Jules Jones

Yog's Law: Money flows *towards* the author

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julesjones
Well, I now know not to ever read a live-blogging review of one of my books... It wasn't one of my books that got eviscerated over at Dear Author this weekend, but it was a book by someone I've known a long time. It makes it rather more flinch-inducing than if it had been a stranger's book.

I'm not sure what to think about this, partly because I can't be completely detached over this particular example. I'm of the general view that authors need to learn to deal with critical and even abusive reviews (and to understand that the two are not identical), but I think live-blogging reviews have the potential to cross the line from snarking the book to snarking the author even when the reviewers are normally very clear on the difference, simply because they are immediate and off the cuff. I rather think that the best thing to do is to stay well away from one if you've got any emotional involvement at all.

ETA: This thread is now on screened comments which will be unscreened as and when I am around to do so, and disemvowelling will be applied if it becomes necessary. I apologise to those commentators who can disagree without being abusive, but some of the private email I'm getting suggests that it's now attracting drive-bys.

If you have come here from somewhere else, understand this: I am not a member of the Cult of Nice. I do not think readers should adhere to "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" when discussing books. I do think that authors should consider whether they can handle adverse comment before reading it -- and that the particular form of comment I referred to up there has the potential to get under the skin of authors who are normally able to deal with adverse comment.

If you are reading that last sentence in the original post as anything other than having an implied "lest ye be tempted to be stupid in public" clause, and you post a comment, you may not get the reaction from me that you were expecting. Whichever side you think you're on.
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I think Dear Author do actually stay the right side of the line most of the time, which is why I was rather taken aback by the way some of the comments were so gleeful about attacking the author and not just the book.

I suspect that part of the problem is that there isn't such a clear delineation between original post and audience commentary when they're doing it that way. And because it's live, there's an egging-on effect.

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Moderating the comments would change the nature of Dear Author in ways that would completely shift the community and I really don't think that's something Jane wants to do, let alone is able to do, considering she does actually have a life outside DA. FWIW. YMMV, obviously.

You're treading on thin ice here. I've seen you participate in *much* worse sporkings of other authors -- and yes, it was personal attacks on the author and not just the book.

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Not just on your own LJ -- on other people's LJs. In a thread that included something that was decidedly close to the line on incitement to go and tell the author to her face, which is why I remember it.

As a Dear Author reviewer, I have to say, No, I'm not. While I felt--well, there's an Afrikaans word "skaam" which is kind of embarrassed, kind of guilty, kind of full of schadenfreude--when I reviewed The Curtis Reincarnation, my first review of a not-good book, I tried to be honest, tried to be forthright, and tried to talk about the good as well as the bad. And I wouldn't have joined DA if I didn't think that the other reviewers had the same ethic. ::shrug:: Sorry you feel differently.

Sarah, I think the DA group are honest, decent reviewers who try very hard to write a review that is useful to readers -- of which I am one. I wouldn't participate in the comments there as much as I do if I thought there was any malice in the main posts.

bittermint, note that I said that authors should not read live-blogging reviews, not that reviewers shouldn't do them. My concern here is that there is a different emotional tone to them, and I think that they have the potential to unpleasantly surprise authors who would normally not have a problem with Dear Author's posts.

The Curtis Reincarnation

lakeaustin

2008-12-11 03:45 am (UTC)

Oh really? I quite liked The Curtis Reincarnation. Goes to show everyone has different tastes and standards. And -- we have to keep in mind that a review - no matter how professional or well-intentioned or ethical the reviewer - is one person's opinion.

It scares me this type of blog... it seems to me that they are searching for the bad and not for the good. I know that maybe I can be considered naivee, but I don't like this type of drama, I think that only lead to make suffer someone. Elisa

I feel ignorant, but what is live-blogging?

It seems to be rather like watching people having a chat, in a chatroom, but it takes place in a window which opens up within a blog post. Once the conversation's finished, the blog readers can still scroll through a transcript of it.

Question: What's the difference between the ad hoc conversation in the DA live blogging and the cover snark on the SB's (which I've seen authors participate in quite readily)?

If that's a serious question rather than being snarky -- that's one of the things I'm trying to work out. Because it *did* bother me more than the cover snark does, and I know some of the people whose covers have been snarked.

I think some of the difference is that there isn't such a clear line between editorial and commentary. The main posts on SBs are generally pretty clear that unless it's self-published, the author *isn't* responsible for god-awful covers. (And I know from being on the inside that sometimes the authors are screaming even louder about the covers than I've ever seen on SB.)

There's also a pile-on effect, which lord knows you can see in ordinary comment threads, but it feels more immediate reading that transcript.

I'm *not* suggesting that authors must not participate out of solidarity. I'm suggesting they check their skin thickness before reading, because there is something about that format of post that I found made it much harder to shrug off, even though I'm a card-carrying member of the Grow Some Skin Club.

