Author Spaces, Reader Spaces & A New Review Policy

Phyllis I Can Haz Cheezburger

I’ve been pondering the various spaces we occupy lately and the spaces we share with others, especially as readers, bloggers and authors. I think authors and readers can should share spaces. Generally, it’s a good thing. After all, we share a love of books and reading.   I enjoy interacting with authors online and at various blogs.  I like seeing  authors commenting on blogs (but not on reviews of their own books). Many authors blog and, in the last year or so, more than a few bloggers in my tweetstream have become or are in the process of becoming published authors.  The spaces which were designated “reader spaces” are filled with authors – because they are readers too. And I think that’s okay. I like it.  I am fortunate that I don’t follow (not for long anyway) authors who abuse readers or reviewers.  The authors I interact with online know that they are not their books and liking or not liking their book is not the same as liking or not liking them as people.  I know there are badly behaving authors out there – they get discussed often enough on Twitter, but, for the most part, I’m not playing in the sandbox with them.

Authors can review and blog and bloggers can become authors if they want to.  I like the wild mix of interaction we have.  I like seeing authors commenting on blog posts and reviews and I often enjoy posts written by authors, be they opinion pieces, news posts, random musings or book reviews. And maybe it’s small of me but I do get a kick out of being followed back by an author I like. Of sharing opinions and silly jokes and LOLcats with people I admire. And there are few things I like better than discussing romance books. Books are so precious to me that the people who write them do inspire awe. A little bit.

But, while the intermix of authors and readers/bloggers can be fun, there are some inherent tensions.  Where does one draw the line between friendly and friend? Between impartial and biased? At what point does the relationship with the author become so entwined with the books they write that any of their books is coloured by author perception?  Do we sacrifice fun and engaging author interaction for blogging integrity?  Can we have both?  Is it necessary to disclose a casual Twitter relationship in a review? (And is that elevating the relationship beyond what it is, to the point of hubris?)  Where is the line, exactly, between “author I follow” and “author who is also my friend”? Can I review a book written by a friend fairly?  What if I hate it? What if I like it? (and which is worse?) At what point does the author persona and the book become hopelessly mingled? Does it ever? In our efforts to be seen to be unbiased can we go too far? Just where is that line anyway?  It used to be that readers and authors were on opposite sides of the playing field, with few opportunities to interact.  But it’s different now.  Now (pardon the pun) we are in shades of grey territory where authors and readers/bloggers are playing together all the time on social media.  Can we be on the same team? Do we have to be on opposing teams? (Also, can I have the most flattering uniform please?)

I don’t really do author promo*. Except,  when I squee about a book I love or even just write a positive review, I kind of am.  That is not the  purpose of what I’m doing but that is one of the effects.  Just as an author who comments on a blog post may well be (almost certainly is) commenting as a reader, the author is always the author and any online interaction contributes to the standing and perception of the author brand. Neither is bad. It just is. It’s not a reason to stop. It’s just that I think that, increasingly, promotion and interaction and discussion are converging and it’s too late to uncross the streams. Even bloggers have a brand. Because we are trying to position ourselves to get a share of the pie as well.  it’s all well and good to say self-deprecatingly, “Oh, I write this blog for me”, but the truth is even the wallflower blogger wants people to read their posts.  And there are like, a billion out there so we kind of compete – that’s what the BloggerCon was about I think – at least in part? Positioning a blog for more traffic? Improving a profile on social media? So, we’re all doing promo and that’s fine. (Unless it’s all promo all the time then: UNFOLLOW.)

When I first started this blog, I wrote the occasional review, maybe 2 a month, to get my feet wet. At first, writing a review took me hours and I cherry-picked the books I wanted to spend a lot of time on. Because of that, those early reviews were all for books I really liked. But I didn’t want to be a reviewer who only wrote positive reviews. I wanted to be (I hope I am perceived to be) a reviewer who writes thoughtful, critical, honest reviews, not puff pieces.  After a while, I challenged myself to also write about books I didn’t like so much.  So I decided to review everything I read – that way I couldn’t wriggle out of it (a kind of aversion therapy if you will) and I learned how to write what I didn’t like with reasonable confidence.  Sometimes it was a very brief review (hardly deserving the title really) in a monthly round up but it had a grade and I had reasons. And, even if only 14 people read it, I said it out loud. I stood for something.  As I became more comfortable in the blogosphere, I started writing more and more reviews until we come to now, where I have something up every 2 or 3 days usually and the vast majority of what I read gets the full treatment and the monthly round up has become mainly a links post. The idea behind reviewing everything I read worked for me at the time, but I’m a firm believer in when something stops working for you, change it up. Most of the reviews I write don’t give me any qualms about conflicts, perceived or otherwise. And where that has been something that has made me think twice, I have erred on (I believe, I hope) the side of the review.  But as I play more in the gray area where everyone is together, I think there will be more questions and qualms. And it seems to me that reviewing everything I read isn’t the best way for me to go anymore.

