Authors as a Reading Challenge
It is a very exciting time to be a reader, don't you think? I'd say that it's because of the ease with which my contemporaries and I can acquire copies of virtually any book we'd like to read. But for many others, the real draw is how accessible authors are these days. And that leads to questions about author-blogger relations. I don't think you'd find too many bloggers who'd care for some advice from 1860 . . .
I wonder what the authors would say to this. Would they feel relieved . . . or stifled? Maybe a bit of both: relieved in offline company but stifled on the Internet? A lot of authors have to reach out to readers these days, whether because their contracts demand it or because it's the only way to get the word out on their self-published books. I do get why it's necessary, but sometimes I find it intrusive . . . or even hucksterish.
When thrown into the society of literary people, do not question them about their works. To speak in terms of admiration of any work to the author is in bad taste; but you may give pleasure, if, by a quotation from their writings, or a happy reference to them, you prove that you have read and appreciated them.
-- The Gentlemen's Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness
by Cecil B. Hartley
A few years ago, I won a self-published book in an author-sponsored giveaway and decided to feature it in one of my posts. After I did, the author showed up (without my having extended any sort of invitation) to thank me for helping her to promote her book. It was very courteous of her, and I could tell that she really appreciated my positive feedback on her writing, but I was quite put out. I had reviewed the book for my blog, not for her sales--and I didn't like the subtext in her comment that I had become a fly in her marketing web.
But perhaps I had implicitly agreed to giving her that PR by simply entering the giveaway. =/
Now, I'm not opposed to all author-blogger interaction. A couple of years after the above incident, I deliberately "@-ed" an author on Twitter after writing a Character Connection post on one of her protagonists. When she came over, she told me it was the most insightful thing anyone had said about that character since the book came out! (WIN!) Do you see the difference? I didn't invite her over to say, "Look at what I've done for you," but to ask, "What do you think of my analysis of your work?" And I was thrilled that she validated my thoughts!
Since then, I've dealt mostly with dead authors (and been happy to treat living authors as if they were dead, too), and this sort of encounter hasn't happened here very often. But because a lot of other book bloggers are caught up in the publicity web--and have become full partners in weaving it--I still hear about author-blogger interaction now and then. Take two posts from last July . . .
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What do I consider author baiting?
• Neggie Fishing. Reading a book, to review, knowing you won't like it
• Series Hate. Reading a second in series, if you really didn't like the first
• Author Hate. Reading a book in which you do not like the author
• Poke The Bear. Reading a book of a known "hot head" author, intentionally to cause controversy
• Mock the Mental. Reading a book because it is a well-known "bad book" just to see if it is as bad as they say, just to write a funny negative review
• Bully Review. Insulting the author
• Sailor Review. Using inflammatory or derogatory words without giving reasons
• Twee-tack. Subtle addition, but @ing the author with the negative review.
-- (Blogger) Parajunkee rants against bloggers who deliberately bait authors to create drama
When I read PJ's editorial on author-blogger relations, I totally disagreed with it. Saying that there are certain things which are unacceptable in reviews simply because they make other reviewers look bad is trying to restrict other people's speech in order to protect your own interests. Apparently, the only reason we care that bloggers are looking bad is that the free ARCs (Advance Review Copies) we can get from publishers might dry up.
PJ argued with that last point, saying she didn't care about ARCs drying up but about authors drying up. That is, if an author is so appalled by what bloggers are saying about him, then he may stop interacting with them so much. And that would hurt the literary community of authors-who-talk-to-bloggers and bloggers-who-talk-to-authors, which PJ is part of and has grown to love.
Hey, I love community, too, right? So I gave PJ's perspective a lot of thought, leading to my posting this in September rather than July. And you know what? I still disagree. =P That is, I disagree that authors and bloggers should be a community.
As Jose Ortega y Gasset wrote about families, those proto-communities: "People do not live together merely to be together. They live together to do something together." If authors and bloggers are a community, then what we're doing together is selling books. Not reading and discussing them, but selling them. Well, pardon me, but I didn't get into this blogging thing to be anyone's brand ambassador. It's a nice web you've got there; I'm just not that sort of fly.
There are a few authors who feel the same way, though for different reasons . . .
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Now, I know, first hand, how hard it is to receive a negative review. And I've heard horror stories about authors lashing out at reviewers, and seen these situations turn nasty and destroy careers. But FANS of authors can also lash out at a reviewer that has posted a negative review. This is scary. Because if they discover that you are an author, they could very well decide to seek your books out and review them negatively for revenge. And if the author's fan base is huge, this could mean the end of your career. I know that sounds a little over the top, but can you imagine 100+ fans on a rampage to destroy your reputation?
-- (Author) Jessica Bell asks whether authors should post negative reviews--and concludes that they should not
I can't help thinking of all the times George Bernard Shaw, George Orwell and G.K. Chesterton (to name a few dead authors) went after each other's writings in their own books, with no hard feelings. Apparently, they could do that not just because they were all mature literary colleagues, but also because their readers didn't have the ability to form lynch mobs. In contrast, today's authors do not have the luxury of pretending they are writing in and for a literary culture. They know they're writing in a consumer culture, for readers who often think with the crowd.
For all my indifference towards authors-as-authors, I do find that a little sad. I like discussing books and I imagine that they do, too. It seems wrong that a bibliophile who happens to have books to sell should be silenced by idiots. I'm also grateful for negative reviews, which often tell me a lot more about what to expect from a book or an author than positive ones. There have been times when I read something because of a very specific negative review: some things which other people can't stand, I tend to love to bits.
Someone in Bell's combox lamented the new idea of reviews as mere promotional tools. Traditionally, she said, reviews were used to guide readers to worthwhile books and to offer feedback to authors. My own perspective, as first shared in my post Blogging as a Writing Challenge, is that reviews should address three points: a) what the book is about, b) what you thought of it, and c) what the main idea (or moral) is. This also goes for movies. I once tweeted as much and someone countered that sometimes a book or movie doesn't have a main idea or moral but is simply fluff. Well, I am currently working on a review of Sharknado that is a direct rebuttal to what he said. And I'm sure the filmmakers will, should they ever stumble across it, appreciate my feedback.
Anyway, that's what I've been trying to do since I started blogging about books. Not "to speak in admiration of any work to the author"--but to figure out what writers are really saying, so that we can have a decent conversation about what they think. So it's always a little disappointing to run into another literary person who thinks that we're just here to form groups and to start gushing.
Image Source: The Fly screen cap