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Should Authors Respond to Reviews of Their Books

Quite randomly, I stumbled onto a web of posts and tweets detailing an incident of an author commenting on a review of one of their books, being taken to task for it, and then spending what I see as way too much time further entangling themselves in the resulting kerfluffle.  I won’t name this author, because I’m not posting clickbait.  I read both sides of the argument, and while I sided mostly with the reviewer whose space was invaded, I do think some of the nuance on both sides that was over-shadowed by this author’s bad behavior offers valuable insight into both review and more general netiquette.

First, I want to establish some premises:

  1. Posting to the internet is a public act.  That’s true if your post is public rather than on a private blog or Twitter account, say.  But it ignores the complexities of human social interaction.  If I’m having a chat with my friends at IHOP (Insert your franchise pseudo-diner of choice), we’re in public.  So it’s a public act.  But not quite!  If some random patron three tables down were to start commenting on our nastily engaging discussion of who should fuck who in the latest, greatest reverse harem anime, we would probably consider that quite rude.  In fact, we have lots of terms for that sort of thing: butting in, nosy, etc.  I think a valid analogy could be made for the internet.  Sure my Tweet stream is public, but as a nobody with no claim to fame or blue checkmark, it’d be quite a shock for the POTUS to retweet some comment of mine about the economy or the failings of the folks in Washington.  The line can be a bit blurrier if I run a popular but niche politics blog, or if I have a regional news show on the local Fox affiliate.  But just because you can read what I wrote doesn’t mean I expect, much less desire, a response from you.
  2. My blog/website is my (semi-)private space.  Yours is yours.  I own the platform, I decide the rules.  You can write whatever you want on your blog.  Your right to write whatever you want on mine is much less clear-cut.
  3. You have institutional authority over your own work.  While most authors may not feel like they have much power in the publishing world, as the “creator”, they have enormous implied power in the world of fandom and discussion of their own specific work, or maybe even someone else’s, if they’re well-known friends of Author X, say.  If I criticize the War in Vietnam or Iraq, and a four-star general comes knocking on my door the next day, you better fucking believe I’m gonna be uncomfortable.  An author may not have a battalion of tanks at their disposal, but they sure as hell have presence, possibly very intimidating presence if they are well-known in the industry or for throwing their weight around in fandom.

Given these basic premises which I hope I have elaborated on specifically enough, I have some conclusions about what I would consider good standard netiquette.  I won’t say “proper” because I have no authority in this area, nor does anyone, really, to back up such a wording.  But a “reasonable standard of” at least I can make logical arguments for.

  1. Say what you want on your own platform.  And you can even respond to what other people have said, especially if you are not an asshole and don’t name names of people who are not egregious offenders of social norms or who haven’t made ad hominem attacks.
  2. Respect people’s bubbles.  We have a concept of how close to stand to someone we’re in a discussion with in real life, for example, that can be a good metaphor for on what platforms we choose to respond.  Especially as regards critique, since responding to negative comments about oneself is something we know from past experience can be fraught with dangerous possibilities.  I would posit that a person’s private blog is reasonably considered part of their personal space.  A column on a widely-read news site might be considered more public,but then  you have to weigh the consideration of news of your bad behavior being far more public and spreading much faster.You should not enter it without a reasonable expectation of a good reception.  If there is a power imbalance between you and the individual whose space you wish to enter, we have rules for that.  real-world analogies.  For example, before you enter someone’s house you knock or ring the doorbell.  A nice email to the specified public contact email address asking if they would mind if you weighed in is a fairly innocuous way to open communications, and can save face on both sides by avoiding exposing one or the other to the possible embarrassment of being refused or the stress of refusing a local celebrity with no clear bad intentions.
  3. Assume permission is required unless otherwise explicitly  stated.  This one gets its own bullet point, because I think it’s the easiest way to avoid the most trouble.  A public pool you might enter without announcing your presence.  Would you walk into a stranger’s house without knocking? One would hope not.
  4. Question your reasons for engaging.  Nobody likes to be  called sexist.  Or racist.  Or shitty at doing their research.  Or bad at writing.  But reactionary  defenses against what could be construed as such an assertion do not in my mind justify an author wading into a fan discussion.  Or a reader discussion, if one considers “fan” as having too much baggage.  An incorrect narrative fact is likely  to be swiftly corrected by other readers or fans.  Libel or slander is probably best dealt with legally.  A reviewer is not your editor.  You should probably not be quizzing them for advice on how to improve your writing, or story-telling, or world-building.  Thanking a reviewer for a nice review might be best undertaken as a link on your own blog.  They’ll see the pingback, and can choose to engage or not.  At best, one might pop in to provide a link to their own blog where they provide answers  to questions raised in the post in question or a general discussion of the book they may wish to share with those who read the review.  But again, such a link would probably be best following a question on whether any engagement by the author might be appreciated.

