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

The Reader Author Paradigm

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I was going to write about whether readers have a duty to other readers to write and leave reviews where they shop, even one or two line reviews. But given the five days of flameouts in roughly the first five days of 2012, I thought I would briefly address the issue of the author/reader paradigm.

The authorial flameouts have primarily been young adult and self published authors. I think part of the reason is the maturity of the online reading community. I don’t mean maturity by chronological age of the community but in the length of time that the community has existed. The romance community had these kerfluffles stemming back to the 90s, and they were mean and ugly and worse than what you see today, thank goodness. (Thank goodness, because I don’t wish some of those author flameouts on anyone).  But the early reviewers of romance did not back down. Mrs. Giggles, Laurie Gold, reviewers at The Romance Reader, and the author reviewers at Paperback Reader kept on, and in doing so, helped to change the atmosphere and culture of the romance reviewing community.

It is not that romance is free of these flareups.  Just last year, an author jammed her foot in her own mouth by suggesting she would like one of our DA reviewers to “throw up.” But by and large, we’ve really matured as a community because readers, reviewers and even authors have stuck up for the right of reviewers and readers to have their say.

I don’t think that the self-publishing community and the young adult authorial community have quite reached that level of sanguinity and realization that critical readers and reviewers are an important voice in the community. Although several YA authors have come out in support of reviews, others have yet seen that by their authorial flameouts they embarrass themselves (witness the deletion of comments and blogposts) and their fellow authors, and can put a damper on a burgeoning community. One moment of great irony in Julie Halpern’s now deleted rant was when she claimed that negative reviews are “discouraging people from reading.” Those of us in romance know that precisely the opposite is true – negative reviews and the controversy surrounding them can sell a book as fast or faster than a glowing review. Of course not everyone in romance values the critical or negative review, but those reviews have become much more mainstream as the community has matured.

Creating a robust community of readers is something that takes time and perseverance, and it does make sense to for readers to stand up for themselves. But understanding what is driving these authors can also help readers respond more effectively.

Readers and authors each have their own paradigm – that is, a set of beliefs, circumstances, and assumptions that guide and contextualize their behavior. Sometimes these paradigms seem to mirror one another, while other times they are in direct conflict. Under the reader paradigm, the author is perceived to have a large platform, and thus when they say something, it has resonance. They can start Twitter campaigns, affect a group down voting of reviews on Amazon, and rouse a group of fans to charge after a reader. Under the author paradigm, the reader is perceived to have a platform (even when she does not) and it resonates. They can start Twitter campaigns, affect a group down voting of reviews on Amazon, and rouse a group of like-minded fans to charge after the author.

Both parties believe the other has a larger platform and a position of power from which to affect others. In my opinion, generally speaking, a published author has a natural and intrinsic platform. She has an author loop with like-minded authors at the ready to exercise their down vote button at Amazon. She has friends and family that she rounds up to leave positive reviews at various sites. She has a readership that she acquires or has already acquired, and loyal fans who will defend the author’s work at various boards, blogs, and other review sites.  The Author can also write negatively about reviewers in her books as Lori Foster and Victoria Laurie.

Readers, on the other hand, have much smaller circles. Few will go around and get their reviews up voted on Amazon. Few will be able to get other readers to leave negative reviews, mostly because it’s difficult to get enough people who have all read the same book. This may be changing, but published authors still inherently have a larger platform. Witness, for example, the reviewer, Sophie, that was the target of Jamie McGuire. She had 31 followers at the time McGuire posted her blog post. At that time, McGuire had over 670 fans.

The awful “cow” and “toe rag” reviewer, Stephanie has 39 followers. Leigh Fallon, who tried to start a campaign against Stephanie’s Amazon review, which included several personal invectives against Stephanie, has 907 friends, 358 fans and is the #1 most followed.

Julie Halpern totally lost it over a review posted at The Allure of Books. It is, as Halpern suggests, a blog with a big following. 1258 followers are proclaimed on the blog. Halpern, however, is a multi-published author with four books under her belt and a new one due to be published in 2012. Halpern even views herself as superior in her blog post: ” I know it should not matter what this blogger says about my book (and after just reading her bio, which has much in the way of potential mocking, I am just going to rise above). Because I am already SO FAR ABOVE in my life.”

Under the author paradigm, publishing a book is one of the greatest achievements ever.  (This is not to say that it is not a great achievement but that it is not valued the same by readers).  Under the reader paradigm, the book is a commodity of entertainment to be valued, weighed, and judged like so many other products that they spend their time and money on. The book as an object is not necessarily special. A book can become special and hold a favored position in a reader’s mind, but not all books have that status, especially books that will never be read or have been read and not enjoyed.

Under the author paradigm, the feelings of the author matter.  Under the reader paradigm, the author’s feelings should not matter because the book and the author are two separate things. For example, a review written with the author’s feelings in mind can end up being less than truthful, and the reader review system relies on the veracity of the review, the transparency of the bias.

Under the author paradigm, a negative review can affect their livelihood. Consequently, critical readers and reviewers deserve to be mocked in a book (PC Cast) or brought to heel. Under the reader paradigm, one negative review does little, particularly when there are dozens of positive reviews, or in the case of some authors, several hundred positive reviews. And if there are a multiple negative reviews such that the average rating of the book is 3 stars or less, then well, that pretty much indicates to the reader that the book is getting the praise or criticism it deserves. According to Jamie McGuire, “In no other work environment is someone expected to be attacked so viciously and then say, “Thank you,” which makes the book review equivalent to a job performance evaluation. And a bad evaluation, presumably, can jeopardize one’s career.  But we know from many years of experience, that negative reviews don’t crater careers because no book ever written has been exempt from negative reviews.  Says one reviewer regarding To Kill a Mockingbird:

If I could give this no stars, I would. This is possibly one of my least favorite books in the world, one that I would happily take off of shelves and stow in dark corners where no one would ever have to read it again.I think that To Kill A Mockingbird has such a prominent place in (American) culture because it is a naive, idealistic piece of writing in which naivete and idealism are ultimately rewarded. It’s a saccharine, rose-tinted eulogy for the nineteen thirties from an orator who comes not to bury, but to praise. Written in the late fifties, TKAM is free of the social changes and conventions that people at the time were (and are, to some extent) still grating at. The primary dividing line in TKAM is not one of race, but is rather one of good people versus bad people — something that, of course, Atticus and the children can discern effortlessly.

The “I’m not going to buy” mantra stems in greater numbers from the author’s response to the review than from any negative review.

I know these are generalizations and do not apply to every author and reader. There are well-balanced, respectful authors who value the role of critical debate about their books. And there are poorly-behaved readers who make thoughtless comments about books and authors. But over the years, these generalizations continue to return in the author-reader dynamic, especially as the community grapples with the growth of reader-generated criticism.

But one constant remains: book reviews are not the same as a workplace performance evaluation. They are not even meant for authors. Reviews are for readers. This needs to be our mantra.

Readers do not have a limitless money and time to devote to reading. Readers use the opinions of others to cull through the thousands of books that are thrust before them to choose what is worth their time and money. Both are important. Readers use reviews to open up discussion on books, because while reading itself is a solitary act, books are a community good, and readers love little more than gushing over or ranting over a book that moved them. And readers love nothing more than a good book. They will often overlook a book (or ten) that disappointed them to try yet another by the same author that got great reader feedback. I think it can be very helpful for authors to remember that readers are generally not invested in the author unless they are adamant fans or the author has distinguished herself in a negative way.

But it’s also helpful for readers to remember this. It’s why readers would not say the same thing to an author directly at a book signing or convention as she might say in a review. Readers are not critique partners and it is not their job to “help” an author “get better.” While tagging an author in a tweet announcing your less than stellar review may seem like a small thing, it can seem like a hard poke to the author. Most of us know that criticism is inevitable, but not every author wants to see negative reviews of their books. And what doesn’t seem negative to the reviewer can come across as criticism to an author.

Witness the furor against C reviews here in this blog post or witness the Facebook posting of Jessica Park (self-published author) who can’t imagine why anyone who gave her a C review would want to follow her on Goodreads.  Anything less than a glowing five star review probably shouldn’t be shared with the author unless she asks directly for it. If readers don’t want authors defending their work in the comments to reviews, it seems fair to not directly invite them to the review.

Reviews are for readers.  If you are a reviewer, don’t assume that the author wants to hear what you have to say, no matter how insightful or brilliant it is.  Let her find out from her critique partner, editor, or beta reader.  It’s true that errors have become more frequent in books, but pointing those out to the author isn’t a public service. Once a review is public, any number of people might read it, including the author. But if readers start thinking that reviews can help authors or that authors should read reviews, then that just validates the idea that reviews are like a personal performance evaluation, which in turn overpersonalizes the relationship between reader and author and encourages more bad feelings between the two.

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

184 Comments

  1. SN
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 04:44:31

    Excellent piece.

    Lori Foster’s behaviour was such poor form, and I regret not knowing that before I bought, read and reviewed her book. Even without knowing though, I picked up on the “readers are horrid” theme running through WHEN YOU DARE.

    Jamie McGuire is the one who really annoyed me this week because she’s been behaving like this for ages, but always has the fangirls behind her.
    I’ve seen so many negative reviews of her books – on Goodreads, on Amazon, and elsewhere – where she jumps in and leaves something condescending in the comments section.
    She honestly doesn’t seem to think she’s doing anything wrong, and is the perfect example of why (rightly or wrongly) people have a negative view of people who self-publish their books.

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  2. Kate Sherwood
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 05:23:37

    Well said, and I totally agree.

    One thing that could possibly be added to the author paradigm is that most authors are in a very insecure profession. Nora Roberts, bless her, can be mature about negative reviews because she’s a superstar. Lower-echelon authors, unless we cut ourselves off from all outside contact, are constantly bombarded with the message that we’re only as good as the sales on our current book. There is no guarantee that we will find a publisher for our next book (which has taken us months or even years to produce), or, indeed, ever find a market for another word. The boogeyman comes and EATS authors who don’t earn out their advances. etc.

    I am not at ALL suggesting that this excuses aggressive (and counter-productive) author responses. And I agree that authors who are thinking rationally accept that negative reviews are both inevitable and non-disastrous. But fear makes people irrational, and, from this fledgling author’s perspective, the author responses may be driven more by fear than by genuine disgruntlement or sense of privilege.

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  3. Ros
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 05:40:52

    In answer to your first question: no, readers don’t owe anyone anything beyond the cover price of the book. It can be helpful to leave brief reviews for the benefit of other readers but no one should feel obliged to do so.

    And as to the main point of the letter, oh yes. I also wonder if part of the problem is that a lot of the YA authors and readers are also in/have come out of fandom, where there is no culture of negative reviews. Because everything is free, the expectation is that if you don’t enjoy a story, you use your back button and find something else you do like. “Reviews” are simply squeeing about how good something is, and are absolutely for the benefit of the author. So it is a huge leap from that sort of environment to the world of published fiction which can, and should, be subjected to objective criticism.

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  4. Merrian
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 05:58:22

    I have been struck in following the various author meltdowns (as Kate #2 also suggests) by what looks like fear being expressed through their persecuting actions such as the commenting on reviews and egging-on down-voting along with violent language. I wonder if this scapegoating of reviewers is a response to feelings of powerlessness and this fear? I always think these dynamics are a reflection of how environments are structured and neither authors nor readers/reviewers as Jane has said are actually the ones with power in this swiftly changing publishing paradigm.

    I think your reflection on the distance the romance community has come and advice for everyone Jane, is excellent and that remembering that reviews are for readers is an important mantra.

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  5. Bronte
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 05:59:20

    Absolutely reviews are for readers. Some of the best books I have read have been bought after reading a review. However whenever I do read a review I always remember that different people have different tastes. For example I know that if Janine reviews a book and gives it a favourable recommendation then its highly likely that I will also enjoy it. As a reader I am influenced to a degree by reviews (positive or negative) however a negative review won’t always stop me from buying the book. In fact what people sometimes list as negatives (particularly on amazon reviews) will actually entice me to buy said book. I think authors need to give their readers a little credit for some intelligence; we know that not everyone has the same taste in reading.

    I also think some authors need to grow up and learn a simple truth: no matter what you do (or write) you are never going to please everyone. I think I learnt this by age 5 so it really doesn’t seem to be a difficult concept. If a negative review is only going to upset you its pretty simple – don’t read it. Then you wont go postal, and lose yourself future sales.

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  6. KB/KT Grant
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 06:13:11

    Why do some self published authors and YA authors have this sense of entitlement it seems where their work shouldn’t be critiqued harshly? If you’re going to work in the creative field such as publishing, regardless if you’re self published or not, expect the buyer to review your work and give their honest opinion.

    Actors, singers and other creative professionals are given all types of criticism from all sides and sometimes it can be very personal and over the top harsh criticism. They deal (some better than most) and move on to their next project.

    Again, if you can’t handle the heat, or in this regard, any type of review, even the most harshest, then you’re in the wrong line of work. Reviewers don’t own the author anything regardless of how many sales an author may have or how long they’ve been published. Authors need to get off this high horse thinking because writing and publishing is a job just like any other job no matter how big their advance is or if they’re shaping minds with their words.

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  7. Ceilidh
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 06:21:40

    Great post. This entire hubbub has been exhausting.

    It’s funny that Halpern would say bad reviews discourage people from reading/buying her book (I wanna see the receipts on that one. Someone present me with hard data that draws a direct correlation between bad GR/Amazon reviews and a decrease in sales please). I’ve seen way more people put off reading her work based on her own blog posts and the arrogance displayed within them.

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  8. Shana
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 06:30:24

    A bad review can still sell books. One particular example: the Kirkus review of John Ringo’s Ghost was bad. Not just snarky, but the reviewer clearly loathed the book. However, it made it clear enough what the review was about so that we purchased it for our library as something the patrons were likely to want to read.

    I purchase fiction for the library, and I look at reviews to see if other people will like the books. And guesstimate how many of them there are. So I will buy a book with a poor or mediocre review that is likely to be popular, and not purchase one with a glowing review that is likely to appeal to about five people.

    I have a friend who is an SF author, whose position is that every review is a good thing, obscurity is what is bad.

    Not every book is going to appeal to every reader.

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  9. Keishon
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 06:35:46

    Along with praise there will be criticism. One doesn’t come without the other. Authors lashing out at readers for bad reviews in a time where most authors are still stuck in obscurity is just poor form.

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  10. Ren
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 06:36:07

    One of Indonesia Publisher email me to remove my review of translated version of Hush Hush. They’re also threatened another reviewer who give it 1 star. Attack and bullying her. I never remove the review, nor that reviewer. Its a shame, not just in US, but such a behaviour exist in another country like mine.

    I agree review is for readers. In my opinion, bad review will not influence the sales. The publisher ask me to remove my review, because they affraid the sales of the next book by Ms Fitzpatrick will dropped. I will never do black campaign, to persuade my friend to not buy book I give less than 3 stars. I’m review a book because I want to say my opinion about book I’d read.

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  11. KB/KT Grant
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 06:40:39

    @Ren: Fitzpatrick’s Hush Hush series isn’t doing well? I thought it was. Was this in regards to her first book?

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  12. Ren
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 06:47:51

    @KB/KT Grant : actually the sales is pretty great! So many fans of Hush Hush at my country. But I still remember what they said, they want me to remove the review, because they will publish Crescendo at the same time. Make no sense, huh? :(

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  13. farmwifetwo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 07:11:10

    Can’t be bothered to follow “kerfuffles” in romance-land after years of watching autism-land disintegrate into a mess of camps which does nothing to help those with ASD.

    One of the reason’s I delete author “follows” is that I don’t write reviews for anyone but myself. Even then they aren’t reviews. They are simply things that I’ve liked, or disliked, about a book. If you want me to read your book find me a review where the reader has actually dissed the book. Then I know what your plot devices where, your writing tone and I can see if it’s going to hit my “buttons”.

    I regularly recommend books I have disliked to other readers that have loved the book. Why?? B/c I know their reading habits.

    A well written bad review is never a bad thing. IMO it’s much more informative and realistic than a 5 star. Those “gushes” I don’t trust and it’ll turn me off a book more often than a 2 star will.

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  14. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 07:32:28

    Maturity of the reading community coming into play is one thing I hadn’t considered when I was thinking about this.

    It seems an awful lot like a lot of the blow-ups that happened when the ebook/erotic romance community first started to emerge, and dang, some of those messes got ugly, too. We don’t seem to see quite as many of those and the maturity thing kind of makes sense, looking at it from that angle.

    However, I don’t know if maturity is going to help when it comes to the self-pubbed group who have issues with negative reviews-I know not all self pubbed writers do this sort of thing, but too many of them buy into the nonsense sold by self-appointed gurus about having as many positive reviews as they can. I think they equate that with discoverability… and sales. And the sight of negative or meh reviews is just a catastrophe.

    The rest of the article…yes, just yes, period. Reviews are for readers. I do think if author wants to take something away from the review…professionally, be it a bit of criticism, what have you, that’s her or his right, but they need to stop getting their panties in a twist with the review isn’t always pink unicorns and hearts.

    Whoever in the world promised them writing was all about pink unicorns and hearts, anyway?

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  15. library addict
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 07:39:00

    This

    Under the reader paradigm, the author’s feelings should not matter because the book and the author are two separate things.

    and this

    Reviews are for readers.

    Reviews both good and bad bring a book to a possible new reader’s attention. As others have said, just because a book is given a bad review doesn’t mean I won’t buy it. What didn’t work for the reviewer may be something I like. Different strokes and all that.

    But an author behaving badly has a greater chance of getting me to never buy one of their books. I also dislike it when authors (or other readers) refer to their books as being like their babies/children. And to negatively review their book is the same as insulting their child. It is not.

