Do Author Comments Have a Chilling Effect on Review Discussions?

A number of things happened recently to raise this question for me, none of them on this blog. First, Mrs. Giggles posted a blog entry questioning why there is so much industry talk in Romanceland, and so little actual book discussion. Also, the Book Smugglers reviewed a book, The Painted Man, by Peter V. Brett, and Brett responded to one particular criticism they offered, having to do with a rape in that book. I then read a mixed review of Sandra Schwab’s Castle of the Wolf, by my own partner in crime, Tumperkin, to which the author replied in her own defense. Then author Barbara Hannay responded to Jayne’s review of Her Cattleman Boss, prefacing her comment with  “As this review was addressed to me, I thought it might be OK if I respond. (I hope that’s the case)” on Dear Author, prompting Jayne to answer, “I love hearing from the authors I review and have learned much from their responses.” Then, on Twitter, author Ann Aguirre mentioned some ignorant comments on her recently released Blue Diablo by an Amazon reviewer and wondered briefly whether she should respond (she didn’t, but Katiebabs and Carolyn Jean, among others, set him straight). Finally, yesterday, a commentary by Laura Vivanco on Beyond Heaving Bosoms generated a defensive (but diplomatic) response from Candy Tan on Teach Me Tonight.

You might be wondering why I mentioned Mrs Giggles in this list of author-reviewer interactions? While I disagree with her claim that no good book discussions are happening in Romanceland, I agree that there could be more. A number of commenters, like Meljean Brook, K. Z. Snow, and others offered Mrs. G very plausible explanations. But all of this author commenting in recent days has got me wondering if there is another factor to consider: do author comments on reviews, even when positive, diplomatic or otherwise quite civil, have a chilling effect on the discussion of books?

I think we all know that many authors will read any reviews of their book, on any blog (I certainly would). So we bloggers know that, even when authors do not comment, there is a good chance they are passively engaged in the discussion.  But there seems to be a difference in knowing this, and in seeing the evidence that the author is “here” in the form of a comment.

Take the negative scenario. Suppose a reviewer has written a very negative review. Readers might like to agree with her, perhaps to express their disappointment, or to illuminate other aspects of the book they didn’t like, or to indicate that they won’t be buying the book, but they go to comment and they see that the author has commented. Does that deter them?

Take the positive scenario. The reviewer likes the book. But the author chimes in to give her interpretation. Now, we all know that the author’s intentions do not fully determine the content of the book, and that even if they did, the author herself is not privileged with respect to them. But, I think, intuitively, we give a lot of weight to what the author thinks about her own book.  Tumperkin and I were recently trying to wrap our brains around the Old School/New School elements of Kresley Cole’s latest, and I wonder: if Ms. Cole had chimed in to give us her version, would I really have had the temerity to disagree with her?

I’m only talking about civil author comments in this post. But it may be that a good answer to this question will require separating the civil comments into subcategories: the “thanks for the review” comment (which I tend to get here), the merely informative or amplificatory ones (Hannay), the more substantive defensive ones (Schwab, Tan, and Brett), the factually corrective ones (Aguirre, had she made it). Maybe some have an effect and others don’t, or maybe they have different effects?

I am asking this question, not answering it. It could be the case author comments have no effect on the substance or length of discussion threads, positive or negative, or that they have largely positive effects when they have any effects at all, and that my own concern is entirely misplaced.  It may be that yes, they have a chilling effect, but since author insights add to the discussion, their presence outweighs the value of discussion foregone. I also think I have implied in this post that author comments on reviews are increasing in frequency, and that may be incorrect.

[There are also other questions one could ask related to this one, like whether commenting on reviews “reflects well” on the author, for example, or impacts (or reflects) in some way her relationship with the blogger, or whether, if author comments do have a chilling effect on discourse, they should be discouraged, and if so, how, or if they have a positive effect, they should be encouraged, and if so, how. But I am not asking those.]

What do you all think?

111 responses

  1. I really think it does — which is partially why I’ve begun waiting (trying to wait; it’s not always easy, and I don’t always succeed) before commenting on a review, even if it’s just a “w00t!” Or sending an e-mail instead.

    I think we do have a chilling effect on discussion — it brings the personal into a place that is usually all about the book (or should be). It’s also why I don’t comment much at AAR, Amazon, or Good Reads; blogs seem much more fluid to me, as far as reader/author interaction goes. But the message boards, not so much, and I can appreciate that the readers there want a space to discuss without author intrusion.

    (Probably some blogs want that, too, but I just bumble right over those lines.)

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  2. One of the things that I find very disturbing about criticism in general is that somehow people are under the impression that if you point out a flaw it automatically means you are a hater. Despite, the review grade, etc. Moreover, it occurs to me that people can’t tell the difference between the critique of a narrative flaw and the critique of a preference.

    I think the author comments do inhibit discussion to a certain degree but I think that inhibition is an extension of a general feeling that it is somehow impolite or offensive to criticize. Even though that is what a review is, I think culturally women are especially uncomfortable with the idea of criticism because there is this sense that it will demolish relationships. That the critique will offend or hurt someone’s feelings. That there is the sense that in order to be a community we somehow all have to agree with each other. I don’t believe this is a conscious inhibition but an unconscious one and a very hard habit to break.

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  3. I think it does in some way inhibit discussion as well incite it out of control. The authors I see who get into these heated discussions/debates with readers are authors who just can’t take criticism period. I’m not advocating that readers are always right or fair but the incident with Lisa Valdez still is vivid in my mind. I think she tried to address all her critics and it just didn’t work out and it just got more heated and out of control. As an author you must realize two things: there will always be critics and you can’t please everybody.

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  4. As always Jessica, love your posts and yes it does have a chilling effect.

    When a author comments in response to a blog review, even if it’s common knowledge they’re probably reading; it affects the comments that follow or the comments that wont be posted. IMO, generally comments made after by the blog author/readers will: hedge the original reactions/edit out anything critical, get star struck going into squeeing fan girl mode,not comment (not wanting to get into a flame war with the author), or get catty really fast.

    It’s not the end of the world (or the review) lol and a few do add to the conversation. But..er yeah, only considering the quality of discussion that follows; it makes for an awkward smile till it hurts, eloquent back peddling, and tension tinged atmosphere.

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  5. I’ve never seen an author respond to a negative review with more than ‘Thanks, sorry it wasn’t your cup of tea’ without it degenerating into wank and unpleasantness – usually because although the author likes to think they don’t look defensive, they always do. (It’s even worse when publishers join in. Or friends of the author/publisher.)

    Responding in detail to a positive review looks like egotistic masturbation at best, and collusive at worst.

    So, in brief, yes. Authors comments have a chilling effect. Reviews aren’t for authors, so they should shut up and let the consumers express honest opinions. A thank you is nice, but that can happen in email. I do it both ways, depending on whether I know the reviewer or not.

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  6. this is a fascinating question, jessica. i do think author comments *can* have a chilling effect on the reviews/reviewers. i also think that the blogosphere is definitely making the boundaries between authors, readers, and texts much more fluid. whether authors are soliciting advice from readers about manuscripts or commenting on reviews, they are much more accessible to readers/reviewers than ever before, which is definitely changing the entire textual relationship. issues of authorial intent and reader response are surely going to collide along the way…

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  7. As someone who was recently attacked rather harshly online, part of me wants to say that if you don’t feel comfortable making a comment when you are forced to “face” (as much as possible on the web) the author, than maybe you shouldn’t be making the comment. Some accountability keeps people civil and may help stop the discussion from devolving into uninteresting personal attacks.

    On the other hand, I agree that it is hard to criticize others, even if you aren’t being snarky or cruel. So maybe in a forum that is specifically meant as a reader/reviewer discussion board, it’s better to give the readers a little more freedom so people can be honest.

    This would be a really interesting social psyc study…

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  8. Good question. And my asnwer is: I don’t really know how to asnwer this. In principle , it should be a no.

    But then again, how can one argue with an author when he comes and tells you that you didn’t get what he “intended” to do? Isn’t that something that ends all discussions? It would mean that there is only one way of reading something, ergo no discussion is really needed after the author came and set things straight, even if he does so in a very nice , not agressive way. Which of course, makes things even worse.

    But yes, I think because there are different levels of comments (as you listed) , there are also different levels of reactions and maybe regular readers would not feel comfortable with discussing something after the author came by. There is also that “wow, the author is here” effect. I suffer from it, I can’t deny it. I suspect most readers do to.

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  9. I went away and had to come back to say that I ADORE when authors leave comments. I also love when readers (non-authors) actually engage in discussions. If one doesn’t happen when the other does, where does that leave me?

    It is a paradox (is this the right word? *asks the non-English*)although this very post proves it can happen right? There are both authors and readers engaging in civil discussion right here in front of our very eyes (although not about a review, granted)

    Is it a Racy Romance Review miracle? ; )

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  10. I agree Dharma the lines are blurring btwn the different camps, so perhaps it’s unavoidable. Maybe it’s the readers who’ll have to adapt and grow thicker skin, in the larger scheme of things.

    Lol, it’s pretty easy to disagree with an author. It’s the subjective nature of the beast. Once they release their work of fiction to the world, what they intended is moot. The weight falls upon them, painting with words to “make us get it”. Show us instead of tell us; anything less is a fail (whether in small or large degrees).

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  11. I don’t have any evidence about chilling in general, so my reply is going to be mostly about me, me, me, and my experiences. ;-)

    I don’t think authorial comments would chill me, but that’s because I only tend to make negative (or positive) comments about specific novels if I have textual evidence to back them up, which is what I would do in an academic context. And in an academic context, heated differences of opinion based on evidence (or different definitions) tend to be seen as enlivening rather than chilling (at least, that’s the case in my experience). I suspect that operating online with an academic mindset makes my experience different from the one Angela outlined, where “women are especially uncomfortable with the idea of criticism because there is this sense that it will demolish relationships.”

    I also think there may be a difference between commentary on a non-fiction text and on a novel. In the case of the post I wrote and which you mention above, Candy’s comments don’t seem to have chilled discussion (but if there are comments that have remained unposted, I won’t see them, so I can’t know about their existence). It’s certainly turning into one of the longer comment threads we’ve ever had and the discussion’s been productive and interesting (in my opinion) so far. I wonder if that’s partly because the book’s non-fiction, so it’s easier for people to marshal objective facts/examples in support of their argument. That’s not to say that there can’t be misunderstandings and/or hurt feelings, but if the discussion can be boiled down to “you defined X as Y but I think X is an important part, but not the whole, of Y” or “I wanted you to deal with topics A, B, and C, but you spent lots of time on topic D and barely mentioned A, B, and C” then I suspect it’s easier for commenters who aren’t the author to feel free to continue commenting even if the author’s turned up on the thread, because the subject of the discussion feels a bit more impersonal and/or objectively verifiable.

    I have commented negatively on a couple of novels at TMT, one because of its depiction of rape and another because of the way it included racial stereotypes. The authors didn’t turn up in either case, but I’d been very careful to provide copious textual evidence of the aspects of those novels that I found problematic, so I don’t think I’d have felt chilled in any way by the author turning up. Whether other readers of the blog would have felt chilled, I don’t know.

    Could positive authorial responses to positive reviews also chill? When authors have visited Teach Me Tonight, the authorial comments came after I’d made positive statements about their work. Whether or not this chilled commenters who’d have liked to criticise those books, I don’t know.

    The authors who’ve told me that they didn’t intentionally include the themes/imagery I’d noticed did say that they liked my interpretation and/or it fitted with their overall plan for the work and/or their general attitudes. So even when they said they hadn’t done something deliberately, they seemed to be acknowledging the possibility that their subconscious had guided them to write the way they did, and the way I’d interpreted it. Perhaps unsurprisingly I was flattered and not at all chilled. Maybe they were just being polite to me, though. Maybe they felt chilled by me and didn’t want to tell me I was wrong?

    That makes me think that bloggers themselves are producing primary texts, so anyone who comments on a blog is aware that the author of the blog will be reading and responding to comments. Does that chill discussion? Do people tend to only comment in order to agree with the blog author? I suppose that’s possible. Most people are unlikely to want to expose themselves to retaliation from a blog owner and her/his regular commenters. I try to encourage dissent by being polite to people who’ve made a politely negative comment about one of my posts, and if I’ve made a verifiable error, or made a statement based on incomplete information, I hope I’d acknowledge that and thank the person who’d made the comment. I don’t know if that’s enough to encourage other lurkers to come out and correct me when/if I’m wrong.

    I think it would be unfortunate if discussion about authors chilling commenters ended up chilling authors and they stopped responding to anything, because in many cases constructive critical engagement with authors can be really productive. I was very glad that Candy turned up on the thread at TMT, because it gave me the opportunity to clarify my statements to make them clearer and more detailed. Then again, most of the time I’m not writing reviews of novels, and the context of my kind of writing is academic, and that takes me back to the comments I made at the beginning about an academic context creating different expectations regarding dissent and discussion.

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  12. I think one of the main reasons there are not enough blog discussions is people are at a loss at what to talk about. Either real life intrudes and people don’t have the time to come up with topics, or they don’t want to rock the boat, afraid there will be a commenting war much like we see at Dear Author. Sometimes people can become a bit too passionate and that is where some back off, thinking, I don’t have time to play these games, let me stick to calmer topics.

