January 30, 2011

Authors should take caution to reviewing? Say what?

I really don't do enough discussion-based posts on here, so I'm hereby trying to change that. There's a lot going on in the world of reading and writing and YA literature that gets me fired up to talk for hours. So here we go. (Only not for hours - don't wanna bore any of you!)

Recently, as in, six days ago, a post regarding a touchy subject was made by Urban Fantasy author Stacia Kane. That said post then sparked further debate, causing Kane to produce this post.
*Nothing here is directed personally at Stacia Kane. I'm merely responding to what she's said.

Now that you've got the background material, let's move on.

The touchy subject is that of the struggles of being an author and posting negative reviews - the benefits, consequences, etc.

You think, Sure, there are pros and cons. I don't want to diss a fellow writer's hard work and have them lash out at me. Yet, I want to be honest.

But what if your negative reviews prevented you from signing with a particular agent? Would you give up reviewing forever? Would you try to find a different agent?

In her initial post, Kane says she heard from two agents in a chat that they wouldn't want to sign on a writer that has dissed their work in the past.

What I don't understand is why that affects anything. There are always going to be people that dislike your work. That's how it goes. So why should you not give them their moment when you've had yours - just because they didn't give something you've written a stellar review? Isn't that mixing personal matters with business matters?

Writing is a very personal act - what you write maybe has a little part of you attached to it, or maybe a part of a friend, or a loved one. It's your feelings on paper. So of course rejection is going to hurt, to a degree. Especially something as publicly rejecting as a negative review. But every reviewer is entitled to their own opinions. So why should they be rejected just because they may not have enjoyed one of your ("your" being any author) works?

Kane says there's a difference between being a reviewer and a writer. You can't (or shouldn't?) be both. When you become a writer, as in, a published author, things change:
" The fact is, when you decide to become a writer you give up some of your personal freedoms. When you sell your first book you give up even more. There’s no getting around that, and there’s no changing it. You can no longer say exactly what you think exactly the way you think it at all times. You can no longer assume that only the people you’re familiar with are reading your blog or your tweets. You no longer have the luxury of an opinion, honestly, on a lot of things. "
Admittedly, this perturbed me the most. What kind of sick irony is this - to strip an author of their freedom of speech? I understand there's a level of professionalism that should be maintained - no one wants to be trashy, classless or ignorant. But I believe authors should be allowed to write negative reviews - they're people, too. They don't like everything. So why shouldn't they say so (in a tasteful manner, of course)?

Kane has an answer for that in her follow-up:
**Profanity is used.

" Here’s a question. Why the fuck would you want to possibly alienate someone who could help your career? Just so you can tell the world what you think of their book? Do you really feel that strongly about being able to inform the world at large that you found Author A’s dialogue unrealistic? It’s really that important to you? "
By "someone who could help your career," she means that, as an author writing a negative review, why would you want to alienate another author that could help you in some way?

I don't understand why writing a negative review has to be taken to such an extreme. It's one opinion. Why does that have to mean you're "alienating" the other author? And if that other author does perceive it to be alienation on your part and does not want to converse and/or help you in the future, so what? It's just one author. Isn't it better to be honest about your work and someone else's rather than play it safe on the off chance that they might later help you?

Maybe I've got it all wrong. Maybe I'm crazy. But if I ever become a published author, I will do what I can to not be silenced in such a way, and be stripped of freedoms.

***The reason I say all of this is because of the alarming amount of bloggers that are suddenly closing up shop, so to speak. Or going on haituses. All because of this controversy. They're afraid reviewing will impose on their futures as writers. And I hate to see that.

What about you guys? Agree? Disagree? Inbetween?


  1. Fabulous post! I agree with you, i don't really get what the big deal is either. The way i see it there is always good and negative and weather the table tilts more towards negative or good hype people are still talking about you're book. If you get 5 out of ten negative reviews people are still hearing about you're book, and it will most likely still catch there interest. You can't expect everyone to like what you put out there, and i think part of being an author is understanding that and accepting the negative that comes with the good. Authors and anyone who writes reviews should be able to voice there opinions negative or not. If i ever upgraded from my aspiring author staus to published, i like to think i'd still write reviews, and if i still wrote reviews you can bet you're black fingernail polish that i'd still be completly honest in my opinions. I don't beleive in writing reviews that tear down authors, but i'm not going to lie and say it was all great if it wasn't either.

