Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Be My Friend!

The Story Siren has a post up about author/reviewer relationships; and since it took seven tries to write a comment that wasn't the length of This Is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn, I knew I would be writing something up here.

Story Siren's question: Are author/reviewer relationships a good thing or a bad thing? And she goes on to ponder things like a reader being a fan, and how being friends influences reviews, etc. Reviewer X continues the conversation, concentrating on the idea of 'negative' reviews. Both blogs have some interesting comments, with a variety of perspectives.

To back up a little, I've written before about reviews and reviewers and bloggers: We Don't Need No Stinking Book Reviews; Another Article About Those Darn Bloggers; bloggers represent a dead end; and you may remember when Critical Mass's Ethics in Book Reviewing post, which I thought I wrote about, but apparently not. I think a few years back there was something about reviewers and friends reviewing books? Anyone remember? I'm just finding stuff like this.


And for the record? It is different when we're talking "professional reviews." Among other things, those reviews are for journals where the reviewer does not select the book(s) they review; an editor is involved in the process; and the review is written for journal requirements and guidelines (i.e., it's not about whether the reviewer likes the book, it's whether the book is being recommended for purchase or is a good work of literature, etc.) See Carlie Webber's recent post at Shelf Space).

Topic. And I mean it this time.

Authors and bloggers are part of today's book community; as such, they will be friends and friendly. The level may vary -- a Twitter friend versus a real life friend. Sometimes someone may be both. It's a bit ridiculous to say there should be an iron curtain, especially as some people start as bloggers and then may become published authors; or authors may also blog about books.

I'm a big fan of transparency and awareness. So, if you're friends with an author whose book you review or discuss on your blog, mention it. It doesn't have to be anything huge; and of course there is a difference between being friendly -- some tweets back and forth over favorite TV show and the like -- and going over to someone's house for dinner.

Is it necessary to disclose who you follow on Twitter? Friend on Facebook? Comment back and forth on blogs? No. It depends on the level of the relationship. When I review my friend Christine Marciniak's book, I'll mention that we've been friend since fifth grade. If I review a book by Coe Booth, I'm not going to say "BTW, we follow each other on Twitter and sometimes send tweets back and forth." I'm not going to say, "this author left a comment on my blog three months ago and now I'm posting about her book."

Use your judgment (and for the most part, bloggers do use their judgment and think about these things). As always, the good rules of thumb: "If I was reading this blog post, would I want to know this about the author/blogger relationship?" and "Do I think I may be influenced by that relationship?"

Which brings us to awareness: being aware of how that relationship affects how you're blogging. If the authors you know are ones that you're reviewing, make sure you review some books by authors you don't know, for instance. A much harder issue is when the book isn't good. Some bloggers don't post reviews of books they don't like because, since blogging is voluntary, they don't have to finish the book. So that's an easy answer.

But.... but you finish the book. And you think there are flaws. And you know, if the author were anyone else, you'd post a critical review. That is the real issue.... and that's up to the individual blogger how to handle. It's a tough one; it's a real issue. But c'mon... we are still all part of one community. So we can still be friendly and friends.

While I tend to be a "I didn't finish it so I'm not going to snark about it" blogger, I do like snark. And I appreciate accurate, critical reviews. Because -- sometimes, the book isn't good. I'm not saying "oh, I didn't like the book", which is a different post. I'm not talking reviews that tell me more about the reviewer than the book. I'm talking when characters are weak; plotholes abound; writing is choppy. And guess what? I want to know that! I don't want to waste time and money on a book that isn't all that.

Which brings me to the authors in the relationship. Yes, I understand that the book is your baby. Yes, I know it was a lot of hard work. Yes, I know the dread of "omg what if someone hates my book." I'm right with you, sweating over reviews, waiting for royalty statements. (Remember, I cowrote Pop Goes the Library). Don't respond to reviews you don't like. Don't pressure bloggers for reviews or feedback (and yes, even a status email can be seen as pressure). Don't get angry at the idea of reviews being anything other than positive and rainbows.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


tanita✿davis said...

Once I gave a single star to a book on Goodreads and the author began bombarding me with email to make me change it. And that wasn't even a review!! Apparently just the two of us commenting together on someone else's blog represented to her a connection which she expected me to honor with... I guess leniency?

People deal with the connections within the blogosphere so differently. I don't always feel its necessary to disclose a relationship if it's Twitter-deep, definitely not. And I do love the snark myself, but I try not to use my coruscating wit as a bludgeon, but merely a lamp to show what didn't work and mightn't work for others. I hope I could do that for anybody regardless of whether we have a connection... and with more of the blogosphere writing now, I guess we'll find out!

Leila said...

I heart you, Liz B.

Liz B said...

tanita, great definition of snark! good snark is also about the book (ie, snarking about the sparkly in a certain book with vampires). bad snark is about the writer thinking, "i am the cleverest person in cleverdonia."

Aw, thanks, Leila!

MotherReader said...

Amen, sister!

Do you ever feel like you're in a time warp where the same discussions keep coming back around?

I think that we need to accept that the blogging review world is NOT the Kirkus/PW review world, but that both have something to offer. If we can call those reviews more objective - and I don't believe that there is such thing as an objective book review - then we can also realize that they are devoid of the personal connection and background that can make a book better.

For instance. I liked the book Shark Girl. But I liked it even more after learning that the author turned it in on the day that famous girl suffered a shark attack - and that the author held off on publishing the book because she didn't want to take advantage of the situation. While I was impressed with the way the author wrote about the way people handled grief, I was even more impressed with the writing when I heard how the author had used personal experience with grief to capture those feelings.

So, I don't think we're objective reviewers. But I don't really think anyone is. We just have other things to bring to the table to make the experience of reading and sharing books that much richer.

Terry Tibke said...

Having just strolled into the world of regularly reading book reviews, I really found this post insightful. Putting personal connections and emotions aside to give a good critical evaluation is important.

Keep this stuff coming!


Terry Tibke

Elaine Marie Alphin said...

I wonder if what this really boils down to is professionalism on both parts. As an author, I would consider it completely unprofessional to criticize a reviewer for a negative review of one of my books, no matter how much it upset me. A review is an opinion, and the reviewer is entitled to her or his own opinion, just as I am entitled to express my own ideas in my books.

And even though the world of blogging reviewers is not the Kirkus/SLJ/PW review world, I would expect their reviews to be presented with a professional approach that shows they read the whole book, and their review is neither personally praising nor personally reviling it in light of their association with the author.

Blog reviews give much wider exposure to books and, as such, they're an asset to authors and publishers as much as they are to the cyberreaders who follow the blogs to find a new book to read.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

YES. I commented on the Story Siren and you said it so well I feel I just have to say YES again here. The kid lit blog world is small. If I eliminated a possible review venue for every review blog I commented on, I'd have shot myself in the foot big time. But the fact is, yeah, I read a lot of YA review blogs. And I comment to show folks I'm reading and I'm interested, and sometimes e-mails happen. But I wouldn't want that reviewer to give it one second of thought if they wanted to review my book critically -- you know what, none of my books are perfect, and tastes are subjective, and yada yada yada -- a perfect review of any book makes me lift my eyebrows.

I say, I'm fine with the relationships if bloggers are willing to stick to their guns.