Monday Stepback: Jennifer Egan, Andrew Shaffer, Josh Lanyon, Ana T.

The weekly links, opinion, and personal updates post

Links of interest (from the last 2 weeks):

I cannot recall how I found this one (thanks to whoever it was), but you must check out Sequential Crush, a blog devoted to romance comics. Here’s a Q&A with Michael Barson on his new book Agonizing Love: The Golden Era of Romance Comics. Earlier this month, Jacque had a phenomenal week on Ugly Duckling Romances. Check it out!

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The Art of Penguin Science Fiction (via @LauraCurtis). Very cool — all the covers from the past decades.

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As I prepare today to talk with undergraduate philosophy majors about graduate programs, something my colleague and I do every spring, I have been thinking a lot about Rohan Maitzen’s blog post on The PhD Conundrum. I find it harder every year to walk the line between practical wisdom and dream crushing. I agree completely with Rohan that the major backup arguments to the realization that there are very few tenure track jobs for PhDs in the humanities: (1) the skills argument (“You’ll gain skills you can use in nonacademic careers!”) and (2) the Zen argument (“It’s not the destination, but the journey!”) are both utter fails.

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Laura Vivanco reports on a psychological study of sexual behavior as portrayed in romance novels. There are some howlers. The best here:

The total number of sex scenes was surprisingly low, given the lay reputation of romance novels; several books published recently included no sex scenes at all. These results may indicate an increasing trend towards less explicit sexual content in romance novels.

How on earth, one asks, could anyone with even a passing knowledge of the romance genre conclude something so obviously false? By combining faulty assumptions (for example, that contemporary romance is more likely to have sex in it than historical romance), with ignorance (no knowledge that erotic romance even exists, thanks in part to relying on the conservative RITA awards as an indicator of the breadth of the genre). Commenter Liz diplomatically refers to this as “the perils of cross-disciplinary research.” Hm. One of the study authors weighs in at the end of the comment thread.

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Thomas MacAulay Millar on the dangers of mainstreaming parts of BDSM culture (via @anahcrow)

the rise of rough sex and sort of BDSM-by-any-other-name in gonzo porn wasn’t a good thing: that it brought with it the physical and psychological aspects of BDSM (I’m paraphrasing here) and popularized them with a mainstream audience, but didn’t normalize all the ethical tools of negotiation and communication that should always go with that stuff.

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I don’t care much for Gwyneth Paltrow. So I was thrilled to read this HuffPo takedown of her theory that “Everything in my life that’s good is because I worked my ass off to get it and to maintain it.”

In an age in which America’s class-divide is greater than it’s ever been, our patience has simply waned for the George W. Bushes and Gwyneth Paltrows of the world — people who were born on third base and act like they hit a triple.

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Over at Reviews by Jessewave, writer Josh Lanyon opines on reviewers:

[I'm] finding the role of this new brand of blogger-reviewer confusing. These days any goof with a computer and a credit card can call herself an Author, but so too can any goof with a computer and Internet access call herself a Reviewer. It’s all about the DIY. Way back when I first started publishing, reviews were formal affairs. Reviewers were paid professionals. Reviews appeared in newspapers and periodicals. They were flattering or unflattering, fair or unfair, but either way, they were most assuredly impersonal. … The Internet changed all that. Everyone who has a blog or an Amazon or Goodreads account is now a potential literary critic.

I found this comment quite odd, given that it was written by someone who publishes in the most maligned subgenre of the most despised genre of fiction. I’d be curious to know how much of the kind of erotic male/male romance novels Lanyon writes were reviewed by “paid reviewers” in “newspapers and periodicals” before this “new brand” of blogger-reviewer came along.

He goes on:

To further complicate the modern relationship between reviewers and writers — especially in this genre — many of our blogger-reviewers are themselves aspiring writers. It makes sense because one of the best tools for honing your craft is to learn to read analytically. But as we can all testify, there is no one more critical than the ambitious neophyte or the envious peer.

Are we back to this? Negative reviews are the result of professional jealousy and frustrated ambition?

After going on for a while about reason and logic, we have a couple of claims that, well, can’t both be true:

(1) “reviewing is subjective. … Most aspects of literature — up to and including various grammatical fine points — are a matter of taste and style.”

(2) “For a reviewer to have credibility he or she has to get it right most of the time.”

The first kind of comment takes a very deflationary attitude about the reviewer’s project. It seems to say: don’t bother getting it right, because there is nothing to get right. It’s opinion all the way down. The second kind of comment suggests the reverse: if you are going to review, you’d better hold to certain objective standards.

But what bothered me the most about this very long, rambling post was that I felt like I was reading a classic “reviewer-scolding” cloaked in a post which, on the surface advocates taking the high road and not reading or responding to reviews. This kind of thing really does show through, even to goof reviewers like me, with my computer and my internet connection.

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Ana of Aneca’s World has two incredibly adorable reasons for her blogging hiatus. For your biggest smile of the day, go forth and see.

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Andrew Shaffer’s Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love got reviewed pretty negatively at Literary Kicks by Levi Asher, who does philosophical posts on the weekends. Asher is right to correct Shaffer on small points, like where where Thoreau actually lived (not in the woods, although he visited often), and some larger ones (Plato). The main problem I have with this review is that Asher seems to be reviewing the book he wishes Shaffer had written rather than the one he in fact did, as this inapt comparison suggests:

This book feels like a quickie takeoff on Simon Critchley’s more thoroughly researched Book of Dead Philosophers (which is cited in the bibliography), and it suffers from the same major flaw: a tendency to turn great philosophers into cartoons, and to reach for the punchline instead of the substantial insight.