I’ve been pondering this lately and thinking about making a change.  It has converged with some other things too.  I have found myself from time to time, being a bit sad I didn’t like a book better because I like the author so much on social media.  I haven’t whitewashed any reviews because of it, but I admit to uneasy twinges here and there.  And there have been a couple of instances in the past few months where I’ve been genuinely worried about what I would do if I didn’t like a book – Would I be able to say so? Would that impact my relationship (whatever it was) with that particular author?  (This is mainly a problem in my own head because the authors I follow tend to have more mature reactions than Twitter flounces to a negative review. But I think I would still feel weird for a while anyway.)  Sometimes the answer may lie in pulling back from a relationship, sometimes it may lie in not reviewing a particular book.  I can only answer these questions for me of course. I have no regrets about anything posted here to date and I want to keep it that way.

So, I’ve changed my review policy to reflect my current thinking.  The biggest change is that I’m not going to review everything I read here anymore.  I use Goodreads primarily as a personal catalogue so everything will get a rating and maybe a few words over there but not everything will be reviewed here. I will still review most of what I read because: Content. But, sometimes I want to read just for fun.  Sometimes I have nothing much or nothing new to say.  Sometimes I want to be a fan or a friend and not a reviewer. There are some authors who I value as friends more than I value their books or my “right” to review them.  This is my space and I want it to be a space of integrity. This is my hobby and I want it to remain fun and joyful.  I want to find the balance that works for me to keep things that way.

If I feel hesitant when writing a review, or if I think there is a closer than casual acquaintanceship, I will mention it in the review so readers can decide if my glasses are rose coloured.  But it’s necessarily subjective.  And I’m still coming up with answers to some of my own questions.  I expect if I get it wrong someone on the internet will tell me.  The web is helpful that way.

 *The caveat is if you make me character in one of your books. Then I will totally promote the heck out of it 😉

13 comments on “Author Spaces, Reader Spaces & A New Review Policy

  1. willaful

    I struggle with this too… sometimes I wish I had never joined twitter! I actually feel oddly less conflicted when reviewing for Dear Author — perhaps because the sense of responsibility to fellow readers is greater, or maybe because I feel under an umbrella of authority. At GoodReads I just squirm my way through to an honest review.

    Anyway, great post. It’s always good to see people bringing this up, since it’s become part of the online reviewing life. And I enjoy it… many writers are very funny, creative people and it’s interesting to know about their processes, even if they don’t interact with me.

  2. azteclady

    I hope I am perceived to be) a reviewer who writes thoughtful, critical, honest reviews, not puff pieces

    For the record: you have succeeded here.

  3. e_bookpushers

    I like :). And I completely understand about blurring the lines and feeling bad when something just didn’t work for you but you wanted it to. Thankfully the authors I interact with are all professionals as well and understand that not everything is for everybody. Keep on sharing your opinion *grin*.

  4. Chris

    What azteclady said!!

    And your new blog is looking absolutely fabulous!

  5. Kaetrin

    @willaful: So far at least, the books I’ve reviewed at DA have been for authors I don’t “know” – I may follow them on Twitter but we’re not at all friends so it hasn’t been an issue. I think the sheer volume of reviews I do here means it’s more likely I will stumble across that kind of thing on this site.

    I don’t have all the answers and my answers aren’t necessarily “right” or what would work for others, but I think it says something that I’m at least asking the questions. It’s a conscience-check for me and it’s an ongoing process. But I do much of my socialising via Twitter and I wouldn’t want to give it up. I really love the interaction and I’ve “met” some of the best people on social media.

  6. Kaetrin

    @azteclady: Oh,thank you. That means a lot 🙂

  7. Kaetrin

    @Chris: Thx Chris! On both counts – I’m settling in to WordPress I think and I’m pleased with how it’s looking.

  8. Kaetrin

    @e_bookpushers: Yes, I am fortunate that way too. If an author I was friendly with got all bent out of shape over a negative review from me, it would leave a bad taste in my mouth. But, I have found I have gravitated towards authors who aren’t like that.

    All the same, there are times when I have to push against the impulse to fudge a little and soften my reaction. It’s a regular checking process I think.

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  10. Mandi

    What azteclady said. I always turn to your reviews because I know you write honest reviews. And honestly – that is kind of hard to find.

    I do think low grade reviews are just as important as high grade reviews, but I feel ya. Damn Twitter! 😉 I’ll just stalk your GR posts more 😉

  11. Mandi

    Also – sometimes I read a book that one of my other reviewers have already reviewed at Smexy – and it’s the best feeling in the world to just read. Just read and not have to worry about keeping track of plot points and quotes and stuff. It’s so freeing. I LOVE reviewing but I love reading even more.

  12. Kaetrin

    @Mandi: Thank you Mandi, that means so much 🙂

    To be honest I will still be reviewing most of what I read here – otherwise there wouldn’t be enough content. But I wanted to have the opportunity to not review for whatever reason as well. And yes, it is nice to occasionally just read a book!

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