Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bloggers Behaving Badly? (Updated)

So, Springtime lurks right around the corner, which means the beginning of the end of decent weather here in the Arizona desert. While many of you probably shivered your way through yesterday, I was out re-teaching my 6-year-old to ride a bike (the front tire of his "little" bike may or may not have had a fatal encounter with the tire of my minivan, hence the lesson in how to ride a "big" bike) and sweating. Yes, sweating. And when I got out of the spa last night at around 10, I didn't even shiver. It was that warm. *Sigh* Next thing you know, I'm going to start hankering for a dip in the pool.

These little hints of Spring also remind me that it's almost time for the LDS Storymakers Conference again. I had a great time last year, so I signed up for it again this year. Boot Camp (it's really just a critique group, much less intimidating than it sounds) was such a fun experience for me that I'm doing it again. Also, since my friend got a lot of encouraging feedback on her writing last year from entering the First Chapter contest, I decided to do that, too. Which meant I spent a week of January writing the first section of the novel that's been floating around in my head for some time. You may recall that I wrote a chapter of the same story for last year's Boot Camp. I figure a chapter a year is about all I can handle because, as it turns out, crafting a decent fictional story is kind of hard. Okay, really hard. It's almost enough to make me rethink my Simon Cowell approach to book reviewing. Almost.

As I was editing my chapter, visions of bestsellerdom dancing in my head, I happened across a discussion about how book blogging can harm an aspiring author's chances at publishing. Have you all heard about this? I became aware of the issue first from Jordyn over at Ten Cent Notes, who's taking a hiatus from book blogging because she's afraid that writing negative reviews will hurt her chances at publishing her own book. She wrote about her concerns in this post and this one. Some of her worries come from this post by popular urban fantasy author Stacia Kane, who essentially says that yes, dissing authors (not just slamming them, but even just not recommending their books) can come back to bite you in the hiney. Even though my humble little chapter may never grow into an actual book, let alone one worthy of publication, I shuddered over some of the things Kane said. I mean, I've never held back my opinions on books, but I also never realized that authors bothered to read my reviews let alone cared that much about the thoughts of little ole me.

Then, I ran across this post by an Australian author named Sylvia Massara. At the time I read it, the post had over 100 comments by irate book bloggers as well as authors warning Massara not to ruin her own career by whining about negative reviews. Predictably, the comments have since been deleted. Although I am so unimpressed by this woman that I will never, ever read a book by her, her thoughts on book blogging are really quite hysterical. Still, her remarks make it clear that some authors do read blog reviews and absolutely are affected by what we say. Who knew?

(Update) Just yesterday, I read this post by Kristi over at The Story Siren, which she wrote in response to an author criticizing In My Mailbox. If you're a book blogger, you're probably familiar with IMM, in which people "brag" about the books they got in the mail for review, checked out of the library, received as gifts or bought for themselves. Even though I don't participate in it, I love seeing "the loot" other bloggers receive. And I don't agree at all with the author's statement that "those 'in my mailbox'" posts represent everything that's wrong with the whole scene. It's all about status and swag.” Huh? Actually, it's all about celebrating and idolizing authors (not rock stars or celebrities, but writers). I'm not even going to tell you how many books I've read, let alone purchased, just from seeing them mentioned on IMM posts.

Both Massara's and Kristi's posts made me proud of book bloggers, ready to defend my "people" at all costs. Then, I read this post, in which MG/YA author Lindsey Leavitt talks about an incident she observed with a book blogger at ALA. Can you say embarrassing? Yikes! Talk about giving book bloggers a bad name.

So, given this love/hate relationship that some authors apparently have for us bloggers (which is sometimes deserved, many times not), I'm just going to say this: I love getting free books from authors/publishers. I love having contacts in the publishing world who so generously offer me books and/or happily send me books I have requested. I love reading the books, reviewing them, recommending them to friends, donating them, discussing them, analyzing them, studying them, and, occasionally, drooling over them. I love hearing from authors who say a review of mine made them so happy they smiled or laughed or cried or, once, printed it out and stuck it on their refrigerator. Book blogging excites me, I'm not going to lie. Do I sometimes feel entitled to the hottest ARC? Yes, I do. I also work hard to earn these privileges by reading as much as I can as fast as I can and writing reviews that are (hopefully) thoughtful, honest, and as eloquent as I can make them.

Part of that honesty, of course, is telling the world exactly what I think of a book. I've certainly dissed some authors in my time, some of whom I've actually run into later at conferences and signings.* And while it's created some uncomfortable situations, I'm not about to back down from anything I've said. My opinions are just that - opinions. When I review a book, I'm evaluating a product, a product into which people are going to invest both their money and their time. I'm simply letting them know if - in my opinion - that product is worth the trouble. It's not a personal attack, it's a critique of one particular product. My readers count on me to tell it like it is, to give them my honest thoughts on whether or not they should read a certain book. They know it's only my opinion. They can take it, they can leave it. Whatever.

