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So a couple days ago Holly Black made a post assuring the world there was no group of writers out to get people, since some bloggers were concerned based on conversations about book bloggers and the effect of bad reviews. I thought it was a very valuable post to make, since I don't want book reviewers to be scared, and I don't think there's any reason that they should be.

Then the conversation, as conversations do, got bigger and more convoluted, and many things were brought up, and I ended up with so many thing to say I thought I'd make a post. About all of them. So without further ado...

Writers Are Coming For You!

It is a myth that writers can do anything to you at all. Most writers are frantically trying to make a living with the made-up people in their head. They really don't have the time, energy, power or desire to do something to you.

If reviewers are feeling intimidated, they absolutely shouldn't be. We couldn't do anything to them if we wanted to.

And I don't want to. I have read reviews that made me mad, made me despair at the world and its inherent grossness, made me wonder what cruel practical joker had slipped an entirely different book into my book cover. But I still think people talking about books in any way is awesome. Because I think engaging with and caring about books is awesome.

Here is a promise: no matter what you say about my books on the internet, I will never do anything to harm you in any way. No matter what you say about me on the internet, I will never do anything to harm you in any way.

Because I am bone idle and incapable of arranging to get wet in a rainstorm. Because if I tried to do so, everyone would be like 'Man, the Irish, they really are drunk all the time, aren't they?' and nothing else would happen. (John Scalzi describes several imaginary conversations along these lines.) And because I believe it to be morally wrong.

Naturally all you need is my word, as I am the soul of honour! But also, I could not possibly do it. None of us could.

Something I've heard brought up is that this is a feminist issue.

Won't Somebody Think of the Ladies?

Okay. Books should be reviewed with close attention to serious issues like feminism, sexism, racism, and classism. Because these issues are important. Absolutely. Nobody agrees more than me: if I did not agree I'd be a huge hypocrite, since I have written crazy scads on fictional ladies and everyone's approach to them, to a point where people have said 'Lord, enough with the endless yapping about ladies' to me. To which I have said: Lo, this is my journal, and I will endlessly yap about what I please.

Feminism is a huge deal for me, and I talk about it all the time. I do not, however, single out specific writers and say they are huge anti-feminists. Just because I think a book is anti-feminist does not necessarily mean the writer is. Also, it would not be an effective way to make my points about feminism in books.

Let's take, for instance, an office workplace. Say there is a real problem with laziness in the filing at the office. Say I work in this office. I do not get me a microphone and walk through the office yelling 'CAROLINE! Your filing is an affront to the eyes of God! CAROLINE! Every day and night I think of your filing and how terrible it is! CAROLINE, CAROLINE! Your filing makes me sure that in your domestic life you are a slattern, which is bound to result in your husband leaving you! Also, CAROLINE, I bet nobody in the office really likes you - how could they with filing like yours? - so please CAROLINE, just own up to the fact you're a bad person.'

This is a bad idea for several reasons. For one thing Sally, Bob and Jeff will all go 'Heh heh heh, it's all on Caroline' and they will keep messing up the filing. For another, everyone in the office will think I am just bullying Caroline and will not pay attention to this speech or other things that I say. For another, Caroline will think 'What a jerk! My filing is totally fine!' Basically, if I were to go around slagging off my colleagues by name, I would literally accomplish nothing but making myself look bad. I will not make people think about the issue I've raised, and that's a shame, because that is my goal.

So: nobody is saying 'don't discuss feminism on the internet.' I am here to say 'please, please discuss feminism on the internet, because it's important and because I want to talk about it.' But I am also saying getting a microphone and saying 'CAROLINE - or someone else specific - is disgusting' while you can totally do it, won't be a productive thing to say.

The Problem Of Being A Person On The Internet

Justine Larbalestier brings up the issue of online disinhibition effect (otherwise known as people are mean on the internet).

I have said stuff on the internet that I wouldn't have said in person (and regretted it). I have had stuff said to me on the internet that I truly believe people would never have said to my face in a million, trillion years.

The fact that book reviews are casual and are on the internet means bad stuff gets said not only about books (which again - I am glad bad book reviews exist. I am glad my bad book reviews exist. I think bad book reviews can be very valuable) but about authors.

When has someone called me a plagiarist to my face? Never.
When has a professional review called me a plagiarist? Never.
When has a blog called me a plagiarist? Several times, notably once this week.

Sucks to read, and I don't think it's right to write (unless it was true, in which case someone should take out a full-page ad). But it happens. It'd be nice if people didn't say bad stuff about other people on the internet! But people do and probably always will say bad stuff about other people on the internet, and we all have to learn to deal or stay off the internet.