    I really have to give authors credit by maintaining their professionalism. Flying off the handle over a review is really not worth it. I am glad Ann decided to keep her thoughts to herself in regards to the Amazon review. I only commented on the review because the reviewer had incorrect information. I respect his opinion for not liking the read and would love to know why he felt the way he did, because perhaps he saw something I was missing as I read.

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  13. I once wrote a fairly scathing review of a book – not on my own site. I was concerned I’d crossed a line into real snarkiness and asked for other opinions before posting – which were supportive. Practically the first comment after posting was from the author and no other comments were posted after that. Her comment was very sweet but I personally felt it was inappropriate. (In fact, its sweetness was arguably the most inappropriate thing about it). There were things about that book that I would ordinarily have expected an interesting discussion on given the readership of the site. It didn’t happen.

    I do understand how hard it must be for authors to read criticism about themselves and not jump in to defend themselves, but I don’t buy the ‘accountability’ argument (if you can’t say it to my face….). That’s a good rule for personal relationships – not for book reviews. To my mind it’s like judicial privilege – you need to have a certain lack of accountability in order to give a fair review.

    I’m not going to say ‘authors shouldn’t comment on reviews period’ because all these comments about fluidity and lines blurring etc. are absolutely right and yes, it does make for an interesting blogosphere – but my gut feeling is that, at the very least, authors should wait before commenting.

    Of course it depends on the circumstances. If a review is very positive and all the comments are too, why should the author not say thank you? If the reviewer has just got something unforgivably wrong, why should the author suffer in silence? But these are the marginal cases, rather than the general rule.

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  14. This is really interesting!

    I confess, I am one of those authors who felt obliged to post a “thank you” whenever someone took the time to review my book, whether they liked it or not. At least once, I responded further and was drawn into a substantive discussion that felt constructive to me. In that case, it didn’t seem to put a damper on things. But maybe it did, in ways that were not visible.

    Regarding other books than my own, it gets tricky because I am a reader as well as I writer. I enjoy talking about books and read a lot of book reviews online, sometimes commenting and sometimes not. The discussion is very satisfying to me.

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  15. My rule is not to comment at all, except to factually correct something, which I did once on a DA review of DELICIOUS.

    (And I don’t view Dear Author reviews as addressed to the authors at all, it’s merely a stylistic formatting matter.)

    Reviews are for readers. They should be free to say whatever they want in the comments. After all, they’ve invested time and often money in the reading of a book, which is a consumer product. The presence of the author may not chill the discussion, but it certainly dampens it.

    There should be a set of commandments for authors. At the top of the tablet would be “Thou shalt not read thy reviews on Amazon” and “Thou shalt not Google nor Google Alert thyself.”

    I’ve yet to meet a book that is universally loved. And I’ve yet to meet a well loved book that isn’t also well despised by some other readers (or at least well disappointed or apathy-ed).

    Best leave the reviewing to the reviewers and the discussion to the readers.

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  16. As the chilling author in question, this article makes me sad, even though I agree with its premise for the most part. Thanks to google alerts, reading my reviews or other mentions of me on the internet (like this post) has become my morning coffee ritual. Just about every author I know does the same.

    In general, though, I try not to respond, regardless of whether the review is positive or negative, for a number of reasons. I always prefer to sit back and see what people are saying in an unbiased manner. I have a thick skin and can handle whatever people want to throw at me.

    However, there are two instances in which I am tempted to comment, and sometimes do. The first is when a piece of wrong information is circulating and I want to set the record straight, usually regarding a publication date, or some publishing rumor. It’s nothing personal when I respond to things like that. Just business.

    The second is when someone reads the aftermath of the sexual assault in my book, and thinks that I put it in gratuitously and without knowing what I was talking about, neither of which is the case.

    I freely admit that the second one is personal. The topic is one I have intimate experience with, and I don’t like people thinking I was using it as a cheap plot twist. This is not to say, however, that the opinions of the reviewer or other readers are not valid. If things an author intended are not clear to a reader, it’s as much the author’s failure as anything, and something for me to learn from.

    In general, I enjoyed Ana’s review and thought it was quite positive. She was entirely fair and I enjoyed seeing her perspective. The discussion that resulted from her review was really good, and my commenting on it was meant to give the author’s perspective, not to choke out the discussion. I was kind of bummed when the comments stopped coming afterward.

    So what is an author to do when they have perspective or information they want to share but don’t want to kill discussion? I could comment anonymously or through a proxy, but that feels dishonest, and as Ana mentions, some bloggers enjoy hearing from authors.

    Hopefully, I didn’t just chill this conversation. :o)

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  17. What a great discussion! Jessica, do you never run out of excellent topics? I think the author is present whether she comments or not – I think that’s a given online, except for the authors committed not to google.

    In that sense, when authors comment on reviews, maybe it serves to chill discussion on all blogs by reminding people that authors are out there…BUT could it also be raising the bar? Like, if you’re going to criticize this book, back it up with examples? (as Laura Vivanco touched on).

    I also agree that intentions have no place in author responses. Nothing could be more irrelevant once a book is published–you’ve either managed the reader’s perception or you haven’t.

    As a side note to all this, I love Sherry Thomas’ sober ideas about reading reviews. It makes me curious about the rest of her commandments. As somebody with a book to come, I worry about how reviews will affect me, good and bad, as I know that extreme praise and extreme criticism have ill effects on me. But then, I think, if somebody is kind enough to read my book and discuss it, I’d want to go say thanks. I love when authors drop by. My latest thing is, I must find a way to thank reviewers without reading the review. Now this is all feeling very baroque.

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  18. Just found this post through the one on Teach Me Tonight and it’s an interesting topic. At least it isn’t the normal reviewing go-round. ;)

    I think the observation I’d make after being online so long is that we might need to define what we mean by “book discussion” in the first place. Because if we don’t know what it is we’re expecting to happen or want to happen, then I’m not sure why we’re surprised when people do what people usually do.

    Here’s what I mean. Online discussions follow predictable patterns and we’ve all seen them over and over again. Many of you have just mentioned some of them. But that’s not abnormal because discussions in the real world do too. The difference is that in the real world when we set up these discussion we set in place control factors. Classrooms. Book clubs. Meeting places. Libraries. Bookstores. Book signings. Author readings. Interviews.

    Are you getting the picture?

    On the Internet, those rules are shot to you know what and back because most of those “meeting places” are no longer closed and under our absolute control unless we go to extremes to make them so. The author could be the next person posting. And usually is.

    This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Because it turns what we’re calling book discussions into what exactly?

    In most cases, I would call them free-for-all reactions to one individual’s opinion of what they’ve just read and passed judgement on, not discussions of what everyone has already read. A real book discussion is when everyone has read the book and they all sit down to discuss it in as vigorous and enjoyable manner as possible.

    Author optional but not required if invited.

    To me that’s a big distintion.

    Just some food for thought from someone who’s been around a lot of these “discussions” for a long time. ;)

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  19. I think an author’s “public interferance” should be kept to a minimum, though I think it’s fair to want to correct someone. A few months back I was reading something on RRA’s website and one soon to be author was complaining about another author’s treatment on Amazon by reviewers. My first thought was…she’s an idiot (good way to lose future readers) but out of curiosity I went to look at the reviewers complaints and their anger seemed perfectly justifiable to me since they’d spent 8$ to buy a book that wasn’t what the cover and author had led them to believe. They didn’t seem particularly vile, just angry and disappointed. But again it often does come down to taste. A few loved it, even though most hated it.

    I think a lot of readers and authors forget that stories and characters have a life of their own. They may be forged in the author’s crucible, but they’re not the author. Authors often have a limited perspective on their own work (at least in my experience). My characters get really irate when I think I know anything. A good story offers layers the author may not be aware of even be capable of perceiving. Stories come alive when the individual reader brings their perspective to the book…which is why everyone can read the same book and find a different story.

    I think we should assume in this day and age that if the reader wants the author’s opinion they’ll e-mail and ask us. If not…then not.

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  20. I just read Peter’s comments above, and I made mine without seeing his first, but I guess I could see an author setting the record straight vis a vis intention if somebody seemed to be drawing a conclusion that reflected on his character in a really horrible way, and wasn’t what he meant. Like, a rape scene for a cheap plot twist.

    Peter, OMG, your morning coffee ritual sounds scary.

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  21. Hot beans of hell, this is a good topic. Glad you started it, Jessica.

    My view is pretty straightforward. If the author genuinely has something to bring to the conversation following a review, fine. Pull up a chair Sir or Madame and chuck those opinions out there.

    If they’re coming out to explain how the reviewer just didn’t get it – *buzzer noise* eh, no thanks. Sure, explain your view point if you just have to, but don’t put it all off on the reader. Accept that ideas just aren’t going to get across to everyone and let it be. My gosh, especially if said reviewer gave your book a mostly positive review.

    Also, there is no need to correct the reader/reviewer on anything unless there is in fact some kind of factual oh noes going on – misinformation isn’t going to help readers.

    I had an author point out to me that I’d read an ARC copy of their book (Which, thank you – till that time ARC had completely escaped me as to its meaning. I thought they were some kind of special editions.), and that changes had been made since the ARC. Leading me to suppose all ARCs should be judged with the possibility of improvements in mind? Uh no. Sorry, I’ll pass over spelling mistakes and the like, but I’m taking it as pretty solid on the characterizations, plot, worldbuilding and anything else equally important.

    It also did seem to have that chilling/dampening effect of no one else wanting to make a comment on the review, which really disappointed me at the time as I had a more negative reaction to the book whereas popular opinion was widely positive. I like to discuss and learn from other POVs with fellow readers – and authors, who are readers too – but maybe authors just need to consider carefully how they word some things, especially if something is hitting their personal buzzer.

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  22. I certainly think author comments have a dampening effect–both on the length of the response thread and on the quality of the responses thereafter.

    It’s like being at a high school party and knowing your parents are in the next room. They can pop in any time and give you that look, even if you know they won’t break it up. Knowing the author has her “eye on you” makes it less likely you’ll be honest.

    I don’t know what or if anything should be done about it. Perhaps caution authors that if they want honest reactions they should keep their mouths shut? But it’d be a shame to cut them off altogether.

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  23. and authors, who are readers too

    Only when they’re talking about someone else’s books and not their own.

    Authors, don’t you want to be seen as someone special when we’re talking about your book?

    Are you honestly going to sit there and tell me that you don’t want all that hard work to be recognized when it’s your book we’re talking about?

    That you want us to pretend like you’re just another reader in a crowd instead of spotlighting your efforts?

    I respect the work author’s have put into the books enough to want draw that line between readers and authors so that they can have a voice about their own books when appropriate. The problem is that on the Internet, it’s difficult to make it work correctly or smoothly.

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  24. Bev, since we both know this is the internet and it’s hard to understand fully what a person means sometimes – I meant talking w/authors in a general book discussion sense, not about their own work or after a review of their book. I suppose I should have clarified that given the topic, but dang it if it’s not always possible to see that till the submit comment button’s been hit.

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  25. Peter V. Brett wrote:

    Thanks to google alerts, reading my reviews or other mentions of me on the internet (like this post) has become my morning coffee ritual. Just about every author I know does the same.

    That is, without a doubt, a scary morning ritual.

    I can honestly say I decided I’d never sign up the moment I heard about Google Alert.

    And I stopped Googling myself two months after my first book came out.

    It’s not because I can’t take negative reviews; my ego is up there with the best of them. But it becomes a distraction. How much reader reaction is enough? And do I really need to know every written opinion on a finished work, something I’m not going back to change?

    Good reviews or bad, I’d take a look at them if I happen upon them in my regular blog hopping. But going out to find them, at this point, just seem counterproductive.

    Carolyn Jean,

    Congrats. I didn’t know you had a book coming out.

    I’m still chiseling my tablet but I think the rest of my commandments definitely include “Read reviews for thy very favorite book and see how many people hated, dissed, or meh-ed it” and “Read movie reviews; them bitches get savaged far worse than thou ever shalt be” and “Read what Byron thinketh of Shakespeare (hint: he thought the Bard sucked ass).”

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  26. Wow, what a terrific discussion and a great question, Jessica!

    I’m of two minds about author comments. I still get a thrill when an author comments on a blog I’ve written (which admittedly doesn’t happen all that often).

    That being said, I could, off the top of my head, cite at least three examples of authors who have thrown pretty public hissy fits over negative reviews. I’m almost always a spectator for the hissy fits, and not engaged in them, but it absolutely would curb any instinct that I had to comment if there’s a throw down going on. Just because I’m inherently a wuss and don’t want to engage.

    At the same time though, I love when authors make comments as readers. Heck, I remember when Meljean was an aspiring author, and I always loved to hear what her opinions about what she was reading were. I find that my friends who are authors, published or not, are very often more prone to focus on details that I might have just skimmed right over (CJ, I’m looking at you, you always catch stuff I miss), and frankly, I learn from that.

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  27. If they’re coming out to explain how the reviewer just didn’t get it – *buzzer noise* eh, no thanks.

    Since my name was mentioned in this post, I just want to point out that this is definitely not what I did in my response to Tumperkin’s review of my book. I’m not in the habit of persuading people to like my novels.

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  28. It has been my experience that author comments bring a rather immediate halt to book discussion. Discussion may continue, but the topic will usually shift from the book itself and onto industry news and author news.

