In Search of The “Pure Reader”
In the aftermath of my post on the worrisome increase of aggression against negative reviews, Sunita wrote a fantastic post, which raised a number of additional discussion issues, including the question of how the online Romance community has changed in the wake of social media, blogging, and more direct engagement of readers with members of the writing and publishing industry.
Since we’ve talked a lot about how social media, self-publishing, self-marketing, and other factors have changed the way authors interact with readers, let’s talk a bit about how readers have changed, about what those changes mean, and about whether there is (or ever has been) such a thing as a “pure reader” space online.
There are many layers here to examine, and I can’t hope to touch on all of them. My aim here is to open a discussion about the changing role of readers in today’s online environment, and this post will rarely scratch the surface of that. Also, I cannot speak of any personal experience outside the Romance community, and I think you would need to break this analysis down across genres, since online engagement of readers with authors and publishers is not limited to Romance. Maybe others can shed some light there. As for my take, here’s where I would start:
What is a pure reader, and are there any pure readers spaces online?
I know the first part of this seems like a straightforward question with an easy answer: a pure reader is someone who simply reads and has no “industry” connections.
Before I entered the online community over a decade ago, that would have been my answer. However, even back then, it was a tough standard, because so many readers were also aspiring professional authors. Sometimes these individuals made it known that they were also writing and trying to publish their work, but often they did not, using multiple pseudonyms, depending on whether they were in “reader” mode or “author” mode. And this seemed perfectly logical to me given the very mixed reception comments and reviews critical of books and the genre as a whole received. After all, these were the days when AAR was perceived as a Romance hate site by some authors and publishers.
However, things did seem less complicated back when AAR, RT, and TRR (The Romance Reader) were the main Romance venues, and there was not a lot of open dialogue about issues of disclosure and conflict of interest. Traditional publishers still, for the most part, controlled advanced reading copies of books, and there was a perception, anyway, that the community was more centralized. Despite the long-time existence of the USENET boards and other online venues, AAR and RT were still perceived to be the “main” online Romance venues, with RT perceived as more fan-based, and AAR as more “critical” in its tone. And whatever connections these main venues had with authors, publishers, and other industry members (agents, editors, cover artists, etc.), they were not always publicly disclosed. If someone was writing reviews for RT or Publishers Weekly, it may not have been widely known. If a professional author was writing reviews under a pseudonym, it may not have been widely known. Whatever personal relationships existed between published authors and non-published authors or readers, they were not necessarily made public. And, perhaps because the community seemed smaller and more centralized, it may seem like it was simpler and cleaner and less enmeshed.
However, even back then, there was significant overlap in the reader community among those who did not aspire to publish professionally and those who did, and I often felt like I was in a small minority of people who were not writing Romance novels in my off hours. Then, on the other side were those I’d call super fans – the readers who had real loyalty to an author (like some of Suzanne Brockmann’s, Laure K. Hamilton’s, and Nora Roberts’s readers) and whose loyalty provided a lot of free marketing for the author, even if it was unsolicited. Are super fans pure readers? Or does their dedication to an author’s books, to the schedule of publication and the desire to purchase right away so as to secure a place on the NYT Bestseller list count as an industry connection?
What are industry connections, anyway?
This is really the crux of the issue, I think, and probably the most complex and unresolvable in any simple way. As I noted above, I don’t think the Romance community has ever really been dominated by pure readers, if the main criteria of that definition is that the reader can have zero connection to the industry. Not that such readers don’t exist – I think we can all agree that they do. That there are readers out there who don’t know one author, aspiring or professional, and who haven’t received on ARC from NetGalley or from an author looking for a review, who haven’t served as a beta reader for an author or run a blog. Although I suspect that the vast majority of these readers are not online.
But I think the reality is that – at least for the many readers who are active online – relationships are much more complicated and difficult to define. For example, I think it’s clear that someone who serves as an acquiring editor for a publisher is “part of the industry.” But what about someone like me — someone who blogs, writes academic analysis about popular fiction, including Romance, and does freelance editing work for self-published authors? I’m beholden to no single publisher, I don’t blog for any industry-sponsored sites, I don’t write reviews for any industry-sponsored publications – in fact, I don’t blog or review professionally at all, and my career is in an entirely different field from commercial publishing and/or Romance. How does my profile compare to someone who, say, runs a blog, occasionally beta-reads (for free or in return for a finished copy of the book), and who occasionally writes articles for an industry-sponsored blog like Tor or Heroes and Heartbreakers? And let’s throw in the reader who doesn’t have her own blog, receives ARCs from NetGalley, and beta reads for several authors – where does she fit? Or how about the reader who produces cover art, or who takes on freelance copy editing or formatting. Or the blogger who judges books for various contests. And let’s not forget the person who gets paid to write positive reviews for books she may or may not have read, AND the person who writes only positive reviews of books for authors she likes – some of whom she’s become friendly with online and maybe even in real life – because she wants to support the careers of her favorite authors.
Are any of these pure readers, and if so, where do we draw the line? Is money the determining factor, or is it the way in which someone spends her time in the Romance community? Is a pure reader someone who is a reader first, and at what point does should someone no longer view herself or be viewed as primarily a reader?
Is there such a thing as an online space for pure readers?
Without question, things have changed. Blogs have populated the online space, and instead of having one or two centralized hubs, Romance has numerous gathering places, which often overlap in membership and interaction. Readers have easier access to ARCs and have more opportunities to interact with authors and publishers. Authors comment on reader blogs, and readers follow authors on Twitter and Facebook. Venues like Goodreads try to play both ways, using reader content to draw authors to the site, and then trying to create an environment that blends messageboards and social media to promote author-reader interaction.
And with all of these changes has come the sense that boundaries previously existing between readers and the commercial interests of the Romance industry have been broken down, making it more difficult to differentiate efforts conducted on behalf of those commercial interests and independent opinions expressed by readers who may also be benefiting from those interests. Which, in turn, makes it very difficult to have a space populated solely by pure readers. In fact, I’m not sure there was ever a pure reader space online, especially given the number of readers who also write in the genre, published or not. And because Romance was a fan-based community long before online access existed, it seems that there has always been an impulse toward and a desire among many readers for interaction with authors.
So if there’s no such thing as a pure reader or a pure reader space”online, where does that leave us?
I don’t know. Do you?
In some ways, this goes back to the issue of trust I raised in my post about the relationship between readers and authors. There has also been an erosion of trust among readers, in part because of the way super fans have been mobilized to promote the interests of their favorite authors, but also because at some level we really don’t know each other, and at any point, any one of us can be revealed to be someone or something else.
This is one reason disclosure is important, but part of the problem is that it’s not only the guilty who avoid disclosure – sometimes people have very good reasons not to disclose certain things (e.g. the author of erotica who is well-known under her real name as a reader, and who feels the need to protect herself from being fired from her job as a school teacher; authors who have chosen to review, especially in their own genre). Sometimes people just don’t think they need to disclose – like the reader who contributes to an industry-sponsored blog and figures everyone will know she does that, because her columns are written under her online name. And, of course, disclosure invites further scrutiny, so if you don’t want people to look more closely at what you’re doing, you need to clam up tight, thereby giving people the perception that you have nothing to disclose.
In some ways, things are more open than they’ve ever been, because so much reader-author-publisher interaction is happening online, and on social media. Readers are being recognized and valued for their contributions to genre discussion, reviewing, and even production of books — as beta readers, copyeditors, translators, etc. People are more open about the multiple roles they occupy and the way these intensified interactions provide opportunities and rewards (some financial) that would not have been available previously. The myth that you could easily tell the difference between reader and author has evaporated, and there is much more awareness of how books are produced, marketed, and consumed.
Still, there are real challenges here, especially for those who want to have as little engagement as possible with the writing and publishing industry. Similarly, there are challenges for those who are engaged with various aspects of the industry but who still consider themselves hobbyists. And, of course, there are challenges for authors who sometimes get mixed messages from readers who want to engage – but only up to a line that’s not clearly defined until it’s crossed.
What concerns do you have about the changing role of readers in the online Romance community? What do you think should be discussed more, and in what ways do you think industry engagement is changing the online community?