    I went on a rant here...i apoliogize, just wanted to let you know that you're not crazy or alone in you're opinon on this one :)


  2. I sort of understand where Stacia is coming from. Because of the culture here in the Philippines, that's not an unusual practice, and not just in the literary industry. It's like talking bad about your co-workers and of course, once word gets back to them, they are more likely to think ill of you and never help you with your work EVER. But of course I disagree with shutting up your mouth about a bad book just so you would look good to other authors. What if you really thought the book had some bad moments? Aren't readers entitled to know everything about what they're going to read? Because readers do not just go pick a book and dispose of it if they did not like it. Readers buy those books most of the time (like I do), and of course, they'd want to get their money's worth. However, if the book turned out bad, they can't just call the publisher and complain that they didn't like the book and want their money back. That's the problem with buying books. You buy it, you read it, you love it - it stays in your shelf. You buy it, you read it, you dislike it - it's got nowhere to go, either you leave it on your shelf never to be touched again, give it away, or resell it to those used books shop. In any of those choices, you lose because you won't ever be reimbursed the money or the worth entitled to you.

    However, I would draw the line with the nasty comments. If I were a writer, I guess a bad review won't hurt much if it's really just a critique of my work. I would still help out/be nice to whoever wrote that review. But if the reviewer somehow attacked me as a person, then I would totally have an ax to grind.

    I never liked playing it safe because if you play it safe, that's all that you're ever going to get. You won't be able to get more out of anything. Besides, if you are very sure that the negative review was well-deserved, then there's no point dressing it up.

    I guess my point is, when you're writing a review, be a real professional about it and only include points that you liked and disliked. Always try to strike a balance - but if you can't find anything to balance the bad parts, then present it in the most honest yet most respectful way you can - never attack the author and never write unnecessary unpleasant comments. And - I don't know if this is acceptable - if you read someone's work and had some issues with it, why not try talking with that author first and presenting your case, at least you let him/her know firsthand so they could at least prepare for the negative review you would be giving.

    As for authors/agents who refuse to help out another author because of a previously-written negative review, I guess it's in their discretion but I would still expect them to be a professional about it. They read your book, they didn't like it, so they posted their opinion. But what if you liked theirs? Wouldn't it hurt to give their work a try, then if you didn't like it, give your honest opinion. If you liked it, then great, you've found a new gem, and you've also found another book that might help you refine your craft.

    I originally visited your blog because I wanted to thank you for reading my review of Plan B and tell you to still read it, just don't have that high an expectation as I did because it did have its really great moments. Then I got all fired up when I read your post and now my supposed one-paragraph comment slowly morphed into a novella. LOL. But great topic to discuss!

    Brush Up On Your Reading

  3. Agreed. I don't think an author should be silenced because they all of a sudden become published BUT and this is a biggie, they shouldn't go around writing a bunch of really hurtful negative stuff either.

    I'll give you an example: Steven King. I think the guy is an a-hole because of some of the things he deems himself worthy to say. You don't say another writer is crap because that's just rude. Don't mind if you don't like them, don't mind if you say you don't care for them, but don't be rude about it. I think that's really the key difference.

    As an aspiring published author, I can say that I'll err on the side of caution. Saying that in your opinion the dialog felt a bit unrealistic is not being rude, it's being honest. If you can't take the truth, go back to writing on your computer for your own entertainment. Some people are going to love it, some people are going to hate. That's the beauty of our craft.

    So yes, I think writers should be able to write negative reviews but they shouldn't be rude about it.

  4. Everyone should be able to say what they think to a degree. Negative reviews are part of life as we are all different with different opinions on life.

    If you advertise yourself as a book blogger/author who gives honest opinions on books and you don't, does this not mean you are being dishonest.

    I can understand how negative reviews can hurt authors but I feel I would rather have people being honest with me than pretending to like something I wrote when they didn't.

    The power of speech is a wonderful thing and sometimes what one person thinks is a negative aspect of the novel another person will come along and see this as a positive aspect.

    Negative reviews are going to happen no matter what you do as an author they are just a part of the journey as a published author.

  5. I don't think it's fair to say that you can't review just because you want to be a writer. But, on the other hand, it's not fair for you to be rude about a book you didn't like. I try to say that if I can't say a few good things for every one thing I didn't like, then I'm not trying hard enough and it's not a balanced review, and therefore I shouldn't be publishing it anyways. (Then again, it's rare for me to hate a book so much that I wouldn't have anything good to say about it.) Plus, most of book blogging for me is the community. We all have similar interests, and some of us even share a wish to become writers. Yeah, probably if I end up publishing I won't be reviewing much anymore because I'm too busy. But that doesn't mean my opinions stop.