The Problem of Being A Writer And Also Being A Person (Curse You, Alien Overlord Writers)

Ilona Andrews made a great post here about how people views writers as non-people. It is a thing.

So another point raised about writers is that, well, some writers know each other, as you do get to know your colleagues. Think of the office environment again: some you are very good friends with, some you're friendly acquaintances with, some you secretly hate, some you can't remember their name for the life of you and it's so awkward! Some you are carrying on hot affairs with! (Sometimes. I hear. Not me, and I don't know how that rumour got started.)

A blogger called Cleolinda discussed this using the office environment analogy and Ally Carter discussed this saying 'Well... but I really value my writer friends, as anyone values their friends.'

So writers are sometimes friends. But here's the thing: that's okay, because though writers can help each other with their actual writing, and can help each other stay sane, writers cannot really help each others' careers. An agent or an editor might give you a look because your friend is edited or agented by them, and they trust their judgement. They won't take you on if they think your book sucks, because they want to make money. Publishing's a business: money trumps most every concern.

I have writer friends who are very successful. I have writer friends who are not very successful at all. None of them have been able to affect each other's careers even slightly.

Sometimes the thought that someone could 'make or break' my career, or that a good book would guarantee success, sounds like an alluring one as compared to the terrifying reality that everything is kind of a crapshoot. But the reality is what it is.

Writers can blurb books, you might say! ('I would rock that sickly blond sociopath hero like a neurasthenic hurricane - Sarah Rees Brennan') Well, blurbs are great to have, but sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. I have some great blurbs, all of which I was thrilled to get, but they don't appear to have helped my sales. Stephenie Meyer has blurbed books that didn't sell. Blurbs matter about one thousandth as much as covers, and no writer has any control over your cover. Or indeed their own. That's all down to the cruel cover gods.

Also, almost every writer I have ever met cares deeply about books. They will not recommend books they don't like, because they don't want to have people think poorly of their judgement. Sometimes, you will think poorly of their judgement anyway, because they like a book you don't like. But this happens with everyone. My best friend and I don't agree on all books. Another friend of mine and I had an argument about books that led to me kicking a hole in a wall in frustration. (All hail Queen Sarah of OverInvestedInBooksLandia!)

That's why there should be loads of different reviews for books around: because there are always going to be loads of different opinions about books.

Basically, as I already said in Holly Black's post, the only conclusion that can be reached is that authors and reviewers are people, and dealing with people will always be complicated. Some authors are going to behave badly and some reviewers are going to behave badly - but them's the breaks, and at least nobody's career can be destroyed.

Really. If you take away nothing else from these debates, take away that. Everybody's going to be okay.


( 73 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 4th, 2011 10:12 pm (UTC)
This is all true and right and eminently sensible; thank you.

Mar. 4th, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC)
I demand more sickly heroes, and I do not know why the industry is not actively working to meet my needs.
(no subject) - rj_anderson - Mar. 4th, 2011 10:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Mar. 4th, 2011 10:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - anywherebeyond - Mar. 4th, 2011 10:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - firynze - Mar. 4th, 2011 11:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 4th, 2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
I totally agree with most of this! But I would like to point out that I buy books because of the blurbs all the time. It really is often a determining factor for me, so I think it is one way that authors sometimes do have definitive power. That being said, though, I seriously doubt any blurb is going to make or break a book's success.
Mar. 4th, 2011 10:22 pm (UTC)
Yes, blurbs really can't. But also I am glad to hear someone does pay attention to blurbs, since I do pay attention to where I give them, and so do the writers I've discussed blurbs with! Blurbing and reviewing is the only way we can draw attention to books we think are wonderful and important, which obviously as people crazed about books we wish to do! e.g. I blurbed Leah Cypess's Mistborn because seeing a heroine be unemotional and unapologetic about it is so rare and was so appealing to me.
(no subject) - firynze - Mar. 4th, 2011 11:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Mar. 4th, 2011 11:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 4th, 2011 10:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah, blurbs don't seem to be the selling point of books, although they might help, depending on the reader. However, there's this post by Becca Fitzpatrick that seems to cause a lot of talk on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/973516-be-nice

It just looks like no matter what we do, we can't get over the internet disinhibition effect. Tragically.
Mar. 4th, 2011 10:36 pm (UTC)
Blurbs: definitely not the selling point of books. From my observation they help very, very little.