I would probably describe myself as a “pure reader” as I’m not an aspiring writer and I don’t have a blog. But then I have posted guest reviews both here (for the Harlequin Treasury titles) and at SBTB (for the RITA nominations), so I suppose those do count. I also write sort of mini reviews for the various reading challenges at AAR (more quick impressions not would I consider in-depth reviews). And I think I reviewed one or two books at B&N way back when. So mostly a pure reader with one toe in the reviewing world I guess.
I would also have said authors/reviewers should have as much transparency as possible about possible conflicts of interest. You make a good point about a reviewer/reader possibly being well known under her real name not wanting to disclose she writes erotica under a pen name. But I still err on the side of disclosure. If someone is upfront about being a critique partner, beta reader, freelance editor, relative, etc. that doesn’t mean I won’t take their reading suggestions seriously. But if I find out afterwards that they have a connection to the author and didn’t say so it would make me leery to trust them in the future.
I’m concerned that some author’s seem to think drama is good publicity. Or that attacking reviewers even when they leave what the author feels is a bad review is okay in any way, shape, or form. Or who encourage their street team to down-vote “bad” reviews or up-vote 5 star reviews. As we’ve discussed before I don’t like author’s leaving a note in the back of their books asking the reader to post a review if they liked the book. I understand why they do it, but it’s a huge pet peeve.
I like discussing books, both good and bad. Talking about what works for a reader and what doesn’t. And why something that seemingly shouldn’t work can work beautifully if the elements all somehow come together. How one’s mood at the time can affect your impression of a book and what new things can be gleamed when you reread a book or series. And I think authors can bring a fun and unique perspective to those discussions. But maybe those type of interactions are best left to an author’s space (blog, Facebook, etc) and not a review post. Not that there can’t be exceptions to that. So more of a guideline than a rule.
Lots to think about.
Are there “pure readers” in other genres? I don’t think so because there is a lot of drama that goes on in the YA and Sci-Fi communities.
Also, I noticed when it comes to RT, it only benefits those in the romance community, specifically the publishers and authors. Readers for the most part have no idea what the RITAs are, and it shows because I can’t think of one book that has an increase in sales from being a RITA winner or nominee.
For a while I had a feeling that no more pure readers exist – for me it was mostly because I felt that everybody around me (almost everybody anyway) was weird for planning to write a novel (m/m novel that is). Which was cool – I just had no desire or inclination or skill to do that. Now I can say that not everybody around me online does that, but still as you said – much easier to get an arc since authors offer on their blogs, people follow authors on twitter, Facebook, etc. what I am trying to say that under your definition I do not think any person whom I hang out with online is a pure reader. Now what concerns me ? About that part – nothing really, I like to discuss books with these not pure readers a lot. I really think it is inevitable for people to get if not more involved then at least a bit more knowledgeable about the industry if they read/talk about it more often.
Now personally do I try to limit my “industry connections ” as much as I can? Absolutely – at some point before I started reviewing more for DA I was seriously thinking about getting myself tiny little blog. Now my computer skills are seriously challenged so that was part of it but another huge part is because of that – didn’t want to participate in more promotion , author interviews , blog tours, whatever else is out there. Just not interested .
But of course when I review for DA I would say ARCs are maybe half of my reviews and it is not going anywhere.
Anyway – I wish for less interaction or none with authors on the reviews otherwise I don’t see what else could be changed.
Oh and pure readers definitely exist offline. I have work friends who read tons of urban fantasy, historical mysteries. None of them have inspirations to be writers – they don’t know what arcs are, they don’t care about writing reviews ( one reads them though). Sometimes I envy them but sometimes I think I would not change what I have at all.
Gah I clearly need more coffee – I meant to say that it was a big reason I decided not to have a blog . I also meant to say that the quantity of arcs I review is not going to change it may only increase ( not going anywhere clearly means something different lol)
Great post but I think the answer is clear and yes, a pure reader exists. It’s simple really.
My mother and sisters are pure readers. They don’t edit in any form for a publisher or self-published, they don’t review except to suggest to each other a book they might like, they don’t Beta read, they don’t do cover art, they don’t post to a blog either reviews or articles, they don’t follow the industry, none of them have ANY idea of writing a book, they don’t review my work, they don’t often buy my work (LOL), they don’t tell people about my work (again, LOL). They have absolutely NO connection to the industry in any shape or form not even in theirs heads. They buy books from a bookstore occasionally but mostly get them via Goodwill, the library or friends who are also pure readers and pass them along to each other.
They and others like them ARE pure readers and they are a dying breed.
Anyone else, whether your work for a publisher or not, whether you read and review, whether you write blog posts or Beta read–you are not a pure reader. You may love to read and started out because you love to read and you decided to start a blog, once you did, started accepting books from authors, advertisements, etc. you are no longer a pure reader.
See how simple that is?
Probably, the greater number of readers of romance fiction are “pure” readers. If the statistics about the number of romance books published and how great a part of the publishing industry is devoted to romance fiction are correct, it would seem to me that the people who respond to these blogs–and are therefore not “pure” readers?–are in the minority.
Oh and I forgot to note that no, most of them are not online. Their facebooks might say they are reading a good book but most likely it’s just personal. If they are on Twitter, the same thing. My mother is online on Amazon but if she buys a book, it’s a research book I’ve put in my cart for Christmas. She doesn’t know or care about Kindle or other ereaders. She just wants to hold a book in her hand and read. Same for my sisters although all of them are quite computer savvy.
When an author markets unless we find those rare and elusive pure readers, we are marketing to each other because WE are online and in the places to see the posts, to click on the god-awful signature lines some authors have which really are only part way effective, read RT, are members of writers organizations and so on.
So, pure readers are not online which makes them rare AND elusive.
Romanceland is a VERY small place. One of the reasons we read and write romance, rather than other genres, is because of the connections. It makes sense that we’re very good at making our own connections.
As a writer, I’m always asked by interviewers to recommend books and writers. I try to preface these recos with the statement that I know and like almost all of the writers in Romanceland. If I love a book, I always reach out to the writer and tell her. She usually becomes my friend.
Should you trust my book recos LESS because I know the person? I’m putting my reputation on the line when I recommend a book. That certainly hasn’t changed.
As for pen names, I write under a pen name (I write erotic romance and I receive at least one death threat a week – no fame or promise of wealth is worth putting my loved ones at risk). That pen name took 70 plus published stories to grow. Again, why would I risk that pen name on a bad reco?
I don’t really understand the quest for pure readers. Pure readers, I’m gathering, are readers who have never taken the time to thank a writer for the book she’s enjoyed. In the early stages of my career, those emails or letters are the ONLY reason I pushed through and continued writing.
I’d never thought of readers as being “pure” or otherwise before, but I see what you mean. I suppose the only 100% pure readers are those who read and keep their opinions to themselves; as soon as you begin a discussion about a book, whether online or simply at the dinner table, there’s an exchange of ideas and the reader automatically becomes if not a reviewer, at least a communicator.
But it’s hard to read and remain hermetically sealed off, unless someone feels like they can’t share their love of [insert genre] with their immediate circle for fear of being judged. That’s certainly the case for many of us who read and blog under pseudonyms. Because, in the end, it’s hard for many of us to read and not share what we did or didn’t love about a book. If we can’t do it in person, for whatever reason, we’ll do it in a virtual setting.
As a reader, I guess I’m only half pure. I run a blog, and just joined NetGalley, but have no industry affiliations, nor do I want to become an author. My desire to share my reading experience comes from my previous life as a literature prof. I loved leading my students through a work of literature, and I feel like I’m doing the same thing on my blog (though maybe I’m a tad snarkier if I don’t like something). I have no desire to become friends with authors for the sake of industry relations, and I don’t belong to a fandom for a particular writer. I’d rather remain distant, and analyze the works on their own merit. With NetGalley, I’ve requested titles that sound interesting, without paying too much attention to who the author or publisher is. I just received my first approval, and will write about the book in question the same way I’ve always approached the dissection of a book’s merits.