    Oh and small point to Ms. Kane - how does she know that her posts about this subject won't alienate someone who could help her career? It's not just reviews, anything you put out on the internet can offend someone. And beyond that, anything she puts in her books can offend her readers. If you live your life in fear of offending someone, then you better have a cottage out in the middle of nowhere with no internet, phone or possibility of human contact, because people get offended by the littlest things anymore! Personally I'd prefer to just be myself in the long run.

  6. This is the first I've heard about the controversy. I don't know Kane as an author. I do think that any writer who "makes it" (and you an define this as critical or commercial success) owes something to struggling or emerging writers, because all successful authors were once struggling or emerging themselves. And I can see how one would not want to use one's own success to negatively impact any other writer's work by writing negative reviews (or blurbs). So maybe this means that published authors must be more introspective than the rest of us about what kind of reviews they write, because at that moment, for better or worse, they have also become tastemakers.

  7. I guess people are touchy about their work, but I always thought that there is always more room for improvement no matter how good of a writer you are... There's always room to grow and constructive criticism - in this form, a negative review - should help right? IDK. I'm not a writer so maybe I'm just not seeing it.

    But I hadn't even known about this whole controversy until you posted it so thanks for keeping me in the loop.

  8. I have to agree with you - it just seems wrong. After reading those posts, I just can't believe, and I'm actually kind of having trouble getting it into words.

    Censoring yourself just because maybe someday, in the far distant future, that author might be in the position to help just rings of...fakeness. To me, authors need to have tough skin. They're celebrities in the book world, just as actors are celebrities in media world. However, actors get bashed personally all the time, and tend to let it roll of their backs, whereas authors tend to only get criticized on their work, and not their personal lives. I think we as reviewers (and some of us hopeful authors) should be able to say whatever it is we feel like saying about a book. Because it's the book we don't like, not the author themselves. And, hell, we might not like one book by them, but adore another. Not everyone is going to like everything you do, and I would totally value an honest opinion of my work over a glossed-over, fake-smile kind of review, just because they hope I might help them one day. :-P

    It's like a teacher not giving a student a bad grade because, oh god, that kid might be famous one day. It's just ridiculous.

    I'd totally keep rambling, but I'm having problems coherently thinking right now, lol. XD It's early, and I'm sick, so I'm calling it quits.

  9. Oh my goodness! It is obvious that this is a pretty heated debate. I can see both sides of this matter, but I would have to agree that preventing someone from signing would be mixing business with personal. There's no doubt it doesn't happen. In a world where getting published can feel like "who you know" I can see where the lines can get blurred.

    That being said, why should I compromise my opinion? Can't you be more than one thing at once? Can't you be a woman, a mother, a sister, a writer, a blogger, a friend...? Why should one take precedence? There are lots of authors out there who I enjoy reading,but I may not enjoy their personal politics. I wouldn't stop reading books I enjoy because of that.

    If I think something is crap, then I'm going to say it. If you think it is good, then argue your points, write your own review, explain why I should see it differently.

    Shouldn't we be debators rather than dictators?

  10. I read this article too, and I was furious. Writing has always been my passion and my dream, and if I had to choose between writing stories and reviewing other people's, I'd choose writing in a heartbeat -- but I shouldn't have to. No one should.

    No one is going to like everything. It's unrealistic to expect that. I understand where Ms. Kane is coming from, to be sure; while it certainly would mix personal and professional to deny someone who dissed your work a contract or professional help, it's not something you can exactly help. Professional and personal are both sides of the same person who is only that -- a person. Denying that is futile, but it is arguably even stupider to pretend that writers should see only the bright and happy sides of the rest of the industry.

    Personally, I think that as long as the reviews are polite, there is nothing wrong with negative reviews. Often, I simply won't review a book I feel negatively about unless I've specifically agreed to review it, but if I want to talk about something I don't like, then why shouldn't I? Why should having an opinion damage my prospects as a writer?

    I won't lie, I'm one of the reviewers who has considered stopping because of this. But I've decided to keep going. I'm making a few changes to the way I do things on my blog, but they're changes that have been a long time coming anyway. Something that I enjoy doing as a 17-year-old high school senior shouldn't preclude me from publishing my writing later, like once I'm out of college.

    I think this whole debate is insane. I certainly see both sides of it, but I am all for writers having opinions.

    Thanks for posting this, Alyssa.

  11. *Alissa. >.< Sorry, didn't catch my typo until I'd already hit "post comment"...

