I thought the thing that was going to get me most riled up yesterday was our exit from the European Union. However, having decided early on to focus solely on bookish Twitter and avoid the worst of the Brexit furore, I managed to stay relatively calm, if deeply saddened, on that front. Little did I expect that it would be bookish Twitter that would end up getting my dander up! (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase somewhere and never had the chance before.)
The cause of the annoyance? A tweet from an author stating that it was ‘pretty rude’ for readers to tag authors in our reviews, and that most authors are of this mindset. They must just have been talking about negative reviews, I hear you cry. You’d think so, but apparently not. It’s all reviews, and tweets about reading their books, or in any way letting them know you are engaging with them at all, seemingly. Yes, letting authors know you are actually reading the books they have written for this purpose stresses them out and they would rather be left oblivious to the fact this is happening at all – save presumably for when their royalty cheques come rolling in.
I apologise for sounding a little narked, but it’s beginning to get extremely difficult for book bloggers to know what to do correctly in any given situation these days. I mean, what is the actual etiquette for blogging about books? Any new bloggers could be forgiven for not having a freakin’ clue what authors or readers want from them, there are so many conflicting opinions and reactions out there. The fact this is happening was borne out by reactions to the author’s tweet – lots of surprised ‘really?’ type responses.
Now, I never write posts like this, by which I mean opinion pieces on book blogging. I don’t tend to engage in any controversy, because book blogging is a fun hobby for me and you can guarantee that sticking your head above the parapet isn’t the way to a quiet, happy life. There is a lot of viciousness out there, and all I want to do is spread the book love. That is it. I love books, I want to talk about them all day long to like-minded book nerds, discover new books and authors and spread the love of the books I’ve adored, support the authors I love – and, yes, tell them what their books have meant to me. I am a happy, little, sunshine-y bookworm who blogs about books for fun. That’s all there is to it. But a lot of the current negativity is taking some of the fun out of it for me, and I just wanted to talk about this a little.
Look, blogs are our personal spaces, we can do what we like with them, that is the joy of our little corners of cyberspace. But equally, it is a responsibility and, if you want to play nice with others and not be considered a douche, there are a few basic tenets of good manners we all understand. Don’t slag off books you haven’t read or were delivered damaged by Amazon. Don’t use book blogging as a way of scrounging books you have no intention of reviewing. If you volunteer for blog tours, do post what you’ve agreed to post when you’ve agreed to post it and, if you can’t, contact the organiser in good time to say why. And the biggie, the number one cardinal rule – NEVER, EVER, EVER TAG AUTHORS IN NEGATIVE REVIEWS!
Aside from these, are there really any other blogging rules? I don’t think so.
Do you have to review everything you read, good and bad, to be taken seriously? I personally choose not to write negative reviews at all. This is an individual decision based on a number of factors: 1) I’m trying to write a book and it’s HARD, so anyone who has written one and got it published deserved a round of applause, not a kicking from me, even if I hated it; 2) Opinions are subjective and just because I disliked something doesn’t mean others will; 3) My blog is to celebrate books I love, not pull others down; 4) My mother always told me, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’ However, I realise other people have a different opinion and review everything they read, good and bad. That’s fine, it’s your blog, you do you. JUST DON’T TAG AUTHORS IN YOUR NEGATIVE REVIEWS, that’s just not cool.
I’ve received criticism for this approach, mainly on the basis that a) I’m not being honest and b) people can’t tell if they agree with my reviews if they can’t read the negative ones. I disagree. a) All of my reviews are 100% my honest opinion of the book, I just choose not to share the negative ones. This does not alter one word of the positive ones, they would read exactly the same even if the negative ones were published! b) Read my review of a book you have also read, if our opinions on that gel, you should be able to tell whether our views and tastes align or not. If you can’t, no harm, no foul, you aren’t obliged to read my blog, it is entirely optional and if you choose not to, I won’t hold it against you. My reviews are there for the people who find them helpful.
Bloggers have come in for a lot of criticism again recently for not being ‘real readers,’ whatever that means (this is a recurring debate.) Presumably this criticism is levelled at us because somehow our opinions are skewed because we have been asked to read books in advance by authors or publishers, or been given complimentary copies for review, rather than buying them ourselves. Well, I call crap on this. All the book bloggers I know are the most avid and passionate readers out there. This is why they started blogging in the first place. They read hundreds of books a year, some gifted and many not. They buy more books than anyone else. They are absolutely readers, first and foremost, and I know that the vast majority, like me, would never contemplate writing a less than honest review of a book, just because they had received a free copy. And Joanne Harris agrees.