However, I have indeed noticed a new, somewhat hostile environment for reviewers, and this is what led me to put a disclaimer on my last blog essay, about a book I felt was terrible, stating that it was not in any way an attack on the author. I felt uneasy having to do this, because to me it’s obvious. When I graded student papers, they understood that I wasn’t calling them dumb when I criticized their thesis or arguments; the same was true of my colleagues when I reviewed their journal articles or books. But here I feel I have to qualify my discussions, and it makes me sad and angry. Sad because I feel it shackles freedom of opinion, and angry because of those authors who want to be taken seriously but refuse to have their works fairly dissected and discussed in ways they can’t control.
@Cassie: I actually think that as long as a reader does not communicate about the books online she would still fit. All my friends have ereaders – none of them spends time talking about the books online.
I don’t think the “pure readers” are have any interest in participating in booktalk online. They talk to their friends in real life and…that’s about it. It’s something I’ve come to believe over the last couple of years as the occasional fan emails me and says, “All my friends are reading you! I can’t believe you wrote me back!” Well, none of them are online and none of them are interested in talking to me (which is fine). They just want to know when the next book’s coming out.
My friends and family are almost entirely “pure readers”. At most, they’ve been to Comic Con or World Con (back in the day for the comics and now for the tv/film stuff). I have one “Not RWA” girlfriend who’s writing as a hobby and one who’s a Super Fan of a tv show and reads scads of fan fic and goes to specialty cons, etc. Everyone else just reads. They don’t go to blogs. They don’t read reviews. They don’t write reviews. Finding books they like is a scattershot test of the randomness of the universe (and they don’t seem to be all that invested in only reading the best books or books that suit their tastes; they buy what’s front and center in the book store or pick up what’s on the library new arrival shelf). They’re non-critical readers. And yeah, I kinda envy them.
I read in vacuum for years and years, from the time I was allowed to go to the library alone and pick what I wanted (~8). Nobody I knew read as many or the kinds of books I did. My classmates didn’t ask because I wanted to be left alone when I was reading and they didn’t care anyway. I never talked about what I was reading. Oh, occasionally, I’d get a polite question or two from a friend or coworker. You know, when I was at lunch and didn’t want to be bothered. They’d crane their heads and say, “Whatcha readin’?” They didn’t care. They just wanted to make conversation because they wanted to talk and didn’t care about what I wanted. Occasionally, I’d get a rec from a friend who knew I read a lot and widely, but for me, reading was always a mostly solitary activity.
Until I ventured into romancelandia. I like discussing mechanics, tropes, genre history, but I still don’t talk much about specific books (as compared to the conversations I see going on around me), and writing reviews (especially good ones) is very difficult for me. I have two modes: SQUEE and Long Rant Because I’m So Pissed Because I Wasted My Time. Neither of those lends to critical discourse.
So while I’ve never been a pure reader (because I’ve always been writing), I still would prefer to read in a vacuum.
But are you REALLY reading in a vacuum?
When print ruled the world, writers would fight to go on book tours. Was it to meet readers? Sure, but the bigger draw was to meet bookstore employees. Handselling is THE best way to sell print books. So writers would chat up employees, bring them muffins, send them thank you cards, etc., hoping these employees would remember them and handsell their books.
The same thing happens at libraries. Writers reach out to librarians, hoping the librarians will order their books.
All that is happening now is this is moving online and is more visible.
Now, I don’t, no. I WANT to, but I can’t. But back then? Yes, as much as I could be. My method of choosing a book was to go to the library or bookstore and wander the stacks. I went in without speaking, came out without speaking. As far as handselling, well, if I have ever been hand-sold a book, or a librarian directly recommended something to me, I don’t remember.
Yes, and there I should have added “or unless they just don’t feel the need to share.” I was mostly like that, too, until I became heavily involved in literature, first as a student and later as a lecturer. I do come from a family of heavy readers, and every house I’ve lived in since birth has had bookcases groaning under stacks and stacks of books all over the place. And we did talk, a lot, about books. But, from early on, there was stuff I read that I didn’t feel I could/wanted to share with my family. They were very much into literary fiction (and I was, too, and still am), and wouldn’t have understood my forays into genres like horror or romance. I kept reading, and kept to myself throughout high school, university, grad school, and my teaching posts. But I do like to share, because the way I think about a book I’ve read is by analyzing and writing about it. Honestly, I don’t care who reads my reviews, or if anybody does. For me, it’s a way to keep my critique/teaching reflexes agile after having transitioned from teaching to a new career. If someone finds them useful, that’s great, and I’ll be happy to engage in a dialogue with them. Otherwise, I’m content to rant about poor grammar and massive plot holes to nobody in particular. :-)
All I’m saying is that even if we don’t think we’re being influenced, we are. Someone in the store or library put the books on the shelf. Simply by doing that, they’re influencing our reading habits (because there were over 10,000 romance novels published last year – that’s my guesstimate based on trending – and I doubt the shelves held all 10,000) .
I wrote one review on my Amazon account once – but not for an author I know at all, I just liked the book, and no-one else had reviewed it. The experience taught me I can’t write reviews, but I’m not sure that it cost me my purity.
I’d have guessed that the majority of people online don’t want to write, or even want to review – that maybe it’s a case of visibilty – the writers want to be visible, so we buy their books, the reviewers have to be visible to post the reviews, but pure readers who are just looking for the next great read don’t need to generate content. (Unless you count the long, long threads of people searching for lost books: “I read a great book in the 90s with a girl who was a twin and she met this time-travelling lion tamer…”)
On AAR right now, the ‘recently read’ thread has 52 replies, against 8773 views – I’ve the impression there are readers out there who are online, and use sites regularly, but don’t necessarily post that often.
I can’t know, of course, but I’d like to posit the theory that while the active, content-generating part of the community may be dominated by the less-than-pure, the community as a whole still contains a good proportion of pure readers.
I don’t think I agree with some of the definitions of a “pure reader.” I feel I am a “pure reader.” And yes, I do have a blog and I am a member of Goodreads and Booklikes.
I do not accept review requests, I only read books I want to read and I acquire them myself. I occasionally have gotten books from NetGalley (a total of 4) and I realized I didn’t like the pressure of reading on another person’s schedule.
I don’t facebook, tweet or any of that other social media stuff.
I have no interest in writing a book. Ever. I just don’t have the interest or the patience. I prefer to read.
The closest I’ve gotten to an “industry” connection is that I was approved to read an ARC of Ilona Andrew’s Self-Published book Clean Sweep. Which I then bought a copy of in print because I’m like that.
I also Mod a couple of groups on Goodreads – so that readers have a safe place to discuss books. We cut the author advertising down to almost nil and refuse to allow author-led actives. We just want to read and then discuss.
Readers have always discussed and have always reviewed. Some of us now do it in multiple spaces –
why would that change our “reader status?” My mom does not use any social media at all. She only buys books – but she does review. She just reviews to her friends and family – and occasionally to strangers. How is she more of a “pure reader” than me?
That’s the nature of commerce. I mean, if we want to define it that broadly, I can talk about what influences my steak-buying, because let me tell you. I put more a lot more thought into that than I do other people’s opinions of what books.
I really wonder what defines a “pure reader” because I consider myself a well-informed reader, is that the same thing? I spend time online reading blogs and reviews to help be with finding the books that are right for me. I also follow authors, bloggers, and fellow readers on twitter. I like being educated about what books are out there. Pre- internet, when I guess I really was a pure reader, I ended up buying books based on the cover and back blurb. I often wasted money on books that I DNF’d because they were not right for me but I didn’t know this before I started reading them. Now that doesn’t happen nearly as often because I can research and then buy. If this makes me a “impure reader” I am okay with that. Goodness knows with what I read I probably deserve that moniker anyway.
I wouldn’t fall under the “pure reader” category, but I do keep a far distance from the industry and online book community. I only review on BL, and mostly that is for me to remind myself why I did/did not like book/author and interact with other readers (not necessarily romance readers) about reading in general. I read two blogs regularly, but hardly comment. I don’t follow publishers or authors on social media because I hate being spammed constantly, day in and day out. Street teams/groups of fan girls scare me away from books and authors. When in book stores, all I want to know from employees is where a particular genre is located; I do not want to talk to employees nor get recommendations. I do want to write, but in non-fiction and academia. I just want to be left alone to read — is that too much to ask of authors?
This discussion of the “pure reader” reminds me a lot of the history of the jury system.
