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Everyone, Beware of Unfortunate Stereotypes

Everyone, Beware of Unfortunate Stereotypes post image

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.

Photo Credit: ginnerobot via flickr

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Chrisbookarama February 10, 2011, 7:24 am

    I agree that she did give some good advice wrapped up in a tantrum about a negative review. Most bloggers don’t want to be pitched a book they have zero interest in anyway. As for objectivity, I’m not sure what she wants. I don’t think ordinary people, like me, can be objective about literature. That actually can be a bonus for authors because when we find a book we’re excited about, we can’t shut up about it!

    • Kim February 10, 2011, 7:45 am

      Chrisbookarama: That’s exactly it — bloggers love it when authors take the time to research and make a good pitch, so I agree with her that research is important.

      I the objectivity/subjectivity thing is just a matter of taste, and you can find bloggers that are more and less “objective” if you look, but I agree, the subjectivity of, “This book was awesome!” is one of my favorite things about blogger reviews.

  • Jeanne February 10, 2011, 7:41 am

    Who were the two bloggers? And did you notice that if you try to leave a comment on her post, it will let you type it in, but then informs you that you have to be a member of something to leave a comment? Gah. I may have something to say about this “objective” business. Thanks for your thoughts on this, and at this late date, as you note.

    • Kim February 10, 2011, 7:46 am

      Jeanne: I cannot remember who the bloggers were, which is annoying because when I sat down to write this I wanted to read the reviews she was referencing. I did try to leave a comment this morning with a link to this post but got the same error. I think she must have turned comments off. I hope you’ll share your thoughts, too!

      • Jeanne February 10, 2011, 8:48 am

        I’ve written a post which says what I would have liked to put in her comments, plus a bit more!

  • Fyrefly February 10, 2011, 8:22 am

    Gah, how frustrating. I’m unsure how one is supposed to back up “predictable” with supporting facts, in any case. If I say “predictable”, what I mean is, “I was able to predict parts of the plot in advance of that part of the plot actually happening.” I trust that my readers are capable of understanding that; if I supported that statement with facts, another cadre of people would beat down the door howling about spoilers!

    • Kim February 12, 2011, 3:16 pm

      Fyrefly: That’s a great point. Given how much people hate spoilers, sometimes it’s better to speak in generalities just a bit rather than give up plot details.

  • Coffee and a Book Chick February 10, 2011, 8:26 am

    Great post, Kim. I’m still a bit shocked by the author’s comments and am sad to see this debacle transpiring. Probably the only thing that I agreed with the author on was that authors should research the blogger they are interested in pitching their book to in order to ensure that they are the right reader for their book. Like you, I think this is sage advice. The rest that the author posted…not so much.

    I did get a chance to read one of the reviews that were mentioned (on The Book Binge) and really didn’t see one thing wrong with it. Romance isn’t my thing when it comes to reading, so I think I was able to be a bit objective about reading their review. Essentially, the reviewer didn’t finish the book because she didn’t like the main character. Which I’m sure all of us as readers have experienced before – in fact, I’ve experienced the same for books that are considered blockbusters. So, if you can’t finish a book, there’s nothing wrong with writing a review to state that (1) you didn’t finish the book and (2) why you didn’t finish the book. There’s just nothing wrong with that. Therefore, nothing wrong with what they posted. Their style of writing is casual, as though sitting down one girlfriend to another and chatting about what worked and didn’t work in a book. I like that style of blogging because it’s the same kind of way I like to talk with my friends, but it’s in a written form.

    The part that bothered me the most about the author’s response on her blog was when she made the “grocery list” slam – now that, above all others, is the most degrading and awful bit of it. What a shame that the author would choose to insult the very audience of women who are her exact market to purchase and read her romance book. With this comment, it makes me think that her view of the “housewife/stay at home mom” is that they aren’t smart enough to say if they like something or not. She completely undermined her audience and lumped stupidity in with it all. Never mind that a lot of these housewives and stay at home mothers have degrees, or ran their own business, etc., etc. And even if they didn’t, that doesn’t make them unqualified to simply read a book and write out their thoughts and post it in a public forum.