    I have a Yahoo group dedicated to m/m romance discussion, but over the past several months membership has increased until authors outnumber readers. Reviewing has nearly stopped, negative reviews are nonexistent, and most discussions are now about self-promotion, works in progress, and the industry in general. I’m happy to have authors in my group, but I’m disappointed to see the reviews and honest reader discussion go.

    I hardly even talk about books on my blog anymore. It’s weird to write a review and then have a random author show up minutes later because of a Google keyword alert. Often the author is the first commenter, and the discussion is halted before it even begins.

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  29. Hmm. All my above comments were meant in general, based on cases where I have seen the things mentioned happening. I’m not trying to single you out, Ms. Schwab, and didn’t mean to imply that. I didn’t even jump over to look at the post Tumperkin did about your book that was mentioned till I saw your last comment. The blog author seemed great with it all during a drive-by viewing. I’ve got no beef with it and didn’t even read half the comments. Just…stating an opinion on some author behavior that obviously was in poor taste, mostly instances that happened last year or later. Too, some of them seem worse to some than others. All I know is if it’s bad enough, I’m no longer interested in the book anymore. It’s not worth going to the trouble to read and write a review on a book if the author is going to behave badly, so I just don’t read said authors’ work. Pretty simple.

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  30. Uh…my post sounds kind of anti-author, doesn’t it? Hmm. Let’s clarify. LOL

    I love talking to authors. I even hang out with a couple and I occasionally review books that my friends have written. It’s not uncommon for me to write a glowing review of a book and then email a link to an author–even one I’ve never spoken to.

    But I think there’s a big difference between an author stopping by to say “Hey, thanks so much for the review. I’m glad you enjoyed my book,” and “I don’t think you understood what I was saying. Here, let me hijack the entire comment thread so I can explain it to you.”

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  31. Finally I am home and able to read all of these great comments. I want to thank EVERYONE for chiming in. You have helped me a great deal.

    I am kind of surprised that the large majority of commenters believe that yes, author comments can have a chilling effect on book discussion.

    At the same time, most people recognize how fun, gratifying, and informative authors comments can be.

    It’s a bit of a double edged sword, I guess, even when the comments are positive or brief.

    Does anyone share my sense that it’s more and more common, even expected that authors do comment?

    @ Laura Vivanco:I think a major difference between academic reviews and this kind is that the romance blogger/author relationship is not a peer to peer relationship. People have tried to explain this difference using euphemisms like “mommy’s here” for very good reason. I am not sure I want to call it a power differential, but there is an imbalance in the reviewer’s and author’s relationship to the text that affects things. This is why I don’t think the “problem” is restricted to authors responding to negative reviews.

    BevBB wrote:

    In most cases, I would call them free-for-all reactions to one individual’s opinion of what they’ve just read and passed judgement on, not discussions of what everyone has already read. A real book discussion is when everyone has read the book and they all sit down to discuss it in as vigorous and enjoyable manner as possible.

    This comment made me pause. I have been a member of various book clubs in my time, and (a) half the people do not read the book, and (b) discussion of the book wraps up faster than a blog thread, in favor of gossip, grocery shopping, child care, etc.

    I turned to the internet, and to blogging, precisely to engage in discussions, and I would say I have had better luck here, although your comments about the differences in terms of ground rules are very apt.

    In my academic field, authors generally do not comment on book reviews, whether online or in print, unless there has been an egregious slight or error, in which case they can sometimes talk the editor into giving them some rebuttal space in the next issue. It is considered self-serving, in poor taste, etc.

    However, there are some forums where authors are encouraged to comment formally on reviews, for example, at conferences and on listservs.

    I’m wondering if inviting authors to comment formally — a one off — in the post – on, perhaps not a review, but a post along the lines of the political analyses of books I have done a few times, would net the best of both worlds.

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  32. Hmm. All my above comments were meant in general,

    Oh good. :-) I just thought I should point it out because I know how quickly rumours are born and spread in romancelandia. And I know that statements of mine have been mispresented before, so I’ve become careful.

    I guess we’ve all seen examples of authors going ballistic over reviews in various different places. Not pretty, but such things certainly make for interesting trainwrecks.

    That said, I still like thanking people for reviewing my novel. After all, they went to the trouble of reading the book in question and writing a thoughtful (one hopes) review afterwards. With blog reviews, the easiest way to say thank you is to post a comment. At least in one case my comment might have stifled the discussion, but in most others people continued to talk. (Even to me! Yay!) And several people also continued to voice their disappointment with the novel in question. On the whole, commenting on reviews of my own books has resulted in good experiences (at least for me). I’ve even met some of my online friends this way.

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  33. But, Ms. Schwab, thanking people for a review is one thing. Creating a train wreck is quite another. It’s just politeness usually to want to thank people and hell, there’s nothing wrong with that. I think reviewers for the most part would appreciate it. If THAT halts conversations, well, that’s the potential commenters problem.

    It’s all in the tone and if sincerity’s the source, people will know that.

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  34. Jessica wrote:

    I turned to the internet, and to blogging, precisely to engage in discussions, and I would say I have had better luck here, although your comments about the differences in terms of ground rules are very apt.

    I understand what you’re saying about book clubs and how the discussions in them can go off on tangents just as much as online. Been there, done that. ;) Even so, the big difference with them is that it’s not likely that the author of the book being discussed is going to walk into the middle of the discussion to begin with, at least without an invitation. So, yeah, a measure of control is the issue here.

    I’m wondering if inviting authors to comment formally — a one off — in the post – on, perhaps not a review, but a post along the lines of the political analyses of books I have done a few times, would net the best of both worlds.

    On the various venues – i.e. anything from message boards to blogs – where I’ve seen clear ground rules set up so that authors know they have the option of speaking up about their own books in specific ways, it usually makes an amazing difference in the discussions. Because then they aren’t intruding. They have the option of being the author of the book, fulfilling a normal function for them, just like in “real life” while on other posts/threads they can still be just another reader.

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  35. For me it depends. If it’s a negative review, I think it’s best if an author sit on their hands while reading the review. Because there is no visual connection online, even the most seemingly innocent defense of the book by the author can be misunderstood and either end discussion or turn into something that can get quite nasty.
    On the other hand if the review is a positive one, I think it’s fun to see an author make comments such as letting the readers know how they came up with different plots or the thoughts that went on while writing a scene or any other kind of thing the reader might find interesting.

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  36. In my limited experience, I’ve had exactly three authors show up to comment. Two wrote kind and gracious thank yous for reviews that I produced that were by and large positive (though not wholly positive, I’m always ok with pointing out problems even if I like a book.) The third…well, honestly, I wrote a negative review and it was a poorly written negative review, if you get the picture. A negative negative review as opposed to a neutral negative review, although I did make sure that I had very clearly delineated the negative points of the book among my general crankiness. The author showed up out of nowhere – Google Alerts no doubt – and proceeded to politely list out the awards for which she had been nominated for that particular book (which left me clueless – honestly – as to why anyone would want to give the book an award, and also sort of smacked of passive aggressiveness to me.) This author did not address any of the very valid problems I had raised in my negative negative review – had she done so, I would have felt better about the situation.

    This review and experience taught me that 1. the interwebs is a very, very small place, and everyone’s invited, and 2., if I have to write a negative review, do it opininatedly but neutrally. I still cringe every time I hit the publish button when I’ve reviewed a book I didn’t like. Because if I can Google my name and come up with some crazy hits (there’s someone out there with my same name who puts really bad poetry online, and IT’S NOT ME), so can anyone else. Even famous people.

    So, in very short, yes, I think that authors can kill a conversation, but that if authors are polite in their insertion to the conversation, or are there to clarify or further the discussion, there can be a lot to glean or discuss. And I have to admit, the two very gracious authors who thanked me for my reviews made me feel like at least I was doing something right.

    Jessica wrote: This comment made me pause. I have been a member of various book clubs in my time, and (a) half the people do not read the book, and (b) discussion of the book wraps up faster than a blog thread, in favor of gossip, grocery shopping, child care, etc.

    Jessica, I am so freakin’ lucky to have an awesome book club. We manage great discussions and even debates, we never agree but we have fun discussing why we don’t agree. But if an author showed up to one of our meetings, I guarantee the discussion would be stilted.

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  37. It DEFINITELY has a chilling effect. But it’s put up or shut up, simple as that.

    Technology has made it so easy for authors to read (or at least be made aware of) nearly every digital mention of their name and work. If a blogger or commentor has something to say (good or bad) that they are unwilling to say to the author’s virtual face, that is nobody’s problem but their own.

    If that harsh review or trash-talking comment that could potentially turn people away from buying an author’s book isn’t something you are willing to post or back up after the author reveals himself or herself as a reader, then maybe it wasn’t worth posting in the first place.

    Consider this a karmic balance for how technology has also made it so easy, with file-sharing and such, to pirate intellectual property, making it harder for creators’ to make a living at their living. :)

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  38. MattB wrote:

    Technology has made it so easy for authors to read (or at least be made aware of) nearly every digital mention of their name and work. If a blogger or commentor has something to say (good or bad) that they are unwilling to say to the author’s virtual face, that is nobody’s problem but their own.

    Absolutely true. However, that same technology also allows some control over how reponses are handled. Does it not?

    What I always find interesting about these discussions isn’t that there’s a problem, but the assumption that there’s nothing we can do about it. Do we want unlimited interaction with the authors in situations that ultimately and repeatedly cause chaos and bad feelings or do we want to proactively create environments where instead the authors come out looking better and the discussions aren’t chilled?

    Seems to me, if we choose to allow the chaos, we’re accepting the chilling effect and all that goes with it. But maybe that’s what we really want. Who knows.

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  39. I think there is a natural inclination to not insult an author 99% of the time, especially on blogs like Dear Author and Smart Bitches, or after the Victoria Laurie fiasco on Amazon. The first question you ask yourself is, “Is the flack I’m about to call down on my head worth it?” This is especially true when arguing with an author who feels passionate about a specific subject.

    I saw one exchange on Dear Author between Tymber Dalton and Joan/SarahF and other posters over a review of The Reluctant Dom. I’ve never seen or read the book and saw both sides of the argument, but in the end, what the author is trying to convey will not always strike a understanding response in the reader they seek. Dalton obviously was impassioned about her story and felt people just didn’t understand. I’d say most people DON’T really understand BDSM.

    It’s not just author comments that stop responses its blog cliques. Sometimes I REALLY want to disagree and stop myself. Some things are not worth the crap you’ll take, least of all a comment on a romance novel or someones opinion.

    I roasted several novels in romance and other genres I read that otherwise get good reviews. Lora Leigh is an author that drives me crazy at times and Only Pleasure had me cross-eyed I got so damn mad. I waited three days, re-read parts, and STILL wanted to kick her butt. I gave it an F- but did note that on Amazon it got 4.5* Obviously, I was far more troubled by certain elements than her other readers. Does it make me wrong? No. It means I see it very differently. It’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it, but I do acknowledge when I deviate from others. Would I put it on Amazon? Not a chance.

    So, in my opinion, yes, authors and other things do damper open and honest discussions. Mostly because it causes me to filter myself to prevent getting beat up. I’m sure that’s true for others. Somethings aren’t worth it.

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  40. ReacherFan,

    I Totally Agree.

    It’s not worth the effort to disagree with the clique. Which is a shame, because it dilutes the depth and variety of true reader response. And think of how many lurkers it takes to get a comment out of one person. Then consider how much is lost to the clique mentality.

    I have read romance for 25 years. I have read books on how to write a romance / a novel / plot / characterization etc. I know my crap. This makes it more difficult for me to get lost in a story, but also makes it easier to know exactly why things aren’t working.

    When I give a review, I can hit the holes in the story without even a hint of, “she’s a shitty writer.” I can easily say, things about motivation and uneven characterization that an honest (with herself) author can respond to, hopefully without the ego bruising.

    But when a gaggle of reviewers are gathered around a book, gleefully kicking it into the dust, it’s hard to be the one to stand up and say, “I liked it.” Or, “it would have been more satisfying had she rounded out the heroine’s backstory and given less emphasis to that leg of the plot.” Which, IMO carry a lot more weight than, “OMG, this book sucked donkey balls.”

    Which, I think, is how we wind up with inappropriate author responses.

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  41. “Consider this a karmic balance for how technology has also made it so easy, with file-sharing and such, to pirate intellectual property, making it harder for creators’ to make a living at their living.”

    Matt, I appreciate you are trying to be amusing, but it’s hardly fair to conflate readers discussing a book with people who steal books. People who steal, never review. Readers who buy books, love books, and post and review to share that love (of reading, at least, if not the book itself.)

    “If that harsh review or trash-talking comment that could potentially turn people away from buying an author’s book isn’t something you are willing to post or back up after the author reveals himself or herself as a reader, then maybe it wasn’t worth posting in the first place. ”

    You know why I’m so cynical about this sort of comment, privileging the author’s poor widdle feelings over the genuine reaction of a reader? Because I’ve seen how authors trash readers and those who review their books – in public, on private loops, and in IM. And they don’t cavil at attacking the reader/reviewer personally. A review which only talks about technique and the writing itself, will win the reviewer a roasting that Don Rickles would reject as too mean. And her fellow authors will applaud and go ‘me too, what a bitch!’ So when I think of those poor authors and their wounded feelings, and how their careers are ruined! Ruined, I say, by a harsh review! I remember that (a) a single review has no power at all and (b) authors aren’t the fainting flowers they pretend in public. The nicer publicly, often the viler in private. Sad but true [countdown to wank in 3...2...1...]

