What Stace had to say on Monday, January 24th, 2011
Being published changes everything

Last night I participated in #Querychat on Twitter. And one of the participants asked about her online reviews; I think it was whether she should link to her blog in a query. The agent who answered, Jill Corcoran, basically said, “Go ahead and link if you want, but it’s a good idea to take off any bad reviews of any of the agent’s clients before you do, and the same goes for editors.”

This led into quite a long discussion, in which I, of course, poked my nose.

The asker asked if by “bad” reviews Jill meant nasty/mean ones, or if she just meant reviews where they didn’t like the book. Jill and I both replied–and I believe Weronika Janczuk, another agent, joined us as well, in saying…well, yeah, even just reviews where they didn’t like the book.

The thing is, I think people tend to forget that agents sign clients because they love their work. Yes, they think it’ll sell, but that’s part of loving it. My agent? Loves my work. Likes reading what I write, and wants to read it, and looks forward to reading it (which is the way it should be). So if you hate my work because it’s nothing like the stuff you like, which presumably is the sort of thing you write…well, your work is probably pretty different from the kind of thing my agent likes, right? So there’s one strike against you.

I mentioned that I personally would be rather hurt if my agent signed someone who’d trashed me/my work, or even just said negative things about me/my work online. My friend Yasmine Galenorn agreed with me, and said she wouldn’t help that person out, either, like with a blurb or whatever. Which I agree with, as well.

The Asker was surprised. She didn’t think authors would get so angry over a bad review.

But it’s not anger. It’s not anger at all, really; I can’t think of a review of my work that’s ever made me angry, to be honest. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, and to express that opinion wherever and whenever. But…the purpose of a review, the whole reason reviews came about and exist, is to tell people whether or not they should read that book/buy that TV/use that hair gel/wear those shoes. That’s what a review is, and what it does. You may do a lot of other stuff along with your reviews, and use them to start long involved discussions, but the fact is, people read reviews first and foremost to see if the product–in this case a book–is worth buying.

In other words, you’re querying an agent whose client’s book you’ve publicly told people not to buy. If you ask that author for a blurb, or promo help, or a guest blog, you’re asking for help from someone whose book you publicly told people not to buy.

But it’s not about anger or revenge or anything like that, it really isn’t. As I said, you have every right in the world to have and share an opinion on my books. That’s not up to me. But if you didn’t like my work and then you ask me for help, I’m going to feel used. I’m good enough to help you out–to permit you to use my name to sell your books–but not good enough for you to recommend my book(s), apparently. I hate to sound like a bitch here, but why should I help you, in that case? (In fact, this very situation came up with a friend of mine a few months ago. She was asked to blurb an author who’d previously given her book a very nasty review; not a bad review, but a truly nasty one with personal comments. Do you think she agreed to blurb the book? If you guessed “Hell no!” you’re right.)

(I will say, though, that while I wouldn’t help the person sell books, I would and have still help[ed] them. I’ve had a few people over the years who were unpleasant to me personally and who later asked me for advice/help. I helped them, and I was happy to do it because I don’t want to see anyone treated badly, and I believe strongly that we should all help each other as much as we can. A little while back a small group of micropress writers decided it would be fun to say some very nasty things about me, and I saw it. I’ll help those women if they ever ask me to; in fact, I have helped them already, in several ways, though they likely don’t see it that way. But while I might give them advice about this agent or that publisher, and I certainly won’t actively work to their detriment, I’m still not going to help them sell their book. There’s a line there.)

You never know whose help you might need one day.

The Asker was quite upset about this, so it seemed. She didn’t want to post positive reviews only because then no one would trust her, so she was desperately trying to figure out how she could word negative reviews and still have a good shot with agents etc. etc. But–to get to the thesis line of today’s little post–at some point she’s going to have to decide if she’s a reader/reviewer or a writer. Period.

The fact is, when you decide to become a writer you give up some of your personal freedoms. When you sell your first book you give up even more. There’s no getting around that, and there’s no changing it. You can no longer say exactly what you think exactly the way you think it at all times. You can no longer assume that only the people you’re familiar with are reading your blog or your tweets. You no longer have the luxury of an opinion, honestly, on a lot of things.

(This isn’t to say that writers shouldn’t ever write negative reviews. I don’t believe that. But it does mean that if you want to write one, you need to be prepared for the fact that some people will not be inclined to help you or work with you after you have.)

Look at how many online scandals break out because authors simply forget where they are, or to whom they’re speaking. They mean one thing but it sounds like another thing, or their words are taken in an entirely different way that they never thought of. Or they’re just venting. Whatever.

You can do that as a reader. You can vent, you can moan, you can tell everyone that you hate Person X. Nobody bats an eye if you do so, really. But if you’re a writer and you vent, someone’s going to pick it up, and it’ll become a discussion topic. If you moan, someone’s going to think you’re acting entitled and that you’re obviously not a good person. If you vent someone is going to get pissed. That’s just the way it works.

The more books you sell, the less you’re allowed to say, at least until you’re a Name–a real Name, like more-than-three-books-on-the-NYT Name–when you’re pretty much allowed to say whatever you like again.

This is so easy to forget. Like for me, Twitter is ephemeral. It’s there one second, gone the next. And no one sees your feed unless they’ve chosen to, and you assume people choose to because they like you/your books, so you feel as though you’re talking exclusively to fans/people who like you. So it’s easy to vent or discuss something or whatever there and think of it as a small private discussion among people who care and want to be nice to you. Then you discover that no, it’s being passed around, that people are forming opinions of you–often negative opinions–based on what you said while upset, or in a mood, or shocked, or whatever.

It’s not just reviews, either, not at all. Once you become published you’re no longer free to express an opinion on a variety of publishing topics. Ebook pricing? My lips are sealed, man. Release dates? Sealed. Gossip? Sealed. Not because I’m afraid of whatever blowback there may be, necessarily, but because I simply don’t want to get into it. I don’t enjoy controversy and I certainly don’t court it; it can and has made me physically ill. (Honestly, I spent a good part of my summer throwing up because of the stress of the book releases and the mess that surrounded them, especially the first; it was extremely difficult for me.) There are writers out there who do, who love nothing more than a good debate and whose blogs reflect that. That’s fine for them.

(I’ll say this, too. Remember how we talked about how men’s books aren’t judged the same way women’s are? Ask yourself this. When is the last time you saw a statement from a man’s blog become a big internet to-do?)

It’s not just what you say, either. It’s how people take you. People suddenly read all sorts of things into your words that you didn’t mean and didn’t expect. Their reactions to you change; suddenly they’re more aggressive, or more defensive. Suddenly you have enemies when you have no idea how you got them, and don’t want them. A statement you might have made or a question you might have asked a year ago and been fine is suddenly a huge deal, and makes people angry. A discussion you might have happily had a year ago is suddenly scrutinized, and you always come off badly. Any sentence can be taken as you trying to push your books on people or make yourself look good, or will be seen as hypocritical just to suck up to someone.

When you do offer an opinion, it’s assumed that you expect your opinion to be more important than that of others, even when that’s not at all the case. I think that’s the hardest thing, really; realizing you can no longer just hang out and chat, you have to be ever-vigilant. People will act friendly when they’re not; they’ll be nice to you because they want something.

There is an out. You can post anonymously/pseudonymously. I have a pseudonymous account on a science fiction/fantasy site/forum, where I get to just…be one of the gang. It’s really fun, and they’re great people. Some of them know who I am and some don’t. It doesn’t matter. They just like me, and I like them, and it’s fun and a relief to be there (although I’m still careful what I say). I used to occasionally post pseudonymously on another site as well, simply because I didn’t want it to look like I was trying to plug my books. But that gets tiring too sometimes, honestly. It’s hard when people are talking about, say, what they’d love to see in UF, and your book is exactly that but you can’t tell them because if anyone finds out it’ll look like you’re sock-puppeting to sell books, which is tacky beyond belief. It’s hard when you try to explain something to someone–maybe someone is shilling a vanity press, say, and you try to refute them–and you get a “What the fuck do you know, I’m an expert. Oh, suuuure you’re NY published. I totally believe you.”

