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?