Yesterday a romance novel author who blogs at Authors Helping Authors wrote a post called “Authors beware of unprofessional reviewers” in which she called out two bloggers who reviewed her book in a way she deemed “unprofessional.” Since yesterday the post has been edited to take out the names of the two bloggers, but no note of the change. I’m not sure why.
Anyway, I don’t normally like getting drawn into debates about authors versus bloggers versus whatever, and I don’t want to just pile on more kindling to fuel the fire, but the more I thought about the post last night the more frustrated I got about two things. First, I think the author’s characterization of bloggers is unfair and plays on stereotypes that are just not true. And second, I think she’s actually giving some decent advice, but it’s just getting lost in the noise.
First, the author’s characterization of bloggers. The author talks about how she got a few bad reviews of her book from what she characterizes as “unprofessional reviewers,” by which I think she means bloggers rather than book critics who write for a mainstream publication. In her words,
They were not objective in what they had to say. I found their comments to be subjective and sometimes downright malicious. … what really gets me is when amateur reviewers use words like “predictable” and “one dimensional”, but they don’t quantify this. They don’t back up their comments with facts.
I don’t know any bloggers who are deliberately malicious in their comments on books. As a blogger, I don’t like writing bad reviews, but it’s important to be honest. And while I understand where her critique about objectivity versus subjectivity is coming from, it indicates to me she is not or was not familiar with the bloggers she sent her book to be reviewed by. But more on that in a minute.
She goes on to really lose me with what I think is an unfair and slightly nasty stereotype about bloggers:
Oftentimes, the people who set up these kinds of blogs have never written a thing in their lives, except maybe a grocery list. Most are avid readers who think they are qualified to review someone else’s work. So it’s very sad when they go about damaging the image of upcoming small press and indie authors with the rubbish they write.
That’s just over the line. In my opinion, anyone who reads is qualified to review a book. Not everyone chooses to write their thoughts in a public place like a blog, but everyone who reads is a book reviewer. They can tell their friends about it, they can pass on opinions to colleagues, they can put a note on Facebook or Twitter. While not formal and often subjective, these are reviews too. The fact that someone is not a writer does not disqualify them from talking about books. That’s just elitist. And saying that writing a bad review is equivalent to deliberately damaging the image of small presses and authors just makes no sense.
Now, on to her advice for authors. I think some of it is actually good. For example,
This is why I am warning authors to beware of this kind of reviewer. When you offer your book to be reviewed, first take the time to check out the reviewer. Have a read of some of the reviews they wrote in the past.
While I don’t think that authors need to “beware” of bloggers — we’re not werewolves or some type of evil zombies — I do think she’s presenting good advice for authors. When you pitch a book to a blogger, it makes sense to do some research. Find out what books they like to read, their normal review style, and decide if you think it’s fair. If you do, it’s a good bet your book will get a similar treatment. You can find bloggers who are as “objective” as you’d like if you take the time. If you don’t like a blogger’s style, or they haven’t liked books similar to yours in the past, pitch to someone else. There are a lot of bloggers out there — take time to find a good fit.
But then she continues,
Make sure they back up their reviews with facts and objective criticism. I learned my lesson the hard way and didn’t do my research first, as I should have done.
While “facts and objective criticism” might be what this author wants from a review, I don’t think objectivity is necessarily what an author should expect when asking for a blogger to review a book. You should expect that your book be treated fairly and that the blogger gives it the same consideration they give other books they read. How a blogger chooses to review a book is up to them, but I suspect it will probably be different from the “objective” reviews found in more mainstream book review outlets. That’s the nature of the beast.
I guess reading a post like this one, from an author who says she wants to help other authors, frustrates me because I thought the whole book reviewing landscape was starting to get past this. There is unlimited space on the Internet — space for “professional” and “unprofessional” reviewers, for objective and subjective opinions, for all types of books and people who write about them.
To return to stereotypes about bloggers being failed writers or people just not good enough to share their opinions on what gets read reflects a misunderstanding of a changing book landscape. I really want that to just be over. I hope this post doesn’t make anyone feel worse and that I’m not just preaching to the choir. I hope that it points out some of the attitudes about book reviewing that I think need to change, and I hope I’ve suggested some constructive ways to make that happen.