I’m not saying any of this to complain, I’m really not. Although it can be very confusing and depressing, and although it’s weird to suddenly feel like people you don’t know are paying attention to you/what you say and do like you’re some fucking celebrity or something when you’re totally not, I’m not complaining. I knew this–maybe not to the same degree, and certainly I never foresaw the changes in reactions to me–before I made my first sale, really. And I did the same things, made the same kinds of mistakes. I said things about books I didn’t like, or authors I didn’t like (I have since deleted all of that). I got involved in the online fun a little too much, and did and said things I regret doing and saying. Nothing I can do about it now; it’s my own fault.

The truth is I’m lucky to be in this position, and I know it. I worked very hard to get even the small success I’ve managed to achieve. I’m not complaining at all. I’m not saying anyone doesn’t have a right to their opinion blah blah blah, or that it’s unfair that I should have to be civilized online. Watching what you say and not slamming people shouldn’t be something people have to stop and think about; it should be something we do every day, everywhere.

But it is something I wanted very badly to get across to that girl at #Querychat last night. You cannot be a writer and a reader both, not publicly, not online (of course you can still read, you know what I mean). You cannot expect people to take your opinions as a writer in the same fashion they took them when you were a reader. Not ever. No matter how loudly you proclaim your belief in this or that, there will always be people who aren’t aware of that (or think you’re lying) and so take your words badly or in a way you didn’t intend. No matter how hard you try to be kind and helpful, there will be people who think you’re just doing it for show. No matter how reasonably you attempt to present your opinion, there will be people who think you’re just an asshole writer who doesn’t care about anybody else. No matter what, there will always be people who refuse to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Yes, part of this is simply the way of life. Especially today, when forgetting other people are human beings with feelings too and not simply toys for our amusement seems to be, if not the norm, all the rage, and when lots of people consider a good afternoon’s entertainment to be sitting in front of their computer judging others harshly, secure in the knowledge that they themselves are faultless and have never made a mistake. We all have to be careful, all the time.

But it is a bit harder for writers, and I do believe that. And it’s something anyone wishing to be published needs to be aware of, and prepared for. Being published changes things. It changes your life. The loss of some privacy and freedom is part of that.

You need to decide which matters more to you.

70 comments to “Being published changes everything”

  1. Lillian Grant
    · January 24th, 2011 at 3:22 pm · Link

    Well said Stacia. Things posted on the net live forever and sometimes you need to think before you hit send. If you want to be a writer you have to remember you essentially are part of the product and act accordingly.

  2. Ann Aguirre
    · January 24th, 2011 at 3:25 pm · Link

    I agree with most of this. The one thing that I question is deleting everything you ever did before you got serious about publication. To my mind that smacks of hypocrisy, like you’re trying to cover your tracks or something. If I said something in the past, then I meant it then. People change. So do opinions. I’m not the same person I was five years ago. I think it would be more harmful if someone managed to find a cached version of something that an author was trying hide and then ran to fandom wank with it. It’s simply in your archives you can say, “Yes, I said that five years ago. I wasn’t writing full time. Since my priorities have changed, so have my opinions.” And you move on.

    • Stace
      · January 24th, 2011 at 6:52 pm · Link

      Huh. I never thought of it that, way, Ann, I actually just thought that I’d hate for someone–especially someone I now know, someone who’s been kind to me–to stumble across it and be hurt. I don’t think of it as hypocrisy so much as “Wow, that wasn’t right of me to say.”

      I haven’t deleted everything I ever said; I’ve left most of it up. Only things that I really think in retrospect were too harsh or whatever.

  3. jim duncan
    · January 24th, 2011 at 3:40 pm · Link

    This was great, Stacia. Hope a lot of folks get over here to read it. I haven’t even had my first book come out yet, and I feel the difference. While a part of me certainly would like to be, “I should be able to say whatever the hell I want,” it’s a simple fact that it will nearly always bite you in the ass. Point of the matter is though, people like and are more drawn to other positive people. And as a writer, you want people to think about you in a positive light, assuming you want to build a readership and sell your books. Bad-mouthing anything, even with good reason, will invariably get some other folks thinking you’re an asshat. It’s unavoidable.

    I reviewed your book because, first off, I enjoyed it, and I wanted to test out a different style of review purely for the sake of generating a little discussion. Building an author blog is all about inviting discussion and getting readers involved. I won’t ever put up a bad review, if I do indeed decide to review any more books. I’m not a reviewer, so there’s no reason for me too. As a writer, I’d rather promote other books I think are good reads. I don’t have time to waste on the negative stuff.

    Anyway, great, thoughtful words, Stacia. And good luck with book 4!

    • Stace
      · January 24th, 2011 at 6:55 pm · Link

      And that’s very true, too. People just don’t tend to form a good opinion of those who are always negative, always nasty, whatever.

      I think talking about books and talking up books is great. And I think there are a lot of topics that can be covered within that, you know? Nothing says you can’t have opinions, just that you should be careful.

  4. Kalayna Price
    · January 24th, 2011 at 4:07 pm · Link

    Well said.
    This is something all of us run into, I think. It’s hard to remember that anything we do or say becomes part of our public personality. Being courteous is the easy part. The hard part is anticipating how what seems like an innocent topic will be interpreted down the road. In this age of twitter/blogging/facebook, there is a lot of pressure to portray a ‘real’ person behind the books, but not too real. It’s almost ridiculous how little things can become huge decision. For example, on sites like goodreads/shelfari and such, if you keep a book list, do you mark the five star books you really love so people know? But if you do that, then what does it say about all the books you don’t rate. I’ve also used a pseudonym to just ‘blend’ and be a reader sometimes, but like you said, that comes with it’s own issues. Anyway, I’m babbling.

    Good post!

    • Stace
      · January 24th, 2011 at 6:58 pm · Link

      And that’s very true, that’s the hardest part. A comment that to you seems light-hearted, even funny, can be taken so differently. So personally. A throw-away sentence or opinion on something, a joke, can suddenly become a huge deal.

      There’s this demand for us to interact and make ourselves available, and when we do we’re analyzed and picked on. And it’s not like a celebrity; when somebody writes something nasty about Jennifer Aniston in the tabloids, Jennifer can comfort herself with her millions of dollars and millions of fans. We don’t have that. We don’t have that kind of support or reassurance. When someone trashes us it just feels like everybody hates us and we’re worth nothing at all.

  5. Marie
    · January 24th, 2011 at 4:07 pm · Link

    These more philosophical/life lesson blog posts that you write sometimes are always my favorites.

    I don’t think it would have really occurred to me that what you have reviewed in the past might be a problem if it means you’ve written negative comments about your prospective agents’ choices, so thank you for explaining that.

    But when it comes to the less freedom of speech for published authors, I completely agree and I have a strong opionion about that. I’ve seen writers throw negative comments around about other writers’ work, and it always leaves me with a bad feeling. It makes the commenting writer seem petty and jealous, and it certainly doesn’t make me want to read those writers’ work.

    Being a Twilight fan has lead to me “suffering through” a lot of criticism of the books from all places. I realize that a lot (maybe a majority) of writers don’t like the books as such, and that is fine. I can see where the criticism comes from, and agree with it to some extent. But if, for example, an author I like, or whose books I’m planning to buy, would refer to Stephenie Meyer as a talentless hack who couldn’t write to save her life, when I know how the books enthralled me, then I am less likely to read that author. Again, it only makes that author seem petty. As a customer, I’m less likely to buy a book from an author I dislike. And it is not good business practice to insult your readers, or the reason the reader discovered you in the first place.

    Stephen King is one of those “names” you mention. He has probably earned the right to say or do pretty much anything he likes. But again, when he publicly basically called Stephenie Meyer a hack, I found it lacking in taste. Especially given the fact that people have been looking down at his writing simply because he has focused on writing genre fiction. He had bestsellers, but was looked down upon by critics. If you have faithful readers, who love your work, you must be doing something right.
    Now, I like Stephen King’s writing, and have read several of his books. But he no longer has any goodwill with me.

