I ran into a conversation about this brouhaha while browsing Twitter (I should've been reading a book for review, which should give you a clue about how that review is going to go). It gets involved, but if you want the lowdown with all the relevant links, go to The Bookpushers: Authors in the Red Corner, and Reviewers in the Blue Corner. Then, via Twitter, there was a link to an author's rant on Goodreads.
The timing of this was rather coincidental to me, because I woke up this morning and thought perhaps I should devise a more well-defined rating system and write a blog post about how I review and rate a book.
After reading this kerfuffle, I started thinking that not only was it good timing for me, but maybe reviewers and authors need to get some clarity (and take a deep breath and perhaps have a margarita by the pool) and set some guidelines for themselves.
I've been on the internet since the late 80s (yes, the internet really has been around that long). I cut my teeth in the Usenet forums (now Google Groups, I believe), which was really the Wild, Wild West of the internet. I learned a few things. Then, I ran my own business in an industry with a very active online community. Trust me when I tell you my company was not immune from criticism in those forums. I learned a few more things.
I'm going to share some of the things I learned. Hopefully, both authors and reviewers can benefit from my 20+ years online.
- Reviewers: Don't get personal. Critique the book, not the author.
- Authors: Don't take reviews personally, even when the reviewer takes shots that are most decidedly meant to be personal.
- Reviewers: Be objective, not subjective. If you don't know the difference, you might reconsider your qualifications for reviewing someone else's writing. When expressing an opinion, make it clear that it's an opinion. There's nothing wrong with saying in my opinion, or I felt when writing a review.
- Authors: Take the high road. Not everyone is going to love your book and some people are going to hate it. Some people just can't help being nasty and mean when they express an opinion, especially behind the veil of anonymity that is the internet. You will be judged far more harshly by what you say than for what you don't say. Engaging in juvenile tit-for-tat snipes across the internet will cast you in a worse light than the readers you're sniping at or with. They have nothing to lose, you do. If you can't figure out what I mean by that, please review your marketing plan.
- Reviewers: If you know you're going to hate a book, just don't read it. If you make the mistake (as I often do) of accepting a totally wrong book to review, let the author know or just let it pass. I, for one, can't stand paranormal anything. It wouldn't matter if it was the most fantastical paranormal book ever written, I'd probably hate it. I struggle to like romance and have to keep chanting be objective! be objective! whenever I'm reading one for review. It's always good to know your limits. Authors do not deserve bad reviews because you accepted a book that nothing in the world would bring you to like.
I feel one of the most important things I ever learned when it came to online communication, dealing with contractors and people who are critical of your work or your company, is the less you say, the better. This is a hard, hard lesson for authors. Words are the tools of their trade. There's always the impulse (as evidenced by Jamie McGuire's rant on Goodreads) to just let the words out.
Don't. Just. Don't.
The more you say, the more opportunity you give to critics who will twist your words and use them against you. I recently gave a negative review to a book. The author sent me a brief note, thanking me for my review and commenting that you can't please everyone. As much as I secretly hope someday to receive a note from the author telling me OMG! you're so right! I never saw that before you pointed it out, I'm not holding my breath. My fan club is pretty much limited to people whose writing hasn't come under my intense scrutiny. 🙂 Where was I? Oh yes – the author in this case did what I felt was the right thing. Although my secret wish was not fulfilled, the note was nice, to the point and gave me absolutely no ammunition (damn!). Jamie McGuire could learn a lesson here.
Arguing with people online becomes circular. It spirals out of control, as the participants in the above-referenced brouhaha have demonstrated. When you're trying to get followers and sell books, it's just not a good idea to jump into the pit and start throwing punches along with everyone else. And yeah, you'll have to take a couple on the chin yourself, but that's what happens when you have something to sell. (I'm just assuming all authors have more than one book and intend to publish more than one book, but I could be wrong.) I had to sit on my hands while people who had worked at my company went to the online forums and told lies about my company and stories about their experience that cast them as Cinderella and my staff and I as the Wicked Stepmother. If you don't have the experience to know that saying something will only draw more attention to the issue and generate more traffic and more comments, then learn from my experience. I'm telling you right now that it will. There's nothing an online community likes more than a catfight, so don't give them one. Monitor the conversation, but only if you can resist the urge to respond. If you can't, then act like you don't know it exists. If you have friends you know will have a difficult time resisting the urge to come riding to your defense, call them up and tell them to please butt out and sit on their hands. If you find a friend has jumped into the argument before you could get a muzzle on them, call them up and ask them to please cease and desist, for your sake.
All in all, I think authors fall into the group of people in the public eye who have to develop pretty tough skin. It's pretty easy to be a reviewer, but that's just my opinion. 🙂 It's also my opinion that reviews will become more and more important to readers as more and more authors self publish. It will only work if reviews are done with integrity and objectivity, and without sparking flame wars won't benefit anyone.