Friday, November 13, 2009

Should there be a site that reviews reviewers?


It was a fascinating go-round at Katiebabs' blog (click post title) that tickled my brain with this notion. I'm afraid I don't visit KB's very often, primarily because I've been on extended sabbatical from m/f fiction. That means I don't read reviews of m/f books. But it's a jolly good blog, and I'm glad I came upon it.

Since I'm over a week behind the times, I assume the discussion there is old news to many of you. In a nutshell: an EC author was perturbed because Ms. Babs did not give her book the grade she, the author, thought it deserved -- which, I gathered, was a solid "A" dangling from the ass-end of a rave. Why did she think this? Probably for the same reason I think InDescent has been the most under-appreciated book I've ever written and deserves considerably more accolades than it's received. (There, I've said it.) The woman obviously felt her work was beyond reproach, an attitude that had been bolstered by a certain amount of OH WOW feedback from other sources.

Well, dicked if I know what rating the book deserved; I've never read it and don't intend to, since it's a Puss 'n' Four Boots tale. I did, however, read the review, which had quite a few good things to say about the story (aside from that stretched-out hoohah). Grade: B.

I wouldn't have done an energetic Happy Dance if I were the author, but neither would I have blogged about the review with righteous, pouty indignation. Still, I kind of understand where the author was coming from -- especially if she's newly published and hasn't grown enough calluses yet. Hell, even those of us who are plated like armadillos still get our armor pierced now and then.

I haven't exactly gotten buckets of recognition for my writing. I've never made it to a DIK shelf or an auto-buy list (not that I'm aware of, anyway). I haven't made the finals in any kind of contest since Cemetery Dancer did that in the EPPIEs. My name rarely turns up in "best of" or "favorites" discussions. Invitation-only publishers apparently think I'm a nebbish, if they even know I exist. I'm just sort of . . . there, part of the padding in the m/m genre. A Salieri.

Does it bother me? Sure it does. And when a caustic review comes along, it bothers me even more. Why? Because readers pay attention to these things! Doesn't matter how off-the-wall any given review is or how questionable a reviewer's competence. A lot of people base their book-buying decisions on other people's opinions, plain and simple.

So as I'm reading the comments to KB's post and pondering my mix of exasperation with and empathy for this author, I see another writer enter the fray.

Mr. Lanyon rode in but did not, thank all that is Johnny Cash, switch his black hat for a white one and cry out to authors, "Rise above it! Go back to your work!" Instead, he tried to explain why authors are sensitive to reviews, which rather surprised me. (JL, as we know, hasn't had too terribly much experience in the gutter of criticism.) Still, everything he said made perfect sense. Although we may know, rationally, that we shouldn't take these slings and arrows to heart, they wound us nonetheless. Anybody who believes we should just "rise above it" is pretty mofo-ing ignorant about the fundamentals of human nature.

This is not to say reviewers should modify their opinions based on our feelings. Of course they shouldn't. And it's not to say we don't appreciate the time and effort that goes into their assessments. Of course we do. But this is to say, don't be surprised if we come back at you with our opinions, because we have 'em, too. Who exactly decided we're forever to smile and sit on our hands and play gracious? Did I miss a chapter in Emily Post?

And that's what made me wonder if there should be a blog that reviews reviewers, and how they would react to nitpicking or all-out evisceration.

Hmmm. ;-)


Jenre said...

Have a cup of tea, my dear, that always helps me when I'm feeling maudlin.

You're on my autobuy list, you know and yesterday I put on my blog that you're one of my favourite authors. Plus I keep telling everyone what a great series Utopia X is. It's hardly my fault if no-one listens to me ;).

And as for reviewers being judged or reviewed themselves. Every time I post a review I'm inviting comment from others on my reviewing skills. Admittedly most of the time I get comments like 'great review' but I have been on the end of criticism - sometimes vicious, but mostly of the 'I think you're being unfair by saying that' variety.

As an 'amateur' reviewer as Josh called us in that post, I get far more feedback on my reviews than those professional reviewers in the Times Literary Supplement.