Oh, it's definitely a serious question.

But the parallel relationship I'm thinking of is not focused on the author and reader -- it's author/reader and cover artist to author and reader.

In other words, covers are snarked on the SBs without any regard to the cover artist and whatever amount of work, talent, and artistic effort went into designing those covers. And no one complains. Yet I'm relatively sure that cover artists have feelings, too, and that some, if not all, of that snarking might hurt those feelings.

So authors may cringe at what they believe to be bad covers, but readers cringe at what we believe to be bad books. But if we cringe in a way that hurts author feelings, we're mean, we're insensitive, we're not respecting the many hours of artistic labor, etc. that went into the book.

So, yeah, it seems a bit ironic to me that authors can freely snark covers and then wonder why readers think it's okay to snark books. I'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but I think there's a bit of a double standard at work here in terms of how readers are *supposed* to treat books (always remember that someone worked hard to write them) that doesn't apply to how authors and readers are supposed to view covers (as if they simply emerge and we can judge them without considering the feelings of the cover artist).

I don't care whether DA is to anyone's particular taste (although I had a momentary crack up at the idea that Karen Knows Best is considered a less biased alternative -- and I don't mean that as an insult to KKB at all, since she's very up front about her approach and takes responsibility for her presentation) -- that's for each person to decide. I'm not particularly swayed by arguments that it's okay to cruelly deride authors on a locked LJ that is merely semi-private, while it's not okay to say certain things on a public blog where at least they're not being said *behind someone's back*, but okay. What bothers me is the idea that I sometimes get that authors are the only ones who have feelings that should be respected. That bloggers and readers and cover artists and editors and anyone else is fair game but authors aren't.

And FWIW, I met Janssen at RWA and she seemed like a very nice person. I wish I had liked her book more. Although the cover was stunning and at least 50% responsible for me buying the book (I liked the clever riff of the title, too).

it seems a bit ironic to me that authors can freely snark covers and then wonder why readers think it's okay to snark books. I'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but I think there's a bit of a double standard at work here

I think it depends on the kind of snarking that's done of the cover. Sometimes there are really obvious problems with the cover e.g. a heroine with three arms. There are also well-known problems with the models depicted on covers not matching the characters as they're described in the novels. Then there are more subjective, but still what I'd think of as fair comments about whether it looks as though the heroine's neck is broken, whether it really makes sense to depict the half-naked hero and heroine getting passionate outside in the snow/ on the edge of a cliff/ in a boat that looks as though it's about to capsize. That's not so very different from a reviewer pointing out plot inconsistencies.

Some cover snarks maybe do go beyond that, and maybe they stray into personal comments about the artist, in which case maybe people should start thinking about the artist's feelings and refrain.

Anyway, I think it's a fair point to raise the issue of cover snarks, but it's not an all or nothing issue. Just as people might accept fair, rigorous, even highly critical but non-personalised reviews based on a reading of a significant proportion of the text/all of the text, they might consider it fair to snark covers in some ways but not in others.

Another group of people who haven't been mentioned in all this are the cover models. I'm not particularly keen on snark which seems to be critiquing the bodies of cover models. That's partly because I think that in contemporary society there's constant pressure on people to have particular shapes/sizes/colours/ages of body but also because cover models have feelings too, and personally, as I've mentioned elsewhere, I have sometimes found it rather upsetting when what's being snarked is a physical feature which I share with the cover model in question.

Although there were a couple of comments directed at the author, IMO most of them were not at all aimed that way. Which is one of the reasons I thought of the cover snark, because IMO those conversations are often more about riffing off of everyone else's comments than off the cover itself (which is how I read the live blogging).

Your point about the cover models, though, is very compelling, because I think we tend to view the images as entirely separate from the person posing for the picture, and yet those images are probably the most *personal* of any aspect of the text.

Ah, I'm following your line of thought now. Sorry about that -- I've seen enough people saying that other authors mustn't join in because it's mean to the *authors* being snarked that I automatically thought along those lines. I'd say pretty much what dr_laura_v has said.

I've winced at some of the commentary on cover snark, because I thought it occasionally crossed the line into personal abuse of the artist, but I don't feel a need to say "Don't look, because you'll be tempted to get into an argument" to artists. They seem less inclined than authors to respond immediately instead of sitting on their hands long enough to think about whether it's wise to do so.

I do think the live-blogging aspect carries a risk of it getting nastier in hindsight than the bloggers intended or would want, and that it's because you have that odd mix of a realtime party atmosphere together with a transcript that can be read later. I've done my share of slash turkey reads at cons, and Eye of Argon readings are a traditional staple of sf cons, but it's a closed group, with no recording. I would be very uncomfortable with written transcripts of those panels going online, much more so than I would videos. The timescale in which it's experienced as an outsider coming in later changes the emotional impact of what's said. "You had to be there at the time" applies much more in transcript form, I think.