In The Book of Dead Philosophers, Critchley is using biography to do some serious philosophy. As serious as it gets, given the topic: death. In Great Philosophers, Shaffer is using biography to do comedy. That the subject is philosophers is almost beside the point, except for the irony-making fact that these people are supposed to be so wise.

As a person who makes her living in philosophy, I, too, bristled a bit at the concept and execution Shaffer’s book. For one thing, he defines philosophy much more broadly than most philosophers would. I doubt folks like Diderot, Swedenborg, or Tolstoy are taught in many philosophy 101 courses. But then I remembered that I am a feminist philosopher, and that my kind have been criticizing our tradition for decades for going desperately wrong on the topic of personal relations. Philosophers have gotten it all wrong about not just romantic love, but mothering, friendship, trust, empathy, dependency, and a host of other fixtures of most humans’ daily lives. The tradition has its sensitive exponents (Aristotle on friendship, Hume on the moral emotions) but it mostly just ignores personal relations. It’s about time philosophers took some flak for this attitude in the popular culture.

*Disclaimer: Shaffer sent me a copy of his book, gratis, which I enjoyed. Also, I may have followed Shaffer on Twitter and my gaze may have paused for a second more than was proper on one of the many Romantic Times convention photos of him wearing an Elvis wig, angel wings, and a fishnet wifebeater.

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The latest in plagiarism: in journalism, Ed Champion is a victim, and in m/m romance, it’s JL Langley.

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Literary v. Commercial Writers, part gazillion:

Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for A Visit from the Goon Squad. Then she said:

There was that scandal with the Harvard student who was found to have plagiarized. But she had plagiarized very derivative, banal stuff. This is your big first move? These are your models?

And the immediate backlash:

From Smart Bitch Sarah and her Bitchery, The Frisky, Blogher, and a quote from The Signature Thing:

If her point is that female writers shouldn’t feel like they’re only qualified to write about shopping and husband-hunting, and that they should, if they want to, tackle bigger, grander subjects—yes, absolutely, I support that. But I think her subtext is that there’s something wrong with women who choose to write about female friendships or motherhood or the search for love; that they’re backing away from a challenge, going the easy route, resigning themselves to a lesser literary genre.

This morning, the Millions weighs in, in What We Call What Women Write, defending Egan:

the offended parties lay claim to a genre ubiquitously referred to as “chick-lit”…  I don’t aim to scrutinize the content of the genre so much as the fact that the chick lit demographic has fully embraced the term. Ladies, it’s 2011. Who refers to women as “chicks” aside from Ed Hardy-wearing man-children? Uninspired as it may be, detractors calling the work “fluffy” can’t really be blamed—it’s built into the name, for god’s sake. It’s difficult to move forward in an argument about the sexist climate in publishing when a group that is supposedly trying to push for more equality has accepted and even defended a derogatory label. Granted, the term was probably coined by some marketing department somewhere, but authors of the genre stand by it unflinchingly (see Michele Gorman’s article in The Guardian). It’s no secret that the chick lit authors are outselling their literary fiction counterparts by far. What’s alarming is that the tremendous success of the genre is largely because it’s marketed to women who identify themselves “chicks.”

I think this argument is unfair. I doubt women who read chick lit “identify themselves as chicks”. And Drewis fails to consider the possibility that those who do use “chick” are using it ironically, or even politically reappropriating it, in the manner that terms like “bitches” and “geeks” have been reappropriated.

What kind of feminist movement condones a suppression of opinion on the basis that we should all be nice and stick together, because we’re girls? What Egan said wasn’t nice. It was honest. It reflected her opinion of a certain type of fiction. Publishing should strive to be a meritocracy (though whether it succeeds is a whole other issue,) and Egan’s comments are an acknowledgment of that. On the other hand, in the chick lit realm, amid the outrage and demand for more respect, there is, in fact cowering: observe Weiner selling herself short (and acknowledging a literary hierarchy) in an interview she gave to the Huffington Post: “Do I think I should be getting all of the attention that Jonathan “Genius” Franzen gets? Nope. Would I like to be taken at least as seriously as a Jonathan Tropper or a Nick Hornby? Absolutely.”

This one strikes closer to an uncomfortable truth that critics of Egan should face. And then there’s also the hypocrisy of taking to a blog to call out Egan for criticizing chick lit while at the same time complaining that all lit fic is dry and pretentious and boring.

And finally,

it does nothing for leveling the playing field if every time a woman author remarks on the quality of a work of fiction, hysteria ensues, she’s thought of as a catty bitch, and there’s a concerted effort to rally the troops against her.

This comment makes me uncomfortable. Any time someone calls women critics “hysterical”, images of dark attics and Freud’s pipe spring to mind. Sure, I saw some ill advised comments, but I did not see any hysteria. There were actual arguments — premises with conclusions —  in the blog posts I linked to above. Maybe Drewis should check them out.

Finally, in the interest of peacemaking, here’s this nice little meditation, Literary and Commercial Writers Should Lay Down their Arms, in The Guardian, by writer Sara Sheridan:

in the last year, I’ll have written an historical novel (of which I’m very proud), a poem, sundry websites, blogs and brochures, edited a non-fiction book on private commission, had a children’s book published in the UK and abroad and written mainstream journalism (sometimes under the cover of an assumed name!) I dread to think what the worthies will make of that but whatever they make of it, I rest assured that things are changing and increasingly writers can garner respect for their trade rather than their genre. We can learn so much looking outside our core field of expertise.

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Amazon to offer library books for Kindle. Woot! But wait. The Librarian in Black has some questions, among them:

1. Will Kindle delivery happen via Whispernet as it does for consumers, or use the existing Overdrive console? Overdrive’s user experience has been consistently poor. You know this if you’ve worked with users trying to download eBooks from them. It’s gotten better, but bad web design and bad process design have been unfortunate hallmarks.
2. Are we getting MARC records? They are essential to discovery for users, so I’d say this is a must and hope they’re forthcoming.
3. How are library users’ privacy rights protected (the bookmarks & notes archiving they’re doing)? Both press releases say they will be, but….how?

