Poacher-turned-gamekeeper

Or author-turned-reviewer.

There’s been a lot of talk on Twitter these past couple of days – and in Blogland – about whether or not authors should negatively review other authors’ work. It all kicked off with this post from Chuck Wendig.

Let’s first of all clarify what he means by ‘negatively review':

…when I say “negatively review,” I mean that in the strictest sense — a review that is, by its definition, a “pan.” I do not mean a positive review with critical qualifications.

Okay, cool. We know what we’re working with here. Chuck (or should I call him Wendig? Mr Wendig? What’s too informal and what’s polite here? Anyhoo…) has said on many occasions that we should “Be a fountain, not a drain.” All well and good in theory, but it edges towards the Pollyanna, to my way of thinking, if playing up the positivity means that we deny the negative aspects of certain books exist at all.

Above all else, I find it’s far more interesting to everyone else — and more constructive to your own mood — to put forth positive vibes into the world than negative signal.

This, I disagree with. Negativity is interesting too! I assume, given the first quote mentioned above, that Wendig (we’ll settle for surnames here) is referring to negativity in the sense of tear-me-another-arsehole reviews rather than simple “I didn’t like this book and here’s why,” style blog posts. The thing is, that sort of review is interesting. If someone gets so riled up and passionate about a book for the good or bad, I want to know why they feel so strongly about it.

Wendig cautions his blog readers about the possibility of losing fans through publicising negative reviews, and while that may be a matter for his conscience, it’s not something that bothers me in the slightest. If someone ever refuses to buy one of my books on the basis that I don’t like something they do, well…sorry, I’m all out of fucks to give.

Because here’s the thing – for every person you drive away with a strong opinion, isn’t it also possible that you will attract someone who a) agrees with you or b) simply admires your brutal honesty?

Thereafter, Wendig says he’s not an expert, but…well, he is an author. And a reader too, as all writers should be. While it’s true that he could dig up many opinions to rebut his own on any given novel, is that not the description of dialogue? Conversation? A back-and-forth between people who may or may not share an opinion?

Authors are often told not to respond to reviews, so maybe we’re not talking about a dialogue in its strictest sense. Maybe shouting into the void, if we’re talking about reviewing a book on our blogs and spunking it onto the internet, but do we need to be ‘experts’ to earn the right to do this? If so, what constitutes an ‘expert’ on – and I pick on my genre here – erotic romance? Would that not be someone who…well, writes erotic romance?

Penny Watson, Oh She of the Big Hair and Wonky Plumbing, blogged about this very subject in Thoughtful Reviews R Us! In this post, she says:

Should authors review? Well, let’s think about it for a minute.

Who would be the best possible person to understand craft issues, trends in romance, how to structure a novel, specific literary devices, etc? Maybe someone with a degree in writing? How about someone who is immersed in the industry? How about someone who writes books?

A ROMANCE WRITER!

Hey! That just might work!

She would be on top of trends, understand the big picture, have a clue about pacing, conflict, character arcs, story arcs, and literary references. Since she’s a WRITER, she might be able to WRITE a good review.

WHAT A FUCKING CRAZY IDEA! AN AUTHOR WRITING A REVIEW!

What filthy language. The potty-mouthed cock-knocker. But yeah, she pretty much explains why I think authors should, if they so choose, be ‘allowed’ to review books. In their own genre or outside of it. And they are. No-one’s stopping us. So why might one choose not to?

Wendig alleges that we might be taking food out of another author’s mouth, that is to say, doing their latest release so much damage that people who may formerly have eaten it up with a spoon, then decide to go buy something else, leaving our poor negged writer destitute.

OH IF ONLY I HAD SUCH POWER! BWAHAHAHAHA!