    Of course this is all from a reader’s perspective. I’m just saying that, like you pointed out, people should show more respect online, and maybe sometimes stop themselves and think if this is something they would have the guts to say to the person’s face. I can’t imagine it being very fun if the writer you’ve trashed in an article is on a convention panel with you. But I guess it depends on what kind of person you are.

    I don’t like controversy either. I prefer if people are civil to each other, and respect others’ opinions and tastes. With writers’ blogs and twitter feeds, I think they, as writers, need to be careful with what they say (as we all need to, really), and realize that anyone can read what they’re writing.

    Stacia, I know you did a blog post where you asked us how we view Twitter, talking there as well about how it’s ephemeral to you. I didn’t comment on that post, but what I wanted to say was that I don’t agree with that. I don’t know if you’ve changed your views, but as I see it, Twitter, like every social network has the possibility to be permanent. People write things, then change their minds and delete it, but someone has always managed to save it or get a screenshot of it. It is pushed down your timeline, but someone has favorited the tweet or made note of the permalink. It’s always there.

    Again, thinking about what we write online is something we all should do.

    Thanks for writing posts that make me think! 😉

    • Katie
      · January 25th, 2011 at 10:16 am · Link

      I really enjoyed the QueryChat and thanks again for particpating. This posting speaks volumes to how I’ve been feeling about this new techology for a while. Somewhere along the line, I think people decided that things put into cyberspace just bounced around and never hit anything so they could run off at the mouth. I see this especially in younger people. Somewhere they missed the manners lesson but many adults are offenders too. I think reviews should be honest but they don’t have to be cruel. Writers are people first, with feelings and are most of the time already freaked out because they are opening themselves up in a raw and naked way by pouring their heart out on the page. Freedom of speech? Of course! Freedom to be a dickhead just because you can? Uh…no.
      I’m commenting on this feed because I too USED to be a huge Stephen King fan. Up to a few years ago I’d read every word the man had written. Now I’m not saying SM is the most awesome writer in the world. I really enjoy all her work but, best writer ever, no way. More than anything else though, you do NOT sell over 116 million copies of ANYTHING if you are as awful as King’s comments made her out to be. The man used his postition and popularity to run another writer into the ground and that is so not cool.
      So my point is this, now I don’t BUY SK books anymore because I don’t like him as a human anymore. I still think he can write, but I won’t be reading it. So who did his snarky review help? No one, bad tastes in mouths all around and less denaro in his pocket from me. This tweeter should as you suggested seriously decided her postion before writing crappy reviews.
      Sarah Crowe (agent and writer) posted a great challenge for 2011. Keeping things positive and I totally agree with this. You can dislike something, but it’s all in the way you present it. Words like hate though, I mean that word is never constructive to anyone and not one that I use if possible.
      For my piece of the world, I’ll be pushing as much positive into every world I shoot out into it, always have. I don’t claim to poo rainbows and sunshine but I’ll be doing my part not to run folks into the the ground either.
      Hang in there Stacia! Lots to think over here and we will all be holding you up come next release day :)

      • Marie
        · January 25th, 2011 at 4:22 pm · Link

        YES! Thank you!

  6. Audrey
    · January 24th, 2011 at 4:28 pm · Link

    Stacia, I really enjoy reading your blog and postings on forums. You definitely give readers food for thought. Thanks.

    • Evil Wylie
      · January 24th, 2011 at 5:08 pm · Link

      So you’re NOT going to blurb my next book after I called you a f***ing piece of ****ing s*** in a **** *****er?

      • Evil Wylie
        · January 24th, 2011 at 5:08 pm · Link

        Whoops. That was directed at Stacia, not at Audrey. My bad.

      • Stace
        · January 25th, 2011 at 10:07 pm · Link

        I dunno. What are you willing to *cough cough* DO for me?

  7. Michele Lee
    · January 24th, 2011 at 5:50 pm · Link

    This. So so very this. Ever since my first piddly little novella came out I’ve been stuck on the edge of should I keep reviewing (which does earn me money, and has been very good as far as establishing myself in the genre I write in) knowing that it might also be keeping me from where I want to be. Also I’d like to point out that bad/nasty reviews aren’t the only way to get stalled. I know of one editor who won’t publish me because of a critique in a crit group, and at least one other at one point mentioned that I was more useful as a reviewer who generally liked what they published than as another writer to be published.

    I think that hurt more than I won’t publish you because you gave me a bad review would.

    Right now I still don’t know what to do. I don’t have a NY contract, I don’t do snarky reviews, reviewing gets me paid and I just learned that my coworkers at the day job read my reviews so it really helps the day job and my coworkers there too.

    I can’t right now justify not reviewing entirely. But I’m definitely moving toward not posting negative reviews unless I’ve been obligated in some way. Having to choose serious freakin’ sucks. But you’re right, some day I’m going to have to.

    • Michele Lee
      · January 24th, 2011 at 5:52 pm · Link

      Oh, I wanted to add, because some of my biggest head butts have come from critique groups it also led to me dropping out of several of those. What do you do about that, when you’re still at a level where you need a second opinion, but don’t have an agent or editor to turn to?

  8. BernardL
    · January 24th, 2011 at 5:55 pm · Link

    A writer’s livelihood depends on selling books to everyone and anyone. You’re right Stace in that sales for your books depends on a very un-opinionated presence in the public eye. That unfortunate fact does curtail an author’s right to speak out. It resembles a self induced exile.

  9. Phoebe
    · January 24th, 2011 at 6:12 pm · Link

    Hi Stacia,

    I’m both an aspiring writer and a reviewer, and I’ll say at the outset that I’m almost positive that at the end of this, we’ll be agreeing to disagree, even passionately. I’ll also say that my feelings about reviewing are constantly evolving and changing, even though I feel pretty stridently about it.

    I come from a different background than some other commercial writers: academia, specifically the world of YA literary criticism and literary poetry. And so I find peer-review, literary criticism, and open debate to be very, very important to the way that art evolves. I realize that this also means that I read, and receive, criticism and critique, even in public, different from the way that some commercial writers might. While there’s a difference between a slam and a critique, I go into the critical writing that I read assuming it comes out of a place of love, of a desire to stimulate discussion and improve art. Yes, even mixed, or negative reviews. I don’t think such reviews are “mean”–even if I understand how and why other writers might feel differently.

    I think it’s interesting, particularly, that you bring up the scrutiny that women-writers face in blogging. In addition to my fiction and critical writing, I also proofread for a pro-speculative fiction magazine. Every week I dutifully proofread reviews, including the bios of reviewers. In the SF community, it is incredibly common for writers to pen reviews (and few reviews we post are unabashedly, unilaterally positive), and most of these writers are not Stephen King–though they sometimes have a few books behind them. This is also true in literary fiction. However, the communities of writers I’ve seen react most passionately to the idea of writers reviewing other writers tend to be communities dominated by women, namely, the YA and romance-writing communities. Why is that? Is it because women are expected to maintain appearances of getting along?

    For me, it’s not an easy question of deciding whether I’m a reviewer or a writer. For me, it’s a bit like asking me to choose between my cat and my husband–which is to say, my love for my cat is lesser, of course, but I’m not going to give him up easily. I’ve compartmentalized genres of writing before (namely, to stop myself from being a SF writer back with I was trying to be a literary poet) and it didn’t work; it made me feel unhappy, and like I was not being true to myself. I find my critical reviewing–with public feedback, in a way that forces me to clarify and defend and sometimes even change my position–to be key to my development as a fiction writer. Ironically, it’s also led me to professional contact with writers I admire and opportunities to have a wider platform with both kinds of my writing. I met my bestest critique buddy through reviewing. I wrote my first guest blog on critical reviewing. I exchanged my first friendly emails with a published writer about one of my reviews.

    But I know, of course, that this can have an impact on my professional career. In graduate school, I studied under a poet known widely as “the most hated man in American poetry” for his snarky, cutting reviews. And he’s gotten death threats from Pulitzer Prize winners. People often–wrongly!–think he’s an asshole. I realize that my critical work opens me to being seen that way. Hell, I’m sure there are people who think I’m a bitch and who wouldn’t blurb me floating around the internet right now.