Originally in English jurisprudence, trials were judged by kings or noblemen who rode in an enormous circuit, moving their courts from town to town, to ajudicate local cases. There was simply no way for the judge to learn all the facts of a local case, the circumstances of the personalities involved. Therefore “juries of their peers” were set up — people who knew that Stony Farm had long belonged to the Brown family before the last daughter had married that Cooper boy, and the smith fellow who claimed those sheep were his was a notorious liar since the vicar before last…
Somehow, through the centuries, the idea that this kind of local expertise was necessary and desirable changed into the idea that it was prejudicial and unfair, and now we have the system that if a potential juror knows anything at all about the case or the participants, they are automatically “impure” and disqualified.
I’m not saying that either system provided better or worse justice. But I do wonder if we aren’t getting to the point that the only “pure reader” is the one who has never read a book before, or indeed never heard of these new-fangled “words on pages” that all the kids are into these days….
I am the very definition of “pure reader”. No blog, no book in progress. I spend $100 or more a month on books and I don’t get freebies (except the library). I have written 2 reviews in my entire life, mostly because Kindle makes that easy to do when you finish a book. I troll books websites but clearly have favorites (this one and smart bitches as well as all about romance).
I DON’T TRUST most reviews at other websites especially on Amazon. I immediately skip to the 3 star rating to read a review because I feel like half the 5 star ratings on there are family, friends, or writing buddies showing loyalty rather than an accurate opinion. Now you don’t even know if they might be purchased reviews. I want to believe those five star reviews but distrust them so I play the percentages game. If I discount 50% of the five star reviews and calculate the percentage of 1 and 2 stars together as a total it helps me decide how well liked a book might really be. Then I randomly pick 2 reviews in each 3-4-5 star review. It’s a lot of trouble this way but those are My hard earned dollars at play.
@Cynthia Sax: I was the same kind of romance reader pre-internet as Moriah Jovan. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about romance novels, I bought books from USBs without much input from the proprietors, and I borrowed books from the library without talking to the librarians about them. When I first got online I had no idea there were so many authors talking about romance, I just assumed everyone was a reader like me. I had no idea what an ARC was. I was still pretty much a pure reader when I started reviewing here at DA, because I hadn’t started blogging or tweeting at that point.
I think you’re conflating influence with interaction. Of course readers are influenced by others’ publishing and buying decisions. Although I would never compare for-profit bookstores and their sponsored endcaps/tables with libraries and librarians. For one thing, I never know in a bookstore anymore whether I’m being sincerely or strategically hand-sold a book. For another, bookstores *sell* books. Libraries *buy* books to lend out.
By contrast, when a reader requests a book from Netgalley, or accepts an ARC from an author or publisher, or joins a street team, she enters into a transactional relationship. And it’s not just about money; academics who write and blog about romance novels, whether in scholarly or everyday terms, aren’t pure readers either.
I think the meaning of “pure” is getting used in different ways. I took Robin’s post to be using pure in the sense of unmixed, or unalloyed, rather than “undefiled,” which seems to be a valence in some of the comments.
@Sunita: “I took Robin’s post to be using pure in the sense of unmixed, or unalloyed, rather than “undefiled,” which seems to be a valence in some of the comments. ” Yes. These definitions of a pure reader make the whole discussion seem moot to me, because these pure readers aren’t people we’re going to interact with, by definition. If they interact with us online, they’re “sullied.”
I am with Amanda. I don’t think that merely reading blogs and reviews count as “industry connection”; that would mean that anyone back in the days of yore who read the book page in the paper had a link.
I am very very happy to be a well-informed reader. When my reading life was limited to what the big publishers convinced stores to put out front, I was only familiar with the big names + what my schools exposed me to. Bloggers exposed me to so much more: small presses, translated literature, erotic romance beyond Emma Holly, lit journals and magazines with interesting fare…
I doubt I would still be reading romance without SBTB & DA. I discovered them at a time when all my favourites were moving to suspense books and/or leaving historical behind.
After realising that my reading choices were not as “random” as I thought they were, that I was actually being steered in certain directions quite deliberately, I prefer taking back some control.
I do find the high number of aspiring writers among readers online a little odd. Whenever I meet an author in person and I tell them I “just read, no hopes of being a novelist” he/she usu seems rather pleased/grateful.
I did have a blog for a few years (for lit fic and fantasy mostly) in an effort to engage with my books more. Being critical towards books, I find, creates a particular kind of enrichment I enjoy.
Why would an author want “pure readers”?
I have always enjoyed reading reviews of romance books – I get lots of information about authors, subjects and although I do have my “super favorites” I often find that authors are not consistently good; nevertheless, because I’m not an author, blogger, or publisher, I often don’t care what connection a reviewer has to the novel being discussed. I look for as many reviews as I can, and get a general sense of how readers feel, and I base my decision to read a book on past experiences with the author or genre.
This. I had a whole post written up because I was getting a little frustrated with how ‘pure’ was being used. But then I thought it was a little too much and didn’t hit post.
Maybe it’s because I’m not a pure-reader, because I do request and review ARCs, but I don’t understand the point of a space for “pure readers”. I guess I’m curious as to what they look for that I’m not, what they need that I don’t?
So, taking myself for an example, I review books that I get through NetGalley and sometimes directly from publishers/authors (which I disclose on my blog and usually in my reviews). I do have some author friends, I do review some of their books, I also disclose that in my reviews and posts about them. I was a moderator for an author board for several years – I never reviewed her (or even her friend’s – whom she promoted) books, because I personally felt it was a conflict to do so. I review as a reader – honestly and thoroughly – I discuss books as a reader. I’m not on street teams. If I talk excitedly about a book or author it’s because their book has delivered for me, in a big way. I want to spread the love. Am I suddenly a part of the marketing? I guess, inadvertently, I am, but I’m just talking, or possibly squeeing, about something I enjoy so others that might like it can find it.
I guess I just don’t see where the difference is important. And it may be because I can’t see the other side clearly, I don’t know. Why does me talking about and reviewing books I’ve received for review differentiate me from those that buy or borrow all their books?
I heartily agree with you. I also consider myself a pure reader.
I have no aspiration to write a book, to write a blog, or to get my blog known in the romance community and increase my page visits. But I am an informed reader. I read reviews at a few blogs I trust. I follow facebook and twitter of authors I really like because I like their books and want to know what they are doing next. I don’t read ARCs and buy all my books or get them from the public library. On Amazon and goodreads I’ve left a reviews because I had a strong reaction to the book (both love and disappointment) and wanted to let other readers know. And I generally only look at three star reviews and lower. The only interest I have in 5 star reviews is if they have a really good summary of the book that says more than the publishers bit. I also like looking at the goodreads tags people leave in their reviews (eg cheating, alpha male, cracktastic) cause it’s a great way to find similar books.
I think the distinction between a “pure reader” and a reader who is trying to get something out of the book (vists to a blog, industry connection, author connections) matters significantly in this hub-bub about authors being angry when readers leave negative reviews. I have absolutely no interest in the author. I’m not out to hurt them or to help them. I’m in an IRL romance novel bookclub and we talk about the books (negative and positive) without worrying about how authors react and I see Amazon and Goodreads as the same type of space where I as a reader should be able to interact with other readers without worrying about vendettas and author/blogger agendas.
@Angela: I don’t know how important the difference is, but there is a difference. I went online to find romance reviews and then reader discussions for the same reason as many other people: I wanted help wading through the huge number of books I saw in bookstores and the library. I wound up finding this great community where I could talk about what I liked and disliked about different romance books.
I think that one difference between readers who only consume romance-book-related online information and those who produce and disseminate it is that the latter group (of which you and I are a part) have their material shaped by industry concerns. Sure we review and talk about what we like/dislike and we’re independent in the sense that no one is telling us what to write, but what we write about is shaped by our romland connections. If you’re auto-approved by some publishers at Netgalley you might review more books from them. Following certain authors on Twitter (as I do) means I know more about not just their books, but their friends’, editors’, and publishers’ books. Indie authors talk more about indie books, etc. We consciously and unconsciously reflect the interests of the parts of the industry we’re interacting with.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I think it’s something we need to recognize.