Overall, I think I’ve suggested a good protocol for an author tojoin in fan or reader discussions without causing consternation or full on flame wars, and at a cost barely more than a couple minutes to shoot an email.

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My New Blog Addiction

I haven’t posted in awhile, mostly because I’ve been busy with school, but I’ve been being very introspective over this last week of midterm break, and I realized something:

I haven’t checked my blog reader in a long time.  This is partially because my school insists on me using a google mail account for the school mail system, which means I have to switch backl and forth between my school and personal accounts whenever I want to read my e-mail or check my reader.

But there’s something else involved:  I have twenty or thirty blogs on my reader, and many of them post several times a week.  Many also link off to tons of other interesting blogs.  Keeping up with that many blog posts is tough, and there’s not always a ton of percieved benefit on my part.  Several small checks of blogs is much more time-consuming than one big one.

It’s kind of like how I watch anime.  When I’m watching several airing shows, I start out watching them as soon as a new epsiode is released.  But, after awhile, that becomes a hassle, so I watch several new episodes of various shows all at once.  Many anime fans or fantasy readers will tell you, they prefer watching something all in one big chunck.

And I’ve discovered that  these habits carry over to how I read blogs.  When I stumle across a new and very interesting blog, such as my recent find Experience Points,   I love to plow through that masses of archived posts in one or two big pushes.  It’s so much fun.  But constantly reading one post on many old blogs can be tedious, even if the posts themselves are interesting.

Anybody else ever experienced something similar?

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2011 in Blogging

 

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Why I Subscribe to Blogs

I have recently subscribed to a new blog, Invincible Summer from lovely YA writer Hannah Moskowitz.  This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s actually the first new blog I’ve subscribed to in a year.

So why did I subscribe to it?  Did I stumble upon it on Google?  Find a link on a bookmarking site like reddit or delicio.us?  No.  I kept running into links on other sites and blogs.  Took part in some conversations on Absolute Write.  After about the fiftieth link on blogs to which I am already subscribed, I stopped by and read the first ten posts on the blog.  Several of them were exactly the sort of thing Ilook for on a writing blog, and so I copied the url into my googlereader.  Now, I’ve done similar things with other blogs, but I ended up not subscribing.  Here are the five most common reasons I subscribe to a blog, and the five most common reasons why I do not:

Why? (In no particular order:)

1.  Links from blogs I already follow.  The more the better.  They tell me that there is a consistent pattern of valued and valuable content.  These can be posts about the link only, or they can be round-ups.  If I start to recognize your name on a round-up post, I am very likely to give your blog itself a look.

2.  Meeting the blogger in a community setting, such as a forum for writers.  My top forum for finding good blogs?  Absolute Write.

3.  I buy one of the bloggers books and like it.  if I like your book, then I have a reason as a reader to look you up.  If I like your blog, it’s because I enjoy it as a writer, as well.

4.  I see one of your books on Amazon or Wikipedia.  These are the places I go when someone recs a book to me.

5.  Guest posts on blogs I read.  These are fantastic advertisements for your own blog.  They mean someone I trust likes what you have to say, and they are a good sample of what I expect to find on your blog.

Why not?

1.  I go to your blog and I see advertisements.  If I get to the point where I’m reading through your recent posts to see if there’s a pattern of value, I don’t want to see adverts for your books.  I don’t want to see contests, or giveaways.  All of these things are fine.  But they are not what attracts people to a good blog.  A good blog gives something to the reader, it does not only solicit money for the writer.