    But I also feel I have to be true to myself. Like I said, my position on reviews is always evolving–I’m open to one day having a conversation with an agent or publisher who asks me to cut it out, and I can see someday making a decision to no longer pursue critical work. But for me, it’s important that the decision takes place from a place of discussion, and a place of conversation, and a place of respect for critical work, too.

    Anyway, I hope you don’t mind that I weigh in. I often feel that a lot of these discussions don’t have the perspective of fiction writers who have written extensively from a critical standpoint–fiction writers who love reviewing, too.

    • Phoebe
      · January 24th, 2011 at 6:20 pm · Link

      Oh, though I must add that I disagree with the idea that negative reviews discourage sales, having bought quite a few books based on negative reviews; I’m of the (small) camp that believes any press is good press.

      • Stace
        · January 24th, 2011 at 7:00 pm · Link

        I didn’t say negative reviews discourage sales. What I said is that a negative review is the reviewer advising/encouraging his or her audience not to buy a particular book.

      • Phoebe
        · January 24th, 2011 at 7:07 pm · Link

        Ah, my apologies for putting words in your mouth, then. Though as someone who has written negative and mixed reviews, I actually feel that a good critical reviewer is doing something more complex in negative reviewing: exploring the intersection between their own tastes and whether a work satisfies them. A good negative review will show you just as clearly who will like a book as who won’t–and I’ve actually recommended books that I disliked to readers who I knew had very different tastes than mine.

        But, like I said, it’s likely that we’re inclined to disagree on this.

    • Stace
      · January 24th, 2011 at 7:25 pm · Link

      I don’t think we’re actually disagreeing, to be honest. You’re saying that to you any backlash you may suffer–any writers who won’t want to blurb you or help you, any agents or editors who won’t want to work with you–is worth it. That’s fine. I don’t feel that way. I can share my negative opinions with my good friends or family.

      I’m not actually part of the romance community, since I don’t write it. I write fantasy, and most of my friends are fantasy writers. I’m not aware of any of them who write reviews, actually (I know a few who have on occasion reviewed something, but none who do it regularly as a reviewer, which means having a review blog or whatever. That’s what I’m talking about here); I’m aware of a few micropress or smallpress writers who do, but not any NY-published. But I certainly don’t know anywhere near the whole community. I also know the rules as far as reviews are different–not a lot, but a bit–once you actually do become published.

      Like I said, you’re free to believe and feel whatever you like, and to do and say whatever you like. I just personally know the feelings of myself, my friends, and the people I’ve run into, spoken to, or worked with.

      I’ve written friendly emails to reviewers, too. I’ve become quite friendly with a few reviewers, actually, and quite like them, even if they had critical things to say about my books. But these were generally still overall positive reviews. I’m not talking here about a review with a few negatives. I’m talking about a “This is boring, with dull, unlikable characters and a plodding and difficult-to-believe story. I also found the writing poor and unskilled,” review, one in which the reviewer genuinely did not like the book and is not saying anything–or not much–positive about it.

      I just think that before you’re established, it’s a good idea not to piss off or alienate people who could potentially help you/your career. If you disagree, fine. It’s your career; you handle it however you like.

      • Anonymous
        · January 28th, 2011 at 4:45 pm · Link

        As an anonymous reader/blog lurker, I wanted to add my thoughts and say that I understand the repercussions of writing/receiving negative reviews for published authors. Makes sense that many authors stay away from it. BUT, I am incredibly grateful to have stumbled across Phoebe’s blog by way of this comment thread. I will be checking it often. I’m so glad that someone out there will write actual honest, critical, thoughtful reviews that are more than just happy-sauce advertisements for author friends. As a reader, it’s hard to find any negative or mixed reviews on blogs. I don’t want to waste my time reading a book that’s bad or that just isn’t suited to my taste. It’s just nice to occasionally read something that’s about striving for excellence in art rather than shilling or back-patting.

        Personally, authors should just start calling their incessantly positive reviews what they are: advertisements. The word “review” has a connotation of criticism and analysis, meaning that it might be positive or negative. An advertisement is simply meant to sell. That’s what most default-positive author reviews are. So let’s just call them advertisements, marketing copy, whatever, but not reviews. And…. done anonymous rant. :)

  10. Alexandria
    · January 24th, 2011 at 9:23 pm · Link

    When is the last time you saw a statement from a man’s blog become a big internet to-do?

    I’ll answer that in one word: Scalzi. His post about how people who say they /want/ to write but never find the time to actually /do/ so aren’t writers certainly set a lot of people off, including on Absolute Write.

    Other than that, I agree with the post wholeheartedly. :)

    • Stace
      · January 25th, 2011 at 10:10 pm · Link

      Yeah, but Scalzi is deliberately inflammatory. I thought of him, too, but I think in his case it is different, since that’s what he goes for, you know?

  11. Cheryl
    · January 24th, 2011 at 9:26 pm · Link

    “I know of one editor who won’t publish me because of a critique in a crit group,”

    Wow. That makes me want to never crit on AW again. Or any blog.

    • Michele Lee
      · January 24th, 2011 at 11:04 pm · Link

      That just proves Stacia’s point thought because it does happen. As much as you say well you don’t really care, or you have a thick skin, or you don’t really want to be associated with people who would do that kind of thing in the first place (you in the generic “us” sense, not you specifically) it always catches you by surprise.

  12. Cathleen Daly
    · January 25th, 2011 at 3:00 am · Link

    Wow. That was really insightful & helpful, my first book was just released a couple weeks ago. Thanks for posting.

  13. Betsy Dornbusch
    · January 25th, 2011 at 9:22 am · Link

    First of all I read “Sex-Writing Strumpet” in two nights and it’s really fun! Like like like.

    Secondly, I hear you sista. It’s one of the reasons I don’t do (many) book reviews, even on Goodreads, I just star ’em and move on.

    I’ve had to temper what I say over the years as my career’s grown. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t just go back and get rid of my blog (though it’ll still live in the aether somewhere–important to keep in mind. Google Cache can be a good and a bad thing). Try being an editor! It’s even tougher. I sit on panels and people look at me and write down stuff I say! The pressure! I mean, what if I’m wrong? (Which I’m sure I am some of the time.) I’m very dedicated to helping writers, especially beginners. The worst thing I could do is steer someone the wrong way or ever make them feel bad!
    (I’ll say this, too. Remember how we talked about how men’s books aren’t judged the same way women’s are? Ask yourself this. When is the last time you saw a statement from a man’s blog become a big internet to-do?)

    In this case, I think women are our own worst enemy. Not like some guy hasn’t said “oh God, she’s just bitching again”, when a woman is giving a valid opinion. BUT I think women are the main perpetrators of making other women look bad. It’s a competition/clique thing that I can’t stand.

    I really try hard to just go around and act as nice as possible, and keep in mind that what I do isn’t rocket science. I’m not curing cancer. I’m just writing stories. I know a ton of really famous writers and generally, they are the same way. Writers are among the nicest folks you can meet, though there are exceptions of course! I also try hard to be super honest in fiction and lie only by omission in my other writings. Even my blog has a truth disclaimer!

  14. Jen
    · January 25th, 2011 at 5:03 pm · Link

    I saw the discussion on #querychat and it got me thinking about my own reviews that I’ve posted. Your thoughts specifically had me looking at them from a different light and I wanted to say thank you for pointing out another view. After some debate with myself I’ve come to the conclusion that I agree with what you are saying, and made the decision to change my way of reviewing. Even though what is said can lead people to form inaccurate opinions, there can still be some good from giving your opinion (in a tactful and professional manner). Thanks again!

  15. Brian F.
    · January 25th, 2011 at 6:44 pm · Link

    “She didn’t want to post positive reviews only because then no one would trust her…”

    I know several reviewers who, in the interest of not promoting negativity, have said, “I’m only going to talk about books that excite me.” I think that’s completely fair and if you say that on your blog, then that negates the trust issue. In fact, I made that decision a long time ago. I don’t review every book I read (I would go mad) and I only talk about books that really, really excite me. But then, I also don’t consider myself a reviewer.