    Thankfully, the majority of authors I read and have interacted with know that not every book will be loved by every reader. And readers will continue to read an author even if one of their books doesn’t work for them. Authors have every right to vent about negative reviews if they read them. But most are smart enough to only do so to friends and family and not in a public forum.

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  16. Aleksandr Voinov
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 07:47:05

    I think this post should be required reading – for authors (who, more often than not, are insecure about how to deal with the transparency and openness that the internet has created) and for readers.

    From watching my author colleagues, I can see there’s a huge amount of fear and insecurity, centered around questions such as: Do I engage at all with a reviewer? How? Can I point out that they spelled the name of my main character wrong? What about hatchet jobs of my books? Can I comment at all? Should I even flinch in public when I read something like that?

    And then there’s a huge can of worms labelled “conflict of interest”. I’ve been a reviewer for a number of sites and was almost constantly under fire for reviewing fellow authors – accused of “career assassination” and “trying to kill off the competition”. The flak got so bad that I barely, if ever, review in public anymore. Being a reviewer takes a lot more balls/ovaries than I have left over. I quit when I co-founded Riptide – basically, I didn’t want my fellow publishers to think I was slamming their books with a vested interest.

    But the deal there is that I’m a reader, too, I have a lit. degree, I like reading. Would I review again? In this genre, only under a pseudonym.

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  17. Avery Flynn
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 08:36:35

    @Shiloh Walker: “Whoever in the world promised them writing was all about pink unicorns and hearts, anyway?” Exactly.

    Good reviews and bad reviews, who cares as long as it’s an honest review? Reviews are for readers.

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  18. Michelle
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 08:39:12

    I would think coming off as a bully and petty person would harm sales more than one bad review. I won’t read C.S. Harris anymore after she cursed me after a lukewarm review on amazon.com. Also I think some authors surround themselves with “yes man” fans that feed into their sense of entitlement.

    Sadly, I have a difficult time separating an author’s actions from their work. I can’t enjoy Bob Meyer as much since he attacked a group of bloggers.

    I really now appreciate the authors that keep a low, polite profile, and avoid flamewars. It is sad when you want to say to an author, thank you so much for not be an ass.

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  19. Jennifer Leeland
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 08:41:07

    There’s been some discussion about this and I have been considering reviews and my response to them.
    It has been suggested that an author shouldn’t comment at all on a review since it would discourage discussion since the author is “listening”. I think that argument is as false as the idea a negative review would kill a career.
    As an author, I had always believed it was rude not to acknowledge someone’s review of one of my books. Even if a review is “I hate this book”, a reader still read the book and took the time to say what they thought of it.
    I work in a place where criticism is expected to garner the response “Thank You” so perhaps I’m used to it. Performance Evaluations in my work world are designed to find flaws, expose weaknesses and improve performance. There’s no five star reviews at my job.
    But all this conversation is making me rethink this position. Maybe saying “Thank you.” is too much and silence is better. I’m an author. Silence is frustrating. LOL.

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  20. Aleksandr Voinov
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 08:50:33

    Jennifer – I see totally where you’re coming from. My full-time job is in a corporate (financial services) environment. Feedback absolutely focuses on the negative from some angles, but I’ve been lucky with bosses that fed me a lot of very useful feedback.

    Reading reviews, I do get a great sense of “how my author brand” is perceived. If reviewers say things like “this isn’t a romance, but it’s very romantic”, that’s extremely helpful to me. Or things like “Don’t be afraid Voinov’s books, the violence is never gratuitous”. Really helpful stuff that helps me with marketing and promo.

    Also, regarding how to respond to reviews. I tend not to. I think the whole “parallel universe” thing is a conceit. Reviewers know that most authors read their reviews (or will eventually be pointed that way). Authors know that reviewers know.

    The question is, how do we treat each other in public? I tend to not comment on the review. I know the reviewer is aware I’m listening. On Goodreads, I press the “like” button” for reviews of my book as a way of saying “thank you”. If there’s an error or a question in the review, I may correct it, but I’m remaining – I hope – lighthearted about it, more chatty and speaking as an equal rather than speaking from the “author high horse”, as I call it.

    This also gives me the liberty to NOT respond – to a negative review, or when I’m frankly so deeply entrenched in work that I really have no clue what’s going on on the internet. I reckon if it’s really important, it will find its way to me one way or other.

    Basically, some authors need to obsess more about their books and less about reviews. :) (But I’m saying that after spending years refreshing my Amazon rankings page several times a day – thankfully, I’ve broken THAT particular habit).

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  21. SHZ
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 08:56:33

    @Jennifer Leeland:
    I am someone who has posted hundreds of reviews online on various blogs and sites, I have ALWAYS felt incredibly uncomfortable when an author responds. There was one review I had on Goodreads that provoked a discussion of more than a hundred posts.

    THEN the author posted to thank me for the review.

    You’d better bet nobody commented after that!!!

    I am aware that an author might read a review I write – positive or negative. But it’s not their place to butt in on it. By thanking me for a positive review, you’re putting me in a position where I’m hesitant to be honest next time if the book is bad.
    Reviews should not be a reader-to-author-and-back-again love-fest.

    If you comment on a review of your book – positive or negative – it can be intimidating to readers.

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  22. Junne
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 09:00:03

    @Jennifer Leeland:

    Please, do not hesitate to voice your opinion or comment on one of your book’s reviews. I, for one, think it’s a gracious gesture for an author to thank a reviewer. But it’s true that if I want to rant on a book and the author pops in and says “thank you for the review”, I’ll be more inclined not to vent because I wouldn’t want to hurt his/her feelings, as she/he will obviously read my comments. But of course that’s only my opinion.

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  23. R. H. Rush
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 09:02:20

    When I was in college, everyone had to take a basic composition course in order to graduate. The one I was in was taught by a graduate student who approached it by periodically assigning essays to the entire class. The class then divided into small groups, and each essay was then read and critiqued aloud by every member of that group. The person who wrote the essay wasn’t allowed to respond, other than to say “thank you.”

    Her reasoning for this was that writing must stand on its own: you can’t follow your book around the country, saying to each reader “here’s what I really meant by this passage.” You could disagree with a group member’s critique, but you had to do it silently. Because in real life, you wouldn’t be able to respond.

    Obviously, I went to college before the Internet age.

    That graduate student is one of the few teachers I remember from my college years; she did her students an incredible favor by organizing her class that way. I still think that sort of class ought to be a requirement for publishing a book: there would be fewer authors throwing temper tantrums at their readers.

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  24. Sarah
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 09:04:31

    I hope Julie Halpern googles herself today (as is apparently her practice). She needs to read this article.

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  25. Mo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 09:39:53

    I have only 2 comments to all this. First, a book (the thing) may be a commodity, but the story (what is being reviewed) is art. Art always contains some of the artist in it. I think we do a huge disservice to art and to ourselves when we commoditize art.

    Second, I draw a distinction between a review – what is done here at DA or in the New York times and what is only done sometimes on GoodReads, Amazon, and blogs – and someone’s thoughts on a book. A review, in my mind, is something very specific and some random reader’s blog thoughts on a book is not necessarily a review of that book. I look at those two things very differently. To that end, I think it is important to not lump the two together. Attacking a reader or a reviewer is poor form. Respectfully addressing a random reader’s rant is not the same thing, in my mind, as respectfully addressing a reviewer. I have 19 books “reviewed” on GoodReads. Of those, only 1 is a real review. The others are just my thoughts on the book. In my mind, there are rules to writing a review and I have no problem with the idea of telling someone politely, when they call themselves a reviewer (and therefore whatever they write is sacrosanct) that no, they did not follow the rules and therefore they are not a reviewer. I think it hurts all reviewers when anyone with something to say about a book is somehow perceived as above all the rules of engagement simply by saying “I’m a reviewer so tough, I can say whatever I want.”. I simply don’t see the role of the critic or reviewer as somehow being beyond reproach.

    This is not an indictment of reviewers, nor an indictment of authors. This is how I draw lines of distinction between groups of people as a reader and; therefore, how I judge the relative merit of what is said about a book.

    A specific note on GoodReads: I am a Librarian on GoodReads so I see a lot of discussions about the limitations of the software such as the ability to star a book even before it has come out which has had a number of authors upset. This has been explained by Librarians as “readers use the star system for things other than reviews so deal with it”.

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  26. JacquiC
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 09:50:41

    As a parent, I find the idea that authors view their books as their babies/children to be interesting. I can’t follow my children all around the world and into the places where they interact with other people in order to prevent them from being criticized. I wouldn’t want to. I can do my best to teach them to interact well with the world, but at a certain point, they are who they are, and not everyone is going to like them. I know, I’m pushing the analogy perhaps farther than it can go. But I think it is important for authors to treat books (and other works of art/creativity) as taking on a life of their own once they are out in the world and to let them go. If your skin is not thick enough to deal with the fact that the world is heterogeneous and full of people with different tastes and different reactions, then the author should not be reading the world’s reactions to the work of art at all.

    And on a slightly different note — as a former editor, my experience was that the best writers were amenable to constructive criticism, and because their writing was already good, they received fewer suggestions, but they took those that they did receive and gave them serious consideration. The worst writers were also the ones who were completely incapable of taking any constructive suggestions (even “comma comments”). They would absolutely refuse to change anything. After this experience, when I see authors reacting personally and vindictively against reviewers who put forward negative reviews, I can’t help but think negative things about the author. It doesn’t matter whether the reviewer is “wrong” about what the author meant. The author no longer has control over what is meant by the written word once it is out in the world.

    Thanks for a great article!

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  27. Lori Toland
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 09:58:30

    I rarely respond to these, even though I read them and value them. The day job is a huge time suck, I know have to get rid of it some day :)

    I agree with Jane on a lot of this but from my perspective, readers and reviewers are very different. Readers spend their money on our books to enjoy them. I want them to feel like their hard earned money was well spent in buying my book. I don’t care if they leave a review somewhere about it. I just want them to feel like they got their money’s worth.

    Reviewers are a whole other kettle of fish. I love reviewers too but you have more of a business model. Instead of spending your hard earned money, you are spending your valuable time to not only read my book, but to pull your thoughts together about my book and put them into a format readers will find thought provoking. Hopefully this review will start a discussion about the review and the book.

    Review sites have the unenviable task of balancing authors and readers alike. A blog reviewing books will gather a following because a reader trusts the opinion of this blogger. If this person has read a dozen books recced by DA and enjoyed every single one of them, they will trust the opinion of this blogger. So if this blogger doesn’t rec a book, it stands to reason the readers who follow the blog probably wouldn’t like the book and also probably be wasting their money.

    On the opposite side, there are followers of this blog who come here for the cracktastic posts who don’t agree with your opinion on recommended books. But if they see something in the reviews that catches their attention, they may end up buying the book no matter what the rating.

    For me, ratings don’t really matter. To say readers blindly follow reviews is insulting your customers. Ratings only matter to me when I look where to place my ad dollars. Even then, if I have lower rating somewhere but the review produced an engaging conversation, I’ll probably pick up an ad there.

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  28. Darlene Marshall
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 10:14:26

    Excellent post (and I love the LOLkitties). There have been negative reviews I’ve found helpful. There are negative reviews I’ve ignored, believing you can’t please everyone. Naturally, I wish they were all “A” reviews, but I love reader feedback of any type, because it means people are reading my work and getting the word out.

    Trashing readers always ends badly. Always. An author who doesn’t know this deserves whatever flames are aimed in her direction.

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  29. great post
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 10:15:35

    I enjoyed this post very much. I will say that by my second book release, I stopped reading reviews. I got blocked up trying to figure out the formula to please every reader somehow. What I wrote then became very “safe” and very ick, and had no integrity. In that way, I think being overly concerned and obsessed with reviews can weaken an author’s work.

    It’s funny, but the whole thing with the authors fixing the reviews and attacking readers and over-explaining their work reminds me of the “helicopter parenting” phenomenon!!!

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  30. JL
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 10:21:35

    Great post.
    I read about ten different book blogs a day, not because I trust all the reviewers to align with my taste, but because I want to learn as much about a book as possible before I buy. Sometimes a negative review from someone is the equivalent of a positive review for me – not a slight against the reviewer, I just know tastes can be different. I want to buy books that I’m going to fall in love with, especially since I tend to read series and I hate not committing to the full series. I’m more likely to buy books that receive consistent 4 star reviews than 5 because that je ne sais quoi quality is different for everyone. And I know I’ve bought books based on bad reviews, including DNFs (I’m a big fan of DNF reviews). The only thing that guarantees me not buying a book is bad author behaviour. Good, polite author interaction online is a surefire way to get me buying books that I don’t even love, but want to support the author anyway.

    Normally I defend genre books to the death and I do think it’s a huge accomplishment to get published in any format, but that haughty attitude of some authors just kills me. You wrote a book about teenagers falling in love, just like thousands of others. Your book will resonate with many people but it’s not likely going to change lives, folks. Books can, but very few actually do. Some of your readers start their own charities, spend their lives volunteering, work as palliative care nurses… There are many, many admirable things that readers do. Getting a book published does not make you the world’s greatest hero, especially when all you do is use that platform to act like an *ss.

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  31. dick
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 10:35:52

    Would any of us be surprised if, say, Honda Motors, would respond to an unfavorable “review” of their 2012 Accord appearing in “Consumer Reports”?
    How does a defensive response, by an author, to an unfavorable review differ from that?
    In my own thinking, if an author can write a book I like, I don’t care if he/she gets a bit “snarky” about a review, for it’s the book I’m most interested in. If, as in the case of Lori Foster, she manages to make her “snarkiness” about reviews and readers the basis for a book I enjoyed reading, that’s fine with me.
    Reviews are like everything else on the internet–fodder for anybody, including authors.

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  32. erinf1
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 10:40:18

    This!!!!!!!

    Thanks Jane for putting into words what needs to be said. As a reader and not an writer and/or reviewer, this is what I want all parties to understand. To stop all the dramas. I love my review blogs and Goodreads and yes, I do take note of what is being reviewed, whether negatively or postively. This mildly affects my buying, but it does bring to my attention books I otherwise might not have come across. But I will stay away from authors and blogs that seem to have the most drama/flaming. Not worth my time or money and what these parties don’t seem or want to realize is that they are alienating their consumers. If Walmart and Target got into like this, I’d avoid them too!

    @Ros, I completely agree. Some of these new “self pub” authors do come from this entitlement culture and when the real world intrudes, the interwebs explode.

    Hopefully this all dies down. I’m getting to the point where I’m willing to stop spending the money (which might actually be good for me) and hope others do the same so that we “put our money where our mouth is” and maybe the loss of revenue will encourage better behavior.

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  33. Ros
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 10:49:10

    @dick: I would be very surprised if Honda did that! If there was something factually inaccurate in the review, I would expect them to make sure it was corrected, but otherwise, I’d expect them to ignore the review altogether.

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  34. Mo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 10:54:19

    @Ros: I had a funny feeling about Dick’s comment and it turns out Honda did do exactly that.

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  35. anon
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 10:55:23

    In a perfect reader/reviewer world, I agree with everything you posted. But it’s become more and more difficult to sort out which reviews the reader or author can trust. As a reader, I find myself sifting through reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads, wondering which reviews (good or bad) are real and which have been written by relatively sane individuals. And this goes beyond the literary community…it’s hard to trust a review for a set of dog grooming supplies or a toaster nowadays on Amazon. I have friends in the construction buisness who have competition. The competition leaves bogus negative online reviews all the time. In response, the other company leaves bogus good reviews. It’s a vicious cycle and the reader is forced to read not only the review in question, but between the lines of the review.

    Recently, there was a huge scandal involving plagiarism on Amazon with one particularly zealous reviewer whom I’d always trusted. This leaves a strong impact on both reader and author.

    And how do we really know whether or not someone has actually read a book they reviewed on goodreads? We don’t. The way the review system is set up anyone can rate or review anyway they like without even reading the book. So, as readers, we’re forced to be detectives. As authors, we learn to just ignore a good deal of reviews…good and bad…and not take them as seriously as we would have if we knew for certain they were real.

    The good thing is that the more you read and check out reviews on places like Amazon or goodreads the better you get at spotting the bogus ratings and reviews. Unfortunately, this also cancels out what might be a real review or rating.

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  36. anon
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:00:08

    I’d like to add this, too. When it comes to erotica and erotic romance, most readers do not leave reviews in public. This is a discreet sub-genre and most people are reading these books in private and not discussing them with anyone else. I know bestselling erotic books with maybe four negative reviews on amazon or goodreads. And this is because the discreet readership doesn’t leave reviews openly…or even anonymously.

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  37. Lori Toland
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:03:48

    @Ros if a reviewer took issue with something in the book being incorrect, but it in fact was something that happened in real life, would you respond to the review?

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  38. Ros
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:04:05

    @Mo: Huh. Well, it just goes to show, um, something. But on the whole, big businesses are wise enough to ignore poor reviews.

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  39. lazaraspaste
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:05:23

    @Mo: I agree that the commodification of art is worrisome. However, I think art–even more than a product–is subject to criticism because it means more. People become passionate about books and stories in a way that they don’t become over face cream (at least most of the time).

    I agree with @Aleksandr Voinov: that authors need to worry less about negative reviews and more about their writing.

    But it occurs to me that maybe that explains the hissyfits: some sort of displaced anxiety about the strength of their writing?

    Reviews to me aren’t just about directing other readers to books or away from books, they are also a way for me–as a reader and as a critic–to think about the books I’m engaging with. I believe there is value in narrative beyond entertainment or escape (although I think both of those are far more valuable than our culture gives them credit for). Because I believe that, I think it is essential to critique books, to explore aspects of the genre, to look at what works and what does not and what that means.