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If you are on Goodreads, and if you are a blogger who has ARCs you would like to swap, there is a new group for you to join.

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I thought things were bad enough in my state when LePage got elected. But no, now some Republican wants to pass a law so that a local transgender girl may be legally prevented from using male restrooms. As reported in the HuffPo.

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Personal:

Looking forward to eating leavened bread again. Last week of classes. Lots of grading. I’m moderating an 8th grade panel on genetics at a local town hall which should be fun. I’m also meeting a new Hospice friend. And, while I have no plans to get up at the crack of dawn to watch the royal wedding, I’m excited for the pictures and news footage on Friday.

On the blog … not sure. Stay tuned!

HAPPY WEEK!

40 responses

  1. I feel with Josh’s post, it was what an author would like to see in reviews and from reviewers and bloggers. But again, who is he preaching to? The author? The reviewer? There are no rules in reviewing and it’s not an art. Some people do it well, other’s don’t, and regardless if you get paid for it, that doesn’t make you an excerpt. I have more respect for those reviewers or bloggers who don’t get paid and spend hours reviewing just because they enjoy doing it.

    Sorry to say, but the moment you put your work out there, it’s open to interpretation and you may not like it, but anyone can say anything they want, even belittle the author themselves. It’s up to the public at large to decide what they take from the review. It may not be fair, but so is life.

    And what is this new brand of blogger that has come along? Can anyone explain this to me?

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  2. I felt like I was reading a classic “reviewer-scolding” cloaked in a post which, on the surface advocates taking the high road and not reading or responding to reviews. This kind of thing really does show through, even to goof reviewers like me, with my computer and my internet connection.

    Yes, indeed, that’s exactly what it was. And it was no less of a temper tantrum than other scoldings. Lanyon apparently got a four star review on one of her stories, and resented it bitterly (not for the first time either, I hear.)

    I know you saw my post about this, but I’ll drop the link here for those who haven’t seen it:

    http://logophilos.net/blog/index.php/2011/04/no-good-can-ever-come-of-this-nonsense/

    What’s fascinating is that Lanyon is such a megastar in the m/m genre, and the blog on which this drivel was launched is run by such a major powerbroker, that though there’s been quite a bit of negative reaction in private and on Twitter about this post, I’ve yet to see another blog post calling Lanyon out – other than my own – by name. Yet as we’ve seen this very week, when the perpetrator is an unknown, the big name bloggers have no problem naming and shaming. No wonder some authors think they can get away with anything. Lanyon should take care though – even devout fans are questioning her behaviour over this post, and are infuriated by the condescending tone.

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  3. I don’t dislike Gwenyth Paltrow especially, but I have noticed that she says these things that make me roll my eyes. I’m sure she has worked hard in her life. But to pretend that she hasn’t been enormously lucky isn’t just disingenuous. It’s also ungrateful.

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  4. Honestly, I read posts like the one by Lanyon these days and it reads like so much blogging white noise. So many get on their high horses about blogging – how it should/should not be done, etc. It’s probably what got most tiring in my own last three years online. The thing is, Lanyon’s not saying anything different from tons of others. You know what they say about sticks, stones and words. His opinion doesn’t change anything about blogging at the end of the day – so he can feel free to call bloggers goofs if he wants, as I’m free to completely dismiss his entire article as being condescending. The people that are truly inspirational on “how to blog” don’t feel the need to preach their preferences at others.

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  5. I felt that Josh Lanyon’s post was fairly passive aggressive. He tried to subtly bitch slap we lowly blogger reviewers with a massive amount of conflicting messages, double talk, and that this is all about you authors, you shouldn’t buy into this system.

    Nice try by him to cover up his diss of reviewers, but like you said, we’re not that stupid.

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  6. Happy Monday morning! I am back from a much-needed vacation in Florida. I missed the ruckus with Josh Lanyon’s post last week. It’s ironic that a week ago I got a recommendation from a blogger/reviewer to check out one of Lanyon’s books. I am just starting to read some M/M books, and his were recommended. By a non-professional, credit card-owning, blogger/reviewer. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot! I have never seen a “professional” review of Lanyon’s books, but have seen many non-professional bloggers give him stellar recommendations. However, there are a lot of good M/M authors to choose from, and I don’t think I’ll be spending my money on an author who dings the very community who probably contributed to his success.

    On the other hand, I noticed that Andrew Shaffer, who I follow on Twitter, has been doing a hilarious job dealing with less than stellar reviews for his book. He is tweeting about them–in a wonderfully self-deprecating way. That’s the perfect way to deal with reviews….laugh at yourself, my good man!

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  7. I found this comment quite odd, given that it was written by someone who publishes in the most maligned subgenre of the most despised genre of fiction. I’d be curious to know how much of the kind of erotic male/male romance novels Lanyon writes were reviewed by “paid reviewers” in “newspapers and periodicals” before this “new brand” of blogger-reviewer came along.

    Thank you for this. I discovered this author via bloggers. Sounds like she believed her own hype and got stung for it. Human nature. She got a four star review OMG. We do need to ignore these folks, however. Quite honestly, nothing they’re going to say will change how we review or blog. She did make some good points about keeping unsavory reactions to a review off line. Too bad she didn’t follow her own advice though.

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  8. I actually didn’t think Asher’s review was all that negative–I agree with him on most points. (Was it that obvious I didn’t spend enough time researching Thoreau? Apparently yes!)

