Tuesday, July 24, 2012

This is why we can’t have nice things

Photo credit: Stewart via Flickr Creative Commons
There’s been a bit of craziness going on this week in the world of writers and book bloggers, and the fallout makes me sad. As usual, a few people behave badly and it ruins things for the rest of us. It’s frustrating, but I can’t be too angry about it because the reactions are, in my opinion, completely justified.

For those who haven’t been following it, there’s been a lot of drama over on GoodReads the last week or so regarding authors, reviews and book bloggers. I love GoodReads, and have always enjoyed the community there, but this is the Internet, after all. Drama was bound to happen one way or another. It’s the nature of the beast.

This particular drama stemmed from reviewers being attacked by authors who couldn’t handle critical reviews of their books. Many of these authors were indies, or self-published, but some were traditionally published as well. It blew up, as things online tend to do, and people started to “bully” these authors, which blew up even more as everything got completely out of hand and another group of people formed with the aim to stop these “bullies,” and by doing so basically became bullies themselves. (Here’s an article that explains it better than I can: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/foz-meadows/stop-the-gr-bullies-a-response_b_1690469.html) As a result, many book bloggers have decided to change their policies and no longer accept review requests from self-published authors, in an effort to protect themselves from future crazies.

As a self-published author myself, this is sad news. However, given the impetus for the policy changes, I can’t really fault them. Too many authors lately have been acting like children: attacking bloggers for giving honest reviews, pouting when they don’t review their books immediately, threatening to find their personal information and expose them. Grown-ups should not behave this way. Not only is it unprofessional, but that is not how you treat another human being. The Internet has stripped away our manners. People feel like they can say and do whatever they want online because they’re not faced with the people they’re talking to. Well, those are still people, and your mother raised you better than that. Don’t even get me started on how people behave when discussing politics. I may completely avoid the Internet in September and October!

But this post isn’t about politics. It’s about authors and book bloggers and how recent events have changed that dynamic.

I love book bloggers. Without them, I would have very few sales outside of my family and friends. And while I love that those family and friends enjoyed my book and posted good reviews about it, it’s the impartial reviews from bloggers and other readers that helps sell a book, even if those reviews aren’t all 5 stars. So I’m grateful to the critical reviewers just as much as to those who loved the book and gave it heaps of praise. (I still prefer the praise, of course. Who wouldn’t?) Having those less-than-glowing reviews help give my book credibility. As a reader, if I see a book with only a few reviews, and all of them 4 or 5 stars, my first instinct is to write it off because they’re probably all written by the author’s friends. So when I got my first 3-star review, I was actually kind of excited. I even have a couple of 2-stars now, though no 1-stars yet (knock on wood). As long as my overall rating is good, I feel like the variety of reviews gives my book a legitimacy that will hopefully attract more readers. The more reviews and exposure I get, the better, and book bloggers are essential for that because I’m terrible at promoting myself.

However, I don’t feel that book bloggers are my personal marketing tools, or that they have any obligation to me as the writer of a book they’ve been given to review. Book bloggers have lives outside of their blog. They have jobs and families like the rest of us, and can’t always read 24 hours a day. I can’t even imagine the sheer number of review requests some of them get, or the size of their TBR piles. Hell, my TBR pile is huge, and those are only the books that I bought or checked out from the library to read for fun. Imagine having that on top of piles of books you’ve been sent to read by publishers and authors. I read pretty fast (I’ve already read 65 books this year), and I think I would be overwhelmed with all of that staring me down day after day. Then to have to write a thoughtful, informative and entertaining review for each one? I wouldn’t be able to do it. And because I know I couldn’t do it, I have immense respect for those who do. Which is why I would never, in a million years, attack them for sharing their opinion or whine at them for not reviewing my book fast enough (or at all) after sending them a copy. I’ve sent out a lot of review requests in the months (nearly a year now!) since I released DESTINED, and while most bloggers were interested enough to ask for the ePub or Kindle file, not all have gotten around to reviewing it. I’m all right with that. I understood at the time I sent the requests that they have long lists of books to read, and that mine would most likely end up at the bottom of said list. My being self-published probably doesn’t help bump me up either, but again, I accept that. I’m happy they were interested enough to say yes, and that’s enough for me. If they ever get time to read it and decide to write a review, that’s icing on the cake. It doesn’t cost me anything to send that ePub or Kindle file, after all. And if they read it and don’t like it, and therefore decide against writing a review, I accept that as well. Most bloggers are very clear in their review policy that they may not review every book they read, or read every book they are given. Why is this concept so hard to grasp?

I will NEVER comment to a review on GoodReads or Amazon or any other book review site, good or bad. I will comment to a blogged review if it’s one I personally requested only to say thank you, unless the blogger or another commenter asks a specific question of me. If a reviewer mentions something in a review that I disagree with, I will keep it to myself. I’ve had reviewers—not bloggers, just general reader reviews— get character names wrong, mention things that didn’t actually happen (or question things that did happen, but that they seem to have missed), or criticize particular choices I made in the plot or pacing. Sometimes I agree with these criticisms, while other times I admit there is a temptation to reply and defend myself, especially if a critical point is based on something the reader missed or misunderstood. But I won’t do that because I don’t believe it’s my place to reply to reviews in that manner. GoodReads and other review sites are there for readers to share their opinions, not for authors to soothe their egos. If you’re going to be an author, you have to develop a thick skin about reviews. Not everyone is going to love your baby, no matter how amazing you think it is. Just like there will always be people who love something that others think is pure crap. That’s the great thing about books: there’s something out there for everyone.

So while I’m disappointed that there will be fewer book bloggers out there willing to read my next release (if I ever finish editing the damn thing), I don’t blame them for needing to change their policies. Self-publishing is a wonderful thing, but it’s a double-edged sword. It’s fabulous because anyone can publish a book, but at the same time… anyone can publish a book. Not everyone that publishes is ready for what comes next. Once you hit that “publish” button and send your book out into the world, you also give up control over what happens to it. You’ve done your part, now it’s time for readers to do theirs: read it and, if so moved, discuss it with other readers. Take any criticism that comes along (silently) and use it to make your next book better. That’s what I’m doing. All I can do now is hope that, by the time I release my next book, some of this drama has died down and bloggers will be more open to accepting self-published books again.