Should we instead use our reviewing time as writing time instead? Some would say so. Wendig certainly does. And okay, his life, he gets to choose how to run it. And he’s certainly more productive than I’ve been in a long while. But does posting the odd review here and there really eat into our writing time to the extent that ZOMG CAREER SUICIDE? Certainly not. After all, we still find time to eat meals, shower or bathe, watch television, read books, socialise, lie on the sofa scratching our ballsacks. There’s no law that says we should be chained to our laptops 24/7 and not even think about wasting our time on anything else. So if we buy out fifteen minutes here, half an hour there for other things, who’s to say we shouldn’t use spare time to blog our opinion on this book or that?

There are twenty-four hours in everyone’s day, and it certainly doesn’t take all of them to get a book written. There are plenty of hours left over. If you want to spend that spare time reviewing books, you go right ahead. If you want to spend your spare time watching Adventure Time on Cartoon Network, go right ahead. If you want to spend your spare time dressed as a drag queen, wandering the streets and singing I Will Survive after sucking on a helium balloon, well…you sound like you’re from my home town.

I read another great post about this subject on Jenny Trout’s blog – Authors and Negative Reviews. I pretty much agree with everything she said there, so go read it and tell her how great she is. Particularly for this:

Writing seems to be one of the only industries where it’s considered bad form to say, “I think this product is bad, and I think you shouldn’t buy it.” Imagine if we treated the auto industry this way: “Don’t tell people those tires suck, because Al worked really hard on them and he’s got kids to feed.” Please tell me if Al’s tires suck, so I don’t end up in a ditch on fire.

This is all part of the “Be nice,” culture Jenny (Wait; shouldn’t I call her Trout, as I used Wendig’s surname? Anyhoo…) correctly rails against. I think women in particular are expected to smile sweetly and be nice because kittens and rainbows.

Sorry. My ovaries don’t stop me having an opinion. Nor does my brain. If I read a book, I’ve spent time on it. (Hopefully I’ve also spent money on it, too.) That time spent also buys me the right to an opinion. Should I voice said opinion? I say yes, if I feel like it. Others may advise against. I say the more opinions the better, otherwise we’ll just be bleaching out any matters of interest in book blogging, painting over the cracks, smiling sweetly and being nice.

Jenny – wait, no. Trout also touches on something that’s bothered me for quite some time about the subject of reviews, whether from other authors of people who are “just” readers. I put that word in quote marks because of course readers are important. I don’t mean to minimise the value of their contributions. I mean to refer to people who are readers alone.

Many, many reviewers say they won’t review a book to which they would give less than, say, three stars. Or “I will only review books I like.” Fair enough, up to them. But let me say this – I will never, ever trust the integrity of a reviewer who gives it the happy-happy-joy-joy all the time. I don’t believe anyone enjoys every single book they read.

“Ah,” you might say, “but what if these positive reviews are genuine; when it comes to disliked books, these authors just put them aside and choose not to publicise them?” Again, fair enough. But how am I to know which of these happy-happy-joy-joy reviewers fall into the “Ignoring books I dislike,” camp and which fall into the other side, of “LA LA LA NOT LISTENING RAINBOWS AND UNICORNS AND FINGERS IN EARS EVERYTHING’S WONDERFUL AND THE TREES ARE MADE OF CANDYFLOSS AND IT RAINS SKITTLES?” You know, those infuriatingly nice reviewers who are, let’s be honest, in denial and think you’re a right old Nasty McNasterson if you don’t egowank everything an author produces?

There’s something false about reviewers who refuse to go below three stars or whatever arbitrary rating they settle on. As if they’re in denial about the existence of contrary opinions. And it seems to me like they’re so scared of offending someone that their reviews are bleached of anything vaguely approaching the appearance of one of those dreaded – *gasp* – opinions. If you have nothing but nice things to say about books online, don’t call them reviews, because they’re not. We have nothing to contrast your praise with. They’re recommendations. And they’re perfectly legitimate too. But as I say, they’re not reviews. We don’t know what you’d have to say about books you dislike, so we don’t know if your praise for this book or that is genuine, understated, effusive or positively orgasmic. If every book has the same rating, there are no standouts and your reviews mean nothing, because they may as well come off a conveyor belt or a photocopier. Tell me about things you don’t like as well, so I can gauge how similar are our reading tastes. Gimme something to work with here.