    “I can easily say, things about motivation and uneven characterization that an honest (with herself) author can respond to, hopefully without the ego bruising.”

    This is deluding yourself, I’m afraid. There is not an author on the planet – yes, *you* too, Mary Q Authoress going ‘oh no, I would never’ – who can read a review which says ‘This story lacks pacing, is poorly edited, and suffers from weak and unattractive characterisation’, and not hear ‘The reviewer hates me and wants me to stop writing’.

    Not one. At least, not one who won’t react like that *first*. What sorts out the sheep from the goats, the big girls’ blouses from the mature writers, is the *second* reaction. We’ve all seen both kinds. But any author who claims a negative review, however objectively worded, doesn’t hurt in the first few seconds after reading, is lying. We have big egos, or we’d never let anyone see our writing in the first place. You have to have some self-belief to perform in public, after all. Self-belief doesn’t make everyone a Susan Boyle.

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  42. I appreciate the comments, but as a reminder this is not about “nasty reviews”. Haven’t we had that discussion too many times already in Romanceland?

    The question is about author participation in any kind of discussion of her work, positive or negative.

    It sounds like pretty much everyone acknowledges that it can have a chilling effect. So we are not in disagreement on the main question I asked.

    The next question will be what, if anything, bloggers and authors should do given that “fact”. But that’s not the question I am asking here. I’ll post about that separately.

    Thanks everyone!

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  43. Ann Somerville wrote:

    “Consider this a karmic balance…”
    Matt, I appreciate you are trying to be amusing, but it’s hardly fair to conflate readers discussing a book with people who steal books.

    Just to clairfy, I wasn’t comparing honest, book-loving reviewers w/ thieves. My point was that technology helps and hinders both reviewers and writers in different ways, and the different parties just need to learn to adapt their practices.

    But back to the topic of chilling and what, if anything, can be done about it …

    If you’re making a career or a name for yourself as a book review blogger, it is probably not in your best interest to filter or block any comments by the authors you’re reviewing. It just seems in bad taste and would probably hurt your credibility if such a practice went public. Plus, if you’re reviews are honest and professional, as any good critic should aspire for them to be, you shouldn’t have a problem with the chill effect yourself if confronted by an author in your comments. It will then be up to the writers to know how to compose themselves.

    As for OTHER potential commentors on your blog who are scared off, do an about-face, or turn into puddles of sychophantic goo when an author shows up, I think it is a question of their own integrity, and all you can do is gently nudge a stalled discussion back to the place it was or where you wanted it to be, and cross your fingers that the chilled discussants learn to adapt and come back out of their shells.

    The blogger has more on the line, obviously, because his or her true identity and reputation will be on the line. But anyone commenting is still pretty much anonymous (Who am I? Just some guy named Matt. Or am I??). If they really have something valid to say, and aren’t just tossing in some half-hearted snark for the sake of stoking a fire, they should be able to do so without fear.

    And really, what is the fear? Is the author going to track you down? Come to your house? Send you a strongly worded letter? Unfollow you on Twitter? Not become your BFF, like you hoped they would as soon as you saw them log on?

    Not likely.

    If an author has found a reason to comment on a thread you started or are involved in, odds are they are game to take part in any discussion that continues — so have at them! (Just be ready to defend your statements the way they are ready to defend their book.)

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  44. Great discussion. Sort of a first cousin to the question of whether authors/aspiring authors review differently than ‘regular’ readers, whether consciously or not, as a professional courtesy to peers.

    I don’t have anything to contribute which hasn’t already been said, but the whole thread reminds me of an occasion when a commenter at SBTB took umbrage on Nora Roberts’ behalf at one of the spoof author interviews Jill Munroe (sp?) and Gena Showalter did for their occasional video series, chastising them for showing disrespect to the author’s work. Whereupon Nora Roberts posted that not only did she not discern any disrespect, but she had been the one to suggest to Munroe/Showalter that the interview be done. Whereupon the original commenter posted a gushing fangirl reply.

    It wasn’t a review, strictly speaking, and all of this is subject to my non-100% reliable memory, but the turnaround was remarkable to me.

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  45. MattB wrote:

    And really, what is the fear?

    Again, you are turning this into a discussion of negative reviews and fear of author reprisal. It’s not necessarily “fear” if people stop commenting because the author has shown up. It’s might be deference (“I’d better let her speak, or let her have the last word. She’s written the book after all.”), or lack of self-esteem on the part of the commenter (“How can I possibly add anything as a mere reader?”), or laziness (“Great! Now I don’t have to say anything because she has all the answers!”) or any number of other things.

    Just to clarify, the proposal of filtering or restricting author input was never on the table.

    Indeed, far from excluding authors, the only tentative proposal I mentioned was formalizing author participation by asking authors to respond at length, in a one off, to a review.

    Maybe a comparison will help. In RL, I mediate and do a lot of group work. One of the factors I deal with is the way that people at the table, because of power differentials, complex histories, and other factors, are not equally able to participate fairly in the discussion. Since equal participation is desired, to get the fairest outcome, I think about what factors have contributed to the lack of participation, and what measures may fix it. Asking a bunch of the participants to leave the group doesn’t help in this endeavor.

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  46. Unfortunately for me most (not all) author comments in a book review turn me off of a discussion. Instead of having meaty book discussions (which is hard when a lot of the sites have ARC’s and no one else has read the book) the reviews seem to be sidetracked into various topics that I really don’t care about.

    I came looking for a review of the book and the opinions of various readers on that book. What I get (sometimes) is industry news and authors telling readers that they’re not seeing the subtlety of the work and authors defending other authors and telling readers that they couldn’t possibly understand what the author has to go through because the readers aren’t authors.

    It just turns me off. I came online to get reviews and commentary on books because none of my friends like the books that I do. I wanted other readers, not authors. I just assumed review sites were there for plain old readers. Half the time I don’t know the commenters are authors until they bring it up and start speaking as an authority on some subject. Or they start to try to bring attention to their newest release.

    Everywhere I turn there are authors and people who are trying to get published. It makes me feel weird! Where are the readers? Am I the only one not trying to write a book?

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  47. Right, the power differential aspect really is interesting and an excellent point. I think in traditional print reviews, the reviewer holds all sorts of power and stature as a paid and sometimes prominent professional, and is kind of “above” the author, unless the author is huge.

    We bloggers and commenters are generally amateurs and fans and there is an awe factor, at least for me, when any author comes “into the room” no matter what she says. Like Keith Partridge walking into the room. There’s a chilling effect in many ways. You don’t want to act weird in front of Keith. You want him to like you, and you also don’t want him to be mad at you. Speaking for myself anyway.

    I love that you’re exploring this, and I wonder if it’s about the format. Have we adopted a format that really isn’t calibrated to our reality? I know that’s not the question on the table, but it’s very interesting.

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  48. Catherine: Right. Though, blogging is sort of a form of authorship, so I think you get the author type. But I see a lot of blogs disclosing it, they are readers. I say I’m a reader/writer. I think it’s good policy to disclose it.

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  49. Book discussions per Mrs. G’s original post:
    We need forums rather than blogs. Blog entries move off of the main pages too quickly. Sometimes I barely remember the review let alone the name of the book unless I purposefully look for it. Typical blog setups make it very difficult to re-start old discussions so if I do happen to read the book and want to discuss it, I’m out of luck. Also a ‘review’ post implies no spoilers. It’s hard to have any type indepth discussion without involving spoilers.

    Author Comments: Author explained intent automatically shuts down a certain part of the argument for me. If the author says it, then it’s ‘official.’ I may be able to argue the point but the ‘official’ intent is always there in the background influencing my argument even if the author’s intent didn’t make it into the execution.

    If an author enters an online discussion about their book (one they weren’t specifically invited to attend), I’m left wondering what their intent is in entering the fray? What is it they hope to accomplish, even if it’s only to say thanks publically?

    Off topic tangent: The follow-up question here is ‘Are critics good for the art form?’

    I know the question seems a rather generic conversation topic and not exactly related to Jessica’s post but I think it is. Here’s just one question which could arise out of such a conversation:

    What are the dangers of having authors online and accessible or influenced by ‘critics?’ Even if that influence is tacit in nature (i.e., something stated about the genre or a troupe and not directly about the author’s work).

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  50. Jessica wrote:

    I appreciate the comments, but as a reminder this is not about “nasty reviews”. Haven’t we had that discussion too many times already in Romanceland?

    Sorry – didn’t mean to hijack the conversation. That’s just the experience I had with an author comment and what it taught me. I don’t get a lot of discussions over at mine so there was no real discussion to chill – just my own personal experience.

    @ AQ: I agree with the notion of the author’s “official” intent being a large chill-factor on the conversation. In my little visual arts world, it’s sometimes very prohibitive to know what the intent or purpose of a piece can be – granted, it’s convenient and useful for interpretation or education, but at the same time it does create an atmosphere of the ONLY way to interpret. I think you’re spot on with the author’s directly stated intent killing conversation, since there can be very little point in trying to interpret further.

    Caroline Jean, I think you made an interesting comparison with print v. blogger reviews. At a very basic level, there can be little to no author participation in print reviews since there’s simply no format for replies (unless we’re thinking about letters to an editor, in a very traditional format.) The online world has made reviewing a different place and the world much, much smaller. I like your question about the format of online reviews…is there a post in the future, Jessica? Don’t want to steal the conversation again :)

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  51. Kate wrote:

    Sorry – didn’t mean to hijack the conversation. That’s just the experience I had with an author comment and what it taught me. I don’t get a lot of discussions over at mine so there was no real discussion to chill – just my own personal experience.

    Don’t apologize. I am glad you shared it, but there was a string of comments that were leading us in a direction I didn’t want to go.

    I wanted to avoid discussing bad authors only, because doing so might make us think that if we could just get authors to post nicely, like “thanks for your review”, or “my plumber is the inspiration for Jake”, there would be no more problem.

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  52. carolyn jean wrote:

    Right, the power differential aspect really is interesting and an excellent point. I think in traditional print reviews, the reviewer holds all sorts of power and stature as a paid and sometimes prominent professional, and is kind of “above” the author, unless the author is huge.
    We bloggers and commenters are generally amateurs and fans and there is an awe factor, at least for me, when any author comes “into the room” no matter what she says.

    Over the years, whenever I’ve maintained that I’m just a reader and that authors aren’t readers when they’re talking about their own books, I’ve been asked if that isn’t an attempt to create a gap between authors and readers. My response has always been that the gap already exists, I’m only respecting it and their hard work in the process.

    To me, the power imbalance isn’t the problem. It’s perfectly normal and should be recognized. Celebrated even. After all, we are fans of their work, aren’t we?

    Have we adopted a format that really isn’t calibrated to our reality? I know that’s not the question on the table, but it’s very interesting.

    It might not be the precise question on the table but it’s a very good one, nonetheless. Because if the power imbalance is perfectly normal, then how is it equalized in real life?

    And why do we want to pretend like it doesn’t exist online to the point of allowing it to shut down discussions so often?

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  53. Ann Somerville wrote:

    I’ve never seen an author respond to a negative review with more than ‘Thanks, sorry it wasn’t your cup of tea’ without it degenerating into wank and unpleasantness – usually because although the author likes to think they don’t look defensive, they always do. (It’s even worse when publishers join in. Or friends of the author/publisher.)
    Responding in detail to a positive review looks like egotistic masturbation at best, and collusive at worst.

    Well said here Ann and I definately agree, though I personally find the thanks posted on a negative review a bit self-serving. i.e. see how I am such a bigger person that I can thank you even though you hated my book. I guess I don’t see the point in responding in any way to a negative review.

    As for an author chilling a discussion? I have participated in discussions that go both ways. It has more to do with an author’s response. If the author comes on and says – you didn’t get my intent, this is what I really wrote – then yeah, it chills the discussion right down. If the author comes on and says – that is an interesting point, this was what I was thinking when I wrote that, tell me how you see it differently – then very interesting discussions can develop.

    Authors need to be very careful in their wording though. It is very easy to come across as condescending. I was participating in a discussion on book jackets and a particular author’s jackets were brought up. The discussion was not a negative comment on the author herself and in fact it was noted that authors most times do not have much, if any, say in what the covers look like; the cover was used as an example of a particular style. The author came on and made a particularly snarky comment that immediately took the conversation in a different direction. Upon review I think the authors intent was to make a joke – that is not how it came across and I think about it everytime she has a new book come out. Even to the point of delaying purchasing her books because I found her response to be offensive and condescending.

    I am not an author, I have no asperations to be an author. What I am is a life long reader and lover of books – of all genre’s. (Well, except sci-fi, I just don’t get it.) I enjoy talking books with others who read and those who write. I like to hear the author’s perspective and why the characters moved in the direction they did; I like the back story. But an author participating in a discussion of their work has to check their ego at the door. They have to be prepared to hear that not everyone adored every word that dripped from their pen and in some instances they have to be prepared to explain the choices their characters have made.

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  54. The problem with an author turning up in a discussion of their writing, is that the discussion becomes about them, not their writing. You see this on Dear Author’s First Page queries, when people dissect the faults and good points of the writing *until* the writer turns up. Then it’s all about encouraging the writer. Which may not always be appropriate if there’s no talent, you know? It’s also unrealistic because first pages are judged by publishers/agents without the author listening in. Authors need to accept they can’t guide reader perceptions all the time.