Do you think you would have responded differently if you didn't know the author from Eve? I can only recall two comments (maybe three) that touched on the author, and only one that downright flummoxed me as to its purpose and meaning. Most of the comments seemed to me to be reactions to the snippets of text J&S posted and comments on those comments. As someone else said somewhere, the lag was so great that it was tough to keep up unless you were one of the first ten who could comment without being approved.

I think that it would have had less emotional impact, but that I would still have found it disturbing. I can't be sure of that, of course, but my reaction to it was different to the reaction I have to a negative but dispassionate review of a book by someone I know personally.

I still think that my view of it, coming in cold, was different to the way the participants saw it. Reading through it as a transcript rather than in real time, those rapid-fire reactions and comments back look like a competition to see who can come up with the wittiest remark, in a context where witty becomes snarky, and not just about the book itself.

Addendum -- the post when I first saw it *looked* like a review, not least because of the tags. If it had said up front "turkey read", which is what the transcript looks like to me, I think I would have been less bothered by it. There'd have been less of a whiplash effect.

I was told about the event while I was out having a life this weekend (Bach performance, woo!) and after a friend's report, decided not to read it.

Apaprently they didn't get the campiness at all, or simply hated that it was campy? I am curious about that.

It's been interesting seeing how romance readers react as opposed to erotica readers.

I'm not entirely sure -- I was too busy being startled to register that, simply because it was coming over to me in places as a lot more about the author than the book than I expect from Dear Author. But I gathered from the transcript plus comment thread as of this morning UK time that one significant criticism was that they felt it was erotica rather than erotic romance.

I can't comment on that, as I haven't read the book myself yet -- you know where anything that isn't m/m or gen goes on my reading priority list. :-)

*amused* So the criticism was that the book was exactly what it said on the cover: "An erotic novel." That seems to be happening a lot.

I read some of the transcript then stopped. Not my cuppa. It has nothing to do with mean-girl phenomena. I'm also very much in the camp of "put on your big girl panties" and accept the fact that people will love, hate, praise and mock the product you create. That transcript though just had a circus feel to me with a couple of ringmasters controlling it. Others may enjoy it. More power to 'em.

I started reading DA for the very balanced, straightforward reviews. They were no-nonsense and presented in a tone that was very objective, intelligent and thoughtful. I may not have always agreed with the assessment, but I respected the delivery.

Unfortunately, it feels to me (and YMMV), as if the site has lost a lot of that objective tone. It seems as if some of the Ja(y)nes now have a different goal, and that's entertaining the audience in ways that have more of the "train wreck" feel to them. If that's their current intent, fine. Their playground, and I can enjoy a good train wreck with the best of them. However, those kinds of blogs are a dime a dozen these days, and I'll miss the uniqueness of DA as it was when I first started reading there.

I now go to Karen Knows Best for book reviews (never thought I'd say that about KKB). I love AztecLady's very measured, forthright reviewing style and hope she sets up her own review site in the near futre.

As a reader, I don't have a lot of sympathy for an author or his/her editor whose product gets knocked around by the public. Comes with the territory. I've never thought of books as children. They're merchandise. However, as an author myself, I'm sympathetic because no matter how logical you try to be, stuff like that always stings, and like you, I winced at some of the stuff I read in the transcript.

It's sort of like getting a bad annual review from your boss, but instead of just you and the boss in a conference room, it's you, the boss, your coworkers and the employees of six other departments who get to hear how your work sucks.

Don't know if it helps, but because of the stir this has caused, the author's book is now on a lot of radars, so hopefully that will translate to a respectable number of sales. Good luck to her on that score.

I (the author) didn't read the transcript, though a friend gave me a summary. Didn't see the point. I don't think anyone involved was looking for the author's input!

It's actually relatively civilised compared to Fan Feuds We Have Known, though I'd still advise you not to look at it.

*heh* "I get worse wank than that with my breakfast cereal!"

I'm with Jules on this one. Compared to some of the stuff that goes on in fandom, it's relatively mild, but not something I'd curl up on the couch to read.

I've been doing a lot less blog-reading since I started a full time day job, so I don't really have an opinion on whether the tone of DA has shifted in the last few months. But yes, that's why I was reading DA religiously for a long time.

I'd expect oracne to file it under "20% of the readers will hate the book no matter what". It falls, as you say, into that area where what you know as a logical thought process and what your emotions are yelling are two different things. You learn to deal with that, or you get out of the game.

If I were the author, I'd avoid the live blog transcript. I don't think she could *learn* anything from reading it. It would be rather like stepping into a wasp nest.

I don't think many writers' books, novellas et al could withstand the word by word, paragraph by paragraph, scrutiny that this author's work was subjected to. While a book is the sum of its parts, in the end it is the whole of the writers' vision that either works or doesn't. It just seems to me there was an element of unfairness to the live blogging effort. It made me squirm.