Monday Morning Stepback: On Reviewing Conspiracies…

The Weekly Links, Opinion and Personal Updates Post

Links of Interest:

A new blog has popped up, Rights of Writers, run by an attorney who actually worked in publishing for a decade, and now represents media companies for a living. (via @San_remo_Ave)

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I have always hated grading, a fact of which I am reminded as I head into the final mad rush of the semester. So how pleased I was to see this in The Chronicle, an article on Grade Hatred by Mary Churchill with Michael Bron, the latter of whom writes:

The fact is, grading is not really assessing. It is giving a number to students that allows each to be compared to all others, a practice that is statistically misguided and counter-educational.

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From the BBC News Magazine, Does Reading Make Us Happier?, a really wonderful defense of libraries…

My defence should not be seen as the attempt merely to rescue a small building in a particular borough, or any other particular places threatened with closure. Rather it is a rallying call for the concept of free libraries. In our culture the library stands as tall and as significant as a parish church or the finest cathedral. It goes back to the times when ideas first began to circulate in the known world. I worry where wisdom will come from.

And of reading…

I live with the tensions between the world out there I want to see and even contemplate, and the inner world to which the book gives me access. It is the inner rewards of reading a book in a private and concentrated way that lead you into realms of your own imagination and thought that no other process offers. Something happens between the words and the brain that is unique to the moment and to your own sensibilities.

It is why, at such moments, it is so awful to be interrupted – and why I am frequently late at meetings because I find it hard to tear myself away. Any society that doesn’t value the richness of this encounter with ideas and the imagination will impoverish its citizens.

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Last week, I linked to one of a series of New York Times articles on the distractions of the digital age. Check out this terrific response from the Language Log. The intrepid folks there actually looked at the studies the Times cited, and found … a lot of problems with the breathy conclusions drawn on their basis, concluding:

The idea that new technology causes mental, moral, and social decay is an old one. Passing over in silence those who warned our ancestors about the disastrous effects of writing and printing, let’s pause briefly to note the role that the Times assigned in 1924 to the telephone, that “most persistent and the most penetrating” aspect of “the jagged city and its machines”, which “go by fits, forever speeding and slackening and speeding again, so that there is no certainty” (“And the town takes to dreaming”, 9/1/2010).

Great comments, too.

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From The Awl, Harry Potter and the Incredibly Conservative Children’s Club:

The most conservative element of Harry Potter’s world is that it is a materialist paradise, full of costly and rare magical artifacts, invisibility cloaks and piles of “wizard gold” at Gringott’s Bank. Things, that you can make toys out of, things that you can worship and desire and buy. There’s nothing in this story of alleged iconoclasts and rebels that would present the slightest challenge to the establishment. That’s why the story dovetails so easily into a series of Hollywood blockbusters.

I think the argument is a real stretch.

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Finally, from a long essay on poetry reviewing, in Contemporary Poetry Review, by poet David Yezzi, this intriguing way to divide up the pie:

One dusty testament to the bygone Golden Age is Stanley Edgar Hyman’s The Armed Vision, a survey of the New Criticism from Winters to Kenneth Burke. Hyman performs a useful triage, breaking prose about poetry into a Venn diagram of three overlapping categories—reviewing, criticism, and aesthetics. The reviewer, he writes, “more or less, is interested in books as commodities; the critic in books as literature or, in modern terms, as literary action or behavior; the aesthetician in literature in the abstract, not in specific books at all.” These categories are constantly shifting, Hyman explains, often within the same essay or review…

On Reviewing Conspiracies…

Is there a reviewing conspiracy? At Redlines and Deadlines, Raelene Gorlinsky claims there is:

As a reader (NOT wearing my editor or publisher hat) I’m getting a bit concerned about a particular aspect of online reviews. As in, how many of the reviewers actually thoroughly read and think about the books–or how many are just copying someone else’s review?

But I’m seeing multiple reviews with almost the same wording. And that’s not matching up with the diversity of comments from my fellow readers. For example, I just read a steampunk romance by a well-known author. The book got a lot of buzz and a number of online reviews. A lot of those reviewers had close to identical comments about the hero. Yet when I read the book, I saw the hero in a completely different light, I had a different understanding of his motivations and emotions. And when I talked to others who’d read the story, they had varying takes on and opinions of the hero. If a dozen readers voice a dozen different opinions, it seems odd that another dozen readers who happen to label themselves reviewers churn out almost identical opinions.