However, I do understand your frustration. These books are essentially your livelihood, you spend a lot of time writing them and it must be hard if you get a review which doesn't 'get' what you have done in a book.

Clare London said...

I'm sending hugs of agreement and I agree with Jenn, I auto-buy you, sweetie, unless you don't get me more Utopia X/Pablo pretty damned soon...
Seriously, Looking For Some Touch blew me away exactly *because* it wasn't a wodge of same old, same old, but witty and powerful and moving.

However, I think the Power of the Familiar is a powerful tide.

I'll stay off the debate re reviewers because I've been beaten up before and virtual bruises are so not my colour :). The minute any of us publish, or post on the net, we open up the lines between us and can't predict what response we'll get, and IMO we're hypocritical to say otherwise. We can sometimes be tough, sometimes be vulnerable. Everyone - authors, reviewers, readers - offers up their heart and soul when they do, and should be respected for that.

I think we should remember we're all human, no special powers, no more glorious uniqueness than the next person. If one looks at onesself (no way that'll ever sound non-pretentious) and see where and how one gets passionate and vulnerable and excited - well, you can bet your last penny most other people react the same way. I don't think it's a matter of 'harsh' or 'gushing', it's a matter of respect. And I still don't see why some people (no one on or related to that post) think that honesty=rude rant, or vice versa.

/zips mouth

Chris said...

Um, does it help that Bastards and Pretty Boys is on my to-buy list?! :)

I've had author contact re: less than glowing reviews several times. Two contacts were mostly professional; the others were of the "everyone else luvs my book so there" variety.

The first professional contact was done via email asking for more specifics. (At a high level, there was a huge inconsistency related to an object critical to the plot.) After explaining that, I did let the author know I'd remove that part of the review if I could see a version of the ebook in which the issue was resolved. She thanked me, but I haven't heard anything else.

The second, mostly professional contact started out ok - I'd pointed out a problem with the timeline that caused me to reread the ebook and diagram the timeline to see if I was losing my mind. (Nope, there really were five days between Wednesday and Saturday.) That exchange deteriorated down to the author complaining that I was an excessively picky reader and no one else in the world would possibly care about such silly details.

(I fully recognize that both of those issues were editorial failings of the sort that I rarely see in books from Loose Id or Samhain or Amber Allure.)

Really, I think that all authors and reviewers can do is to be fair and respectful to each other, work to understand the others' point of view, and perhaps communicate privately and professionally to avoid misunderstandings before initiating an public kerfuffle. :)

K. Z. Snow said...

Jen, you know how I much I respect your work and appreciate your support (or you should!)

Maudlin? Goodness, no! Drolly realistic. I've been doing this too long to get maudlin. It's best if writers not harbor any illusions, because those are what lead to public hissy fits in defense of one's "greatness." ;-)

I was actually feeling impish when I tossed this notion out there. Wicked, I know. But you have to admit, some reviewers have more than a touch of diva in them. It would be interesting to see how they'd respond to reviews. Specifically, would they react to criticism with the same grace they expect from writers? Or might a double standard be afoot?

It's something to think about.

I sure as hell can't and wouldn't presume to speak for JL, but I assume he was using "amateur" in the traditional sense of the word -- someone who engages in a pursuit for personal satisfaction rather than financial compensation. Like amateur athletes and amateur gardeners. (People do get huffy about that word, don't they? I don't quite understand the ire. There's nothing inherently perjorative about the word, because there's nothing wrong with doing something simply because you love it!)

Teddy Pig said...


I think it is far safer to just say reviews are for readers and reviewers probably should not get any responses from the authors.

So far the worst problems I have seen have been when there is interaction over a review between the author and the reviewer.

Anyway I am an amateur reviewer and a horrible one too because I don't get paid for reviewing and I even pay to have my own website so obviously I am doing it all wrong.

But! I don't want to be professional or be considered professional or get paid or made to feel obligated in any way to do reviews on books I have nothing to really add my two cents about.