    The net-net of it all is that the author’s feelings were hurt – the book that she has produced, sweated, and cried over is her baby. And then someone said they didn’t like it. To the point where they couldn’t finish it. Out of all the reviews this author will get, so what if 10% of them, for example, are bad? So what if a few of them couldn’t finish the book? The author really chose poorly to publicly bash the reviewers and certainly, with the amount of social media marketing, it’s gone through Twitter enough times where her reputation is really the only thing that’s damaged.

    Thanks for letting me vent 🙂

    • Kim February 12, 2011, 3:20 pm

      Coffee and a Book Chick: Good venting 🙂 You took most of the words right out of my mouth. I just thought it was too bad that decent advice got mucked up in all of the insulting things about bloggers and her audience.

  • rhapsodyinbooks February 10, 2011, 8:57 am

    One thing that occurred to me from her comments is that often one *can’t* specify why a book was bad without giving spoilers, and most bloggers will not do that. …about which authors should be happy, it seems to me.

    • Kim February 12, 2011, 3:21 pm

      rhapsodyinbooks: It’s a tricky balance, talking about what in books work and don’t work can be hard without giving things away. I like good examples in reviews, but sometimes it’s too much.

  • Jen - Devourer of Books February 10, 2011, 9:32 am

    Then there’s the point that there is really no purely objective response to literature/art. Even professional reviewers are going to be colored by some sort of subjective response, otherwise we wouldn’t need more than one professional review on any book, because they would all agree anyway. You are right, though, that some bloggers strive for a more univeralist style than others do.

    • Sara (wordyevidenceofthefact) February 10, 2011, 10:29 am

      Yes, Jen, you took the words right out of my mouth (fingertips? keyboard?). On what planet is any review “objective”? What she seems to be talking about is the difference between a blurb or summary (objective statement of fact) and a review (which, by definition, involves a subjective opinion. There is just no such thing as objective reviewing regardless of the level of professionalism.

      Thanks for starting such an interesting conversation, Kim.

      • Kim February 12, 2011, 3:25 pm

        Jen and Sara: You both make great points — reviews, whether done by professionals or not, always involve some sort of judgement. I think there’s some confusion about the idea of being “objective” versus just writing if you liked a book or not. I don’t know quite how to articulate that exactly, but I think it’s an important point.

  • Steph February 10, 2011, 11:16 am

    Fantastic post, Kim! I kept thinking that this person must not be familiar at all with book bloggers if this is the kind of response she got. I mean, look at the TONS of people who write reviews on Amazon and yet don’t blog. Would she argue that these people have no business sharing their opinions on her book? If so, tough for her.

    I know some bloggers are uncomfortable using the word “review” with regards to what they write about books, perhaps because few blogger strive to write with the same style of professional reviewers, but I don’t think that means that what we do is not without merit. Whether it’s sharing impressions or tackling thematic elements in a novel or nitpicking verbosity or whatever, I feel like every piece of writing I read about a book helps me form a better picture of how I am likely to respond to it. And really, authors can whinge about objective measures as much as they like, but that the end of the day, most readers are primarily concerned with whether they will find their time spent on a novel a good investment or not. And that tends to boil down to “will I like it or not?” Hell, Dickens has plenty of merits yet I can’t stand his writing… No amount of facts about him and his works is going to change that fact about me! 😀

    • Kim February 12, 2011, 3:29 pm

      Steph: That’s a great point. Every review brings something new to a book. And your point about “Will I like it or not,” is great — I think that’s the question most blogger reviews try to answer, which is slightly different from what an “objective” or “professional” reviewer might try to do.

  • Lori L February 10, 2011, 12:21 pm

    Some of us might be zombies… I think you did a nice job expressing your opinion, Kim. As I commented on Jeanne’s blog post: “Exactly who is his author writing for if not readers? Does she only want other writers to read her books? Do you imagine she would accept a negative review from another writer? Perhaps she should learn to ignore the bad reviews, much like many of us can choose to ignore her books. Too much ego always trips people up.”

    • Kim February 12, 2011, 3:31 pm

      Lori L: Great comment! By dismissing the opinions of “regular readers” of the book, I think the author really misses the point. Not being a writer doesn’t dismiss the opinions of readers.

