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03 March 2011 @ 04:56 pm
On blogging and reviewing and "niceness"  
So apparently there's yet another wave going around of folks pressuring book bloggers to be nice or else you won't have a career (if you write) and everyone in the industry will hate you (whether you write or not). With a side of fear that there are people out there wanting to pretty much take you down if you fail to do so. This might not in itself be a big deal, but apparently this pressure has led some book bloggers to actually shut down their blogs out of fear of how they'll be perceived. And that makes me really sad. Because while there may not be a YA Mafia out there waiting to take anyone down, the fear of being shunned for not being sufficiently nice enough is real enough, and I think it has the potential to get in the way of intelligent and spirited book discussions. And more than anything, readers are entitled to intelligent and spirited book discussions.

So, it occurred to me that there's a thing writers can do. We can make a point of telling book bloggers that we know it's okay for them to dislike our books.

Seriously. It is okay to dislike my books. It's okay to post about why you dislike them, and it's okay to talk about why you dislike them. I'd rather you loved them, of course I would ... but not all of you will. And that's all right.

If you dislike my books, or even if you just have mixed and thinky feelings about them, I promise I won't show up in the comments of your blog posts uninvited to tell you why you shouldn't dislike them, or to tell you that you really ought to be nicer, or to tell you that writing books is hard work and that you therefore have no right to criticize one.

Writing books is hard work. But that's my problem; it creates no obligation on your part. When you dislike my book, so long as you stick to talking about the book, you're not attacking me. As a professional writer, it's my job to understand this.

The truth is, if everyone loved my books, it would probably mean that a very limited circle of people were reading them, because there's no book on the planet that everyone unreservedly loves. (I've even seen some anecdotal evidence that books with only positive reviews tend to sell less well than those with mixed reviews.) What writers want, more than anything, is to be read. It's why we send our books out into the world, rather than keeping them safe at home.

Which is why if you dislike my books, and want to talk about why online, I respect that, even welcome it. I'm glad you're out there, and I'm glad you're reading what I've written. Book bloggers and the communities you've created around books and reading totally rock, regardless of whether you love or hate my books specifically. Seriously.

So, writers: I think it'd be pretty cool if we could have a whole wave of posts telling book bloggers that we're good with them not always liking our books, and that we appreciate their being out there regardless. What do you say? Join in?

(ETA: Here's a list of other writers who've responded and said they're also okay with negative reviews.)
 
 
 
movingfingermovingfinger on March 4th, 2011 12:07 am (UTC)
I assume that the reviewer (in any format) who likes everything is a shill.
Janni Lee Simnerjanni on March 4th, 2011 12:43 am (UTC)
Reposted because I read too fast, and didn't realize we were agreeing with each other. Sorry about that! :-)
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(no subject) - oneminutemonkey on March 4th, 2011 01:53 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - janni on March 4th, 2011 03:59 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - janni on March 5th, 2011 05:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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The Muse, Amused: holy stupid ideas batmanpenmage on March 4th, 2011 12:36 am (UTC)
There are several things that trouble me about all this. One of them is the somewhat new form of muzzling the presses, so to speak.

But the others is the way reviewers are pretending like what they say on the internet can't come back to bite you. Someone on Holly's post linked to a comment exchange where Maggie Stiefvater comments on a bad review of her book and basically says, "You can say whatever you want about my book or any other, but just remember that whatever you say on the internet can come back to haunt you."

And the internet attacked her.

I think it may have been poor judgment for her to comment on the post that mocks her own book, but she was civil and polite, and made a REALLY GOOD POINT.

What you say on the internet can have a real, active effect on your career. Not because there's a YA Mafia of authors who will shun you if you say something bad about one of their collective members.

But the things is, most of the books I edit, I love, and I have worked hard to get them to where they are. If you destroy one in a review, it is probably a sign that our tastes are not in line. Furthermore, I am human. And if I sign you, we are going to have to work together, and if you bashed one of my books, I may not feel so warm and fuzzy towards you.

It's not a collective ban. It's not a mafia. It's your actions, having an effect on my desire to work with you.

Should reviewers only post nice reviews? No, of course not. But they should be 100% aware that what they say on the internet can influence other people's opinions of them, which can affect their careers.
Janni Lee Simnerjanni on March 4th, 2011 01:01 am (UTC)
But if one already is civil and polite in one's dislike of a book--which isn't an obligation in general, and isn't something I would demand of my readers, but which I think I agree doesn't hurt if one is planning to work in a field--then I find it troubling that saying "I really didn't like this book, sorry" is enough to lead to talk of consequences.

Because the way we act in the world does have consequences, sure, and acting badly can come back to haunt us all. But I'm extremely uneasy with the idea that simply disliking a book and saying so counts, all by itself, as acting badly, even if the person speaking is otherwise in no way acting like a jerk. (It's possible, of course, to both dislike a book and act badly in other ways.)