But some reviewers use several “pen names” to post on different sites. They just slightly modify the wording of the review to post it elsewhere as if they are a different reader. And it has always been rumored that some reviewers don’t read the books — they read the blurb, excerpt, and other reviews, and then post a review under their own name. So of course in such a case they’d be mimicking someone else’s comments and reflecting the same opinions.

I appreciate insightful and informational reviews, I thank and applaud the dedicated reviewers who put time and effort into reading and analyzing a story. So it’s discouraging that I’m seeing less of that, more useless repetition from a minority who are diluting the value of the reviewing process to readers.

The author explicitly excludes AAR, SBTB, DA and TGU (TGTBTU?), but because she provides no examples, I have no idea which reviewers or sites she is talking about. My own experience is that there are some good reviewers and sites and some shit ones, and the ratio has stayed about the same since I started noticing. What do you think?

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Maybe she is referring to Amazon? The Daily Mail on corruption in the Amazon reviewing system:

…rival publishers are accused of hijacking the system to praise their own volumes and disparage the opposition.

Authors are turning on each other, agencies are charging up to £5,000 to place favourable fake reviews and Amazon has recruited a team of amateur critics to restore the balance.

Nathan Barker, of Reputation 24/7, offers a service starting at £5,000.

He said: ‘First we set up accounts. For a romance novel we’d pick seven female profiles and three males…

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Another conspiracy was floated by Author on Vacation, at Dear Author, in response to a negative review of Mating Call by Gail Stanley (comment #42):

The fact is I don’t need a stranger to tell me what’s good reading or not. I’ve also become very leery of on-line reviewers and review sites due to the lack of professionalism and ethics involved in their creation and maintenance. Until some kind of professional standards and code of ethics regulate e-reviewers, both the books and the reading public are at the mercy of the reviewer.

I released a menage erotic romance novel last year. Within a few months I was astonished to read a negative review on a pretty large, older romance review site. In a scant paragraph, the reviewer … claimed the “worst part” of the novel was its use of incestuous relationships.

The book didn’t feature any incestuous relationships, not even the kinda-sorta incest sometimes featured in erotic romance, i.e. a heroine taking on two brothers.

At that point, I had to recognize that if a reviewer lied about my book, who’s to say this reviewer and other reviewers don’t lie about other books? I’m not saying all reviewers are liars, just that a review site and its reviewers are only as good as the ethics and responsibility of people behind it. For now, at least, e-reviews are consequence-free (for the reviewer, anyway.) Most review sites don’t seem to require any particular qualifications or credentials from their reviewers.

There’s lots more to the thread, including a defense of the publisher, Siren, by at least two Siren authors. But I wanted to highlight this comment, by Mari (# 17):

That said…it occurs to me that some reviewers approach every book like its meant to be a literay (sic) masterpiece. And they employ the same kind of gimlet eye toward smutty trash like this book, as they would to something more “seriously written.” Don’t know how fair that is, but who says reviewers have to be fair?

I actually think that is a really interesting issue. Should romance (and genre fiction) reviewers lower the bar, in order to be more fair to the presumably lower aspirations of romance fiction? And what would that mean, I wonder? Or is it just a call to review each kind of book in terms of its own aspirations, without regard to whether, objectively some literary aims are higher than others?

I was wondering if I was the only person in blogland to be so entertained by Author on Vacation when Mrs. Giggles emerged from her obsession with Neopets (if only we can get Karen Scott to stop watching Big Brother, we’d really be back in business! ;)) to post this in response to AOV’s call for for standards in reviewing:

And I’m sure we all know what those rules will call for, don’t we? No calling out authors on their abilities because that is a personal attack, no general statements, always remember the tears and hardships that went into creation of a book and therefore always mention good points about a book instead of bad points. I’m sure some authors will even go as far as to insist that only authors or professors in literature can review because only those people can relate to the tears and suffering of the author.

If we are to have rules for reviewers, I want the same rules to be applied to people who comment on reviews online too. Fair is fair, after all. Let’s see how they will fare under the same rules they set for reviewers, heh heh heh.

And then Stacia Kane made this comment:

I decided a while ago that I was no longer going to belittle genre fiction by acting like I didn’t put anything of myself into it, and my books are nothing to do with me, they’re this completely other thing that’s just work and I don’t care about it or think it’s special and/or important. I think there’s a huge expectation on genre authors, especially romance, that they distance themselves completely from their books. Of course there’s an element of distance that must be there; no, your book is not you, and more importantly a review is just one person’s opinion, and they’re entitled to it. I just think that can go too far, and I think pretending your work isn’t important to you is another way, and another reason, genre fiction gets belittled as formulaic crap: even its authors claim it’s just a book, not a piece of themselves or something they really put themselves into.

