May 29 2009
Earlier this week, we posted an author online don’t list and to be balanced, Maili suggested we do a reader/reviewer online don’t list. Brilliant idea, I said.
Taste is subjective.
When someone criticizes or slates one of your favorite books, they aren’t criticizing you or your taste, they are making their opinion heard. Don’t ever suppress the opinion of another. If you disagree with their view, there’s nothing to stop you explaining why it works for you and how. Vigorous disagreement can be a thing of beauty.
I love the smell of constructive criticism in the morning
Constructive criticism is always good in a book discussion, but remember this golden rule: do not make it personal. As in, do not attack a person’s IQ or personality. If a character is stupid, it doesn’t mean its creator is stupid as well. Likewise for readers you disagree with.
Don’t assume some readers are uneducated if they couldn’t build coherent responses. Don’t pick on posters’ grammatical errors during a heated debate. It’s a pointless distraction. Don’t try to intimate them by waving your college degree or your ‘I’m an Academic!’ flag. Not only it makes you look a pompous ass, it defeats the point of having a book discussion. It’s not about you. On the other hand, don’t put academic-type readers down because you don’t like them big words they were using. It’s not about you, either. A book discussion should be about a book and your reactions to it.
Just don’t assume you know what anyone is really like on the basis of their opinions and interaction during book discussions. We can guess at motivations all the time, but unless we have something concrete to back it up, it’s all just guesses.
You’re not alone
When everyone but you loved a certain novel, you’re not alone because there is always someone who feels the same as you. There’s nothing wrong with speaking up because if you did, someone out there will let you know they share your view.
When a group of readers or authors engaged in a heavy discussion, don’t feel timid or left out. The fact the discussion is out in the open means it’s an open invitation for you to join whenever you like.
You might feel what you have to say is silly, but it isn’t. We need your voice as much as everyone else’s. You’re a reader and that is the only qualification you need. Being a reader carries a lot more weight than you may believe. When in doubt, ask questions. When someone questions your view, don’t feel defensive. Rephrase or restate your view with a clarification. If someone argues you or challenges you, don’t be afraid to stick to your guns.
If you feel it’s getting too personal, walk away or lurk. Every debate online is usually forgotten within two weeks, so sit on your hands and be patient.
To be or not to be
Just because some readers like to interact heavily with other readers and authors, it doesn’t mean you have to do it as well. If being a lurker makes you feel comfortable, stay a lurker. When you want to say
something, say it. Set your own pace, your own rules and your own comfort zone and stick with it until you’re ready to change.
Authors owe you nothing.
They have a right to their lives. Be patient. If they still haven’t responded to your blog comment or email after a month or haven’t yet created a story you expected for years, let it go and move on. You are free to strike them off your to be bought list or to-be-read list, but you and the author are on two sides of the stream of commerce. You buy their books, not a right to their lives.
Such a Sad Tale of the Blind Flower Girl
Before you think of faking a sob story to obtain a free book from an author, consider this: don’t do it. Really, don’t.
You are not entitled to a free book.
Getting free books from authors is a sweet deal but remember that you are never entitled to a free book (unless you win one and then that person better follow through). It can be true that getting you a free book would generate publicity and help an author, but if the author is not smart enough to see that, then move on because you aren’t entitled to a free copy just like an author isn’t entitled to anything from you. The system works better this way, trust us.
Why did that author recommend this crappy book?
Don’t always assume that authors were pimping their author friends’ books. Authors have a different perspective of fiction. As in taking the technical side of the writing craft into account. They see invisible lines in a novel that general readers don’t usually see. That doesn’t make the author right nor does it suggest you have bad taste. After all, the mass consuming audience won’t be authors. Just keep in mind that the author who likes a crappy book might be valuing “crap” differently. (Blurbs are an entirely different matter).
Authors aren’t a bunch of writing machines
There will be days when an author flips out and rages at a reviewer. Reviewers are easy targets for authors. Authors often have a difficult time divorcing themselves from their books. (I.e., their identity and self worth can be wrapped up in the work itself). If you know that author, you might be the one to be able to reign her in. If you don’t know the author and no one said it yet, leave it for the reviewer to deal with the author alone. If the author has a reputation for flipping out at reviewers or readers, it’s your choice to express your disapproval or quietly strike her name off your shopping list. Try not to engage her in a fight for the sake of entertainment.
DON’TS FOR REVIEWERS
Soliciting a copy means reviewing a copy
When you actively solicit for a review copy from an author, have the dignity to review it within a month of receiving it.
Many authors and reviewers do view review copies as “free books”, but in truth it is not. It’s an exchange of services. A solicited review copy has an invisible condition attached: you are expected to review it. If you do not review it, do not be surprised if you are not offered another “free book.”
If you were sent a review copy that you didn’t agree to review, you’re under no obligation to review it. You may want to make sure your site has some public policy regarding how you treat solicited and unsolicited review copies.
If the author of a book you’re reviewing is a friend of yours, it’s a fine line to walk on because not only your friendship with the author is on the line, your credibility as a reviewer is on the line as well. It’s worth taking the time to disclose this information at the start of any review.
If you keep giving great grades to authors that readers know you’re good friends with, it may affect their view of your future reviews or grades that in turn will affect your credibility.
If you’ve reached the point where when you write a review, you think about how the author may react or get anxious about hurting their feelings (or affecting your friendship), don’t do the review. Always remember your audience. Recognize and respect the line you’re not willing to cross.