  • Kailana February 10, 2011, 1:05 pm

    Ooohhh… That’s what is going on. I sort of heard about it, but then not at the same time. I don’t really understand why authors would publicly criticize people that don’t like their books, but that’s just me. Sounds like it would be just be worse than the bad review… I might still think a book sounds good regardless of what a reviewer says, but a situation like this would turn me off entirely

    • Kim February 12, 2011, 3:48 pm

      Kailana: I don’t always catch these things, but this one caught my attention on Twitter during the day. I’ve never understood the impulse either — making a fuss or calling out someone just seems to make it worse.

  • Rebecca Reid February 10, 2011, 1:31 pm

    Although I don’t accept review copies and I don’t really care about relationships with authors, I find it strange that a published author would get so worked up about negative publicity! And yes, any author who wants to get a blogger to read their book should KNOW the blogger. That really seems like a given…

    • Kim February 12, 2011, 4:02 pm

      Rebecca: I find it strange too. I get negative reviews can be upsetting, but there’s no reason to be that insulting to people who have taken the time to read your work.

  • Thomas at My Porch February 10, 2011, 3:01 pm

    I will be the first to admit that my reviews don’t contain enough back-up to bolster my case. It is sloppy and unprofessional, but that is just it, I am not professional. If I had to hold my reviews to the same standards as a professional I would likely never write one and my life would be dull and boring.

    I think what this author misses is that she is just as likely to get a good review that is just as unsubstantiated as a bad one (unless of course her book really is crap). Plus, the world of book blogging is way more personal then, and those of us who write and frequent them, learn over time whose judgment we trust.

    • Kim February 12, 2011, 4:04 pm

      Thomas: I think all bloggers find a review style that works for them, over time, and if you take time to research you can figure it out. And you’re absolutely right — it’s just as likely to get an effusive review without “facts” to back it up as a bad one, but bloggers learn to trust each other and know what hose recommendations mean (the same as people do in real life getting recommendations from friends).

  • Ash February 10, 2011, 3:15 pm

    I saw this post yesterday and I definitely agree that the one good piece of advice she gives is to research your bloggers before you pitch to them. She just goes about it the wrong way. It is important to check out what kind of blogger you’re looking at before they ask if they will review your book.

    • Kim February 12, 2011, 4:04 pm

      Ash: I wish she’d just gone with that advice and left it at that, since that makes sense!

  • Trisha February 10, 2011, 3:17 pm

    I was horrified by that post at first, and then I just found it amusing. Subjective responses to books are much, much, much more informative in my opinion than the “professional, objective” reviews (and do these even exist?)…at least when I am deciding whether or not to read a book. The author of the post came across as overly sensitive and obnoxious, most reading the post as a sign of her inability to handle negative reviews.

    I was surprised and happy to see the outpouring of support for bloggers in the comments section of this post. It’s nice to know that there are many authors/agents/etc. out there who understand the role we fill – which is not objective marketing but subjective response.

    • Kim February 12, 2011, 4:06 pm

      Trisha: I got to be a combination of amused and frustrated, the more I thought about it. I think this author’s opinions are starting to be in the minority when it comes to working with bloggers, but it makes me sad they still exist.

  • Aarti February 10, 2011, 3:29 pm

    It’s interesting that she has now deleted all comments from the post. So clearly, she doesn’t want to have a discussion- just wants to use her blog as a way to vent her frustration without allowing anyone else to put in their two cents. THAT is pretty unprofessional, in my opinion. Also, super-immature.

    • Kim February 13, 2011, 1:05 pm

      Aarti: Yes, that’s so weird! Clearly she’s not interested in having a conversation about the issue, which is frustrating. I’ve debated e-mailing her a link to this post, but haven’t decided if it’s a good idea or not.

  • Laura's Reviews February 10, 2011, 4:42 pm

    Wow! I couldn’t believe her post when I read it. I agree with her that you should review the blogs that are going to review your work before you ask them for a review, but I disagree with pretty much everything else.

    I think she must be writing her books for only fellow authors to read as everyone else seems to not be qualified to read and comment on her work. Her bashing of bloggers and basically calling them stupid people who can only write grocery lists was pretty harsh and unprofessional.