As for wanting a pure-reader space, for me the biggest issue is that given how enmeshed readers, authors, and industry professionals are, I never know who is listening to what I say/write and therefore I self-edit accordingly. I saw a post on a romance discussion board (not an author or publisher board) that asked for “opinions on Author X.” In the old days, if I’d had an opinion about Author X’s books, I would have contributed. Now, unless I am absolutely sure I won’t be followed by Author X or her street team/fan girls, I’m keeping my mouth shut. I don’t want that interaction in that space. But equally true, sometimes I don’t want to have to self-edit. Sometimes I just want to talk to other readers about books.
@Sunita: Yes, to so much you said – I do not even follow anybody on Twitter or Facebook, because I am not on there (also by choice), but even by following some authors’ blogs, I know about their books coming out faster than some others. I do not ask for stuff on Net galley, but I still trust some publishers more than others. Yeah, even though as you said nobody is telling us what to write and we are completely honest in our grades, we are still influenced by our online communications.
I don’t know. Basically, yall are saying that if a reader is in anyway online involved in the reading community, she is no longer a “pure reader.”
By your definition, there will never be a place for “pure readers” online. It would be impossible because anyone who is even slightly involved in social media reading is exposed to the entire industry – if they want to be or not.
So you will only find this mythical “pure reader” in an IRL situation – but it would have to be a person who also does not attend IRL bookclubs…because that instantly turns the “pure reader” into a reviewer.
@MrsJoseph: If I’m part of the y’all, I’m not sure how you got to the idea that you cannot be online and be a pure reader from what I wrote. I explicitly distinguished between people who consume online material and people who produce and disseminate it.
It is simply a fact that everything we do online can be (and often is) monetized by someone, somewhere. Everything we do in a public online venue can be appropriated and/or repurposed.
If what you’re doing is reading blogs and discussing books you’ve purchased or borrowed with other people, then you’re pretty close to a pure reader, as least as I use the term. But once you start engaging in transactions and interacting regularly with people who are interested in monetizing their love of romance novels (or using it to build reputational capital), then it’s pretty hard not to have your experience shaped by those interactions.
I love the idea of a informed reader who may have a blog, may review books and share on Goodreads and all. Even interact (chat) with authors but the minute you get books from Netgalley, open your blog to advertising, etc., hold giveaways for authors and so on. The minute you start interacting on the financial aspect, you aren’t “pure”. You are in the industry. And that’s not a bad thing. The industry is being built on us “unpure” folks.
In other words, I completely agree with @Sunita and this: “But once you start engaging in transactions and interacting regularly with people who are interesting in monetizing their love of romance novels (or using it to build reputational capital), then it’s pretty hard not to have your experience shaped by those interactions.”
@Sunita: “But once you start engaging in transactions and interacting regularly with people who are interested in monetizing their love of romance novels (or using it to build reputational capital), then it’s pretty hard not to have your experience shaped by those interactions. ”
I think this expresses my own opinion the most closely. Oddly enough, although I am sometimes paid for my writing, I don’t think of that as “monetizing” — it’s very little money, more a minor self-esteem boost than a source of income, and I still write whatever I want. But interacting with people for whom it’s a business definitely shapes me, much though I try to resist the shaping.
I guess I think of myself as “just a reader” rather than as a “pure reader” – in that I just read, I don’t write or blog or work in publishing etc. For my online reading space, I just want a place for honest and enthusiastic discussions about books and reading. I’m lucky in that I really haven’t experienced a lot of the more rabid or toxic author / reader interactions, and I’d like it to stay that way.
Interesting about how people read. I was largely a closeted romance reader in high school and I slowly came out in college – a lot of the romance I read was borrowed from friends or read standing in the aisles of the supermarket or bookstore because I was too embarrassed to check it out of the library or buy it myself. I was fortunate enough to have a roommate who unapologetically read genre books – mostly SF/F and romance – and we traded books a lot. We didn’t talk much about them – except whether we liked them or not.
Even after I become more open (and self-accepting) about my tastes in books, I mostly was at the mercy of the library and bookstores and supermarket shelves until I discovered SBTB and DA – and then I was like, omg, what are all these crazy sub-genres? I must try them all! (Which is why I have both m/f/f and Amish romance in my TBR). And that’s what I want in a reader space – a place to discover new books, authors, and sub-genres and a place to talk about what I like and don’t like in romance.
I only discovered the Romance community online in the last few years and wish I had done so ages ago, because it’s one of the best communities I’m a part of, even just as a consumer and not at all a producer. I have no aspirations towards writing, although I love learning about the various processes and people involved along the way.
I was a bookseller for a while and there wasn’t any kind of interaction between myself and authors, it was entirely between myself and customers. That didn’t stop me from hand-selling books I loved, but it was completely based upon my own reading and opinions. I didn’t start reading reviews for books online until I got a Kindle about 5 years ago, and from there completely by accident stumbled upon DA and SBTB and such.
I have been involved in video game development and production for the last 15 years and I’d say the amount of interaction there is growing in the same way that it recently has in the Romance community, online — it used to be completely forbidden to discuss any part of the process with the people we were making games for, and only journalists were allowed any kind of interaction because “it would ruin the magic”. Now with the indie scene exploding, game development is becoming a lot more transparent and involves interacting more organically with fans, instead of with carefully planned and released multi-million-dollar marketing plans. I actually think this has been a lot better for everyone involved — people are starting to grasp just what goes into making a 5-year $80mil game, and the industry is starting to figure out that not everyone wants a 5-year $80mil game. ;) I’ve been following (and participating in!) the development of the game Wildstar and I wouldn’t be nearly so interested in it if not for the very direct and responsive interaction of the developers and their genuine desire to engage with their players.
I think just the ability to email people has opened up a lot of conversation methods that didn’t exist before, and Facebook and Twitter add to that. It’s a lot easier for me to find and email an author whose book I loved, but even more for me is the ability to find websites full of people interested in talking about the same books I read. :)
If you read romance novels, then you are “interacting regularly with people who are interested in monetizing” — to wit, the authors and publishers who produce them, and the retailers who sell them.
Unless of course, this hypothetical “pure reader” stands out in a cornfield somewhere, and has random romance novels fall from Heaven.
I read a metric f*ckton of reviews, online and in print, professional and semiprofessional and amateur. I receive ARCs (some of my choosing, some of the publisher’s) and review them, for my private notes and (about a tenth of them) for a picayune payment. A small percentage of these are romance novels.
I am personally responsible for tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money that goes to purchase fiction, a significant fraction of that on romance novels.
I have a graduate degree and decades worth of experience in analyzing, judging, and selecting fiction to meet particular readers’ tastes, whether they align with my own or not.
I read at least two or three books a week, mostly genre fiction, purely for my own pleasure.
I am at a total loss to understand how any of that makes my personal (as opposed to professional) reaction to any particular book either MORE or LESS valuable or meaningful or polka-dotted or any other adjective that you like than the opinion of this hypothetical “pure” reader the essay is circling around.
What, exactly, is the purpose of hunting this particular snark?
Most of my friends are pure readers. They don’t get ARCs. They don’t belong to or know of any organizations. They don’t blog. They just read and talk about books. Sure, there are tons of Pure Readers out there… but if most of people you come into contact with are people from the online book world it might be harder to believe that untainted readers are out there but they are. They haven’t a clue about YA drama or Bad Author behavior or Sci Fi weirdness because they don’t hang out in online spaces. I have a friend that still only buys print books. They see books they want to read, they buy them and read them and are none the wiser.
Very likely you were– before the advent of Borders, it was a common practice in many bookstores.
In the early to mid 1990s, I worked at the now defunct Waldenbooks national chain. There was one of these stores, or if not, a B. Dalton, at many, many shopping malls.
The store policy was that if a customer asked for something (whether a specific book or a section of the store where a particular genre was shelved), booksellers were to walk the customer to that part of the store, pull out the book in question or recommend a book or two in that genre if we could, and then, pull one of these books off the shelf and place it in the customer’s hand.
We could not leave the customer unless that customer had a book we’d given him or her in hand, and the chain trained the store managers to ensure this happened, as well as sent mystery shoppers to check on us and on our managers, so we couldn’t flout this rule easily either.
