Opinions. Everybody Has 'Em.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

"Hive Mind" Reviews - Resistance To Them Is NOT Futile

No thanks,
I won't be making any
deal with the Devil today!
When an author has a public meltdown on the internet it’s usually over a review which they feel - rightly or wrongly - has been unfairly harsh to them. As with any dispute, there will always be two sides ( at least ) to the story, and no shortage of people jumping into it with poorly-informed and ill-formed opinions. In traditional and indie mainstream publishing these meltdowns tend to blow over as soon as the next juicy scandal comes thee-ing and thou-ing along to distract everyone. The amount of long-term harm done to either the author or the reviewer is debatable - probably negligible. As writers, knowing that we will all get a less than glowing review at some point because it is impossible to please all of the people all of the time, most of us have learned to take the rough with the smooth and not to get all bent out of shape about the former. Certainly, if the poor review comes from another writer, we have learned that it is particularly bad form to rubbish that writer back out of revenge, or to allow our fans and friends to rubbish or shun them on our behalf.

However, there is one corner of the publishing world where the giving of less than glowing 5-star reviews often continues to have more long-term and sinister repercussions for the review-giver, especially if that review-giver is another writer…and that is in lesbian fiction publishing. Sadly, parts of the lesfic world run on a “hive mind” where dissent is very often not tolerated. If A says that B’s book is the best thing since individually wrapped cheese slices, then it is expected that C through Z will agree with this position. Some may deny this is so. Probably the most vociferous deniers will be those who have benefited most from the hive mind - denial is an attractive and much-inhabited land, after all. Just not one which I choose to inhabit. The expectation of consensus may be unspoken, the pressure to join the consensus may be subtle, but it’s there. I believe that.

From time to time I post on Goodreads, and on my blogs, reviews of some of the books I have read. I post honest reviews which concentrate mainly on how I found the story to be. I rarely comment on the grammar or editing unless it is so bad that I’ve been left with the urge to hurl the book ( or my Kindle ) across the room. I’m often harder on traditionally published books than indie ones because if the trads want to continue claiming that they are better and sneering at the indies for poor editing etc, then they had better raise their own bar pretty fucking high. But so long as I continue to fail to see appropriate bar-raising in traditional publishing, I will continue to point it out if and when I feel the need to. I do try always to make it clear that my reviews are simply my opinion. As are anyone's reviews.

A while back I just stopped posting reviews of lesfic because I began to feel that subtle pressure to join the consensus at work in my own life. I felt the pressure to post only good reviews, that in posting anything less I was being subjected to the collective wrath of the hive mind. And I hated myself for compromising my own integrity. I hated that I backed off in the face of this insidious pressure. The simple truth is, if I'm going to post a review, I can’t post anything other than an honest one. If I find something good about a book, I’ll mention that. But I can’t go along with the shiny-happy everyone-gets-a-gold-star-just-for-participating mindset which says “ If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all!” And I certainly won’t join with any hive mind.

If all we ever saw were glowing 5-star reviews, there’d be no balance, no honesty, and it’s my feeling that the integrity of both readers and writers would be compromised by any such thing. So I won’t compromise. Even if A through Z are all singing the praises of a book in perfect chorus, I will sound any discordant note I feel the need to. I'll be the dissenter. I’ll be the only sour cherry on that fruit stand and I’ll be damn well proud to be so.

Yeah, gives me an excuse to post this!

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