Until I read this comment, I would have said the opposite was true, that the stereotype is that it’s romance writers who supposedly cannot get critical distance, are so petty (women!), etc. but that literary writers (men, mostly) can view their work with a clear eye, are more professional and distanced.

Lots of interesting discussions about reviewing around. Something in the air, I guess.

Personal:

We spent the holiday with family in New York. On Wednesday night we went to the Macy’s Parade balloon viewing …

My sister in law sets a mean table

The kids came home with an XBox 360 with Kinect for their Hanukkah present from their New York relatives. It’s super fun, but I am still trying to figure out what to allow when it comes to “Live” play, something I had never heard about, which lets players in different locations to play each other. I am also under intense pressure to let the soon-to-be 11 year old get Halo. Makes me long for the days of hula hoops and jacks. Or at least the Wii.

Hanukkah begins Wednesday, and we’re having a party Saturday. It’s not a major holiday, but it’s a lot of fun, and the kids enjoy the heck out of it, not just the presents, but the nightly menorah lighting, the latkes, and the goofy decorations. Naturally, I still have to run out and get a few of their gifts (they get one each night).

It’s also a big week on this here blog. I start my 8 nights of Ham/mukah posts on Wednesday night. Be aware that most of the books are pretty explicit.

Also on Wednesday, I’ll also do a guest post for The Book Smugglers, kicking off their month long Smugglivus festival. If I don’t buckle under the pressure and email in sick, that is…

Finally, I am planning to do non-romance book reviews on Sundays. I started yesterday with Graham Greene. This Sunday, unless I am too hung over from drinking Manischewitz on Saturday night, I’ll have a review of Ziska, a late nineteenth century tale of love and revenge in Egypt, by Marie Corelli.

HAPPY WEEK!

29 responses

  1. Nathan Barker, of Reputation 24/7, offers a service starting at £5,000.
    He said: ‘First we set up accounts. For a romance novel we’d pick seven female profiles and three males…

    Choke…what the hell???

    Um. what the hell?

    About rules & reviewing…aside from the above which is um…well, the only word that comes to mind is bullshit, personally, I think reviewers should leave any sort of personal attack on an author out of it and focus on the book. And be original-don’t take somebody elses words-that should go without saying but…well, people steal others’ reviews and words, I know.

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  2. On the topic of reviewing conspiracies, I’ve come to notice recently that a few sites have been giving books to reviewers who are predisposed to liking whatever the author has churned out. They’ll usually start with “In my eyes, author X can do no wrong…” then proceed to give the book 5 stars or an A+. This came to my attention because a recent historical release managed to garner quite a number of perfect reviews, when I feel like anyone who would have read the book critically would have noticed at least one of the poorly executed romance novel cliches. I can only assume that there was something going on behind the scenes that so many reviewers would purposely ignore the books more obvious issues (issues that have been pointed out by more than one reader in Amazon reviews). It’s disappointing, because I have a limited amount of time and money to spend on books and use reviews to decide what books I should check out. Now I’ve had to whittle down my list of trusted review sites.

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  3. Should romance (and genre fiction) reviewers lower the bar, in order to be more fair to the presumably lower aspirations of romance fiction?

    I think it might be better to think about this not in terms of “higher” and “lower” aspirations but in terms of different aims, genre conventions and reader expectations. Something that might be an indication of failure in one genre might contribute to the success of a book in a different genre. For example, an Agatha Christie-style mystery would probably not be judged a success if, after the first chapter, the reader had already worked out that the butler committed the murder by stretching a cheese-wire across the staircase. In another type of book, that realisation might be the starting point of a psychologically complex portrait of the butler and his place within the class system.

    Different genres do have different conventions, so that has to be taken into account. It would be a bit pointless, for example, to condemn all romances as “bad” simply because you could guess from the start that the main characters would fall in love with each other. That would be a bit like getting irritated that a haiku was too short.

    As far as writing styles are concerned, there’s a lot of variation in the romance genre, just as there is in other genres. In all genres some authors will make more use of imagery than others, for example. And some authors will be deemed to write better in their chosen style than others writing in the same style.

