Some authors may not agree with me here, but I’m posting it anyway so people understand how I feel about the book review business and the dynamic between author and reader as I see it.
It’s a symbiotic relationship. Simple as that. It’s any relationship between individuals of different species where both individuals benefit. Writers and Readers are different!
I am an author, an independent author of six novellas and a traditionally published short fiction author. I’ve gone through the submission/rejection process about a zillion times and have over 200 published stories in some very fine Literary Magazines and eZines. I was an Editor for a small Literary Journal for six years, and I am also a book reviewer, having worked at The Podpeople for over three years: my contributions included self-published book reviews and articles on the craft of writing. The PodPeople is the longest running Indie Book Review Blog out there. I’m also a beta reader and an ARC reviewer.
So I know how hard it is to write, edit, and publish books. I know how hard it is to edit and publish other people’s writing, and I know how hard it is to review other people’s writing.
I became friends with a great many reviewers when I was active in the reviewing community, and I’ve become friends with a great many authors, traditionally published and indie/self-published. None of the people I’ve met over the years – reviewer or author – have been haters or stalkers. So the cases we see erupt on the news are truly terrible, yet isolated, incidents: Isolated meaning, there are lots of authors out there, and only a small, very small, percentage of them have acted badly towards a reviewer. The majority of writers out there are nice level-headed people who are struggling to do what they love. Even so, I still counsel for distance. Why? Because it’s just respectful.
Today’s authors are encouraged to have a social media presence, but they are given no clear guidance as to what that actually means or how to handle awkward social situations. So I’ll share my experiences and thoughts on the matter:
- I used to be very active at Goodreads when I was a reviewer. I belonged to review groups. I posted reviews there and also posted giveaways for the books we received to review. I only reviewed books I could give 3 stars or better to because it was simply my preference not to waste valuable time on anything less. We received so many review requests that it was overwhelming at times. At Goodreads, I met a lot of really lovely readers and a lot of lovely book bloggers. I was attacked only once. It was someone stalking a writer whom I had reviewed for the Podpeople. I didn’t know the writer at that time. It was a submission like any other. However, this person commented on my review of said book, accusing me of being a sockpuppet for the author, which I found rather funny since my review of the book was less than flattering. I did have to respond to the comment because the integrity of the PodPeople was at stake in this case. I do respond to comments on my own book reviews if the commenter invites it and then usually the discussion moves off-line. In this case, it was a hater, stalking an author, and I just got caught in the middle. It happens. It shouldn’t but it does, and it’s happening a lot more often these days.
- I quit book reviewing because I became the full-time editor for a small literary journal and that consumed most of my time for its six year run. Now I only review for pure enjoyment and only those books I have selected and purchased for myself. Same as before, I don’t review anything less than 3 stars because anything that would rate less than that in my opinion would be a waste of my time. I’m not the book police. I still post reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, and I make recommendations to my friends.
- At this time, I do not belong to any groups on Goodreads. My reason for that is simple: readers need their own space without the fear of authors interjecting themselves into conversations. When I was a reviewer and I did belong to a good many groups, I experienced that sentiment first hand. I’m a reader too, but I’m an author-reader, and there is a big difference between how we see ourselves and how regular readers and reader-reviewers see us. I might pop in to announce a giveaway or free content, but out of respect, I stay away from reader groups. I have my own writer/editor groups I belong to elsewhere, and I restrict my own marketing efforts to giveaways, legitimate advertising, and free content offered on my website. In other words, I toot my own horn in my own space. No one likes spam.
- I do read reviews. Of my own work as well as the work of others. I was a reviewer, so I enjoy reading them as much as writing them. I’ve received good, great, mediocre, and bad reviews of my own work. It’s just like the old acceptance/rejection treadmill. It is what it is. Acceptances have an effect. Rejections have an effect, and reviews — good or bad — have an effect. Maybe not always on sales, but they do have an effect. I’ve been on this rollercoaster for a long time. Even so, I still feel every acceptance, rejection, good and bad review, and so I always try to keep that in mind when I’m reading and writing reviews of my own. I’ve written a bunch of very critical reviews and suffered no backlash from authors, and there is a good reason why.
- I don’t generally respond to reviews, tempting as it may be. I only respond to comments on reviews that I personally wrote, and only on other reviews if I’m invited to discuss the work. I don’t respond to reviews of my own work. I feel opinions should stand as they are. A review is not an invitation to argue or cheerlead unless the specific reviewer requests an open dialog, and most often, even then, that DOES NOT include the author. This can be a difficult situation to navigate. I’ve made my mistakes in forums when I was a novice, and I have found that the best approach is: If an author really wants to discuss their own work, they can request an interview. Some reviewers enjoy that, some don’t. When all else fails, authors can discuss their own work on their own websites and blogs, and those personal reflections on your own work should only be about “the work” and should be closed to comments, in my opinion. I choose not to invite temptation if it can be avoided. The best advice I ever got from a literary agent was: If you get a less than stellar review, get used to it and get over it. It just comes with the territory. I agree. It isn’t fatal, though it might feel like it at the time. Anyone who says they enjoy criticism is full of it.
Now maybe some might think, “Wow, that author is so arrogant. They don’t engage. Don’t participate in the community. What a douche.” But that’s not true. I just believe in respectful boundaries. If readers want to interact with me on a personal level, they can email me or connect with me on Facebook. I have a personal page and an author page. If other authors want to connect they can find me at Fictionaut and on Facebook. I belong to a good many groups on those two sites. I don’t get all personal life on my website because I did have a stalker once, so I restrict the website chatter to marketing and writing talk mostly with a sprinkling of garden and cats. If you want to know what movies I like or how it goes with my cat’s morning constitutionals, you will have to friend me for real, keeping in mind that I also have someone who screens my email and friend requests. It’s for my own safety. I generally keep comments on my website closed for that reason as well. Social media has inadvertently done the very thing it intended to eliminate. Sadly, it’s created a need for distance.
DON’T FEED THE TROLLS.
That said, it’s become glaringly apparent that readers and reviewers want their own SAFE spaces, and I think we should give it to them. If they choose to engage us authors, it should be on their terms, not ours. If we want to engage readers, we can always invite them into our spaces. Although in my opinion, I think the events of late will continue and will only get worse simply because they are indicative of a much larger issue; they are a symptom of a social system that has gone completely septic. I wish I knew how to fix it, but I don’t.