  12. Oh my goodness. I got SO angry at this, Alissa, you don't understand. Or perhaps you totally do. I am one of the people who doesn't mind writing "constructive" reviews rather than all out gushy ones. And I, too, am an aspiring person who wants to write. Whether that dream comes true in the future or not, I don't think Kane's claim that an author can be both a writer and reviewer is valid.

    If you've taken creative writing classes, (and I'm assuming here that you have), and they were workshop classes, they basically take your work and rip it apart. It's supposed to help you grow as an author. Learn from your weak points. Reviewing is not about stroking your egos and going, "ah, yes, I sold this many books, I am great and awesome, yes."

    As long as the reviewer is polite in the manner in which she words her "constructive criticism," or review, I don't see what the big deal is.

    For aspiring authors, I think the point is to write a book that transcends petty politics and makes the agent/publisher judge you and sign you based on the work you have submitted and not on what you have said. If you have written something that insanely good, there's no way a sane (and business savvy) agent will pass it up. Imagine if someone had rejected Rowlings for what she said in a review? And really, do you want to associate yourself with a company and agent given to such "interesting" ways of conducting business?

    I mean, if Shakespeare couldn't escape being slammed for his work, who are we?

    Gah. Thanks for bringing this up, Alissa. It definitely got me thinking.

    (p.s: I read Ms. Kane's followup post and her emphasis that she was afraid. She even carries "two switchblades" - she's that unafraid. I don't get it. If you are carrying blades, isn't it a testament to your fear? This is not meant as an attack, I just seriously don't get it.)

  13. Hi there!

    I'd like to clarify a couple of things, if I may.

    1. I am neither an agent nor an editor. I do not "sign" writers. Declining to blurb someone's book, or not hanging out with them at a con, or venting about them privately to a few friends, or whatever else, is hardly the same thing as "blackballing" them from publishing or keeping them from being published.

    Two agents during that chat said they wouldn't be likely to sign a writer who gave their authors bad reviews; I repeated their words. I'm not responsible for them and I didn't make that decision or those statements for them for them, I just repeated it. Please don't misattribute their statements to me, and make it sound as if I claimed I'd keep people from being published for a bad review. I'd very much appreciate it if you'd edit that to reflect the truth.

    I also said repeatedly in both posts that I would be happy to still help said writer-reviewer, and give them advice. I have helped and given advice to many writers, even those I dislike personally, and will continue to do so because helping writers is important to me. But blurbing is a different thing. It's not helping someone leave a bad situation or evaluate a new one, or handle an editor who's rude to them, or whatever else.

    Blurbing is a significant investment of time. My time is--again, as I said repeatedly--limited; I don't owe anyone a blurb, and when asked, I usually try to accommodate. But when I have two mss in front of me but only time to read one, and one is by someone who doesn't like my work and one is by someone who does...well, that someone who does is one of my readers, and I want to help them first. If that other person never said a word about my work, I'm still going to go for them; why should they lose out in favor of someone who said negative things about my work? It's not anger or vindictiveness. It's lack of time.

    2. How often do you see professional actors critiquing other actors? Musicians critiquing other musicians?

    You don't get to be a professional writer without developing a thick skin. That doesn't mean you have to like getting bad reviews, and it certainly doesn't mean you're obligated to help anyone who asks, even if they have in the past told people your work isn't good.

    3. Every business in the world has its own rules of things you do and do not say. I don't see how saying those hoping to climb a certain ladder shouldn't say negative things about those a little higher on the ladder is some strange and horrible thing. It's not about being "fakey"-nice because you hope someone will help you someday. It's about publishing being a very small world, and you never know how someone will react, or how their friends might react. When you review regularly, you look less like a professional writer and more like a reader-reviewer to many people. I didn't invent that and again, I'm not responsible for it.

    (Breaking here because my comment is apparently too long.)

  14. (cont'd)

    4. If someone doesn't like my work and then asks me for a blurb, they make me feel used. Again, I mentioned this in my post. Why should I allow someone to use me?

    5. I am not "Publishing," and I do not make the rules for the entire industry. I'm a writer who gave some advice based on my experience. I don't understand why that would make anyone "furious." It's advice. It's me repeating what I've been told repeatedly by all of my friends who are also NY published. You don't have to take it. Not taking it doesn't mean you won't get published. It's just advice.

    6. As for my advice to be careful about expressing opinions...I believe your post makes my point perfectly. I expressed an opinion on my blog. According to you/some of the commenters here, I am now advocating censorship, way too sensitive about my work, scared, weak, hypocritical, petty, vindictive, fake, and touchy.