What worries me is that we're creating an online culture where it's not okay to say "I didn't like this book." And that's not fair to readers.

I can't speak for anyone but myself. But for myself, as one individual writer (who also works really hard to get her books where they are), there'll be no consequences from me if someone dislikes my book. I'll even be polite and talk to people who dislike my book should we ever meet in person. And have done so, and even made online friends as a result, when people who disliked my books wrote to me about it. (I never contact someone who doesn't like my books, but very occasionally I've been sent links by reviewers, usually because I sent them a book and they wanted to let me know they did review it.)
(no subject) - bondgwendabond on March 4th, 2011 01:13 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bondgwendabond on March 4th, 2011 01:16 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - janni on March 4th, 2011 04:05 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - janni on March 5th, 2011 05:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - janni on March 4th, 2011 04:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - janni on March 6th, 2011 04:42 pm (UTC) (Expand)
DA - (Anonymous) on March 7th, 2011 02:29 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: DA - janni on March 7th, 2011 01:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: DA - (Anonymous) on March 8th, 2011 04:09 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: DA - janni on March 8th, 2011 04:47 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on March 8th, 2011 12:38 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - penmage on March 8th, 2011 01:23 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - janni on March 8th, 2011 04:45 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - janni on March 8th, 2011 01:40 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - movingfinger on March 4th, 2011 03:31 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - janni on March 4th, 2011 04:39 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - janni on March 5th, 2011 06:13 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - janni on March 4th, 2011 04:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - asakiyume on March 4th, 2011 07:12 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - janni on March 5th, 2011 06:16 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - bondgwendabond on March 4th, 2011 12:23 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - oneminutemonkey on March 4th, 2011 01:58 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - oneminutemonkey on March 4th, 2011 04:51 am (UTC) (Expand)
some guy named Larry: space/time otplnhammer on March 4th, 2011 12:47 am (UTC)
I've even seen some anecdotal evidence that books with only positive reviews tend to sell less well than those with mixed reviews.

And it's details like this that make me try to usem my favorite inappropriate physics analogy (that thermodynamic quantities that can change have random noise, and vice versa -- where mixed reviews are the random noise).

---L.
Janni Lee Simnerjanni on March 4th, 2011 01:03 am (UTC)
Heh. Fascinating thought, that.

What does it mean if a system has no random noise?
(no subject) - lnhammer on March 4th, 2011 04:01 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - janni on March 4th, 2011 04:46 am (UTC) (Expand)
ex_kmessner on March 4th, 2011 12:56 am (UTC)
Love this idea - I am in the process of converting my blog to post both on LJ and WordPress, but as soon as I figure it out, this will be my next topic - thanks, Janni! This was so very well said, as always.
Janni Lee Simnerjanni on March 4th, 2011 01:02 am (UTC)
Thanks Kate! I still think of your post from the reader who just didn't like books like yours, but it wasn't personal, he was sure he'd like it if it was his sort of book, sometimes. :-)
Gwenda Bondbondgwendabond on March 4th, 2011 01:04 am (UTC)
We all want YA books to be taken seriously, right? Too many pleas for niceness* makes us look like a genre afraid to be taken seriously. The robust, boisterous YA blogging community is a good thing for everyone.

*Which, let's face it, in YA, the blogosphere is a pretty nice and positive place to begin with.
Janni Lee Simnerjanni on March 4th, 2011 04:50 am (UTC)
All of this. Including the footnote.

I mean, in a way, it's funny that it's the YA community that's worried about meanness. In terms of how we talk to each other and about our work, we're one of the kindest genres there is.

That in this generally kind genre there's so much fear about not being "nice" enough is probably a subject all its own, actually.
(no subject) - raecarson on March 4th, 2011 03:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - janni on March 5th, 2011 06:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Tez Millertezmilleroz on March 4th, 2011 01:05 am (UTC)
*hugs* Thanks for being you, Janni Lee - you're splendid :-)
Janni Lee Simnerjanni on March 4th, 2011 04:51 am (UTC)
Thanks for the hugs back at you. :-)
asakiyumeasakiyume on March 4th, 2011 01:20 am (UTC)
I've tried so many times to leave a comment, but my thoughts are flying away like startled birds and not settling.

I guess the general thing I'm feeling is that most professional authors, like yourself, do give me the impression of being professional, and while you may not like bad reviews, you do understand that, as you say, not everyone can like a book. A few flamboyant people take exception to any negativity from anyone, though (though I confess I'm thinking more of people who seem to appear at any negative mention of their name and not of people reacting specifically to poor reviews).