    In The Book of Dead Philosophers, Critchley is using biography to do some serious philosophy. As serious as it gets, given the topic: death. In Great Philosophers, Shaffer is using biography to do comedy. That the subject is philosophers is almost beside the point, except for the irony-making fact that these people are supposed to be so wise.

    “The Book of Dead Philosophers” was definitely an inspiration. I loved Critchley’s book, which had its own brilliant flashes of deadpan humor. But you’re right–his book should probably be shelved as “philosophy/biography,” while “Great Philosophers…” is closer to “humor/relationships.”

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  9. FYI, Josh Lanyon is male and gay. And his post didn’t come across to me as condescending to reviewers. Rather he seemed to be reminding authors and reviewers alike to be thick-skinned about reactions to what they write because it comes with the territory, for authors who can’t help reacting to negative reviews not to read reviews altogether and for reviewers not to expect authors to read and react to their reviews. He also simply pointed out that the Internet has helped close the distance between authors and reviewers but not always in a positive way.

    Basically, it’s a call to return to good manners on both sides and for those who can’t help making fools of themselves, authors especially, to just stop reading the very things that set them off. I thought it was a pretty measured and insightful post and was surprised by the defensive tone of some of the comments. But then I’m neither an author nor a reviewer so I guess it didn’t strike a nerve with me.

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  10. RE: Lanyon’s comments – this is nothing new. The same sort of “they aren’t professionals, just a bunch of hacks with an Internet connection and HTML skillz” thing was leveled back in The Dark Ages when romance reviews were essentially only found at TRR, AAR and Mrs. Giggles. My argument has always been “what makes one professional?” Being a librarian apparently doesn’t. Would me getting paid for my reviews consitute “professional?” Or maybe it’s the tone/style of the review itself? Is there a professional book reviewer school I should go to?

    Also, purely ancedotal, but most of the bloggers I follow don’t hold themselves up to “professional” (again, what the hell is that?) standards. Look at the About Me pages. There’s a lot of, “I read a lot of books and like to talk about them” stuff.

    And OMG – what you & Keishon said. I read book reviews for a living. And I don’t see PW, Kirkus, Booklist and Library Journal et. al. reviewing bunches upon bunches of m/m titles. One, every so often? Sure. Do I see 5+ in every issue? Uh, no.

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  11. But what bothered me the most about this very long, rambling post was that I felt like I was reading a classic “reviewer-scolding” cloaked in a post which, on the surface advocates taking the high road and not reading or responding to reviews.

    Indeed and in response I am simply taking a break from reviewing. I am tired of having my hand bit you might say.

    If there is one thing I do know WE as a community are currently being swamped by what I can only call a pile of shit in this genre.

    Hell we have instant just add water “writers” now basically copying whole sale from talented Gay Romance authors and slapping their name on it and trying to get it published on what I can best describe as back alley ePubs.

    I have made many author friends in this genre with incredible talent and I respect what they have done but unfortunately they are not the deserved people who get talked about constantly even though their work remains valid and seemingly iconic It is these halfassed writers that get the weekly reviews mostly because their ePub is swamping the market with crap and they happen to be in on it.

    I need a break mostly before I start doing negative review after negative review and start really hating the current mucked up mess simply because Gay Romance is now selling and when there is money there is always someone trying to take advantage.

    I don’t mind an active market but can at least 80% of the titles be worth reading please? You know like back in the good old days when authors fought to get published.

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  12. Just wanted to add my two cents on this quote and comment :

    [I'm] finding the role of this new brand of blogger-reviewer confusing. These days any goof with a computer and a credit card can call herself an Author, but so too can any goof with a computer and Internet access call herself a Reviewer. It’s all about the DIY. Way back when I first started publishing, reviews were formal affairs. Reviewers were paid professionals. Reviews appeared in newspapers and periodicals. They were flattering or unflattering, fair or unfair, but either way, they were most assuredly impersonal. … The Internet changed all that. Everyone who has a blog or an Amazon or Goodreads account is now a potential literary critic.

    I found this comment quite odd, given that it was written by someone who publishes in the most maligned subgenre of the most despised genre of fiction. I’d be curious to know how much of the kind of erotic male/male romance novels Lanyon writes were reviewed by “paid reviewers” in “newspapers and periodicals” before this “new brand” of blogger-reviewer came along.

    Lanyon did not begin his fiction career in ePubs or m/m romance. As far as I know, his first published book (certainly the first book published under that pen name) was Adrien English #1, and it was published by Gay Men’s Press, a publisher of commercial (as opposed to literary) gay fiction (and maybe also non-fiction, I”m not sure) in the UK. The Guardian had an interesting article on its demise in 2006 here. I don’t know if GMP books were reviewed by paid reviewers in newspapers and periodicals, but given that Fatal Shadows was published in the UK in trade paper form in 2000 and classified as a mystery, it’s possible. That edition is available in the US in quite a few public and university libraries, according to WorldCat.

    Second, I would not classify Lanyon’s books as particularly erotic, especially by the standards of m/m. They have about as many sex scenes as your average hot but not burning historical. m/m and GLBT romances have a tendency to be classified as erotic by booksellers and publishers simply because they’re not m/f.

    I wasn’t bothered by the prof. v. amateur distinction, but then I haven’t been in the past when my friends and fellows bloggers have found it offensive. I review for readers and for myself; if authors get something out of it I think that’s great, but that’s up to them. I think that the relationship between reviewers and authors is inevitably fraught, since the reviews serve different (and often competing) functions for each. I’m pleased and gratified when I have pleasant and rewarding interactions with authors, but when things don’t work that way, I’m not surprised.

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  13. Although I am a fan of Josh Lanyon’s work (and his ill advised post won’t change that) I am disappointed. What could have been a fine post on taking the high road turned into a backhanded slap at bloggers.

