About twenty minutes ago I found a link on Twitter to a review of the entire Downside series. This review, by Danielle at Alpha Reader.
Only the link didn’t go to Alpha Reader. It went to one of those content-collecting sites, a book focused one. That site has a Twitter account and when they “collect” a review, they tweet it, which is how I found it. Now that I’m thinkig of it I realize I’ve seen them post a duplicate of another review before, but as the review was for a site with many reviewers I thought the reviewer herself owned the “collecting” site (obviously I didn’t realize it was one of those sites) and was simply reposting her own review.
Of course I retweeted the link, thinking it was original. Immediately another reader informed me of the situation, which shocked me and made me feel ill. I deleted my tweet and reposted it with the correct link, giving credit to the actual writer of the post. By name, which the “collecting” site didn’t do; they had “Source: Alpha Reader” in the bottom left corner in a very pale gray font, which wasn’t easy to see.
That pissed me the hell off.
Here’s the thing. I’ve seen it mentioned a couple of times that writers should not acknowledge any reviews at all, be they positive or negative. And I think that’s bullshit. Why in the hell would I not give someone credit for their work? Why would I ignore it, when they’ve said wonderful things about my work, and took the time to write it all down and post it for anyone to see? When they are recommending my books to their friends? Why in the hell would I not at least give them a nod, let them know I did see it and appreciate it?
Not to mention, a lot of these reviews are incredibly well-written. These are reviewers with talent. Thoughtful, intelligent people who really pay attention to what they’re reading, who analyze it. Reviewers who really truly understand the books and what they’re trying to say, who really truly understand the characters. That’s a big deal. That’s a connection with people, a connection you cannot buy. It’s an amazing thing; it’s the best thing about being a writer, it’s the reason why most of us become writers. We want to share something, say something. When you discover that someone heard that and understood it and appreciated it, that something that means so much to you also means so much to them, that’s a big deal.
As far as I’m concerned, someone who reads my books, enjoys them, and takes time out of their day to write a review–especially a thoughtful, detailed one like Danielle’s or like any of the dozens of other fantastic reviews the Downside books have gotten–deserves credit for that. We all like web hits, right? So isn’t it a good thing to do to link to them, to encourage people to check out their blogs? Isn’t it a good thing for those who read my blog to maybe find a new reader blog they’ll enjoy? Maybe they’ll meet someone whose taste is like theirs; maybe they’ll make a new book-friend. Why the hell shouldn’t I do that? Why the hell should I ignore the hard work of someone who has acknowledged mine so kindly?
The “Terrible Fever” Goodreads group has over fifty members now (yes, I realize that hardly makes me a big name or anything, but I think it’s cool). How many of those readers knew each other before they joined up? I haven’t been reading the posts there because I don’t believe that’s my place–reviews are one thing, but discussions on forums among readers are another–but I’m willing to bet that not all of them did. That some of them met each other through that group. Isn’t that cool? Would that have happened if I hadn’t linked to the group here, or retweeted it? It’s very possible, sure, but it’s not definite.
I don’t read the Goodreads group; I don’t think it’s my place to do so. That’s a forum for readers, and they’re having their own discussions, and that’s not my business. I feel like if I popped in and started talking it might stultify the conversation, make them all self-conscious and uncomfortable. That’s the last thing I want to do. And frankly, yeah, I know there are few places that are reader-only anymore, and that it can be frustrating to have writers always popping in to comment. Yes, it’s disappointing and depressing; I am a reader, after all. I’ve been a reader all my life. But it feels sometimes like even if I’m trying to comment as a reader, I’m still not seen as one, and you know, that’s just the way it is, and it’s the price I pay for getting to do this job that I love more than anything.
Here’s the thing. I can’t email reviewers. I can’t contact them and tell them how glad I am that they caught this or understood that, or why the thing that disappointed them happened, or what the implications of the thing they’re curious about will be down the road. I can’t do that. I’ve learned that no matter how diplomatic you try to be, no matter how good your intentions are, no matter how happy you are or how interesting you think such a discussion is–no matter how much you think it would be fucking awesome to have a conversation like that with a writer whose work you read and had thoughts about–some people will always see it as an invasion, as writers butting in and trying to tell them what to do.
But what I can do is link to them. Acknowledge them from a distance. Say in my post that I loved this one or that one, that I found this line or that line particularly well-written and that I appreciated the effort that was put into it. Just as my novels are art to me, so those reviews may well be art to those reviewers, and they’ve put it out there hoping people will see it and understand it and connect with it.
Those reviews, those reviewers, those readers, are what make this whole thing worthwhile. They’re the ones who make all of the blood and sweat and tears, all of the emotional nakedness and pain, every bit of yourself that you put into your work, matter. I think they deserve to be acknowledged for that, and told that they matter. And I’m going to keep doing it.