2.  I go to your blog and all I see is pictures of your cats, covered in bacon or otherwise.  I am not looking for cat blogs.  I am looking for writer and/or writing blogs.  If you want to occasionally post pictures of your cats or of sunsets, or of your cute little kid, that’s fine.  But it’s a grace note, something you can foist off on me as content once I am engaged and interested.  John Scalzi likes to post amateur photos of sunsets, and they are very pretty.  I like them.  But they are not why I read his blog.

3.  If there have not been any posts for over two months.  I don’t think I need to explain.

4.  If the posting schedule is inconsistent.  This is not a big loser.  It’s why people invented blog readers, so I don’t have to check every day to see if a bloggers has dug up and displayed some nugget of wisdom for me.  It’s a small issue, but consistent posting does tell me that this blog is likely to survive long enough to be worth my inital investment.  (I am also a hypocrite for saying this, since I have updated irregularly of late.)

5.  Boring stuff/stuff I have seen before.  This is tougher.  These sort of posts will attract blogging newbies, because they have not seen all the other examples out there.  But the best blogs provide something new, something you can’t get elsewhere easily.  After the thirtieth generic query advice post, they all start to seem the same.  If they are well-written, I will forgive you.

So, here is the conclusion.  I want good content on a consistent basis.  I understand that promotional posts will pick up when a book release is imminent.  I understand tha real life gets in the way.  But if your entire blog morphs into promotion when a book is coming out, or you suddenly veer into all extras about your cats and kids, then I am likely to not subscribe, or else to drop my subscription if I already have one.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on January 5, 2011 in atsiko, Authors, Blogging, How To, Ideas, Rants

 

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Check Your Divs

People are always trying to convince me to switch from IE to Firefox, and I’ve always decided not to.  And so have a significant portion of other people.  So when you’re building or switching templates for you blog, you might want to make sure they work in both IE and FF.

I’ve had several frustrating experiences lately where folks have decided to use fancy image files as blog backgrounds.  But they’ve chosen images where the test doesn’t show up against them.

But wait!  They can just put a solid color <div> tag on top, so the text will show up.  Unfortunately, in my IE8 browser, these divs do not display properly, which means I have to highlight the text to read.

Not surprisingly, this makes me less likely to come back.  If you want to have a writer blog, you have to hold up the blogging side of that, not just the writing one.  So check your divs!

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2010 in atsiko, Authors, Blogging, Writing

 

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Confessions of an Aspiring Writer: Voices

I’m going to tell you all something that I have never before uttered in the light of day:

“I do not hear voices in my head.”

I know, I’m a writer.  How can I not hear voices in my head?  How can my characters not talk to me–occasionally causing me to stop dead in the middle of a busy street?  I don’t know.  But unless I’m actively generating a voice for pre-writing purposes, my characters do not speak.  They sit quietly like good little children until I call on one of them to answer a story question.  This has always been how my characters work.  Whether it’s fanfic or fantasizing, daydreams or “serious” “original” work, my characters must be conciously stimulated to speak and act.

And so when I go to other writers’ blogs, or read interviews by/of them, I’m always wondering… Am I crazy?  Or are they?

Perhaps I am simply unlucky, but character dialogue has always been the toughest part of writing for me.  Not character voices per se, which I feel are one of my strong points, but actual dialogue between characters–and quotation marks.  Is this because my characters don’t speak to me, or is it the cause of them not speaking to me.  I don’t know.  But I worry.  A lot.

Am I alone?

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2010 in Character, Writing

 

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More Things Atsiko Hates About Blogging: Content Summaries

I hate ’em.  I do not want to see the three most fascinating sentences in the entire blogosphere in my reader and then see:

 “[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]”

 

Because then I will hate your guts.  I got a feedreader for a reason, and seeing those words was not it.  I might go to your blog anyway, because those were the three most awesome sentences in the entire blogosphere.  But I will still hate your guts.

Every little thing you do to make it less convenient for me to read your blog is filed away in the back of my mind, and when it comes time to clean out my blog reader, guess whose blog will be first on the “drop” list?  No prizes for the correct answer.

Atsiko out.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2010 in atsiko, Blogging

 

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