    That's not fun. That part of my post had nothing to do with reviews or other authors, it was about how *readers* can take your comments, and how people can totally misinterpret them no matter how clear you try to be, and that they will assume things about you/your personality whether those things are correct or not. Not about your book, but about you personally. As you have all done here.

    My advice was intended to help aspiring writers by advising them of some things they may not be aware of, and letting them know how things change. That's all. Many NY-pubbed authors agreed wholeheartedly with me. It was just intended to help. Agree with it or disagree; that's your right. But my purpose wasn't vindictive or rude or anything else. Do you think I like not being able to express certain opinions? No. Nor do I like seeing myself slammed on blogs all over the internet. That can happen to anyone, but when you're a writer you're under more scrutiny. The stakes go up, in other words, and there are more chances to be misunderstood. If that doesn't bother you, fine, say whatever you like.

    As for accepting bad reviews...reviews, good or bad, are not a rarity in mmp publishing. Most midlist books in my genre seem to average about 200 of them. You absolutely learn to accept them. You become quite used to getting reviews. You do not get to the point of being a professional writer without dealing with and accepting some rejection.

    But as I said above, that doesn't mean it doesn't still sting sometimes; honestly, if it doesn't, I'd almost be inclined to question how much you actually care about your work. That doesn't mean it can't or won't still be hurtful to see them. I hated my job at the bank, but it still hurt when I was told I'd handled something incorrectly. Getting bad grades on a test for which I'd studied and really worked hard still hurt. Being denied a promotion at work still hurt. Do you not get upset at all when your work is criticized, no matter what it is? When you, I don't know, clean your kitchen, and are told you didn't do a very good job, do you smile and say thanks and continue on just as chipper as always, without even a prickle or sadness or disappointment about it?

    Nor are reviews the only feedback writers get; we also have agents and editors, who are also publishing professionals. We listen to their feedback. Reviews are not critique on a pre-published book; reviews are opinions about finished work, which cannot be changed or re-edited or anything else. Reviews don't have to make sense or have anything to do with the work itself, even, and sometimes they don't. All of that is fine. Again, as I said over and over in my post, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and the expression of it. But I'm not getting "constructive criticism" from a review, which is as you (and dozens of reviewers) said only one person's opinion.

    Reviews are for readers, not for writers.

    Have a great day.

  15. BTW, I did see your little disclaimer about nothing in your post being directed "at" me, (though your post is in fact directed right at me and my words, and how strongly you disagree with them and in fact how wrong and distasteful you find my opinions and advice) but I understand you meant that you didn't mean for it to be personal about me.

    I was referring to the comment thread here when I mention the assumptions about me as a person etc..

  16. Personally, I think it's rather self-centered and egotistic of her in that post (admittedly, I skimmed it). But the strange thing is, I just had a similar (albeit brief) conversation with a friend of mine, who is a published writer and who was hesitant to give a certain book less than 4 stars on goodreads because she was afraid of alienating the author, who could potentially be an ally in the future.

    What the heck is going on?? I agree with one thing you said:What kind of sick irony is this - to strip an author of their freedom of speech?

    Wow. You hit the nail on the head. Of course, a lot of this is probably because of the whole blogger/internet thing, but you have to remember this too: authors have been "trashing" and disliking other authors for years. Think about James Joyce. Think about -- ugh, why can't I think of other famous feuds?

    What's really at issue here is this: people want to show their opinion, and they want everyone to have an opinion, but only if that opinion is the same as the first person's. It's the overwhelming problem in most of our US society today. Everyone is tiptoeing around everyone else for fear of offending! Or alienating. Or something.

  17. @ Stacia: Ah, I see. Sorry about that. I have corrected the misattribution. Poorly worded on my part.

  18. Depends what the review is like. If it's badly written or a personal attack on the author, then it's probably out of order.
    If it's about a book rather than an author, a critical review rather than a trashing, then it's fine, I think. It's writing, after all.
    Disclaimer - I'm a published author, and I review. When I started to review, I asked my editors and publishers if they minded. They coudn't care less.
    Maybe because I keep my observations in a review to a specific book.
    I don't review books by friends, or books from the same publishers or lines that publish me. Otherwise, if I think I might have something interesting to say, I say it. I also review on other blogs, which means my post goes through an editing process.
    When I start to earn in the Nora/JK range, and people start looking to me like I'm some kind of oracle (yeah, right) I might rethink. Or I might not.
    I do think that sometimes writers have something useful to say and a different perspective on things. We have a little more knowledge of the writing business than the average reader, and maybe we can see alternatives for a writer's choice.


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