    Seems there are three options to manage author input:

    1. Ban it completely – which, surprisingly, is my preferred option because I’ve seen too many blogs and lists ruined by author promotion and backslapping. However, authors can be very bad at obeying that restriction, which can lead to wank, as in this fanfiction discussion community which had such a rule. In the linked entry, one of the authors tried to participate, was reminded of the rules, and then her friends jumped in to defend her honour. The ensuing brouhaha pretty much killed the community stone dead.

    2. Heavily moderate the discussion, keeping a close eye on the author and chum, reminding them at all times it’s not about them. The risk is of being seen as a mean girl, and in RomanceLandia, we must avoid that at all costs, mustn’t we?

    3. Allow a free for all and allow the cards to lie where they fall. Which is what you have now.

    Whatever policy, it needs to be advertised and enforced. It takes a strong moderator with steel cojones to keep a discussion on track no matter what the policy is because authors behave badly, and so do their supporters. Readers, not so much, because they’re not emotionally invested. Ironically, if an author does behave badly, that seems to give readers a free rein to criticise much more openly – but that’s really more of a pissing match to see who can slam the naughty author the hardest, to punish them. So that kind of discussion is almost as pointless as the overly polite kind.

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  55. Ann Somerville said:

    Seems there are three options to manage author input:

    1. Ban it completely – which, surprisingly, is my preferred option because I’ve seen too many blogs and lists ruined by author promotion and backslapping. However, authors can be very bad at obeying that restriction, which can lead to wank, as in this fanfiction discussion community which had such a rule. In the linked entry, one of the authors tried to participate, was reminded of the rules, and then her friends jumped in to defend her honour. The ensuing brouhaha pretty much killed the community stone dead.

    Are there any book review sites/blogs around like that? I’ve been looking for them but haven’t been able to find any.

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  56. @Lissa, interesting. How would the dynamic of the conversation change for you if the author used an alias and made the same points?

    @Ann: I concur about the discussion becoming more about the author than the work. I can see the shift in my own thought processes once the author ‘appears.’ There’s a change in how I approach my points and counterpoints. It may be subtle at first but it keeps shifting the longer the conversation continues with consideration of or for the author.

    ——-
    Ann, I’d like to propose a fourth option. If the uninvited author is going to participate they do so undercover or if the author wants to respond they wait until the bulk of the conversation is over and then ask the ‘owner’ if they’d be willing to host a Q&A session using the comments from the discussion as a starting point for a new post.

    I think we get four things from this.

    1. The author has time to reflect on what’s being said about the work and perhaps take a step back before crafting a response.

    2. The author has extra time to determine whether a response is in the long-term interests of their career.

    3. The author takes time to craft the response.

    4. The individuals involved in the discussion get time to digest the original discussion before directly engaging the author.

    (Time, time, time what has become of me…LOL Yes, I think I see a pattern in my madness. )

    —–
    Honestly, if a story resonates (positively or negatively), I just want to discuss and think and twist the cube I’ve put the story into around and around until it breaks apart. Then I want to put it back together and do it all over again. I really don’t want the author involved in this initial process.

    That’s also why I won’t watch any of the DVD extras until many viewings and potentially years later. At least my own little idiosyncrasy is consistent across mediums.

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  57. Catherine wrote:

    Are there any book review sites/blogs around like that? I’ve been looking for them but haven’t been able to find any.

    I frequent plenty of blogs related to other interests online which are quite successful in applying registration procedures and heavy moderation to comments as well as use of contact emails in filtering and/or screening posters. It’s not about curtailing free speech as much as it’s protecting a site’s visitors from the hassles of totally disrupted, spammed or trolled threads. Basically, exactly what we’re talking about here. Encouraging and not chillig discussion.

    OTOH, I’ll also admit I don’t remember any romance blogs taking that strick of an approach. Although there are some message boards that do. It is, after all, easier to separate message boards into reader-oriented boards and author-oriented ones. Doesn’t stop all problems but it does channel some of the major ones in certain directions.

    What I don’t know and have always wondered is why this resistance to tighter controls online is something that seems to be characteristic of fiction writing, particularly popular and especially romance?

    Why is everyone so convinced that the people who should be the “celebrities” in what is essentially a fandom only an ordinary member?

    Why is anyone surprised under those circumstances when perfectly predictable human behavior occurs again and again?

    I don’t have answers and haven’t for years on this one. All I have are observations that invariably lead to more questions. ;)

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  58. “Why is everyone so convinced that the people who should be the “celebrities” in what is essentially a fandom only an ordinary member? ”

    Interesting point, Bev. I think it’s because in fandom, the act of writing and sharing for free is considered to be part of the community building, so while there’s a certain privilege and status that goes with being a popular writer, it’s not seen as an exceptional activity.

    But in pro work, everyone knows it’s hard to be published (for certain values of ‘hard’ depending on the mode of publishing) so there’s an awe factor built in. Which perhaps should be eradicated, but I don’t know how you do that. No one is in awe of me and that’s how I like it :)

    I rather like the fandom model where the author is treated with suspicion and hostility if they attempt in any way to shape reader interpretation. (as happens in Harry Potter fandom, for one, and recently in the Supernatural fandom.) Unfortunately the cult-like aspect of fandoms surrounding individuals as opposed to a cadre of work or a TV mean surgically excising or ignoring the author would collapse the fandom.

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  59. AQ wrote:

    @Lissa, interesting. How would the dynamic of the conversation change for you if the author used an alias and made the same points?

    I would assume someone talking points of the book under a name other than the authors was, like me, just a reader and therefore assume that whatever points were being made were speculation and review.

    If an author is going to participate in the discussion, they need to be upfront about who they are (Same goes for the publisher or a close friend). Finding out that an author had “invented” a personna to go online to discuss a book would not sit well with me. Of course, I don’t really have anyway to prove that those authors I have discussed things with online are in fact who they say they are do I?

    AQ wrote:
    <blockquote—–
    Honestly, if a story resonates (positively or negatively), I just want to discuss and think and twist the cube I’ve put the story into around and around until it breaks apart. Then I want to put it back together and do it all over again. I really don’t want the author involved in this initial process.
    That’s also why I won’t watch any of the DVD extras until many viewings and potentially years later. At least my own little idiosyncrasy is consistent across mediums.

    I agree here also and I don’t watch the DVD extras either, for much the same reason.

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  60. @Lissa: I guess in my hypothetical I’m giving the aliased author the benefit of the doubt that they want to get into an honest discussion rather than deceive. Kind of like a well-known actor sneaking into a packed movie theatre to watch their latest movie release without letting anyone know.

    But you’re probably right if I found out in reality, that benefit of the doubt would evaporate and I’d feel betrayed too.

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  61. Ann Somerville wrote:

    Interesting point, Bev. I think it’s because in fandom, the act of writing and sharing for free is considered to be part of the community building, so while there’s a certain privilege and status that goes with being a popular writer, it’s not seen as an exceptional activity.

    But “fan fiction” wasn’t actually what I was talking about, even though that’s one aspect of most fandoms. I was speaking more generally of fandoms where there’s simply more distance between the fans and the celebrities connected to the products they adore.

    It’s odd, though, that I’ve seen less problems with this issue on fan fiction message boards where boards are set up specifically for stories to be discussed in general and others for author to recieve feedback. See, division of purpose.

    I rather like the fandom model where the author is treated with suspicion and hostility if they attempt in any way to shape reader interpretation. (as happens in Harry Potter fandom, for one, and recently in the Supernatural fandom.) Unfortunately the cult-like aspect of fandoms surrounding individuals as opposed to a cadre of work or a TV mean surgically excising or ignoring the author would collapse the fandom.

    The difference is that what you’re talking about there is one author fandoms, Ann. How many times are those authors who are famous enough to have their own fandoms of that magnitude going to be showing up anyway? We’re back to the same situation of real life – the author just doesn’t walk in the door that often.

    What we’re talking about here, OTOH, is a fandom for an entire genre with basically an infinite number of authors who’ve been incorporated into the membership base of the fans at the same time that they hold celebrity status and sometimes have their own smaller fandoms.

    Then we expect there to be no problems and no need for moderation. Ever. Are we really that naive?

    But in pro work, everyone knows it’s hard to be published (for certain values of ‘hard’ depending on the mode of publishing) so there’s an awe factor built in. Which perhaps should be eradicated, but I don’t know how you do that. No one is in awe of me and that’s how I like it.

    But why should the awe factor be eradicated when published authors have accomplished something important enough that this all exists in the first place? Why shouldn’t we be in awe of what you’ve accomplished?

    Notice I didn’t say worship. ;) Or take any abuse from anyone. I’m talking about simple healthy respect that goes both ways. But with that respect does go some responsibilities. Both ways.

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  62. I’m sure most here remember or are at least aware of the Victoria Laurie incident on Amazon where Laurie went at a poster. Don’t kid yourself, author’s do not always act responsibly to criticism. Like the rest of the world, some take it in their stride, others do a Victoria Laurie – or worse. Many author’s show up over on the Amazon forums to promote their books or add comments when their books are mentioned. (I participate in 6 forums to some extent) I had Alisha Rai respond to a positive recommendation from me on her ebook, a ‘first sale’ for her. I confess, I had mixed reactions.

    That authors are interested enough to participate, even in a very minor way, is always a two edged sword. They can add a great deal, but they can blunt contrarian views and turn a thread into a mutual admiration fest. Which is the greater good? Or perhaps, the lesser evil? And the author’s intention might be the simple civility of saying thanks, or polite response, no intimidation intended, but it happens anyway. Is that really their fault?

    I guess the simple way to look at it is this, if you were sitting at a table with Nora Roberts or Stephanie Laurens or Lora Leigh and sincerely disliked her latest book, would you speak the truth, speak a version of the truth, doing some discrete social lying, or sit silent? Not many of us would have the nerve to take on a published author one on one. It’s just too easy to belittle a fan. Why expose yourself to that?

    But wouldn’t it be worse still if the people at the table were not the authors, but the heads of the fan clubs? It’s not just authors that chill a free exchange of ideas. An author free zone is virtually impossible to enforce anyway. The fact the ‘mod-god’ holds the power to delete is chilling.

    The simple act of writing a reply, rather than speaking, changes how I respond. I am far more formal when I write than when I speak. I am more aware that my inflection and the nuance of my speech is missing. The medium alone tempers the content – and my humor. The audience – the People of the Blog – temper it further. How could throwing in the possibility, or reality, the authors are there NOT impact the content? It is the compounding of all these factors, and many more, that inhibit a free exchange. I can’t blame it all, or even mostly, on the authors. Though heaven knows, their presence does give any sane person pause.

    I’m not sure there is a fair and practical solution to the problem. Maybe an awareness is the best we can have.

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  63. @ReacherFan

    if you were sitting at a table with Nora Roberts or Stephanie Laurens or Lora Leigh and sincerely disliked her latest book, would you speak the truth, speak a version of the truth, doing some discrete social lying, or sit silent?

    I’d probably sit silently or direct the conversation to other topics. Without any established level of interaction, I’d never feel comfortable giving that kind of feedback at a table because that would be rude.

    The fact the ‘mod-god’ holds the power to delete is chilling.

    Yep. On the other hand, the potential for posters to make as a$$ of themselves without moderation is pretty high.

    The simple act of writing a reply, rather than speaking, changes how I respond. I am far more formal when I write than when I speak….

    Everything you just said.

    ——
    Back to Mrs. G’s original post. Do you think that all these factors that you mentioned might have something to do with why we tend to have more in-depth discussions on things like industry topics rather than the books?

    I mean it’s easier, isn’t it? We don’t have to worry about author participation or the mod-god. If you’re an author you don’t need to worry about insulting a peer or how your opinion might backlash against your own work. The ‘I can’t believe she said that about [insert title here], did you see what she did in [insert title here]‘ effect.

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  64. @ AQ – The difference here is that the author is actively participating in the discussion; the actor is just watching the show – and probably the reactions to them without interacting with the patrons.

    @Reacher Fan – re: your hypothetical round table discussion. I suppose my response would be in what context the discussion was set up. Is it a specific discussion about the author’s newest release? Or is it a general discussion about the romance genre? The intent of the discussion would make a difference in my responses.

    I think 20 years ago I would have said nothing – now I think I am intelligent enough and knowledgable enough about life and the genre to have a truthful discussion without censoring myself too much.

    For instance, I would never say to an author – your book stunk to high heaven. I might however say, I didn’t care for your latest release for these reasons…

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  65. The difference here is that the author is actively participating in the discussion; the actor is just watching the show – and probably the reactions to them without interacting with the patrons.

    @ Lissa: Yes, but with a movie you can get reaction simply by watching. If the scene is supposed to be funny, the audience will laugh. If it’s scary, the audience may jump and so on.

    Getting inside of reader responses to a book isn’t so easy. It’s much more like peeling an onion and there’s no guarantee that the conversation would get to the heart of the story or the question the author was interested in exploring without follow-up questions or redirects along different tangents.

    I’m not saying it’s ‘right’ just trying to explore the corners of the cube I created.

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  66. It feels like a lot of the commenters here want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want access to the full breadth of the internet as a platform to broadcast their ideas and thoughts, but then they want to control who has a right to reply. This does not promote or facilitate true discussion.

