Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Writers As Book Bloggers Do Not Mix!

I know a lot of us here in the book blogging world are writers aspiring to one day get published. And that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. But it's been a pretty constant debate as to whether writers should be book reviewers due to the fact that they're criticizing work coming out of an industry they're trying to enter.

From a professional standpoint, would you publicly talk trash about a product you buy and then go try and work for that company? Seems silly, doesn't it?

"But we're not talking trash! We're giving our honest, critical opinions on books!" I get that. Trust me. I do. I say it all the time. Give honest reviews but be sure to support your opinions.
"Even if we're writers we're readers too!" That we are but as readers, we're not applying for jobs in the publishing industry. We're just buying the product. As writers, we're vying for coveted job positions but at the same time we're shooting ourselves in the foot as we try to sell ourselves and criticize the product being produced. Seems kind of defeatist, doesn't it?

Susan Dennard lays it all out for you in her guest post on writer Regan Leigh's blog. Coming from agents and editors, why would they want to take on someone that's criticized one of their clients? Now I have heard different things from different people. I have heard of agents that don't mind a writer book blogging. I've seen agented (and in some cases published) authors book blogging) so I'm not convinced it's a hard and fast rule but it's something to take into serious consideration if you choose to intermingle your writing self and your book blogging self.

The short of the long of Susan's post is writers should write book recommendations only and leave no trace of criticisms behind them. I urge you to read the entire post and then the comment thread at the bottom. It's very informative and it provides some lovely brain fodder.
What are book recommendations? Well, only posting about books you'd actually recommend others read. For me it'd be like posting only four or five bite-rated books. And I can hear the collective community screaming now! I know. We rally against doing such a thing. But if you're a writer, this is something you need to think about. Remember, you're criticizing the product of a company you're trying to become an employee of. Would you hire you?

What I would recommend is, if you have a book blog, keep it a book blog. Do not overlap your writing with your reading. If you're super-studious and don't every want the risk of getting caught doing anything that could be deemed critical, only post high-rated book recommendations and wipe your bloggy slate of anything critical (apparently unless it's a classic, those seem to be okay to criticize). Or, if you don't want to do that, make damn sure you can't link your book blog to anything of yours that's writing related. I'm sure, on some level, the two can be connected but at that point, someone has a personal vendetta against you and you're pretty screwed anyway.

I really think this is some major food for thought, especially since there are so many writers in the book blogging world. How we are recommended to act by other book bloggers is detrimental to our writing. So do we stop book blogging entirely? Do we conform to the recommendations only method? Or do we try to split our personalities and lead multiple internet lives?

I personally do the last of those. I keep my full name off of the internet to begin with just for privacy purposes but I am a writer in one place and a book blogger here and, for the most part, the two have never met. You see me mention that I write on here but that's pretty much the extent of it. I am, however, deleting my writing person from the interspace just because it's been neglected far too long. Plus it'll tie up some of those danglies that are hanging around. I know I'm not entirely safe but I enjoy book blogging and I don't want to stop. I'll just keep my writing self to myself until the time comes when it needs to be released to the greater world.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you connect your writing and your book blog? Are you worried that the reviews you post could have an adverse effect on you getting published in the future?

15 comments:

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I'm not an aspiring novelist, so this is something I never had to consider. And I would have automatically said, "Of course it's okay to write negative reviews. Why wouldn't it be?" without considering the more complex picture.

It was the agent's analogy of one chef writing negatively about another chef's restaurant that really got me. The end goal of every professional is to support the whole industry in which he works, and sometimes that involves keeping quiet about fellow practitioners who don't really make the grade. There are other ways for people to find out about poor product, but you can be one way they find out about the good stuff.

Thanks, Donna!

Zoë said...

This is a topic that is really interesting and has had me thinking a lot lately. I have decided that as book blogging is something I enjoy right now, and that writing is something I may pursue in the future, to focus on the now. By which I mean, I'll just keep personal info off my book blog, in particular my last name. If I do manage to get published in the future then I may end up deleting my book blog, or at least I would create one with only book recommendations. I think the bigger concern is when you have a writier self (or name) directly connected to a place where you a criticising other people in the same profession which may seem a bit tasteless.

Lauren said...

This is really interesting. I'd always figured that bashing another book was a no-no for authors, but I'm surprised to realise how far it goes. No *trace* of negative opinions? Wow.