You might, by now, be wondering what is the point of this long-winded post of mine. I'm not sure exactly what I'm trying to say either. I guess it's this: The relationship between us book bloggers and authors/publishers is a fragile one, even more so than I realized. We can't exist without them. While they can exist without us, they'd be foolish to ignore us since we pour our hearts and souls into promoting books and reading. I propose mutual respect, seeing as we're all after the same thing: we all want people to buy and read books. That being said, I don't think book bloggers should stop expressing honest opinions or resort to publishing only glowing reviews. Everybody knows that not every reader is going to love every book and I don't trust anyone who says otherwise. So, never fear, I won't be taking any hiatuses or backing down or deleting negative reviews, even if it might hurt my chances at topping the NYT Bestseller list. You can rest assured that if it ever comes to a choice between book blogging and publishing a novel (Dream on!), I will choose the former because it's what I love. Besides, at a chapter a year, the latter ain't never gonna happen nohow.

14 comments:

  1. Every author puts a lot of time and effort into their book and it's very scary wondering if people will like it who don't actually know you personally. For me it was at least. It's hard to sell books these days and I'd rather have to review that a bad one. Naturally, everyone has different tastes and not everyone feels the same about every book. That is why I always look for something good to say about it, but like you, want to be honest. If we really hate a book so much that we couldn't even bother to finish it, we list it on our dud list on a separate page of our blog and let it go at that.

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  2. I consider myself a blogger who reads and sometimes reviews, does that make sense. I'll have to read the links you've given, but oddly enough I find more authors and publishers are noticing book bloggers,taking what we write more seriously. I ask for ARC's sometimes I get them, sometimes not, and I too love to share any books I've given.
    I'm a new follower, and I look forward to your reviews.

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  3. My daughter just pointed to your picture and said, "Barbie!" Don't you feel special?

    I hated that first chapter contest last year and swore never to enter again. I got glowing reviews from four judges, and a scathing one from the fifth. I swear it was a man who doesn't like YA, LDS, message driven romance. I guess judges are just like book bloggers, huh? You can't please them all. :-)

    Anyway, I almost entered this year though I'd said I wouldn't. But in the end I wasn't ready.

    Hope I get to meet the other Susan at Storymakers. And good luck in the contest. Maybe I'll be clapping hard when they call your name. We can always dream.

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  4. Karen - I know authors consider their books their "babies," and are as protective about them as they are their actual children, but when I review, I'm only looking at an object, a product, something that has no heart or feelings to hurt. You know? It's never, ever a personal attack.

    Oh, I like the idea of a dud list.

    Anita - That does make sense! I've peeked at your blog and really enjoyed it.

    I think authors are noticing us more and more, which is only right considering how much we do to spread the word about great books. And, I have to say, the majority of writers I've dealt with have been wonderful.

    Susan - LOL. Bless your baby :) I look nothing like Barbie, unless there happens to be an overweight, overtired, overfrazzled housewife version!

    I'm sorry you had a bad experience with the contest. I'm sure I won't win, but I wanted to see what strangers had to say about my writing. My critique partner is wonderful, but probably a TAD biased :)

    Let's definitely meet up at Storymakers. I'd love to chat with my "twin" in person!

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  5. Well...I'm not a book blogger, or an author. But I can't tell you how many books I have added to my reading list just from reading your blog! I think book bloggers are a valuable asset to authors and readers alike!
    I love your straightforward, honest reviews.

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  6. I'm still trying to see if I can make it to Storymakers this year. I just landed an agent this past week, (SQUEE!!) and I've been dying to go to a great writers conference ever since I started writing three years ago. I need one more than ever now! Maybe I'll see you there! :D
    As for reviews, I love yours. Keep them coming. I've slacked on my book review blog since I've been writing so much, and can't decide whether to keep my writers blog and delete my book blog or not. Too many decisions...

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  7. Let me know if you or Robin need somewhere to stay during your conference...I'm impressed that you have managed to write an entire chapter...I can barely string together a paragraph.

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  8. A big amen to what Valerie just said.

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  9. Ooh, I hope someday you get that book published - I'd totally want to read it. And yeah for people who aren't afraid of expressing negative opinions! I like your negatives as much as your positives.

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  10. Wow. Thanks for this amazing post. I love how your broke down and shared everything you'd come across.

    I agree with you.

    Sounds like while writers need to be less sensitive and bloggers need to be more sensitive.

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  11. To clarify, writers should be less sensitive about reviews (when they get negative ones) and bloggers need to be more sensitive (to writers feelings). Great post.

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  12. I personally think that book bloggers are ROCK STARS! As an author and a book publicist, bloggers are the lifeblood of the industry right now. In an industry where huge publishing powerhouses are crumbling and book review pages in newspapers and mags are shrinking, bloggers are the ones who are supporting and helping the book industry flourish. You guys make reading cool and are spreading the word about great books. Please keep it up! Don't let a few bitter people get you down. Authors LOVE book bloggers! (at least this author does!) xoxo
    Megan

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Comments make me feel special, so go crazy! Just keep it clean and civil. Feel free to speak your mind (I always do), but be aware that I will delete any offensive comments.

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