    Yes, there are authors who are jerks and/or shills in responding to reviewers, just as there are also reviewers who are jerks and/or shills in their reviews. But it’s unfair to label the majority of either group as such.

    The internet can facilitate privacy, if that is what one wants for a discussion group. You can create your own private discussion group that is password protected and only let people you know join, and have a nice private conversation. But if you want to blog openly, you are going to have to assume that those you are blogging about are going to see it, and some of them are going to respond one way or another. Internet communication is a doubled-edged sword, and we need to find ways to get along and come together, not divide ourselves further. What good is having the sum of human knowledge at our fingertips, if we only listen to select people?

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  67. “they want to control who has a right to reply.”

    That’s not what I see at all. I see people wanting a proper balance in a system which thus far tilts too far towards privileging the author’s opinion in a discussion about the author’s work. This isn’t a strange concept to anyone who’s studied literature academically, where ‘the author is dead’ is the starting point. In fact, the dominance of the author in reader discussions is the anomaly, not the norm.

    It seems *you* want to control discussions by saying that readers should be constrained by considering what an author would think of their opinions. I believe this is entirely harmful. The consumption of literature largely takes place in private, where the author only has the words on the page to make their point. Why then, when the reader shares views formed in that solitary occupation, should the author intrude and demand that their interpretation – whether successfully conveyed or not through the work – should be supreme?

    When I was at school, one of Australia’s best poets, Bruce Dawe, came to our school, a huge thrill for me. He was talking about one of his poems about the Vietnam War and I asked him if he meant such and such when he wrote particular words. He said, no, he hadn’t, but then he added, that didn’t mean that interpretation was wrong. He said once the words left his pen, they no longer belonged to him, and everyone’s opinion and interpretation was as valid as his. I’ve never forgotten that visit or his words, and I believe many authors could learn from his humility.

    Instead of warning readers to beware author reactions, better to warn authors to beware ego-googling. Conversations are going on all the time about us, and a lot of them are unflattering (take that from someone who *really* knows the conversations about me are unflattering.) If an author can’t bear to know of the conversations without jumping in and stamping their seal of approval on them, better that they just don’t go looking for them.

    “What good is having the sum of human knowledge at our fingertips, if we only listen to select people?”

    What good is it if we only listen to those voices which speak loudest and claim the greatest authority? Keeping the author quiet lets the shyer voices speak up. The author already had their chance to make their point, in their book. Now’s the turn for others.

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  68. AQ wrote:

    @ Lissa: Yes, but with a movie you can get reaction simply by watching. If the scene is supposed to be funny, the audience will laugh. If it’s scary, the audience may jump and so on.

    You are right about the visual input, but the difference I was trying to point out is that the audience may not be aware that the actor is watching and gaging their response. Therefore the response is more genuine. If they knew the actor was watching would they laugh at the funny parts even if they don’t find them particularly funny?

    Comparing actors and author is rather like comparing apples and oranges – they are both fruits but they are inherently different.

    Ann Somerville wrote:

    If an author can’t bear to know of the conversations without jumping in and stamping their seal of approval on them, better that they just don’t go looking for them.

    Well said Ann, I absolutely agree.

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  69. What good is having the sum of human knowledge at our fingertips, if we only listen to select people?

    I’m not sure my preference to not have authors interact in their own book discussions is listening to only select people. I have no problems with Q&A’s or when authors are invited to the discussion. My objection is very specific. So I don’t see my preference as a double-edged sword. After all, it’s only a preference.

    I would never tell another author to exit a conversation and I wouldn’t ask a blog owner to restrict access if that wasn’t already the policy of the community. And if I feel that the book discussion isn’t what I hoped for then I can either try to re-direct or I can leave the conversation.

    So tell me, Peter, given that I’ve explained why I prefer to not have uninvited authors interact in book discussion please explain your reasoning for the need to interact regardless of invitation.

    As an author what need does such interaction fulfill? How should that need be weighed against my request to process and discuss my initial responses to the work without author influence? And finally, given my hypothetical scenario whose needs should be paramount in this situation: the author’s or the reader’s?

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  70. You are right about the visual input, but the difference I was trying to point out is that the audience may not be aware that the actor is watching and gaging their response. Therefore the response is more genuine.

    @ Lissa: My position was that the only way an author could gauge a more genuine response was if the other people in the discussion weren’t aware of the author’s presence. Unfortunately, gauging a response from a book requires more than simply watching the conversation unfold because a book discussion isn’t like a response to a movie. It’s not action-reaction. It’s more like a memory function which needs to be probed. (The apples and oranges you spoke of.)

    If an author wanted a genuine response, what other options are open to them without either assuming an alias and engaging in conversation or planting someone to ask pre-determined and follow-up questions?

    I don’t have a good answer to that question. I hope you or someone else here does. Personally I think it might even be the wrong question. I guess I really come down on the side of the author avoiding these types of engagements because I think they unduly influence the author and hence their future works. But I also know that that position is unrealistic, in some cases does more harm than good and isn’t for everyone because it’s much too ‘purist.’

    @ Ann: Very nice post.

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  71. @Peter – that’s interesting. I was feeling the chill as well.

    Perhaps what really happens is strong, sometimes argumentative, voices speak up on a thread and say their piece so passionately that it’s not worth the effort to dispute them. The author, herself, is usually granted this expectation of passion, whether she has used it or not.

    I’ve been on the net long enough to know that discussions usually devolve into ego-fests, and the ease of hitting “Reply” sometimes means that it takes a bigger man to STOP talking rather than to respond to every hit.

    That means that the author who engages winds up being perceived as “weak” somehow. Either searching for the ego-stroke or sounding defensive or insecure about their work.

    @ReacherFan
    I didn’t hear anything about the Victoria Laurie thing when it happened, but I did just go over there and read the letter on the link you provided (not the comments). I was appalled that DA did that.

    If Ms Laurie needed to “show her ass” in public, that’s her choice as a bad marketer. If Novelreads wants to take it to the next level as a “fan” that’s their choice as a blog that’s way too invested in someone else’s opinion. But to see DA jump in there and act like a tattletale on the playground was just over the top.

    A review site should be about the books. Not the authors.

    @AQ – I very much like the idea of an invited author’s response in the EMAIL of the blog poster only.

    Invite the author to read the review and comments. Invite the author to take some talking points from the discussion and craft a response if she needs to, but have her keep it off the blog until a week later. Then, post a follow up to the review where the author gets to explain herself (if necessary).

    As commenters, we may wind up saying more things anonymously, but at least the discussion has a chance to breathe and grow on its own. Plus, a week is like a decade in the blogosphere. Those not especially invested will have long forgotten their comments, those who care will check back and see what the author had to say – if anything.

    @everyone – on some level though, don’t we want authors to see what we have to say? Don’t we want them to know that we feel shafted that they had the heroine become a ghost? Don’t we want them to know that we love it when they take a standard secret baby plot and make it real? Don’t we want them to know that we’re never going to believe in ‘you raped me, now I love you’?

    Isn’t part of having these blogs an effort to be heard? And what easier way to show your reader that you’re paying attention than to show up and say I’m here. I’m listening.

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  72. Isn’t part of having these blogs an effort to be heard? And what easier way to show your reader that you’re paying attention than to show up and say I’m here. I’m listening.

    @ Venus Vaughn: But should the author be paying attention? The blogs, the reviews, the forums. The people involved in these are still a minority of an authors’ readership. Should this minority be able to influence the author so directly?

    ——
    I don’t want to belabor the point. (okay, yes I do) Statistically speaking, I believe the more ‘invested’ an author becomes in a specific community, or in general participating online, the higher the likelihood that they can be influenced by online discussions.

    I’ve read that J. R. Ward participates in her forums and that the forum comments affect her personally but don’t make their way into her writing. Now I admit I’m not a J. R. Ward reader and I haven’t read any of the posts from her forums, but I do question how honest she’s being with herself.

    How is it possible to separate yourself so completely from something you’ve invested so much time, energy and creativity in that it doesn’t have any impact/influence into other portions of your life? Or in this case into the BDB novels?

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  73. It seems to me that there are many different kinds of discussions that readers have, and it may be productive (and non-chilling) for an author to join some, and unproductive and/or chilling for an author to join others. I can think of a few examples (and this isn’t going to be a comprehensive list):

    The most obvious case where an author is welcome is on her/his own messageboard/blog. Some authors encourage readers to critique all aspects of their works, others prefer to only hear positive comments.

    Someone further up the thread mentioned that she sometimes analyses books in terms of what she’s learned about the craft of writing, I use literary criticism and Jessica quite often explores the philosophical/ideological background to books. It seems to me that if a conversation begins with this kind of detailed and analytic post, that perhaps builds in a kind of safeguard for both sides. There’s an expectation that all parties will use language which appears to be/is more objective, and most people who comment will be prepared to argue their case by giving supporting evidence. Someone who’s prepared to argue their case like this is probably not so likely to feel chilled by an author turning up. In addition, because the discussion is very textually focussed, there’s less likelihood of readers or authors beginning to attack each other personally. At least, I think that might be the case. Maybe we’ve had lots of vicious attacks and hurt feelings and I just haven’t noticed. Or maybe it’s just a matter of time before a huge flame-fest starts on here. Somehow, though, I get the impression that Jessica would keep things under control, in much the same way as she would with a classroom discussion.

    I think authors should be a lot more wary of joining in discussions where it looks like the readers are having fun, expressing themselves in generalisations/broad terms and possibly getting a bit snarky. The author turning up there to defend her book is likely to stop everyone feeling they can party freely and/or the author will be attacked for spoiling the atmosphere, not taking criticism well, etc.

    I see people wanting a proper balance in a system which thus far tilts too far towards privileging the author’s opinion in a discussion about the author’s work. This isn’t a strange concept to anyone who’s studied literature academically, where ‘the author is dead’ is the starting point. In fact, the dominance of the author in reader discussions is the anomaly, not the norm.

    Yes, but that’s because the authors very often are actually dead. Of course there are some schools of criticism that would like to exclude authors completely, but on the whole, my impression is that most academics doing literary criticism would be very interested to talk to authors like Shakespeare, Milton etc, if those authors were still alive.

    When I was at school, one of Australia’s best poets, Bruce Dawe, came to our school, a huge thrill for me. He was talking about one of his poems about the Vietnam War and I asked him if he meant such and such when he wrote particular words. He said, no, he hadn’t, but then he added, that didn’t mean that interpretation was wrong. He said once the words left his pen, they no longer belonged to him, and everyone’s opinion and interpretation was as valid as his. I’ve never forgotten that visit or his words, and I believe many authors could learn from his humility.

    I think you’ve just demonstrated why academics might well not feel at all chilled around an author. Although we probably would give some weight to an author’s comments, we may often be convinced that we can see things in the texts that the author him/herself didn’t notice/didn’t put in consciously. So perhaps our egos protect us from the author-chill effect. ;-)

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  74. AQ – the author who wants a long-lasting career should be paying attention to her reader, yes.

    Now, it’s an entirely different debate how much she should be influenced by them, how much she should believe the statistics that 1 letter = X opinions, how she will let that guide her craft and her inspiration. An ENTIRELY different topic.

    But should she listen? In genre fiction, absolutely.

    I don’t believe the author can separate herself from the impact and influence of reader input. Even if it’s as subtle as knowing your readers are going to hate it and doing it anyway – and therefore justifying and defending yourself before the book even hits print. Or as blatant as your characters begging for one thing but you ignoring that instinct because ‘it doesn’t test well,’ leaving your writing flat and uninspired, but good enough for publication.

    Who are agents and editors anyway but readers who are grooming your book, your creation, for greater satisfaction among a larger readership? Online readers are the same. It’s up to the author to know when it’s worth it to stand up for their choices or back down for the happiness of the readership.

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  75. “I think you’ve just demonstrated why academics might well not feel at all chilled around an author. ”

    Uh, I should have explained. ‘School’ == ‘high school’. Not university :) And I was completely starstruck by Mr Dawe (he’s a brilliant poet, BTW)

    “So perhaps our egos protect us from the author-chill effect.”

    My ego protects me from many things ;)

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  76. “Uh, I should have explained. ‘School’ == ‘high school’. Not university”

    The context in which he made his comments isn’t the bit that made me think of academics. It was more about the way that he acknowledged other people’s interpretations might be valid and thus opened up the text to others. I think academics tend to work on the assumption that although a writer may intend quite a lot of things which appear in a text, there are also many other things that appear in texts because of a writer’s subconscious word associations, their cultural context etc. I suspect it’s that mindset that makes academics think that our “opinion and interpretation” is at least as valid as the author’s. Not that some academics don’t get “star struck” too, of course.

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  77. “It was more about the way that he acknowledged other people’s interpretations might be valid and thus opened up the text to others. ”

    Ah. Well, as you may or may not have known, he was (and is) an English literature lecturer, in fact at the time, working at our local higher education institute.

    Doesn’t matter. To me, it was an approach I admired, and strive to follow.

    “I suspect it’s that mindset that makes academics think that our “opinion and interpretation” is at least as valid as the author’s.”

    I don’t know how it can’t be. How can a reader’s interpretation or opinion ever be *invalid*? The only invalid action would be to claim supremacy of one interpretation over another, at least not without copious supporting evidence.(And no, an email from the author would not count!)