Have a fucking opinion about something. The “Everyone wins a prize,” mentality means that no-one wins a prize.

Why don’t I review books on my blog? A number of reasons. One would be I’m not disciplined enough in my use of time at the computer. Note I didn’t say I don’t have the time. I just don’t use it wisely. I own that.

Another reason? Flat-out honesty here. I’m selfishly thinking about consequences when it comes to selling my own books in future. Not to readers, but to editors. There are books in my genre I love. There are also books in my genre I hate. Do I have the right to say that and name names (or name titles, technically)? Sure. But say I excoriate a book then sub a manuscript to Smutty Smut Books. An editor could get back to me and say “You tore my author a new arsehole, therefore, roll your book up nice and tight and cram it up your applecart.”

I have editors asking me to write for them so whatever piece of smutfiction I finish next, I’m sure I’ll find a home for it. But say I want to branch out someday, try another publisher? Do I want to take the risk of pissing off someone who has the power of veto over my publishing anything at that house, by publicly refusing to adore their ugly little bookbaby?

That’s a decision only I can make. It’s something I’ve struggled with for quite some time now and shows the suspicion of pettiness that lingers in some corners of erotic romance epublishing. “You said nasty things about me, so I’m going to be nasty to you!” (Bear in mind, all along I’m talking about honest reviews with back-up for my opinions taken from the published text. Not random, insulting, going-too-far reviews.)

I’ve said before that losing potential fans doesn’t bother me. Is it then selfish of me to even entertain such thoughts, to worry about not how it’ll affect the authors of the books I review, but how it’ll affect me, personally? I have strong opinions (yes, really!) on many erotic romances I read, and would only ever review books if I were free to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about what I thought of any given piece of fiction. I have just as much right as the next person to air my opinions. What I do with that right is entirely up to me.

But no-one – no-one – can say I don’t have that right at all.

This entry was posted in Jenny Trout, Penny Watson, reviews, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Poacher-turned-gamekeeper

  1. pennywatson says:

    Nice post, sweetcorn shiner! (look that one up)…

    One more thought…

    If you want to “brand” yourself as a nice person, write nice books, be nice on-line, give only 5-star reviews for your friends, and adopt a puppy from the shelter. You’ll get lots of fans who like nice. The fans who like edgy, kooky, quirky, will be bored shitless and ignore you.

    If you want to “brand” yourself loud and opinionated with a strong point of view, then you’ll get fans/readers who like that business, and the ones who don’t will run away from you faster than an Olympic sprinter.

    My point being…there is a place for everyone, but you can never please everyone at the same time. So why bother?

    Words of Wisdom from Jack Handy. :^)

    • That’s the key when it comes to being nice – the boredom that comes with it. I’m not saying be deliberately bitchy, no. But when it comes to people who are (at least on the surface) nice, only saying nice things, only giving books 5 stars…I get bored. I want them to have an opinion, not to just toe the party line. Or do I mean tow? Anyway, if you just say what everyone else says because they’re all so nice and supportive and scared of stepping out of line, who’s going to stand out? Whose opinion are you going to trust? Why should I read anyone’s opinion when it’s just the same as every other blog out there?

      There’s definitely a fear in the world of erotic romance, and that fear is of expressing an opinion and PEOPLE NOT LIKING YOU. To be honest, I don’t care if people like me – an attitude which, strangely, makes me cool friends, and I count you as one, Penny. I only care if people like my books, and if they don’t, I want to know so I can make the next one better.

      If the reviewer is a fellow writer, then who the hell cares? First and foremost, if they’re reviewing, they’re doing so in their capacity as a READER.

  2. This. A hundred times this. Following you on twitter now because you seem like a cool person with a brain.

Spew your brains all over my blog if you dare!

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