    The legitimacy of my reviews or my thoughts on a book is not determined by where I post my review, but by my engagment with the book, an engagement that might not necessarily be flattering to you, the author, or to the book.

    Thinking about something, questioning it, engaging with it often requires criticism. In fact, I’d say criticism is necessary. The books I love have made me think very hard albeit in a different way than the books I hated. The most dangerous reaction of reader is to forget the book all together.

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  40. KMont
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:08:04

    Really great piece, Jane.

    I’ve always been baffled by the apparent belief that reviews of either spectrum – positive or critical (I like critical so much better than negative), have that much power. I think we can certainly be influenced by reviews, but at the end of the day, the person pushing the buy button or handing the cashier their money had the final decision. Not the review or reviewer.

    Reviews are tools for some, entertainment for others, maybe constructive help for authors (though I do not encourage that particular mindset, not going to tell an author boo on them if they feel a review helped them, just gently remind that it’s not for them, but kudos, etc.). I always find it amusing when people go out of their way to say they don’t read reviews, reviews aren’t important, etc. – speaking up about what we buy, spend time on, believe in, etc. should always be important. I get it that reviews aren’t for everyone, but they aren’t useless.

    The only place power has in all of this is whoever believes they can even try to control reviews in any way. Authors – or readers for that matter (hello, fan groups rushing to aid authors) – who try just don’t get it. As in, a false sense of power. The furthest thing from my mind when review writing is whether or not my “powers” are going to affect anyone. Cuz there are none.

    If you have to use terms like power, discussion is powerful. Sharing ideas is powerful. Squashing those isn’t. Attempting to do isn’t admirable. Anyone trying is a sad case.

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  41. Ros
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:09:01

    @Lori Toland: Dunno. I think it would depend on the overall tone of the review/reviewer and where the review was posted. I wouldn’t ever bother commenting on an Amazon review, for instance. Also, I think ‘true’ is a complicated concept in fiction and often ‘plausible’ is more important when reading. So it would also depend what kind of thing you’re talking about and whether it was likely to be a productive, helpful thing for me to add to the discussion. I think it is a somewhat different situation from a reviewer making inaccurate claims about a car.

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  42. Kate Pearce
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:09:58

    @JenniferLeeland
    I’m an author. Silence is frustrating. LOL.

    This.
    I write to communicate. I want to talk to readers who are reading my books. It never occurred to me until recently that my desire to communicate made readers uncomfortable. But during the last year or so I’ve worked it out, (and I mean that sincerely). I write my books then I communicate my other stuff via Facebook, Twitter and my website, where readers can choose to come and talk to me and I leave the reviews alone.

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  43. Mo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:17:30

    @KMont: I think the discussion about power is perhaps one of the most important aspects of this. Some art critics have power – the power to make a new artist or to bury them in obscurity. Some book reviewers have power (and some non-book reviewers have power just by endorsing a book – looking at Oprah here). But this is where I think it is important to understand the difference between an art critic or book reviewer and a reader posting what they thought of a book.

    Whether she considers it or not, Jane here at DA has power. She can cause people who trust her reviews to ignore certain authors and read other authors. So do the other reviewers here at DA.

    Just because we (editorial we) do not recognize our own power does not mean we do not have it. Authors and artists are right to consider that power.

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  44. Ducky
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:20:59

    Never heard of Julie Halpern before this kerfuffle and certainly have no desire now to buy any of her books after reading her rant. I don’t want to waste my money and my time on the creative output of an author so petty and immature.

    If you put anything you create out there for everybody you have to be prepared for both positive and negative reaction. The culture of mindless “squeeing” is only for fan fic not for any kind of published writing people are actually paying for.

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  45. Lynz
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:24:18

    The thing I think some authors don’t get about critical reviews is that they don’t necessarily drag down their ratings on Amazon and GR. If I read someone’s review and discover that the thing they didn’t like about the book is something that would piss me off, too, I won’t buy that book. Which means I won’t read it, hate it, and then leave a negative review. (I’m assuming that an author would rather have one negative review than several of them, since the authors who handle them badly act like each and every one will ruin their careers.)

    And as others have said, I’ve previously bought books specifically because of the negative reviews they’d garnered. Sometimes what stopped the reviewer from liking the book is exactly what I’m looking for.

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  46. nearhere
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:26:08

    Critical reviews both good and bad, are much more helpful when deciding what books to read. (I am not a fan of Amazon’s #1 reviewer). Even the negative critical reviews – no especially the negative critical reviews – are more influential in my buying behavior because often what didn’t work for one reader works for me. My thinking is something like “if that’s the worst you can say about this book, it must be pretty good/ pretty bad.” I think authors should embrace the full spectrum of reader responses.

    That said I do get annoyed when I enjoy a book then look at the negative review and it’s like reading recipe reviews on allrecipes where people completely change the recipe then say they didn’t care for the original recipe. Did the reader actually read the book? Or, for example, if a book is a Western, I do not care for reviews where the reader begins with something along the lines of “I hate Westerns so I didn’t like this book.” Well duh. You won’t like the book and I got nothing out of reading your review.

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  47. Mo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:27:42

    @lazaraspaste: I agree. Art is not sacrosanct and above criticism.

    You said:

    The legitimacy of my reviews or my thoughts on a book is not determined by where I post my review, but by my engagment with the book, an engagement that might not necessarily be flattering to you, the author, or to the book.

    If that was in reference to my comment about where a “review” is located (and I am not sure it is), then it is not a question of the legitimacy of your opinion of the book that is at issue for me, it is the legitimacy of calling it a review. If it meets the definition of a review, it can be tattooed to your back and it would still be a review. A blog rant about a book may or may not be a review and the person who posted it may or may not qualify as a reviewer.

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  48. Lori Toland
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:30:11

    @Ros:

    I agree. I would only respond if the reviewer asked a question and my response would add more to the discussion.

    Or if a reader had a formatting issue.

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  49. Isobel Carr
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:32:15

    ***I have a friend who is an SF author, whose position is that every review is a good thing, obscurity is what is bad. ***

    THIS!

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  50. jenniferk
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:35:08

    I can understand authors wanting to respond to (valid) points made in a review, I think that give-and-go could be a good thing.

    However, when I hear about an author that reads something negative and their response is “Dear Reader, You are a Dumb Bitch”– making a huge, ugly mountain out of a molehill— I’m not going to spend money on that author.

    It’s the author flip-outs that will stop me from buying, not any one negative review.

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  51. L.K. Rigel
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:35:48

    I won’t say I never comment on reviews, but I do avoid it. I don’t want to ruin the magic between reviewer and readers. However, I will “like” reviews of my books at Goodreads unless they contain spoilers. Occasionally I’ll post the link to a Goodreads review at Facebook or Twitter if I’ve particularly enjoyed it.

    I’m curious. For the people who leave reviews at Goodreads, does it cross the line if an author likes your review?

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  52. HelenB
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:39:30

    I stopped reading Victoria Laurie after the fuss, in fact I also gave away what books of hers I had on my shelves. It is author behaviour that has turned me from an author not a review. Reviews are someone’s opinon not holy writ.

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  53. reader
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:47:00

    It has been my impression (and please feel free to correct me if I’m mistaken) that a number of factors are creating a certain pattern of behavior in the YA arena. Several of these new writers, after being discovered on the fan fiction slush pile, are finding themselves thrust into the limelight by publishers or, if self published, by young readers who are hungry for their Twilight fix.

    The trouble is, some of these writers don’t have the experience to write well and/or believably about relationships, and while their novels gain a slew of glowing reviews at Goodreads (the majority written by young readers who don’t have the experience to read a book as critically as older readers usually do) these authors also get a portion of stingingly negative reviews for work that, in some cases, simply wasn’t ready for publication but was published because a.) the publisher knew that the young audience would gobble the book up, regardless of its imperfections or b.) the young author self-published, believing the work ready and lacking the experience to know it wasn’t.

    What it comes down to is young writers being too soon published by greedy pubs who want to get in on the YA craze for the tragically misunderstood mary sue and her mysterious, borderline-stalker psycho boyfriend. These young writers become accustomed to the wild raves of fans in their fan-fic writing years. Then with real publication comes the shock of more discerning reviews, and these authors haven’t learned the coping skills that authors need to have to deal with the negative.

    In a way, I feel sorry for these young writers. I think they simply don’t know any better and they’re hurting themselves without realizing the extent of the damage they’re doing. They’re learning the hard way. Perhaps if publishers are going to take on such young, inexperienced writers to sell big to YA audiences, they might offer them a little pre-publication advice and pray they take it.

    “Thank you” is your response to good reviews. Your response to bad reviews? “I’m sorry the book didn’t work for you. Thanks for giving it a chance. I hope you’ll consider trying my work again in the future.” Or just don’t respond. That works, too.

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  54. Robin/Janet
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 11:49:46

    @Mo and @lazaraspaste: Since when has art NOT been commodified? Think back to when it was impossible to produce a poem or a painting without a patron — which brings into question the objective value of said work, IMO. And what about the serialization of literature, which was not only a common means of distribution but also extended the reach of literature beyond a privileged few. And many of the novels we now study as high literature were themselves produced as pulp fiction in their time (the 19th C gothic novel, frex) or as serialized (Dickens).

    What I worry about is the *corporatization* of art, which is most notable in the way corporations have secured ownership and extensions of copyright and trademarks. In fact, when authors rage against readers re piracy, I think they’re ignoring the real threats to their artistic independence and economic viability, e.g. Disney and other corps like it.

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  55. farmwifetwo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 12:04:16

    @L.K. Rigel: No b/c most people won’t bother to see who “liked” it. But I will probably go “that’s nice” and ignore it.

    @anon: I find its easy to figure out who’s a reviewer and who’s a reader.

    I have a few “friends” on goodreads. Some from every place I play on the web. Someone will mention a book that intrigues me and I’ll go off and look at reviews. Ex, I see yours. It’s long, windy, and gushing. If it’s full of information… not just gush… I’ll check out your home page.. how much do you read, your average rating and compare books. Gives me a quick idea if you are a “fan” or a reader and if you like to read what I do. Love people that call themselves readers and have all of 100 books and 400 friends… eye-roll. I’ve cultivated people from reviews to follow that tell things like it is. That don’t have the exact taste in books that I do, but similar enough to give me more to add to my TBR (which has over 500 books on it on goodreads).

    I don’t do this all the time. Usually if one of my “friends” or “followers” is “wishy washy” on a book and I’m intrigued or I’ve seen one listed here or another board/blog or in passing and I want to check it out. I don’t have the time to do it with every book, nor would I want to.

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  56. Kinsey
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 12:12:20

    Excellent, timely post.

    Under the reader paradigm, the author’s feelings should not matter because the book and the author are two separate things.

    This isn’t just a paradigm. This is an objective truth, and authors who do not understand it, or can’t internalize it, should simply not read reviews of their work, ever. I know plenty of authors who don’t read reviews and don’t maintain Google alerts of their name or books and they do just fine. You can’t treat a review like a critique, after all–the review comes after the book is finished, and out there, and if you write your next book with an eye to winning over the last book’s critics, well…that way lies madness, and probably crappy books as well.

    IMO–and I’m sure self-pubbed authors would view this as condescending or an attempt to delegitimize them but I promise it’s neither–the best self-published material comes from authors who’ve been previously professionally published. Not because the professionally pubbed authors were any better to start with, but because professional publication (whether by traditional NY houses or indie or ebook houses) involves editing, and editing involves being told that X and Y and Z conflict with each other, and you need to cut L, no matter how much you love it, because it’s unnecessary, and you need to fix M, and oh yeah, C is just creepy and disgusting and the reader will gag so lose it, stat. In other words, once you’ve been edited by a professional, there is no cut a reviewer can inflict that will make you bleed as badly. Editors don’t just make your stuff better, they teach you to get over yourself. Getting over yourself is the first step to treating writing like a profession, or at least a trade, which it is–because you are producing a product and asking people to pay for it. And once someone pays good money for something you produced, they have every right to talk about it, and no obligation to take your tender feelings into account.

    Also, art has always been a commodity. Always.

    As to authors commenting on reviews–eh. I agree it’s probably a threadkiller. It does bug me when someone reviews one of my books and gets major details wrong b/c it indicates that they didn’t read it closely but then again, I’m not Julian Barnes and I can’t expect reviewers to study my books. They read them, they review or comment on them, then they’re on to the next one. The only review I ever responded to was on Amazon, for the .99 prequel I wrote – the reviewer was pissed b/c she thought she was buying a traditional book when it was more a series of vignettes, and that wasn’t her fault. It caused me to change the description on the Amazon page, and I offered, if she was so inclined, to send her a free copy of the novel that the prequel concerned, asking only that she give me her honest opinion of it when she was done. I haven’t heard back from her, which is fine too.

    I’m a voracious reader myself but for me, reviews are mainly 1) a way to find new books and 2) a way to find out what the books are about. The reviewer’s opinion is completely secondary. And yes, sometimes a really, really hateful review will cause me to buy the book just to see if it’s really all that bad.

    Holy crap this comment is way too long. Sorry.

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  57. Mo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 12:15:05

    @Robin/Janet: When I think commodity I think “A physical substance, such as food, grains, and metals, which is interchangeable with another product of the same type” (this is from http://www.investorwords.com/975/commodity.html). A work of art is always a one of a kind; a commodity is indistinguishable from others of its type. Serialization is not commoditization.

    I would take issue with your statement that:

    Think back to when it was impossible to produce a poem or a painting without a patron….

    It was possible to write a poem so long as you had a medium to write it on and words in your head. As for painting, the Lascaux caves and others like it show that where there is a will, there is a way. You can paint on many things and using homemade pigments. No one required a patron. A patron made it easier and in some cases, also made it easier to paint whatever you wanted. The works that were commissioned often paid for many works that were not.

    Piracy is a real threat and was a threat even before the internet. I can’t tell you how many books I have bought from second hand stores that remind you that if you bought this book without a front cover that the author received no money for that book. (No, none of the books I bought were missing a cover.)

    The corporatization of art, as you call it, has its issues, and personally I think something needs to be done, but my “solutions” all have flaws to them.

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  58. Marguerite Kaye
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 12:27:20

    @Kate Pearce: It hadn’t occurred to me either, until I read this discussion, that my replying to reviews might be intimidating – it’s a very intimidating thought. This has given me loads to think about. I do comment sometimes, when I agree particularly with a criticism or want to explain something, but I never comment on the actual opinions given, and if I’m going to thank someone for a good review I do it privately.

    I review books I’ve read on Goodreads, and I do see myself as a reader in that forum. But I would say that since I’ve been published and put myself out there for review, I have changed my approach to writing reviews of other works. If I don’t like something I won’t trash it. I never review romances. I try to say, if something didn’t work, why it didn’t work.

    Maybe you’re right and FB/Twitter are where to engage, and writers should back out of commenting on reviews. But there’s a bit of me that thinks that might be sad. Don’t we have opinions too?

    This is a tough one. It may require wine.

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  59. Sunita
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 12:29:31

    @reader: Thank you. You put into words what I’ve been thinking, but much more cogently and clearly than I could have.

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  60. lazaraspaste
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 12:58:30

    @Robin/Janet: I concede the point! :) I think you are right. Coporatization rather than commodification. My concern, I guess, is assigning value to art only as a product (that is, something to be sold). I mean, what I find troubling about authors saying things like negative reviews hurts their sales and really the whole undercurrent of these author vs. reviewer kerfuffles is the emphasis on sales and only sales as the measurement of worth.

    I get that being an author requires a marketplace presence, but isn’t only about that. Call me crazy, but isn’t it aslo about telling a story? Perhaps that’s connected to the idea of corporatization affecting artistic independence and economic viability. Without the first, can you have the second? And vice versa.

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  61. Kim
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 13:03:48

    Writing is a profession, yet some authors don’t seem to understand that their rants can spread across the blogosphere. The authors then dig in and make the situation worse by continually responding. That said, certain reviews do cross the line. Pointing out what you like/dislike about a book is informative. However, I’ve seen some reviews that get quite personal. An author is only human and this type of review has to be hurtful. Yet, for all intents and purposes, the author has no recourse. If she responds, it looks like sour grapes. Contrary to the post, I think that an author can and should learn from a review. Although that’s not the objective, if most of the reviews have a similar complaint, then the author has learned something valuable that her editor may not have suggested.

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  62. Jenny
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 13:48:34

    Although it might not have been Jane’s intent, I wonder if what she said in her opening doesn’t have a lot to do with the current kerfuffles, the maturity level/experience of both author and reviewer? Ms. Foster aside.

    @reader has a good point. I agree completely.

    I do think reviews are for readers, period. But positve or negative, reviews carry more weight when they’re written well (DA being the prime example), like you put some time and thought into it beforehand, otherwise I think it devalues the site they’re written on.

    For an author to respond as harshly as the ones Jane mentions is just reprehensible. You’re not accomplishing anything except making yourself look bad and alienating future readers. Be quiet. Move on. Have a glass of wine or a piece of chocolate. Write something else.

    Think: What would Nora do? I bet she’d keep her mouth shut and keep on writing. Ha! Maybe we authors need bracelets to remind us of that. WWND

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  63. Janine
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 13:55:33

    @JacquiC:

    As a parent, I find the idea that authors view their books as their babies/children to be interesting. I can’t follow my children all around the world and into the places where they interact with other people in order to prevent them from being criticized. I wouldn’t want to. I can do my best to teach them to interact well with the world, but at a certain point, they are who they are, and not everyone is going to like them. I know, I’m pushing the analogy perhaps farther than it can go. But I think it is important for authors to treat books (and other works of art/creativity) as taking on a life of their own once they are out in the world and to let them go.