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  78. Peter V. Brett wrote:

    Yes, there are authors who are jerks and/or shills in responding to reviewers, just as there are also reviewers who are jerks and/or shills in their reviews. But it’s unfair to label the majority of either group as such.

    I don’t see anyone doing this. As a reminder (again) we are not only talking about authors who are jerks. We are talking about author interaction per se.

    But if you want to blog openly, you are going to have to assume that those you are blogging about are going to see it, and some of them are going to respond one way or another.

    We do assume this. In fact we are discussing this very assumption in this very thread!

    What good is having the sum of human knowledge at our fingertips, if we only listen to select people?

    Again, as a reminder, that’s not really what I am talking about here.

    But consider: if I have read the author’s 300 page book, I am pretty sure I have done a fair amount of listening to her, haven’t I?

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  79. How can a reader’s interpretation or opinion ever be *invalid*? The only invalid action would be to claim supremacy of one interpretation over another, at least not without copious supporting evidence.

    I think it’s the question of “supporting evidence” that can make a particular interpretation more or less valid, or at very least, more or less convincing to others.

    I’ve been thinking a bit more about readers who are less likely to be chilled and it occurred to me that perhaps lawyers (not all lawyers, since some do conveyancing and other non-argumentative stuff) are like academics in that their jobs involve argumentation and building up a case out of available evidence. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that Smart Bitch Candy, Jane from Dear Author, Robin/Janet from Dear Author and Tumperkin are readers/bloggers that I don’t see getting chilled by authors, and they’re either lawyers or lawyers-in-training.

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  80. ReacherFan: That was me that commented. I now remember that post.

    Because authors are in the public eye unfortunately they must be more professional and be aware of what they say on the internet on such places like blogs because one wrong move on their part may alienate readers and that means book sales.
    We have all heard of bad author behavior and I can say that the way an author has acted in public has made me decide to buy or not buy.
    People who blog and review for their own enjoyment don’t gain anything from their comments have nothing to lose.

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  81. Venus Vaughn wrote:

    @everyone – on some level though, don’t we want authors to see what we have to say? Don’t we want them to know that we feel shafted that they had the heroine become a ghost? Don’t we want them to know that we love it when they take a standard secret baby plot and make it real? Don’t we want them to know that we’re never going to believe in ‘you raped me, now I love you’?

    Not particularly. If I wanted to talk directly to an author, I’d email them directly. I want to talk to other readers. To be honest, it’s disconcerting and always has been when the author is the first one who pops up to respond.

    It’s also part of the reason I lost interest in blogging and I wasn’t even reviewing!

    Isn’t part of having these blogs an effort to be heard? And what easier way to show your reader that you’re paying attention than to show up and say I’m here. I’m listening.

    Only if we’re actually talking to them in the first place.

    People, we’re not talking about authors popping up on sites like Amazon or even heavily visited sites like, say, Dear Author or AAR. But when an author can Google and pop up on even obscure blogs just to put their two cents in and then fly away – sure, it may sound like they’re paying attention.

    But are they really.

    It could also be a tad creepy.

    Possibly even a little insulting in the long run.

    So, all I’m saying is that it’s a two-way street. Yeah, authors put their work out there. We read it. It’s our choice to in turn to decide if we want to put something on the web about it, in whatever form. Not all of those forms are specifically addressed to the author, just because we are talking about the book, though.

    And maybe that’s the question we should be asking, just because we’re talking about a book and this is the Internet, does that automatically give the author an open invitation to join the conversation unless we specifically say otherwise?

    Is that the new reality we need to own up to?

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  82. I hope my comment didn’t sound like authors shouldn’t comment. I mean, when somebody blogs about a book, they can assume the author is possibly in the room whether the author says anything or not, positive or negative…unless that author is somebody so major that they probably aren’t bothering with checking blogs, or sworn off doing so like Sherry Thomas.

    I think somebody above more or less sort of made this point, (don’t make me go up and check!) but I really do agree, it’s partly the public nature of the forum that chills. We are like a reality show, and every once in a while we forget about the cameras, but when we really think about it, we know they are there. At any rate, that’s how I often feel. An author appearance often simply reminds me of the author’s presence but it doesn’t constitute the presence.

    Though it’s right that this discussion is about comments, because I do think commenters often feel freer commenting on other people’s blogs than in writing on their own.

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  83. Some things I don’t understand in this discussion that I’m sure seven people will quickly clear up:

    1. How does the “chill” works in a positive discussion? If you’ve written a positive review and the writers stops by to say thanks, or the comments are all gushing and supportive of the writer … what is there to chill? It seems there would only be more gushing. I ask because I was feeling “chilled out” earlier for allegedly steering this discussion in the wrong direction (toward negative reviews). I honestly don’t get how the “chill” is an issue in any other instance than an author showing up to respond to some sort of negative thread.

    2. The creator can absolutely exist and even make his or her living without critics (not without opinions and reviews, but without writers dedicated to reviewing other people’s works), but no critic can exist without the creator. That said, how can you (anyone) argue against an author participating in a critical discussion of his or her work — a discussion that would not even be possible were it not for their creation?
    Sure, you can believe that once the idea leaves the writer’s pen, he or she ceases to exist and the idea belongs to the reader (or whatever the philosophy is that I’m mangling in paraphrase), but does that somehow negate the right of the author– the only person who can possibly explain his or her intent or shine a light of truth on assumptions made about his or her own character that readers are making based on their reading of the discussed work–to chime in and do just that?

    3. RE: The suggestion that “ego-Googling” is to blame for all this, and authors shouldn’t do it… Why the heck not? If the only downside is that they might possibly stifle some half-hearted chatter on an obscure blog, that’s no downside at all. The technology is free and easy, and for first-time writer’s, or authors early enough in their careers that they can handle the influx of alerts, it is a great way to get crucial feedback on their work that will help them later in their career. It is also a great way, through linking and ping backs on their own websites or through their publisher, for the young author to bring his or her fanbase together.

    This suggestion about “ego-Googling”, coupled with the notion that maybe author’s should not be welcomed into an open discussion about their own work on a blog that wouldn’t exist without their work definitely gives this thread an anti-author vibe. I don’t think this is where anyone meant it to go … but it went.

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  84. Jessica, I realize that the thread is diverging from your original topic, but it seems that there is a lot of baggage regarding authors (not the ones in question who prompted your post) who have behaved badly and/or felt that their opinions on their own work trump all others, and strong feelings from some that authors be banned from commenting in some fashion.

    I do believe that authors should think twice, thrice even, before commenting on reviews of their work. There is definitely a ripple effect for them doing so, and it is why I have chosen to comment on only a handful of the literally hundreds of reviews of my work that I have read. 2% perhaps.

    But that said, I reserve the right to do so when I choose. Why? Because the internet is a free and open society. When one blogs in an open forum with enabled comments, it is an invitation to all to both read and share their thoughts. The feeling that this should exclude authors is a matter of opinion and largely irrelevant, because the reality is that authors and other industry people are going to read their reviews, and sometimes respond, either openly or covertly.

    Some readers may like this. Others may not. Some may feel that a peek behind the curtain is a fascinating learning experience. Some may feel that seeing the puppet strings throws them out of the story. You can’t please everybody.

    I think Bruce Dawe made a good point. The author’s interpretation is not the only correct one, once their work is complete. Everyone needs to understand this, and not let comments, be they from the author or otherwise, unduly influence them.

    This makes me think of Ray Bradbury, who came out a couple of years ago and said the Fahrenheit 451 was about the dangers of television, rather than censorship. This insight into the author’s beliefs, so contrary to the accepted worldwide perception of his work, rocked the literary world.

    For a day.

    Then we all collectively shrugged, and went back to believing what we wanted to about it.

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  85. I have been following this post with much interest and it occurred to me this morning while reading the new posts that we are inherently talking about two separate issues.

    One is the author responding to a review and the other is the author actively engaging in a discussion of their work.

    To me a review is an opinion. If reviewer A comes on and say, I really didn’t like this book because…. then other poster agree or disagree with that opinion and then the author comes on and says – thanks for the review; you didn’t get the point, or whatever that to me is a different issue that a book discussion.

    To me a discussion is the author and others talking specific points about a book. It can begin with suggested questions, it has give and take and is much more fluid than a review.

    I guess my point is if I were an author while I might participate in discussion about my work with readers whether online or in person, I would refrain from commenting on reviews. It just seems that there is no right way for an author to respond to someone’s opinion without coming off as (in Ann Sommerville’s words) wank and unpleasantness or having it degenerate into egotistical masturbation.

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  86. Venus Vaughn wrote:

    @everyone – on some level though, don’t we want authors to see what we have to say? Don’t we want them to know that we feel shafted that they had the heroine become a ghost? Don’t we want them to know that we love it when they take a standard secret baby plot and make it real? Don’t we want them to know that we’re never going to believe in ‘you raped me, now I love you’?

    Isn’t part of having these blogs an effort to be heard? And what easier way to show your reader that you’re paying attention than to show up and say I’m here. I’m listening.

    Speaking for myself, no I don’t want the author to hear me. I want other readers to hear me. I went looking for other readers to see if my opinion was the odd one out or if I got the same impression that most people did from a book. If I wanted to talk to the author I would email them or see if they have a website with a message board so I could interact with them. But I never do that because I don’t care to talk to them.

    This may sound rude (and I’m sorry if it does but I can’t think of how else to explain it) but to me authors are just a name brand like any other product. When I say that I love Nora Roberts I’m not speaking of her as an actual person. I don’t know her. I mean I love what her name brand represents to me. Quality stories, good writing, strong characters, etc.

    I don’t want her to listen to me and change how she writes even if I wasn’t thrilled with one of her books. She writes what she writes and if I consistently don’t like it then I find a new author. It’s as simple as that. I don’t want to chat with her about her books. I want to chat with other readers about her books and get points cleared up or see if so-and-so noticed such-and-such detail.

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  87. @ Peter: Let me ask you this follow-up question. If the technology existed for you to materalize instantenaously anywhere there was a public conversation talking place about your work, would you zip off to say some coffee shop in Omaha to do so? Let’s assume that it would only take the same effort that it takes you now to find and join a blog conversation.

    If you did that what would happen to the conversation? How would it change?

    I think the conversation would move to you as the author rather than the work. I think that’s true even if you only stopped by and said thank you then left. Maybe the shift wouldn’t last long but it would be there and some of us would be left wondering whether or not you’re going to pop back in again. Perhaps wonder if you were still listening so we might censor ourselves. (yes, self-censorship is our issue not yours.)

    —–
    @ Lissa: Many online discussions get initiated by a review. Certainly not all of them but a review is a good starting point for many, especially a review with a solid analytical base. Makes it easier because that kind of base can give the discussion what I refer to as a ‘starting scope.’ Yeah, that’s not great terminology. Maybe Jessica or Laura can give us the correct term.

    ——
    how can you (anyone) argue against an author participating in a critical discussion of his or her work

    @ Matt: I’ve never made that argument. My argument was that author’s shouldn’t jump into a book discussion uninvited because it changes the dynamic. I’d probably cavaet that with the ‘unless they are already an established part of that particular online community.’ Even so I’d still argue against it for the average reader/writer interaction. Not for some place like Laura’s community at Teach Me Tonight but then that community isn’t your average readers. In a sense that community is rather professional in nature when compared to the average reader.

    Personally, I’d much rather see a second critical discussion take place but that’s only my preference not my requirement.

    If the only downside is that they might possibly stifle some half-hearted chatter on an obscure blog, that’s no downside at all.

    That’s a little arrogant of you, isn’t it? Half-hearted chatter on some obscure blog. Wow. I guess respect isn’t equal opportunity.

    If the discussion is so insignificant then why would you need to make your presence known at all? Then tell me why your need to engage or use as promo is greater than the participants need to discuss without author influence? At least initially. Perhaps the first week the discussion was posted as Venus suggested.

    —-
    the author who wants a long-lasting career should be paying attention to her reader, yes.

    But should she listen? In genre fiction, absolutely.

    @ Venus: Maybe. I know not a good answer but as you pointed out this tangent probably strays too far from Jessica’s post. I do think it’s a thread tightly bound within the discussion of author comments but I’m not sure I have the skill to be precise enough to pull it out without segueing farther than I already have.

    Funny you should mention the agents and editors piece. I’ve had arguments with professional artists who have said authors aren’t artists because of the collaborative nature of their work. That direct external influence. Initially I argued wholeheartedly against that position but there’s some nugget there that keeps nagging. Anyway, another conversation and if Jessica hosts a post about this tangent, I hope that you and I (and others) can become engaged in that discussion because I’d enjoy exploring this with you.

    —-
    Sorry, out of time and gotta run.

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  88. MattB wrote:

    That said, how can you (anyone) argue against an author participating in a critical discussion of his or her work — a discussion that would not even be possible were it not for their creation?

    Well if the site promotes itself as a review for readers by readers that doesn’t really imply (to me) that the author is invited. Just because it’s on the internet and everyone can see it doesn’t mean that it’s addressed to everyone.

    Think of it this way: I’m walking through a room and I hear a couple of people discussing a presentation/report I just did. Do really think they want me to come over and butt into the conversation unless they call me over? I guarantee that those people would become uncomfortable and start to disperse or the conversation would become really awkward. I may have the right to do it but I ruined it for everyone else.

