“Review” Does Not Mean “Immune”

There’s freezing fog here, frosting every edge. It’s very pretty if I can just sit inside and watch it. Venturing out into it, however, is a whole different ball of wax. Losing a lot of weight means I have very little insulation, and even with four or five layers on the wet chill just goes right through me. I have never been so glad for the heater sitting next to my writing chair.

So…buckle your seatbelts, darlings. Here goes.

One of the current Internet sh!tstorms revolves around this post “Beware of Unprofessional Reviewers.” Of course there was a lot of pearl-clutching over this.

On the one hand, immature and nasty behavior among book bloggers is rampant, and the sense of entitlement from plenty of people who slap together something they call “reviews” is massive and stunning. (This is human nature, and not worth bemoaning more than tangentially.) There are great review blogs out there, but they are sadly more the exception than the rule. And there are some great review blogs that have devolved into masses of self-gratification and one-upmanship. In other words, it’s just like the entire Internet.

On the other hand, naming the actual blogs the author had a problem with…probably not a good move. I might not have done that, but you know what? You write reviews for public consumption, you had better be prepared to be called on your behavior. Put on your big girl panties and deal. Also, it’s the author’s blog, she can say what she wants. She thinks someone’s being a shitheel? Well, she can say so. Period.

There’s a real sense among review blogs that authors should just not say anything other than a gushy “thank you sir may I have another?” no matter how the review bloggers act. Which is just not going to happen, any student of human nature can tell you as much. And seriously, I’ve read plenty of reviews (not even of my own work, thank you) where it’s obvious the reviewer was responding to something personal in their life rather than to the book itself. Or it’s equally obvious the reviewer is engaged in tearing down something they’re jealous of. Expecting authors to not care about that is just pure-d foolishness.

Review blogs do serve a number of necessary purposes. They’re a way for readers to band together and discuss things. They build communities. They serve and fulfill social needs. They can occasionally serve as a facilitator between the writer and readers, which is downright awesome when it’s done right. They can even (sometimes) provide feedback for authors, though this is not (and should not be) one of their prime goals.

But review blogs do not get to tell writers how to act. They can have opinions about how writers should act, sure, but those opinions are not given a lot of extra weight by the fact of them being “reviewers.” Anyone with a laptop can be a reviewer, there’s not a lot of quality control, and one’s opinion as a blogger is not worth a lot until you’ve consistently shown why it should be. This isn’t just on the Internet, it also functions this way in real life. For example, lots of people have opinions about how I should act. Many of those opinions are just not worth a fart in a windstorm to me personally. The people whose opinions I care about–the people I love, or whose judgment I’ve been taught I can trust–are not The General Public. Also, lots of people have opinions about how I should/should not write my books/finish a series/write a character. At the end of the day, I may listen politely, but the decision is still mine. The judgment call is still mine, because I am producing the content. I’m where the buck begins.

So. Yes, the post about “unprofessional reviewers” named names, which is to my mind the only problematic part of it–but it’s not very problematic. You want to act like a three-year old on your book review site, or produce shoddy reviews? Go for it. But do not expect that the behavior will always go unremarked or unchallenged. It’s the Internet. It’s public. Deal. You’re not in the fricking Witness Protection Program. You’re a blogger.

I personally do not respond to reviews one way or another, for reasons I’ve given elsewhere. But writing a post where one takes issue with specific behaviors, offers illustrations, and proffers advice to one’s fellow writers isn’t a crime. It isn’t even worth the pearl-clutching that ensued, even though anyone with two synapses to rub together could have seen the pearl-clutching coming. It’s not going to be a post people who produce book review blogs are going to like, certainly, but just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not valid, and just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean someone’s committed a huge sin.

So, there it is. You all know the comment policy. That being said, go for it. Discuss.

ETA: I see that the post I pointed to has seemingly been modified to take down the names of two specific book blogs. Thanks to Carmen below for pointing that out.

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