The only thing I want is to inform people and maybe help readers find some good books to love that I have loved. Fini!

K. Z. Snow said...

Hey, Clare!

Sweetie, you're not a reviewer; your opinions don't count. ;-) You know, of course, that's total BS. They mean the world to me.

I can appreciate your reticence about speaking out. :-/

My basic point was simply that yes, writers are human. As long as we don't turn into vicious, raving lunatics, please don't berate us for having feelings and opinions.

Of course, this goes both ways. People who review books for the love of books deserve respect, too. Unless, of course, they're full of shit. (Mwahahaha! Sorry, sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Passion without compassion only spawns a rather unpleasant self-righteousness. That about sums up how I feel.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Chris. Welcome!

"Really, I think that all authors and reviewers can do is to be fair and respectful to each other, work to understand the others' point of view, and perhaps communicate privately and professionally to avoid misunderstandings before initiating an public kerfuffle."

WORD. And therein lies the solution.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

K. Z. Snow said...

Hiya, Teddy.

Well, when reviewers screw up or make baseless assumptions, I think it's appropriate for authors to call them on it. There are just good ways and bad ways of doing that. After all, we're talking people's livelihoods here. As I said in the post, a lot of readers do make their book-buying decisions based on what reviewers have to say.

There've been a couple of occasions when I've sat on my hands like a nice girl -- but, damn, it nearly gave me hemorrhoids! ;-)

Hurray for amateurs! Hell, I've been an amateur prostitute most of my adult life -- having sex because I like to, not because I'm getting paid for it. HA.

Emeraldjaguar said...

What Teddy Piggy are for readers, not authors. The whole point is to state my opinion of what I read so other people can decide whether they want to spend their limited book funds on the book or not. It's not a commentary on the person who wrote the book at all. I neither want nor expect authors to respond to my reviews.

That said, although I screen my comments, I rarely delete any. Everyone is free to voice their opinion of any review, and it's happened before.

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

Hey K.Z! I hope you can stop by more on my little blog. :D

As a reviewer, I really take into consideration when I read a book and the time and energy and author puts into their work. But again, reviewers are so selective.

And surprisingly I did enjoy the two wee-wees in the hoo haa.

MB (Leah) said...

Heh, K.Z., you know I'm totally in love with you and your books.

As far as reviewing reviewers, I've often thought about what it would be liked to have my reviews, reviewed. And I do admit that intelligent criticism of them would affect me. Someone saying oh nice review or you suck, wouldn't even register with me.

I've had authors, including yourself, try to correct a misconception about something in their book that I said, and I welcome that. I would really hate, as a reviewer, to pass on incorrect info about a book. Lets face it, that kind of thing can happen. So I'm very open and even wish it when I've gotten something wrong, to be corrected.

I do try and be fair and think about the authors feelings in a review, particularly when it's negative. However, I swear to god that I've read so many books in which I paid good money and spent good time reading, which should never have been published to begin with. I have to put that out there.

Just because a book is a creative work, someone's blood, sweat and tears, it doesn't change the fact that a book is a product that is put out for exchange of money. If I pay someone to clean my house, then I expect a clean house. If I buy someone's book then I expect to be entertained. Just like any other creation that someone makes to sell. And if the product is a piece o crap then I got ripped off and feel to warn others.

Katie's review of that book gave exactly the information I want to know as a reader.

And here in lies the problem often. Katie actually put a good spin on what will be a huge turn off form many readers. I walked away from that review thinking, OK, two dicks in a hoo-ha, don't like to read that, but Katie still liked it, so maybe I'll give it a go.

The author thought she wrote a perfect book, but the author's taste isn't everyone else's taste and if the subject matter is possibly kinky or offensive, then what does the author expect?

This is one thing I really admire about you. You write what you want to write, even if it might different and not main stream and you deal with the reception of that. Even if you wish it were better received.

An author can write the most amazing prose, but if the subject matter is offensive, then I don't see how it could get a perfect score.

