Author Camaraderie and Negative Reviews
I've been putting off writing this post for months! Everyone with an opinion has already weighed in, and we're all sick to death of the subject, but I said I would tackle it so here I am. A day late and a dollar short, as usual.
The first thing I want to say is that I'm not changing my reviewing style here at Dear Author. I'm only going to review lesbian romance, f/f and f/f/m. Sometimes I post short reviews for other stuff on Goodreads. Most of my comments are positive, because I like to talk about good books, but if you are an author who gets offended by three-star ratings or minor nitpicking, you might do well to avoid me there.
I thought very carefully before I offered to review lesbian and f/f here at DA. In doing so, I run the risk of people thinking I'm a know-it-all bitch who likes to stomp on other authors' feelings. I might be considered jealous, or petty, or two-faced. Because I'm an author, the assumption can be made that I feel superior to everyone I criticize.
There are probably some people who think I'm bi or a lesbian, because why else would I want to read about two women getting it on?
I don't care about that last bit, even if it means a few lost sales. The other issues concern me. Not enough to stop reviewing, but enough to want to clarify my position.
My critiques come from a reader's perspective. They are never about me as an author. I might have additional insight about a certain type of characterization or writing technique or whatever, but I would not compare myself to another author in a review. For example, I once mentioned Meredith Duran's debut novel, which I loved, on my blog. I think I gave it an A-. Does that mean I rate all of my books higher, or think I'm better than Duran? No. No way! Although I can't really be objective about my writing, I would say that Duran is much more talented. Same with Sherry Thomas, my favorite historical romance author. She can write me under the table. But I still didn't love Delicious.
I feel pretty confident that neither Thomas nor Duran give a damn if I like all of their books. They will probably not snub me in person. Even so, I'm not going to write a scathing F review of any of their books. I wouldn't do that to an author I'm friendly with online, and it's not out of fear, or because I might need a favor someday. It's about camaraderie.
I'll take a minute to explain this because I've seen the debate over author-reviewing framed in negative terms like "hurt feelings" and "backstabbing." Good will between authors is essential in the romance community because so many people look down on us as smut-writing dimwits. We field negativity from all sides and don't expect it to come from within.
Criticism from another author means more.
Let me illustrate the point with one of my own experiences. Over a year ago I got an email from Maya Banks. Using the contact form on my web site, she wrote a lovely message about how much she enjoyed my debut novel, Dangerous to Touch.
I don't get that much reader mail to begin with. Reader mail from a bestselling author? I was blown away. I couldn't believe she even read my book, let alone liked it enough to send a gushing email.
Now imagine if I'd had a Google alert in my inbox instead, notifying me of a negative review from Ms. Banks. I'd have been crushed!
I'm not saying that authors shouldn't review. Obviously, I review, and I support my fellow oddballs. I'm saying that praise, like criticism, means more when it comes from a respected source. A very popular author can influence a lot of readers to buy-‘or not.
Here's a more recent example of author camaraderie. The other day I was tweeting about DA BWAHA and mentioned that I bought Shannon Stacey's Exclusively Yours. She tweeted back "Hope you like it!" which is a normal author-type exchange. Then it occurred to me that my status as a reviewer adds tension to every interaction I have with my peers.
I don't want to put other authors on edge. Camaraderie is important to me.
When I review lesbian romance, camaraderie is not an issue. I'm not inhibited by any personal relationships with the authors. GLBT authors and straight authors don't run in the same circles, as far as I know. I also don't think my criticism has the power to crush a lesbian romance author. I have no problem being honest about this kind of material because the stakes are low. I'd be very surprised if Radclyffe created a #LesbianMafia.
F/f and f/f/m is a little touchier. A lot of f/f (female/female) and f/f/m ménage is written by straight authors, some of whom are my colleagues, working for the same publishing houses or editors that I do. Will that change the tone of my review? Maybe.
I disclosed my publishing connections to Eden Bradley when I reviewed The Lovers. She would probably say that I didn't pull any punches in my analysis and I would agree. If you write f/f or f/f/m, I'm going to consider you fair game. In this matter, my convictions trump camaraderie. There are very few f/f reviewers and I really feel like I'm making a difference. Honest criticism is my way of showing respect for a subgenre that goes largely ignored. I was thrilled by the response to my review of La Bonne by Michele de Lully. I doubt it would have earned the same amount of attention if I'd never posted a negative review.
I also don't think my reviews would make an equal impact if I posted them anonymously. No offense to the anons out there, but I prefer to be open. I will not act as though reading lesbian or f/f material is a shameful pastime.
I want to reiterate that I support all reviewers, published authors included. My reviewing conduct is a personal choice, not a moral judgment on my peers. I don't expect anyone to follow my lead. I'm okay with not-reviewing, too.
I also accept the consequences of my actions, whatever those may be. I understand that authors prefer to help people who haven't slammed their books. That's not an intimidation tactic, it's just business. If you are a reviewer with publishing aspirations, you need to be able to accept criticism as well as dish it out. Reviewers are not exempt from controversy. Don't be surprised by differing opinions on your reviews.
Here are my promises to you: I will never post a thoughtless or intentionally harmful review. I will never post an insincerely glowing review for a friend, or an unnecessarily harsh one for a competitor. I will always welcome author comments, counter-criticism, and respectful disagreements on my reviews.
As an author, I will not hold it against you if you post a negative review of my book.*
*There are exceptions to this, such as personal attacks. If you say something like "Jill Sorenson glorifies rape," I might take offense and comment publicly. But I won't launch a secret plot to destroy you.
I'll close by giving my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has welcomed me here at Dear Author or mentioned a recommendation of mine on Twitter. I've been treated with nothing but kindness by this community and it means a lot to me! Thanks Jane.