    This. Years ago I had an online conversation with the author Judith Ivory, who said that a reading experience is a product of two imaginations, the author’s and the reader’s. Different readers will bring different imaginations to the process of reading which means that responses will vary. IMO they are all equally valid.

    I will add something else that I learned from my (very brief so far) experience of being reviewed, as well as from my experience of reviewing. As a writer, I know I am attempting to create X (a particular flavor of story), and I hope that I have done so successfully. But a reader/reviewer may be seeking Y (a different flavor of story, because they have different likes/dislikes/tastes/wants than I do) and if so, their review will be based on their desire for Y.

    That is more than okay — it is absolutely as it should be! Because a reader can only approach the work based upon their tastes, their likes and dislikes. And if a reviewer doesn’t rely on her taste when reviewing, then she is doing a disservice to her readership (readers, not authors). They should feel no inhibitions in saying that they wanted Y, they have every right to want it.

    When X and Y are far apart from each other, it is very possible that the reader may be less satisfied than when they are close together. But that does not necessarily mean that the author failed to produce X well (though it could also mean that). It could just mean that X isn’t Y, and the reader is saying “This didn’t work for me because it didn’t go in the direction I wanted/hoped for.”

    And that is part and parcel of the work taking on a life of its own. Engaging the reader’s imagination. Even if the result isn’t glowing, it’s what we write for — to let the work go out into the world and live in other people’s heads for a while.

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  64. Mandi
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 13:56:31

    Great piece.

    But one constant remains: book reviews are not the same as a workplace performance evaluation. They are not even meant for authors. Reviews are for readers. This needs to be our mantra.

    THIS THIS THIS.

    If you are a reviewer, don’t assume that the author wants to hear what you have to say, no matter how insightful or brilliant it is.

    I can’t agree more. I am very much into – the review is for readers. So reviewers…don’t involve the author in your promo of the review post!

    @SHZ: I also think SHZ makes an excellent point. Even if the author stops by to say “thank you” it can halt all discussion. It makes commenters feel like they can’t be blunt. At least IMO.

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  65. Bree/Moira Rogers
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 14:30:30

    @Mandi:


    But one constant remains: book reviews are not the same as a workplace performance evaluation. They are not even meant for authors. Reviews are for readers. This needs to be our mantra.

    THIS THIS THIS.

    I totally agree that reviews are for readers. That is my mantra I think authors can gain a great deal of peace from as well.

    But I do think that the workplace performance thing can be a complicated issue. Reviews aren’t job evaluations–not the kind that would be performed by a manager or a supervisor. But they are a critique of the work I’ve done for my job. Not a manager evaluation, but a customer evaluation.

    And that, I think, is the tricky part. As an author, I don’t know how to be accessible enough to accept customer evaluations of the things that readers want me to respond to–pricing, availability, DRM–without sometimes becoming too accessible and possibly intruding into the reader/book experience.

    I think it’s a difficult line for an author to walk, and I certainly don’t have a perfect answer. I haven’t even found one that works for me all the time. I don’t feel that it’s particularly unfair that I have to walk it–I’m the one who decided to pay the electricity bill by selling a product that isn’t necessary for survival–but sometimes I’m a little startled by how quickly people assume that my stumbling missteps are a result of ill-will and a greedy desire to squash readers under my evil boot heel.

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  66. JL
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 15:04:09

    @Bree/Moira Rogers:
    It’s certainly a fine line, and I sympathize with authors who have to navigate the online world. However, I will say (as one sole humble reader who can only speak for herself), that I really appreciate author interactions in these types of settings. It adds to my experience as a reader.

    When I see authors behaving respectfully, I’m more than likely to forgive any perceived missteps, like saying ‘thanks for the review’ on a blog, or complains on twitter that negative reviews are getting their spirits down, or whatever. I think it’s pretty clear when an author means well, and when an authors is saying ‘I rule because I wrote a book and the rest of you can suck it!! PS, reviewers are cows’. I’m willing to assume the best in writers for the most part.

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  67. Cathy
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 15:09:22

    I think authors need to back off of commenting on reviews period, especially on Amazon and Goodreads. Even the positive ones can intimidate a less enthusiastic reader from reviewing a book. That happened to me, when I noticed how johnny-on-the-spot one author was thanking every new reviewer for liking her book. Did I want the opposite to happen to me when I loathed the book and it hit the wall 2/3 of the way through? I felt I had valid points even with a DNF, but I did not review the book on Amazon because I didn’t want to deal with an author tantrum (or massive negative votes).

    While it was on reviews, there was a time we were having a group read at Goodreads and the author kept haunting the thread and jumping in. No one hated the book, but we had issues we wanted to discuss and felt we couldn’t speak freely with all that hovering going on. We finally took the discussion to a private forum so we could air our feelings without author involvement. Is that what authors really want?

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  68. Mo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 15:14:13

    @Bree/Moira Rogers:

    But I do think that the workplace performance thing can be a complicated issue. Reviews aren’t job evaluations–not the kind that would be performed by a manager or a supervisor. But they are a critique of the work I’ve done for my job. Not a manager evaluation, but a customer evaluation.

    This. A review is still a review and still an evaluation of the job the author did.

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  69. Ruthie
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 15:16:08

    Interesting discussion. One point worth considering is that every author is a reader first, and every author has to make her own accommodation with the shift from the reader paradigm to the author paradigm (or, I suppose, never shift at all). In my own case, I’ve been a passionate reader since I was four years old. I’m new at this author stuff. There are a lot of emotional and intellectual shifts to negotiate, and I’m not surprised they trip so many of us up.

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  70. Mo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 15:23:49

    @Cathy: I’m sorry, I’ve seen this said many times and I still have a lot of trouble understanding the sense of intimidation. Maybe you could help me understand a bit better?

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  71. Kate Hewitt
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 15:44:51

    @JL: When I see authors behaving respectfully, I’m more than likely to forgive any perceived missteps, like saying ‘thanks for the review’ on a blog, or complains on twitter that negative reviews are getting their spirits down, or whatever.

    Really? It’s a faux pas to mention on my own Twitter stream that a negative review gets me down? Honestly, that saddens me. I understand and agree that reviews are for readers, and plenty of authors have behaved in ways that are simply outrageous… but it is increasingly difficult as an author to participate in any online community at all. I don’t thank reviewers [any longer] I rarely comment on anything. and frankly, since writing is such a lonely occupation, it would be nice if there was a little more room for respectful debate, engaging conversation, and the freedom for authors to talk honestly about how they perceive feedback on their books, among other things. I’ve had plenty of bad reviews and I appreciate them–they help me learn my craft and, hopefully, improve my writing. But they still can sting a bit. I’m human, after all.

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  72. Reviews, Impulses, and the Mental Censor Button « Scattered Pages
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 15:45:55

    [...] 1.10- a really good, insightful post about the author/reviewer positions on Dear Author. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  73. Jenny
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 16:01:31

    Kate’s comment got me thinking. At what point to you draw the line between online interaction? And like Ruthie said, I’m not just a writer, I’m a reader too. So if I have a profile on Goodreads, as an author should I not post reviews for the books I read? Twitter seems to be a more relaxed atmosphere, where I feel like I don’t have to always censor myself. What about the readers/reviewers that follow me there?

    It’s all starting to feel like a minefield.

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  74. JL
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 16:03:13

    @Kate Hewitt:
    I think you may have misread my comment (or I didn’t write it clearly, which is more than likely). I have no issues with either one of those things, but certainly other folks do. I’m thinking of the whole twitter kerfuffle with Dianne Sylvan that was brought up at DA. I don’t see authors in a bad light for doing such things, but that regardless, the internet sometimes does have a problem with it. Things can easily be taken out of context, and there’s no question authors should be aware of that because it’s a risk they face. My point was that I think/hope most readers are willing to assume the best in authors, because something like ‘gee I’m sick of negative reviews’ isn’t nearly as offensive to me as ‘reviewers are categorically stupid’, and that I like author interaction where possible. Sorry if it saddens you, my comment was meant to be more upbeat for authors, recognizing how complex it is to deal with different readers’ wants and desires.

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  75. Sofia Harper
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 16:17:23

    I agree with the commenter up thread about power and how it’s perceived. It’s an interesting way to look at the heart of this paradigm. Who does and who has more power is definitely in the eye of the beholder. From the reader’s standpoint the author holds the most power. From the author’s standpoint they are the last in line after the reader and publisher.

    Probably what discomforts me the most about this discussion is that I am both reader and writer. Yup, those two roles can align on a number of subjects and opinions. Yet I don’t feel I can agree with either role here described, because the situation often dictates who has the most power.

    “In my opinion, generally speaking, a published author has a natural and intrinsic platform.”

    I understand for the purposes of this post the generalizations made, but sitting on both sides of the fence I can’t agree that by simply being an author my circle is automatically much larger than a reader’s. As we’ve witnessed over the past few days when an author tries to bully a reader other readers, no matter what genre they read, will give a much deserved smack down. Again, this can just come down to an eye of a beholder thing. As a reader I feel I have a much stronger and larger community. Even my author community started as and is based on the fact that I’m a reader. I read and loved romances so I decided to write them. Now, my opinion or view point might vary if I had numbers that tilted toward having a larger platform as an author that were directly connected to the books I’ve written.

    Or even this ‘natural and intrinsic platform’ may only apply to published authors, which I’m not anymore. This can put me in a unique position to see all three sides (published, unpublished, reader.) I doubt it though, because even unpublished what I say and do online affects me in a way that a reader doesn’t have to worry about.

    All that said, even if I had the following to send out a legion of troops I wouldn’t, because a book review is an opinion of the end product. That encompasses who the publisher is, the paper the book is printed on, or the type of e-book file, the cover, the ads in the back, and of course the story within. Though I have written the book I am not the book. I think that’s what the kerfluffles all have in common, at least the tone. They reek of “You’re being mean to me.” A false premise, because not liking something isn’t being mean. Author does not equal book or even baby. There are several things you can do with a book that you cannot do with a baby or else you’d end up spending a few years in prison. Like selling one on E-bay. Anyway, I absolutely agree maturity plays a huge role in how an author reacts publically.

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  76. Kate Hewitt
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 16:26:55

    @JL: I wasn’t clear in who I was addressing my comment to, and for that I apologize. I understand you didn’t have a problem with those issues, but the very fact that other people do is what saddens me. Thanks for being encouraging–I’d also like to think both reviewers and authors will assume the best of each other. We’re all in this for the same reason, which is that we love books.

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  77. karlynp
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 16:38:44

    One of my favorites quotes is by mega-author Neil Gaiman:

    “I suspect that most authors don’t really want criticism, not even constructive criticism. They want straight-out, unabashed, unashamed, fulsome, informed, naked praise, arriving by the shipload every fifteen minutes or so. Unfortunately an Amazon.com reviews page for one of the author’s books is the wrong place to go looking for this. Probably best just not to look. ”

    Got to love him!

    I write reviews all the time. If an author doesn’t like my review, it means nothing to me. Her career is not in my hands, but in her own. I owe authors nothing besides the money I paid for the book. If an author is unable to control them self, I suggest they take the advice of Neil Gaiman — ‘best just not to look’. I word my reviews in my own voice and use my own opinions. I follow no other rules but to keep them honest and informative. No one has the right to tell me to do otherwise.

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  78. Cathy
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 16:38:47

    @Mo:
    @Mo. Intimidation in regard to reviews or discussions. When it’s obvious the author is watching every new review/post, comment about his/her book give me the feeling of someone looking over my shoulder. It just stifles conversation, at least in my experience, and I’ve had enough author kerfuffles of my own to prefer to avoid them when I can.

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  79. Ridley
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 16:39:11

    Regarding authors commenting on reviews: don’t do it, not even to say thank you very politely.

    Look, I’m pretty much shameless with a forceful personality to boot. Even so, *I* get discouraged from discussing an author’s work once she’s chimed in. I hate how an author weighing in changes a discussion. People start squeeing their praise at her, boring the rest of us with their ass kissing, and then everyone stops being candid. The conversation becomes little more than worthless hedging and wishy-washiness after that as everyone tries to guard the author’s feelings.

    I dislike the thank you especially on positive reviews. Hate it. Why? It makes me feel like you think I wrote the review as a favor to you. When a bunch of us lobbied (successfully) to get Goodreads to stop Tweeting authors when users who tie GR and Twitter wrote 4 or 5 * reviews we argued that assuming “good” reviews are a compliment necessitates that “bad” reviews must be an insult. I’m reviewing a book, not a person. Did you thank your teachers when you got good grades?

    As for the “reviews are for readers” bit, I agree, but only somewhat. I don’t think authors can’t learn from reviews or have no business reading them. Reaction is an important part of creation. What I want authors to understand is that reviews and reviewers are never wrong. You can’t correct a reviewer because there’s nothing to correct. Her reaction is hers and nothing you say changes that. You only know what you intended when you wrote the book. Until you can climb into someone else’s head and read the book as that person you don’t know your ass from your elbow when it comes to her reaction.

    It’s a bit like golfing. You know you’re aiming for the pin but there are the subtle differences in your swing, wind and an uneven fairway that will ultimately decide where your golf ball lands. Railing at readers for their disconnect with your intentions is like cursing out the wind: it changes nothing and just makes you look like a loony.

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  80. Sofia Harper
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 16:50:44

    @Ridley “As for the “reviews are for readers” bit, I agree, but only somewhat. I don’t think authors can’t learn from reviews or have no business reading them.Reaction is an important part of creation.”

    Which is why I find it interesting to say the least that the “thank you” is viewed with a jaundiced eye. The review may have been intended for the reader, but it still benefits the author. The two cannot be separated. Yes, the author can refrain from saying these two words, but it will still benefit the author to be mentioned.

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  81. azteclady
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 17:19:06

    @Mo: Sorry, what?

    A reader’s thoughts are as worthy of respect as any other reader’s thoughts–whether you think that person followed your rules of reviewing or not, they have every right to rant or muse or blather or gush about a story they’ve read.

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  82. Ridley
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 17:25:48

    @Sofia Harper: Would you thank the air for being still when you hit a nice straight drive? Do you thank a professor for giving your paper an A?

    My review has nothing to do with the author. Thanking me for it is silly at best and egoistic at worst. I’m not helping you out with my positive review any more than I’m damning you with my negative one. It’s not about you, your brand or your feelings. It’s about the book.

    I think authors can and maybe should read reviews, but only to see where their drive landed. Chatting up or thanking the air, shoes or fairway just seems silly.

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  83. Mo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 17:31:05

    @azteclady: I agree. The thoughts are worthy of respect and each person can gush or rant as they please. However, I do not accord the title “Reviewer” to anyone and everyone who writes down their thoughts and opinions on a book or other piece of art.

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  84. DM
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 17:38:03

    There is no doubt in my mind that author responses stifle honest feedback. If you learn your craft in a workshop environment, you see how it happens. The workshop leader warns everyone to listen and not respond to criticism. But someone always feels compelled to clarify, to correct, to justify. And they always lose out, because it changes the tenor of the feedback completely. If an author is mining reviews for useful criticism, the worst thing they can do is put in an appearance in the thread. And if they want readers to engage with their work, the worst thing they can do is put in an appearance in the thread. In every workshop I have ever participated in, as the weeks went by, the artists who responded to criticism gradually lost the engagement of the other participants, who knew before the work was even presented that it wasn’t worth their time to listen/watch/read closely, because they weren’t going to be able to express their reactions candidly.

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  85. Jennifer Leeland
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 17:51:40

    Well, maybe this is my problem. I DID thank my teachers for my good grades. I thanked them because they took the time to credit my work. In some cases, I PAID them to teach me! And yet, I would have rather had an A from an instructor who made every test a challenge, every paper filled with red ink and every classroom discussion lively than had a warm body who stamped “A” on my stuff.
    So, yes, I said “Thank you” to an instructor for a good grade. Hell, I think I thanked my Western Civilization teacher for my hard earned C. He was a good teacher with high standards. Just because I didn’t live up to his standards doesn’t mean his class didn’t benefit me.
    I was so stunned to think that a thank you for a review would limit/hinder discussion. I do get the concept, but I think it’s kind of sad that an author saying “thank you” implies so many other things than what is intended.
    This has been an invaluable discussion and I had no idea reviewers/readers felt that way about author comments.

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  86. azteclady
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 17:59:46

    @Mo: But you agree that whether or not you consider them reviewers doesn’t mean they aren’t reviewers, right?

    I mean, you mentioned that you have rules of reviewing, but those rules aren’t necessarily universal rules, are they*? (If there are universal rules of reviewing, could you please quote them for me?)

    *perhaps they are more like guidelines (obligatory PotC reference)

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  87. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 18:07:27

    I read (a lot), I write and I review. All three in one. I do have definite lines that I follow, and I have made for a number of decisions.

    1. As a reader, I try to cut off everything and just – read. If I know I’m reading for review, then I’ll make notes, but usually, I’m filling in some hours pleasurably (hopefully), which is why I get narked if I find I’ve wasted my time, or my money, or both.

    2. I write for me. I write the stories I want to read. Then it goes to an editor (or not, I still write some stories just for fun), and then the reader. At that point, the story stops being “mine,” and starts being “ours.” The story is different to every reader, who has his or her own experience to bring to it. The story isn’t a fixed thing-it changes.
    Recently I had the pleasure of rewriting my Department 57 series for Loose-Id. I was surprised by how much my style had changed, but I could also bring reader experience to it, and what I’d been told worked and what didn’t. For instance, the original stories had a more complex worldbuilding structure and I felt that some of it was redundant.