    I can understand where the “no trust” perception comes from. The idea being that, if you’re afraid to note any flaws with a book, you’re not being objective. I think it’s possible to say good things about a book and also apply a fair, critical eye. I appreciate a reviewer who can pinpoint exactly what areas of a book they had problems with, moreso than the people who just pour on mounds of hate with little to no justification. I tend to ignore those kinds of “reviews.”

    What you have to watch for are places that only do positive reviews because they’re paid to do so. That’s where there can be a trust issue. If they review every book published that month and they’re all ***10 stars out of 10*** OMGOMGOMG! type reviews and they received a fee from a publisher or the author…well, that’s when to turn on your skepticism.

    Your most salient point is that, as an author, you might give up some freedoms. Some choose not to. Some say whatever they want and whatever they want. (Many of these people also suffer from a slim readership.) I’m stunned how few people realize that putting anything out on the internet–blog, tweet, Facebook, comment–is a public statement. You might think the blog is “locked” or the Facebook account is “secure” but I’d be willing to be that, in the interest of increased readership, you let almost anyone be your friend. And you don’t know who your “friends” are friends with. Say the wrong thing about an author in a “locked” blog, and if your “friend” is perhaps a REAL friend of the author, it’ll get back to them. Guaranteed. And if you weren’t brave enough to call that author out in an unlocked blog, it only looks worse that you’re sniping behind allegedly closed doors.

    So, yes. Writers: watch what you say and about whom you say it online.

    • Tahlia
      · January 25th, 2011 at 7:31 pm · Link

      The quality of the review is the important thing. I can review a book that I don’t personally like but still give it a 4 or 5 out of 5 because I can still see that it is a good book. Personal taste is not a reason to mark down a book. The best reviewers say what’s good, what’s not and who will like a book. Good reviewers don’t get snarky and rude. Anyone doing that will get a slap back one day and rightyl so.

  16. Julie
    · January 25th, 2011 at 6:49 pm · Link

    Great post and insight. I know some get upset thinking they can’t voice their opinion without backlash, but that is the way of the world. Time and perspective make it easier to swallow and truly we can’t have it all ways. I agree, be a reader/reviewer or reader/writer. Both come with pros and cons. Truly though, if you really have a passion to be a writer, getting rid of some negative reviews is not much of a sacrifice to do what you love. Believe me, there are plenty of reviewers left out there to make up for the writers. 😉

  17. Dawn
    · January 25th, 2011 at 6:49 pm · Link

    Thank you thank you thank you. Yes. This. Exactly.

    Hence why I decided to wipe all my GR reviews –ALL of them–and promote the ones I truly loved on my site (drive traffic to me *and* not be negative? Win-win!) I’ve had author friends confused about the move and I determined that I was a reader, not a reviewer, and knowing how much work went into a book automatically disqualified me from having the luxury of opinion on what makes a book publishable or not.

    I’m a Pay It Forward person. You never know how helping people can come back to you in wondrous ways…just like how bashing people can come back to you in not-very-nice ways. That’s not revenge or cliquishness, that’s just common sense and karma.

    Thanks again for writing this!

  18. Guinevere
    · January 25th, 2011 at 6:52 pm · Link

    Interesting post. I personally can see an issue with a writer “trashing” another writer’s work. I don’t review books that I really dislike – although that’s pretty rare for me anyway – but I do sometimes criticize aspects of a book. I don’t consider saying, for instance, “This book has a great plot and characterization, but some stiff dialogue,” to be telling people NOT to buy a book. It would take some pretty extreme circumstances for to ever recommend against buying a particular book; even if I see an issue with a particular part of a book, it doesn’t mean that other readers won’t enjoy it. So would that be held against me?

    I guess it just really bothers me that writers would have a kneejerk reaction to ANY criticism of their book. I find it hard to imagine any writer who genuinely disliked another’s book (forget saying so on the internet) would then ask that person for help – what would you gain from a blurb, for instance, from an author who’s writing you don’t even like? Although I guess people can be pretty obtuse, so maybe that would happen.

    But the general idea of writers carrying a grudge because someone said there book wasn’t perfect is a disturbing one to me. Having a book published doesn’t mean you’re a perfect writer; you’re still an artist perfecting your trade, no? Why would any of us be that sensitive?

    • Stace
      · January 25th, 2011 at 7:36 pm · Link

      It’s not a kneejerk reaction. As I said in the post repeatedly, it’s not about anger or revenge. It’s not a grudge. It’s just about having to pick very carefully who you have time to help, because your time is very limited, and given the choice you’re going to choose the one who didn’t say anything negative about your work.

      And as far as asking a writer whose work you genuinely disliked to blurb you, and what you would gain from that blurb… Um, how about exposure to their enormous audience, and their name on your book cover? There are only so many big names in every genre, and you bet your ass I and every other writer in the world would be happy to take a blurb from someone whose work we personally think is shit on a cracker if it will help our books succeed.

      THIS IS A BUSINESS. We are trying to sell our books. Period.

      And if we want our books to sell, we often need and want a helping hand from those above us, because they have an audience and we don’t, and a lot of people in their audience will listen to them, thus buying our books, thus giving us sales and our own fledgling audiences.

      • Guinevere
        · January 25th, 2011 at 8:18 pm · Link

        I would think that, while there are only so many big names, there are enough that you wouldn’t ask authors you don’t even respect to give you a blurb.

        Authors certainly have the right to help whoever they want to help; they don’t owe other writers anything. And I certainly agree with you that people should be careful what they say on the internet; I will never understand how rude many people are on the web, as if their words are somehow less relevant here than in real life.

        But I don’t think that pointing out a flaw in a work is the same thing as attacking an author or saying that others should not buy that book. I’ve never said anything to trash another writer, but now I’m wondering if when I gave overall positive reviews with some criticism, those authors would theoretically hold that against me. When I honestly think a book is bad, it’s not something I want to review.

        I guess my big issue is one of degree. If someone says a bunch of disparaging things about an author, that their book sucks and their hair is ugly, then I think a) that’s not a very helpful or intelligent way to critique and b) that person would have to be crazy to ask that author to help, and I can’t imagine how Turn-The-Other-Cheek awesome you’d have to be to help them as the author in question. But if authors read one negative thing about their book and are like, “Well, you’re on your own forever SUCKA!”, then that’s disturbing to me.

      • Stace
        · January 25th, 2011 at 8:23 pm · Link

        Aaah, you’re operating under the mistaken assumption that authors are the ones who handle blurb requests etc. We’re not. Editors do that, generally.

        My time is limited. I cannot help everyone. If I have a choice, in my free fifteen minutes a day, to help someone who loves me/my work as opposed to someone who’s said negative things about me/my work, which do you think I would choose?

  19. Tahlia
    · January 25th, 2011 at 7:17 pm · Link

    This is quite a relevant and useful post for me at the moment. I’m an, as yet, unpublished writer and I wasn’t going to do reviews on my blog until people started giving me their books for free in return for reviews. I realised this was a huge responsibility.

    I don’t do many, but when I do, I have to be honest. However, I decided that I won’t publish a bad review. I want to help other authors, not hinder them, but at the same time, I won’t promote a writer whose work isn’t up to scratch.

    I still give the review to the author, the idea being that it might help them for next time, but recently I had a very irate self published author who didn’t see my feedback that way. She got quite threatening and that made me realise that I have to be careful, that there are some nasty people out there who will twist your words & enjoy trying to knife you. I’ll be more careful in future.

