No Authors (or Elephants) Allowed!!!

A recent post on Dear Author sparked a discussion in my blogging network about whether authors should thank reviewers. According to the post, even a simple Thank You in the Comments of the review will kill discussion among readers.

I can see that happening if the review, or the ongoing discussion, is negative. Most people are uncomfortable saying unflattering things about a person’s work if they know that person is listening in. Especially if the phrasing is less than tactful. But if the discussion and review are positive, why would the readers abandon the conversation?

DON’T?

Now, in my Rethinking Reviews post, I stated that the best advice I’d ever seen for responding to reviews was simply DON’T. But, like everything else about writing, that approach doesn’t work for every author. Some feel compelled to acknowledge the roughly twelve hours the reviewer put in to read and review their book. In that case, a strictly professional Thank You comment or email seems to be the answer. Saying “Thank you for taking the time to review my book. I’m sorry it wasn’t right for you,” in response to a scathing review can be an effective method of taking the high road, and refusing to stoop to that level. For some readers, it gives the impression of class and professionalism.

No, see, what I really meant was…

One of the dangers of responding to reviews is giving in to the temptation to explain what we really meant when the reviewer obviously misunderstood. As much as we want readers to see exactly what we think we’re showing in the book, explaining can look like making excuses. We don’t want readers to think our writing is so poor that we’re unable to express what we mean, and thus have to provide explanations after the fact. Note – If we’re asked in an interview to explain something about our book, it’s a different situation. We’re expanding on, rather than making excuses for it.

What’s your motive?

Most of us write because we love it, and have a passion for writing. Like anyone else, we like to talk about what we love. So, are authors welcome to join in readers’ discussions of other authors’ books? Like the rest of it, we have to be careful of the impressions we give. If we didn’t care for the book, some people will assume it’s sour grapes, that we’re jealous of that author for whatever reason. And, if we loved the book, some will decide we’re simply promoting our friend’s book, hoping to boost her sales.

Squeee! Fangirl moment

Before I joined online writing communities and became acquainted with several of my favorite authors through the online conversations I’ve had with them, I would have been thrilled if an author deigned to discuss her book with me. These days, I’m ecstatic if an author talks with me about her book. There’s just something about talking with someone who created something that you enjoy.

 

How do you feel about authors joining in book discussions? If an author discusses books, hers or anyone else’s, do you doubt her sincerity and motivation?

Writer Wednesday: Rethinking Reviews

There’s been a lot of fuss lately, on blogs and forums, about book reviews. Some writers feel reviews should be all about constructive criticism of the book. Others feel reviews are strictly for readers, to help them decide whether to read the book or not.

As a writer, reader, and reviewer, I firmly believe reviews are for readers. If an author gleans some nugget of helpful information from my review to help her make her next book better, so much the better. But my primary goal when I write a review is to share my thoughts about the book with potential readers. I’ve been fortunate in that all the authors whose books I’ve reviewed have been very professional and classy in their responses. Not all reviewers are so lucky.

Reviewer School?

Reviewers are coming out of the woodwork lately – far too many for authors to begin to keep up with all the reviews. Multiple reviews of the same book can be a good thing for readers, making the decision of where to spend their book $$ a little easier. But so many reviewers also means that not all reviews are created equally, to the consternation of some.

One writer recently accused a reviewer of not being ‘professional’, and not knowing how to write. Since when are reviewers required to be professional? How do they achieve that status? Is it some kind of correspondence school, or a degree at a major university?

Seriously, reviewers are readers. Nothing more. Some are highly educated professionals, some never finished high school, and everything in between. They’re all readers. Some have a great deal of sway over other readers, and within the publishing industry, while some influence only a few people, but they’re all still just readers. They won’t like some books. They’ll love others. It’s a fact of life.

Reviewers Behaving Badly

Most reviewers write tactful comments, and find something positive about even horrid books. They are simply sharing their reading experience, not trying to hurt the author’s feelings. But a few reviewers seem to take perverse pleasure in tearing out authors’ hearts. They find the snarkiest ways possible to criticize every aspect of a book, and if they can elicit an emotional response from the author, so much the better. Even better if that response (more about this later) is public and makes the author look bad. Thankfully, that kind of reviewer is rare.

Writers Behaving Badly

We’ve all heard of authors, some of them well-known and prominent, who spouted off at what they considered bad reviews. They’ve launched tirades against Amazon reviews, blogs, and newspaper/magazine reviewers alike. Anyone says something bad about their baby… uh, book, and they jump to its defense.

As a writer, I would be hurt if someone trashed my work publicly, especially in a hurtful way. But I’ll be damned if I would justify that kind of thing by responding in kind. To publicly argue with a reviewer, or any reader, is to magnify any attention their comments may already have drawn.

Those outbursts make authors look unprofessional, at best. Some, not content to leave well enough alone after the initial response, insist on dragging it out. Whether the reviewer responds or not, they fire volley after volley in defense of their work. And end up looking like a petulant child, a speshul snowfwake who must be handled with kid gloves.