Jana said...

I am just a book blogger, but when I am reading and reviewing a MG/YA book that I just don't like I either have one of my students read and review it, OR point out that I am an adult, not the target audience, and that I can see several readers at my school enjoying this book.

Julie said...

This is interesting. I've never really thought about it, but now that you've brought it up, I agree with you. Thinking about it, it probably looks unprofessional if a writer looking to get published has a book blog, but that's just my opinion.

Just like you, I like to write, but that's about it. I'm not looking to be published or anything.

Lisa Potts said...

Interesting post. I hadn't seen Regan Leigh's article yet.

I'm a writer who reads a lot, as most writers do, but first and foremost I'm a writer. I would feel uncomfortable trashing a book, which is why I only do "recommendations" on my site. It goes back to that old adage "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all".

There are plenty of book bloggers out there to give a full range of reviews. I'm not trying to compete with them. I'm promoting books that I've read and loved written by authors that I sometimes know personally or professionally. It makes no sense for me to rip a book apart if there's a possibility I might be working with its author or agent at some point in the future.

That's not to say I never hate a book. I just don't discuss it in print.

Jessi E. (The Elliott Review) said...

Thanks for posting about this. It is something I definitely needed to hear about.

Donna said...

Ultimately I think book bloggers that are writers should do what they want to do in terms of reviewing. As a reviewer, I wouldn't feel right posting only super positive reviews. Actually, I'd feel downright uncomfortable doing that. Since this is a straight book blog, I'm going to continue doing what I'm doing and just tidy up some loose ends I have behind me.

Steph Su said...

Sigh. I saw people talking about this on Twitter a couple days ago. Honestly, it makes me uncomfortable. It's a kind of self-silencing that I really don't like. Of course I'm not advocating going out of your way to express how much a book didn't work for you. But as a book blogger, I want to hold to my honesty policy as much as possible.

Have there been times when I've held back from publishing a review of a book I was sent for review because it was going to be a critical one? Yes. But while the idea of publishing only four- or five-star books is appealing in a way (I hate when I have to publish critical reviews as well), I think we also have to take into consideration what will best benefit the ultimate consumers of the book: readers. Disagreement by the absence of a voice is the kind of dissent that drives men and women attempting to navigate the nasty waters of dating crazy: doesn't everyone just want people to say what they really think, no more beating around the bush and trying to think of the most polite, least politically incorrect way of expressing themselves?

Part of what I wish to do as a book blogger is to break down the assumptions that those who are less exposed to the plethora of YA might have about this genre: namely, that A) it is brainless, wish-fulfillment fluff with no literary merit, and B) that it can continue to be thus because the target audience is not as intelligent as, say, a "real" reading audience. As such, I'm going to note when I found the writing lackluster; why would I let that fact go, when my ultimate wish is to somehow contribute to the increased quality of YA lit? And yes, the people who have assumptions about YA also include professionals in the industry. Somehow people still believe that Twilight-esque books will be a bankable hit with readers, when in fact we are getting smarter, recognizing cliches and tropes, and demanding higher quality among our fiction. I say that my position as an honest book blogger is to make sure that neither side of the book industry gets complacent about the quality of YA lit and the intelligence of readers of YA lit.

This attitude of mine, then, transfers to my writing. I don't care if I can write a splendidly cliched paranormal romance, the kind that sells millions of copies, because if I can't respect my own writing and what I stand for, then I have compromised my identity. And if an agent or editor is concerned about the stance I take on issues that I am passionate about--literary quality over bankability, for example--then obviously that agent/editor and I are not right for each other. Have agents dropped their bestselling authors for the authors' blatantly immature behaviors online? I don't think so. We all want to make a living, sure, but the idealist liberal arts student in me refuses to compromise my integrity for the sake of money. Just like an agent or editor can separate an author's bestselling works from his/her personality, so I feel like any writer deserves that consideration as well.

Mmm, I might have to write a blog post about this soon too. And I might copy most of my comment over, just to let you know. I will link to your post, of course. Thanks for making me think about this! :)

Vicki said...

I commented on someone else's post about this the other day, stating that I wasn't too concerned about authors blogging about books (other than their own). So long as they were tactful in their criticisms, I didn't see a problem with it. The way you word it, however, is making me re-think some things.