But it's not just what authors say, it's also the overall climate among readers and how one sees reviews being posted--those things make a difference. And, there's the very complicated fact that we become friendly with one another often before or while coming to know one another's written work. It's awkward! There's one's opinion of something as a reader, and then there's one's feelings about a person personally--and as a person, one may not want to cause another person unhappiness... it just gets complicated, you know?

So people do come up with all kinds of rules for themselves, I'm betting, about how they review...

Janni Lee Simnerjanni on March 4th, 2011 04:55 am (UTC)
The fact that one's friends are one's collleagues, and that loving a person doesn't necessarily mean loving their work, does add an extra level of complication.

I think it's probably a good practice to never make friends feel obligated to talk about one's books specifically unless they want to ... but to let the friendship be about other things. (Outside of critiquing situations.)

And of course, one can also not click with someone's work, but still be genuinely happy for their successes.
(no subject) - asakiyume on March 4th, 2011 07:21 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - janni on March 5th, 2011 06:25 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - asakiyume on March 5th, 2011 06:31 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Chrystalchrystalm on March 4th, 2011 02:02 am (UTC)
Hi Janni - what a great post. I haven't been personally attacked about any of my reviews. I am not afraid to post what I think about a book, lucky for me I haven't read anything lower than 3 out of 5 stars since I started my blog. I am also in the beief that a blogger should be able to poat about DNF (did not finish) books and post why they just couldn't bring themselves to finish the book.

I think honesty is best and if someone truly doesn't like a book then they don't like the book. Not everyone is going to love every book they ever read. I know I personally haven't loved all the books I have read in the past. I'm not afraid to post my thoughts in future either.

I think the whole YA Mafia is ridiculous to say the least. And bloggers should just be themselves and not hide away from the public because of a few random people who are tying to make things hard for others. *sigh*
Janni Lee Simnerjanni on March 4th, 2011 05:00 am (UTC)
I love it when bloggers are honest about books. No one's going to like every book, ever.

Even though there's no YA Mafia, the idea that there might be fear out there around the whole business of reviewing is troubling to me.

And I think it would have to be a pretty extraordinary post that had that much power, all by itself, to disable one's career, as justinelavaworm and blackholly say.

(I've seen single posts do damage. But those have been posts that go way beyond "hey, I really didn't like this book.)
(no subject) - chrystalm on March 9th, 2011 12:37 am (UTC) (Expand)
halliethalliet on March 4th, 2011 02:13 am (UTC)
I am buried under a deadline, but if I had time to write it up, I'd write a post on how I think YA is operating much like a baby fandom...

But otherwise, I honestly think that people are giving a lot more power to less-than-positive reviews than they might deserve. I can think of a reviewer I know whose reviews are trainwrecks. Sure, I rubberneck, but I don't take that reviewer seriously (read: let that influence my buying decisions).

I've also been thinking for a while about how it always seems like when I blog about books (reader reaction) and chat a little about what didn't work for me (generally regarding books I respect, and where I believe that the author is talented, even if I didn't enjoy all of the work I consumed), someone always pops up and says ooh, the very thing I was looking for, and I think I'll go get it right now! I think a part of it is that the Be Supernice feeling has gotten to be so widespread that it's reassuring to see any review that acknowledges that we don't all like all of the same things all of the time.

Sadly, instead of detailing and clarifying, it's back to work for me.
Janni Lee Simnerjanni on March 4th, 2011 05:02 am (UTC)
I've also been thinking for a while about how it always seems like when I blog about books (reader reaction) and chat a little about what didn't work for me (generally regarding books I respect, and where I believe that the author is talented, even if I didn't enjoy all of the work I consumed), someone always pops up and says ooh, the very thing I was looking for, and I think I'll go get it right now!

I've noticed this, too. It's why I'm more and more convinced reviews about things that don't work for a reader not only don't hurt books, but can be actively good for them.
Emma Bull: Cat in Specscoffeeem on March 4th, 2011 02:40 am (UTC)
A story worth telling, I think, as part of the current discussion. A friend of mine was very active in the on-line fandom for a television show. She was honest and articulate about what she liked...and what she thought was poorly done, or badly thought out.

Eventually she found herself having discussions on line about the show with its producers.

Who hired her for the writing staff of their next show.

I guess I'm saying there are lots of ways to do negative reviews. Some of them, sometimes, get positive results.
Janni Lee Simnerjanni on March 4th, 2011 05:03 am (UTC)
That. Is a most excellent story.
(no subject) - asakiyume on March 4th, 2011 07:23 am (UTC) (Expand)
scottpearsonscottpearson on March 4th, 2011 03:52 am (UTC)
I don't think a negative review is synonymous with not being nice. A reviewer can be honest and articulate about disliking something without being insulting or mean spirited. I don't have any problem with someone saying they didn't like something of mine, especially if they list thoughtful reasons, say, "I don't think character x's reaction was believable when his dog bit him. Who would act like that in real life?" That could be a legitimate point of debate.

