Opinions. Everybody Has 'Em.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Reviewers Behaving Badly - The New Edition

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Writers vs. Reviewers debate will never be resolved, but will simply rumble on and on, becoming an endless - and ultimately pointless - argument as both sides continue to refuse to either listen to each other or to see their own faults in the matter. So this is my final word on it. From now on I’m steering clear of all and any debates on the subject because they rarely are anything like grown-up, reasoned debates. But before I do that, I felt it necessary to re-jig and update this post because some of the points seem to have been lost on the folks on at least one side of this fence.

Some book bloggers behave badly. Some authors behave badly. Therefore, some bloggers and some authors are ass-clowns. But not all of either are ass-clowns.

Authors give free review copies in the expectation that they will receive a review. They have a right to expect this review to appear in a reasonably timely fashion, or to be informed by the blogger that there will be an extended waiting period. Or indeed no review at all. We all have offline lives. We all need 48hrs in every day to get shit done. Bloggers don’t have a monopoly on that, although given the way some of them carry on, they would seem to think that writers just click their fingers and little magical elves appear to write their books for them, giving the writers time to sit around and do bugger all but dream up ways to be nasty to those poor, overworked bloggers. If your offline life is overtaking your online commitments, you should at least put a message on your blog/website to this effect.

A simple “ Events in my offline life have necessarily taken precedence over reviews for the moment. My apologies to anyone who is still waiting for a review then. I will resume reading and reviewing as soon as possible and I would sincerely appreciate your understanding and patience on this matter. Thank you” would suffice.

And if you ultimately find that you don’t want to review a book? Let the author know this. You don’t have to tell them the whole truth, i.e. that you thought their book sucked donkey balls, you can tell them a white lie. But just know that leaving them without either a review or an explanation it isn’t an acceptable I’m-taking-the-cosmic-high-ground-here way to do things. It’s fucking cowardly. You want to be “nice” to everybody and give everyone “positive” reviews and get all itchy-scratchy when you can’t do that? Oh boo hoo. Pull on your big-kid panties and deal with it, or fuck off out of the kitchen if the heat is breaking you out in hives. Sure, you will continue to get authors who freak out at you. There are, and always will be nut jobs in this world. Again, either put on your big-kid panties, or get out.

As for authors, if the blogger you intend to approach has guidelines, read the fucking things and abide by them. If you get a bad review, well, you can just put on your big-kid panties and deal with that, or don’t seek reviews at all. But don’t start an online war with the reviewer over a bad review. And don't let your well-meaning but misguided fans / regular readers start a war on your behalf either. It just never ends well for anyone. Of course, neither should authors feel afraid to make a polite approach to bloggers or reviewers who have not lived up to an agreement and it's a shame that their whining has made many of us just so afraid to speak up, not even when we get royally screwed.

Personally, I’m sick of seeing book bloggers in online writing groups moan about how all authors are evil and all treat them like shit, and I’m even more heartily disgusted by seeing authors leap to agree with this, flagellating themselves for being horrible people, and kissing the asses of these whingers until they are shiny enough to see their faces in. And I hate seeing authors go off the deep-end and start online wars with individual bloggers. However, authors and publishers do have a right of expectation when they send out books for review. It’s not enough to send out hundreds of free review copies in the mere hope of scoring a couple of reviews from that, and then just shrug off the non-responses. It costs money to send out books and promo materials, often the author's own money. If I want to give my books away free, I’ll do it on my terms. As part of KDP Select, or a giveaway within a blog or magazine that I’ve chosen to deal with. Otherwise, I’m making an agreement with a reviewer and I don’t care if it is “some kind of gentleperson’s agreement” as one author put it, it’s still a fucking agreement. What are we if we allow ourselves to become people who don’t honor their agreements? Maybe our governments and industry leaders are guilty of not honoring their agreements, but do we not shake our heads in disgust at this behavior and use our vote to oust these dishonorable types from positions of power?