I get what you're saying - going into a job interview (aka sending your work and profile to agents/editors/publishers) with negative notes about current workers and/or job conditions is simply illogical. You're never going to get the job/offer with that on your resume.

And yet, I won't even consider stifling my opinion. I feel I owe it to myself and my readers to post my honest opinions, with the reminder, of course, that they are opinions and may differ from their own. Censoring and/or banning myself from my blog just doesn't gel right with me.

Thus, I'm seriously considering taking down anything revealing my full name...and possibly even my photo. Then again, I'm not really a serious writer at the moment, so I might hold off... It's definitely something to think about, and I might get my readers thoughts on this (with a link back to you, of course) soon.

BooksforCompany said...

l will never be a writer but l still try to write any negative reviews in a nice way and l do feel if a author/blogger writers a 'negative' review it doesn't necessarily have to be a bad review just because they didn't enjoy it. l will probably never write a review for a book l hated though.

Donna said...

I'm in a similar predicament. The last thing I want to do is temper my reviews. I feel that's just doing a disservice to my readers. I'm known for my honesty and I'm proud of that. I understand where editors and agents are coming from in terms of taking on someone's work that they represent but I've seen already published authors do far worse than criticize a "co-worker's" work. They're not dropped like a bad habit on the first offense, though (although they might be if they develop a reputation of being difficult).

Should writers who express their feelings about a particular book in a critical but constructive way be blacklisted automatically? I don't think so. I find it ironic that writers are forced to censor themselves in a medium that consistently rallies against censorship. I don't like one of the 900 titles the publisher put out this year and I said so in a concise and critical manner. Okay. That's going to be held against me? It seems a little on the petty side. I'm not criticizing the company itself. I just don't see eye to eye with the particular editor that acquired that manuscript.

If one of my bosses asks me to examine something and I say I don't like it, but I say exactly why, I'm not getting fired. If someone tears the shit out of the thing, okay. Different story. But to be able to have mature conversations about a book with people is something I don't think should be denied to anyone.

But the censor thing bothers me and it looks like a bit of a double standard. I think it does go beyond professionalism. There's being professional and then there's just staying quiet. The two aren't always synonymous. I can professionally disagree with someone and that shouldn't be held against me. I'm not going to stand here and say I'm right and you're wrong. I'm just going to respectfully disagree.

I see both sides of this argument. I wouldn't want to hire someone that's so openly critical of a product my company sells. But at the same time a publisher isn't a company with just one single product. It's one with thousands of different products a year. Is every employee required to absolutely adore each and every one of those products? Are they barred from talking ill about any of them? I don't think this is as black and white as some make it out to be. There are varying levels of how critical something can get.

Wings said...

well im screwed...i have done ok at keeping my personal life and my blogging life separate entities...but when it comes to my reading and writing life there is a lot of crossover.

and some of it still links to my personal stuff...if you google my full name it will inevitably lead you to my book blog.

i have considered writing under a different name anyway...but i suppose that wont help the damage i have already done when it comes down to it.

i dont slam authors...i slam books though, i am honest when it comes to thinkgs boring me, being irrational or anything along the lines of "i don't like it'

my dream of being published is still so far away as it is that i probably shouldnt even worry about it now...and try to keep everything as separate as possible.

Cheryl said...

I haven't seen any blogs where writers bash other writers. I am not a writer, just a reader. I love reading and blogging and leave the writing to others!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I'm back and I've just read all the comments!

Donna, I think you have a point about the difference between being a professional and just keeping quiet. The chef analogy that grabbed me in the article you linked doesn't apply so well when we're not talking about chefs and restaurants but about authors and publishers. There is something really cliquish about this rule to write only "recommendations" and no negative reviews--and I've seen it a lot in religious publishing.

There's a joke in a certain religious circle that you can tell which popular author penned the latest book just by going over the blurbs on the back. The writer whose recommendation/name is missing is the author of the book. =P Yes, they're that tight. And it does water down their credibility as "recommenders" (I guess we can't call them "reviewers") whenever they all write another glowing blog post in praise of a colleague's book.

The irony is that they do this to help each other because they fear that a single critical review of a colleague's book will hurt the whole collective, when the reality is that all the positive reviews are undermining the quality of their writing just as much.

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