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  4. I love Stacia Kane’s comments.
    I refrain from saying that my books are “just” romance novels. I have to remind myself never to apologize for or explain the sex to non-romance readers. By the same token, I’m happy to have the books put up to higher literary standards of scrutiny. We should welcome it. I can’t help but bite my tongue when weaknesses in my stories are explained in reviews as “oh, that’s just because it’s a Harlequin”. “What can she do, it’s a romance after all.”

    As an author, I just feel that I want to embrace those errors as my errors, not hide behind my genre. Mea culpa. It’s my fault, my choices. Choices made with pride. Romance didn’t make me do it. :)

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  5. Stacia’s comment was right on the mark – even among my sf/f-writing colleagues, themselves often pilloried for writing “trash,” writers and readers have commented to me about “dashing off” a romance, writing a romance to make money, focusing in on the money involved and assuming one does not enjoy or feel committed to the writing.

    Not that I MIND the money. *ahem*

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  6. Stacia Kane said it better than I ever could. I’ve seen so many ‘literary’ or ‘popular’ writers that get great and intricate reviews from a few very esteemed sources and complain about the littlest things. I’m thinking along the lines of Cassandra Clare’s blow-up when someone thought her main character was a whore (which, while not a nice comment, is still an opinion), or the whole Jennifer Weiner/Jonathan Frazen drama that went on. Authors that theoretically should be distanced from their work and have thousands of positive feedback situations – from reviews to fan love, in the case of Cassie Clare – get extremely disjointed when they come across something like that.

    Yet, for the most part, I’ve seen a lot of romance/genre fiction authors respond positively. Even if DA doesn’t give their book a glowing review, authors occasionally comment just to say thank you and offer another read if the reviewer was marginally interested in trying them again. Kerfuffles still abound, but it’s a lot less brutal than other genres. I can count a lot of times that big YA authors have made those mistakes about commenting on negative but still plausible interpretations of their work.

    Bias, I also get. Sigh. It’s a fine line that I always worry about. Especially when I like an author AND I like their book, because then I feel like people will think I’m being positive just for the heck of it, when in reality the reading experience was really awesome.

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  7. Interesting backlash against online reviewing. I think one of the things that is emerging online is more clarity about the fact that readers and authors interests are not the same; that readers and authors need and expect different things from a review. An author wants a review that will help sell books. A reader wants a review that will help them find a book to enjoy and help them make choices that won’t waste their money. Authors are in the business of selling a product and writing is the mechansim for producing this product. That sounds cold when I think of Stacia’s comments. The truth is we all put a little of ourselves into everything we do, because we do it with pride and from our hearts. This is as true for when I write a policy guide about good quality communication between community health services and general practice or plan a workshop, as much as it is true for the authors who write the books I love to read. Yet at the end of all this work we are both producing a product that must meet a need and be assessed by our peers and stakeholders (a much favoured policy word) clients, customers, readers, consumers… to see if it does.

    I have been following book blogs only for the last couple of years. I think as a reader you need to have a critical approach to blogs and some strategy about how you use them. So I have found blogs whose reviewing style matches my taste and take recomendations from them. I don’t think a single review is enough of a guide so I like to compare reviews. I enjoy reading reviews and appreciate the work that goes into them. Yes there are sites that seem to regurgitate book blurbs but as evidenced in the exceptions mentioned in the Redlines and Deadlines article not all book blogs are created equal and the good rise above the others. I am not clear if the backlash against online reviewing even takes into acount that reviews in print can be written by people with interests to protect, and quid pro quo to exchange or that genre books like romances are barely reviewed except by online reviewers. As a reader I take reviews in print with more of a grain of salt than I do online reviews. I think partly becuase I follow particular bloggers over time and come to have a feel for their voice and trust in their reviews. I also like online book blogs because the chance to comment creates a dialogue about a book, so at times the message that I take away from a review is something that emerges and I feel that it isn’t ‘jug to mug’. I like it when the review gives me something to think about.

    I also wonder if the deep thread lines on the major romance book blogs are in the process of creating or firming up some norms for romancelandia in a way that is more explicit than in the past and that is a boundary authors are bumping against. Taking the ‘Mating Call’ book example, I took away from the review and comments (to which I had added my own) that the book didn’t meet community expectations for romance in that there wasn’t mutual respect between h/h and a clearly developing romantic relationship that ends with the h/h (not getting into the old skool rapetastic stuff) being better together than apart. On a blog like Dear Author I think that those are a given couple of standards that books are assessed against. I am interested in others thoughts on this, it might just be what I have in my head when I am reading a review and I’m projecting.

