You won’t find me stepping out from behind you in the cinema queue

Yesterday, as part of the comments thread in this post, Maeve from Yellow Brick Reads linked me to the above video. I think it’s hilarious – but it also sparked a reaction from me that I’d like to move from the comments section into the more open arena of an actual blog post. Here it is:

That Woody Allen clip is hilarious. You know I don’t read my reviews and haven’t for years*? Much against the current trend in social media where we have authors tweeting all their great reviews and freaking out over the bad, I just can’t do it. I don’t think reviewers should have to look over their shoulders for fear of authorial comment while they are working their way through an analysis. I feel they should be given the space to explore a work as they experienced it, and not as the author hoped or intended them to.
However, if a reviewer has a desire to work their way through a piece of writing using the author as reference or contrasting their actual reading experience with the author’s intentions, that’s another thing altogether. When the author is invited into the discussion in that manner, I think there is room for wonderful conversation and discovery. But (for me anyway) to engage with reviews on a casual basis would feel intrusive. (I’m also not too sure that wide scale authorial interaction with reviews won’t lead to a whole new type of selfconscious reviewer who maybe heightens the negativity or positivity of their reviews with an eye to nothing more than an entertaining engagement with the author. This would be good for marketing maybe, but for the art of reviewing itself and the genuine discussion of books for books’ sake? I don’t know. I doubt it.)

*(at the beginning of my career I was advised to read all my reviews so that I could ‘learn from the criticism’ This is bullshit advice. Every new author is told this by at least one person. Every new author should ignore it.)

ETA: Thank you to the reader who took time to point out my misuse of apostrophes in this post. I appreciate the very kind way you went about it, unfortunately when confronted by dyslexia the internet is often less than gentle and your decency is appreciated. I hope that I have managed to find and fix all the mistakes now – but I doubt it : )

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10 Responses to You won’t find me stepping out from behind you in the cinema queue

  1. Scorbet says:

    I think readers sometimes forget that authors are actually people sometimes. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen tweets of the form “Book by @author is the worst book ever written and should never have been published”* and winced at the thought of @author seeing that in their twitter feed. I can almost understand someone reacting badly to that sort of thing.

    Even when the review is positive, I would presume that this can feel like an invitation for the author to join in the discussion even if that’s not really intended.

    *May be slightly exaggerated for effect 🙂

    • I don’t think readers or reviewers should consider our feelings at all, to be honest. And I don’t think they should care that we may see such comments as ‘worst book ever written’ or even ‘best book known to mankind’ 🙂 To my mind, the reviewer’s engagement should be with the book as a piece of work, and not the author as a person. As soon as we (as authors) begin to insist our feelings be brought into the equation then we’ve ceased to discuss literature for what it is and have started to move towards a type of ‘cult of personality’ that is already too far removed from those things with which criticism should concern itself.

      • Scorbet says:

        Just to clarify, I have no problem with “Book by Author is the worst book ever written”* comments, but I think the addition of the twitter handle is going a bit too far. Reviews or comments that the author has to google for is one thing, reviews and comments being sent directly to the author (even if not purposely) is another. I think in the latter case it is an invitation to the author even if not meant as such.
        I presume it also makes it a lot more difficult for authors who don’t want to read any reviews

        *Well, I do if they don’t follow up with *why* they think so.

      • Oh God, yes, I get you now! Sorry! I misunderstood what you meant. As a matter of fact, I know several writers (including myself) who have received e-mailed links to reviews which have viciously torn the work to shreds (in my case – and in one other I know – the link was sent openly by the reviewer themself) I can only imagine that these invitations are extended in the hopes of a Greek-Seaman type response and the ensuing internet hilarity-fest which would follow.

        As a person who loves book blogs with a passion and likes to comment here and there on the blogs I most enjoy, internet life has become so so much easier for me now that all bloggers know that I will never – under any circumstance – pop up in a review of one of my books (good bad or indifferent) and make a comment.

      • I think there must be a natural disconnect between the professional reviewer and the reader reviewer. Professional reviewers, by and large, do not talk about or implicated any character toward the author when they review a novel – at least they shouldn’t. Likewise, a professional reviewer should explicitly state what worked and didn’t about a book, whether that be poor plot or poor editing, both of which happen frequently these days. Professional reviewers should keep a polite and objective distance from the authors they review (something I’ve managed to do with most authors, but not all). A reader reviewer is something else entirely, and the forums on the internet for reader reviewers are so numerous now that it cannot be stressed enough – they have the right to speak about a book as they would in their living rooms among their friends. It might not be good for author ego (or, frankly, for the quality of reviews), but there you have it.

        There are so many new points of connection in social media now. These types of comments and reviews never got to the author in the past. Being an author is more difficult in a lot of ways than it used to be. Then again, so is being a reviewer – always a pretty thankless job but now even moreso.

      • I pretty sure there’s been more than a fair share of professional reviewers who’ve taken pot shots at each other via reviews over the years. It is an industry rather notorious for its fuedin’ and fussin’ after all 🙂 But I think you are absolutely right in that reviews should try and divorce themselves from dissecting the author as a person and stick to dissecting the text as it presents itself on reading. (Saying that – I find it very difficult to divorce my personal opinion of an author from their work when that author has expressed raciest or sexist or homophobic opinions. If I were a reviewer in those cases, I would be less likely to read the work in question and therefore less likely to review it. Good job I’m not a reviewer!) I’m not sure that being a ‘reader reviewer’ is automatically an indication of poorer quality or less nuance (not that you implied it in any way! It’s just an attitude which seems to float about the reviewing community a little) I actually get most of my reading recommendations from the reader review blogs I’ve come to trust over the years ( some of which can be found listed on this blog) I’ve developed quite a few online friendships with such reviewers (as I have with professional reviewers) I value those friendships and the very bookish conversations which have sprung from them. I think these relationships are made all the easier by my having made very clear from very early on that I simply won’t read my reviews any more. It makes it much more comfortable for me – and for my reviewing associates, I hope – as I can feel free to comment on reviews, discuss books and generally make my presence known online, without at the same time feeling I may be putting folks on the spot should they then need to go ahead and lambaste my work in the same blog. I can’t help but think the reviewing life would be a whole lot easier for everyone if this was common practice.

  2. Following on from a conversation we were having over on my blog a little while back, good news!
    (I think the url kinda tells you everything you need to know :-))

  3. Oh goodness. I haven’t seen that in years. lol. And I respect your thoughts on authors and reviews. I really do, and understand completely. I see some crazy comments out there at times. 🙂 Thank you.

    • Thanks Melissa 😀 Like I said, I blooming love book blogs and review sites – it’s so much easier for me to enjoy them without the awkwardness I’d feel if I were trumpeting every good review and ignoring every bad (or worse – slagging the bad ones off)

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