And yet, we shrug and mumble about how it is okay to dishonor our own agreements. Bullshit it is. An agreement is still an agreement, doesn’t matter if it’s written in blood, or merely on a handshake or your word alone. Bloggers, if you even have the slightest inclination that you are not going to be able to fulfill that review agreement, let the fucking author know! Because given all the bad publicity we get, many of us are actually reluctant to make even the politest of inquiries to even the most super-tardy of reviewers...you know, just in case our "Excuse me, I understand that you are busy [ well, so the fuck am I ] and have many things to do [ditto ] but I was just wondering...that review we agreed upon six months / one year / a fucking lifetime ago...has there been a problem with it? It's fine if there is, I would just like to know so that I can move on and not keep wondering whether you have A. changed your mind B. forgotten in the rush of daily life or C. are just a greedy little shit who likes to gather up as many free books as you can with scant intention of ever reviewing more than a couple of them in your entire 'career'...but really, no harm done, just wondering!"

Both sides have their bad points. Both sides have their good points. But instead of seeing things from both sides and having a reasoned discussion about it, people merely want everyone else to agree with them. “ You’re so right that bloggers are bad/authors are bad/whoever you want me to say is bad…I agree one hundred percent with every word you uttered!” and to pat them the back with a “ There, there, there, you poor soul, you’re so hard done by and so perfectly saintly to put up with it!” And if they don’t get this? If - gasp! shock! - a post results in an actual discussion? Well, they simply putt their lip, grab their ball and march off the playing field in a huff, deleting the whole post on the way. Oh, grow up. The last man on this earth who was allegedly perfect was nailed to a fucking cross for it. But don’t worry - none of us mere mortals are in any such danger because none of us are perfect, nor blameless, nor saints. The best we can do is try to see each other’s points of view, have reasoned discussions about our differences and grievances, and do our level bests whenever we humanly can to act in ways that are honorable.

Or maybe one possible solution is that bloggers should start charging for reviews? Entering money to the equation creates an actual contract between people. The author or publisher then would be buying the blogger's time ( not buying the review ) and the blogger would be obligated to either deliver a review in timely fashion, or to refund the money, as with any contract. The author would be contracting their willingness to accept whatever kind of review they got - good, bad or indifferent - without recourse to complaint...unless the reviewer very obviously did not read the book and wrote a factually inaccurate review, or failed to provide the agreed-upon review within a timely fashion ( I'd put that at six months, personally ). Pretty soon the reviewers who are just in it for free books, or who disappear without explanation, or who are just plain lazy and distracted ( of course, being lazy and distracted is fine, just don't do it on someone else's time ) will stop getting custom, thus allowing the responsible bloggers to rise. 

...and waiting now for the howls of protest about "paid-for reviews" because people haven't properly read the above paragraph...

Too bad then that most people will continue to simply cherry-pick the parts of posts like these that suit their own view and disregard the rest; and so the whole debate will rage on ad infinitum complete with its frequent tendency to degenerate into schoolyard name-calling and capital-letter threats of everything from litigation to dismemberment. Well, what the hell. I'm tired of looking at both sides of this fence. Actually, I'm tired of the whole fence - let it fall down and rot. Personally, I won't be volunteering any more books for review, not without a cast-iron agreement either as part of an pre-arranged blog tour, or whatever. If my publisher wants to give out free copies for review, then fine, that's at their time and expense. But either way I won't be sweating this any longer. Now, I'm off to have a drink in that great spirit of "Write drunk, edit sober!"

"Cheers to no more reviewer tears!"


  1. I have been reading voraciously my whole life, out of love for the printed words...they simply fascinate me, in whatever fashion, genre, format they come. I have recently started a books review blog, because it just felt like a natural step...I review books that I love by letting my heart talk; I review all the other books with honesty and most of all with the utmost respect for the authors. .I hope my policy will be appreciated. Mutual respect.

    1. Mutual respect is what we all should aim for, on both sides, Mina. Thank you so much for commenting. :-) Devon