    As we move beyond brick and mortar stores with books on the shelves that we can pick up and assess, as there are more books being produced each month, the online review becomes an important filter. This is making the reviewer more powerful and that makes some people nervous. In this online world authors and readers with their different interests are at the same time closer together than ever before. This means that we can rub up against one another in sandpaper-y ways. The negative example (which I don’t doubt at all) given by the author in the DA thread was framed in an interesting way – saying the failings of one online reviewer mean that all are suspect; of using the single situation to denigrate the whole online review project. That sort of broad brush smearing tends to come out when power is being contested.

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  8. I’m a reader and a writer and a reviewer.
    I won’t review books from a line or a publisher who publishes my books, and I don’t review books written by close friends. But as a reader I reserve the right to have an opinion on a book, and I consider it a privilege that I’m allowed to do so. The only thing is, if I receive a free copy for reviewing purposes, I feel obliged to publish a review, even if that review is less than stellar. If I buy the book and I don’t think I have anything interesting to say, other than I don’t like it, I might skip doing a review.
    And yes, of course writers and publishers will seek out a reviewer who likes their books. As long as there’s no pressure on the reviewer I can’t see much wrong with that.
    As a reader, I seek out reviewers whose taste seems to mesh with mine, and that’s part of it.

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  9. My own experience is that there are some good reviewers and sites and some shit ones, and the ratio has stayed about the same since I started noticing.

    Agree 100%.

    if only we can get Karen Scott to stop watching Big Brother, we’d really be back in business!

    Preach it!

    more importantly a review is just one person’s opinion, and they’re entitled to it

    This part of Stacia Kane’s comment hit me this morning – somebody is trying to argue with me about a review I posted, saying I just didn’t “get” what the author was after. Fine. But don’t argue with me. It’s just my opinion (and for the record, I noted how much I love this author’s books and can’t wait to read the next one, but that this one didn’t work for me). Why argue with that?

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    What a gorgeous table for Thanksgiving! And an XBox! Wowza. We gave one to the kids for Hanukkah last year. Our rule re: Live is that only our high-schooler can use it. If I don’t allow you to roam the internet without direct supervision, then I don’t allow you to play X-Box Live. I don’t know who you’re online with, and I’m not going to sit there and simply watch you play X-Box so I can monitor that. The biggest problem I’ve come across with it is that my oldest stays up playing with his friends until all hours. I will say this about Live, though. You can stream Netflix through it, which has been absolutely awesome and brought back our family movie watching.

    Last year was the first year we didn’t do a gift each night. (my kids are 15 and 13) It was kind of sad. But they only want expensive stuff these days, and aren’t satisfied with the puzzles, etc I used to get for those nights. So now we do first and last night, and they get gifts when we go to the family Hanukkah party n the middle.

    Hope you have a fun and happy Hanukkah!

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  10. My own experience is that there are some good reviewers and sites and some shit ones, and the ratio has stayed about the same since I started noticing.

    Yeah, this. Which reminds me, I really need to clean out my Google Reader.

    I review because I like to talk about what I’ve read. That’s really it for me. Certainly if I love a book, I do want to promote the author, the book, I hope other readers will be curious enough to try it, and hopefully they’ll love the book as much as I did. If they didn’t? I’m sorry about it, but all I can do is speak from my own personal reading experience. I also like to think that people can make up their own minds, and make their own decisions, regardless of whether or not I loved or hated a particular book. If you want to read it? Great. If you don’t? That’s fine too. I learned a long, long, long time ago that crap is in the eye of the beholder.

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  11. I’m with Laura and Merrian on the Mating Call thread. That is, I think Jane reviewed it in terms of the genre expectations of erotic romance and found it lacking, rather than holding it up to some “higher” standard. For that reason, I found it odd that the concerns about reviewing were raised on that thread. (Actually I thought the weirdest thing was the implication by some of the authors commenting that while the erotica their publisher put out might be trash, their work was not and deserved a fair reading. I don’t think most readers tar a publisher’s whole output with the brush of one bad review).

    I also think that dismissing one’s own reading–or writing–as “trash” is nuts. Something can be “light” and entertaining and still be good, both in terms of meeting (or exceeding, or playing with) genre expectations and in terms of basic sentence-level competence, structure, etc. Frankly, I expect that of my “trash.” Nothing kills my pleasure more quickly than a book that its own author seems to have viewed as “trash” not worthy of care. (This ties in to grading, of course–it’s pretty easy to spot when a student has treated his/her paper that way. I love every part of my job except grading, which may just kill me one day).