    As someone who reads his books, I will add that his work is mostly mystery, very smart, and, as Sunita says fairly tame on heat levels. I’m going to infer something based on his books and say that Lanyon comes from an academic background with a heavy focus on literature and/or history. Which may account for the snobby tone of “professional” reviews versus the unpaid masses. (I say this as someone who took a few too many history and literature courses in college).

    And yes, I seriously doubt that his subgenre, even if we’re going to label it gay noir, is being reviewed in many mainstream “professional” outlets. I discovered his work through blogs and bloggers as did most others. There are contradictions aplenty in the entire post which I won’t bother to point out. He also makes some valid points, too.

    In the end, though, it sounds as if he’s dismissive of bloggers in general. And that, more than anything, is what irritates me.

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  14. @Amber: “Ill-advised” was the word running through my head when I read it as well. Seeing it at Jessewave’s, as part of his monthly series of posts on authors & writing, and having it come hard on the heels of at least two author-reviewer kerfuffles in m/m, I thought the post was motivated by those. But the examples he used were not m/m, so the post cast a very broad brush.

    The thing that surprised me the most was how long, rambling, and unfocused the whole entry was. He didn’t take his own usual advice and red-pencil 2/3 of it. As it stands, there’s something in it to offend pretty much everyone and the take-away points aren’t clearly made.

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  15. Thanks for the interesting Egan links. The more I think about this, the more conflicted I feel. On the one hand, yay for championing women’s unapologetic ambition, and being a feminist does not mean having to praise everything done by any woman. (The Twitter/blog conversations about women’s ambition following this–and comments on Rohan’s post that you linked to, actually–influenced the way I see things happening in my own workplace right now).

    On the other hand, I’m puzzled about why Viswanathan seems to be such a touchstone for Egan on this issue (apparently she’s mentioned this before). Sure, Viswanathan’s expression of ambition is problematic: get into Harvard by writing a plagiarized novel! But why Egan picks THIS example, and then focuses not on the plagiarism (I DON’T think she endorses it) but on the fact that it’s chick lit, I’m not sure. The plagiarizer is obviously more derivative than her sources. So why not focus on the plagiarism? Or why not just speak up for women being ambitious without condemning genre fiction?

    Then there’s the whole elitism/literary hierarchy/dissing of genre/retaliatory dissing of literary fiction aspect. My education and work (PhD in English/college instructor) and reading preferences (mostly read genre fiction) make me internally divided on these questions, and no one wants to read all I think about them. From one point of view, “women’s fiction” could be seen as a kind of literary ghetto; women should not be “confined” there by the fact that they’re women writers (or even women writers who want to write about “women’s themes” like family–Franzen isn’t labelled “women’s fiction” when he does), just as women shouldn’t be limited to traditionally “female” jobs. But the world needs good daycare workers, and a woman shouldn’t feel bad about wanting to be one. Nor should she feel bad about wanting to write romance or chick lit. I’d like women to be ambitious in whatever field of endeavour they’ve chosen. Not just ambitious to succeed, but ambitous to do their best work. I want to read more really good, ground-breaking romances, as well as more really good, ground-breaking literary novels.

    The dismissal of literary fiction I see most is that “it’s all tragic and depressing.” I don’t think this is fair (also, tragic and depressing are not the same). Even if it were, tragedy is part of life, and making art that explores it is no less valuable than making art that explores love, happiness, and the good life. I find it pretty hypocritical when romance readers disparage the reading choices of others, especially on the basis of whether or not the books are “happy.”

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  16. I read the whole Lanyon post and I thought his worst offense was being long-winded. It doesn’t bother me that he thinks reviews aren’t helpful to him personally. If he’d said “some BOOKS are poorly written” or “some AUTHORS are unprofessional” would anyone care?

    Now, I’ve seen him acting sort of jerky over reviews somewhere else (Katiebab’s?) but this post didn’t push my buttons.

    I think the assertion that a 4-star review prompted this article is speculation, but assuming it’s true, I don’t see how the rating is relevant in relation to his (alleged) bad reaction. I mean, is it “more okay” to react badly to a 1-star review?

    I agree with Linette than Lanyon is a gay man, but it doesn’t matter to me if he’s not. If he was a biological male living as a woman, and asked to be referred to as “she,” wouldn’t we grant him that courtesy?

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  17. I think the question of Lanyon;s gender, sex, and/or sexual orientation is irrelevant to the criticisms I had of his post. I’m ready to delete comments that go any further down this road.

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  18. Lanyon did not begin his fiction career in ePubs or m/m romance.

    No, but Lanyon’s books are *now* being published by epubs, which I think is Jessica’s point.

    What’s amazing about these various eructions of snideness about ‘amateur reviewers’ and ‘goofs with computers’ is that corporations spend millions of dollars trying to capture the amateur blogging market’s attention – hasn’t Lanyon heard of ‘viral advertising’? In this very post, someone has said they were about to try Lanyon’s books based on word of mouth recommendation. The success of The Blair Witch Project was put down largely to the very clever viral campaign waged by the producers etc, and the way bloggers seized on the conceit and ran with it.

    Put it this way – if Lanyon and Sylvia Massara and all the other fuckheaded authors who are so snotty about amateur reviewers, had to rely purely on paid advertising and paid reviewers to shift their books…we would have never have heard of any of them. Gay-themed books were only reviewed in the gay press and mostly only sold by and to the gay market, before the explosion in m/m – and m/m’s success arose entirely from and was driven by amateurs (fanficcers, amateur authors, amateur bloggers.) If Lanyon is a student of history (which I doubt, actually) then Lanyon hasn’t paid much attention to the history of the genre Lanyon’s books belong to.