So, to the current case in point, is it rude to tag authors in positive reviews? I don’t think so and, until today, I have never had an author ask me not to tag them. The opposite is true, I am often asked to make sure I do tag the author and the publisher so they can find the reviews. In fact, in my experience, authors and publishers are desperate for good reviews and want to shout about them far and wide. They pay for blog tours and send out advance copies to generate them, they beg us to put them on Amazon and Goodreads to help boost visibility, ranking and, hopefully, sales. They share them to generate buzz about a book. For small publishers and indie authors, they are the most important publicity tool they have at their disposal. Or so we have been led to believe. Which is why tweets like this one are so confusing and disheartening. It feels like all the work we do to try and promote authors is being thrown back in our faces.
Reviews are for readers, we know this, but it would be dishonest of me to deny that engaging with authors is one of the highlights of being a book blogger. Being able to get to know our favourite authors and discover new ones, get advance notice of their new books, get an insight into their writing process, get to interact with them on social media, and even in person, is one of the joys of this. It isn’t why we do it, but it makes doing it really worthwhile. So for an author to tweet like this, in a way that makes us feel like an unwelcome intrusion in their day, that they don’t have room for engagement, or even want to know that their readers exist and are loving their books, and to assert that they speak on behalf of all authors – well, it’s a bit of a slap in the face. A ‘we’ll take your money but please don’t bother us’ vibe that is unedifying.
Look, when I tag an author in a post, I’m not expecting them to engage with me. Don’t get me wrong, I love it if they do, but it’s not anticipated. That isn’t why I do it. I do it so they can see the review and share it if they think it will help publicise their book. I do it so they can read it if they wish and, knowing someone loved their work, feel a bit happier and a bit like what they are doing has meant something to somebody, somewhere. I do it so the readers who do read my posts can go to their feeds and maybe find out more about the author and their work and engage with them. For me, it is about being part of a community sharing a love of books. If you don’t want to engage, that is fine, just ignore me. But please don’t accuse me of being rude.
I’m sure being a writer isn’t easy, even my limited experience so far has given me that much insight. However, insulting the very people who are your biggest fans, who are most firmly on your side and who are going out of their way to tell the world and its wife how brilliant your books are and how much they love them, isn’t the way to win friends and influence people. It’s just likely to mean the people who are most likely to buy and read your books avoid doing so. The more obstacles, insults, hurdles and criticism bloggers face for expending time and energy and love on doing something for free, the less they feel valued and and the more they feel denigrated for doing it, the more likely it is they will simply stop. Because, if it’s not fun any more, if we can’t do right for doing wrong in someone’s eyes, what exactly is the point?
There must be ways around this for authors who don’t want to be notified of book reviews. Make a note in your profile that you don’t want to be tagged, maybe? Most reasonable people would respect this, and the unreasonable ones are going to do what they want whatever you do or say in any event. Make your account private, or don’t be on social media at all if you don’t want to interact with your audience. Unfortunately, social media is not a one way street, interaction is the whole purpose of it. Just ignore those tweets, no one is going to think the worse of you for it, that is your prerogative. I fear, however, that putting your work out into the public domain is opening yourself up to some interaction with the public, however much you wish that weren’t so, it goes with the territory. It’s always a risk, a bit like this blog post in fact.
Maybe this post is unwise. Maybe I’ll get up in the morning and delete it without posting it. Maybe I’ll get a barrage of abuse, or it will pass by unnoticed. Or maybe, just maybe, it might help us see one another’s perspective. I love book blogging. The bookish community is the happiest, friendliest place I’ve found to be and I’ll keep doing it as long as that continues to be true. If there are rules I’m not following, let me know, the last thing I ever want to do is upset anyone, truly. But, until I hear otherwise, I’ll keep doing what I do, how I do it, including tagging authors in my reviews and, I hope they will appreciate that I do it, not to be rude, but because I have loved their book and I want to tell the whole world that it was great (or at least the very minuscule part of the world that reads my blog.)