I think that you are correct in that JL was referring to amateurs in the literal sense, but frankly, he came across as condescending only because how many reviewer bloggers are paid, which he's well aware of?

Even those supposedly professional review sites, like Two Lips, or Coffee Cups or whatever they're called that authors like to show proudly if they get a good review, aren't done by paid, professional reviewers. Most of those reviews don't even say anything about the book, since they are like 2 paragraphs long. So to throw out that word amateur, knowing who's reading KB's blog, did come off as smug.

That said, I totally get what authors feel and I do feel that reviewers for the most part do care when they have to say something negative. I do. I do feel bad. But at the same time, I write my reviews for other readers to help them get a better picture of what they can expect from a book so that they're not just buying blindly.

Yeah, I want to know things like two dicks in a hoo-ha, or there's lots of spanking, gang bangs, rape, tentacle or shifter sex, ect. I only have so much money to spend on books and I want that it's spent wisely.

I'd welcome a review of my reviews only because I'd like to be able to write clear and concise, intelligent reviews. It would be interesting to read a blog in which authors or other readers reviewed reviewers.

I wonder if there'd ever be a general consensus though by authors on a particular reviewer even if the review is bad?

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Emmy and KB.

Yes indeed, reviews are for readers, which is precisely why reviews are difficult for authors to ignore.

This is an enormously competitive industry. It seems the number of books is in inverse proportion to the number of readers, which drops by the year. So ... abudance of product + dwindling consumer base + economic recession = concern. Any bad review exacerbates that concern; any good review alleviates it, at least temporarily.

Then you throw a little ego into the mix and, yeah, we can be touchy buggers. But it's understandable if you view the attitude in context. In that regard, we're no different from any other purveyors of any other goods.

You bet I'll be dropping in from time to time, KB! You have a really well-organized blog with interesting features.

K. Z. Snow said...

Leah, it's always a treat when you show up here. Thanks for taking the time. That was a very well-reasoned statement.

Most online reviewers aren't professionals, but that fact in and of itself doesn't diminish the validity of their opinions. Any argument or appraisal is invariably undercut by its own internal flaws, not by the status of the commentator.

There are certain indicators of sound critical/analytical thinking, and those are what help me distinguish between wothwhile reviews and worthless reviews. I really don't give a rat's ass about credentials. But logic, accuracy, and literacy? Hell yes.

Tam said...

Ah, but then we'd need reviewers for the reviewers of the reviewers. Ack!!

I know personally I'm a wimp and hate criticism. So I'd likely crawl in a hole and whimper for a week of someone said they hated my baby. As a result, I'm not an author. You guys are way braver than me.

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

Thanks K.Z. I was so surprised by me posting about my grading system the amount of comments and talk came out of it. Leads to great discussions though.

K. Z. Snow said...

"Ah, but then we'd need reviewers for the reviewers of the reviewers."

"I'd likely crawl in a hole and whimper for a week of someone said they hated my baby."

Tam, I love ya. You're so pithy.

Speaking of babies, man, I've seen some damned ugly ones. Real babies, I mean. It's hard not to grimace or burst out laughing. Thank goodness I don't see my books as my babies ... just as bursts of effulgence from the mind of God.

:-D :-D :-D

K. Z. Snow said...

You're more than welcome, KB.

I think it was a great move to post about your grading system -- helps readers get a better handle on where you're coming from. And then to stimulate a lively discussion, too? Icing on the cake!

People do get their undies in a bundle mighty easily, though. I find that both amusing and regrettable. An application of reason laced with humor can usually unknot one's knickers.

P.S. You can give me a B anytime. I'll just add it to my collection. ;-)

Chris said...

Donna (Fantasy Dreamer) had an interesting post about reviewing recently and I was inspired to pick up a copy of The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing (inspired by a post at J. Kaye's, I believe)... now I just need to sit down and read it, mmm?

K. Z. Snow said...

That book sounds interesting, Chris. I'll have to look it up, just out of curiosity.