    3. As a reviewer, I have two self-imposed rules. I won’t review books from publishers or lines that I’m with (I review a lot of Harlequin category lines, but I do write for Carina – that doesn’t conflict because the two lines don’t interact with each other behind the scenes). I will also not review books by friends, unless I say that in the review, so the reader can decide if the review is worth anything or not.
    I review for the reader, not for the author. I have found some healthy debates from replies from authors. I’ve been attacked a time or two, and a few doors have been closed to me, but I figure I don’t want to be a part of a publisher that will try to muffle me like that.
    I keep my review to the book, not the author, and that might be one of the problems. The authors are taking it so personally. It’s hard, when you’ve thrown your heart and soul into a book, especially, I imagine, for the self published author, who hasn’t had to write for a house, and can choose to ignore editor comments if he or she wants to.
    I got some personal insults for a recent review (not from the author, but from a fan) and it’s not personal, honestly it’s not. But that’s one of the risks author/reviewers take, and one I was warned about. So, well, yeah.

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  88. JL
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 18:15:51

    @Kate Hewitt:
    Ah, gotcha. Sorry for the additional confusion. It makes me sad too. I’m not an author, but I do publish academically and worse, I know what it’s like to stand before a crowd of 100 people and present your ideas only to have everything you say twisted and torn apart. While it’s not the same thing, negative reviews and comments freakin’ hurt, even with the mantra ‘you are not your publication’. I think it would be sad if authors completely detached themselves from their finished products and didn’t care about the reviews. Passion is part of the trade! I often find writers to be some of the most insightful reviewers about other books, noticing things I don’t, or vocalizing things that I couldn’t quite express or put my finger on. Author interaction greatly improves my reading experience. Maybe I’m a Pollyanna, but I honestly believe most authors mean well. I hate the idea of them being dragged through the mud for saying thank you for a review (right or wrong) and being painted with the same brush as the ones who are truly heinous.

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  89. Mo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 18:16:19

    @azteclady: A book review is not just an essay of opinion. I have included a link to John Updike’s Rules for Reviewing Books (http://biblioklept.org/2010/04/14/john-updikes-rules-for-reviewing-books/) here as a reference. Because of this thread, I did a search for rules of reviewing and many of the guidelines I found for reviewing works (everything from journal articles to fiction) seemed to follow at least this basic outline. I have been following DA for some time now and the reviews here also follow Updike’s rules, whether consciously or not.

    I would go with guidelines as the term rules does seem a bit strong. Most places that review written works have some set of guidelines for what a review is supposed to do and how to write them.

    Bottom line, a review is *not* just a written opinion on a piece. If that were the case, I could critique any piece of art and call myself an art critic.

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  90. azteclady
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 18:25:43

    @Mo: Ah! Yes, I see what you mean now.

    I think…

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  91. Mo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 18:28:59

    @Ridley: Ridley, whether you mean to or not, a review that you write about a book does help the author. If you bring up a book to people and start a discussion about it, whether by talking about it or writing about it, you engage other people with the concept of the author. This means that the author gets exposure.

    Now, I do not think most authors who say thank you for a review are thanking you for the exposure, though I certainly could be wrong. I think, and this is just my conjecture, that most authors are thanking you for even reading their book.

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  92. Kate Pearce
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 18:37:21

    This is fascinating :)
    Things I’ve learned not to do.

    I once commented on an amazon review on Twitter because it was hilariously bad, and it wasn’t until quite a while later while on amazon that I noticed the review had been voted down and the poster thought I’d deliberately instigated a campaign against him. I did apologize for that one because I had no idea other people would take offense for me. Lesson learned not to comment ‘too specifically’ on Twitter.

    . A couple of years ago I made the mistake of chatting in a thread I’d been on for years, and offered someone a free book who mentioned she was thinking of trying me out. Again- ages after I’d forgotten all about it, I saw a post from her upset that I’d put her in that position.
    Lesson learned not to intervene in reader threads even if I thought it was in a benign positive way.

    I think all this exposure has been a learning experience for all of us.

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  93. KMont
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 19:19:15

    @Mo:

    Well, I guess those are OK comparisons if we *were* talking about someone like Oprah. You may not feel us regular reviewers are in fact reviewers, that’s fine – but I do consider myself one, definitely a reader who chooses to review. But when an author reacts severely to reviewers like me – someone with pretty much no voice beyond their own blog – they’re overreacting if they think I have any power over them. I’m not talking Oprah level here, most reviewers that are lashed at by authors aren’t at that level. Last time I looked, I wasn’t attributed with ending an author’s career because of a critical review. If anything I likely got others interested in their book. And I think that’s why reviewers like me might get upset when authors attack – we’re regular people who love to talk about books. It’s not about power on our end, so why is that being fabricated on the other? Authors earn more respect when they in turn simply respect that readers, reader-reviewers or otherwise, just want to talk about books.

    On another related-to-this-post topic, I will sometimes post a link to the author’s site in a review post simply as a convenience to readers should they want to click through to the author’s site, same for when I do cover posts. So they can find out more about the book if they want to. I wonder now if it might not be best to just stop doing so. But just because it’s there does NOT mean it’s an invitation to the author (Hello, this site’s own “Dear Author”, anyone?? Doesn’t mean it’s an invite to the author.). I dunno, seems like that’s conforming to these “rules” that people can’t seem to help throwing out whenever the topic of reviews and how to do them “right” comes about. But, I suppose folks can always Google.

    I definitely do not link when it’s a critical review. No point in jabbing the needle in.

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  94. KMont
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 19:31:03

    @Mo:

    “Whether she considers it or not, Jane here at DA has power. She can cause people who trust her reviews to ignore certain authors and read other authors. So do the other reviewers here at DA.”

    Eh, I don’t buy this one. I’ve always known that after pursuing reviews and reader reviewer opinions, I make the final decision whether or not to buy/ignore/comment on anything I see. I’ve had some folks try to blame me for not enjoying books I highly rec’d before. I think they forgot that they went looking for recs, and decided to buy based on them. Trusting doesn’t mean someone’s blind.

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  95. Mo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 19:43:10

    @KMont: I think my “rules” comment got a reaction I wasn’t expecting. I certainly wasn’t trying to disparage anyone and if the way I said it came out that way, that wasn’t what I intended and I obviously said it wrong. I am so sorry. That wasn’t what I was going for at all.

    My point was just because I write my opinion about a book does not make me a reviewer; it makes me a reader with an opinion. My best analogy is that in geometry all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. So, all reviews are opinions but not all opinions are reviews. *For me.*

    It clearly is not about power for you. That does not mean you are without power or that others do not see things from a power perspective. I am quite aware, for example, that Dear Author has considerable clout and power. The discussion of the power of an author vs. the power of a reviewer began in Jane’s post as part of her two paradigms and I followed it up with my own comments on how power does not have to be recognized for it to exist.

    *I have edited this comment from its original because I felt that the way I put it originally was not what I actually meant to convey.*

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  96. azteclady
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 19:45:17

    @KMont:

    You may not feel us regular reviewers are in fact reviewers, that’s fine – but I do consider myself one, definitely a reader who chooses to review.

    Yes! Thank you, this is what I wanted to say but couldn’t think of a way to saying that didn’t come across as bitchy.

    Also, I routinely link to authors’ sites when publishing a review–most readers want to see if there is a backlist to mine, for example, or a ‘coming soon’ page, or even a blog. (Because yes, some readers do want to engage with authors beyond the book itself.)

    Way back when, I would email authors with links to my reviews–positive or negative, but almost always when they were negative–as a warning:

    “Here, I posted something about your book that you may want to avoid reading. I’m letting you know because I wouldn’t want you to be surprised if you Google yourself and it’s there, or to feel ambushed when a well-meaning friend sends you a link to ‘that awful hackjob of a review.’ Good luck with the book.”

    The last part being absolutely sincere–just because I didn’t like the work doesn’t mean it’s perfect for 99% of the rest of the world’s population, after all.

    Then one another author said to me (about receiving such an email), “Why did she felt the need to share such venom with me? It just brings me down.”

    Perception is reality: my intention was to spare the authors’ feelings, but that was likely not what the emails were doing. Ergo, not emailing authors anymore about reviews, positive, neutral or negative.

    When I have gotten some details from the story wrong–yes, I can think of two instances off the top of my head–I have appreciated emails from the authors point out the error. Then again, in both the instances I have in mind, I had become acquainted with the authors before reading and reviewing their stories, so the tone of the exchange was friendly to begin with.

    Finally, I like it on those occasions when authors leave a comment to a review I’ve written of one of their books. It may stifle conversations when there’s one going on, but the truth is that I rarely get more than a couple of comments so–in my specific case–I just enjoy the courtesy of being acknowledged as I perceive it to be meant.

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  97. Jane
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 19:46:48

    @Mo I think the most that Dear Author can do is highlight books. If I had power, then my wish lists would always come true. Alas, they do not.

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  98. eggs
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 19:52:08

    @Mo: I disagree with you about what constitutes a review. I think there is a difference between what makes a professional quality review and what makes a review per se. I am more like Azteclady, in that I would consider any written opinion about a book to be a review, right down to the single sentence “I hated it” or “Better than her last one.”

    Further, if I know my tastes align with a given reviewer, then “I loved/hated it” is a valuable review for me. If I have already read a dozen books by an author, then “Better/worse than her last one” tells me plenty as a potential reader of that particular book. I find this particularly true of the Goodreads model, where I can easily see how closely my tastes align with a given reviewer without ever having read one of their reviews before.

    I enjoy what I would consider ‘professional quality’ reviews about books by authors that are new to me, but when it comes to someone like Stephanie Laurens, then better/worse is all I need to know.

    Further, the in-depth reviews I get the most out of often just use the book in question as a launching pad for discussing the philosophies reflected in the work, or the way the particular work fits into it’s genre as a whole. I find these reviews, even when negative about the book in question, often generate a reading binge for me as I buy works by other authors of similar themed books that are mentioned in the comments thread, or referenced directly in the review. In such a case, an ‘unprofessional’ review that tells me very little about the book being reviewed can end up being immensely valuable to me as a reader.

    Following John Updike’s ‘rules for reviewing’ or a similar system will definitely generate a professional quality review, but it will not necessarily generate the review that is most valuable to readers.

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  99. Mo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 19:55:25

    @Jane: Jane, if you are unhappy with an author, your readers are unhappy with that author. That is power.

    More importantly, you have trust. I may not always agree with your opinions or your reviews, but one thing I can count on always is your integrity as a reviewer. This is true of all the reviewers here.

    There is power inherent in trust. If I trust a cook, I will eat something out of my comfort zone on their recommendation. That does not make me blind. It means they have never let me down.

    I use the reviews here as a guide and decide if something looks interesting. I have never bought a book because you liked it. But, the reviews of reviewers I trust do help to sway where purchasing dollars go. This is not a bad thing.

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  100. Mo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 20:05:06

    @eggs: An unprofessional opinion can tell you the same. :)

    I admit, I am a stickler for semantics and definitions because when we use the same words to mean different things, miscommunication happens. It is one of the reasons I try to lay out things like “what I consider to be a review” or “what my definition of a commodity is”. Those words mean different things to people. If the person I am communicating with knows what my definition of those terms are then miscommunication is less likely.

    I still might foul up other things I am trying to convey, but at least those things will be clear. :)

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  101. eggs
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 20:26:29

    @Mo: you are an excellent communicator, which is one of the things that makes you so enjoyable to argue with. There is little chance of a Big Miss!

    I feel that one of the greatest benefits of review blogs like Dear Author is that they provide a venue where arguments about all aspects of literature can take place and the casual observer who reads purely for pleasure is just as welcome to offer their opinion as the erudite members of the literati. Arguing our case is often the vehicle by which we come to understand what we really think, and the comments threads here often read like a course in How To Have An Argument. This place is like the Monty Python Argument Clinic: “Well, do you want to have just one argument, or were you thinking of taking a course?”

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  102. Mo
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 20:42:46

    @eggs: Thank you for the compliment. I really enjoy a good debate/argument. I agree wholeheartedly with you that, as you put it, “Arguing our case is often the vehicle by which we come to understand what we really think…” I know this is very true for me.

    And you are spot on about Dear Author.

    Thank you for the debate and the help in further defining what I really think. :)

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  103. Charming
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 20:51:39

    My thought is that authors would do well to think twice before responding to a review in any manner. I don’t think it ever pays to respond to a bad review in any way, including tweeting that you are sad. For a positive review, look at the customs of the review location – it seems common for authors to say thank you in the comments at Jessewave, but not to hang around and respond to every comment. In my experience it is common to like a review on Goodreads, but not to comment. It’s odd to see any kind of response on Amazon.

    This doesn’t mean you don’t interact with readers. Blogging and tweeting are great. Guest blogging or being a featured author is a lot of fun for readers (and I hope authors). Just don’t talk about reviews, except maybe, occasionally, to be happy about an especially good one.

    Why? Because reviews are the readers’ chance to say what they want to say about books. It feels petty and bullying for the author to try to influence that process. I know that isn’t the intent, but it is just how it is.

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  104. cecilia
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 21:13:11

    @Charming: In my experience it is common to like a review on Goodreads, but not to comment.

    I’ve only seen that from one author – one whose books I do not read, but who friended me (and a couple thousand other people), so now I get these updates about him “liking” all these reviews of his books. It jars me every time – even if it’s common practice, it doesn’t sit well with me. This may be because Goodreads ranks reviews as “best” based on the “likes” they get – it’s like he’s rewarding reviewers of his books. I’d prefer that whether a review is good or bad, there’s no comment.

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  105. KarenH
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 21:43:18

    I appreciate your thoughts on the issue. An internet discussion board (on blended families) that I own recently has a fairly huge blow up, complete with flouncing, after one of the members, a self published author, let us review her book. It even got to the point that reviewers were criticized for expecting the book blurb to be an accurate description of the book.

    I guess I’m glad we’re not the only meanies in the internet, although I’m sure we reviewers could have handled our end better as well.

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  106. Kinsey
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 21:45:55

    Huh. I only go to Goodreads to look at reviews of my books (I know, I know – but I spend so much time on Twitter that I have little time left over for Goodreads or Facebook). I’ve liked a few reviews (of my books) but I didn’t know that it weighed into the review’s ranking.

    I’ve never wanted to comment on bad reviews because there’s just no way, ever, for such a thing to work out well, which the past week has proven yet again. And for favorable reviews, I would just feel like such a dweeb going into a thread or onto a blog to say thanks. I only hang out at two review blogs – here and Smart Bitches – and I participate in both, particularly in the pop culture/genre discussions we get into at SBTB and I would just feel weird to pop in there in my “author” voice since I’m usually there in my “reader” voice.

    I don’t know – commenting on a good review would be like explicitly acknowledging that you hooked up with your host at a party with a bunch of people you know. Now, if everyone knows it happened, but you don’t say anything about it, that’s one thing. But to start talking about it – “That was great! That’s so nice – thank you!” – well, then all the other guests start feeling ooky about it. And if it’s a bad review, and you comment on the review blog or elsewhere, then it’s like the hookup didn’t go well, or your host kicked you out of bed immediately afterward, and now you’re sobbing or bitching to people, many of whom know both you and the host, and they’re whistling tunelessly while trying to look anywhere but at you. So in general, author responses to reviews on review sites make everyone uncomfortable.

    I think it’s perfectly acceptable to go on Twitter and mention that Your Romance Novel received a B+ from Dear Author, and then link the review. That’s not a threadjack and you’re not in the readers’ faces.

    Having said all that, I sort of long for the day when I have my own cadre of blindly loyal fangirls. I promise I will only use them for good.

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  107. cecilia
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 22:22:10

    @Kinsey: One small correction (because I mistyped something) – it’s not the ranking of the review that is affected, it’s the ranking of the reviewer. You get on a “best reviewers” list if you get lots of likes.

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  108. Kinsey
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 22:34:55

    Ah – okay. Sort of like Amazon’s “vines” reviewers, right?

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  109. SHZ
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 22:39:44

    @cecilia:
    Does it not also move the review to the top of the page? Since the drama surrounding it, Sophia’s Beautiful Disaster review – for example – is now at the top of the page because it received so many votes.

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  110. cecilia
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 22:53:18

    @SHZ: You’re probably right, that’s just not what I was thinking about when I was speculating about why the authorial “likes” bothered me. But now that you mention it, that would be another thing about it that bothers me.

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  111. KB Alan
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 23:00:06

    @Janine: “Years ago I had an online conversation with the author Judith Ivory, who said that a reading experience is a product of two imaginations, the author’s and the reader’s. Different readers will bring different imaginations to the process of reading which means that responses will vary. IMO they are all equally valid.”

    I love this.

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  112. Robin/Janet
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 23:05:53

    @lazaraspaste: My concern, I guess, is assigning value to art only as a product (that is, something to be sold). I mean, what I find troubling about authors saying things like negative reviews hurts their sales and really the whole undercurrent of these author vs. reviewer kerfuffles is the emphasis on sales and only sales as the measurement of worth.

    I’m never sure when I see those comments whether the author is articulating a sense of value that the publisher privileges or whether the author herself really feels that way. I think it’s understandable, especially in a commercial environment, to see sales as at least partially commensurate with artistic value, even when we see logically that not all things that sell like crazy are of high literary quality. Some of this is ‘art is in the eye of the beholder,’ of course, but I think some of it has to do with the unique nature of books, in which you have both creative content and a commercial product.

