing out what we like/don’t like than anyone else on the net. I also know that there are several books that I have read that I can’t get a very good feel for and have troubles writing reviews (Second Sight, All U Can Eat spring to mind). The meh books are the hardest for which to write reviews. But I guess that is another topic for another day. Great comments everyone! I think comments are the best part of blogging.

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  17. Bev (BB)
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 10:29:17

    I gotta be honest- I can’t get into analyzing books period. No matter how much I enjoyed a book, or didn’t enjoy it, picking it to pieces, trying to figure WHY it struck me the way it did- eh, that’s more work than I want to put into my entertainment. I read to relax. Not to improve my analytical skills-

    If you want the truth, when I first got involved in the online romance community I got more stressed by the concept of “reviewing books” than any author contact has ever affected me. Seemed like it was the new fad and everyone was doing it and expecting everyone to be doing it. Still is to some extent but that attitude has settled down a little. Reviewing is way too much work to me about something I loved to just do for the pure fun of doing it, which is read.

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  18. Robin
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 10:59:33

    So trying to make an author see how their books sucks in 100 or less posts just goes over my head.

    But why would you assume that discussion of a book has anything to do with the author?? I think most readers who enjoy discussing a book in detail will tell you that the idea that an author is lurking or participating puts a damper on the discussion. You love to squee, and there are plenty of readers who enjoy that right along with you. I find the squeeing thing boring; when I’ve read a book about which I have a strong reaction — positive or negative — I like to talk about what worked and what didn’t and to get other reader’s opinions on the book. You don’t like that — no problem. Therre really should be no conflict here. I figure that if the cyberworld is safe for readers who simply want to share the joy or the pain, swifty and without ornament, it should be safe for readers who want to discuss the books in detail. Personally, I’ve always felt that it was the squeeing reactions that were much more likely directed at the author, although that’s probably not the case, either. If I can avoid those hundred post threads detailing how wonderful Outlander is, I figure that readers who don’t like to analyze books in other ways can do the same with my posts, and we can all live in cyberpeace. To be honest, it’s always puzzled me more that people who get oh so frustrated with the analysis posts take the time to read them and then be so pissed off about them.

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  19. Robin
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 11:17:46

    I don’t get why readers expect authors to handle criticism well any more than I get why authors expect readers not to give it. Why are they even interacting on that level in the first place?

    I can’t speak for other readers, but I don’t ‘expect’ anything out of authors in terms of how they handle criticism; I would just appreciate it if they didn’t demonstrate how badly they handle it in the middle of a reader discussion. As for why readers and authors are interacting in these venues, I think in part it has to do with the incredible overlap in terms of how many readers are now authors. Plus there is the idea that authors “are readers first” — which may or may not be true, depending on the author. Sometimes, as you say, it seems downright ‘unnatural’ to have authors and readers interacting, especially when conflict and hurt feelings result. But I do think there are some authors who can de-personalize in these discussions and can really interact for the most part as fellow readers. There are a few authors on AAR — Karen Templeton and Kathyrn Smith and Mary Reed McCall come right to mind — who are, IMO, always gracious and professional and contribute in knowledgeable ways to the discussions at hand. And I’ll never forget when Jo Goodman entered a conversation on her Compass Club books and was so open to hearing reader critiques of the series — NOT defensive or reproachful or overprotective of her work. She may have been cursing at her computer screen, but she was secure enough not to do so online. Do I think authors should participate in reader discussions? It’s hard for me to give an unequivocal answer (but then I tend to be ambivalent about nearly everything besides personal loyalty and free speech). I agree with you, Bev, that it does not often seem like a ‘natural’ fit. In the cases where it works, it really works, IMO. And in the cases where it doesn’t, it really doesn’t.

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  20. Bev (BB)
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 11:25:40

    it should be safe for readers who want to discuss the books in detail.

    True, it should be but I have an honest question. Where does one go online to discuss romances in detail?

    This is where I see a problem because, yes, there are people who would welcome in-depth discussion but there isn’t really a forum for them to do it in that I’ve found. Or maybe a better way to word that would be there isn’t a forum where that’s actively encouraged and not discouraged. The truth is that most readers don’t want that level of discussion so again it’s a question of matching the audience to the material. Match incorrectly and there will be complaints. Both ways.

    All three ways if you count authors into the mix.

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  21. Bev (BB)
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 11:37:57

    But why would you assume that discussion of a book has anything to do with the author??

    Yeah, we’re on a site called “Dear Author” so why would anyone think any comments were directed at them? It boggles the mind. ;p

    Okay, I tried to resist that one but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. Ahem. I’ll be good and go hide in my hole now. Blame it on the meds. :D

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  22. Jane
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 11:41:42

    Yeah, we’re on a site called “Dear Author" so why would anyone think any comments were directed at them? It boggles the mind. ;p

    Bev, that’s a valid comment and one I think about everytime I write a review. But we do try to have the review be all about the book even if the criticism or praise is directed at the author.