  20. Maria
    · January 25th, 2011 at 8:14 pm · Link

    Well, let me see… I’m brazilian and here the things work a little different (first, my english is not so good, so, I’m sorry if you don’t understand). The publishers here prefer the truth and the book blogger opinion. I’ve wrote a lot of positive and not so positive reviews too. And, as far as I’m concerned, they prefer like this. They are not paying me for publicity or wathever. They are giving me the book to show my opinion – positive or not. As a reviewer, it’s my job show the positive and negative points of every book I review. Even if I loved it! And because of that I am working now in a publisher group as critical. I’m reading the books and telling them what’s good and not – the same way I did at my blog, for free. They saw my posts about their books – sometimes not so positive – and they came to me.
    I know, it’s hard to see a negative review, but it’s also part of your job.
    I think authors and also book bloggers are guilty in this. When all this started, bloggers were looking for free books and authors for free publicity. So, time pass and the authors gone to comodity. And bloggers started to being questioned by their readers: “Why are you always saying good things about books? You never see anything bad in that books? I can’t trust you.” A bunch of them started to make negative reviews just for “fun” and know, is everybody sad – all the sides.
    Point out the negative points of a book doesn’t means it’s a bad book. And that you didn’t like the author. I’ve said a lot of bad things about books that I love – just because any book is perfect! Simple like that!
    I’ll be published soon and if someone tells me that my book is perfect, I’ll never believe in this person.
    A work of art is hard. Writing is a very hard occupation, I know it for sure. The edition process is very painful. And when you finish your book, you just want everybody saying that it’s perfect! But you and I know it isn’t. You just need to take it easy, hear the negative and positive reviews and don’t care to much for it!

  21. David Macinnis Gill
    · January 25th, 2011 at 8:16 pm · Link

    Excellent post. It’s a must read for published writers and for anyone in the middle of querying. There is nothing wrong with posting only positive reviews and keeping the negative responses to yourself. Being a blogger doesn’t mean you’re writing for the NY Times and have an obligation to be snarky, I mean, balanced.

  22. Rachel
    · January 25th, 2011 at 8:46 pm · Link

    What a very insightful post and discussion. I agree with so much of what you say here. It’s a very delicate balance between being able to speak freely and voice your opinion and what makes sense from a business standpoint.

    Yes, this is a business. It’s very hard for those who are readers (and even writers and reviewers) to think of books as a business. As readers we see these books as a way to escape, to learn, etc. And writers, while most love what they do, also hope to at a minimum sustain themselves/make a living.

    And the industry while vast is also a community. Without other authors who will read your books and offer critique or help promote your work it becomes that much more difficult to get a footing.

    Almost everything that’s put in words on the internet, can (and most likely will) be stored and regurgitated at some point, so however outraged or silly one is feeling at that moment it may very well be thrown back in your face at a later date.

    Regarding the reviews, there is some debate. If you are a young reviewer who has perhaps not thought through things thoroughly or imagined the repercussions, ten years down the line I’m not certain how much they should be held to their earlier statements/comments/criticism.

    But I do agree that reviewers should think about their negative reviews before just putting them out there for the world to see. It’s one thing to say that they didn’t enjoy something, but that others might, it’s altogether a different animal to say something “sucked” or that “anyone who likes this book is an idiot.”

    As I don’t work in the publishing industry I’m not sure how much of an impact offering up helpful criticism in the form of a “negative” review would be a few years down the road. At that point the author may agree that the critique actually helped them make a stronger character/plot/story and those “negative” comments could improve sales for future books.

    But everything that is said online will leave an impression that will potentially have a ripple effect. Even comments to a post.

    Thank you for this post it offers a lot to think about.

  23. Kathryn Smith
    · January 25th, 2011 at 8:58 pm · Link

    Great post! I used to review before I sold, and had to make that very decision. Afterward, I met up with authors whose books I reviewed — some not so favorably. They were uncomfortable and so was I, but I was prepared to take my lumps. Still, you have to be one or the other. You can’t play the game and be a commentator too.

  24. Emily Gale
    · January 25th, 2011 at 9:09 pm · Link

    I’m going to have to stick my neck out here and say that I disagree with this mentality and I think it’s a real shame if agents and editors use opinions on their clients’ work that have been published online as a ‘strike one’ mechanism against potential new clients. I don’t see how this follows:

    “So if you hate my work because it’s nothing like the stuff you like, which presumably is the sort of thing you write…well, your work is probably pretty different from the kind of thing my agent likes, right? So there’s one strike against you.”

    Disliking one book is not a test of one’s overall taste, necessarily, but a unique, personal reaction to that one book. I like reading YA chick lit, amongst many other things, but sometimes I find a book in that genre disappointing. That has nothing to do with my own work (which I also find disappointing sometimes!). Similarly, if someone hated my book, but had written something superb themselves and my agent wanted to represent them – I’d say go for it! I’m not saying I’m not hurt by bad reviews, but I certainly wouldn’t want my agent to give it a moment’s thought and put a black mark against someone who has been faithfully blogging for years.

    I currently work for an agent (who, incidentally, rejected my book a few years ago…I got over it) and can honestly say that if the manuscript gives me goosebumps, I couldn’t care less if the writer had given me 1-star on Goodreads or wherever. It should be separate. It’s not war, it’s only publishing.

    Thanks for letting me have my say.

  25. June
    · January 25th, 2011 at 10:19 pm · Link

    I was sitting in on that #Querychat the other night and decided to check out that “askers” site. I quite liked it and she seems to give honest and well-thought out reviews. It seems a good resource to get an idea of what a book is like, but there are some in which she isn’t a fan of the story 100%.

    I have some idea of which you speak. Last spring, I won second place at a writer’s conference. There was an agents panel and they had an American Idol style contest with first pages and your query. I made it the last round and even though I wasn’t the first place winner, it was shocking how some people behaved.

    People who had ignored me and had even been rude were asking me to go to lunch and fawning over me! It was a real eye-opener into how people perceive so-called “celebrity”. It was fairly disconcerting. Your post confirms my impression. I had no idea it could be so extreme though.

    I appreciate your honesty. It sounds almost scary. People don’t always think rationally, and with so many people trying to get published, it appears those who “make it” have to tread carefully *sigh*

  26. Layla Messner
    · January 25th, 2011 at 10:53 pm · Link

    Writer or reviewer. This makes so much sense.
    Ironically, I suspect a lot of aspiring authors, thinking that it’s important that they start a blog and gain readership for it, feel they should be writing reviews. I know I’ve thought this at times. I just read this book, I /should/ post a review on my blog. Or, I should post another blog post about how-to-write, even though that’s not really what I’d prefer to write about. I mean, this is what writers are /supposed/ to blog about, right? (Rhetorical).
    Also, I only like posting positive reviews. I’d rather focus on what I like, and if I didn’t like a book, why would I spend more of my time focusing negatively on it. Why not just read books I like?
    So, it’s refreshing to hear that I’m not failing in my aspiring-author duties by not posting “unbiased” book reviews.

  27. Katie D
    · January 25th, 2011 at 11:21 pm · Link

    Both this post and the follow-up ones are fabulous, Stacia! It very much speaks to my split personality in the publishing world :) When I restarted my libraryland-oriented blog, which is oriented to my specialty of reader’s advisory, I struggled with also semi-formally reviewing books again. I’m up front about being published in fiction, and, knock on wood, I haven’t gotten any flack for my reviews, such as they are. However, I think the point of view in my reviews strongly reflects the librarian angle I’m coming at them from. It’s not a review from the average reader. I make a point to discuss the type of reader into whose hands I would put the book. When I send my current WIP out into the world, things may change, but I hope not. The line between my two professional lives is very blurry, but I hope that people do understand there is a line between them for me.

  28. Jenn Bennett
    · January 26th, 2011 at 1:42 am · Link

    I used to review books on my blog, but now I’m gunshy. I’ve never reviewed a book I hated—never even a book I wasn’t recommending—but I have said a few stupid nitpick-y things that I later regretted or made me wonder if the author took the wrong way.

    I dunno, I think it’s normal to get caught up in that *I’M KING OF THE WORLD!* feeling when you’re blogging about other books. It’s your domain, so you can say what you want, right? And who’s really reading this crap anyway? (Everyone, that’s who.)

    Before I sold to NY, I thought Professional Writer equated to Career Freedom—the opposite of my former corporate life. Wrong. You play the same games. Would I like to rant about how X book disappointed me? Sure, but I don’t.

