Monday, September 30, 2013

Can Writers Review Books?

Writers are in an incredibly difficult position. Most, if not all, of us started as readers. The love of story is what got us into this profession. Unfortunately, we can't talk about other writers' books without being accused of something.

I'm a pretty selective reader who delves into, well, just about anything. In fact, my only line is Christian romance, but there's always exceptions. I'll read anything Carla Rossi puts out. Not because she's a friend, but because she understands the difference between subtlety and beating someone over the head with a cross.

Which brings me to accusations of favoritism. When I said I was selective, I wasn't joking. I rarely pick up or download something that I know I'll hate. Which means pretty much everything I read will get three out of five stars or more.

Does this make me a Pollyanna? Someone who's unable or unwilling to criticize a fellow writer?

Maybe it does. But as I said on The Passive Voice, reading is a very subjective experience. Just because I don't like it doesn't mean it's wrong. All it means is that particular piece didn't do anything for me.

Have I read things I hate? Of course, but there's only one book I've read in the last ten years.that would have gotten zero stars. It was a paranormal romance where the so-called hero committed what in Texas would be a minimum of aggravated sexual assault against the heroine. I have a serious problem with rape as titillation, so the author in question lost me as a reader.

Now, what exactly would it gain me by going onto Amazon, Goodreads, etc., and blast this lady?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. In fact, I would lose in the long run.

Why? Oh, goddess, there's too many reasons to count, but I'll list a few. She's a NYT best selling author and I'm not. therefore there would be accusations of jealousy. No matter how carefully I worded the review I'd be the one coming across as a douche. Rape fantasy is the number one sexual fantasy among American women so more than one friend has questioned what's wrong with me because they thought that particular scene was very hot. Her readers may decide I need to be taught a lesson and one-star my books in retaliation.

It's the last example that brings me to the current issues with both Goodreads and Amazon. (FYI - Amazon purchased Goodreads in March of this year.) Accusations of gaming the system drove the changes to Amazon. Accusations of bullying drove Goodreads' changes.

A lot of folks are upset about these revisons Amazon made to their review policy last year. Goodreads revised their review policies on September 20th. Many readers feel the new policies are draconian and limit their free speech. The reason in both cases are abuses of both businesses' reviewing policies by both readers and writers.

Was there a happy medium before either company went Big Brother on everybody's asses?

Yes, but neither side wished to meet in the middle. Extremism has become the word of the day, not civility. Former agent, now author, Nathan Bransford tried to discuss the problem, but the comments on his blog quickly escalated into vitriol by those with vested interests on each side of the Goodreads divide. Nathan had to disable comments because things got so out of hand.

And underneath the truckloads of manure are all the people who, like me, just want a place to hang out and talk books.

Do reader's have the right to discuss why they don't like a particular book? Yes, they do. Can writers get upset about bad reviews? Yes, they can. It's what both sides do after that, threats, listing people's personal info, etc. that becomes the problem.

The whole situation reminds of why I stopped mediating divorce cases. Invariably, neither spouse was innocent. A lot of hate was spewed, a lot of ugly accusations, a lot of lies. The children were caught in the middle. Sometimes the divorcing parents could get the kids to take sides. Most of time, the kids would hate both parents by the time everything was said and done. Both parties harangued me for trying to get them to let go of their hate and come to a settlement. And both parties raged at the judge because she HAS to end this situation one way or another. Sound familiar?

So what am I going to do?

1) I'm going to continue talking about finding the new authors I love (like when I discovered Gail Carriger), new books from old favorites that I'm squeeing over ( Lilith Saintcrow's new paranormal steampunk series, the Bannon and Clare Mysteries, rocks!), and occasionally, the stuff I dislike (Star Trek: Into Darkness isn't quite as bad as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, but it comes pretty damn close).

2) I'm going to keep a close eye on comments. If parties from either side come here to continue their Goodreads feud, I will shut down comments. I've already disabled anonymous comments. There's plenty of other places in the internet-verse for y'all to rip into each other.

Civility is the key. There's no reason not to use it when it comes to books.


  1. I think writers should be able to review books, but I choose not to review fiction because of the small but non-zero chance of attracting the intention of some whack job. I don't need the drama, so... there you go. It sucks, but that's unfortunately reality.


  2. Angie, you can attract a nut job simply by existing. I know. I've attracted a few long before I started blogging or writing professionally.

  3. Sure, but reviewing fiction when you're a fiction writer is like putting peanut butter in your mousetrap. A mouse might step into an empty trap, but with peanut butter in there you're upping the odds considerably.

    And getting away from that metaphor :P you're handing the whack-job extra weapons to use against you, the whole "Backstabbing The Competition" thing you mentioned above. Whack-jobs will always claim you have a financial motive to criticize fiction that might be "competing" with yours in the marketplace, and some readers will always believe that crap. I don't need the hassle. [shrug]


  4. To continue with the mouse metaphor, I don't believe in traps. I poison the bastards.

    Above, I laid out the rules for participating in this post. I can see from the stats that more than one person had Google Alerts set up for "authors behaving badly". As I said, there's plenty of places if you want to act like a troll, My blog is not one of them.

    Well--defined rules and explicit consequences help you avoid most problems. That's something both Amazon and Goodreads failed to do from the beginning. To quote K from Men in Black, "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it." If both companies had proactive rules, i.e.a nugget of poison, instead of vague guidelines that they arbitrarily enforced, none of this virtual gang-banging would have happened.

    I'm more worried about my so-called friends than some random internet troll living in his mommy's basement. I have had trouble with a handful of "friends" sandbagging my sales. Well, they tried to anyway. *snicker*