    I mean, what’s inside the book is creative, as is, potentially, the cover art. And then you have the packaging, which is a mass produced commodity. Not only am I unsure of whether you can separate those (although I wonder if digital books actually can effect some of that distinction – heh, wouldn’t that be ironic for the paper lovers), but I’m not sure that separating always adds value to the content. For example, one of my favorite paper books is Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union. The cover art is gorgeous and it appears on the inside covers, as well. There’s texture and weight to the pages, and overall I find the packaging value added. OTOH, I’ve purchased many trade and MMPBs that seem to almost belittle the value of the content. And with digital, how much of the commercial production is vested in the actual device that delivers the content to me?

    I’m not sure where I’m going with all this, but it strikes me as somewhat difficult to distinguish content from packaging for the purpose of designating one as art and the other as pure commerce. And I think we also see that in the conflation of sales numbers with perceived artistic value.

    @Mo: Your definition of commodity there is much more specific than the one I think most of us are using. In general terms, a commodity is merely something that is produced, even someone’s labor, if they’re compensated for it, can be considered a commodity. I think what you’re referring to is more akin to commodities markets or at least to mass produced items that have absolutely no discernible difference among manufacturers. But how many items really fall into this category — that is, how many things do we really treat as completely fungible? In regard to books, when readers “substitute” one book for another, it’s not because one is *the same* as another – it’s because there are likely more then a couple of books that can satisfy the reader’s desire for a certain type of experience. That’s not fungibility in the same sense of pure commodity substitution.

    As for “art” per se, the Lascaux caves are a good example of how important discoverability is for art. Before the existence of those caves was discovered, were the drawings art? Does it matter whether their producers saw them that way, or is the artistic value determined by those who receive or recognize the work? How many works of art we currently recognize from history exist as such because the means of their production was secured by an outside source? And how many artists and collectors associate art with a certain commercial value and desirability?

    Beyond Marxian theories of labor as commodity, I’m not sure you can ever disassociate art from its production, and the production itself — whether that be commercial publication or patron support — is, I’d argue, intrinsic to its perception and reception as art. Does that mean the content, in and of itself, has no artistic value? Of course not. Does that mean people can’t express themselves in whatever way they have access to and consider themselves artists? Of course not. But “art,” as a cultural concept, is imbued with a more complex set of values, some of which are endowed to creation by others, just like those cave drawings. And some of that value is enmeshed with perceived commercial value, even if the work in question never actually enters the market.

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  113. EMoon
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 02:29:42

    I agree readers have a right to their opinion. They have a right to state their opinion. They have a right to state their opinion publicly, in writing. This does not, however, make every reader a capable reviewer. (It doesn’t make every reader a competent reader, for that matter.) For one thing, the average reader has very little idea of how books are actually produced, and thus may savage writers for things that are not under their control.

    For example: If you hate the cover art, if the glue on the binding doesn’t hold, if half the book is actually half of another book, if pages were bound in upside down, if the book is not available in your preferred e-format, or as an audio book, or as a television series–that’s not the author’s fault. And yes, I’ve had complaints from readers about all those and more. I’ve had half-chapters mysteriously disappear between copy-editing and page proofs (that can be fixed, but it costs a chunk), corrected errors reappear in the final book, and typesetting software introduce weird errors not visible until, again, the final printing. When it’s too late to fix them.

    When I still read reviews it was annoying to be slammed for things that weren’t my doing, or under my control. I understood readers were annoyed, but wished they’d complain to the right person, who was not the one sitting in my chair trying to write the next book after having read the complaint.

    Worse were (and are) reviews that assume a knowledge of the book’s history with the writer–reviews that impute motive for writing the book, for instance, or assume that it was written after some other book just out, etc. (Like the person who assumed that Tolkein had ripped off Terry Brooks…total ignorance of chronology.) Unless the reviewer has contacted the writer for information, he/she does not know why, when, or under what circumstances a book was conceived, written, or published, or what other works may have influenced that writer. Guesses are often wrong, and publishing those guesses as facts is not fair. At the least, identify them as unsupported guesses. (Also, it can make reviewers look really stupid if they get the facts wrong and the writer can prove it. There’s the famous case of an Eminent Male Reviewer in science fiction who used a particular writer’s work as evidence of something only a man could have written…but James Tiptree, Jr. was Alice Sheldon in private life and Eminent Reviewer heard about it the rest of his life.)

    I understand why readers should not be muzzled by fear of hurting writers’ feelings (though the comment that readers won’t actually say nasty things to writers in person comes from someone who hasn’t been in the writer/reader venues I have…yes, some will come right in your face and tell you in excruciating detail everything they didn’t like about one or more books.) But at the same time, to understand why writers sometimes blow it in response to bad reviews, readers would do well to learn about some of the stress involved in writing, publishing, and enduring the reaction to books.

    No writer I know starts out to write a bad book, a stupid book, a book nobody wants to read. It’s too much work to write the thing in the first place: just physically, your bum gets numb, your fingertips are sore, your back hurts, your neck and shoulders are tight–because getting that many words wrangled into order, in the service of a story, takes typing at least three times as many words as end up in the final version. That’s leaving aside the mental work and the emotional strain of having to deal with real life here, and imaginary life there, and the whole business side. That’s not a complaint, but a plain description. I do it because I’d rather write books than any other work I could do–but it is work and the person who sneers about writers “churning out” or “cranking out” books should be forced to write three novels on spec in no more than three years.. There’d be less nonsense about how easy a life writers have.

    Writers who publish regularly write through all of life’s stressful times–raising kids, holding and losing day-jobs, marriages and divorces, family and personal illness, deaths and grieving. They get up, they go to work at the keyboard or yellow pad, and they write. Readers do not know–unless they ask and get an answer–whether a given book was written while getting chemo for cancer, while nursing a sick and dying parent, while losing a house to foreclosure. So having some reader (or professional reviewer) opine that the writer must have gotten lazy or just didn’t care about his/her readers is not fair, very naturally annoys the writer and interferes with the writer’s ability to write.

    So…what would good reader reviews be like? First, they’d concentrate on what is unique to that reader: that reader’s reaction to the book as written (not as the reader wishes it had been, or could be, but as the book actually is.)

    Second, a good review makes clear that the reader/reviewer is aware of her/his own reading biases as they pertain to the book being reviewed. If you hate a genre, and this book is in that genre–either don’t review the book or admit that it’s just not your kind of book anyway. Don’t blame a mystery for being a mystery, or a romance for being a romance–a review is not the place to go off on a rant about what people should write (or read) instead. The good reviewer knows his/her own hot buttons (story elements that make the reviewer’s brain explode and quit working for the duration of the book) and should avoid reviewing such works unless able to control the reaction.

    Third: a good review avoids cliches. Reviewer-speak has cliches just as fiction does: avoid the obvious ones. Instead, discuss the elements (such as characterization) in greater detail. What does “cardboard character” really mean? What exactly is missing from the characterization? That’s harder, but more useful to other readers, whose personal notion of cardboardness may not match the reviewer’s.

    Finally–it is unfair to expect writers to see their work (and sometimes themselves) blasted by strangers without ever replying. To see errors–actual untruths–published and be expected to say nothing in return. What readers say privately, to friends who ask if a new book is worth reading, is one thing–private conversations are private. But what readers and professional reviewers publish are no different from the writer’s publications; they’re no longer private communications.

    It does not bother me (or most writers) to learn that what I write doesn’t suit all readers. I never expected it to. If someone says “I started your book; I just couldn’t get into it”….fine. It wasn’t the right book for that person. Readers who don’t like the genres I write in…not my readership. Reviews that accurately place my books in their genre home, that reveal a reviewer’s attempt to fairly guide other readers to what they might enjoy–that’s never a problem. But personal attacks, and attacks on the work that reveal unadmitted bias–those are a problem. Erroneous reviews–those are a problem. (Erroneous reviews have factual errors about the author or the work or the sequence of publication.)

    My point about these problematic reviews–and the responses arguing that writers should never respond to reviews–is that such a paradigm sets up a power inequality and eliminates reciprocity. It’s like a brain-washing session, in which one party is forced to be silent while everyone else lectures her/him or discusses him/her. It puts the writer into a subordinate position, with the presumption that the writer is supposed to be a good submissive and passively accept whatever comes. Hug me, beat me, I’ll just lie there and take whatever you dish out. No. That’s not a model of human interaction I can live with. The only alternative, at this point, for writers who won’t accept the submissive/passive role, is to vacate the conversations about their books: not read reviews, arrive at venues like this only very very rarely, and risk appearing uncaring about readers.

    One of my own hot buttons is power inequality. I see the “reviewers can say anything; writers should be silent” paradigm in those terms: a stark power inequality, and one that leads to abuse (via lack of fact-checking, lack of the input only the writer can provide, and an increasing tendency to personal comments by reviewers) on the one hand and periodic explosive rebellion–or abandonment–by the other. In other areas of human interaction, when one “side” is allowed the power to speak and act, and others are silenced and denied the right to express their grievances, abuse escalates–error is more common because it cannot be corrected, and those on the power side of the inequality are not likely to moderate their behavior.

    I see reciprocity as the basis of civilized discourse–about books or anything else. Not rants hurled at one another like grenades, but both sides calmly and politely exchanging views. I don’t think either writers or readers have–or should have–all the power in discussion of any particular book, including how reviews affect them. Silencing either writers or readers should not be the goal; enabling discussion among them would be preferable. This is not the currently acceptable paradigm, so…I’m not usually in the conversation.

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  114. Kaetrin
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 05:17:03

    @Mandi: You and Jane are right. Reviews are for readers and reviewers (and by reviewers here, I mean me) are not helping that mantra by linking to the author in blog promo. I have done a little of this but I’ve re-thought and I’m not going to do it anymore.

    I do think that authors can get something out of a review if they want/choose to but mainly reviews are for the readers.

    For the record though, I don’t mind if an author wants to say thank you for a review. Partly that’s because I don’t get a lot of traffic at my blog so stifling the discussion isn’t really an issue for me! :)

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  115. Cathy
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 07:33:23

    @Kinsey:

    Another point to that voting bit is down voting reviews you don’t like on Amazon. Negative (and positive of course) votes can have a huge impact on review ranking and a negative attack on a review one doesn’t like can send a reviewer’s rank in the opposite direction. Not everyone cares, but some do and it is something to consider. Please don’t do it, and don’t encourage your friends to do it.

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  116. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 07:56:31

    The only time I have ever complained about a review was when one gave a serious spoiler away without a spoiler alert. And then I didn’t go and piss on the comments, I wrote to the review site, which kindly withdrew the review.

    Do you think complaints come from authors who try to deny the two-way traffic aspect of the book? It seems like there are a lot of authors around who see the book as their property and sacrosanct.

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  117. Do some readers hate your book? Good! You’re doing something right! « Angela Quarles
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 08:10:47

    [...] in the reader community. Others have posted their voice of reason in the midst of this much more eloquently and passionately than me, so I’ll just share a few more thoughts I have on [...]

  118. Kinsey
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 10:12:24

    @Cathy:

    No, I don’t. I’ve only ever liked reviews on Goodreads – I haven’t voted Amazon reviews up or down.

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  119. MrsJoseph
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 10:33:46

    @EMoon:

    A lot of your post was tl;dr but I want to comment on the parts I did get through.

    1. Only the reader of the review can state if the review is “good” or not.
    2. A good deal of things you say authors cannot control CAN be controlled by the author. It depends on how well you negotiated your contract…which is a personal business decision and has nothing to do with the reviewer.
    3. As an author you are more than just the person who wrote the book. You are the public BRAND of the work just like I am the public head at my job. Do you think that readers really should sit back and think “well, I’m sure this was more the editor than the author?” No. Not happening. YOU are the brand and thus – like any CEO – you can get fired if the company does poorly. If my clients don’t like the company’s work I don’t get a free pass because someone above me did something wrong.
    4. I don’t need to know about publishing to review your work. It’s not my job to know…that’s YOUR job to handle that aspect.
    5.This sounds like a list of what you WANT when someone reviews YOUR book…but in reality that is not how life works. You don’t give your client a list of the things they are allowed to talk about…

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  120. Jane
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 10:43:01

    I don’t think authors can’t interact with readers about books. What I hear other readers saying is that if the author of the book that is reviewed comes forward, that stifles conversation. But commenting on other books and reviews, that seems perfectly fine.

    The only reason that Thank Yous make me uncomfortable (and that is my problem and I don’t hold it against anyone) is that it implies I did something for the author and if authors are for readers, then the review wasn’t a favor or anything to the author.

    I don’t mind interacting with authors on goodreads or twitter although I follow only a few authors because many authors’ tweetstreams are simply to promo-y for my taste. That’s, again, on me.

    I also think that there is absolutely a place for an author to point out an untoward review and a way to do it; however, I always wonder what the net gain is when doing so. It might make an author feel better, but does it deter others from reading it; does it make the review less valid; who are you winning over?

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  121. lazaraspaste
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 10:45:46

    @EMoon: You wrote that

    I agree readers have a right to their opinion. They have a right to state their opinion. They have a right to state their opinion publicly, in writing. This does not, however, make every reader a capable reviewer. (It doesn’t make every reader a competent reader, for that matter.) For one thing, the average reader has very little idea of how books are actually produced, and thus may savage writers for things that are not under their control.

    Wait. So let me get this straight, because a reviewer is not “capable” either as a writer themselves or as a reader, then they are . . . what? Not allowed to write a review on Amazon? On Goodreads? On the blog that they run? Or because they are ignorant of a chronology of literature or a particular aspect of the author’s personal life this does . . . what? Negates everything else they had to say about the book? Means they are not allowed to review the book?

    Your assumption that reviewers do not spend an equal amount of time writing through “life’s stressful times” is both condescending and untrue. They also, I should like to point out, read through life’s stressful times and when a book is disappointing it can actually add to life’s stressful times.

    Moreover, this assumes that because one has labored over the book through “stressful times” that somehow the reviewer is obligated to take this into account; to judge not just the work itself–the story and how it actually was experienced by them as reader–but the amount of work that went into it by the author.

    I have no idea why I should care whether or not an author spent ten years writing a novel between digging irrigation canals in a stretch of desert or whether the author spent a week writing a novel while lazing in the tropics. I do not see the labor that went into the novel. I only see the result.

    Nor does my ability or inability to articulate my own experience with the book negate my opinion. Just because I have used cliched language to describe my feelings to other readers does not mean I have not said something that might be valuable and helpful about the book.

    Not all criticism is going to be constructive. Some of it is going to be mean. And perhaps, I might add since I myself am feeling rather mean today, that meanness is justified.

    I wish authors would quit assuming that negative reviews are just some failure on the part of the reader to “understand” how much work they put into the novel, or the novel’s purpose, or the novel’s point, or the author as a person, or history or whatever it is. Nor do I think that there is a “right” way to write a review, which is what you are implying in you long list of what a review ought to do.

    What I find particularly ironic about your comments is that you have essentially given us a review of reviews–critiquing the review based upon what sort language it uses, whether or not it has understood the context and history in which it is set and generally, have implied intentionally or not, that the only worthy reviews are those written by the capable reader and writer. You have no taken into account the fact these reviewers are reading and writing their reviews through “life’s stressful times” All of which are actions that reviewers do in their review of books.

    How meta.

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  122. Maili
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 10:46:17

    @EMoon:

    One of my own hot buttons is power inequality. I see the “reviewers can say anything; writers should be silent” paradigm in those terms: a stark power inequality, and one that leads to abuse (via lack of fact-checking, lack of the input only the writer can provide, and an increasing tendency to personal comments by reviewers) on the one hand and periodic explosive rebellion–or abandonment–by the other. In other areas of human interaction, when one “side” is allowed the power to speak and act, and others are silenced and denied the right to express their grievances, abuse escalates–error is more common because it cannot be corrected, and those on the power side of the inequality are not likely to moderate their behavior.

    Although you’ve already mentioned them, you still forget – or perhaps, underestimate – one crucial group: Readers. The very people both authors and reviewers write for. In this respect, it’s never been about reviewers and authors; it’s always been about readers.

    It’s the readers who get to agree with, dispute, correct, defend, recommend, not recommend and/or discuss reviews and books.

    Author’s job is to write books to entertain readers. Reviewer’s job is to review books to inform readers. Reader’s job is to entertain themselves. And this includes read reviews, solicit opinions from fellow readers, make purchase decisions, read, read reviews if they didn’t do this before buying, clarify or correct some details in reviews, and discuss books with other readers, reviewers and sometimes authors themselves.

    Readers are generally spokespeople for books, which is why I strongly believe that authors should let their books speak for themselves, rather than believing those readers are blind sheep where reviews are concerned.

    You also forgot another point: Readers tend to compare different reviews of a book. Do you really think readers stick with just one review before buying a book? I think you already know most don’t. Not unless they know reviewers’ tastes and preferences enough to know whether it’s worth tracking down other reviews or solicit opinions from the others.

    Anyroad, power inequality? For as long as readers are around and for as long as authors have their own sites or blogs where they can express their opinions, I don’t agree power inequality exists.

    When there are errors or misinterpretations in a review, who do you think would be affected by those? Not Author. It’s Reviewer. I mean, when there is a series of huge mistakes in a reviewer’s body of reviews, the value of her two most valuable commodities will drop. I’m talking about credibility and trustworthiness. Once those are badly affected or gone, reviewer generally can’t win them – and some readers – back. Harriet Klausner, anyone?

    No one’s stopping any authors from commenting on reviews of their books. Or even just to say thanks. Some may object to this, but there are some who don’t mind. There are no set-in-stone rules, just guidelines. IMO, the best guideline: it’s better and wiser for authors to familiarise themselves with review sites or blogs before making responses. No two review venues are same after all as most have different policies, preferences, quirks and such.

    So, yes, I don’t believe there’s power inequality.