I have seen said post, and I admit I'm confused by the response to it or the idea that one writer's way to deal is every writer's way to deal. But also, I don't think anyone's career will be hurt by someone deciding not to blurb them, so that's okay.

I really wish we could. I try my best to do so personally, and often fail, and try try again. What else can one do!
Mar. 4th, 2011 10:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting about this debate. Yours is one of the first author posts that really takes the time to actually understand some of the reviewers' grievances (especially with regard to issues of feminism in YA literature), which most other authors have ignored in favour of giggling at the notion of a 'YA Mafia'.

I'm lucky in that I'm both a newspaper book-reviewer AND a book blogger, but I have absolutely no intention of becoming an author, so I can be a bit less cautious about what I say in my reviews. However, while I feel that there is a difference between criticism and attack, to tell reviewers to 'be nice' and only write positive reviews impedes our ability to do our job - which is to try and inform potential readers whether or not they'd enjoy a particular book.

Ultimately, just as authors don't have the power to affect aspiring writers' careers, individual reviewers don't have the power to make or break an author's career. (Which I realise you were in no way suggesting.) The only thing that will aid an author’s success is that author writing an absolutely fantastic book.

Mar. 4th, 2011 10:53 pm (UTC)
The only thing that will aid an author’s success is that author writing an absolutely fantastic book.

Ah, and if only that was a guarantee. *thinks of books she loves which do not get the attention they have deserved*

I think it's okay people are amused by the idea of a YA mafia, because really, knowing acutely how very, very powerless you are to do anything, hearing a theory like that does seem wild.

But Holly made her post because she saw people were feeling nervous, and absolutely nobody should ever be made to feel intimidated over a review. Which I think is very much worth saying.

And when I saw that the issue of feminism had been specifically raised, as I do talk of feminism a lot and think it's so important, I wanted to address it. I love reading about feminism from the pov of bloggers (like the Book Smugglers) and the pov of writers (Justine Larbalestier's made amazing blogs about feminism). People are talking about feminism: people are making incredibly valuable posts about feminism! So I wanted to say 'nobody is trying to suppress discussion of feminism in YA, in fact I would be furious at any such suppression as I discuss it!' and 'The issue of feminism is super important - discussing anti-feminist aspects in specific books is great, but calling any specific author a dirty woman-hater strikes me as not constructive.'
(no subject) - dolorosa_12 - Mar. 4th, 2011 11:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 4th, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC)
You know, I think I've read maybe one book because of the blurb. Because reading is so subjective, there are a lot of books which other people have read and enjoyed--people who generally like the kind of books I do--which I don't. Authors seem particularly prone to this somehow--there's one whose books I adore, and whose recommendations have never worked out well for me. In fact, most of my recs come from bloggers I trust. (However, I have The Changeover on reserve!)

This whole thing took me by surprise (as I think I've said about five times now). I'd never encountered any of the behavior described on either side, with the possible exception of the Authors Helping Authors lady, who I assumed (and assume) was not typical.

Personally, I like that so many YA authors are friends--I think it's neat! And I've never had anything but positive reactions from them, either as a reader or a reviewer. My blog's on the small side compared to some, so that might have a lot to do with it. All the same, it seems like a few examples of internet silliness (on both sides) which have gotten blown out of proportion.

And I keep saying things like "on both sides" but really I guess I don't think there are sides. At least, I hope there aren't! I don't know if I go for the 'be nice' maxim so much, just because that can be interpreted as a relentless positivity, but I do think that being thoughtful is a good idea.

Long comment is long and will stop now.
Mar. 4th, 2011 11:02 pm (UTC)
I hope there are not sides! Well, secretly I believe there is Team Booklovers and Team Horrible Illiterates, among which are my gross brothers. And Team Booklovers should all be glad of each others' care for books. I am glad, even for those who have seriously disliked my actual books.

I think subjectivity is why blurbs don't do that much for people. But I think also people have to consider subjectivity when they think 'that writer must have blurbed that book for mysterious cabal-like reasons' rather than just 'that writer must have tastes that differ in some way from mine.'

That said, I am extremely pleased the Changeover has wooed you! I love that book and I hope you will too. (But if you don't... that's tooootally okay.)