    You’re completely right, Stace. Reviewer or writer: pick one, and face up to any bad choices you made in the past with as much grace as possible.

  29. Stacey May
    · January 26th, 2011 at 2:26 am · Link

    What an interesting debate, I’m just a UF reader and I don’t really get into the whole blogging thing but I love Stacia Kane’s books so I like to visit her site regularly , and I find this debate so intriguing; so I suppose from a readers POV all I have to say is;

    “You attract more flies with honey”

    I suppose being a writer is just like any other business and I would not want to go around making enemies with fellow colleagues (especially the ones who are successful and one day you might need their help). Be careful about you public persona and the way you conduct yourself within your field. I’m a nurse, a totally different world (you can tell by my shitty punctuation and grammar) to the one of writers and publishers ect, but this still holds true.

    Which is not to say that we should not review books, of course not!, everyone is entitled to their opinion but if you’re a writer or an aspiring one then I guess there is a fine line between constructive criticism/ honest reviews and “this book is totally shit, no plot blah blah blah…”

  30. Lynsey Newton
    · January 26th, 2011 at 12:08 pm · Link

    This has to be one of the scariest posts I’ve read in a while, especially as I’m a book blogger and aspiring author. I’m lucky in the sense that I’ve always been acutely aware of what I say and how I say it but this post has still got me thinking. Am I really going to have to choose between reviewing and writing? I hope not. I just choose not to review books I didn’t like.

    Thanks for a thought provoking albeit scary post. I’m still not sure what I should do about it but I will resolve to think about things a bit more carefully.

    • Kathryn Smith
      · January 26th, 2011 at 12:31 pm · Link

      Lynsey, believe me when I tell you I understand, having been in your situation. While I certain can’t force you to do anything, I urge you to give up reviewing if you sell your book. Why? Because it’s a conflict of interest, plain and simple. It would be like Nicole Kidman (or any actor) becoming a film critic. You cannot win.

      A few years ago All About Romance let it be known that they had an author reviewing for them under an assumed name. A lot of people were upset by that, mostly because they felt an author shouldn’t review.

      However, there’s nothing to stop a published author from recommending books to her readers. You could approach it that way — as a segment on your site dedicated to books you’ve read and enjoyed. Believe it or not, there is a definite line between reviewing and recommending.

      Just my strong opinion, which you are welcome to ignore, but when you have this many authors coming forward telling you the same thing…

      • Layla Messner
        · January 26th, 2011 at 12:58 pm · Link

        “It would be like Nicole Kidman (or any actor) becoming a film critic.” -> this example really does make it clear to me.

        And I LOVE the idea of a “recommendations” section. I think that sounds way more fun than reviewing anyway.


  31. Julie
    · January 26th, 2011 at 12:49 pm · Link

    Jeaniene Frost did a nice blog post on reviews. It made sense to me then and fits this convo well: http://jeanienefrost.com/2011/01/on-reviews/

    She’s a very famous author, not much would hurt her readership I don’t think, and she still agrees with being careful about reviews. I do like the point made about the difference between reviewing a book and recommending a book to others.

    Again, I don’t see why it’s such a hard thing to swallow if becoming a published author is truly your passion. But, I’ll leave it at that and those that are published, are walking in the author shoes, and have made a success of a profession difficult to get into do the talking.

    • Kathryn Smith
      · January 26th, 2011 at 1:10 pm · Link

      Julie, you’re right that most things wouldn’t hurt Jeaniene’s readership, but that’s not all you have to worry about. This is a business with high turnover and people are always changing jobs. You don’t want to be known amongst your peers as someone who slags other authors and their work. This isn’t just about reviews, it’s about being careful about what you say period.

      Before I was published I knew of an author who was quite big at the time. She visited a message board I frequented. One day someone brought to my attention a secret message board this author had started with some of her fans. On it, they made fun of several people from the other board — one of them was me. It hurt.

      When I sold a couple of these ‘fans’ tried to fawn over me and I really wanted to tell them off, but I didn’t. The author is no longer writing, and a big part of me believes that it’s because she was such a cow.

      You never know when that author or agent you dissed could become an editor at your dream house. You never know when a remark might make you the target of a flame war. I’m not saying you can’t say something like, “I don’t care for so and so’s books.” But that’s about as far as you should go if you’re a writer (or want to be one) and want to avoid having anything come back to bite you on the keister.

      God, I’m babbling. Please excuse me! I really should get back to work, but this conversation keeps sucking me in! lol. Damn you, Stacia Kane!

      See, now Stacia could become a big shot editor some day and reject my book. :-)

      • Stace
        · January 26th, 2011 at 1:13 pm · Link

        Oh, don’t worry, Kathryn, that is totally my plan. You know how much I hate you and your work. MUAHAHAHAHAHA!!

  32. Emily Gale
    · January 26th, 2011 at 3:25 pm · Link

    Just wanted to reaffirm that my point was not that authors should be encouraged to write nasty reviews – I don’t write reviews, I don’t even like Goodreads – but that people who have reviewed in the past should not be penalised for it, which was the original point, ie. I don’t think they should be squeezed out on account of their taste.

    I sincerely hope that this mentality won’t mean that reviews become so acutely ‘careful’ that they become a nonsense.

  33. Kathryn Smith
    · January 26th, 2011 at 3:33 pm · Link

    Emily, I don’t think anyone would accuse you of suggesting authors write nasty reviews. I know I didn’t take your words that way. You are right that people shouldn’t be penalized for their reviews, but they are. I know this because I saw how authors reacted to me once they realized I was the one who had reviewed their book – and hadn’t liked it. I reviewed for a site that has a reputation for being nasty. Was I encouraged to be nasty, no. But the vibe was there. I didn’t take shots at the author, but I was vocal in my dislike, and then I had to face that author. It took a long time for some of the authors I came in contact with to trust me because I used to be a reviewer for ‘that’ site.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with reviewers having to become so careful. They don’t — provided they have no intention of ever trying to get published. That’s the point of my argument; if you want to be published, save yourself a lot of hassle and give up reviewing. Because you will eventually find yourself in that kind of situation when you question your reviews, especially as you build a relationship with authors. editors and agents on your quest to move into the publishing world.

    • Emily Gale
      · January 26th, 2011 at 3:59 pm · Link

      I see where you’re coming from, Kathryn. I’m just truly shocked that it’s one of the tools that agents use to wheedle out people from their slushpile.

      Then again, there are some people who think that as an author I shouldn’t be working for an agent – conflict of interest?? – but I don’t see that at all. I love finding new talent, it’s a huge buzz, and the suggestion that I would pass on something because it dented my ego is so far off the mark.

      Thanks for the debate :)

  34. Weronika Janczuk
    · January 27th, 2011 at 12:23 pm · Link

    Stacia, this is a wonderfully written post.

    Thank you for it.

    • Megan
      · February 4th, 2011 at 4:25 am · Link

      Weronika, I would be so interested to know your reaction. Will you take this up on your blog?!

  35. Tamara
    · January 28th, 2011 at 11:17 am · Link

    Last year, I made a pledge to never publicly review a book or movie. My decision wasn’t made to serve my career as a would-be writer, but because after I finished my first manuscript, I had a better idea how much work goes into a story–any story–and I realized I would sooner criticize the attractiveness of a person’s human child than the worthiness of their art.

  36. Unpopular Opinion
    · January 29th, 2011 at 3:25 am · Link

    I don’t think I quite agree with you here. I think the idea that authors should basically stifle their opinions once becoming published is a bit ridiculous. We’ve got to separate books from authors in some cases. If I didn’t like your book, that doesn’t mean I have something against you as well because I don’t know you. I think the fact that so many people will only mention positive reviews tends to put auhtors in the mindset that no authors in the world will dislike their book because authors have to stick together (or something), so when they are presented with some author who disliked it (and I’m talking about a negative review on the book, not a completely hateful one), they tend to take it a little personally. Also, if an author were to write a hateful review on someone’s book, and then proceed to ask said author a favor, that’s just hypocrisy on their part. If I really didn’t like an author, no matter how famous, I wouldn’t ask them for any favors.

