I interrupt your daily can-can of RITA Reader Reviews for… a few words on reviewing!
I keep thinking that someday we're going to be over the “Reviewers are mean bullies!” thing, or the whole “You didn't say nice things so I'm going to say mean things about YOU” thing.
Clearly I overdosed on optimism.
Here's what I don't think is clearly understood regarding online reviews and discussions:
This is how readers interact with books.
We react passionately and loudly and sometimes with big ladles of snark to the books we read. This is how readers talk about books. I believe that we always have.
The difference now, with all that social media and interaction, is that it's easier to find, and sometimes, difficult to avoid.
But everyone, authors, readers and everyone else, we are all driven and compelled and encouraged to interact with and create in response to the entertainment we consume. Reviews are part of everything now.
Clay Shirky wrote in Cognitive Surplus,
[Y]oung populations with access to fast, interactive media are shifting their behavior away from media that presupposes pure consumption. Even when they watch video online, seemingly a pure analog to TV, they have opportunities to comment on the material, to share it with their friends, to label, rate, or rank it, and of course, to discuss it with other viewers around the world.
Shirky, Clay. Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.
Readers have always talked frankly about books that inspire reaction, positive or negative. With the addition of social media, we are less and less content to passively consume books – especially if, as is true for some romance readers, there aren't many people with whom we can discuss the books we read. Interaction about books online is the natural progression of our own reactions.
I've talked about this on panels at conferences before: it used to be when you drove into Manhattan through the Lincoln Tunnel (slowly, because there's traffic like you've never imagined) there'd be a big ass billboard for Absolut vodka. At the bottom: absolut.com.
For some time now that same billboard has instead directed people to facebook.com/absolut.
It is more valuable for that company to have consumers interacting and talking about their product on Facebook than it is to have their eyeballs on the Absolut.com website. A website, I imagine, they paid umpty-zillion dollars for.
The conversation and interaction in response to what we consume is essential. It is normal. It is not always positive. It is always valuable.
It is why we tweet during a tv show, and write recaps afterward. It's why we write reviews of movies on blogspots that maybe 6 people or 6 million people will read. And it's why we write reviews, positive and negative, online and off, about EVERYTHING.
Whenever I see someone react with outrage and pity for an author who received a harsh review here or anywhere, my reaction is always confusion and disappointment. When I read someone react with fury and pitchforks about a negative review, questioning the reviewers intelligence and biological makeup, I am completely baffled.
We're still angry that readers are honest about what they think about books? WHY? I'd rather honesty than false admiration and condescension.
You might have surmised that my writing here has been inspired by the “Stop the Goodreads Bullies” website, which posts pictures, names, locations and identifying information about reviewers they dislike.
Here's a perfect response to anyone who thinks this GR Bullies bullshit is a great idea from Foz Meadows:
[A]ny public figure, regardless of whether they’re an author, actor, sportsperson or journalist, must resign themselves to a certain amount of public criticism. Not everyone will like you, your work or even necessarily your profession, and nor will they be under any obligation to protect your sensibilities by being coy about it. A negative review might mean you lose sales, but that’s not a gross unfairness for which the reviewer should be punished, no matter how snarky they are: it is, rather, a legitimate reflection of the fact that, in their personal and professional estimation as a consumer of your work, they don’t believe that other people should buy it. And yes, you’re allowed to feel sad about that, but it’s still going to happen; it’s still going to be legal and normal.
What she said.
(Also, Kat Kennedy's new and improved autobiography in response to the site is brilliant.)
But let me put that another way. I don't believe the people behind that site are “other readers.” The response is so similar to the outrage and fury that greets bad reviews. And I think this needs to be said about creating entertainment and reviews:
Criticism that we don't like is part of what we signed up for when we published.
Let me say this again: bad reviews? Really long angry reviews about how insanely mad a book made a reader? Really wonderful squeeful reviews about how wonderful the book was? Reviews that say, “Meh”?
This is what we signed up for when we published.
This is what happens when we publish a book, a piece of entertainment for someone else to pay for and read.
We may have the most meanest critique partner in the world, but she is nothing to the reader who paid $9 for a book and was disappointed.
This is what happens when readers read books: we get irate sometimes and giddy other times. Now we interact more about the giddy and the irate, and that interaction, positive or negative, is valuable. More importantly, it's normal.
And this, by which I mean reviews in all flavors, is how entertainment works now: something is created. Someone consumes that creation. That someone will be encouraged in a variety of subtle and direct ways to interact or create in response to that something which was consumed. That cycle will continue.
The age of universal admiration and nothing but praise is long gone, and isn't coming back. It shouldn't. If we want the romance genre to grow, authors should be free to review books as candidly as any reader.
More than anything, we have trust readers. Trust that we (all of us as readers) are intelligent and able to make decisions individually and personally.
Trust that we can see through a review that was more about the author than the book.
Trust that most of the time, when we say we hated a book and rip up many words of ire as to why, we're talking about the book.
As for the GR “Bullies” crap, it demonstrates a belief that people are not intelligent enough to make decisions on their own about the motivations of a writer, to decide who they want to listen to, and who they don't. That the response to reviewers we don't like is not to stop reading or listening to them. That some reviewers are more valid than other reviewers, and that some reviewers should be humiliated until they stop reviewing.
Reviews of all types are part of everything we consume now, from vacuum cleaners to hotels in Portland.
No book – no thing that is consumed – is immune or excused from review now. We are each of us more and more adept at discerning who and what we trust when we look for opinions.
So outing and attempting to shame reviewers for doing what everyone does in different forms and different venues is counterintuitive, cruel, and hypocritical (especially the part where those doing the exposing hide behind pseudonyms).
But beyond the existence of that or any other site, this idea that reviews aren't welcome in romance or in any genre continues to baffle me. Reviews, positive or negative, are essential. Reviews are part of social media. Reviews are part of everything. They aren't going anywhere.
So review something. Anything. Review all the things! And don't let anyone tell you you're doing it wrong. The answer to reviews is more reviews.
Thank you to BigStock for the image!