How authors would like to be reviewed

So, there was just another brouhaha on Goodreads and its environs. And I swore I would keep my hands to myself and not take part.

I lied.

It seems to have blown over, at least where I’ve been able to see, and I’m not about to stir it all up again, so I will name no names and tag no tags. The poor silly author person has gotten a bit beaten up, and while I still want to speak my piece somewhere it won’t get deleted I don’t want to beat a beaten horse. So to speak.

It seems to have all begun with someone’s first book, which I just saw was, oddly, self-published back in September. But apparently as of a little while ago the book was saddled with a very long, very poorly written description on GR, and a few people took that as a sure and certain sign that this was a book to avoid. Some of them (or at least one, though some “reviews” have been deleted by GR) evidently took the description apart line by line – and from what I’m seeing, it was indeed pretty bad. And pretty long.

The first I heard of it, though, was when a friend (hi, Jane!) wrote a blog post about a blog post by the author. (So now I’m writing a blog post about a blog post about a blog post. Funny old world.) The author’s blog post – and in fact her whole blog – was deleted over that weekend; I think she got some serious backlash in her comments section. I kind of wish I’d saved it, but what I do have is my visceral response to it – not quite line by line, but enough.

The first thing I took issue with was the Victorian-twee capitalization of certain nouns, particularly “Writer” and “Reader” (why, that would be Me! If I ever decided to read the thing, that is.) Done with tongue in cheek, say by an Austen fan, I’m fine with this. But done with a straight face… why? I don’t understand. Are you a time traveler from Dickens’s London? Another odd quirk in the blog post was a near-constant use of “we”. I don’t know whether it was intended as a collective “we”, somehow speaking for all writers, or as a royal “we”, but either way it wasn’t a great idea.

Also not such a great idea, I suppose, was putting down my thoughts in the review section for the book on Goodreads. It was deleted, of course (after it garnered over 50 “likes” in a couple of days – and, obviously, at least one flag as against guidelines). But my points still stand, so here they are. I was pretty disgusted when I wrote it. Obviously.

The author’s part of this is not verbatim, since I didn’t save her post – but it is as close to what was actually said as possible.

The author’s blog: I wish readers would only post four- or five-star reviews, and if they have complaints they should write me directly to tell me instead of putting that in a review.

Me: If I have spent time and/or money on your precious flower of a book, and I don’t like said book, then I have every right to express my opinion – yes, even if I haven’t read the whole thing. And yes, in a legit review and not a private email to you. Unless I have been provided with a free copy for the purpose, or unless you have paid me to copyedit, it’s not my job to send you a politely worded detail of why your book isn’t the Masterpiece you think it is. If your writing is laughable, I’m sorry: I will probably laugh.

The author: People should remember that my book is the work of my heart, my baby.

Me: It’s not your baby. It’s a book.

Just to clarify – Baby:

– living creature, product of, generally, nine months’ work, in need of protection and nurture.

Book:

not, technically, a living creature, but ink on paper (or not), product of from months to years of a different sort of labor, with all of the care and nurturing required before production rather than after

A better metaphor might be raising a lion cub and releasing him into the wild. Once it’s literally out of your hands, it is completely out of your hands – if the other lions don’t like him, you can’t go wading in and shake your finger under those other lions’ noses. (Well, you can, but they will eat you alive. Which given the parallel illustrated here makes this a pretty good simile.)

The author: I feel personally injured when someone says harsh things about my book.

Me: A mediocre or bad review is not, unless you are personally attacked in it, an attack on you. It’s not an attack on your precious petal of a book. It’s a book review. An expression of opinion. A summation of what was enjoyed – and not enjoyed – during the reading experience. Je ne suis pas Charlie, but je suis moi: a reader, with only so much time to spend in reading and only so much money to spend on books – and with every right to express opinions. (Except on Goodreads, of course, where the original thing I wrote vanished like my coworkers two minutes before closing time.)

The author: if you’re going to dare to write a critique of my book or my book description pointing out spelling and grammar errors, you had best be certain your own spelling and grammar is impeccable.

Me: While in my reviews and blog posts I always certainly strive to make sure my spelling and grammar are correct, even if they are not I also have every right to point out places where your spelling and grammar are not up to par. Why? Because if I screw up in a review, it’s something I wrote for myself and my friends, to plunk onto my blog or on Goodreads or some such. If you screw up in a book you’ve published, it’s something you have offered for sale, for the consumption of strangers, in the expectation that time and/or money will be spent on it (as mentioned above). If you do not understand the difference here, you have no business writing for anyone but yourself. If I purchase a book, it is with the presumption that the author has performed due diligence in making it as close to a perfect thing as possible, has made noticeable effort to clean up style errors and make it worth reading. If you have not done your utmost best to ensure that simple, stupid things like grammar and spelling are not as perfect as they can be, it only shows a complete lack of respect for your “Readers”, and I have no time or patience for you.