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  123. Cathy
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 10:53:11

    @Kinsey:

    A lot of folks likely don’t know that about Amazon. I honestly wish they’d just take away the not helpful button and let us vote like we can at Goodreads.

    @EMoon, I have to agree with Mrs. Joseph there. I know there are some things out of an author’s control and perhaps that excuses lack of editing and perhaps not. It still matters to me as a reader if a book has an inordinate number of typos and I appreciate hearing that from a reviewer.

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  124. Michelle
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 10:55:34

    Is EMoon Elzabeth Moon?

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  125. Robin/Janet
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 11:16:12

    @Michelle: Judging by the reference to “civilized discourse,” I’m guessing yes.

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  126. azteclady
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 11:29:03

    @EMoon: while I can sympathize with whatever life struggles any individual person may be going through, I fail to see what that has to do with reading and reviewing a book.

    Further, if a reader is capable of forking over hard earned money to read that book, then by all means s/he is capable of telling others how s/he feels about it–whether in an articulate manner or not.

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  127. reader
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 11:56:22

    @EMoon

    That was the longest post I’ve seen at DA. Might have been easier to just say that you feel readers, reviewers, and the world in general all mistreat you. I’m especially taken with the part about what an agonizing and stressful chore writing can be, and how readers and reviewers should be taking that into account.

    Please.

    Who *doesn’t* have stress to deal with? Arrogance and petulance are not antidotes and don’t become anyone. I know. I’ve indulged once or twice in petulance, at least, myself. A sense of humor and a genuine effort to see the big picture work much better.

    Something springs to mind about heat and kitchens. You get my drift.

    Especially if you take so little joy in your work and “enduring” the reactions to it.

    Good lord–but that’s sad, from start to finish.

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  128. Jackie Barbosa
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 11:59:20

    @Janine: Years ago I had an online conversation with the author Judith Ivory, who said that a reading experience is a product of two imaginations, the author’s and the reader’s. Different readers will bring different imaginations to the process of reading which means that responses will vary.

    whimper

    You reminded me again how much I miss Judith Ivory.

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  129. Jackie Barbosa
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 12:10:54

    I did once respond to an Amazon review because the reviewer said she didn’t realize the book in question was a short story. Since my description gave the word count and estimated page count, I was puzzled by this and wanted to know how that information hadn’t gotten to her. Through that conversation, I was able to determine that because the information was buried at the bottom of the description, she didn’t see it on her Kindle. I moved the page count/word count information to beginning of the product description as a result. But I wouldn’t have known to do that if I hadn’t asked the question.

    It may still have been perceived as nosy/pushy, but I’m not sorry I did it.

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  130. LVLMLeah
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 12:38:07

    @EMoon

    This does not, however, make every reader a capable reviewer. (It doesn’t make every reader a competent reader, for that matter.)

    You have no idea how many books I’ve BOUGHT and tried to read that were “published” but which clearly showed the author was not a capable writer. It’s a two way street.

    When I still read reviews it was annoying to be slammed for things that weren’t my doing, or under my control.

    Again, I’m so sick of authors complaining about reviews that bitch about things that might not be under the author’s control. There’s an underlying assumption that readers reading such a review are too stupid to figure that kind of thing out and disregard that as an actual review of a book.

    I mean really, it’s so insulting to think that a negative review or one that doesn’t go into depth but merely says “this book sucked” influences readers to the degree that we all blindly think “well, OK then, this person said “this book sucked” so I’m not buying it. WE’RE NOT THAT STUPID. Ugh.

    Let’s get onto all the shit you writers have to deal with while writing and then getting slammed by a reviewer who didn’t get all that work you put in. That’s freaking life. We’re all living a life that has ups and downs. Many of us do jobs that are not paid well and thankless and we work just as hard, taking shit and criticisms from all kinds of people. To assume that a reviewer or reader should cut you some slack because of your RL hardships and such is again, insulting. We’re the ones “buying” your book.

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  131. Ridley
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 12:48:05

    @EMoon: That was the most epic tl;dr post ever. Get your own damn blog.

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  132. Jia
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 13:16:29

    @Ridley: If EMoon is indeed Elizabeth Moon, she already has one.

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  133. MrsJoseph
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 13:17:03

    @LVLMLeah:

    She said that? Seriously? I missed that part in the tl;dr epic.

    I’m so sick and freaking TIRED of reading the “woe is me” author story.

    Listen up in case someone hasn’t told you this lately: YOU ARE LIVING YOUR DREAM AND YOU SIT AROUND AND COMPLAIN ABOUT IT.

    Do you have any clue how many people in the world would KILL to be able to say that their job is something they have always wanted to do? I’m sure the man at McDonalds’ is less than impressed with your sob story.

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  134. P. Kirby
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 13:17:40

    In my opinion, generally speaking, a published author has a natural and intrinsic platform. She has an author loop with like-minded authors at the ready to exercise their down vote button at Amazon. She has friends and family that she rounds up to leave positive reviews at various sites. She has a readership that she acquires or has already acquired, and loyal fans who will defend the author’s work at various boards, blogs, and other review sites.

    My feeling is that self-published and probably some YA authors don’t think they have this kind of support. To some extent, they may not. (Weird little hermit that I am, I don’t have a huge of base of support. ‘sides, if I tried to round up my three friends and set them on a reviewer, they’d tell me to f*ck off. Rightly so.)

    This in turn, feeds into their insecurities. Which basically, supports your assertion that the overreaction is a function of immaturity.

    I am not defending the over-sensitive author. Even though the mere whiff of a bad review makes me curl up and vow to never write anything again, as a reader, I believe reviews and critical discussion are an essential aspect of the reading experience. I love talking about the books I read. And I’m not going to gush about them all. Such discussions in turn fuel readers’ interest and basically, move product. Stifling that discourse is bad for books and bad for authors.

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  135. L.K. Rigel
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 13:21:31

    I know that readers don’t care that I’ve given up a decent income in return for the time it takes to write my books. I know they don’t care how much I spend on cover art or editing or promotion. I know readers have no thought for the vagaries of publishing, self- or traditional. Why should they? The books were made for them to (hopefully) enjoy, not worry over.

    Reviews and reviewing are like fingers pointing at the moon. They are not the moon. Not everyone will experience the moon or describe it in the same way, but it’s still the moon.

    I think when authors participate in commentary (like I’m doing right now, ha) we become one of the fingers pointing at the moon. It can be an icky experience to join in, but it can be fun and rewarding too.

    In the end, all the finger-pointing is what it is. Sometimes it explains the moon. Sometimes it illuminates the pointer.

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  136. Ridley
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 13:29:01

    @Jia: Then that’s where a 1500+ word ego-soaked whine ought to go.

    I guess that, like some people aren’t “capable reviewers,” she isn’t a capable blog commenter.

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  137. MrsJoseph
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 13:43:02

    @L.K. Rigel: I don’t mind authors commenting – especially if they play nice and have class. ;-) Every interaction I have had with you has shown you to have an abundance of both.

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  138. Kate Hewitt
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 13:46:27

    I’ve been thinking about how many people have stated that reviews are the readers’ experience of a book, and therefore shouldn’t be argued with, and how the shift in education and society at large has made reading a work of fiction completely experiential. When I trained as an English teacher about 15 years ago, the big idea my professors were expounding was that students didn’t need to know what an author’s intent was, all that mattered was the student’s experience of and reaction to the work. That’s very different from my experience of English class in the 1980s, when the whole purpose was to figure out what the author’s intent was, and then write an essay on it. Personal opinion or experience didn’t enter into it at all. I’m not saying that way is better, but I do think there has been a decided shift in society into elevating personal experience over everything else, and that’s what I see in this thread: it doesn’t matter what the author intended, or thinks, or was trying to do, what matters is how I experience the book and then when I voice that opinion it is completely valid because it is my opinion and you can’t argue with an opinion.

    That might be an oversimplification, but for me this attitude misses out on what could be a great discourse between authors and readers. And yes, authors are missing out too by throwing hissy fits when readers don’t bathe them in praise. But readers–and I count myself as a reader–miss out on hearing from an author things they may not have realized or appreciated that heighten their understanding and enjoyment of a work of fiction.

    I started my writing career as a playwright, and after a play reading, it was standard practice for the playwright to dialogue with the audience, answer questions, and have what was generally a stimulating discourse and not a fawning session. I loved those lively debates, and the exchanges really stimulated me creatively. It seems like the internet could be such a great place for a similar kind of exchange, but with the current feeling that authors should shut up or butt out, and on the other side, authors unable to stand any questioning or criticism at all, it might, sadly, be impossible.

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  139. MrsJoseph
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 14:00:04

    @Kate Hewitt: In speaking for myself, it’s not that the author’s intention doesn’t matter – it’s that the author did not make that item work for that reader.

    The smartest man I’ve ever met once told me that “Nothing should be so complicated that it can’t be explained in simple words to your grandmother so that she can understand. The first time grandma says ‘I don’t get it,’ you’ve done a very bad job explaining yourself.” – And we were discussing biopharmaceutical leachables and extractables.

    Before I get tl;dr – the gist is that the author can not follow their book around and explain it to everyone who doesn’t “get it.” I think that Browning’s Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came is a great item to discuss, dissect and ponder. But Browning has never once joined in the conversation.

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  140. LG
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 14:01:16

    @Kate Hewitt: Oh, my English classes asked us to figure out the author’s intent as well, and those classes weren’t too long ago. But the reviews I write aren’t essays for my English class, and I don’t read recreationally the same way I read for my English classes.

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  141. Moriah Jovan
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 14:01:59

    @Kate Hewitt:

    But readers–and I count myself as a reader–miss out on hearing from an author things they may not have realized or appreciated that heighten their understanding and enjoyment of a work of fiction.

    You know, I get emails from readers wanting to know why I made this choice or that choice, or what something means, sometimes down to really small details.

    For example, one reader picked up on something in my third book where I had made a subtle change in my heroine but didn’t change the description because I thought later references would clear it up IF anyone caught it. She asked me about it and I explained, but I was unbelievably impressed that she did, in fact, catch it.

    So while yes, I might like to have an author’s input on what she meant or why she made such choices (like A LADY AWAKENED by Cecilia Grant), if I wanted to know THAT badly, I’d screw up my courage and email to ask. It’s the screwing up my courage to ask because I might be intruding upon their space, although I don’t feel that way about my readers.

    I started my writing career as a playwright, and after a play reading, it was standard practice for the playwright to dialogue with the audience, answer questions, and have what was generally a stimulating discourse and not a fawning session. I loved those lively debates

    Ah, yeah, I liked those too, both when I was an audience member and the playwright. I auditioned for a part using a monologue I wrote and my audition spawned a lot of discussion. (But it turns out I’m a terrible actress.)

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  142. Kate Hewitt
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 14:13:19

    @MrsJoseph: @MrsJoseph: Browning was dead when you were pondering his work, but in any case he didn’t have the internet. I imagine that many authors of his generation ‘joined in the conversation’ and had lively debates about what they meant versus what the reader experienced but we’ll never really know. It is pure conjecture on my part, of course, but I think two hundred years ago there was far more give and take in intellectual exchange than there is today.

    I’m not suggesting authors trot around to every review and ‘explain’ to readers why they didn’t get something. Far from it. I’m talking about an intelligent, respectful and lively exchange. Finding out why something didn’t work for a reader. Readers finding out what an author was trying to do. I guess that is what I am trying to say–that discussing with an author could add to your reading experience rather than take from it, but there is prevailing feeling among readers (it seems to me) that their experience is sacrosanct and cannot be debated, discussed, or in engaged with in any way by the author. And if readers have had experiences of authors lecturing, bullying, or insisting that their book should have worked for them, I can understand why they feel this way. I just wish it was different.

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  143. Kate Hewitt
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 14:15:35

    @LG: You’re right, and I’m not suggesting that pleasure reading is like an English class, or should be. I’m just pointing to a change I’ve noticed in how people generally view reading fiction, both in the classroom and out of it.

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  144. thinking
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 14:19:55

    Reading through the last volley of posts, I have come to understand that authors and readers actually have an adversarial relationship.

    I think most authors feel very much like EMoss, although they have been scolded enough times that most don’t publicly vent. Authors don’t understand why readers don’t appreciate their hard work. They talk about how ungrateful readers are, how petty they are in their reviews.

    On the other side, readers complain that authors are whiny, lazy, and overcompensated. Readers believe authors should be writing for their entertainment, to their specifications.

    These are two entities that essentially lack respect and empathy for each other.

    @Maili, I disagree that authors work for readers. Authors work for that muse chattering in their ear. Authors work because they are driven to write a story.

    If anyone works for readers, it’s the editors, who take the author’s story and try to wrangle it into the most marketable product possible. Sometimes they do this by suggesting plot and character changes that will be more palatable to readers, significantly changing an author’s vision. Authors blame readers for this indignity. If authors really worked for readers, they would embrace these demanded changes with pleasure rather than anger.

    Now, several authors will post that yes, they do indeed work for readers! They love readers and want to make them happy and that is their only purpose in writing a book! This is called putting on your public face and kissing up.

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  145. Jane
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 14:20:28

    @Kate Hewitt maybe our community hasn’t matured enough and that in time, we will be able to have those discussions. I actually think we can have those discussions but many readers, still feeling past stings, don’t seem to be ready yet. I think in order to be able to have a community in which we can have these discussions, we have to let go of the idea that reviews are harmful, but instead an opening salvo to exchange. We have to be assured that negative and critical comments (so long as they aren’t personal and are focused on the text) will be welcome. Probably we need patterning. Authors and commenters exchanging interaction in a review thread robustly several times in order for readers to be comfortable with this.

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  146. Moriah Jovan
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 14:33:25

    @thinking: Actually, I write for me. I publish with the reasoning that if I like it, someone else might also.

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  147. Mo
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 14:33:33

    Wow! What a difference a day makes.

    First, Robin/Janet: I do have a response to your comments. It has taken me a while to really think about your post, but I believe I am getting close to a fitting response. When I have more time than a couple minutes, I will type it up.

    Second, @MrsJoseph, You said:

    Listen up in case someone hasn’t told you this lately: YOU ARE LIVING YOUR DREAM AND YOU SIT AROUND AND COMPLAIN ABOUT IT.

    This is something I have given a lot of thought to in recent years because I am a huge sports fan and the recent lockouts etc have been something to which I *had* to pay attention. As a result, I realized those athletes still have to get up every morning, work out, go to team meetings, get on the road to their next game. Some days on the job (games) are better than others and some days are really tough and they get booed by their fans. Does that mean I want to hear them complain about it? No. My reaction, especially initially, was exactly the same as yours. But, part of that was based on the amount of money they made. As time went on, I came to understand that dream job or not, it’s still a job and many times the joy of a dream job can get buried under all the day to day stuff. Just some food for thought. :)

    Additionally, you said:

    I think that Browning’s Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came is a great item to discuss, dissect and ponder. But Browning has never once joined in the conversation.

    I do have to half apologize. I totally understand where you are coming from on this, but I still need to call you on it. He was long dead before you had those discussions. He very well might have had discussions about it with readers.

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  148. Kate Hewitt
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 14:36:50

    I think you are probably right Jane and hopefully such exchanges will come with time and trust on both sides. I for one would love to see such conversations happening in the online romance reading and writing community. I feel like everyone is missing out on some great discussions.

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  149. MrsJoseph
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 14:38:48

    @thinking:

    I feel that comments about “readers not appreciating” the authors “hard work” is part of the problem.

    We all work. Very hard. What makes an author such a special snowflake that their hard work is more important than others? Why do readers need to understand the stress the author is under? Does the author understand the stress that I am under?

    My life has been one HUGE stress-fest for two years or more. There has been personal tragedy and heartbreak. Do you think my boss gives a good damn? Only when it affects my work. And that is the only time it should matter.

    If authors are only working for their muses…then they don’t need my $0.02 that I just got through busting my ass for. Muses don’t have money.

    I don’t expect any author to write for my specifications…but if they want to SELL something…they have a requirement to provide what the buyers want. Now, if selling isn’t the end game, then the conversation has changed.

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  150. MrsJoseph
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 14:44:34

    @Mo:

    I’m starting to get that Browning wasn’t a great example, lol. I guess he’s just my favorite. Maybe I should have used Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild.

    Re: dream jobs. I totally get that a job is a job. But how often do you go complaining to your boss about your job? Maybe I just work in a radically different industry than the rest of the world but if I came into work whining like that…I would be out of a job. You moan about your job to your friends/family…not the ones paying you.

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  151. Mo
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 14:53:31

    @MrsJoseph: :) I guess it would depend on who I see as my boss. I am a secretary so, no, not likely to complain to my boss though we have had some *very* frank discussions about certain aspects of my job. Athletes do not work for the fans; they work for the person who pays them and that is the owner of the team. Those owners are not even exactly working for the fans either. They are working for the stockholders of the company they front that is the franchise team. In the case of the Toronto Maple Leafs (yes, I am a huge hockey fan), up until recently, technically they worked for the Teachers Union which was the majority stockholder. lol

    But athletes aren’t exactly like authors, who are artists and artists work at least partly for their muse. In the past, some artists worked also for their patron. Today, authors, if they are published by a house, work for the publishing house. If they are self-published, they work for themselves.

    That is how I see it, anyway.

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  152. Gwen Hayes
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 15:25:24

    @L.K. Rigel: I loved your moon pointing analogy.

    While reading this thread, I find myself vacillating between posting and not posting because everything seems so adversarial that I’m half convinced that writers and readers should be kept far, far away from each other for everyone’s health and well-being. But then I remember that I’m both.