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  12. I review because I like to talk about what I’ve read. That’s really it for me.

    Yup. About the same here. I don’t have the budget for new books so I’m not a cutting-edge-reviewer, and conversely I tend to prefer to read reviews of books that I’ve already read since I’m generally looking for a discussion instead of a recommendation. That’s not a blanket policy by any means, but a good percentage of my review reads. The others reads are from well-liked sites like yours, even if I have nothing to add to the discussion or don’t intend to read the book.

    I think it might be better to think about this not in terms of “higher” and “lower” aspirations but in terms of different aims, genre conventions and reader expectations.

    I think Ms Vivanco makes a good point, and this is something that I tend to go by a bit, although I do admit it makes me uncomfortable every now and again as a person with a book blog – should everything be held to the same standard? The “genre conventions” question particularly arises for me in category romances since I don’t read many and am under the impression that the publishing standards for categories are very, very well defined (though wouldn’t mind being corrected if someone knows more than I). In the end, though, I’m not professional reviewer, I just want to have a chat about a book, so chat away I do.

    My sister in law sets a mean table

    Yes, she does! Happy Hanukkah!

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  13. Happy Hanukah!
    I’d comment on the DA dustup because I do have strong opinions on what occurred, but burn me once, shame on you, burn me twice, shame on me.
    As far as authors distancing themselves from their work…doesn’t work for me. I don’t think I would be a very good writer if I didn’t care and if I wasn’t involved with my characters, my story, my theme…I write to be read and if I make money, great. If not, oh well. It’s easy to tell an author to grow a thick skin. Perhaps reviewers would do well to take their own advice.
    As a writer, I want to improve with age – I don’t appreciate a rah-rah yay-yay review anymore than I appreciate a – that book was crap – review. What do I expect of reviewers? If you intend to write a review:
    1. Read the book, not just the blurb and the excerpt. Don’t skim. It’s very obvious a reviewer has not read your book when he or she gets the names, ages and professions of your characters wrong, and can’t articulate the events that occur in your story.
    2. If you don’t like the book, say why, why didn’t this book work for you – without resorting to insults and snark to entertain your readers, because insults and snark, while they may make your followers love you more, don’t help a writer improve and they hurt. Some reviewers seem to take pleasure in being unnecessarily cruel. Sometimes reading reviews and comments I’m reminded of The Stanford Prison Experiment.
    3. If you like the book, tell us why. We want to know what we did right. It’s not enough to say – A hot read. A sexy read. Yes, I’m always happy to know that a reviewer liked my book, but even more, I want to hear what worked for her.
    The unkindest cut of all? Most of the time it’s female reviewers dissing female authors. As women, we are often at our worst when it comes to criticizing other women.

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  14. The “genre conventions” question particularly arises for me in category romances since I don’t read many and am under the impression that the publishing standards for categories are very, very well defined (though wouldn’t mind being corrected if someone knows more than I).

    If you’re thinking of Harlequin/Mills & Boon, then each “line” has its own guidelines. I’d expect to find billionaires, tycoons and sheikhs in the Harlequin Presents line, for example, whereas I’d be surprised to find one in the Medical line. The historicals can vary in their settings, types of protagonists and “heat” levels. So yes, readers who know the lines well will have a general idea of what to expect.

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  15. without resorting to insults and snark to entertain your readers, because insults and snark, while they may make your followers love you more, don’t help a writer improve and they hurt

    While I’m picking up on something Julia said above, I don’t mean to pick on her, since lots of people have said something similar, and I agree with a lot of her points.

    I think, though, that a couple of things are consistently overlooked in the frequent review dust-ups.

    1. Snarky negative reviews are hardly confined to the blogosphere. I’ve seen plenty in print, written by professional critics of books, movies, and music. Professionalism does not preclude snark, though I do think it should preclude personal attacks. But something may be felt as personal that isn’t intended that way. If I (and I’m not in fact a reviewer) say a writer is a moron, that’s personal. If I say she appears to lack a basic grasp of English grammar, is that personal? Or just blunt? (As a prospective reader, I’d sure want to know that!).

    2. The many snarky reviews of blockbuster movies and sold-out boy-band concerts suggest that such reviews do not have much effect on customer habits. (I’m thinking snarky reviews hurt many romance writers more/create more dust-up not so much because she’s a woman writing for women, but because she’s not taking home Dan Brown/James Cameron/boy-band singer money. Those guys can laugh it off all the way to the bank).

