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?

Everybody’s A Critic

Many online writing communities have a place for writers to post snippets of their work for critique. Several communities revolve exclusively around sharing and critiquing, often on a sort of tit for tat basis. In order to post your work for review, you first have to critique several other writers’ work.

These sites can be invaluable for honing your craft and getting your work polished and ready to submit to editors or agents. But there’s a dark side, too. They can utterly destroy a writer, even a talented, promising one, with the drive and potential to be really good.

How the hell can a writing community destroy a writer?

Not long after I started visiting writing communities, I became a member of a tiny writing forum. One of the writers who often shared her work usually posted really short snippets, almost flash fiction. Her writing needed a great deal of work, but there were good points, too. The rest of us had picked up that there was something different about her circumstance – perhaps she was very young, or had a learning disability. But she loved writing and was proud of her work. We all offered some gentle criticism, and a bit of encouragement.

After a couple of months, one of the other members, who rarely ventured into the share-your-work area, deigned to critique her work. This other writer had been a member for quite a while, and was generally respected as an authority among the dozen or so regular posters. He posted a several hundred word long diatribe about why her work was “utter crap”. When challenged for his cruelty, he continued to rant, saying she didn’t deserve to call herself a writer.

In a very sad post, the first writer apologized for taking up time and space for her crap and promised never to “bother” anyone with it again. She left. I have no way of knowing if she continued to write or not. I hope she did. She enjoyed it, and what she lacked in skill, she made up in enthusiasm and unflagging support for other writers.

 Grow A Thick Skin

I’m not saying this happens on all share/critique sites. Far from it. But there are a few where the most out-spoken critics are harsh, even cruel, in their reviews.

So? Writers have to develop a thick skin. If you can’t take the heat… Rejection and harsh criticism are simply part of the game.

Of course they are. That’s not what I’m talking about. The fact is, there are people out there who totally get off on shredding someone else’s work in a way orchestrated to hurt the writer as much as possible. Even if a piece is decent, they do their utmost to find nothing good. Sometimes, it goes to the point of purposefully misunderstanding the writer’s words. If all that fails, it devolves into personal attacks.

These critics aren’t just critics. They’re bullies. Often, there are other writers on the site who jump in, backing up the bully. They certainly don’t want her attention turned to their work. In return for their loyalty, the bully gives their work favorable criticism, no matter how undeserving.

What about the writer whose work is subject to this form of bullying? Think about it. A dozen or more people, seemingly well-respected, tell you, in so many words, that your best work is utter shit. No one finds anything positive, and if they do, it’s something insignificant.

If you’re thick-skinned enough, you pack up your marbles and go play elsewhere, or perhaps you revise and re-post. If you revise and repost, chances are, the same thing will happen all over again, probably even worse. Heaven forbid you give a less than rave review of the bully’s work! To have such gall is to risk having the toxicity spill over from the writing site into other areas of your online life.

So, what do you do?

First, before posting work or critiquing, check out the community. Read the other members’ critiques, and their work. Do the reviews seem honest, offering constructive criticism that’s clearly explained, pointing out both the good and the bad? Do the reviews actually reflect the quality of the work, or is so-so work being hailed as the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Are the more negative aspects of the critiques worded tactfully, or cruelly?

Search for mentions of the site on other sites. Does it have a good rep among writers? Is there one person, or a small group, that makes the bulk of the critiques? Check the archives. Do people come and go fairly regularly, or do most people join and leave after a short period, with a few members staying for a long time? One or a few people making the bulk of the reviews over an extended period, while others come and go in rapid succession can be a red flag and warrants a closer look.

The answers to those questions will help you decide if the site has anything real to offer. If it doesn’t, keep looking. If you think it might, post a trial piece – something small that isn’t part of a work you’ve poured your heart and soul into. That way, if the critiques turn nasty, you aren’t hurt as badly. Once the critiques are in, ask for clarification of any points you don’t understand, to see if the other members are willing to explain their remarks, without flaming you.

Keep looking until you find a community that fits well. Above all, don’t give an anonymous stranger behind a keyboard the power to take away your dream.

What kind of experiences have you had with sharing your work for critique in online communities? Have you encountered bullies? Or have you found a site that works for you?

What can we do, as a community of creative individuals, to put a stop to this form of bullying, other than refuse to participate?

Reviews Discontinued

After a great deal of thought, I have concluded that regularly scheduled reviews are not feasible here. In addition to my writing, and maintaining this blog, I have become a regular contributor and reviewer at GraveTells.com, and I’m working on other projects related to writing. In short, there just isn’t enough time for me to do everything I need to do.

I will occasionally post a review here whenever I have the time and inclination, but it won’t be according to a schedule. Anyone interested in having a Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy reviewed should visit GraveTells Reviews Policy and Submission Page for information. GT also offers author interviews, character interviews, and other promotional opportunities for authors.

I offer promotional opportunities other than reviews, such as author interviews, character interviews, guest blog spots, & etc. If you have a review scheduled at GraveTells, and would like to do additional promo here, contact me to make arrangements.