And yes, I think authors being friends is awesome. For we can make each others' books better! And that benefits everyone. And I'm glad you've had good experiences.
(no subject) - elvenjaneite - Mar. 5th, 2011 12:10 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - sarahtales - Mar. 7th, 2011 08:41 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 4th, 2011 11:33 pm (UTC)
Great post! Honestly, I just don't care what I put out there as long as I explain why I feel that way and without hating on the author, both of which are easy to do. It shouldn't matter if you don't like a certain author's/editor's/publisher's book; it's your thoughts. I also can't imagine any of the authors and publishing people I know to do something like blacklisting an aspiring author because of some post they did. Everyone's awesome (esp. you, Sarah!)!
Mar. 4th, 2011 11:35 pm (UTC)
It shouldn't matter if you don't like a certain author's/editor's/publisher's book; it's your thoughts.

Mar. 4th, 2011 11:43 pm (UTC)
Beautiful, sane, and well-said. Thank you!

Also, as one of the Cruel Cover Gods, BOW TO ME. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA.



(in other news, that would be the most awesome blurb ever. Can I appropriate that and stick it on, I don't know, my tub of peanut butter or something?)
Mar. 4th, 2011 11:45 pm (UTC)
Even if I don't like a book I don't think that is always a direct reflection of an Author. There will always be books you love and books you don't like as much. Like Dan Brown. I couldn't finsih Deception Point. Couldn't do it. It was to me like a lame version of Ice Station by Matthew Riley. But I don't think that makes him crap and I liked Davinci Code.

I think people take an instant dislike to others and because we are on an online forum believe that it is okay to go to town on their opinions. But there is a line. Between professional criticism of a book and judging someone who you may not take a personal liking too. And I know the internet is a public forum but if you are going to creare a website created to the review and opinions of books or movies etc then you have to come at it with a level and professional head. If you just want to slag things you hate that is fine too but don't to it under the false assumption that you are reviewing rather than venting your feeling on a mattter. I believe they are different.

Wow this was a lot longer than I meant it to be. Sorry

Mar. 4th, 2011 11:56 pm (UTC)
Just in case it hasn't been mentioned today, you're awesome. Thank you for writing books and writing blogs and generally for being awesome.
Mar. 5th, 2011 12:06 am (UTC)
Well said :)
Mar. 5th, 2011 12:07 am (UTC)
I am still trying to figure out HOW, even if I wanted to, I could sabotage another writer's career. All this "I'll tell my agent not to represent you!" stuff...how would I know you were querying my agent, unless you told me? My agent sure doesn't send around a newsletter of people she's currently reading.

And even if by some weird chance I did know, how big are these hypothetical brass balls of mine that I would tell my agent or editor who NOT to buy? I don't tell my agent to do ANYTHING. She could send along a severe beating with every royalty check and I would take it, because dude, it came along with the royalty check! (My agent is totally the grown-up in this relationship. I am the sporadically-bright toddler who runs into walls.)

I can only assume that this notion about writers sabotaging other writers derives from a general lack of understanding about the actual power relationships in publishing...or else my experience is completely atypical and other authors are totally on the ball, which could be true, but I suspect every other author secretly believes this too, so y'know.
Mar. 5th, 2011 12:11 am (UTC)
I think it may be part and parcel of the belief writers are the mighty kingpins of publishing: like we choose our covers and cover artists, and which bookshops our books are in. We control the horizontal and the vertical! If it were only so...
Mar. 5th, 2011 12:30 am (UTC)
Everyone else is making super clever comments, and I have nothing special to say except that you are awesome, your books are awesome, and this essay is awesome <3

Also my sister is now a literary agent and the thought she would sign or not sign someone based on anything other than their marketability and quality of writing is absurd ;)
Mar. 5th, 2011 12:33 am (UTC)
"They won't take you on if they think your book sucks, because they want to make money. Publishing's a business: money trumps most every concern."

I'm so glad you said it! Oh, honesty!

Finally someone's come right out and said it plainly!

I think that's the biggest hole in the YA Mafia theory.
Mar. 5th, 2011 12:41 am (UTC)
I sometimes wonder if these panicked moments in net discussion come out of the fact that if we were really worried about real things like oil or the climate, most people would be too horrified to get out of bed most days ...

And plagiarism? Really? If I sat down to stretch my mind to come up with something negative to say about your work, that would not even occur as a possibility. The only person whose work I ever see lifted in yours is you with your occasional references or jokey asides to your juvenilia.
Mar. 5th, 2011 12:42 am (UTC)
I love when you talk about the ladies! I told a friend a story you put on here, about finding a bodice ripping romance and your reactions to it as a child. I don't know what you titled it, but I called it Young Sarah and the Viscount. Hopefully I didn't mutilate it too bad.

I adore you down to your toes as both an author and the person I've come to know via your blog posts. I can't wait for the Demon's Surrender or the many books you'll write after.
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