    I don’t know, I think authors should realize that not everyone’s going to like their books. And I know that a lot of authors say that they understand that, but then they act like wounded animals when they get a negative review, no matter how mild. Publishing is basically giving everyone the option to love or hate your book, and publishing is like like letting your small child go on the monkey bars, where they could possibly fall and get their knees scratched.

    I just find it a bit ridiculous that some people will totally write off someone because they have a different opinion than them/they haev a negative opinion on something in general. I was going to mention something about SK here, but he attacked SM rather than her book, which is a lot different. I wouldn’t stop talking to someone because they didn’t like blue, just as I wouldn’t stop talking to someone because they didn’t like a book I wrote. Yes, I’m aware that sounds ridiculous, but that’s the point, haha.

    Yeah, sorry this post doesn’t actually make much sense. I don’t usually post on these things as I’m terrible at putting my thoughts together to a point where they sound coherent, but something urged me to.

    • Stace
      · January 29th, 2011 at 5:08 am · Link

      I think the idea that authors should basically stifle their opinions once becoming published is a bit ridiculous.

      So do I. But I also know how it feels to get attacked for having opinions. I also know that I spent my summer puking because of those attacks. I also know how I’ve felt the last few days over all of this mess.

      I’m just passing on my experience, how it feels/felt, and what happened to me and those I know. People are free to think whatever they want and do whatever they want. I’m certainly not stopping them.

      I think the fact that so many people will only mention positive reviews tends to put auhtors in the mindset that no authors in the world will dislike their book because authors have to stick together (or something), so when they are presented with some author who disliked it (and I’m talking about a negative review on the book, not a completely hateful one), they tend to take it a little personally.

      1. I think there’s not an author alive who believes that no other author dislikes their books.

      2. I think lots of people, in lots of professions, take criticism of their work a little personally, no matter how much of it they get r from whom it came. Why should writers be any different?

      Also, if an author were to write a hateful review on someone’s book, and then proceed to ask said author a favor, that’s just hypocrisy on their part. If I really didn’t like an author, no matter how famous, I wouldn’t ask them for any favors.

      Authors don’t necessarily do the asking when it comes to blurbs etc.

      And so, some people are hypocrites. Again, why should authors be any different from the rest of humanity?

      And I know that a lot of authors say that they understand that, but then they act like wounded animals when they get a negative review, no matter how mild.

      Some do. Most of us don’t.

      I just find it a bit ridiculous that some people will totally write off someone because they have a different opinion than them/they haev a negative opinion on something in general.

      Nobody said anything about “completely writ[ing] someone off.” Further up in this post I clearly stated that negative reviews/comments/whatever wouldn’t stop me from helping an author or giving them advice. It just means I won’t let them use my name to sell books if I decide I don’t want to, or if I have the choice between them and someone who is a reader of mine, say, and therefore someone to whom I feel I owe something, or actively want to help.

      I wouldn’t stop talking to someone because they didn’t like blue, just as I wouldn’t stop talking to someone because they didn’t like a book I wrote.

      Nobody said anything about stopping talking to someone, either, although I’ve never heard an author tell a friend of theirs that they didn’t like their book. Even if we didn’t/don’t. It’s just generally not something you say, because doing so would be rude.

      Thanks for the comment! (BTW, I deleted the comment you left on my other post using a made-up email address and different username; I don’t allow sockpuppets here.) Have a great day.

  37. Allie
    · January 29th, 2011 at 3:19 pm · Link

    Oxford Dictionaries definition:


    Pronunciation: /?d?v??s/


    1 [mass noun] guidance or recommendations offered with regard to prudent action

    (some people seem to be struggling with the concept)

  38. KB/KT Grant
    · January 30th, 2011 at 3:23 pm · Link

    And here I sit wondering what position I’m in since I’m known as both a review blogger and an author, although some may think I’m not a real author because I’m only epublished.

    I’m willing to take a chance and review and still publish and see where it leads. There may come a time where my writing becomes more important than reviewing. For now I take each day as it comes and look forward to reading and talking about incredibly awesome books. And if there are some that didn’t work for me, I’ll do the same and take that chance.

    Thanks for the post. You do bring up some very valid points.

    • Stace
      · January 30th, 2011 at 4:50 pm · Link

      See, I don’t think it’s quite the same with epublishing, (though I do think of course you’re a “real author” and of course you’re published; I don’t mean it that way at all). I think the epublishing community is both larger and smaller in some ways, if that makes any sense, and the need/desire to know other writers is maybe not as big? I don’t know exactly how to explain it. But I do know that epublished authors don’t seem to get quite the same amount of scrutiny & censure as NY published do for just their basic opinions or statements.

      I really just thought my opinion/advice might be of interest to my regular blog readers; I had no idea it was going to cause this sort of stir.

      • KB/KT Grant
        · January 30th, 2011 at 4:57 pm · Link

        I’ve written a few posts myself on this topic, not necessarily from an author POV, but more as a reviewer who makes the tough decision of rocking the boat with an honest review, good or bad, especially when you become friendly with authors and end up reading their book. You have to decide whether to post a review or not, especially if you didn’t like their book.

        I know for a fact some of my reviews I’ve posted has turned some authors off, so much so that they no longer talk to me because I was vocal about not liking their book.

        But then again, authors are kept so busy with their writing, which should become important to them because books bring in revenue for them, while reviewing doesn’t, unless you’re reviewing for a major review publication.

        Again, you’re honest and so many people are not as vocal as you are, so they appreciate it and want to listen and spread the word. :smile:

  39. Caroline Starr Rose
    · February 4th, 2011 at 5:58 pm · Link

    You’ve given me a lot to think about. Thanks.

  40. G
    · February 4th, 2011 at 6:26 pm · Link

    Interesting post about book reviews (found this through a link at Query Tracker.net).

    The one thing I think that turns me off for book reviews is when they’re 100% over the top gushers, which is something I find a lot with most types of YA books.

    While I do very sporadic book reviews on my blog (about 9 in two years), I try to find a good balance between overly gushing/fawning and overly negative/trashing, if for the basic reason of being on the receiving end of some very brutal stalking over a few of my early attempts at writing stories. The last thing I really want to do in any of my reviews is treat someone’s work like people have treated mine in the past.

    I know that a lot of time and effort has gone into creating a book for the masses to eagerly consume, so I try to be sensitive to that particular fact whenever I decide to do a book review.

    As a good chunk of people have stated, you have to be careful that whatever you decide to write does not come back to bite you in the butt somewhere further down the road.

  41. Talliana
    · February 21st, 2011 at 3:27 pm · Link

    Interesting, but not surprising (it’s basic human nature, after all, and perfectly understandable).

    I both read and write. I review under a pseudonym because of the instances of authors stalking reviewers over less-than-glowing reviews (I don’t mean snarky or mean, just reviews that didn’t love the book and gave specific reasons for it). However, I have no illusions that a pseudonym provides impenetrable anonymity so a) I never, ever, review in the genre that I write in, and b) I’m very careful about negative reviews not being attacks on the author (although I realize that’s not the issue here).

    I don’t review at all in the genre that I write in because I think it’s a no-win situation whether the reviews are positive or negative. You’re passing judgement on people that you hope to one day be your peers and no good can possibly come from that. There will always be people who will find a reason to be put out, whether it is because their book wasn’t reviewed, or you liked Author A’s book more than Author B’s book, or [insert whatever reason comes to mind here].

    I have to admit to being baffled as to why anyone would include a link to a blog that included book reviews in a query letter (unless an official author blog includes book reviews and, see above, that just seems like bad karma to me).

    The other reason I am somewhat baffled (by the person asking the question, not this blog post) is that reviewing takes a lot of time. A lot of time that could be spent writing. Reading is necessary to writing, but reviewing isn’t. Reviewing takes so much time that I have pretty much given it up entirely lately in favour of writing.

    In so many ways (including ones mentioned in this post), I don’t think reviewing is worth the energy for a writer.


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