Some readers will buy the book, just to see what all the fuss is about. I think the majority will just stand by and watch the train wreck, while they re-assess whether or not to buy any more of that author’s books.

The Bad Publicity is Better Than No Publicity theory might work for that one book, increasing sales. A few people who wouldn’t have otherwise bought it, will like it, and buy more of the author’s work. Most, though, are just curious, rubbernecking as they pass the pile-up. Those ‘sensation’ sales might not make up for the loyal readers who refuse to buy anything else by the author, because of her childish behavior.

So, what’s the correct response to a bad review? NONE. At most, a friendly “I’m sorry you didn’t like it”. The best advice I ever read about responding to any kind of review was really simple. DON’T. If politeness compels you to respond, a simple “Thanks for reviewing my book” will do. Anything more, and you run the risk of looking petulant in response to bad reviews, or like you asked your friends for a good review. Neither is a flattering view of an author.

Great Expectations (I know, I know, just couldn’t resist.)

I expect constructive criticism from my critique partners, beta readers, and, when the time comes, my editor. All before the book is published. I expect criticism from at least some reviewers, some readers, but not all.

If I (and my critique partners, beta readers, and editor) have done my job, my writing will elicit some kind of emotional response within my readers. Some readers won’t like the feeling they get from my writing, while some will. That’s what makes writing so satisfying. Every piece means something different to every reader.

Since reviewers are readers, some aren’t going to like how my work makes them feel. I expect that. I expect them to tell everyone if they dislike it. If they also tell everyone they do like some parts, so much the better. It would be great if they could tell me why they did, or didn’t like it, but I don’t expect that from them.

What I also don’t expect is for them to tell me how to do a better job next time. Figuring out how to improve my work is up to me, with the help of my critique partners, beta readers, and editors. If readers want to offer suggestions, fine, but I don’t expect them to do my job for me.

What do you think? Should reviews always offer constructive criticism? How should writers respond to reviews?

Writer Wednesday: Are You A Pro?

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend on one of the writing communities I visit, and I don’t think it’s a new thing. Some of the writers there tend to be disrespectful and unprofessional with anyone who doesn’t agree with them.  They pitch tantrums online over minor affronts.  Things like disagreements over grammar and word use, unfavorable critiques, and differences of opinion.  Rather than ignoring the person they have the disagreement with, these writers resort to namecalling and other inappropriate behavior on the forum, and often rant on their blog, naming, and calling, names.

Some act as if their opinion is the only possible one, and everyone who holds a different one is ignorant, which is by no means exclusive to writers.  In a debate over including sex in fiction, several posters acted this way, on both sides of the debate.  The debate grew quite heated, and one poster on the side who didn’t feel sex in fiction was appropriate said such things as “those who include sex are poor writers”.  She didn’t have enough respect for her fellow writers to recognize the validity of their writing, whether she disagreed with the subject matter or not.

In another interaction, one poster corrected a phrase used by another.  The one who originally posted the phrase insisted that 1.) her usage was correct when it clearly wasn’t, and several others backed up the one who corrected her, and 2.) it didn’t matter because it was a ‘casual’ post.  Rather than thanking the one who corrected, her, she argued about it through the majority of a thread that grew quite long.

If I were an editor or agent checking out posts made by a prospective client, and that writer argued with someone about such a trivial thing, I’d probably look much more closely before deciding whether to work with that person. One time could be just a bad day, but a habit of stubborn resistance to correction on a message board doesn’t bode well for the writer’s acceptance of criticism or editing of their work. IMHO, such behavior is sure sign of someone who’s difficult to work with at best, and more likely unprofessional.

The solution is simple.  Treat interactions about writing as a communication between professionals. Save the more casual forms of expression for more social interactions.  If the other party becomes unprofessional, ignore them — no matter how exasperated and angry they make you.  Write about it in your journal, but not in a public forum, where it can reflect poorly on you.  Remember that the other person is as entitled to their opinion as you are.  Of course, you’re entitled to defend your position, but do it in a courteous way that maintains your professional image.

When we interract online, we tend to forget that anyone who wants can watch.  People get to know us by the tone of our posts on writing communities. We develop a reputation in online communities for being either professional and easy to work with, or childish and petulant, or a know-it-all, or whatever.  Make sure your interactions reflect well on you. Agents, editors, and other writers don’t want to work with people whose attitude makes their job more difficult.  It’s important to remember that when we interact with others online.

The solitary nature of our work often makes us forget our interdependence on other writers.  By helping other writers promote their work, and giving them professional respect, we form valuable alliances in promoting our own work. Need a cover blurb? Better not ask the guy you called an idiot on a public forum 4 years ago. Positive review needed? Don’t ask the writer you delivered a scathing public critique to a few months ago.

What do you think? Do writers see their professionalism – or lack thereof – reflected in publishing opportunities or sales figures?