Considering that before Barnes & Noble and Borders I was a kid hanging out in Anderson’s bookshop, Waldenbooks, etc. and that was the only access to bookstores I had, and considering I had zero money, I highly doubt it.
Nobody’s going to hand-sell to a kid who looks like she’s poor as a church mouse, or in a college bookstore years later where she’s looking for the cheapest copy of College Algebra and still looks like she’s poor as a church mouse.
So there’s a lot of assuming going on in “Very likely you were.”
@Janine: Oh my God, I would never have ventured into that bookstore ever again…
@hapax: Er, I don’t know if this entire comment is directed to me, or just the part after the quote.
I’ve already stated (repeatedly) what I see as the difference in interaction between reading and participating, as well as what I define as a pure reader. If you consider either or both of those to comprise a distinction without a difference, I’m happy to agree to disagree. Or just disagree.
@Willaful: Me either! I chose my bookstores based on their ability to leave me the hell alone to browse and chose my own books. I absolutely hated being intruded upon.
@hapax: Speaking only for myself, I’m interested in the concept because I feel like I’m missing something, in myself and in my friends. I don’t believe I’m “tainted” but I know that being on twitter and receiving galleys and so forth has changed me in some ways, and that people perceive me differently. Just as I perceive an online friend differently when I discover she’s also an author and I didn’t know it, or when another friend takes an industry job and begins incorporating it into her reviews. There’s a certain… loss of innocence that makes me wistful.
I don’t want to be the rake hero who insists his heroine be a virgin ;-) and if there were a “pure reader” space I might not be eligible for it. I’m just sad about how things have changed, as usual.
Great, authenticity, “true fan” and “best fan” discussions and circlemaking have come to romance fandom (probably not at last, but this is the latest I’ve seen it.) The idea of “purity” just seems to invite an ingroup/outgroup dichotomy, and those who have even crossed paths with an author now seem to be deemed ‘unclean’.
I just want to reiterate this comment from @Sunita: think the meaning of “pure” is getting used in different ways. I took Robin’s post to be using pure in the sense of unmixed, or unalloyed, rather than “undefiled,” which seems to be a valence in some of the comments.
Pure in the context of this post *does not equal* clean or undefiled or anything pejorative along those lines.
In the post, I reference it in relation to the concepts of *only, first, and/or primarily,* as the entire post is about the mixing and multiplicity of roles within the Romance community. I’m not using it as a criticism or in a negative way — I’m simply trying to take a look at the way being a “reader” is often a complex identity, particularly online, and that the complexity, some of which has been ushered in on the heels of social media and the many wonderful opportunities readers now have to be visible and valued for their voices, also has its challenges.
For my own sake, this is how it’s valuable:
1. I’ve been in romancelandia for a while now, and my worldview on reading and readers has narrowed exponentially. I used to never think of it and then I published and it was the only thing I *could* think about. Marketing, reaching people, grasping desperately for the spark that would light the word-of-mouth fuse.
2. Then a fan came to me and asked me to go to RT with her when it was here in Kansas City. She doesn’t know who DA/SBTB is, isn’t part of the ongoing blog conversation, but knows about RT, knows almost all the authors who are going to be there–and the authors she did know she was a superfan of. She was excited to be there, but she was not part of *this* ongoing conversation. She simply doesn’t care enough. She wants to read. She wants to visit with the authors, but she wants to read and discuss with her real-life friends.
It was a revelation to me, all these people who went to a reader’s convention who don’t visit blogs and don’t seek out reviews, who buy/read on the basis of a cover and blurb, but who know *all about* the authors, what they’re writing, when their next release is (waiting with bated breath), and are eager to shout their squee to the rooftops.
They don’t know about Authors Behaving Badly, paid reviews, reader intimidation, and if they did, they wouldn’t care. They’re on Facebook seeking out their favorite authors and chatting with other readers there.
It took me a long time to process that (actually still haven’t, to be honest, because I came back to my tight little online circle).
3. Lastly, another fan came to me. I have no idea how she found me and she doesn’t remember. But she doesn’t even know about RT and wouldn’t be interested if she did. She has a large group of friends to whom she recommended me and now they all read me and that’s lovely and all, but…
How did she find me?
For an author, that is the question this post raises, because that’s where the readers are–out there somewhere, not here in this minuscule community.
@Moriah Jovan: Okay, now I am confused.
To *me*, anyone who goes to a fan convention, follows an author on FB, has a circle of friends who all read a particular author by name… that’s well into the category of “participating in the industry.” I’ve read Sunita’s emphasis on “transaction”, but once you extend it beyond pure monetary reimbursement (a distinction that makes sense to me) into the social capital of “I went to RT with this author!”, “this author ‘liked’ my Tweet!” even into “I’m the one who introduced all my friends to this author’s books!” (and I’ve heard vicious games of one-upmanship around this very issue), I’m not sure where one draws the line.
Along with the recent discussions of “para-social relationships”, I think there’s a certain amount of conflating …. I dunno, “para-transactional exchanges”?
Yet honestly, just speaking for myself, I’m a LOT more invested in the success of an author I’ve recommended to my friends than one I’ve been paid pocket change in exchange for a three-line review.
It’s part of the reason this discussion is making me feel VERY uncomfortable. While I do believe that the formulation “pure reader” wasn’t meant in any sort of critical or judgmental sense, the word carries unavoidable connotations.
When these implications are considered in the light of the recent horrid condemnations of “Fake Geek Girls” and arguments about what constitutes a “TrueFan”, it makes me feel like having either not enough information or knowing too much is going to exclude me from participating in reader discussions.
I didn’t read Janet’s essay as a call to distinguish “pure readers” as the “true fans” or “best fans.” Far from it!
I think some of the hangup is coming from the use of the word “pure,” which, let’s face it, has a certain connotation in RomLand. I keep picturing Barbara Cartland heroines, their white gowns draped artfully across sofas as they recline with a patented air of innocent sensuality, clutching Morroco leather-bound volumes in their slender, never touched by sunlight hands.
Janet wrote: “My aim here is to open a discussion about the changing role of readers in today’s online environment”
and she finished the essay with:
“What concerns do you have about the changing role of readers in the online Romance community? What do you think should be discussed more, and in what ways do you think industry engagement is changing the online community?”
And my scattershot thoughts, in no particular order:
1) There is/was no such thing as a pure reader. Because even the most innocent – in the pure sense – reader fed information back to the publishing industry via his/her buying habits (or check-out habits at the library, informing library buying decisions). Author X sells 10 copies? Author X’s second book is dropped. Author Y sells 1 million copies? Author Y gets a three book deal, increased marketing spend, sent out on book tour, and Author Z suddenly sells her book because it is in a similar genre.
As for RomLand, readers engaged pre-internet. They sent fan snail mail. They showed up at book signings. RT Magazine was founded in 1981, and the first RT convention was in 1982. Yes, it was much, much harder to engage and took effort, and a far smaller percentage participated – but it was possible.
2) EVERYTHING fannish is magnified today. I mentioned in a comment on another essay that I attended San Diego Comic Con when it was a bunch of Comic Book Guys from The Simpsons selling comic books from behind card tables.
Yeah. Not so much anymore.
And look at how RT has grown – I heard the convention hotel for this year sold out long before conference registration opened. And there are all the other reader conventions: Authors After Dark, RomCon, GayRomLit, etc.
So on one hand, yes, there is more reader/author interaction than ever before thanks to social media. But it is also spilling into increased opportunities for face-to-face interactions as well. We’re encouraged to interact, period. So I’m not sure all the blame/praise can be laid at the feet of the internet. (Well, except that the internet feeds the hype that leads to increased demand for the face-to-face encounters, of course.)
3) As I mentioned above, there is more information about the mechanics of book production and the methodology of sales than ever before. But again, that’s true for ALL things. Want to know how they did the VFX for the yacht sinking in “The Wolf of Wall Street?” Once upon a time, only studio execs, film school students and serious cineastes would care and/or be privy to the shot by shot breakdown. Now? It’s on Vimeo (and it’s pretty cool). Want to know a world famous chef’s secrets? The Food Network and the Cooking Channel, plus the chef’s mobile recipe app. Need to replace a washing machine? I know now waaaaay too much about washing machine construction, the latest technology in stain removal, and whether the steam function is worth it. Before the internet, my research would consist of driving to my library for and praying they had the washing machine issue of Consumer Reports on hand. And maybe asking a friend or two what they thought about their machine.
