Thursday, November 20, 2008

Strong feelings make strong writing

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Suggested by JM:

I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the book just because I got a free copy of it. However, some authors seem to feel that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a positive review. Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?


This question dovetails nicely with last week's question about buying versus borrowing books. As I said, I value books and the people who create them. This blog should be fair evidence of that fact. But I have been a theatre artist for years and once you have made your work and put it out there for the world to look at, guess what? You do not control how your audience will receive it, what they will think or feel about it. That's up to them. Everyone has an opinion and I know that it is not nice to hear negative ones, but you will. If you're an artist and the thing that motivates you is other people's approval of you, I hope you have a lot of money for a good therapist. You're not five years old anymore. Mommy might have put every scribble you ever drew up on the refrigerator, but I'm not your mommy.

This is my blog. Mine. If I think something and feel like writing it here I will. You may imagine me as your marketing tool but that is not my function. My space. Not yours. Frankly, part of the issue, though, is bloggers. There are bookey folk out there who blog because they want free books and some of them act more like a marketing vehicle than like serious readers whose opinion is worth reading. I get a lot of requests for my blog to become a marketing vehicle for books. I reply to a very small number of them and almost always to professional publicists and not to writers themselves. I ask clearly for their expectations and I tell them clearly that this is my blog and I will only accept their book if they accept that I will write whatever I want. I will not check it with them. I will not temper my opinion. My blog. Mine. Sometimes the issue is just naivetee. I can often tell from an email I receive just how green a writer is (at least I imagaine I can) and I generally won't go near their books. I know it's hard to make something and then hear negative things about it. Early on most artists have not yet learned how to buffet themselves from the onslaught of opinions, or how to ignore them, or how to redirect their attention usefully. Someday, perhaps I will give them therapy. Right now I don't want a part in the understandably big feelings that are tied up with getting their book out. But honestly bloggers - you don't have to accept every book that is thrown your way. You can actually chose which books you accept and be clear in your email about the terms on which you accept them. Mine are simple. I don't tell you what to write in your book, you don't tell me what to write on my blog. What's confusing about that? I don't have to post disclaimers of any kind because my blog is not a request machine for review copies, happy as I am to receive them. My blog is a place where I try to write about themes I see in what I read and, more occasionally, what I see in the theater, what I learn about in the scientific world, or some general phenomenon in our culture. I usually am trying to think seriously (posts on World Toilet Day aside) and critically about the quality of what I see and to be part of the greater discussion that is the blogosphere. I'm part of a larger dialogue. I try to be clear about the bases of my opionions and I assume if my posts aren't what you're looking for that you won't read me. I hope if they are what interests you, that you will read them and even more, that you will comment and have a direct dialogue with me about it.

If you are a writer and want me to write about (market) your book, you may not be receiving money for the copy but it is not without cost for me. I am giving you hours of my time in reading it and in writing about your work. I am not getting paid for that time as a reviewer would, In addition I am giving you free real estate on the world wide web. Your name, your book's title, its themes can be googled by someone and more posts can show up because I wrote about it. Hopefully you have taken the trouble to read me and have not blindly bought some list of literary bloggers and sent a mass email to everyone on earth. And if I'm not for you I hope you won't request me to write about your book. If you are doing a mass-market approach and trying to drum up as much buzz as possible, then know that negative opinions are buzz too. My advice is - don't read your reviews. Let other people do that. You will have a lot of strong feelings around putting a book out into the world. Strong feelings are good fuel for making art. You're a writer - why not write something from them?

6 comments:

Beth F said...

Good response. I said many of the same things -- especially about putting one's work in front of the public.

jlshall said...

Yes, some authors just don't seem to realize that there's going to be a certain amount of rejection waiting for them out there. But, as you say, we can't be their mommies. This was a great post! (And is there really a World Toilet Day?)

Here’s what I said.

Smilingsal said...

I am a honest reviewer. Is there really a massive list of people like me? Scary. Come see my response.

Matt said...

As long as the review bears a resemblance of reasonably argued and well-supported statements, it’s a just review regardless of whether the subject being reviewed is good or bad. I stopped reading some of the book reviews in media because they turn into fluffy gasbags. I owe my readers my honest opinions to a book, regardless of whether it's free or not.

As to the subjectivity, I cannot eulogize more. Your blog should reflect your taste and predilection. I have declined most of the tauting as well because I don't want to go with the flow.

Dorothy W. said...

It's absurd to think that a blogger owes anybody a good review! I end up ignoring most of the offers for review copies I get because I don't want to read the book. There's no way I want to spend hours reading something that I'm pretty sure I won't enjoy just because it's free. I accept review copies only when I'm reasonably sure I want to read the book right away. And yeah, I get some emails from authors that make me think -- no way! You don't know what you're doing, and I really don't want to read your book!

Ted said...

Beth - I enjoyed your response as well.

JL - As for more serious matters like world toilet day - Yes, I'm afraid so!

Sal - Interesting responses from all - I'm enjoying the passion behind this conversation.

Matt - I know what you mean about not going with the flow.

Dorothy - I've enjoyed how much this has gotten your dander up here and elsewhere (LOL).