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  19. On a sort of off topic note, can I just say that “eructions of snideness” is a fabulous turn of phrase and I shall be filing that away for use in the future. Eructare is a lovely Latin verb.

    Thank you. :)

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  20. is it “more okay” to react badly to a 1-star review?

    It’s more *normal*. Getting worked up over a grade that would make most normal authors grin widely with happiness is a sign that the author is (a) spoilt, (b) deluded or (c) really, really full of themselves.

    A one star review is a failing grade, no doubt about it. It’s going to sting. But being stung by a four star review? That’s just nuts.

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  21. Lanyon did a much better job of explaining himself on Facebook in a fascinating conversation appended to a note on his page. I wish he would have done as clear an explanation in the original post. I was originally kind of hurt by original post because I had just published a gushing review for snowball in hell and was aggressively talking it up in multiple venues. And yeah I am a very very small potatoes blogger who probably has zero effect on his and other authors ‘s bottom lines but I discovered most of my current favorite authors lanyon included through book blogs and good reads. When I really love an author I really try to my part to promote them and I don’t like having that discounted.

    However lanyon’s clarification made more sense that what he was trying to say was that authors just can’t win. If they comment on reviews they get criticized, but if they ignore reviews and choose not to interact others criticize that. There are a lot of mixed messages for authors on how to deal with reviews. I do however think that not all book bloggers can be lumped together. Different reviewers reveview for different reasons and there are different types and foci for blogs. Not all review sites delight in being negative and not all aspiring authors who review are overly critical. I think lanyon gets that but it certainly didn’t come across in the original post. I know that as reviewer who does write (although I am not presently actively pursuing publication) I am careful not burn bridges with personal attacks. Likewise I think it is wise for authors to not discount the impact of book bloggers. Nearly all of today’s bigtime sites were once small amatuer sites.

    I still plan to read his back list because his voice is so compelling. It is sad if some reviewers decide not to try hi.m. I should note that he did respond to my review. Not that I expected him to but it was nice and I think shows that his stance isn’t so hardline.

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  22. I think Lanyon was saying that reviews don’t help him creatively. A lot of authors choose to not read reviews for this reason. Sometimes a small criticism in a 4-star review stings more than a scathing 1-star. That is true for me, I’ve found. I pay more attention to reviews from readers who liked but didn’t love my books because I find those the most helpful.

    If Lanyon was claiming that reviews don’t help him professionally, he’s flat-out wrong about that. He owes his success to bloggers.

    Like

  23. Have authors been so vocal about the way reviews are written? It seems in the past few years, more authors have been less than pleased with how reviewers state their opinions, or should I say bloggers? No author wants a negative review, but wouldn’t an author rather have a horrible review than none at all?

    I’ve written a few less than rah rah reviews for books and based on them, people have told me they bought the books. What an author may think is a bad review can make them sale.

    As long as the blogger or reviewer doesn’t have an opinion about an author personally and only makes it about the work, then what’s the problem?

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  24. “If he was a biological male living as a woman, and asked to be referred to as “she,” wouldn’t we grant him that courtesy? ”

    Or a pig even. You can all call me swine too on formal occasions.

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  25. @Jill Sorenson:

    If Lanyon was claiming that reviews don’t help him professionally, he’s flat-out wrong about that. He owes his success to bloggers.

    I think one really needs to define “professionally” here. If we are talking sales numbers, then bloggers can certainly help. If we are talking about the author’s art form, then I think the situation becomes quite muddy. There is a case to be made for authors having too much interaction with outside influences and allowing that to impact the art form (good or bad).

    Per the Lanyon article: I stopped reading half-way through. The article suffered due to a lack of set column inch space (nod to print medium). I found some of the concepts intriguing but the underlying arguments to be a tad patronizing as laid out.

    Given the direction the publishing industry seems to be going, I do think we should be asking ourselves about the thin wall between authors, readers/reviewers (something Lanyon mentions on a follow-up post) and wondering how that rather direct interaction or even the invincible interaction will affect the written art form? Or is a book really a product and only a product?

    And it’s not just online reviews which influence authors. Look at all the discussions authors can eavesdrop on today. Or the influence that a few readers can exert via forums, or blog commenting. Those few readers could be a small minority of the author’s readership but if they keep telling their truth over and over again it might just become the author’s truth or at least worm its way into the author’s writing without purposeful intent.

    Laura V. post was insightful as were the comments.

    Nice HuffPo take down. I agree with the third base/triple analogy in this context.

    In general, I’m finding the concerted effort on many issues across the country at the state level to be quite interesting and rather alarming because I don’t find it naturally occurring and that the HuffPo take down would also be applicable in this context. Is the Maine situation that different from Stalin removing people from official pictures/documents after they were disappeared? ( meant to be a comment on the use of propaganda and control of the message as opposed to any direct commentary on the brutality of Stalin’s regime)

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  26. @katiebabs: I’ve been online for eleven or twelve years in the romance community. Authors have always complained about less-than-favorable reviews. If AAR’s early posts were archived you could see it there for sure (some are available in the wayback machine, but it’s a ton of work to dig through).

    I just think there are a more platforms to review, to complain, and to discuss reviews and complaints.

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  27. @Sunita:

    I wasn’t bothered by the prof. v. amateur distinction,

    This doesn’t bother me either. I am an amateur, and I am explicit on my About page, where I write “I am not an expert in literary criticism.”

    What bothers me is the feeling I got from the post that the distinction that interests Lanyon and motivated the piece was not between professional and amateur reviewers, but between reviewers who “get” him (i.e. like his books), and reviewers who do not.

    @Jill Sorenson:

    It doesn’t bother me that he thinks reviews aren’t helpful to him personally.

    This does not bother me at all, either. Reviews are for readers. If individual authors find something helpful, great.