    3. Reviewers, even amateur bloggers, are writers. And as writers, they are responsible to their audience. Therefore, I see nothing wrong with “entertaining their readers with snark” as one aim of a review. Nor do they have to tell the writer how to improve. The writer of the work they’re reviewing is not their audience.

    I do think that reviewers who rave about or pan a book without any specifics, or who clearly haven’t read the book, are not serving their own audience well, and I think most readers are smart enough to know that. The review may still be interesting or entertaining to read (though I probably wouldn’t find it so).

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  16. @Shiloh Walker:

    people steal others’ reviews and words, I know.

    I have seen bloggers scrape whole posts, but I honestly haven’t seen this. Guess I have been lucky.

    @Tina:

    Now I’ve had to whittle down my list of trusted review sites.

    I think this is the only solution. There are so many sites that just give you the blurb and then “I loved it!!!”. I have no idea what motivates these people. Maybe, as Gorlinsky wrote, it’s ego. Or maybe these are young people who have grown up in a culture of “Liking” on Facebook, and think “I loved it!!!!” is 2 more words than you even need.

    @Laura Vivanco:

    I think it might be better to think about this not in terms of “higher” and “lower” aspirations but in terms of different aims, genre conventions and reader expectations.

    I agree, and I said something to that effect in the sentence after the one you quoted, but you have fleshed it out way better than I could.

    @Jeannie Lin:

    As an author, I just feel that I want to embrace those errors as my errors, not hide behind my genre. Mea culpa. It’s my fault, my choices. Choices made with pride. Romance didn’t make me do it. :)

    Stacia’s comment really made me think, and so did yours. Thank you, miss Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review.

    @katiebabs:

    *sigh* over the whole reviewers have a agenda drama.

    Well, I suppose some do, and some don’t, which is why it is always nice when people give examples. I would like to judge for myself whether 10 reviewers saying the same thing about a book constitutes grounds for a conspiracy, as opposed to intelligibly uniform reaction of seasoned reviewers to a good book, but I can’t because I don’t know which book or which reviews people are referring to.

    @John:

    Kerfuffles still abound, but it’s a lot less brutal than other genres. I can count a lot of times that big YA authors have made those mistakes about commenting on negative but still plausible interpretations of their work.

    They have absolutely every right to do it, but it is almost never in their self-interest — or in anybody else’s — that they do so.

    @Lori:

    Why argue with that?

    Well, on the one hand, I think it’s fun to argue about interpretations of books, but to say “oh you are just wrong” is dismissive and unproductive. I guess some readers feel very attached to some books and authors, and just as authors feel a strong emotional connection to their work, so do some readers. It;s not an excuse, just trying to think of why someone would take you on like that.

    Thanks for the ideas about X-Box. I am still on the fence. And wow… you mean when the kids are older I can give up “clothing” night and “candy” night?!

    @Wendy:

    I learned a long, long, long time ago that crap is in the eye of the beholder.

    So true!

    @Liz:

    I also think that dismissing one’s own reading–or writing–as “trash” is nuts.

    I agree with your take on the DA thread, and that romance is not trash. As far as “trash”, the leading romance blog is called “Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books”, and popular romance writers often refer to their novels as smutty, dirty, etc. So I think this community is ambivalent on this issue.

    @Kate:

    In the end, though, I’m not professional reviewer, I just want to have a chat about a book, so chat away I do.

    Yes, and here’s where the point about the many things we are doing under the simple name “reviewing” gets kind of lost. We are “reviewing” in the traditional sense, we are pitching new books or authors, we are talking to each other, we are working out for ourselves our own reaction to a book by writing about it, sometimes all in one review.

    @Julia Rachel Barrett: Your comment goes to what Mrs. Giggles said, that a reviewers’ fair critique is often an author’s insult. I think writing snarky reviews is a part of our culture, and actually a part of how much we love the genre, and it has its place. But I completely understand how upsetting it is to have a review written that is unfair, wrong, or betrays a lack of care. It must be infuriating.