The author (and this is a quote, because I copied and pasted it): “The only thing I am telling you right now is: Please, when writing your review, consider our feelings and sensitivity – and respect our work.”

Me: Well, to all “Writers”, the only thing I am telling you is: Please, when writing your book, consider the rights, time, and wallet of the reader – and respect us enough not to whine when we take the time to exercise our rights and give you feedback. Good, bad, or indifferent.

The author’s blog post title: “How Authors would wish their books to be reviewed”

“How Authors would wish their books to be reviewed”? How dare you.

In predicting (correctly) that my original post would be deleted, I said that I would likely copy it over onto my blog – because this whole thing just ticks me off so very much. For one thing, doesn’t she realize how this has all been said before, a thousand and six times? How are these people not getting the message?

I mean, I get it. I do. Like probably half the people on Goodreads I’ve tried my hand at writing a book. It is hard work. But I want criticism. I want to improve, and I want my work to improve. The idea of expecting universal adoration for anything I do is completely alien.

I’m not so arrogant as to think that my book will be War and Peace, or The Lord of the Rings – and even if it somehow did manage to be kind of super, there are people who dislike War and Peace and The Lord of the Rings. And you know? That’s okay. (Except for the people who dislike The Lord of the Rings; they’re just wrong, of course.)

As I mentioned, I got a lot of support for the post. And then I got this, from someone calling himself JR:

Boy… You’ve got a lot of time on your hands.
I agree with your freedom of opinion statement, and to be fully transparent here, I haven’t finished reading the book yet nor have I read the author’s blog.
Like you and the rest of the commenters on here, I am a big believer in freedom of expression.
But it seems to me before you stomp a new author into the ground, you ought to take a step back, take a deep breath and follow some of your own advice.
I don’t respect your hatemongering way.
It’s oppressive and goes against what you say you believe in.
I don’t think it makes me trust in your opinion as a reviewer – and that is my opinion.
Now you are free to rip me apart in a personal way. I hope it makes you sleep better at night.

I admit- I kind of did want to rip him apart. But that goes against the grain. So I checked the commenter’s profile page, and wrote what seemed reasonable.

Thanks for your comment, I guess. Joined in January 2015, eh? So, JR is a pseudonym? (Mind, this is not a personal attack any more than my commentary above is, but merely observation. Not that I expect you to agree with that.)(ETA, also: zero friends, zero books, no avatar = did you think no one would notice?)

It didn’t take all that long to write what I wrote, thanks for your … concern? I type pretty quickly. I have no desire to stomp a new author into the ground. I am more than happy to live and let live. But I also don’t suffer foolishness gladly, and the oft-heard plaint of “I-worked-so-hard-give-me-five-stars” is pure foolishness. And not even original foolishness. I’m not sure where you’re getting hatemongering; please enlighten me. Are you sure it’s the word you’re looking for? “The act or practice of stirring up hatred or enmity” – I wasn’t expressing hatred, and don’t encourage it; I was expressing disgust and irritation. The author in question is not my enemy, or at least I’m not hers, and I care to fulfill the role. So – please insert Inigo Montoya quote here.

It matters little to me whether you trust my opinion as a reviewer. I don’t write reviews for anyone but myself and, perhaps, my friends (I take it you won’t be sending me a friend request either as JR or as your non-sock-puppet persona?). I’ll forget about all of this in about 46 seconds, and sleep just fine, thank you for your kind wish. I hope you sleep well yourself, having gotten this off your anonymous chest.

….

[Added the following day:] Having had a good night’s sleep: I was wrong, I did think about this longer than 46 seconds. Long enough to think about that word “hatemongering” a little bit. I don’t hate the author of this book I’ll never read, any more than I hate the coworker who routinely butchers the English language in ways that make me want to weep. “Hate” is a ridiculously strong word, and for myself I reserve it for, you know, Hitler. So, my good sockpuppet, no – I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

“He” didn’t respond. Though now that I’m thinking about it I’d bet “he” was one who threw a flag on the play, so to speak.

Again, I’m not trying to stir up the sediment that has settled to the bottom; I don’t care enough about the author or the book to make this specific. But I really, really care about people attempting to get some kind of control over reviewers, and who can’t behave like adults and professionals.

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