Thursday, September 13, 2012
Trying to make sense of the current state of the Book Blogger ' verse
Blogging is, for want of a better term, my hobby, and while I might one day contribute as a writer to a professional site or magazine, it's unlikely to progress further than that. It's a way to catalogue my reading, discuss books, get experience writing and meet new people.And while it's fantastic that authors find this blog and offer me their books (and seriously, any authors reading this, you have no idea how much I appreciate this) it's not why I do this. I've discovered books and series that I never would have come across on my own, and some of the self published, or teeny indie publisher, books I've read are phenomenal reads that I've shouted about from the roof tops. I've met some amazing people who share the same love for my favourite authors and books, and I'm slowly getting over my shyness and am beginning to start some wonderful email and twitter relationships with authors who, frankly, I can't believe would bother wasting their precious time on me.
As much as I love blogging and the world it encompasses, I've never fully immersed myself in it. I'm only slightly involved with Amazon, Goodreads and other community sites, I don't participate in many memes, and it took me a long time to get the balls to finally accept a book from an author for review. This means I've missed out on some of the opportunities available to the bloggers who really get involved in this world, and at times I've felt a little sad about that - but then I see all the blogger/author dramas and I think "thank Christ I'm not being sucked into that world of pain". Today I read the blog post "How I Pissed Off A Legion of Emily Giffin Fans" on Corey Ann's blog and I decided that after a few months of absolute craziness I wanted to add my 2 cents - for whatever that's worth.
I'm sure there are a few bloggers who are here for the followers, free books and (potential) money but most that I've come across are doing this because they love reading, writing and lack any real reading community in their IRL lives. Like me, they accept books from authors because it's an amazing opportunity and they are eager to promote their favourite authors. Perhaps it's because of this eagerness, or the fact that for most/all of us this is a hobby/passion not a career, that authors seem to think that they don't need to act with the same professional accord that was once standard. In some ways this is fantastic, when an author responds casually to a tweet or comments on a review (as happened on my horror blog - Tom and I are still fan boy/girl-ing out about that!) it's 10X better than exchanging a couple of awkward words at a book signing. But the lack of professional barriers also seem to encourage authors to argue with reviewers who review unfavourably, or to encourage their fans to "set the reviewer straight".
Reviewing is completely subjective. It's an opinion and it's completely shaped by personal experience, lifestyle, education, social standing etc etc. There are plenty of books from the USA that just don't do it for me because I'm not privy to the minute details pertaining to the complex social, political and economic situation unique to the US. Similarly, I'm sure there are countless of you who would not understand my adoration of Australian horror and thrillers because you don't know or understand the history that surrounds much of it. It's for this reason that it's absurd that authors should get upset when their book receives ratings spanning from 1 to 5. I mean, I know it isn't that easy, I get it. Seeing a one star review would be pretty heartbreaking, I can't even imagine what my own response would be (probably lock myself in a room and cry for days on end to be honest) but attacking a reviewer is never the answer. Just because there is a comment function directly underneath doesn't mean you should instantly send an angry (and usually terribly written) comment about how the reader doesn't understand your character, and how they missed the point. Perhaps they missed the point because of the reasons I discussed above, or maybe, MAYBE they missed it because you didn't articulate it as well as you think you did.
Take the Save The Pearls incident for example. I honestly believe the author, Victoria Foyt, didn't mean to be racist - but the fact remains that the execution of the book is incredibly racist. The basic premise which attempted to turn the tables on our dichotomy focused society could (and has been in the hands of different authors) a thought provoking story that revealed a lot about our modern society. But because of a lack of research into the subject she slipped up terribly. I'm not going to get into a discussion on the many flaws to this idea (plenty of people already have) but what I wanted to point out is that while she might not have meant to write a racist book, she can't fault people for finding it racist. Readers only have what they see on the page in front of them, just because it wasn't racist in your head doesn't excuse the fact that what you put on the page came across that way. And when the majority of readers see these huge red flags, it's not THEIR problem, it's YOUR problem, and a concern that the author should have identified in the editing stage.
But all of this is expounded by the internet. Everything has a comment function nowadays, and it is so easy to type out something and hit the send button before you have a chance to think and diffuse your anger that I can't say the latest situations are particularly surprising. In the past, if you wanted to complain to a reviewer you either had to call them (if you could find their number) or write to them. Both situations that give you, at least, a few minutes to stop and contemplate what it is that's fired you up so much. In many of the online craziness I wonder if any of the badly behaving authors (and this isn't to excuse the bloggers - there has been some dodgy blogger behaviour too) have realised the error of their ways halfway through the commotion but feel like they've dug themselves in too deep to simply turn around and apologise. After my years of casual retail work I can attest to the countless times I've seen the switch flicked behind the complaining customer's eyes and their realisation that they're in the wrong wrestle with their inability to accept the blame. Also, there have been so many screenshots of authors calling their fans to war in facebook posts over someone who dares post a one star review or call an author out for bad behaviour, that I can't help but wonder if many of our problems would disappear if authors/filmmakers/creatives just stayed away from social media. Perhaps the fact that they can see their fans (through twitter and facebook followers and likes) in addition to the ease you can share a link gives the author a bump in their confidence that they simply wouldn't have experience 20 years ago. Heck, 5 years ago!
I don't feel like this post has made much sense at all, so I apologise for that, but all of these things have been swirling around my head and have been making me feel so uneasy about adventuring further into the blogging world (what if STGRB finds my details and sends them out across the internet because I dislike someone's book? Why should I risk reviewing a book when I know the author will read it?) that I really had to try and put some of them down on (virtual) paper. Negativity and criticism (even if it's constructive) is never easy to accept, but it's a skill that you need to develop if you're going to be a blogger or author or filmmaker or designer or tattooist or whatever. It's a fact of life, not everyone will like what you create and not everyone will agree with your opinion, but bullying someone by sending hundreds of fans after ANOTHER FAN is not the answer, nor is writing Huffington Post blogs* where you cry about how everyone in the world is too stupid to understand what you wrote. On the internet your bad bahaviour is never going to be forgiven nor will it ever disappear. Everyone screencaps today, and everything is cached somewhere, so your outbursts will be recorded, even if you feel absolutely awful about it 10 minutes later. You have to take responsibility for your actions. You have to put yourselves in the other person's shoes. Perhaps most importantly though, there are dangerous and unstable people online and even though you just wanted to make that reviewer feel bad and delete their review, if you post details about where they live, who they are, how to contact them, if anything then happens to them IT IS YOUR FAULT. So again, you must take responsibility for your actions and think, think, THINK before you hit that send button.
Here are a few articles I think do a much better job discussing parts of what I've attempted to bring up in my mess of a post...
Foz Meadows' Racism, Revealing Eden and STGRB, Intentionality VS Interpreation and Stop the GoodReads Bullies - A Response. Actually just go read anything Foz has written, it's brilliant.
N.K Jeminson's This is how you destroy something beautiful
Rex Jameson's The Legend of Carroll Bryant
Belle @ Belle's Bookshelf's Reviewing Books VS Authors
John Scalzi's Bad Reviews: I can handle them and so should you
Janet @ Dear Author's Something is very wrong with us, and it’s not bad reviews
Veronica Roth's A Really Long Post About the Author/Reviewer Relationship
Stacia Kane's I don't need you to avenge me, thanks
And to relieve some of the pressure, here's a gif of Tom Hiddleston that makes my heart actually stop.
*As a point of interest, here's an open letter from Philip Roth because Wikipedia states that The Human Stain was "allegedly inspired by the life of the writer Anatole Broyard" which he deems insulting because it isn't who he drew inspiration from.