    @chanceofbooks:

    However lanyon’s clarification made more sense that what he was trying to say was that authors just can’t win. If they comment on reviews they get criticized, but if they ignore reviews and choose not to interact others criticize that.

    Thanks for your comment. I hear what you are saying. But if that was all he wanted to say, he could have directed his post at authors (preferably on his own author page, so the audience is clearer), and just said it. Here’s an example of an author who did just that.

    @Jill Sorenson:

    Sometimes a small criticism in a 4-star review stings more than a scathing 1-star

    This is true. And I am not about to tell authors what should sting and what shouldn’t. But if we’re going to try to be rational, and offer advice in a long and supposedly thoughtful column, let’s be consistent. If a reviewer’s criticisms require evidence, then so should her praise.

    @aq:

    Given the direction the publishing industry seems to be going, I do think we should be asking ourselves about the thin wall between authors, readers/reviewers (something Lanyon mentions on a follow-up post) and wondering how that rather direct interaction or even the invincible interaction will affect the written art form? Or is a book really a product and only a product?

    I find this question really interesting, too.

    Like

  28. @aq

    If we are talking about the author’s art form, then I think the situation becomes quite muddy. There is a case to be made for authors having too much interaction with outside influences and allowing that to impact the art form (good or bad).

    Right. I think this is what Lanyon spoke of, as I said upthread. He doesn’t find reviews helpful to his creative process.

    @Jessica

    If a reviewer’s criticisms require evidence, then so should her praise.

    Very good point. Well-written reviews give evidence of flaws and/or strengths. I hope I’m not dictating “reviewing rules” by saying that I agree with this! Readers often complain about gushing, vague reviews. Authors, not so much, heh. I personally prefer a thoughtful review over a shallow one, no matter what the rating.

    Like

  29. “Well-written reviews give evidence of flaws and/or strengths.”

    Well that depends…

    Did the review do “big picture” or was it talking about some fine details because it found something to talk about?

    If it’s “big picture” and I am simply expressing a general “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” then no you are not going to get any details. When you use thumbs you are trying not to discuss too many details. Details are for when I have something to actually say about the whole book beyond the usual review of “this was good” and “this was bad”.

    Frankly some books might be good but are frankly “The Two Towers”. OK? Remember The Two Towers? You know I am only halfway through the whole series reading it which I like the series but this book has no point but to get me to the last one.

    What details am I really going to bring up that will not ruin things for people but still make for interesting commentary about a second fiddle book?

    NOT MUCH! So big picture… two thumbs up I guess… NEXT!

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  30. But if that was all he wanted to say, he could have directed his post at authors (preferably on his own author page, so the audience is clearer), and just said it.

    The column for which this post was written is an advice column for writers. It’s a monthly series. It’s introduced in this post.

    Jessewave’s site is a one-stop m/m shop which includes not just reviews but also contests, interviews, and posts on writing and publishing advice for m/m authors. Besides Lanyon, Victor Banis and numerous other authors have contributed. So there is a tradition there of providing author-centric content, even though it’s also a site for readers. But then the overlap between readers, reviewers, and authors (both aspiring and published) is pretty big in the m/m community, in my opinion.

    ETA: You also said “What bothers me is the feeling I got from the post that the distinction that interests Lanyon and motivated the piece was not between professional and amateur reviewers, but between reviewers who “get” him (i.e. like his books), and reviewers who do not.”

    That’s interesting. I hadn’t noticed that, but it bears reflection, not just for Lanyon but for other authors. I wonder how many make that distinction?

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  31. But then the overlap between readers, reviewers, and authors (both aspiring and published) is pretty big in the m/m community, in my opinion.

    This!

    Which sucks and is getting down right confusing for those of us who stay on our side of the fence and are not trying to profit off this market.

    The honest opinion of the customer is getting raped by the constant market hype and the “make a quick buck” motivations of the seller and I am sorry but Josh has to be included in that statement.

    They have writer groups now that have the same members as the reader groups. Look at how many “how to” guides for instant Gay Romance authors have written and Josh wrote one of them too.

    What is even sadder is how everything is getting geared to become part of some market strategy. Next thing you know some enterprising ePub will start creating fake professional reviews for itself and posting them on some fake professional review web site.

    Mark my words, that is what Goodreads is turning into at the moment.

    Like

  32. @Teddypig:

    What is even sadder is how everything is getting geared to become part of some market strategy. Next thing you know some enterprising ePub will start creating fake professional reviews for itself and posting them on some fake professional review web site.

    Mark my words, that is what Goodreads is turning into at the moment.

    I can’t speak of Goodreads because it’s not something I’ve tracked. What I can say is that my perception is that individual bloggers are being guided more by what’s available via services like netgalley than by what they previously found on their own.

    If this continues, I think we’ll see a further narrowing of the author winners as opposed to a greater diversity within the reader-sphere because the reader-sphere will have too much noise (aka too many choices) and the arc services will be feeding the majority of the review sites/bloggers.

    My observation is based on the difference between tracking reviews since the beginning of 2011 vs. my previous experience from 2006 to end of 2009/beginning of 2010. There is a very distinct difference in how many reviews show up for a given title now that I don’t believe can be statistically explained simply because of an increase in the number of sites I’m tracking. I will need to gather more data and criteria to verify my impressions. However, if my hypothesis holds, publishers/authors wouldn’t need to create fake review sites if they can control publicity by getting access through arc sites, especially if the publishers were to only give arcs to sites more likely to give them positive reviews. This might also account for the uptick in non-grading sites I’m coming across. (Again only a perception not a drawn conclusion based on stringent data/criteria.)