    @Tumperkin:

    Another dust-up on reviewing-rules? I don’t think I have the stomach for it today…

    Oh, come on. You can do it. Drink some 5 hour energy and start writing comments using words like … hey wait, I think I just thought of an awesome fridge magnet set!! Running off to see if I can pay someone to have it made up …

    Like this

  17. Okay. I’ve had enough. It’s obvious amateur reviewers have *no* idea what I, as an author, expect from them, so I am going to lay down some goddamn rules, and I *expect* – nay, insist – that all of them follow them to the letter or there will be blood:

    1. Spell my fucking penname right. One ‘m’, two ‘ll’s and there is no ‘e’ in Ann.

    2. Buy a full price copy of every single book you review, even the free ones. A donation on top of purchase price to my superannuation fund is optional for five star reviewers, mandatory for everyone else. I ain’t doing this for love, bitches.

    3. All ratings below 5 stars *will* be accompanied by a full explanatory text, where the so-called ‘reviewer’ (not sure if readers who haven’t the taste to understand my books really merit the title but whatever) will *respectfully* and in Standard English, explain in no fewer than 500 words per point, why they couldn’t appreciate my genius. Comments will be graded.

    4. Ratings of 5 stars and above *will* be accompanied by 500 words or more of explanatory praise. Saying ‘I loved it’ is not acceptable, and you will no longer receive my mail shots after the third email.

    5. At no point are you to refer to me as ‘The author”. I will be “Ms Somerville” or “The outrageously talent Ms S” at all times. All reviews will be signed off with “I beg to remain your faithful servant, [insert worthless reader's name]“, or I will petition to have you banned from the site and your review removed forthwith!

    While we’re at it, I’m going to lay down some rules for authors of books I read:

    1. You shall not write shit.

    2. You will not insult me with shit plots, idiotic medical details, and continuity errors that belong in Naked Gun 2 1/2, not in a book I paid for.

    3. You will not get up in my grill when I tell my fellow readers how much I hated your stupid shitty book. I paid for it, I’ll say what I like.

    4. You will learn correct English and use it, damn it.

    5. Your lead characters will not have names more suitable for Rottweillers.

    There. Now we’re perfectly clear on everything I expect.

    Where’s me fucking pony?

    Like this

  18. @Kim in Hawaii: “I encourage you to write the rules for commenters, too! ”

    Okay!

    1. You will leave your full name, address, and bank account details on every comment because painful honesty should always be rewarded.

    2. You will not use ‘fuck’, ‘twat’, or other naughty words, unless you are talking about that fucking plagiarising twat Cassandra Clare.

    3. Opinions are like arseholes, but be aware that some people’s personal hygiene regarding their bottoms leaves a lot to be desired. There’s no way to avoid poo in a poo-flinging contest.

    4. You can play by the rules your mother taught you, if you let me play by the ones my mother taught me. There’s a reason I’m a bad tempered, foul mouthed bitch – intolerance is hereditary.

    5. There is nothing you can say on the internet that someone hasn’t already said funnier, first and more famously. Nothing you say will be remembered, unless you call **** a ****. Or you use the words ‘flying monkeys’ in juxtaposition with ‘Tess Gerritsen’.

    I better stop now because the effort of self-censoring is killing me ;)

    Like this

  19. Dear Anne Summervile,

    Thank you so much for clearing this up! Now that we have rules to follow, I’m sure there will be no more kerfuffles or other misunderstandings. Also no more bad books. Hurrah!

    Are you taking on world peace next, as Jessica suggested on Twitter? I do hope so.

    I beg to remain your faithful servant,
    [laughing my wothless ass off -- thanks so much!]

    Like this

  20. @Ann Somerville:

    Sorry, would Standard English be American, British or insert your favor here English? Could you also specify a style guide? Should there also be footnoting requirements?

    Great pieces, BTW!!!

    Like this

  21. @Jessica:

    @John:

    Kerfuffles still abound, but it’s a lot less brutal than other genres. I can count a lot of times that big YA authors have made those mistakes about commenting on negative but still plausible interpretations of their work.

    They have absolutely every right to do it, but it is almost never in their self-interest — or in anybody else’s — that they do so.

    I don’t know. Did you happen to read the New York Times article on DecorMyEyes.com and its ranking within google searches? Generating negative publicity seems to be working for this company. There *might* be a similar effect for authors or specific book titles.

    For example, when Jane over at DA gave a couple of F reviews and then the author came out to challenge the review, how many readers of the blog went out and purchased that book just because of the commotion?

    The flipside of it is that in most cases I’d never even heard of the author or the book. So… I’m not saying authors should show their asses in “public” but more than once I’ve purchased a book because of negative reviews/circus theatre just to become essentially one of the gawkers. Not very often mind you but I have done it. And where’s there one, there might be more.

    Like this

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