My longwinded point is that we’re living in an age of unprecedented information at our fingertips, and that includes information about the author, the publishing industry, and what other people say/think about the book.
And while yes, there are people who are happy to pick up whatever book strikes their fancy without doing a lick of research or knowing about it beyond the cover and jacket copy, and who happily eschew the internet, I’m willing to bet they’ve still been influenced by someone in the “industry.” Either by discovering the book on a front bookstore table (publisher co-op) or seeing it in Costco at a discount (Costco buyer’s decision) or an image in an email from Amazon (Amazon’s decision) or because a librarian deemed it worthy of purchasing.
4) I don’t think the issue so much is one of pure readers vs. readers in the know vs. readers who pay their mortgage with paychecks from the publishing industry. After all, writers start as pure readers (I really, really, really hope). Editors start as pure readers (I also hope). Book bloggers start as pure readers (ditto). Some of my most trusted book recommenders are “in the biz” but we share similar tastes and hot buttons. So I would hate to see “in the biz” bookish conversation minimized.
It seems to me that the role of readers hasn’t really changed that much from the days of snail mail. Authors have always had superfans, fans, autobuy readers, and casual readers. After all, Stephen King wrote Misery in 1987. Going back further, Charles Dickens was mobbed during his US tour in 1842: “I can do nothing that I want to do, go nowhere where I want to go, and see nothing that I want to see. If I turn into the street, I am followed by a multitude.”
The difference, to me, is that access and visibility are greater than ever before, on both sides. In addition, authors – even traditionally published authors – are responsible for more of their own marketing than ever before. And some of them, in my opinion, R doin it rong, such as believing that reader reviews should function solely as marketing tools for the author. But there’s bound to be stepped on toes as authors and readers navigate the new transparency in their relationship.
Of course, a new outbreak of drama tomorrow could cause me to revise my opinion…
Thanks for the thought provoking essay, Janet!
@Sunita: Maybe I have not articulated myself clearly. Or I am not understanding where this is going or something – but like hapax I am finding this discussion very…disconcerting.
Also – a lot of my comments are in relation to the comments and not the post itself.
I feel that the whole idea is now getting bogged down in the details. “Pure” is – in my opinion – going to be very subjective. I don’t like the term, either. It gives the impression that anyone who does not follow a specific list of attributes is “sullied.” And I do understand you mean “unalloyed” but it comes across as “dirty.”
So, what are the characteristics of a “pure” reader? Can she run a personal blog? Can she read ARCs of her favorite author? Can she review for NetGalley to get access to early releases? Can she be educated and informed about the publishing industry? What about other review blogs or places like Amazon and Goodreads? Will tweeting her favorite book now tarnish her pureness? Following her favorite author’s blog?
A person can’t unsee something – they can’t unlearn something. Every action I have in relation to social media reading changes my perceptions… So what do we call the reader who does some, most or all of the above but does not care about the monetary outcome(s) and is only interested in discussing books with their circle of friends.
As a lot of my reviewing friends say, “What the author [publisher, etc] gets out of my review(s) is of no concern to me – I read and review for myself first and my friends second. The rest of it is never given any consideration.”
@hapax: It’s part of the reason this discussion is making me feel VERY uncomfortable. While I do believe that the formulation “pure reader” wasn’t meant in any sort of critical or judgmental sense, the word carries unavoidable connotations.
If you read the comments to Sunita’s post, you will see terms like “mixing” and “mingling” being used to describe what I refer to as the multiple roles that readers online often fill. Now, if others have negative feelings attached to those terms, that’s certainly something worthy of discussion, I think. However, I do not, as I tried to demonstrate in this post, for which I extracted the opposite term from those being used to reflect multiplicity. I also introduced the term in quotes and then was very careful not to elevate or demonize either those readers who serve in a multiplicity of roles (including myself), or those who are pretty much fully disassociated from the Romance industrial complex (the “pure reader”). One area of complexity, though, is that all of us may have different ideas of where someone goes from being only or primarily a reader to X + reader or even X+Y+reader. That’s one of the issues I was trying to bring up for discussion. And although I can’t speak for Mojo, I don’t think she was making any kind of judgment in how she defined those unassociated readers, although I think you two might disagree about where that line of demarcation should be set.
I basically argued in my post that there isn’t and hasn’t been a strong showing of readers online who do not fill multiple roles. I think offline is a different matter, but for me the larger issue is the question of whether this multiplicity or “mixing” is somewhat fundamental to the online Romance community, even though the components that make it up have changed and broadened. Still, for all the ways in which I would argue that this has always been and probably always will be, I also think it presents challenges, especially in the current online environment, where there is so much distrust between readers and authors, and between readers and readers, in some circumstances. As I noted in my post, I think we’re openly talking more than ever about these different roles that readers simultaneously fill (and there’s IMO more disclosure than there ever was), but I’m not sure we’re talking enough about about some of the challenges associated with having readers more directly associated with industry concerns, especially in a transactional sense, as Sunita pointed out.
The anger toward writers really disturbs me. Yes, a few writers and street teams (which IMHO are reflection of their writers) have behaved badly, but please don’t let this change your perception of ALL writers.
The majority of us are writing because we truly enjoy sharing our stories with others. We don’t do this for the money (laughs). There are easier ways to make money. We don’t do this for the fame. How many writers do you recognize? We do this out of love.
And ALL of us, including the badly behaving writers, are readers first.
However, we’re also human and we make mistakes. I wish we could make all of our mistakes while we’re yet-to-be-discovered writers and very few people are paying attention to us. But I know that’s not realistic. I know I’ll make HUGE mistakes in the future (probably say something sarcastic or flippant that is taken the wrong way) and I hope reading buddies will be forgiving.
The majority of writers aren’t bad people. I promise!
I know this is off topic but this thread was making me sad (which makes it difficult to write happy endings – my poor heroine might not survive this chapter I’m working on).
I consider myself a “pure” reader in the sense that I buy the books I read, I very rarely review (a total of maybe three) or comment on them, I don’t talk about romance fiction with my friends and family (who don’t read romance as far as I know), and I don’t blog, tweet (much) or even have a Facebook account. Heck, I haven’t even “friended” anyone at Goodreads. But I do *read* reviews to maintain a one-way connectedness (if there’s such a thing) with other readers. For years, I have been visiting sites/blogs such as DA, AAR, SBTB & Mrs. Giggles almost daily, although not commenting/participating necessarily.
From my years of lurking, I feel that I am actually in the majority.
So, bottomline: As long as I’m left alone to read what I want, free of publishers or booksellers hardselling, I’m okay with the occassional overzealous “readers” in the online community.
I completely agree. Given the disparity between commenting on reviews and the number of unique visitors to any site, larger or small, most people are lurkers. There’s no reason to believe commenters are a representative sample of lurkers, and plenty of reason to believe the contrary.
I also think that offline readers (or non-participating readers who spend time online) are the bread and butter of most authors’ readership. We online people are loud, but we really aren’t that numerous, compared to the total readership of the genre.
@PeggyL: I’m not picking up on anger against authors (probably because I’m not an author :) ).
I do want to say that I like to limit my interaction with authors online but not because of authors behaving badly or because I’m mad at authors. I personally prefer to separate the art from the artist and that’s easier for me when I don’t know about an author’s cats or political beliefs or adorable children or twitter meltdown, etc. I do really like hearing about an author’s creative process, and when the next book is coming out, so it’s not like I boycott all author blogs or author interaction – I’m just particular about about it.
@cleo: blast – that was supposed to be in response to @Cynthia Sax
@Moriah Jovan: Yeah, that occurred to me after I posted. I’m sorry! But the point that it was a common practice at one time still stands. And actually it continued even after the advent of Borders, though Borders had a different policy and marketed differently. Bookstores have always found ways to market to potential customers, and likely always will.
@Willaful: It was an annoying policy as an employee who worked there. Unless a customer asked for a specific book, I felt strange about handing them a book they hadn’t asked for. But weirdly (to me) some customers preferred it and told me they didn’t like Borders as much because they felt the booksellers didn’t give them enough personal attention there!