Jeanne said...

Coming to this late as I've spent the last few days trying to find a roof over my head and our kittens.

I don't mind reviews that say they hate the story; the characters or the dialogue. That's subjective and everyone is entitled to their opinion.
When the review descends into ripping apart the work put into the story by the author and presents their delving into the subject matter as the *only* arbiter of truth, that is when I have problems.
I've had stories that received one star from one review site and five from another. I have no problem with that.
I know how quickly responding to things can develope into flame wars and I just do not do that.
So, I sat on my hands, just like KZ

word veri: spotod
Dog with no spots called Spot - od, huh?

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, sweetie! [closing in for a hug} Have you found a home for the kitties yet? And for yourselves? Ach, if only you didn't live so far away!

Of course I know what you're saying in your comment, and I think you handled "that" situation very well.

Do you have plans for a new book once you're settled again?

Jeanne said...

No such luck thus far for the kitties or us. ;>(
I have an wip sequel for The Sweet Flag. Only three chapters to go, but I just haven't been able to concentrate...
What has made my search for the kittens even more heartbreaking is to see how many places will not or cannot take in any more animals.
We'd separate the kitties. We know it would be impossible to keep them all together.

Word veri:
Oi, shu mma should know better! :~D

Kassa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Treva Harte said...

I believe my very first review ever on my very first book was from Mrs. Giggles. I was fine with it because her review was pretty much dead on right. I've only had one or two that made me cry. Mostly now I only worry if my book doesn't get any reviews at all because it means no one cares about it one way or the other.

K. Z. Snow said...

That's a great point too, Treva, about lack of reviews. It does make a writer feel her work isn't worth the bother. Obscurity is worse than negative notoriety in this business.

Mrs. Giggles has done two of my books so far and been quite kind both times. She does have a way of paring things right down to the core, though, doesn't she? :-)

Y. Bressani said...

I "work" as a reviewer (mostly to at least partly support a book habit, but that's a whole different story).

Having said that (and possibly risking the odd rotten tomato thrown at me *g*), I can also understand things from the authors' point of view.

Now, I can't answer for, nor do I defend other reviewers (let's face it, the nerf bat should be handy for some of them). All I can say is that, if and when I come across a book that I may dislike something about - I will say so, but, in the same review, I will also say that while point a, character b, or theme c (or whatever it was) was not to *my* taste, it may be to someone else's.

I try to be as fair as I can. Whether or not that comes from being cursed (or blessed depending on how you look at things) with always being able to see both sides of the point, I don't know, but it's simply the way I see things. *shrugs*

Conversely, I don't read reviews regarding my own book choices. And if it is a new (whether to me or in general) author, then I look at the blurb and last chapter and/or epilogue to see if I want to read further.

And (yes, there is an end in sight to this comment) I have liked the couple titles (so far) that I have read.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hello, Y. Welcome to my blog.

I find it very interesting, and unusual, that you don't read reviews of your own book choices. I've gotten the impression that reviewers are inveterate readers of reviews, and I think this sometimes leads to the "bandwagon" effect I talked about in another post.

All in all, I try not to take this aspect of the business too seriously, because that could obviously be crippling for a writer (except, of course, those who are never criticized!) But I do pay attention to the opinions of a few people I've come to trust.

Y. Bressani said...

Thank you for the welcome. :)

It may be an odd duck sort of reaction, but I do tend to stay away from reviews. Now, I do have friends who have known me long enough to recommend books and vice versa. Those I do take into account and, more often than not, I do follow up on those and am glad I do.

I shudder at the word 'bandwagon' and have an adverse reaction to any books that have a tendency towards mass followings - no matter how well they might be written and, to my regret, probably have passed up some books I might have liked because of that.

I think that part of my reaction may be that, if I like an author, or am a big fan of one, I will continue to read that author, will recommend him/her to those I think would like reading the books, I just do not see the 'sense' (for lack of a better word) to go overboard. But, that's just me and I tend to be a little bit reserved. *shrugs*