    Personally I love reading blog reviews or talking to my friends about books more than I like “professional” reviews. When a book really hits a chord with people and they love it and can’t stop talking about it, that is the kind of book I’d like to check out and read.

    As a blogger, I try not to be too harsh on my reviews, but I’m also honest. If I don’t like a book, I’ll say why. I may not give hard specific facts on why I didn’t like it because I may not want to ruin the plot line for those who haven’t read the book.

    I know one thing from reading her blog/rant. I will not be reading any of her novels in the future or supporting her work.

    • Kim February 13, 2011, 1:07 pm

      Laurea’s Reviews: You make all excellent points. If an author doesn’t want people who are readers to talk about their book, why write it in the first place? Her lack of research and then sour grapes because she didn’t like the results is not especially professional behavior, either.

  • Darlyn February 11, 2011, 3:13 am

    As a book blogger, I find it difficult not to be offended by her comments. I read the whole post, and found the part you quoted particularly offensive. When you write a book, you can’t expect everyone to like it. As Meg Cabot says, writers are not dollars bills. Not everyone will like them. So, whining about bad reviews on a blog post just smacks of immaturity.

    Also, she also managed to put down her own genre by saying that romance is predictable, ergo book bloggers shouldn’t point that out in reviews. Yes, romance novels do follow a pattern, but skilled and creative authors can always manage to create something new.

    • Kim February 13, 2011, 1:09 pm

      Darlyn: Ha, I love the Meg Cabot quote. So true!

      It seems to me if an author is going to admit her genre is predictable, it’s not a sign of a very creative author. Shouldn’t the goal be to find something new to say, or a new way of saying it, or expand out what people think about the genre you write? I don’t understand that, at all.

  • Alessandra February 11, 2011, 11:40 am

    Well, I’d think it should be basic common sense to read a few reviews by a blogger if you want them to review your book. At the very least, you’d want to know if they are interested in the genre of your book, right??

    As for writers being the only people entitled to be book reviewers, I say: “Rubbish”. If that were true, many professional reviewers who write for published magazines/newspapers would be out of a job, I think.

    Anyway, if you only want your book to be reviewed by professionals who are paid for what they do, well, why offer your book to bloggers for review?

    • Kim February 13, 2011, 1:10 pm

      Alessandra: Yes, you’d want to know if they like the genre, but also if the reviews are written in a way you respect. The one of the reviews she originally linked to are very conversational — that’s the tone of the blog. How can you read it and expect your book would get a different tratment.

      And I agree with you about professorial/writers — everyone is qualified to review books, and authors need to learn to accept that.

  • Gwen February 11, 2011, 7:37 pm

    That “author” just shot herself in the foot, I didn’t take the whole thing seriously because I felt that it was more of a tantrum of hers, not an attack on a “hobby” that I spend quite a bit of time on.

    It was sort of entertaining really, watching her lose her credibility word by word and comment by comment.

    • Kim February 13, 2011, 1:10 pm

      Gwen: The whole thing is sort of a trainwreck. It’s sad that it’s pretty similar to author meltdowns over bad reviews in the past, like no one is learning how to behave better.

  • Stephanie February 12, 2011, 5:07 pm

    Excellent post. I agree that there were some good points tangled up in the rants. Maybe she needed to take some time to cool off before she published the post!

    • Kim February 13, 2011, 1:11 pm

      Stephanie: That seems like it would have been a good idea. Posts that get written and published while upset never really come off the way the writer intended.

  • Esme February 13, 2011, 2:49 pm

    There are some valid points-do not pitch your book to someone who is not interested in that genre. However only wanting a Professional Blogger/Reviewer-anyone who has read the book is qualified to review a book.

    Objectivity-are you asking for a review or an endorsement.

    I had a personal attack from an author and was rather shocked by it-not everyone is going to like your work. For the readers that your comments reach they may choose the book in spite of your review or reject because for the reasons the book did not appeal to you it would not appeal to me.

    Whether it is right or wrong-I google book reviews that I purchase most times to see if it worth the investment of my time to read it.

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 6:25 pm

      Esme: I think you’re right about readers reading the comments of a review and seeing an author behave badly — negative reviews don’t necessarily mean readers won’t pick up a book. But nasty author comments definitely mean that I won’t.