Don’t get me started on Waldenbooks’ Preferred Reader card program and how we had to ask every single customer if they had one when we rung them out, and pitch it to them if they didn’t, even if they were only purchasing a single magazine.
I would consider myself a Pure Reader and a super reader at that. I may be a superfan of Suzanne Brockmann but I don’t buy her books on the first day of release. More often than not, I’ll get it from the library. I love Patricia Briggs, but will only suggest her books to other people who I know are looking for urban fantasy books. I will mention a book on my FB only if I find it thoroughly enjoyable and not to benefit any author. I generally keep my thoughts to myself about books unless someone asks me. I have no desire to write a book or review books. I even dislike rating books on Amazon, Goodreads, or any other sites because I feel like it’s my personal view.
I read Dear Author and SmartBitches because I want ideas of other books I might enjoy. I really can’t explain what I like about a book most of the time myself, so I am appreciative of people who can.
What I find frustrating in online communities is the acceptance that the web has changed the dynamic – but that it only seems to be ‘allowed’ in one direction. Authors have become more contactable, opinions can be tweeted at them, prominently blogged, shared on Facebook, etc – and yes, everyone is entitled to an opinion and to voice it, but it should be remembered that most review bloggers etc are operating solely from a subjective point of view. Unless you are a professional being paid to clinically review books outside the safety of your area of personal interest, your opinion counts, but no more than anyone else’s.
My point being that authors who may respond are not afforded the same considerate for how the online world has changed the reader/author relationship. Obviously, I’m not advocating a free-for-all slanging match and a published author should take the higher ground, being the person in a more professional capacity. But an author is no longer someone who has grown a thick skin through years of dealing with professional publishing and editing teams. An author is no longer someone with the benefit of professional advise on PR, etc. The online world has changed that too.
If little ol’ you has just self-published, only to be faced with an onslaught of ‘reviews’ that can be frustrating, should you really say nothing? Of course I believe you should still be professional, but do you have to allow issues which you believe to be unfair to go unanswered – in these times when anyone with a laptop can call themselves a “reviewer”?
I realise I probably sound like an author with a grudge. I’m not. You can choose to believe that or not. My thoughts on the matter come from seeing some ridiculous reviews, sadly particularly within the Romance genre, and wondering how I would handle that if I was on the receiving end. Not every well, is my conclusion.
Lambasting an author for not ending a story with a ‘happy ever after’; criticising an author for a perceived ‘cliffhanger’ ending in a book which forms part of a series – those are just two common complaints which often seem to see authors receive 1 or 2 star ratings. Is that fair? Is that a by product of how the online world has changed things? Are we so used to being such a fast-paced society that everything has to be instant and we can’t make it through a book without being spoon-fed spoilers or reassurances?
If I was an author criticised on those grounds, I’d behave ‘badly’ out of sheer frustration. Just my two cents worth …
Well, since you asked…
Hell YEAH, that’s fair, and what’s more, is exactly the sort of information that I personally would LOVE to get in a review! I don’t see what there is to gripe about; such a review is focussed firmly upon the content of the book, not the person of the author.
A HEA (or at least a HFN) is considered to be part of the definition of a “romance”, so if a book is marketed in that genre, I would very much like to know if I was going to feel cheated at the end.
And that goes for cliffhanger endings, too. I’m not saying that they don’t have their place, but it seems like far too many authors — particularly new or self-published authors, *particularly* in the YA field, have completely forgotten how to tell a self-contained story. A book can be part of a series (if one must), but still have a satisfying narrative arc on its own.
I personally would be very grateful for such reviews. After all, if I am buying a toaster, I would appreciate reviews that told me that it didn’t actually toast bread, no matter how much the manufacturer’s “creative vision” entailed selling me a device that shredded my breakfast into breadcrumbs instead. That isn’t a matter of being “impatient” or “spoiled” by the internet; that’s a matter of delivering on marketing expectations.
I fully take your point on reviews focusing on the story rather than the author and would wholeheartedly agree that’s how it should be. :)
Maybe I should have been clearer in what I perceive to be problematic; and it is only a perception.
Reviews by your average random reader who has just bought and read the book and feels like leaving their two cents worth – fair enough. I, and probably most people, take them for what they are – subjective opinion by a casual reader. I’ll pay attention in so far as I scan all the reviews available in case a pattern emerges of complaints regarding the physical quality of the publication – too many typos, grammatical errors, formatting issues. A single review by an unknown reader holds very little weight.
Reviews by those who promote themselves as “reviewers who know what they’re doing”, or bloggers with years of experience, etc are a different ball game – I hesitate to use the word professional, because that is rarely the case (and I’m not knocking anyone in that boat, just trying to show that there are reviewers out there who DO carry weight, even if they aren’t professionals in the strictest sense). Such reviews carry an element of authority – that “listen to me, I know what I’m talking about” vibe. Of course they do, that’s the point of them. So should reviews like that relegate an author to 1 star because a perfectly well-crafted and articulate storyteller “let down” the reviewer’s expectations?
I don’t find that fair, in that context. There is a place for personal opinions, but it’s not in a review of that type. A mention that perhaps the ending didn’t meet personal expectations is one thing, but surely I’m not the only person to come across scathing reviews implying, (and often going much further than just implying) that the author has somehow outrageously cheated the reader by not telling the story they wanted to read.
I understand the concept of ‘rules of Romance’, but as someone with a Literature degree who studied the classic genre, I have to say that it actually breaks my heart a little to see what that has morphed into in the present day. What is the point in calling yourself a prolific reader, or a reader at all, if all you want is regurgitations of the same old story? A book should not fit a template and leave no room for creativity. Books are supposed to challenge us, to make us feel … How depressing then that so many reviews reduce the response to the genre to “There were too many feels and not all of them happy-clappy – 1 star for you!”
I don’t want to drift off at a tangent and I’m not out to tear down the genre or the ‘rules’ (actually, on that last part, it’s tempting!) I just think SOME reviewers, especially those who have some weight behind them, should be more aware of the differences between feedback given from a reader’s perspective and a review designed to inform others. This habit of leaving reviews stating that a book didn’t meet the HEA criteria, to stop holding back for a second, drives me right up the bloody walls!
As with films and television, I know there is a viable market for spoilers and that’s fair enough. If I skim reviews to check I’m not about to buy an error-riddled mess and I see immediately, characters A and B don’t end up together. I don’t decide not to buy the book because it “breaks the rules of Romance” – I don’t buy that book because I now know what happens and the tension is totally destroyed.
I don’t consider myself “a Romance fan”. I love books, all kinds. Some of my favourites would be considered Romance. But maybe that’s the problem – I’m not just a Romance fan and if anything I lean much further to crime fiction and noir. Maybe different expectations from other genres “taint” what I want from Romance novels? All I know is that I don’t expect reviews to tell me every twist of the plot and how it all turns out. You wouldn’t, after all, leave a review on a murder mystery stating who the killer was and why you didn’t find it believable!
For the record, I’m not trying to dictate what others should like or not like, or to censor anyone’s opinions – perhaps I’ve been clumsy in what I’ve said and it’ll come across that way, but that wasn’t the intention. :)
I hear what you’re saying, a reader. I also like a variety in my romances (how I ended up writing green-haired heroines and bunny shifter heroes).
A romantic HEA or HFN is the ONLY definition of romance. If there’s no romantic HEA or HFN, the story should be classified as women’s fiction or erotica (depending the sensuality level).
As for cliffhangers or no cliffhangers, hapax, that is a reader preference. Some readers love them. Some readers hate them. (I personally don’t write them) A review saying there’s a cliffhanger helps the right readers find that book.
One of my best selling reviews is a one star review that picked up something in the story I didn’t draw attention to. It turns out many readers were looking for this aspect in a story.
@a reader: Do you have examples of what you’re talking about? Because you seem to be talking about quick, grumpy reviews, yet you say they’re from established bloggers with the “weight of authority” and I’m having trouble reconciling the two. Does anyone really write a substantial review all about being disappointed because there was a cliffhanger? Conversely, does anyone give, say, a pissed-off gif review “the weight of authority”?