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  89. MattB wrote:

    This suggestion about “ego-Googling”, coupled with the notion that maybe author’s should not be welcomed into an open discussion about their own work on a blog that wouldn’t exist without their work definitely gives this thread an anti-author vibe. I don’t think this is where anyone meant it to go … but it went.

    Way back up there somewhere, I mentioned how in the past I’ve been asked – repeatedly, I might add – why I seem to be want to create a gap between authors and readers. I don’t. I respect authors. I’m respect the work they do. I’ve read enough blasted books to prove it over the years. ;p

    I am not anti-authors. Or, by even pro-reader by contrast.

    I am pro-books.

    There is a difference.

    Just because I don’t want to be best buddies with every single author while they are wearing their author hats doesn’t mean I’m anti-author. I also don’t want to hang with academics day in and day out, either. No offense to present company. ;)

    Lissa wrote:

    I have been following this post with much interest and it occurred to me this morning while reading the new posts that we are inherently talking about two separate issues.
    One is the author responding to a review and the other is the author actively engaging in a discussion of their work.

    Oh, absolutely. I honestly don’t believe this can be emphasized enough. We have to recognize the distinction to understand the issue.

    Catherine wrote:

    This may sound rude (and I’m sorry if it does but I can’t think of how else to explain it) but to me authors are just a name brand like any other product. When I say that I love Nora Roberts I’m not speaking of her as an actual person. I don’t know her. I mean I love what her name brand represents to me. Quality stories, good writing, strong characters, etc.

    Doesn’t sound rude to me but then I said basically the same thing. I do think there also needs to be a recognition that there may be three basic types of readers online, though.

    One that’s more like fans in a individual fandom, another that are more fans of the genre and a third group that is more academic in nature that is more inclined to take an even more studious approach to the books.

    The interesting things and, again, this is another observation I’ve made over times, is that the first and third groups don’t mind contact with authors while the second one does. The first group craves individual contact with the author they are fans of, naturally. The third group welcomes discussions with authors on an intellectual basis. That second group, however, is mostly interested in talking about the books in general.

    And the authors can seriously get in the way of that at times because of exactly what this thread is about.

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  90. I also don’t want to hang with academics day in and day out, either. No offense to present company.

    No offense taken, Bev. Actually, it fits in really well with what you have to say later on in that comment about

    One that’s more like fans in a individual fandom, another that are more fans of the genre and a third group that is more academic in nature that is more inclined to take an even more studious approach to the books.

    The interesting things and, again, this is another observation I’ve made over times, is that the first and third groups don’t mind contact with authors while the second one does. The first group craves individual contact with the author they are fans of, naturally. The third group welcomes discussions with authors on an intellectual basis. That second group, however, is mostly interested in talking about the books in general.

    And the authors can seriously get in the way of that at times

    Obviously people could be in all three groups at different times, but I think that someone approaching a group 2 discussion in a group 3 or group 1 frame of mind isn’t going to fit in, and will have a bit of a disruptive effect, and so would an author. A group-one fan-girl could well be accused of being a troll if she tries to prevent criticism of her favourite author and academics/other people who want to have a more academic-type discussion could also have a chilling effect if we turned up at a group 2 discussion.

    I hadn’t thought about it in those terms before, but there are plenty of places where I wouldn’t comment, because I don’t have the right kind of response to give, and an analytical answer would probably come across as inappropriate/patronising/boring.

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  91. @ Venus Vaughn:

    I cannot speak for the people at Dear Author, but they seem to be broadly involved in commenting on publishing and authors in general, nut just reviewing books. Personally, I see nothing wrong with that. At issue there was author intimidation and legal issues around statements made by Ms Laurie and her attorney. When you do these things on your blog, public websites, they’re public domain. Is DA prone to sensationalism? It seems so to me. Do they play favorites? Again, they seem to to me, but I’ve only followed them a few months. Is it more gossipy than academic? Yup – but then that works for them and their fans love it. I don’t think they pretend to being academic arbiters of literature. Is the open letter to VL’s agent the equivalent of a playground tattletale or a valid way to address author intimidation of reviewers and bloggers with specious legal threats? I felt it served a purpose, but I can also see where it could be viewed as sensationalism. They aren’t the New York Times. More like the Post. :-)

    And there we come full circle – does the presence/participation of authors cause forum/blog members to moderate the free exchange of perspectives among non-authors? I cannot see how it doesn’t, but as I said before, I’m not sure removing authors would be an improvement and it might well be detrimental. Where the balance is is hard to say. Certainly Tymber Dalton held her own on DA, but she left frustrated by the lack of understanding by the blog members. And yes, the presence of some authors on a thread leads to an obnoxious, simpering love-fan-fest. Which is worse? Losing Tymber Dalton’s perspective or enduring the mutual admiration society?

    I think, as with most things, we must take the good with the bad. You cannot have a totally free exchange because there will always be someone with more ‘power’ perceived or real – greater academic standing, someone who can turn a phrase and make an intelligent person look like an idiot with a single bit of sharp wit, or someone who is overbearing and will suffer no disagreement.

    We all pick our battles everyday. How involved and invested will get with with politics, religion, neighborhood issues, the idiot driver that just cut us off – we run out of emotional steam. In the end, do we accept that our silence is our choice, a battle we chose not to fight, or do we blame others – authors, blog cliques, mods, whatever? It is our choice. Many factors cause us to make that choice. We choose our comfort zone, but even that can vary by the subject matter. Perhaps it’s something we’re passionate about and we speak up, but change the subject and keep all other factors equal, we stay silent.

    Many good points have been made here, but we also need to acknowledge that in the end, the choices are our own and made for a wide variety of reason – the presence of authors being one of many.

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  92. Jessica’s ego reporting in to announce that she is deeply wounded that her own first 100 comment thread has suddenly been hijacked by a discussion of events which occurred at another blog eons ago in blog years. She has asked me to ferret out (not were-ferret, that’s another thread) which of the DA posters put you guys up to this? Probably Janine. She is so incredibly sneaky sometimes!

    Seriously … I said upthread that we’ve established that the answer to the post’s question is “yes”. On the other hand, it has been my experience that authors’ participation can be enlightening and helpful at times, too.

    I hope one effect of this thread has been to make authors think about the ways their participation in reader blogs can impact — for worse AND for better — reader reviews and discussions of their work.

    As for what individual authors decide to do, there’s no control I have — or want to have — over that. It’s a judgment call on their part. I hope that this thread has done something to help any authors reading it be more aware of some of the complex reactions that readers may have to their participation, and that this awareness generates or reinforces their good judgment in these matters.

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  93. *coughspeakingofchillingcough*

    So you don’t want us to talk about a real-life example of when an author involved herself in a review, and the ripple effect consequences not only to the author but the surrounding blog community?

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  94. Venus, not wanting to drag months old wank which is nothing to do with this blog or the discussion != chilling effect. It’s called ‘staying on topic’.

    Comments are still open, I think, on those DA posts. Why don’t you take your criticisms directly to the people you disapprove of, over at DA?

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  95. That was, wow.
    You may note, the comment is on topic. It was about the effect an author can have on a discussion when they involve themselves in a review to which they haven’t been invited, and its attendant consequences.

    If you’d prefer I bow out of this discussion, that’s not really up to you.

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  96. Venus, discussing Victoria Laurie’s spectacular shabby behaviour towards a blogger is (a) about authors reacting to negative reviews, which Jessica already ruled off topic and (b) about authors misusing the copyright law to silence criticism. It is only tangentially about author participation in discussions, and in any event, you made your opinion on the matter clear above. So what more did you want to say, given that Jessica gave you the broadest possible hint she didn’t consider it on topic?

    “If you’d prefer I bow out of this discussion, that’s not really up to you.”

    At no point did I say or hint that. I only said that there is nothing stopping you having a full and frank discussion of the Laurie case over at DA, where the actual wank occurred. But you are claiming that Jessica is suppressing discussion because she doesn’t want a discussion of this unrelated matter *here*.

    I guess we don’t agree about the relevance. There are hundreds and hundreds of examples of authors behaving badly that could be dragged up here. What purpose would it serve?

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  97. Ann Somerville wrote:

    I guess we don’t agree about the relevance. There are hundreds and hundreds of examples of authors behaving badly that could be dragged up here. What purpose would it serve?

    I agree with Ann here. Everyone knows what an asshole looks like, and what harm she can cause. I am more interested in the case of the well meaning author who involves herself in reader discussions, like the examples in the post. How can this be done profitably? What are the pitfalls? Should it be done at all? At what cost?

    I’m sorry if my humorous attempt at redirection offended you.

    But I also prefer not to moderate comments, so have at it.

    It’s up to readers to decide for themselves when to click away from the thread.

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  98. Laura Vivanco wrote:

    Obviously people could be in all three groups at different times, but I think that someone approaching a group 2 discussion in a group 3 or group 1 frame of mind isn’t going to fit in, and will have a bit of a disruptive effect, and so would an author.

    Yes, exactly. It’s about picking and choosing the right place of expression for the frame of mind of the moment, just like it’s about authors wearing the right hat to some extent.

    A group-one fan-girl could well be accused of being a troll if she tries to prevent criticism of her favourite author and academics/other people who want to have a more academic-type discussion could also have a chilling effect if we turned up at a group 2 discussion.

    And even more pertinent to this discussion, I’ve also observed that those reader groups also seem to correspond to the types of “reviews” that readers claim to gravitate towards. The heavily fan-oriented group leans more towards purely recommendations and often gets upset with anything at all negative – even mild pans at times, unless they are giving them. The genre-fan can usually handle what most consider normal fully fleshed out reviews because they truly want information about the books, first and foremost. And the ones who consider themselves academics, of course, want more meat on the bones, as it were, and are always wishing for even more critical analysis and are sometimes frustrated that they don’t find it.

    But because the groups overlap and wander into each other’s territory . . . is it any wonder when things flare up? Or don’t flare up more often? ;)

    I hadn’t thought about it in those terms before, but there are plenty of places where I wouldn’t comment, because I don’t have the right kind of response to give, and an analytical answer would probably come across as inappropriate/patronising/boring.

    Oh, you don’t know how many times over the years I’ve just walked away from a discussion. That is not a complaint or a boast. Never think that is what I am doing. It is simply an admission that sometimes one has to know when to speak up and when to shut up. As well as oneself.

    First one has to understand the territory, though, and compounding that is that every site/blog/forum has its own unique personality within an enormously large, complex and varied genre filled with passionate devotees wearing many, many hats.

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  99. I apologize to Jessica’s ego :-) for citing DA and VL mess. In my defense, it was not about DA, but about how VL went after someone on Amazon and a blogger. DA simply has it neatly summarized and stuck in my mind.

    The Tymber Dalton exchange was also germane. It demonstrates how an author can interact without intimidation – though not without frustration.

    To me, both examples are germane. You really can’t discuss the impact of authors on a blog or forum without addressing past examples and the uneven power base between author and reader. Attempting to sever these two elements is ingenuous. They are intimately intertwined. Examples of intimidation and worthwhile interaction serve to illustrate the two sides of a coin – nothing more.

    “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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  100. Jessica,

    My apologies. As blog-owner you have every right to direct conversation however you see fit.

    Thank you for opening up the discussion. I found it very informative and it certainly got me thinking about the unintended effects of posting from a position of authority. Whether that authority is real or perceived, wanted or unwanted.

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  101. Oh, you don’t know how many times over the years I’ve just walked away from a discussion. That is not a complaint or a boast. Never think that is what I am doing. It is simply an admission that sometimes one has to know when to speak up and when to shut up. As well as oneself.

    I didn’t think you were complaining or boasting. I agree with you that it’s just a fact that there are different types of conversations and we all have to make judgements about which ones we feel are worth the effort based on how much we’d have to put into the conversation and what we think we’ll get out of it.

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  102. Interestingly, I’ve only received author comments when I’ve reported not enjoying the book, and they’ve all been a bit defensive. Wait, actually, I did receive one author comment when I mentioned buying his book, which definitely had a chilling effect on my reviewette, because his book SUCKED. To quote him, it was “a steamy murder mystery for knitters,” but what it really was was a total Mary Sue/Marty Stu ego orgy. Know he was reading what I wrote about it, I posted something completely pablum.

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  103. I haven’t read most of the comments above, but I’d like to chime in with a few points. As a new author/blogger, this chill effect has only recently occurred to me. I sometimes comment with a thank you and I will rethink that.

    I have noticed that authors who engage in discussions about their own books, even to correct factual errors or politely argue a point, don’t come off well. There is no nice way to tell a reader that her interpretation is wrong.

    These are things I’ve learned by blogging. It’s easy to forget that we aren’t all old pros at this. When I see an author commenting in an argumentative way to a review, I think “inexperienced,” not “egomaniac.”

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  104. Folks,

    I just wanted to thank you all for a great conversation. I know I’ve had a good time when I’m still thinking about the discussion days later. ReacherFan, Laura, Ann, BevBB, Catherine, Lissa and others, your final comments really gave me a lot to think about over the weekend. They (the comments) made me stop and think about my own online behavior and how that compares to the arguments I made here. A rather eye opening experience.

    Dear Jessica’s ego, please thank Jessica for the post that prompted this discussion. I’ve been reading her blog for a while, even wrote up a couple of comments here or there but this was the first topic where my comment made it past the submit button.

    Like

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