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  23. Robin
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 12:33:44

    Where does one go online to discuss romances in detail?

    Well, some of it goes on at AAR, and when an author comes on and gets pissed off, there’s the inevitable flow of backlash from other posters who think the analytical posts/posters are _____________ (fill in the blank with whatever unflattering adjective you can think of). Unfortunately, this does cool discussion for a while, but for those more stubborn posters, it can actually create a digging in reaction (not that I’d know anything about this personally). There is also the canwetalk messageboard on AAR where authors are not allowed. And then there are various online reading/discussion groups, as well as moments of it here, on SBTB, and other blogs. Every once in a while RTB will get a hot topic (I lump discussions about the genre’s publishing practices, etc. in with book discussions since it’s all analysis). There are also incredibly detailed discussions going on at certain ‘fan’ oriented sites, too (check out Nora Roberts’s fan board ADWOFF.com, for example, if you want a great example of how detailed analysis is not only about criticism). Personally, I think the Internet has revealed just how diverse the Romance readership really is, and I think the community is still trying to adjust to the range of reader types.

    Yeah, we’re on a site called “Dear Author" so why would anyone think any comments were directed at them? It boggles the mind. ;p

    LOL! Well, I don’t think Sybil’s comment was really about this site. But in any case, even here it’s basically a conceit, right? I really think that a lot of readers who are approaching these books in a more analytic way are pre-supposing an objective distance between the author and the book. I’m always thinking more on a genre level, for example — like, how does this fit in the genre and how do certain devices work and what seem to be their purpose (which is NOT in any way, shape, or form about author ‘motive;’ in fact, I think once a work leaves an author’s brain, it’s no longer about what s/he intended, but rather about what emerged, which may be a very different thing, depending on the reader). I’ve been trained to read this way and I like it — it works for me, especially since most of the people in my life don’t read Romance. I don’t know what precisely drives other readers who enjoy a more analytic approach to these books, but there is obviously a common interest in this type of discussion. And I think there are more readers who enjoy this approach than some might think, even if some of them are hesitant to directly enter the minefield of public boards. We’ll see over the next few years whether and how things shift online, I guess.

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  24. Bev (BB)
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 13:13:18

    I think the main problem I have with the forums that Robin mentions is that for the most part, they don’t discuss individual books in-depth – or they didn’t when I was visiting them regularly – but rather discuss topics. Ad nauseum. And it gets old.

    So, that’s not what I mean when I refer to discussing the books in-depth. Which I realize comes with it’s own set of problems, mainly how to get enough readers interested in any one book at any one time to keep a discussion going. Plus, too, I tend to only want to discuss in-depth older books, not newer ones. Those I simply want to enjoy for a little bit before dissecting them.

    Here’s a question. Say I wanted to encourage discussion of individual books at a level that’s deeper than simple comments but not quite academic analysis on my blog – what type of questions would I need to ask about any particular book?

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  25. Robin
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 14:03:36

    Here’s a question. Say I wanted to encourage discussion of individual books at a level that’s deeper than simple comments but not quite academic analysis on my blog – what type of questions would I need to ask about any particular book?

    Well, hopefully more people will chime in on this one, but my suggestion would be to start from whatever emotions the book stirred in you and try to connect those to questions that you and others want to think more about. I apologize in advance for the length of this (I’m writing this part after I formulated my list of questions, obviously), but I spent too many years teaching University English, so take all this with a mountain of salt:

    Did the hero or heroine change through the book and what caused the change? Do you think it was successful? Why or why not? Did you feel one character was more strongly portrayed than another? Who was your favorite character and why?

    For a historical, why do you think the book was set in a certain time and place, and what did it add to the book as a whole? Could you see the same characters elsewhere or did the author connect them specifically to their time and place? What difference do you think that made in the book?

    What are the main conflicts in the book and how are they resolved? Did the author handle some conflicts better than others? Do you think the couple’s ending was appropriate and why? What were the obstacles to the HEA and did they feel authentic to you? Why or why not?

    Were there any recurring images or symbols that struck you when you read the book? Why do you think the author chose to use symbol X to characterize the hero or heroine?

    What did you think of the actual writing? Did it pull you in or did you have to push it aside to enjoy the story? Where are the places that the author could have provided more detail and where do you wish s/he edited some? What was your favorite passage or scene and why?

    Did most of the action in this book occur internally (i.e. within the characters) or externally and how did that work for you? Was there enough momentum in the book or was it unevenly paced? Which parts moved too quickly and which parts draggged?