But I have had people who didn't like a story of mine post profanity-laden rants that were just plain mean. No one likes to be talked to like that, and that kind of toxic rudeness that comes out online is pointless. In the end, it says a lot more about the reviewer than the story.
Janni Lee Simnerjanni on March 4th, 2011 05:08 am (UTC)
Yes. A negative review and a mean review are two different things, too. Too often simply having something not-positive to say is taken as meanness, but it often really isn't.

I also prefer that reviews be polite. I think reviewers have the right to be rude (so long as they keep away from personal attacks ... which often isn't the case, and is often even what makes a rude review rude), but it's not usually the best way to get one's point across. (And the rudeness, more than the negative opinions, possibly can do real damage.)

And now I have the line out of Sondheim's Into the Woods echoing through my head: "Nice is different than good."
chocolate in the fruit bowlkarenhealey on March 4th, 2011 06:02 am (UTC)
Janni Lee Simnerjanni on March 5th, 2011 06:50 pm (UTC)
Excellent! Thanks!
Pamela Van Hylckama VliegPamela Van Hylckama Vlieg on March 4th, 2011 07:00 am (UTC)
I am nice but honest. I am not going to like everything I read, however this was said by some pretty powerful YA writers in the open (would be glad to send you links) and I did temporarily shut down my blog. I saw all this online and was also told at a conference that because I have a wide readership now I also have a responsibility. I took a minute to think about that, then decided it was bogus and went back to writing my blog how I always have. Thanks for your post Janni and I have loved your books :P
(Anonymous) on March 4th, 2011 03:12 pm (UTC)
Is it okay to ask you to post the links?

One problem I have with the discussion is lack of examples. People keep mentioning those negative but entirely polite reviews that have drawn flaming criticism from authors, but I only have this one example in front of me of C-A. I don't think she's "snarky," I think she's the Feminist version of Wesley Scroggins. I might agree with her politics, but not her behavior.

I don't think hers are the reasonable but negative reviews Janni is talking about, but I don't have any actual examples of what Janni and other people mean.
(no subject) - auroraceleste on March 5th, 2011 01:01 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - janni on March 5th, 2011 07:39 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - gkr on March 7th, 2011 08:21 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - janni on March 7th, 2011 01:46 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - janni on March 7th, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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Janni Lee Simnerjanni on March 5th, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
The Green Knight: Anglerfishgreen_knight on March 4th, 2011 05:19 pm (UTC)
I think what's different about the blogosphere is that authors are bloggers, too - and they're engaging with reviewers on equal footing (and vice versa).

If an author gets a bad review, I think they best thing they can do is to STFU. Seriously. Whether the reviewer has a point or not, whether they're polite or not. Some writers link to reviews (sometimes with a drop of snark) and I'm ok with that - 'author has seen a lousy review and refrains from commenting'. I'm ok with that since many authors DO see reviews. (Their google alerts, friends, agents, or editors might point them out.)

Beyond that? If the writer feels strongly about a point, they can make a blogpost of their own - not adressing the reviewer, but adressing the _point_ and developing that into a useful discussion. Or the writer can go away and write a book or story that proves the reviewer wrong. Both are responses, and a damn sight better than commenting on the review blog and making an idiot of yourself in public; and let's face it, I haven't seen a single author argueing back who didn't end up looking like a fool. (On the other hand, people like Nora Roberts conduct themselves with great dignity - I ldisliked what little I've seen of her books, but I greatly respect her simply _because_ she does not get drawn into internet drama.)
Janni Lee Simnerjanni on March 5th, 2011 08:14 pm (UTC)
If an author gets a bad review, I think they best thing they can do is to STFU.

Yes.

I've seen commenting on reviews go different degrees of badly, but I don't know that I've ever seen it go well either.

I do link to negative reviews (without snark, and even with indications as to which are the negative ones) from my blog. I've debated this, but it seems appropriate to say to readers hey, here are some takes on my books--and it's also a useful way for me to keep track of reviews. So far I haven't heard indications that this in itself uncomfortable-making, but if I did, I'd have to rethink. Mostly I'm incredibly grateful people are talking about my books at all, and trying to find ways to acknowledge that while also staying out of the way of the actual discussions.

The only time I could see commenting (if not invited in) is if someone said something untrue not about the book, but about me, the person--and even then I'd likely do so in my own space, with a link. And it would have to be a pretty big thing even then. ("This book clearly reflects on the known fact that Janni Lee Simner clubs baby seals in her spare time.") (My response would probably be something like: "I can't speak to anything else, but I want to clarify that I do not actually club baby seals, or any other seals, and never have. Anyone's reading of the text itself remains, of course, their own.")