I had a hard time last week getting into a book, I was reading the lines but what I kept thinking about was how awful the author had been acting online. It seems like everywhere I look there’s some new controversy between an author, publisher, their friends, family, and the people who review and blog about books. It can really bum a girl out to read about the bad behavior on the part of an author and their crew. The whole firestorm over titles like Tempest and The Selection can take the fun out of reading and get in the way of enjoying a book.
Maybe I’m being unfair toward the authors and publishers, but they are professionals and well the adults in these situations. Normally the big blow-ups are directed toward some interesting comment made about a blurb or advanced chapters. These takes on snippets will be disregarded by most people normally because it’s not based on the whole book. Then there are things like an author’s going on twitter rants and the whole Carrier Of The Mark email fiasco. These actions make you question the character of person behind the words. It’s a PR no no to make these things an issue, all you’re doing is drawing more attention the negative points not just in the book but personally too.
I recently read a post on Julie Kagawa’s blog about Authors and Negative Reviews, in which she talks about taking the negative reviews in stride and simply no response is the best response.
I never really got the whole author vs. bloggers feud that started. It just never occurred to me that a creative field like writing wouldn’t be taught with some kind of group critique assessment that I was taught with. During my four years of art and design school I was continuously brutalized almost everyday in critique. Imagine shows like Project Runway or So You Think You Can Dance only the panel of judges is a mob of 12 to 24 students and your professor(s). I even had a professor in senior project who was my personal Simon Cowell, british accent and all, the critiques were so harsh no one else would say anything, they just felt so bad for me every class. Tuesday nights after class was dedicated to a pint of ice cream and my tears. But I wouldn’t trade the experience, because no matter how hard that teacher was on me, it made me better.
You see in art school you get use to the abuse. You learn how to talk about art and design, take the good and the bad. You especially learn how to take criticism, good, bad, and ugly then use it. You’re encouraged to fight for your work, but one of the most valuable lessons you’re taught through this process is to listen and knowing when to take a beating silently and when you should fight. It helps you see past all the things you love, to be objective, and edit.
With my less armored creative cousins in mind I thought of, Diane MacKinnon’s post called Finding or Creating a Critique Group That You Love, on Live To Write – Write To Live. Which brings up some reviewing tips that make sense in reviewing literature.
1. Critique the writing, not the writer
2. State what you like about the piece. Give concrete examples.
3. State what you might change about the piece if it was yours. Give concrete examples.
4. Be respectful of word count limits and time limits.
While that last one doesn’t really apply to reviewing, I like the other three. I may not always employ them all, but it’s nice to know what’s helpful to a person who writes for a living. All of this can seem quite removed. I completely disagree with Maggie Stiefvater’s definition that, “A review is an unbiased, careful look at a book” in her The Only Thing I am Going To Say About Bloggers in 2012 post. I think reading a book is a personal experience. The best or worse experiences usually get the most passionate responses. If it was good I want my review to do the book justice, if not I want to be honest and straight forward. I might use humor and a little snark to soften my blows but it’s still a review.
For the most part, I like the books I read, and try to be mindful of the things I say and how I say them. I try to be clever and funny to make my thoughts easy to read and not a bland dissertation, or a boring info dump. Am I always an angel? No. But I do try not to be the kind of “jerk” Stiefvater talks about, and I think that goes both ways. I think I understand a little better now, how an author thinks and feels. I like MacKinnon’s first rule “Critique the writing, not the writer.” But as long as authors and their entourages continue say and do things that bring to light the not so flattering side of publishing or a person’s character, it will continue to make it hard to focus on the writing beyond the actions of the writer.