    BTW: Can’t remember who asked this but I’m still not seeing African American romance reviews. I’d say the number tracked is statistically insignificant within my database. Not sure if I haven’t found the right book to lead me to the right sites. But while I’ve seen the uptick in reviews of with Asian characters or even lesbian characters, the same can’t be said for African American unless it’s within the Young Adult genre. Again I consider this a perception that still must be tested rather than a conclusion.

    Oh, I’d like to add one more thing on the reader side of the equation since I’ve touched on the author side. I’m also seeing a lot more “personal” interactions where readers talk about how nice an author is or how smart that author comes across online or how they bought the book because of how much they like an author. I’m also seeing reader/reviewers who are beta readers, etc. Most of them give the conflict of interest disclosure. It’s not so much the grades that concern me but rather the access that is given by these connections. After reading a bunch of reviews made by reviewers one has to wonder about personal investment by the reviewer and I’m talking about something much more subtle than the fan-girl phenom that gets touted out as a bad thing in online circles.

    I’ll an example without naming the book or the site. One of the reviewers was a critique partner for an author. Loved the book. Talked about the book in multiple threads because she/he loved it so much. The book was reviewed by three different reviewers on that site. It made the top book of the year for multiple reviewers on that site. Now admittedly it may have just been a super-duper book (it did well with other review sites including the “pro” sites.) My question here is: had this reviewer not been a critique partner would that book have received such ‘generous’ coverage? Which extends to: if the reader/reviewer wasn’t personally invested in the author then would they have reviewed the text? Keep in mind that many readers/reviewers also do interviews, have giveaways, etc. so in my mind the line is even muddier because there’s not a division of departments / companies.

    To me this is truly a grey area with many tangents to explore but when you combine the loss of the mom-pops, storefronts, the growth in digital meaning fewer and fewer book purchase sites, the further erosion of print media and by extension “professional” reviewers, you have to question how important these so-called amateur sites (I still maintain that those who have done this consistently for years are professionals) will have on the purchasing trends of book buyers in the future as readers rely more and more on online friends. Now combine that with the potential power of arcs moving forward and the field/diversity of books which get reviewed by amateur sites could actually narrow rather than widen. And hence the pressure for authors to be more engaged online with readers and by extension what’s said in articles and reviews could potentially carry more influence on authors even if said articles/reviews aren’t about their works.

    For example: for every author who reads that readers punish authors who write sexually aggressive heroines and decides that they will break the mold and be the exception, how many tailor their female characters to match their perceptions of how a female character should act within the genre. One could make the argument that our culture already says that so authors are already affected by the phenomena. What if being online reinforces the author’s belief in the need for conformity even if they aren’t consciously aware of it? After all, most authors only have best seller lists and online conversation without actual sales data as indicators for how well a particular title does. And if they become invested in a particular review site/online community then how much of an impact does that make on their writing directly or indirectly?

    And, yes, I am guilty of the comment inch creep. My apologies but it’s a topic that I go round and round within my own mind. I never come up with any real answers just more questions.

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  33. I am such a loser then. I do not really review like that. I do not even know what netgalley is and the only arcs I get are from established authors with talent who are not afraid of me reviewing their books because they already know they rock.

    I pay for my eBooks like I pay for my website.

    I am friends with some authors but I refuse to review in that case because I want to be honest in my approach. So that figures nice guys finish last. I knew it would come to this.

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  34. @aq: I can think of a couple of books which fit your description, and in both cases I would say that the books would have garnered a lot of attention without the personal connection. It was a combination of lots of people loving the books and the books hitting a chord in terms of something new (writing style, setting, new author, etc.).

    There are a ton of relationships between writers and reviewers now. I see these relationships on twitter, which is the only social media place I hang out regularly, but they are probably reinforced at goodreads and facebook as well. But are they better or worse than the relationships that I can’t see? There’s so much selection bias in that data that I don’t feel comfortable drawing any conclusions, and I’m not sure what the counterfactual would be. No one has ever reviewed books randomly, so this is just the latest set of influences.

    I agree on the pervasive influence of netgalley, especially for YA and big-name author books. But I expect the abundance of netgalley-driven reviews to decline with the stricter rules publishers are applying to ARC requests. OTOH, Harlequin is now putting up some of its standard category books at netgalley, not just the single-titles, so maybe we’ll see a run of reviews on SuperRomances!

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  35. @Sunita:

    Ah, I’m not questioning whether or not the book(s) would have garnered the attention. I’m asking about the amount and type of attention.

    I agree about the relationships, especially the ones still in the dark. I’m also wondering about the statistical relevance of publishers at certain review sites. i.e., does one site favor a specific publisher above all others and IF so is it because of arc services/publicists, beloved authors who just happen to write for the same publisher, editor/reader relationships, or because those are just the books being purchased or because of book bundling (and potentially in the future subscription services)? No, I don’t have any insights in to this one but it’s also a question in the back of my head to look into. It may turn out that the question has no statistical relevance whatsoever but I’m curious if I’ll see any patterns.

    I do think I need to be clear. There are many other arc services out there besides Netgalley so although I specifically named Netgalley within my comment, it isn’t not the only service I’ve been tracking. Yes, this is a new field I started tracking in 2011 and I do appreciate each and every blogger who discloses it although with which service it is on every review instead of the blanket disclosures telling me to assume every book has been provided. I’m also seeing a bunch of ‘got from library’ entries which always makes me smile.

    That’s nice news about HQ categories. There are a handful of category authors who get reviewed across sites but otherwise it’s more typical to only find one or two reviews of a given title within my site tracking. I find categories personally fascinating (grew up with them) and would love to get deeper insights into the readers who love and hate an individual title and why. I’m also glad that some of the bestseller lists have started including them.

    BTW: I do see an awful lot of Carina Press titles reviewed. I do not have any insights just commenting since it’s a branch of HQ and perhaps already on a service like NetGalley.

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