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  153. willaful
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 16:49:22

    @Kate Hewitt — I think having author-reader discussion could be fantastic. It’s really an issue of the venue though, isn’t it? An author could certainly open up a space on a blog for discussion. And sometimes authors do live chats, though I don’t know (not having participated) if the atmosphere there is really conducive to frank discussion. Probably the author would have to be very forthright about it up front.

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  154. Brian
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 18:15:18

    @willaful: Another place where some nice discussions with authors take place are on message boards either hosted by the author (ex: Lynsay Sands, Kelley Armstrong, etc.) or others hosted elsewhere such as the Baen Bar, SFFWorld and various genre sites.

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  155. Kinsey
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 18:41:28

    Eh. I write for money. I actually kinda hate writing, I just like having written, as Dorothy Parker put it. I love making up the stories, imagining the characters. I hate getting it down on paper and if I didn’t think I could sell the stories I write, I wouldn’t write them. They’d still be in my head – I can’t help that, and I always feared there was something wrong with me that I invented characters and stories without really meaning to, until I finally found other writers and discovered that most of us do it.

    But I don’t feel emotionally compelled to write, and I don’t write for myself because I never go back and read my own books, and I don’t have a muse because I follow the Tao of Nora (“There is no muse. There is only the work. Put your butt in the chair and write.”)

    I also don’t think readers owe anything to anyone – not to each other or to authors. Readers aren’t obligated to write comments when they rate a book on GR and they’re not obligated to post reviews on Amazon and they’re not obligated to give a crap about how hard an author worked, just as an author isn’t obligated to give a crap if a reader didn’t understand her story the way she intended it to be understood. It’s all so completely subjective that I just don’t see the sense in getting personally torn up about it.*

    If someone on Amazon gives a Sasha White book 1 star because the book has way too much sex and it’s so gross, then I assume the reviewer bought the book on accident or else is one of those people who download free Kindle books in genres they don’t read and then post scathing reviews. I don’t understand why they do this, but I don’t give their reviews any credence.

    Let’s say someone who’s never read Sasha comes across that review, and agrees with the reviewer that explicit kinky sex is just yucky, then they won’t ever buy a Sasha White book, and that’s good. But let’s say another person who’s never read Sasha comes along, and this person loves erotic romance, so yay! They just discovered a new author.

    I really think it all evens out.

    As the great S.R. Ranganathan said, every reader her book and ever book its reader.

    *That doesn’t mean I don’t curl up in a ball and cry when I get a mean review. I do. I just don’t think it’s anyone’s problem but my husband and cobloggers and sisters-in-law.

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  156. Ros
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 19:42:29

    @willaful: I’ve only participated in one of the Smart Bitches live chats, though I’ve skimmed the transcripts of several. I don’t think they are conducive to serious discussion, but mostly because of the number of people participating – it’s hard to follow any thread when twenty or thirty different people are jumping in with ideas and new questions and so on.

    I wonder whether Dear Author could experiment with Author Discussion Posts. They would be separate from reviews so it was clear to everyone that the author was going to take part. But I bet Jane could set it up in a way that promoted genuine discussion, and choose some great authors who wouldn’t explode every time a flaw in their work was pointed out.

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  157. Jane
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 19:55:17

    @Ros I would love to do that. Absolutely love it. It sounds like there are some authors that might be interested to. I think the challenge will be to a) get enough readers to read the book and b) be interested in participating.

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  158. Ros
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 20:11:02

    Yay!!!

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  159. Lynn S.
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 22:17:57

    Epic discussion here. I left yesterday right about the time of the Monty Python reference and came back today and found even more to chew on. I thought about commenting yesterday, but I’ve been wishy washy of late and deleted it. January 11 is a whole other day.

    I’m not sure I’m on board with the paradigm concept. Every writer and reader has their own unique set of parameters when it comes to the writing and reading experience and will on occasion have a visceral reaction to a book or a criticism that falls outside their normal pattern. On the author side of things, I do hope that each of them will eventually realize that the only thing they do with a crazy-ass response to a negative review is validate it. On the reader side of things, I hope they will also realize that the only thing they do in responding to unhinged authors is validate them.

    In keeping with my own pattern I’ll argue against art as commodity as there is a difference between commodity and commodify or commodification. The production and purchase of the book is commerce but, generally speaking, the reading of it is not. The writing of the book would seem to be a combined process, more balanced with some authors than others, but I will posit that an appreciable percentage of an author’s output is about communication and self-expression even among the acerbic Dorothy Parkers of the world. Why would you want to write if you didn’t have a story to tell and why would a story be worth telling if there weren’t some emotional impetus behind it. I do see an emotional stake in most of the comments in this discussion and writing a comment can be a bit of a brain bitch. So yes, writing is a bitch.

    I’ll also put up a hand for the lonelier camp that reviews aren’t for readers only. I enjoy the entertainment value of an occasional scathing review or meltdown response but find that a review that is critical in nature (note: critical is not the same thing as negative) is the only type which actually helps me to understand a book’s merit. The best of critical reviews address all aspects of a book and promote a better understanding of both writing and reading, thereby enriching all of us. There is the conundrum though that most in-depth critical reviews are being made by paid reviewers, so kudos to the unpaid among them. An enriched writer is better able to understand their craft and an enriched reader is better able to navigate their reading experience. Even if you read only for entertainment, understanding the construction of books is a good thing because the better an author is at the subtle art of presentation of message, the less likely the uninformed reader is to understand what their mind is being fed.

    Finally, when it comes to critical judgment some authors have gator skin while others are about as hidebound as a newborn baby, which might explain some of the enfant terrible reactions we have been witnessing lately.

    @Robin/Janet: I do think you are right to be worried about the corporatization of art, especially as it relates to written media. Commodifying words and thoughts is making for a brave, brave, brave new world. I’m busy typing brave while it is still free.

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  160. Karen Knows Best » Are you fucking kidding me?
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 03:01:53

    [...] at Dear Author, Jane has up a very apt post on the reader/author paradigm (honestly, should be required reading). The discussion that follows is, as usual, also very, very [...]

  161. Kate Hewitt
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 07:39:42

    Author discussion posts sound great–would love to see something like that happen.

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  162. srs
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 08:04:17

    @Ros: @Jane: As a reader, I would totally participate in something like that even, or maybe especially, if the author or genre was one I don’t usually read. I’ve tried to join in on a couple of the SB book clubs, but find that it moves too quickly for me to fully participate. I’m a slow typer and, by the time I’ve transferred my thought from my brain and onto my keyboard, everyone else has long moved on. Something like this, with a wide-ranging discussion that can span a day or two and allows everyone to chime in at their own pace, would be wonderful.

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  163. Maili
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 08:13:12

    @thinking:

    @Maili, I disagree that authors work for readers. Authors work for that muse chattering in their ear. Authors work because they are driven to write a story.

    I didn’t say that authors work for readers, though. I said ‘write to entertain readers’. I think I may have caused confusion by using the word ‘job’? ‘Job’ is – to me – same as ‘role’ or ‘task’. I apologise for the poor word choice, anyhow, but I still stand by what I said earlier.

    Having said that, it’s still authors’ choice to put their works in a public arena and that they do it for a specific reason – ranging from money to recognition and from challenge to following a family career – because otherwise, what’s the point? Why would they put themselves through the oft-crazy and labyrinthine world of publishing where things aren’t always fair nor just?

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  164. Ruthie
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 09:07:32

    @jane @ros @kate hewitt — I’d be excited to see that kind of conversation develop here at DA, too.

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  165. MrsJoseph
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 09:11:48

    I’d like to apologize for my vehemence yesterday. I was…so upset and astounded, normally I do not comment here.

    I think that seeing Elizabeth Moon’s comments was my straw, so to speak. I own several of her books and had given thought to purchasing more.

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  166. Chrissy
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 14:19:37

    Actually, the really high profile flame-outs were high profile authors. I can only think of one “self published” example, and it was the recent dust-up on goodreads.

    Man, we do love to slap those direct pubbed folks. :)

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  167. Author on Vacation
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 14:41:21

    Under the author paradigm, a negative review can affect their livelihood. Consequently, critical readers and reviewers deserve to be mocked in a book (PC Cast) or brought to heel.

    What makes you so certain authors mock critics and reviewers to “bring them to heel?”

    Isn’t it equally possible some authors mock critics and reviewers because authors identify the absurdity (or the darkness, or the fun, or any other characteristic) in a reviewer’s criticism and choose to portray it in their artistic expression?

    Artists are, and have ever been, the “great liars who tell the truth.”

    I write books, and I review books. Any author or reader dissatisfied with any review published by me is welcome to challenge my perspectives in public or in private. And if my perspectives tickle an author’s imagination and fuel his/her creativity, I’m delighted to be part of that process. It isn’t going to make a significant difference in my life one way or the other.

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  168. Autumn
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 14:43:17

    I live by my reviews which I shouldn’t, but they do tend to get to me if it is obvious someone has not really read the material. I am so far self-published and while my 5 star reviews outnumber the lesser ones I still find myself annoyed by anything less than perfection. I have OCD so this is a given. Reviews are for readers and feedback for a writer if you treat it that way. I rather have a review than the meager earnings of a novel sold.

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  169. Authors Behaving Badly – What’s the Point? by Kim Wollenburg « See Jane Publish
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 15:56:09

    [...] Dear Author, on a recent post, supposes the frequency and vehemence of the recent debacles have to do with the age of the authors. She says more but that’s the piece that stuck most with me. Want to read it? Go here:  http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/the-reader-author-paradigm [...]

  170. Sirius
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 15:58:16

    @Author on Vacation: You are delighted to be mocked if it tickles the author’s creativity? I am not being sarcastic here, I guess I am just truly surprised. I believe that I remember in the past you were doubting the fact that some authors do behave that way and what reviewers described as something quite hurtful to them, you did not find as such. I take it after reading recent examples, especially Jamie Mcguire’s one, (which is the main reason I bought her book, so yay for bad behaviour I guess as long as it sells books? This is not directed at you, this is I guess directed at myself that I could not curb my curiosity and rewarded bad behaviour with my money), you do believe that some authors behave that way? Sorry for rambling, I guess my main point is to strongly disagree and to say that no, I find it quite despicable and do not want to be the object of author’s mocking even if it tickles her creativity.

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  171. Author on Vacation
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 16:30:30

    @Sirius:

    Hi, Sirius.

    It isn’t going to make any significant difference in my life one way or another if an author mocks me in a book, in a blog, or in any other venue UNLESS the mockery results in consequences detrimental to me such as cyber-stalking, defamation, libel, or other comparable situation.

    If I have ever implied authors and/or fans of an author never abuse reviews/ers, I sincerely apologize for not communicating more clearly. Abuse occurs, I have witnessed it, and I think it’s wrong. However, it does appear to me that ANY author comments posted on the internet are interpreted by some as abuse, even when the tone and wording of the comment is quite civil and reasonable. All authors get lumped together and any comments are lumped as “talking back” and “not knowing their place” which apparently means, “I, the reviewer, get all the say. You the author, have no say at all.”

    I disagree with this attitude. In fact, it is an extremely unhealthy and unrealistic attitude to promote.

    I haven’t bought any of McGuire’s books, but my decision to buy or not buy her books isn’t based on her blog post. I just don’t have a real interest in what I’ve heard about her work. If I was interested, I’d purchase and I’d read.

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  172. Sirius
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 17:03:49

    @Author on Vacation: See, I think it is a false dilemma. Yes, of course unless author engages in cyberbullying, the short term abuse is not going to make any significant difference in my life, except make me annoyed and upset on that given day and move on. But I do not think I (or any reviewer) should be subjected to that either.

    We are not going to agree on whether author should comment on negative reviews. I would never want to silence the author, but I am convinced that the fact that author is getting money for the book and reviewer does not (unless reviewer does of course) makes all the difference in the world as to how such exchanges are viewed. By the way, I said it before, but I want to repeat, I hold the position different to several other reviewers – I *want* to be corrected if I missed an undisputed fact in the review. Yes, it is true that other readers are likely to correct me even without author’s interference, but why wait and why take the chance that the potential buyer will be turned off by misrepresentation. I do remember your example in the past discussions how reviewer claimed that there was incest in one of your books, when you said there was nothing that could be interpreted as remotely close. I see no problem if author will correct me on something like that. I feel that I owe the author to not misrepresent the book in my review, but thats (besides not engaging in personal attacks) is the only thing I owe the author as far as I am concerned. I am not obligated to not use cliche language as Emoon claimed, I am not obligated to not assume author’s intent and other nonsense she claimed reviewers have to do.

    Sure, I have seen when authors make comments politely, but see the problem is most of those comments still come off as lecturing the reviewer to me. I Hope I am making sense and thanks for clarifying that you do believe that abuse occurs sometimes. Mcguire’s book was for me a utter crap – so far DNF, but considering the fact that I buy het romance once a month at most, I guess I can live with that.

    I think I also really like Maili’s points that readers are best spokepersons for the books and author has to trust that some of them “get” (if there is such a thing, because everybody’s interpretation is different) what author was trying to say or do in the book and may engage in civil discussions with the reviewer. But sure authors have every right to say anything they want to the reviewer, I just think that they do so at their own peril of coming of as not very nice.

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  173. SGTU
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 20:14:17

    @Chrissy: This just isn’t true. The reason so many of us have commented on poor self-pubbed authors’ behaviour is because we’ve seen it so many times. If you do a search here on Dear Author you’ll find plenty of discussion about other self-published authors behaving very badly.

    Because they have to promote themselves, they are almost always the ones causing dramas over at Amazon and on Goodreads. It is rare indeed to see a traditionally published author taking it upon themselves to police the opinions of and attack their readers the way Jamie McGuire has been.

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  174. Am I a Reader or a Reviewer? | Something More
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 23:34:31

    [...] Dear Author‘s Jane reflects on the opposing viewpoints that might contribute to such kerfuffles in a much commented-on post on “The Reader Author Paradigm”  [...]

  175. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Linkity is shivering
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 13:04:58

    [...] Dear Author on the interaction of writers and readers. [...]

  176. JMS
    Jan 14, 2012 @ 11:28:30

    This has been a very interesting, and enlightening, response to a blog. If I might just add just one more post (to a lengthy list of comments)…when I go to purchase a book, I do look at the reviews, and I do read the ones that don’t like the book. BUT, I have been a reader for a long time, and I know what I like, and what I don’t. I love Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and to Hold and that received a lot of good reviews. It also received some that didn’t like the book. They look for something different in the romance genre – the reasons they didn’t like the book were the reasons I loved this book (and is a keeper for me). No one is going to get 100 percent perfect reviews, if you try and please everyone, you will please no one.

    As an analogy, I don’t like pumpkin pie. Never have never will. Someone may have the most amazing recipe for pumpkin pie and I still won’t like it. That person can explain to me all the reasons that this recipe is so good and why I should like it. I will never like it though, no matter what. Does that mean they should change the recipe? No, so many others who DO LIKE pumpkin pie will love and appreciate the recipe. Just not me. I like other kinds of pie.

    Thank you to all the authors out there who put out awesome books that let me escape into their world – we readers do appreciate you!

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  177. Tori
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 15:18:21

    Thanks for this great breakdown! A very interesting perspective on both sides of the issue.

    I totally agree that tagging, @-ing, or otherwise linking a review to an author is inappropriate. Some authors want to check out reviews (good or bad, sometimes both) others don’t. Some clearly cannot handle bad reviews and no one should try to shove them down their throats.

    I’ve never sent a link but authors, of course, find reviews on my site. I’ve never had an author say anything but positive things, except one time years ago, when the review was probably a little too snarky. And it ended with one Tweet, that I didn’t respond to.

    Yes, reviews are for readers. So many of the reviews I see attacked are actually sorry they didn’t like the book, so it’s sad that authors and agents do damage to their reputations by attacking and lashing out. I’m sure it’s not easy to slave over something and then read bad reviews, but not everyone is going to like every book.

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  178. Stephanie
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 10:39:18

    Jane, great article.

    I think you accidentally linked to the wrong GoodReads profile. My profile is here: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/4642710-stephanie

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  179. Jane
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 11:09:08

    @Stephanie Thanks for the correction. CHanged the link.

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  180. Mo
    Jan 26, 2012 @ 11:55:48

    I know this discussion is long over. I am not about to rehash any part of it. I want to add something I had wanted to add to the conversation when it was at its height, but could not find an example of. I have heard of many authors (and some recording artists) rebutting reviewers for poor reviews. I wanted to find a couple of examples, but at the time could not find one. Below is the link to one such letter to a reviewer which came across my computer just this morning. The author of the letter is Robert Burns.

    http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/01/thou-eunuch-of-language.html

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  181. Author on Vacation
    Jan 26, 2012 @ 13:44:13

    @Mo:

    … thou pickle-herring in the puppet-show of nonsense …

    I wonder if the reviewer pouted to all his friends and encouraged people not to buy Burns’ books afterward.

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  182. Linky New Year | Becky Black
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 15:22:51

    [...] The Reader Author Paradigm Dear Author blog’s Jane adds more thoughts on the reviews issue and Goodreads kerfuffles. Quote: “But one constant remains: book reviews are not the same as a workplace performance evaluation. They are not even meant for authors. Reviews are for readers. This needs to be our mantra.” [...]

  183. Alex Lidell
    Feb 05, 2012 @ 16:39:50

    An incredibly well written post. When I started reading it, I thought it would lead to a conclusion along the lines of “I am sensitive to the author perspective but guys, you know the drill, be professional and lick your wounds in private” – but you took it a really valid step further: just as there is no value added by less then honest reviews, there is likewise no value added by sending those reviews to the author instead of the readers. Thank you for the thought provoking discussion!

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  184. Best Erotica Books
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 21:06:11

    Very good article. I am facing many of these issues as well.
    .

    ReplyReply

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