    Were there any universal themes you felt the author was trying to communicate in the book and what were they? How effectively do you think they were presented?

    What about the POV of the narrator? If the book had a first person narrator, what did you feel were the limitations and the strengths of that approach? Did the narrator effectively build the suspense, the attraction between the characters, the emotion of the relationship? Why or why not?

    Could you feel these characters falling in love or did you have to fill in a lot of the emotional blanks yourself? What were the scenes in which the author best communicated the strength of the relationship between the hero and heroine?

    What about secondary characters? What purpose did they serve in the book and was it effective for you? Why or why not?

    Book X handled a very similar situation but it came out very differently. How do these two books compare and which did you prefer? Why?

    Sorry I went on so long, Bev, but once I got started, I couldn’t stop!! Anyway, we’re not talking about a philosophical discourse on the nature of love and reality here, just a thoughtful discussion of a specific book. And Romance is supposed to evoke emotion, right? So if you begin there, you will find that there are SO MANY thoughtful questions that you can ask for each book, you won’t even know where to start. I’m sure you do this anyway when you read. The trick is sustaining a discussion, and that’s where all the “why” and “how did that work for you” questions are valuable. Other people may have better suggestions than mine, though.

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  26. Bev (BB)
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 20:56:42

    Wow, thanks, Robin. I’ve copied these over to a note for future reference. :D

    And here’s a light bulb moment that I may try on my own blog occasionally – if everyone chose only their top favorite books and pondered questions like these one at a time it would make for some interesting insights.

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  27. sybil
    Jun 14, 2006 @ 11:56:41

    Anything that is addressing the author is to me asking the author to respond. So to me, this blog is inviting the author to post (which is cool).

    AAR is a message where authors (as far as I know) are welcome. It would be way stupid of me to do a review and then be shocked the author read it.

    I have a view on a book. Good or bad, it is mine and I am welcome to it. I just don’t think it is the ONLY view nor do I have the need to beat it into anyone head. And I would think people know the difference between discussing something and just showing their ass because they feel the need to prove they are right, right, right.

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  28. Robin
    Jun 14, 2006 @ 12:50:58

    And I would think people know the difference between discussing something and just showing their ass because they feel the need to prove they are right, right, right.

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Sybil, and I think your point can apply equally to readers and authors who seem to get off on “showing their ass,” as you put it, by ridiculing others who have supposedly stepped over some line. The irony of the sometimes ugly, sarcastic barbs aimed at other readers and authors is pretty glaring in a ‘pot and kettle’ kind of way. I understand the rush can come with feeling righteously outraged, especially if it’s articulated with cleverness, but mean is still mean, in all of its related definitions.

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  29. Carrie Lynn
    Jun 15, 2006 @ 01:10:30

    Personal details become fodder for … angering fans (Suzanne Brockmann’s in praise of gay men book). Author’s comments are parsed and reparsed. Motives are dissected.

    Ahm, I don’t read author blogs, or really their websites as I find that I don’t really want to know quite that much about the authors of my books. Makes it difficult to suspend my disbelief sometimes.

    But I do wonder, what happened to anger Brockmann fans? I have read all of Brockmann’s books, and I love her gay love story subplot. I also know why it’s in there (her son). I don’t mind that an author’s personal life inspired her writing, as I know this happens all the time in other ways. I don’t see this as an author inserting her personal politics on her books because writing a book with a secondary gay love story frankly shouldn’t be any more “political” than writing about a mixed race couple. Romance could use more injection of real life love, not less, and by that I mean some gay characters and love stories, different types of ethnicities, etc.

    IMO the lack of these realities is a personal political choice made by romance authors, as esp. in contemps it is NOT an accurate depiction of single women in the city, who have gay friends, and various friends of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. To homogenize, whitewash, and straighten all contemp main characters’ friends is to make a political decision, just as to accurately depict that life is.

    Carrie Lynn
    (don’t quite have the hang of properly quoting other posts yet…)

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  30. Jane
    Jun 15, 2006 @ 06:15:22

    use the b-quote button right above the comment box to help with the quoting thing.

    I saw messages on SB’s board and on the AAR board about how fans didn’t appreciate the “gay propoganda.” Having not read that particular story, I can’t say whether it was good bad or otherwise. I just remember the controversy.

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  31. Jorrie Spencer
    Jun 15, 2006 @ 07:02:36

    Oh, I loved Hot Target! I was a bit surprised at the controversy because Jules was a fairly prominent secondary character in a number of previous books. But I guess some people didn’t want to read his story.

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  32. mark
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 17:23:11

    If you have to do it, you might as well do it right

    ReplyReply

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